Archive for August, 2008

Not Here

Somewhere, not-here, jagged mountains pass from verdant emerald green to snowy desolation in the course of a single day. Oceans are so salty that leaves on trees and blades of grass for miles inland appear furry, embedded in crystalline cocoons. The desert shifts shape like rolling tides, and sometimes the sand reveals a desert floor made of sheer glass. Rain falls horizontally. Clouds spew vertically out of the ground, funneling into an apricot sky. Sunsets last for days. Would human eyes work here? Would human brains let them?

Add comment August 15th, 2008

The Song I Sang… Rediscovered

Back in March 2007, while musing about anti-materialism, I made reference to one of my earliest poetic reflections on beauty, memory, and loss. The poem has recently been rediscovered, and I present it here, unedited, save for much needed spelling corrections.

The Song I Sang on a Summer Evening
by (me, then age 7)

On a summer evening I sang a song.
It was no ordinary song, for it was a special song.
A different song.
One that no one knew.
It was my special song.
My special song that no one knew was a song that I made up.

My song that I made up now is not known.

Because I forgot it.

Do you know a song you sang on a summer evening?

Add comment August 13th, 2008

Driftwords – Crossing the Border

We started out just before dawn. Twenty of us, dressed in shades of dust and earth, running doubled-over from the weight of our packs. We tried not to pant from the exertion, tried not to leave iridescent plumes of breath behind to mark our passage. The sound of ragged breathing filled my head, and I trained my gaze on the ground, willing my feet and lungs to find some kind of rhythm. I didn’t look up until the first shots rang out, scattering random fire across my path. By then, I was running alone. There was no time to look back – no time to find out if the others had spread out or been shot. I got close – close enough to glimpse the river. Then the bullets came thick and fast, and I knew I’d been spotted. I had no choice but to turn back and sprint for the tree line.

There is another way, but it’s just as dangerous and far more grueling. The others dug tunnels to go underneath the river. They’re labyrinthine, these tunnels; excavated by hand with rudimentary tools, using no master plan, and no map. They were started, then stopped, then started again years – sometimes generations – later. Some run parallel for miles; others intersect, floors falling through ceilings, walls growing thin before eroding entirely. Portions are reinforced with concrete and rubble; others have collapsed, filling entire sections with mud and water. Oral history is the only assurance that the tunnels were ever once complete. A few people have tried this way, but no one knows if they made it across. More likely, they got turned around or trapped, and they’re still down there somewhere, buried in all the mud and darkness. The oldest of the others said it would take weeks to navigate the tunnels, weeks of dead-ends and cave-ins, with no guarantee of a clear passage. But they also said that on the other side, the tunnels break the surface several miles across the border. They said the opening is in the middle of a field, so far from the river that you can’t even hear gunfire.

Add comment August 12th, 2008

Observable Phenomenon – When Fey Get Bored

When I was in my teens, I used to dress up in medieval costumes with my friends, drive to the city, and hang out with a bunch of similarly-minded folk reenacting a selectively edited version of the Middle Ages: feasting, singing, battles and chivalry were in – rats, disease, and oppression were out. But one of our favorite parts of medieval re-enactment happened before we ever even hit the road. On our way out of town we would contrive to stop at the local grocery store, where – clad in harem pants, tunics, and tabards, with goblets hanging from our belts and leather pirate boots flapping – we spoke loudly with faux-English accents and shopped for random grocery items, pretending it was business as usual, while delightedly observing the confusion and discomfiture of the grocery store staff. We referred to this activity as “freaking the mundanes,” and it was fun for years and years and years.

Lately, I’ve noticed that the fey population of Los Angeles does something similar – in the inverse. When they get bored, they freak the humans by letting their disguises slip – just a little bit. They flicker from looking like everyone else in town, to suddenly looking quite out of place – but just for a moment; then they’re gone, with no explanation. Today, for example, I noticed a girl browsing at a bookstore. A normal enough looking girl… until I realized the artwork on her t-shirt was actually alive; it wriggling and shimmered in three dimensions, hovering just above the fabric of her shirt.

At the bookstore café a few moments later, I watched a girl in a top hat and a cinch-waisted Victorian coat pick her way delicately between the tables. She carried a tiny birdcage the way someone else might carry a handbag, dangling from her forearm by a chain. Inside, a bird the size of a cherry-tomato chirped, emitting small soap bubbles that floated out between the bars of the cage, then settled to the floor like day-old helium balloons.

I might have tried to approach her, but a boy with intense blue eyes and shoulder-length red hair politely interrupted me. He asked which computer system I was running on my computer, but didn’t pay any attention to my response. And he didn’t even flinch when I noticed loooong curly-toed shoes peeking out from under the hems of his faded blue jeans. By the time I recovered from the distraction, the girl was gone. And when I thought to ask the boy if he’d seen her, I realized that he’d disappeared as well.

At the cash register, I found a place in line behind a young dreadlocked man. When the cashier called out “next,” he lifted his face to see over the tops of the other customers’ heads and the dreads shifted, falling down his back. For a second, I watched silver knot-work crawl up the rim of his ear – like high speed footage of vines growing up the side of a building. I must have stared because he looked back at me and winked before rearranging his hair and approaching the counter.

I sometimes wonder if they’re really fey…

Or if the grocery store employees from years ago have reassembled and come to LA to exact revenge.

Add comment August 8th, 2008

Ripostes & Rejoinders – The Beans Have Been Chilling For A While

A helpful reader forwarded this link, proving beyond a doubt that “cool beans” was neither invented by kids from my small Midwestern home town, nor was it forgotten after five minutes. However in spite of SIX pages of definitions, ranging from the banal to the pornographic, there is no consensus as to the origin – temporal or cultural – of “cool beans.” If you have time, perusing all 42 definitions is entertaining. I excerpt a few of my favorites below…

The Literalist:

Cool Beans – Beans that are neither hot nor cold, but cool; generally 42 1/2 degrees.
It is 42 1/2 degrees outside that is cool beans!

The Naughty:
Cool Beans – Another name for the drug ecstasy.
“Jerry you got the cool beans?”

The Latecomer:
Cool Beans – A Yahoo chat room term, (invented in 1996…), which means that one thinks highly of something.
That is exciting = Cool beans!

The Bitter Child of the 80s:
Cool Beans – A phrase popularized in the 1980s by U.S. teenage females who were viewers of the American sitcom “Full House.” For some yet unknown reason, these persons found the show entertaining and desired to emulate actress Candace Cameron whose character repeated the phrase incessantly on the show. The phrase then spread like a virus, infecting the vernacular of people of older and younger generations regardless of gender…these people were born without the ability to discern that this phrase was, to put it in the parlance of our current times, “*^$%ing stupid.” Is used to express approval or liking.
Person A: “Hey, it’s TGIF on ABC tonight! Wanna watch ‘Full House?’”

The Innovator:
The first of a series of unnecessary and over-used catch-phrases when something happens to one’s liking. The list goes as follows: Cool beans! Hot ice! Stolen diamonds! Pistol-packin’ granny! Sinister Minister!
The “c” can also be stuttered to enhance the effect.
C-c-c-c-c-cool beans!

The “Doesn’t Yet Realize That ‘cool beans’ And ‘super cool’ Live in the Same Linguistic Neighborhood”
Cool Beans – A very old word your parents might use in front of your super cool friends to seem just as super cool
dad: “what are you and your super cool friends up to?”
daughter: “ nothing”
dad: “cool beans”
*super cool friends walk away*
daughter: “ thanks dad.”


The “Has Issues With an Ex”

Cool Beans – A word that was originally used [in]… pop culture, now used by people who think they’re random. They feel the need to take words out of the 60s, when [they]… themselves are listening to Emo bands.
George: cool beans!
Me: Shut up.

And my particular vote for the most likely origin:

The “Random and Improbable Begets Random and Improbable”
Cool Beans – A slang term that actually began its use in the late 60s/early 70s. Popularized by the pop culture of the time. Used to describe something very favorable or pleasing. Great. Very nice.
Cheech: Hey man, look at this car made out of weed!
Chong: Oh cool beans, man!

Because, somehow “cool beans” makes sense when uttered in response to a car made out of weed.

Add comment August 6th, 2008

Home – Living Room

The living room is huge and nearly empty, except for all the sunlight that spills in through the north and east facing windows. The floor is the color of new grass in the springtime – young and tender and green. At first, the room has just two pieces of furniture; a dark brown rocking chair in one corner, and an antique icebox, the burnt umber of a lingering sunset, in another. We spend long sunny days in the living room, listening to John Denver records, and rocking.

The icebox hides our record player and collection of records behind something more 19th century and decorous. A heavy wooden lid secures the top of the erstwhile ice chamber. The lid is too high, too ungainly, and too heavy for our small arms; by clever parental design, that’s where all the records are kept. Underneath the ice chamber, behind a carved door with a tiny latch, the record player can be found in the alcove that used to store food. Sometimes, if we’re good, the speakers come out of the icebox and on to the floor where we lie down, heads between the speakers, and listen to our favorite songs as they expand to fill all the space in the room – in the world.

The icebox sits right next to the door that leads from the living room to the dining room, and right before the door, the floor dips down mysteriously. There’s a dent, like something smooth but very, very heavy once fell there, or like a glacier from the last ice age scraped this spot a bit deeper than the others, just in case a tiny pond needed to form here. Sometimes when I run from the living room to the dining room I put my foot right in the middle of the dent, just to let it know that I’m there. Sometimes, I avoid it, wondering if it’s soft and bruised inside.

In the corner diagonal to the rocking chair, there’s a secret passage to the kitchen. The tiny square, cut into the wall near the floor, was originally a vent for the furnace. We only used the furnace the first year; then it broke and we never used it again. First the screen came off the duct on one side, then it came off on the other, and then there was a short, square tunnel connecting the old furnace room (now a kitchen annex) to the living room. It’s just a little bit too small for kids to squeeze through, but our animals run through all the time. And even if we’re too big, the potential of practically teleporting from one side of the house to another is exhilarating.

Add comment August 5th, 2008

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