Sunday, April 29, 2007

malnutrition, Tom Hanks, myspace, violinist, battle axe, lactation, billboard!

The violinist was beautiful.

Ivan noticed this passively, just another thing to add to his list of what was in the world. "Beautiful violinist playing Beethoven." He rubbed his hands together in the dark of the concert hall, fought the urge to crack his knuckles. The man next to him was roiling and fat, breathing heavily and ogling the performer through a pair of opera glasses. On his other side was the flight of stairs, dimly lit from below. He wondered if there were any cripples in the front row. Probably they always had to pay extra because they couldn't climb the stairs, another point of unfairness in the life of an already disadvantaged person.

"I could be watching this woman play on YouTube," he thought vaguely. "I could watch thirty seconds of her on the little video, and then switch to my other open window, which would be my myspace account, and look at Karen's page and the pictures of her licking bottles of tequila. Instead I am at a real concert, in a real concert hall, watching a beautiful violinist solo live." The man next to him shifted a little; Ivan's arm was on the armrest and he felt the man's fat squick against him. He wasn't sure if he would have preferred to stay at home.

She played a last, lingering note, then took the instrument off her shoulder and bowed a little. The audience applauded thunderously; Ivan clapped, too, his palms damp. He pressed the button on his watch that turned on the light. It was nine-oh-eight. "I am sitting in a concert hall next to a fat man," Ivan thought, "while in Sudan children are dying of malnutrition." He had never been to Africa, but Karen had, and she had taken hundreds of pictures on her digital camera. She had called it "a trip" and "totally recalibrating." If Ivan had been home, he would have gone to Karen's flickr page and looked at some of the pictures, skinny beautiful children with bright eyes and shaven heads. She had gone to Africa more as a tourist than as a helper. Ivan couldn't blame her. He didn't really want to work, either.

The violinist was playing again. Ivan watched her appreciatively, watched the emotion in her bowing limbs, the shiny way her black hair hung, the flawlessness of her smooth Asian face, the speckles of light against her modest black outfit. He tried to imagine sleeping with her and couldn't. She was too professional. He could see himself sitting with her at the cafeteria instead. She would drink white tea and stir it with her left hand while talking dynamically of how the music felt to her, how long she had been training, how she felt in front of a crowd. And then she would ask, "Well, and what about you?"

Ivan wouldn't really know what to say to a professional Asian violinist. He stroked his little goatee and thought, "This makes me look even more like a college student." He thought, "I am a textbook college student." He was studying biology, writing his thesis on mammalian lactation. He tried to imagine himself telling the violinist that he was writing a thesis on mammalian lactation and shied away from the thought. "I'm not very impressive," he thought. "Not in this day and age."

The music grew louder, more frenetic. It made Ivan picture Vikings and pirates. He tried to place himself into the scene and discovered that as a Viking he would have been one of the slaves who rowed the dragon boats. (Was that how Vikings worked? Ivan couldn't really remember.) He could see the violinist being one of the military commanders, directing all the ruddy men who ran around waving weapons and screaming. He could see her hoisting up a battle axe triumphantly with her bowing hand and shouting, "Hail Valhalla!" (Ivan doubted he was getting Vikings right. Patrick was studying history, Patrick would know.) The lead pirate would look like Tom Hanks with a beard, disarmingly average, but then he would kick ass with a sword. He would talk more like that heroic astronaut guy than Forrest Gump, and he would swig rum constantly. Ivan grinned a little, liking this picture.

The fat man next to him grunted a little. "Pig," Ivan thought and then wondered why he had thought that. He tried hard not to hate fat people just because they were fat. It wasn't easy, because they were unattractive and seemed lazy and stupid, but Ivan knew it was wrong to assume that. "Some of my best friends are fat people," he thought wryly, but it was true. Karen weighed 254. He always thought of her when he thought of fat people, because she had mixed up his prejudices. She was smart and interesting and they talked a lot. They had slept together once, drunk, and Ivan didn't remember much of it although he knew at the time he had wanted to remember everything, knowing he would never sleep with a fat girl again. "You were good," Karen told him that Tuesday when he had asked her about it, and he had felt gratified.

The violinist stopped again. More thunderous applause; Ivan clapped hard. "Hail Valhalla," he thought. Someone, a shadow, hurried down the stairs past Ivan, and he caught a whiff of some indeterminate kind of perfume or cologne. He couldn't really tell the difference, something he had never told anyone, always feeling vaguely ashamed of that inability. "That person has to pee," he thought, and it made his own bladder twinge in sympathy.

The violinist cleared her throat; the sound, miked, startled him. "Um, I'm just going to play one more. This, uh, this is a piece I wrote when I was on the train in Europe, to perform in Germany," she said. Her voice was deeper than Ivan had thought it would be; he wasn't sure his cafeteria projection washed after all. He could no longer imagine her, enthusiastic, saying things like "I was trying to get a teacher, and then, as if God had sent it, I saw an ad that was exactly what I was looking for, right there on the billboard!" Instead he saw her, faltering, taking intermittent sips of the tea, saying, "The people in Germany were, um, very nice, but they kept offering me beer and I just couldn't drink it. You know? Have you ever been?"

He rather liked this second violinist-self better. Ivan liked doubting people; they were less intimidating. He still couldn't imagine sleeping with her, though. He tried again and failed again.

The fat man coughed, once, kind of politely, quick before the song began, so as not to interrupt. Ivan felt a surge of quick, impermanent affection toward him. "This man and I are here together," he thought. He wondered why the fat man was here. Ivan was here because he had seen a picture of the violinist looking beautiful and a good pre-review in the paper. And the concert only cost seven dollars. He thought, "After she does this one, I'll go out and buy a soda."

The violinist began to play. Ivan closed his eyes, then opened them again. He liked looking at her, liked watching the light play over her shiny black hair and clothes. As the song progressed (quick, light, rather impressive), he tried to imagine scenes of a train going to Germany. He could, sort of, because she'd said it. He wondered if he would have thought of that if she hadn't brought it up. There was no way of knowing.

The song was over too quickly, and then there was more applause, even more thunderous; a few people whistled, and everyone stood up and clapped a standing ovation. Cooperatively, Ivan stood too, clapped too. He thought, "I think I'm going to buy a brownie too."

Monday, April 23, 2007

The bugs

It's a sunny afternoon in late April and I decide to go for a walk. Nothing major, maybe clatter down the street and trudge back up again, maybe lie in the grass a little, maybe, if it's warm enough, take off all my clothes and pretend some Pan is peeping.

So I let myself out the door and down the asphalt road. Some cars drive by and it's awkward; my dog, ancient and deaf, hobbles past and doesn't hear my call, but the man in the truck does, I think. I shake the thought out and walk back up the road. I'm out of shape, and my hamstrings groan, and I start breathing heavily from the mouth.

When I make it back to my yard I collapse onto the grass, fragrant and flowering, panting, and close my eyes. When my heart rate's dropped a little I crack them open. Lately I've noticed how my vision focuses on things that move, and I let myself enjoy this: my eyes sharpen and show me a dynamic ladybug, large and spotted, climbing up a blade of grass maybe three inches from my head. I watch it a little, appreciative. If there's any bug I find pleasing it's that one.

Suddenly I feel something tickling my hand. I look down, focus on another ladybug, tiny and bright red, crawling on my knuckle. I smile a little and let it cross my hands, a trek across plains. It repulses me a little when the insect tries to sneak its crumpled wings out from under its hard red casings. They're cute when they walk, but wrong when they fly, unnatural in their awkwardness.

I let the beetle leave and rest my face on my folded arms, relaxing a little. My vision sharpens, re-sharpens, re-re-sharpens, as I move my hooded eyes. Something catches my eye more than the rest, and I frown a little. It's a ladybug like I've never seen before, bright red but with a strange asymmetrical triangle on its back instead of spots. "Fucked-up ladybug," I christen it and wonder if it's the product of a genetic mutation, a tweaked amino acid. Utilizing biology.

I watch fucked-up ladybug struggle up its blade and then I see another one. And another. And another. All of a sudden it seems impossible: there must be a dozen of these little colorful beetles crawling around me, hideous garbage-bag wings hidden under their uniquer shells, eyes painted-on and white on their black bodies, six legs scurrying aimlessly.

And then another bug catches my eye, not more than two inches away, right in front of my nose, and this time I gasp. I've never seen anything like it before, don't know what it's called: an orange-bodied, praying-mantis-like inch-long creature with blue wing cases and small, intelligent-looking black eyes. Its feelers wave cautiously as it scales the blade of grass. I watch it, transfixed, wondering if it's real. It reminds me of a dragon, looks like it's about to take off any moment, unfurling and exhaling mysterious flame.

And now my skin is crawling. I'm lying in the grass, sun warming my hair, and there are insects all around me. I've never seen so many in one place in my life. "I must be high," I think, though I know I'm not. "This must be a hallucination," I think. There's no way it could be real.

I am suspended there for too long, learning the ladybugs, learning the other bugs, and then my belt pokes at my hip and the spell is broken, I hoist myself up and run for my house, let myself back in the door, careful to breathe as if everything were normal, careful to keep it a secret.

Run my fingers through my hair, though, just to make sure it's not alive.

Blink away the immediacy of six-times-hundreds flailing legs.

Monday, April 09, 2007

you are vegan and it is disorienting

you came over and we made zucchini.
you are vegan and it is disorienting.
you steamed the zucchini and it was green and soft.
i looked at you and your hair was very yellow and soft.
i looked at the clock and it was two-twenty-eight.
you were going to leave at five.
i felt uncomfortable because there were leftover meatballs in the fridge and also turkey and skinless boneless chicken breasts and milk and cheese and butter.
i did not feel ashamed of my meat and dairy products but i wanted to hide them from you.
you drank orange juice and talked about your ant farm.
i was bored and wanted to fuck on the kitchen counter.
we added paprika to the zucchini.
we added raw cauliflower sprigs.
i was glad i had bought vegetables.
you had brought a thing of yeast.
my kitchen was very bright and un-mysterious.
your skin gleamed and your eyes drooped.
i wondered if you would look different if you were not vegan.
you said that last night you had slept for fourteen hours.
you said you had found a pager and you wanted to page me.
i told you i would make you a mixtape.
we ate the vegetables and they had turned out okay and a little mushy.
we went to my computer and looked at my songs.
i made you a mixtape with a lot of classical spanish music on it.
i drew flowers on the mixtape with a thin-tipped sharpie.
i looked at your bony toes.