The Desert Blues and Santa Anas

San Gabriel Valley

Where I grew up, I saw a lot of broken men.  These men, who I saw in dusty strip malls and old cars, shielding their eyes against the searing, red desert sun.  Men, who in their previous lives, had dreams of glory and big degrees that were now just paper.  Men, burdened with regrets, debts, broken relationships, dashed expectations.

They were concave men, men who took up negative space in the way they slouched.  It looked like they were just one big sigh.

Sometimes I would catch the glance of these defeated men.  They would look at me with a wide-eyed, open stare on the border between hope and pleading.

I would scowl and glare.  First, I was annoyed, but mostly, I was scared that I saw myself in them.

The S.I.C.

The Republic

It’s a curious system, this Republic.  Every few years, a dozen men and women vie for the office of the SIC.

The SIC is a prestigious office.  For some reason.

You see, the SIC’s chief responsibilities lay in getting the other branches of the government to work together: the legislative, the judiciary.

It is in serving as the figurehead of the Republic during meetings with other nations.  It is in appointing government officials.  It is in articulating the strategy of the Republic, although the SIC doesn’t really have the power to make the laws, only to execute them.

There is one thing the SIC can do that is significant, and it is to declare war.  In past decades, some minor wars have been declared against terrorist groups and smaller nations.  These have been expensive, money-losing affairs that have cost the Republic much goodwill and resources, with no tangible outcome.

Now in this Republic, there are a lot of governors besides just the SIC.  The legislators number over 500 at the federal level, and number in the thousands among the few dozen proudly independent states who comprise the Republic, and whose boundaries do not seem to follow any rhyme or reason of culture, history, or language.  At the city level, mayors and councillors rule.

Not to mention that the Republic hosts some of the largest conglomerates and corporations in the world, whose economic strength rivals and exceeds that of nations on the planet.  At times, it is uncertain whether these corporations, with their enormous economic might, govern the government, or are governed, although evidence leans towards the former.

The office of the SIC is a curious one.  At once the most famous office in the Republic, but also the most reviled, the citizenry take untold pleasure in following and criticizing every action made by this Scapegoat in Chief, who is either blamed – or cheered – for the economic fortunes of the several hundred million people and millions of enterprises who reside in the Republic, although the SIC does scarcely any work that would be recognizable to them.

The SIC is blamed – or cheered – for the financial asset price fluctuations that happen under the SIC’s term.  The SIC is further blamed – or cheered – for the outcome of wars, consumer and gasoline prices, and the cultural direction of the republic in general.

All this usually leads the SIC’s hair to go prematurely white – or fall out completely and have to be woven or pinned in, like a wig.

But people seem to like to run for the office of the SIC anyway.  They like being the center of attention.  For some reason.

The Banker

You learned to speak in tongues, call something what it isn’t, argued with yourself, and every day worked to reverse your natural frown.  Every second your soul rebelled, and every second you told yourself magnificent stories about what would become:

What has become is now you drink from a golden cup with a golden wrist and dine alone in the towers of a minor kingdom.  You laugh, and your servants smile.  You hold forth, they nod.  What you don’t see are their second glances and mysterious expressions.

All of these possessions are yours.  They are yours and yours alone, the pristine waters where you swim, surrounded by marble, and the cavernous halls you’ve built echo with your footsteps, which are yours and yours alone.

Was it worth it?

Waves of Indifference

Manhattan Beach

This was a while ago during a year of heartbreak.

During that year, I spent a lot of time in the water.  I took a board out and sat in the middle of the sea, watching waves and getting battered by them in all sorts of conditions.

I went when it was completely flat and would bob on the water, and I went when it was choppy and would fall off every few seconds, and I went in early morning and at dusk and in 40 degree water until my fingers turned into claws, and I surfed with the dolphins and sea lions and red tide and the jellyfish.

I would sit there and look into the horizon for the one who was far away – who had gone away, and sometimes the sun would come out and break into a million pieces on the water, like an emerald hacienda, and sometimes the fog would be so thick that you couldn’t see the waves coming in except as darker fog in the distance, and you couldn’t tell where the water started and the sky began, and it felt like you were somewhere high in the clouds and angels were around you, as the water lapped gently at your board.

Sometimes it was bright, and the waves crested with white plumes, and other times when it was cloudy the waves when they opened up looked like giant maws full of death and destruction, and they closed on your head like thundering bombs.

Being heartbroken made me susceptible to faulty logic, and I reasoned that the more of these impossible waves I caught, the more worthy I was, and I would stay even during choppy conditions until I had satisfied my quota, and then would walk back in thinking I had passed a test.

I would surf in the messiest and unrelenting of conditions, waves coming in bruised and sickening colors, crashing and surging, white plumes cresting above them as they peaked, before thundering with complete and utter indifference.

Sometimes I would get caught by a rogue wave that unfurled above and smashed me into the sand, and withdrew with such force I was sucked into the water again.  Flailing in the freezing water, so cold my breath was drawn out, in these times I could think of only one thing, which was that there was no malice in the water, nothing that cared enough to hate.  The only feeling that the water was a force of nature, above and beyond anything in human experience and in the face of which we are just a speck of dust.  Only by its endless grace are we allowed to enter it, fish it, surf it.

I was looking for answers out there, but there were none.  The waves were apathetic.  And I didn’t solve any problems.  They were just made insignificant.

Caveman Manifesto

Our Recent Past

They were the days when men lived by the laws of simple love and anger, when they lived in simple fear of the divine, when their hearts coursed blood so thick it drowned out the meek wisdom of their minds,

when they charged gladly into catastrophes for a simple song and slender line; before reason, and language’s casuistries, when they danced freely in the tundra and washed their hair with tar, felling mighty oaks and seeding fields with single phallic strokes!

They grabbed lions by their balls and swam freely with the sharks, and grizzlies fled at the whiff of man’s approaching musk, and for months they debated the origin of a single blade of grass – it was the wind, it was God, no, the leaf does not exist – because their minds could not comprehend two different ideas at the same time!

And then they clubbed and killed each other until only one idea existed.

Then they saw woman, swaying gracefully with floral scent, lithe, a brighter use of space, and they looked into the sky (and eagles fell from it), and there was the world, larger than they had known; there was love and anger, but also death and time, and looking into woman’s eyes, they fathered babes who would live by the laws of simple love and anger, and fear of the divine.

The Age of Ambition

When I was growing up I would lie awake at night until it got very quiet and then go outside.  We lived on a hill that looked down on a canyon where the coyotes lived, and they would howl not only when the moon was out, but also straight up at the dark sky.

The night would smell crisp, like you could reach out and snap it, and the darkness rolled over the hills like a living, breathing thing.  On the other side of that darkness was something, and the night, like a tarp, would shudder from something moving very rapidly on the other side of it.  It felt full and crystalline, like just one false movement would spark the air and set the whole valley aflame.

Then I would go back inside and have dreams of immense power. My mind went straight into that darkness – there was never any light – and reached for something, but it was always just beyond my grasp. It was living and breathing, but it was just beyond me and my mind reached fruitlessly into that darkness and tried, and tried again, because it was just this side of a complete thought, and without knowing what that thought was I knew that was what I was looking for.

It was infinite, and every time I reached, I was disappointed but for some reason I had the power to reach even higher, soaring with infinite strength and hope. That search took me so far beyond my conception of the world that I felt like I had tasted infinity – and it was bittersweet, because I would never reach it, and when I woke up my arms and legs were swollen and my back was crawling stridently and I would have an erection the size of a flag pole, and I woke up vowing to prove myself.

For Alex

Though the night vise turns the light to pinpricks, and the black loam smothers, suffocating earth, as yet.

Though she never wakes from her slumber, though her tiny heart fluttering clutches tightly to her mother, before she takes a final breath, a shudder – as yet.

Though the evil of unwelcome night plunge their greedy hands, again, into pristine and blameless flesh.  As yet.

What it means to live is to have had life, and life is to have conquered for a blink in the span of universal time, struggling even if for a breath, a gesture, a kick, against the apathy of death.

Lay to rest now darling.

For Alex Crain, 1 lb 4 oz.

Invading the Walled Riad by Moonlight

From the Story of Nyam

The king of the barbarians burst into the city, the first of them.

As he caught his breath under the canopy of the massive tree, he saw his breath expel tufts into the air.  His leathers creaked as he lowered his guard and placed his sword on his shoulder, taking in the courtyard.

His breath grew more silent, drowned out by the rain.  He watched it flash in the pools under the slow-burning lamps.  It echoed in the courtyard, the chatter of the water bouncing up from marble floor.  Its rhythm was soothing.

The groundskeeper had long since abandoned the upkeep of the tree.  There were no leaves on the ground, but its branches had been deflected by the wall and grew straight up.  There were too many lawn chairs for one keeper to handle, and most were stacked on top of each other.  There were three tables with chairs around them.  On one of them was a curvaceous silver teapot.  He stared at it.

Above the courtyard, there were many rooms but only one light was actually on.  The grand quarters above the center of the courtyard had a large door and overhanging eaves, and on top of it, you could make out the faint outlines of a roof.

But he could still see the dedication that had once gone into it.  There must have been an army of attendants here, just to clean the pool and fountains.  There must have been a singular mind brought here to carve the arabesques and work on the flowery capitals.  A mind of dedication.

This is how the city-dwellers lived.  They had luxuries that he could not even give word to.  These were not luxuries of gold and silver.  Gems and metals were peripheral.  These luxuries were grandiloquent, vast.  Luxuries of attendants, of time, of believing in a world that would exist tomorrow, of believing that enough so that they would lug stone across hundreds of miles to built courtyards like this one, so that they would summon artisans to carve and musicians to play for them and that they would do things like have tea in a courtyard, not believing that the tales of the barbarians sweeping the land were true.  Or, as it occurred to him then, perhaps taking the time to have tea even despite knowing that someone like him would storm in, followed by an army of others.

He recalled the tales of treasures and opulence.  It occurred to him now that he would not find gold here.  This was a different kind of treasure, one that could not be taken.

He was still there, rooted, as the others rushed past him, bloodthirsty and savage.

One of them picked up the teapot.  He shouted for them to stop.

The Breakup

It’s always ugly. 

They both knew it was over.

But, he couldn’t just let it go like this.  His ego shattered, time wasted, a part of his life – gone.

In her life, ultimately, it was as if he hadn’t existed.  He needed something, a piece of her.  Or better yet, to leave his mark.

So he made her cry.  He said savage things, half-true, ugly accusations.  He made blame rain down on her, drench her, cover her.  He called up bittersweet memories, detonating horrific and cloying images in front of their eyes.

He conjured up anything he could to manipulate her into feeling regret – and perhaps guilt – that perhaps it really was her fault.  That perhaps he really was the noble one, the one who would have wanted to keep trying when she didn’t.

An hour-long tirade, and he did everything he could to permanently embed himself into her memories.

She must be made to cry.  If she cried, then she was feeling regret and guilt.  If she felt regret, then he had succeeded.  Then he could leave, having made his mark.  And then, perhaps, he could perversely remain in her heart as a permanent burr, a tattoo.

She cried.

I’ve won, he thought.

They said goodbye.  She closed the door.

What he didn’t know was that her tears were not tears of regret.

They were tears of ablution, to purge herself of the guilt of not feeling very guilty or sorry at all.

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