May 24, 2012
This morning, first thing, I walked and ran on the Mesa. It felt great, as usual, especially the feeling I get as soon as I catch my breath after running. I can’t, or at least haven’t, run the whole distance, but every once in a while I break into a jogging lope for a couple hundred yards. When I’m done I’m panting pretty hard. Shit, I weigh 211 pounds so I expect to be out of breath. I hate the reminder about my weight, though, but I still complete the workout without dying and I’m 65 years old. Still running. That sense of total well-being that I experience once my breathing has returned to normal is a high I can not duplicate, and I have tried. I love it and it’s the reason that I always push myself to run one more time, another sprint. I had my earphones in, iPod turned up all the way and was listening to Credence. Man, loud, rumbling in my head; what great music. So far it’s the best music for a workout and I’ve tried it all from Beethoven String Quartets, to AC/DC Miles Davis and extreme Avant Garde Jazz. Credence Clearwater Revival Chugging along, ripping solos, steady heavy drumming, John Fogarty’s bold, authoritative voice punching out his smart and angry lyrics. No love songs, thank god. His music makes me want to run and I certainly wonder, every damn time, if I’m going to collapse and die on the path, only to be found by a dog lady or a horseman later in the day. Wouldn’t be a bad way to go though. Running..…pain in chest…..weakness…..stumble…..can’t catch my breath..…up on one knee…..can’t..…get to my feet…..fall forward…..heavy pain…..I should have…..I wonder what happened to Donna Morell and Nikki Giampoli..…fuck, Goddamnit, my mother is going to outlive me..…that sucks..…really not fair..…they better not have a goddamn memorial..…maybe I’m going to make it..…this could just be fatigue…..indigestion..…age..…that’s it…..pushing a little too hard…..can’t go on like a kid forever..…how’s my hair…..bunch of assholes…..celebration of life…..another ridiculous ritual…..dimwits…..talking about themselves…..eating food…..yeah, that’s just what I would want…..fuckheads I didn’t even like…..telling stupidass stories…..I should have started smoking last year..…when I had the chance…..and drinking…..Christ, if I knew this was going to happen..…could have had a drink or two last night…..or a bottle..…and that woman at the coffee shop..…she as well as told me that she wanted…..damn that hurts…..the fuck is going on..…novels unpublished…..novels unfinished…..reading list unread..…what the hell….. hurts like a motherfucker…..Linda…..what happened to Linda…..both of the Lindas…..all of the Lindas..…boy, were they pissed off…..my fault…..I mean, they weren’t innocent…..but I was sort of screwed up…..in those days..…prayers..…I hope no one says prayers…..dishonor my memory…..funny…..my memory……still have a pretty good memory…..I should have written something down……no prayers…..ever…..no favorite poems, songs…..do not…..do not…..let my mother…..get involved….. for shit sakes..…just let me die and blow away…..sell all my stuff…..garage sale…..final legacy…..is how much…..you earn at the last…..garage sale..…wow, what was that…..felt like something trapped in my chest..…about the size of a squirrel..…nuts…..squirrels collect nuts…..probably the cosmic squirrel…..Satan’s pet squirrel…..knows I’m dying and wants…..my nuts…..I should have used them more…..my nuts…..fucking squirrel…..keep your filthy claws…..off my nuts…..anger…..familiar feeling…..always invigorating…..breathing better…..pain…..not as bad…..in fact…..feeling pretty good…..voices…..dogwalkers…..up…..on my knees…..wow…..65 years old and 211 pounds…..probably indigestion…..allergy…..can’t even feel my heart pounding…..touch my chest…..reach down…..touch my nuts…..oh fuck you lady…..outraged…..thought I was making a pass…..keep quiet about this…..go home…..write…..buy a pack of cigarettes later.
June 2, 2012. Wired Coffee Shop, Taos, New Mexico. 11:50 a.m.
I've written two novels and am well into number three. I've read on various websites, time and again, that it is nearly impossible in today's literary economic climate for a new author to be published. That is as it should be, I suppose, but a constant recommendation from the literary agencies is that a writer should have a blog. I'm not sure why, but I'd like to cooperate with the marketplace. I may never look at this site, The Vagrant Chronicles, again. It'll just fade out, like a cybersmudge of bits on a virtual wall in a parallel reality degrading in the webosphere. I don't really care.
Besides posting short stories, chapters from works-in-progress, accusations, bad jokes, good jokes, revenge scenarios, shopping tips, memories, sexual fantasies, musical discoveries, literary experiences and gift ideas, I have several other reasons for starting this blog. Every year or so Sally and I save our money and go to Paris, France, where we rent a modest apartment and live for several months. We've been there 4 times in the past six years and we generally go in the fall and winter. Once we pay our rent, it costs about the same to live there as it does to live here, in Taos, New Mexico. Travelling is something that has given me great pleasure and I've kept journals and notes on every trip. I can see if I've made any progress by referring back to earlier times.
We are planning to go to Paris again from October 1 through December 31 of this year, 2012 and I'm looking forward to the trip. We've been eating lentils, skipping movies and using the library in order to save enough money. I sometimes wonder if we should just stay home, you know? Just stop, settle down and watch TV, eat restaurant meals, buy lots of Cd's, in our golden goddamn years.
Two weeks ago, a very good friend died of cancer. It has made me take a better, more discerning look at my life and I've decided that I don't want to be standing in my own doc's office next year and get my own diagnosis and think, "Shit, I should have gone to Paris one more time." I don't want any more regrets and believe me, I know about regrets. So, whenever I can, I am going to do things that are enriching, beautiful and, most of all, fun.
By reviewing my travel journals I can see what I did wrong, how I've changed, and what I need to do.
An example is the following story, from my notes of 2009, and there are lessons to be learned.
October 4, 2009
ABQ to Dulles International to CDG
I’m not a collector, but I like knives. I have my father’s old, worn pocketknife and my brother made me a beautiful knife several years ago for Christmas. It has a short, thick blade and a firm grip. Dangerous and comforting. I’ve had my Swiss Army Knife for 30 years. These knives are used as tools, not weapons. I’ve rarely thought about stabbing anyone. For the most part I use the knives to cut into the plastic of impossibly wrapped items like computer headphones, DVDs, or small household utensils.
About ten years ago my friend Jonathan gave me a switchblade. It’s not a terrific knife, but it’s impressive; a blue marbled handle with a thin six-inch threatening blade and it makes a nice “snick” when the button is pressed. The lock never worked very well and it had a tendency to open when I was carrying it. I cut my finger once while reaching in my coat pocket.
Jon likes weapons and it was a nice present.
I said, "Hey, thanks. I’ve been looking for one of these since I lost my last one.”
Jon said, “Here. Don’t say I never gave you anything.”
So I kept the switchblade in my backpack, in my car. Sometimes I’d carry it when I went hiking. There had been reports of mountain lions in the area, and I thought about being attacked and so I used to put the knife in my pocket before I left for the trailhead. I’d swagger through the woods pretending I was a dangerous outdoorsman. I’d throw the untrustworthy switchblade at tree trunks and watch it bounce off and fall to the ground. I imagined that if a mountain lion or bear attacked me, I’d be prepared. I would flip open my switchblade knife and stab at the beast. I’d go for the eyes, blind it and it would run off die after injuring me with its teeth and claws. I’d use my underwear as a tourniquet to bind my wounds, stumble back to the car and drive myself to the hospital, thirty miles away. No problem. I would possibly become a celebrity. The guy who killed the mountain lion with a cheap switchblade knife and saved himself with his underwear. I promised to mention Jonathan in all of my interviews.
Our 2009 trip to Paris began in Albuquerque. We spent the night in a moderately nice hotel that had a noisy ventilation system. It rattled as though there was someone feeding marbles into it 5 floors above. The lights in the bathroom were so bright that I couldn’t use the mirror. We got ready as best we could at 6 a.m. and were at the airport and checking in by 7. Very easy parking. We meandered around the lobby of the ABQ Sunport and eventually got in the queue for security. Sunday was a busy travel day and there were longish lines. I followed Sally and we patiently waited our turn to go through the metal detectors and to have our belongings X-rayed and to be humiliated by the security personnel. We compliantly removed our shoes, belts, emptied our pockets, took off our outer garments. I walked through the detector and said, “Thanks” to the TSA attendant who said “Thanks” back. Simple. Not nearly as bad as I imagined.
As I waited on my side of the conveyor belt for my carryon bag I was musing about how easy it has become for us to travel. I’ve got the carryon thing down. I have a small backpack, purse sized, that has about 6 or 8 different compartments. I carry a netbook computer and power cable, earphones, a paper back thriller and a volume of Henry James stories, a wirebound journal and pen, medications for two days, my iPod and charger, a small maglight flashlight, bandaids for blisters, business cards, a couple of keys and a spare pair of glasses, a greasy deck of playing cards and a blue bandanna.
The TSA attendant scanning the bags held up my black carry-on and asked, “Whose is this?”
I said, “It’s mine.” A guy took it from her and said, “There’s a knife in here.”
“Impossible,” I replied. "I don’t have a knife. I checked everything".
He said. “Looks like a buck knife.”
“I don’t own a buck knife.”
He ruts around in my personal possessions, unimpressed by Henry James or the efficiency of my packing and pulls out my crappy old switchblade which was open because the spring was broken. I hadn't seen the thing in six months.
He said, “This happens 100 times a day," and at that point I knew I’d be OK. I was one of hundreds. I decided that I’d have to go along for the ride, take my medicine, cooperate. I could do that. A hundred times a day.
“Wait over there, sir, I have to get the police involved now,” he said in his federal monotone.
Sally settled into a chair and I perched on a long metal table next to her. I swung my legs and acted unconcerned.
Sally said, “May I make a suggestion? Take off your sunglasses. You will look less threatening.”
She was right. I was dressed in mostly black and I’d been carrying a knife while trying to board a flight to Washington, D.C. I slipped off the glasses and put them in my coat pocket.
Two cops, A TSA guy and a fat man in a tweed jacket and shapeless black slacks approached me. An African-American cop said, “You’re lucky you’ve got me man. Someone else could handcuff you, arrest you and take you down to metro booking where you’d spend the next 12 hours waiting to see a judge.”
“Thanks” I said, and hoped I sounded respectful and appreciative without showing fear. I kept my face neutral and didn’t engage him in any further conversation. I know that things can go wrong quickly in airports, at sporting events and in bars named “The Buckhorn”.
The fat guy in the sport coat drifted over as the black cop moved off. He said, “This can cost you twenty thousand dollars or you might just get a letter. Yep, you could get a twenty thousand dollar fine. Or maybe you’ll just get a letter informing you of our laws. You know that knife is illegal?”
“I do now.” Careful, careful.
“Yeah, It’s pretty serious.” I said nothing, just looked at him calmly. He walked away, his duty done.
They left us there and gathered in a knot. We waited for 10 minutes as they chatted, and took sidelong glances in our direction. My mouth was dry but I maintained a level demeanor and said nothing. I didn’t swear, I didn’t laugh, and I didn’t act out. I know the rules of engagement with civil servants and I also really wanted to catch my plane to Paris. I'd been planning the trip for a long time.
Eventually a short, bearded TSA employee came over to us. He carried a clipboard and asked for my phone number, address, and if I was ever a cop or had ever worked in Law Enforcement. I told him that I had a service retirement from the California Department of Corrections and that I’d worked at San Quentin. I watched his pencil hesitate. Either he was thinking that over or he was having trouble spelling “San Quentin".
He again explained that what I’d done was illegal. I again noted that I understood completely. He handed me back my ID and said, “You can go now.”
On the way past the rest of the group I said, "Thanks, gentlemen."
They kept the knife and six months later I recieved a letter informing me that I was to be fined $500 but if I paid up immediately, it would only be $250. No kidding. Desperate government. That sort of pissed me off.
A few months previously my brother, R, recently sent a letter of complaint to the President of the United States and the head of the FDA regarding a recent crackdown on tobacco products. He owns a cigarette store near Sacramento, California, and new restrictions are cutting into his business. His letter was angry and in places he sounded like one of those pissed off white guys who are anti-government and unstable. His tone was sarcastic and he signed off with the statement that “I was born an American and I’ll die an American.”
That sounded a bit threatening so I wrote him and said that I really hoped that some FBI, NSA or CIA scanner didn’t pick up his chatter and see that I was included on his email contacts. I didn’t want to be pulled out of line on my way to Paris, with my wife, for what we hoped would be a life-changing visit because he wrote a nasty letter to the White House and I was related to someone who made vague threats.
My brother P, has lived in Las Vegas for 30 years and we chat on the phone a lot about some of the more foolish actions of our politicians. My Mother was rabidly anti-Bush and she has also sent angry letters to the Commander in Chief and Vice President Cheney. I was hoping that none of these actions would affect my ability to travel freely.
After the security guys found my knife, and threatened me with imprisonment and a huge fine, I discovered that I didn't have to be concerned about my family's political outbursts.
I’m currently in the air, all is good, and Sally is reading her Vogue across the aisle from me.
Hope I get through DC. I’m out of weapons but still in transit.
October 5, 2009
Easy flights and on time arrivals. Smoothest transition from the States to Paris to the apartment ever, even with the Monday morning traffic in the city. Accidents and bad weather make the commute similar to every other commute in every other overcrowded busy metropolis.
The apartment manager wasn’t around to meet us and give us our key. A misunderstanding, Parisian style. The explanation wasn’t worth the effort to listen. We were tired and we waited in a dark, 17th century hallway, out of the rain and wondered what to do. Sally, the daring, amazing Sally, went out into the streets, walked around to familiarize herself with the area, bought a couple of baguettes and a telephone card so that we could try and call the agency to tell them of our plight. I guarded the luggage. That pretty much defines our early travel experiences. She engages, I guard.
The rest of Monday was spent looking at the apartment and moving things around. We unpacked and tried to find closets. There were none, but we made do with corners, cupboards and desk drawers.
Around 6 p.m. we left the apartment and tried our keys. Made sure that it was a half turn at the bottom of the 57 stairs and a quarter turn the opposite direction at the tip, at the door to our foyer. After some test locking and unlocking we figured it out.
Our apartment is at 16 Rue de Sevigne, in the Marais. It’s an old section on the right bank of Paris two or three blocks from The Bastille. It's a busy place with upscale shoppers and parents pushing kids in strollers. A family place. Only two homeless alcoholics, both smiling and pleasant. The metro is nearby and we found a Franprix grocery store. We bought bananas, yogurt, canned soup and a few staples, located a Pizza place, a Japanese restaurant and a couple of coffee shops. We stopped at the Dome, our big, crowded neighborhood bar, for an espresso. We sat side by side at a small table and watched the crowds, chatted, laughed and enjoyed the sky as the clouds became less dense.
On the way back to the apartment we stopped into an interesting gallery. A friendly woman showed us the op-art, minimalist and very attractive paintings of Jesus Soto. She’s had the gallery for 10 years; in art years that’s almost a century. She has also lived in the neighborhood for twenty-five years and was pleasant and helpful. She switched easily from French to English and back to French. I stumbled along in my rudimentary French and Sally chatted amiably. It was a very good experience, to talk about art and learn of a new artist on our first evening.
Suddenly it was 10 p.m. Four or six hours slip by without notice. I lay down to take a quick rest, like I do at home, 20 minutes for refreshment, and I woke up three hours later in the dark. I was up at 1 a.m. and then again at 4 a.m. and soon it was eight.
The hammering had started at the construction site next door and I knew I was done sleeping, but I lay back down and the next time I looked at the clock it was 1 p.m. I got up at 3:30, showered with difficulty, made some apple caramel tea that was left over from previous guests, ate a banana and now it’s 5:45. Sally’s out, getting her coffee, and I’m trying to shake off the feeling that I’ve been kidnapped, drugged and beaten. I’m really looking forward to the big hand catching up with the little hand in the clock in my head.
This is my first post. I'd tacked some other crud up on this blog last winter, but I've deleted it. Now I'm serious. Honestly. Serious. Starting here, starting now, see what happens.
June 3, 2012
Lung Cancer. Brain Cancer. Liver Cancer. All deadly bullshit, of course, but at least the medical professionals can locate the brain and it’s fairly easy to find a lung.
Lung Cancer. Brain Cancer. Liver Cancer. All deadly bullshit, of course, but at least the medical professionals can locate the brain and it’s fairly easy to find a lung.
Pancreatic Cancer has got to be a bitch. Major. No one even knows what the pancreas looks like, where it is or what it does, so when it gets sick, turns toxic and angry and the patient in which it resides shrinks, dries out and turns brown it is really, doubtless, a no-shit bitch. Can’t even point to the pain. Somewhere in here, around this area. Ow, shit yeah, right around there. Shit, that hurt.
Which is how I feel this morning. I went out at 7:30 for a brisk walk because my back’s been hurting, work it out, you know? Stretch, breathe, re-focus. Fuck; age, injury, reprisal. This time, today, this particular discomfort was originating under my lower left ribs. No problem, lots of orthopedic injuries revisiting me lately, but this didn’t feel muscular or skeletal. I thought about my friends who are sick and dying. Liver. Kidney. Goddamn Pancreas. Some strange organ, part of the mysterious secret endocrine system, a filter, a mass of tissue that needs a duct to drain and is located so deep in the trunk of the human body that by the time it becomes painful it is always too late. That’s what they say.
"If you had gotten to us earlier we might have been able to do something for you, but it's too late."
Fuck, dude, really? It's my fault? It just started hurting three days ago. What the hell am I supposed to do? Press, punch, poke and monitor my body constantly and report every stupid and distracting sensation that I notice? Christ, I'm neurotic. I'd be in here every other day. Thanks for nothing, dicks.