29 June 2015

threading the needle (the birds)


That familiar feeling washes over the morning  - of being pulled in opposite directions. At one end, the petty, twisted mechanisms we cross paths with in life, the foul, grotesque result of miserable people trying to make sure everyone they encounter feels the same as them. It is a form of narcissism, this selfish cloud. It is hard to outrun a cloud, sometimes. At the other end is a tiny creature, a growing ball of new smiles, hands outstretched, eyes that grow curious, an enduring stare that does not blink. This little person that was not here a few months ago, at the center of our rhythms, guided by her ability to sleep, to be bathed, to poop, to eat.

I never forgot the clock I call baby time. Every time I wake E up, I think of those mornings we spent when she was the same pale-skinned lump of needs and big eyes. I think of walking around with her late at night, singing Desmond Dekker songs because that was what brought her peace.

We never forget those times, but there is nothing like doing it all again.

Now, I am walking with V in the stroller and she is not sleeping. She needs to. She wants to. Every curve of the path, every pebble is an obstacle. Will she thread the needle, and close her eyes? I look for noisy children and steer away from them. Out of nowhere two men with a chainsaw appear and I veer into the opposite direction before the throaty cough of the machine begins, and the buzzing into tree limbs brings her back to eyes fully open.

Those petty people, they are not here now. Their shadow cannot reach so far into this leafy suburb. I can only focus on the way V's hands jump around, finding a Michelangelo pose, one pinky frozen in the air as her eyes do surrender to this smooth asphalt, the chirping of at least two different kinds of birds, the smell of fresh cut grass, the low wet splash of a few leftover rain puddles.





22 June 2015

toys

We were walking on the street and there was a toy gun on the ground. I saw no children around, and in one action snatched it up. 
E looked at me.
"Isn't that someone's toy?" She asked.
"We'll bring it back when we are done with it." I explained.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"I think they didn't really want it anyway." She said.

The plastic gun with its bright yellow handle sat on the windowsill by my desk for a few weeks. I used to shoot a BB gun when I was a boy. My brother had one too. My father had guns in the house, for hunting. Sometimes the only reason there was meat on the table was because of those guns. The Lone Ranger was a big deal back then, more interesting, more accessible than Superman or Spiderman. He had a pistol, and a horse. I used to walk around the hallways of my elementary school squinting into the distance because it seemed that was something that cowboys always did, especially the Lone Ranger on his Palomino.

As soon as we left the farm, guns were no longer fascinating. I preferred cameras, watches, a cheap guitar. The Lone Ranger doll, broken and scratched was forgotten. It never even made the move to that small town. Something flipped over. It was David Bowie and Kurt Vonnegut, the B52's and The Clash that littered my shelves then.




I try to create projects to do with E in the summertime, while all of her friends are in their country houses, or in Italy or Miami, Thailand, some places she cannot even find on a map. These collaborations are distractions, and they are a joy to create. I script and concept and she reads all of my notes. I show her the way I develop ideas. Sometimes we shoot a little test, and she hovers behind my shoulder, munching on almonds as I manipulate the footage. She nods sometimes. It all makes sense to her. The story is a tough one, and we handle it carefully. She does not shy away from the truth, but we don't push it.

Then we record, we shoot, we edit, I make some music, we mix, we re-record the narration, the colors all get adjusted, graphics, and then it all percolates, like a pot of chili waiting to thicken, maturing. We watch a screener. There are always a few little cosmetic fixes, but it works.

She cracks one of those quiet, satisfied smiles. She understands why I took the plastic gun from the ground a few weeks ago now.

It had a story to tell.






15 June 2015

the tiger in Spring

N and E wished me luck before going to sleep. I made sure the pen had been filled with that bright blue ink from Florence. V was already snoring lightly with her hands curled to her chest, all cherub. There was ice in the freezer, in alphabet molds. I filled a short glass with everything left from A-J. A good splash of the Adega Veha and it is time to look down at the trees bending in the night wind until I am ready.

And then all in one motion, I open the big black book. The notes in the grey journal are on the white table and the dog-eared page reveals itself, the scribbles I have read so many times. I did not know how he would arrive here, how to have it happen without question, without doubt. It took months, after years. I was not in a rush but Richard Stack told me I should always finish a book in Spring. If not in Spring I must wait until the next one - that it was not ready yet. I pushed on this, surrendering two long mornings last week in New York to a booth in the back of the Pearl Diner, laying low, hammering into seven full scenes that glued together a Bowery hotel, a cathedral, a kitchen, a fateful taxi ride.

I am listening to Tabula Rasa by Arvo Part. This has been the soundtrack for the book sessions for the past few years now. The music becomes a bubble, a sense memory that brings me back when I have not written about Paul and Anya and Pasha for some time. It makes the old fragment familiar, immediate. I thread the needle once again, looping into the old story and building a few new lines, a few more inches closer to the end.

This will be the night it ends. After more than eleven years, the book will be on the page now instead of a messy pile of possibilities. It will be one whole, and it will need some editing but I edit heavily as I go so it is safe to say the book is one pile of papers, a plane at the gate waiting for the go ahead, pages ready to taxi, to leap into the sky for some unknown destination.

I do finish, and there is no surprise. I sip from the old brandy, savoring the emptiness. There is a vacuum now. I know I will wake up and have no book to struggle with, no ending to chew on as I take walks to buy groceries. The tiger has been brought to the mat and will not bite.


08 June 2015

dusty pianos (far from home)



Somehow I know that if I walk into the best restaurant in town, there will be a place at the bar for me. In between the thunder and the clouds I find the address and at the next seat is a woman with a fountain pen that has leaked all over her hands as she calculates the final grades for a class of tenth graders. The bartender is her friend and within minutes I am sipping a Dusty Piano, which is not on the menu. It has some barley whiskey and absinthe and many other ingredients. Sweet, sour, cool on my tongue I feel it wobble around my mouth as the sky grows dark.

I eat salami and homemade pickles, lamb chops with a sweet pea puree, and then a sticky toffee that is disappointing but the bartender slides a little glass of madeira to me and somehow this makes things right. I finish with a ginger sazerac. The woman grading papers has gone home. Alone at the bar in some odd corner of Boulder, Colorado the world seems suddenly minuscule and infinite at the same time.

The streets are wet from rain and I have had that perfect combination of two cocktails and a glass of wine and those extra sips of madeira that put me over the top. I am not drunk and but I am not sober and my belly hurts from trying to finish that dessert.

There are streets musicians playing gospel, with barefoot girlfriends traipsing around. A man with a superhero cape and some balloons tied to his hat stands next to me. I give them all of the change in my pocket. He stalks off into the rain. I might have put some rubles in their case by mistake but I say thank you and they say thanks man.

I think of my girls on the other side of the world, about how I am very far away from them and there is nothing I can do to change that. I find my way back to the hotel, set the alarm for very early so I can take pictures of some old bicycles or graffiti before the taxi to the airport.

The sky is huge here, and there is silent lightning without a sound, just flashes in the sky. A young man walks in front of me singing in a loud voice with his hands shoved in his pockets.

          Where is my tuna,
          right right now.
          Where is my tuna,
          right right now.

I know he is saying tuna, nothing else. I feel like I am back in college again.






02 June 2015

the old place


Passing the old place, a phantom wind runs up my leg and across the back of my neck. I have not been here in eight years. I do not go closer than the driveway. There is the bald spot of lawn where my Weber stood, where E rolled around on a blanket as I slow cooked ribs on Saturday afternoons. The house looks clean, under a fresh coat of paint.

There was a light on the corner of a building that turned on when you walked under it. E would be in my arms long after the sun had gone down and I had to be careful or the light would wake her up.

I can admit it now. I talked to that light. It was a familiar presence in a broken life. I waited for the telltale click and the bloom of shadow and the click of the timer that would turn it back off in a few minutes.

I told that light may things. My fears, my wishes. I called it friend. I can remember telling it goodbye, looking up at brick and metal, talking to a piece of hardware.


25 May 2015

I know the way

I thought he would be taller, but as he approaches me on the metro platform I see he is actually shorter than me. His beard is long and wiry. We talk over the rumble of the trains, hands waving, leaning in to catch words. I just keep saying "quiet, simple, everything inside". He nods.

I film him on a bench at the end of the platform. The train arrives, and he does not get on. The train pulls away and he watches it go. It seems so mundane, but through the lens I see the story is working. A man who goes to the metro, and not for the first time, to watch trains coming and going but never getting on. Maybe he sits in the same bench every time. Maybe this is a significant place. 

We will never know.

Next. I shoot him on the escalators with the bright lights sweeping past his face turning it dark, then burning into his pale eyes as he looks into the distance. We chatter back and forth on the way back up, hands dancing in the air. And then we are done, and shake hands and I start home, just before eight on a Sunday morning.

I wonder who all of these people are, packed into the trains on the outskirts of the city so early on a Sunday.


In the mashrutka on the way home a woman clutches a map she has printed. She talks to the handful of other women on the little bus. They are all shaking their heads no. I glimpse the page, hear the word khram (church).

I lean towards the woman and ask where she is going. She says the name of the street  - it is the one we live on. I see the little red x on the page but it shows the church on the opposite side of the big road that leads to our home.
"There are two churches?" I ask the women around me.
I know just one.
They stare at me like flounders, with tiny round eyes on one side of their faces.
"There is one, it is from a famous painting in the museum....with sparrows." I add.
They shrug their shoulders.
The woman with the map stares at me, nervous, wanting to believe me.
"Only the foreigner knows?" She says to them, but mostly to herself.
"Just get out when I do." I tell her.
The mashrutuka lurches down the road, wobbling and leaning hard on the turns. The woman with the map tries to make the GPS in her phone work, but I see it does not. She speaks the address into the phone, nothing. The screen is blank. I raise my hand, trying to get her attention. I show her to close it, not to worry. I think she must be going to the famous little church by us.

I get out and she is like a child, nervous, lost. I wave my hand, telling her to follow me. She does.

Within a few hundred meters I point at the tiny spires behind the trees and her face lights up. I think she did not believe me until just now. She tries to tell me that today is some special day and there will be a procession. I tell her I am going to market for a procession of tomatoes, trying to make a joke but she does not follow me.
"So, you are Catholic?" She asks, completely confused.
I shake my head no, and wish her a good time.
She is smiling and excited as she almost skips down the path to the church in her old stockings and fake leather skirt.