Khalid threw newspaper onto the pile of damp wood. A blaze roared for a second with each twisted up sheet he tossed. The dog pissed in the box of kindling and tinder, she’s gotten into the antifreeze again. Kids always leaving chemicals laying around. Boys will be boys, girls will be girls, and soon the dog will be dead. The first time he said that they all burst into tears. Khalid didn’t realize that they would take it so hard. It meant something else in his head. He was trying to be forgiving, all they heard was foreboding.
How differently words translate from his mind’s language to his children’s. Chasms of misunderstanding. Where were his children?
Something corrosive dripped through his guts and a rhino sat heavy on his chest. Strange how often the feeling of something burning inside is snuffed from expression because the fire is so hot. Scorching. Unquenchable.
Earlier in the day he had gone hunting. He sought a buck. He didn’t own a gun and had never hunted before in his life. He wasn’t even sure there were deer in the desert. Never seen one. Still, he wanted to do something strong and taking down a buck barehanded seemed to be where his ambitions drew him. Such great heights ambitions can soar when unimpeded by reality. He wondered if he was able to convince himself that he would be able to do it only because he knew there were no deer in the desert.
Viciously self-critical or monumentally self-involved – difference in terminology more than consequence – Khalid was helpless against ruminating over the most miniscule details of his life only to rethink and rethink them ad nauseum. In college he read some German philosopher who wrote about how the only way to make it through life was for most things to fall outside of the horizon of our consciousness. Otherwise we’d go mad were we to focus on every minute interaction our senses have with the external world. Rather than accept this as a simple and generally fortunate fact of being, Khalid saw it as a challenge to conquer. He started by sitting in largely silent and empty rooms to absorb as much from his sensory inputs as possible. Closing his eyes, his hearing would sharpen. Not breathing to avoid smelling for a minute or so with the hope that his skin would better attune to the space he occupied. Over the course of several decades, as he expanded his absorption capacity, he added more objects and engagements, interactions and interferences, quotidian banalities and surprising jolts. Eventually Khalid would sit for hours in parks, malls, plains, trains, mountaintops, airports, caves, saloons, jungles, hotel lobbies, anywhere his horizon most energized.
That’s when they first noticed him. Some bearded brown man sitting by himself, intermittently closing his eyes, perking up his ears and quickly snapping his head around in the air as if his forehead was being jerked about by invisible wires; breathing deeply then clearly not breathing for several minutes followed by gasping and coughing. He would do this for hours. Khalid started drawing unwanted attention. Broad shouldered men whose job is to be suspicious. Khalid could feel it and he liked that it added to the collage forming the field of his stupendously cultivated horizon. The more he felt the more he needed to feel. He sizzled his guts. Numbed from the superficial and only effected by the most penetrating. Making the firestorm rampaging inside of him at present all the more insufferable.
For so long he’d been immune. Suddenly now he sought to wrestle bucks in the desert but would settle for strangling a rattler with his teeth. So much he wanted to get out and all of the words in his mind failed him. Sometimes he’d spend hours cuddling with several dictionaries in all of the languages he knew and a couple he knew by association, looking through them all for the right word in whatever language would manifest his feelings and the images he was thinking. He pondered why he wasted years cloistered in libraries, galleries, studios, and theaters when there are more emotions than there are words and such deeply complex ideas that no medium could display. A surplus of guts to share but a dearth of methods to get them out. Khalid thought about whether it was worse to have locked-in syndrome, a consciousness trapped in an isolated silent body, or to be capable of speaking and moving but so overwhelmed with feeling that every attempt to properly communicate results in abject failure. If all hope is removed then resignation can come so much more readily, of course all hope is thus removed. Yet to think that there might remain some chance of success if you were to just try hard enough, but no matter how hard you try, you still always falter somewhere between close enough or utterly inverted seems truly awful as well. Achilles in Hades forever or Tantalus always on the brink of satiation, Khalid decided both were horrifying and he was neither locked in his body nor unable to make himself a sandwich at any time.
He toasted the bread by holding it against his belly. Wished for an instant that he had some foie gras, a delicacy he first discovered atBarbelé in the late 70’s. It was not until the early 80’s that he learned the difference between gavage and garage; until then he assumed it had something to do with ducks merely raised in urban garages. The fortune of being an immigrant lost in translation allowed him to accidentally enjoy many epicurean delights before his ethics banned them from his life. Sometimes alone in the tub he admits that he always knew. Even by himself his guilt forces him to equivocate, muttering that back then he had never known a duck, there weren’t ducks where he grew up, so what did it matter to him how they became something so delicious. He did know that rarely anything as succulent had passed his lips as Mlle. Fleur’s mouse de canard. It was in the bath when he most missed as well as confessed his life. The first time he fed his first duck in Hyde Park was the last time he ever thought about going back to Paris. His appetite escaped him and Khalid felt himself deflate inside.*
There was nothing for a few moments, then more flames, only to expire furiously with a gust. Again and again this happened to him. Not sure if the blaze arose to allow the squall to blow it out, or if extinguishing the fire with a draft only fanned new flares from nearly exhausted embers. This went on for hours.
The inferno silenced words, but the gales blew them back onto the shores of his mind. For every few seconds of dark quiet Khalid heard glorious conversation. From hush to banter, mute to chatter. Incapable of moving he looked around and it was only then he noticed that there was nobody with whom he could share these spasmodically inspired words. Realizing it wasn’t conversation, banter, or chatter, but actually monologue and soliloquy it all went black for Khalid and only fire raged.
* For the record: The author of this website is disgusted by the concept of foie gras and vile in every possible way.
Following a recent tirade about the hypocrisies of the US Congress, Obama’s maddening decisions regarding Monsanto and Israel, and some other general points about what’s wrong with America, a friend asked me if I hate this country and if I desperately want to leave. I was actually quite taken aback because in fact I love this country.
I was born here and have lived in Los Angeles all of my life. Having traveled quite a bit around the world, I can say without hesitation that thus far California is my favorite place on this planet. And it is from this love that my criticism brews. As a proud citizen of this nation I feel it is both my duty and responsibility to not just critique the actions of our elected leaders, but to actually try and do things to make this place better.
It is not enough to just vote every two to four years. Nor can we satiate our duty by wearing flag lapel pins and tying yellow ribbons around trees. Just as much as the gap between coward and critic dissolves into nihility when the extent of the so-called citizen’s investment is merely reposting news articles that condemn our government. A citizen ought to be expected to participate in the society and culture of which they are reaping the benefits.
Apathy is one of the ugliest characteristics of human beings. Yet so much of the nefarious power wielded by the government upon its people succeeds because of the sense of marginalization and neglect that the citizens come to feel as a result of their seeming disenfranchisement. The more one feels excluded, irrelevant, and ignored obviously the deeper the sense of disconsolation infects. But we are not victims of our government, only of our sense of victimization.
A nation can only be as great as its citizens. One of the grossest faults of America’s legacy is the ugly belief of entitlement that has infused the minds and attitudes of so many of our leaders from John Winthrop to James Monroe, Andrew Jackson to Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan. There is nothing inherently special about America or Americans. We, like all people everywhere, are only as special as the things we do. The greatness we manifest as the unfolding of our destiny defines who we are.
The greatness of America however must be fully reckoned with the sordid heritage of colonialism, militarism, and racism that have marked so much of this nation’s existence. If we ignore these vile facts, then we handicap the immaculate counter potency offered, which is the love that allows, demands even, that we surmount these historical failings. It is through confrontation with these atrocities, not their neglect, that we discover the reaches of our citizens to love, understand, and be compassionate toward one another.
We need to do more as citizens. And the least we can do is love each other and the place that brings us together with a thorough scrutiny of the paths that delivered us to this here and now with a goal of not mere acceptance, but sincere embrace of our fellows in this fantastic land.
Sometimes the forced feeling of people around me trying to better me suffocates rather than inspires. Learning who one is and how one lives ought to precede being told what one “should do.” The concept of “should do” is in most ways quite insulting and almost always thoroughly arrogant. I’m discovering this as I cope with a dear friend’s seeming loss of inspiration. Seeming to me that is. As much as I want him to be the great artist I first fell in love with decades ago, he seems to have settled as merely a family man. However I have come to realize that there’s nothing “mere” about it. His art may no longer be something splattered on canvas but the development and cultivation of his person through his love for his wife and child. He has become a great man and whether he needs to ever paint or sculpt again doesn’t really matter to him. If I love him then all that should matter to me is his happiness. Is he happy? Does he seem fulfilled? Does his day to day satisfy the fire in his belly? To all of these questions I have nothing to say but an emphatic yes.
You can’t force stripes out of spots no matter how much you want stripes. Either accept the leopard as leopard or go find yourself a tiger. Better yet, love the leopard.
Big day for the club as this man publicly defends his ideas and research about all things anopheles gambiae to earn his doctorate.
If you’re wonder what in the world is an anopheles gambiae, it’s this mosquito responsible for spreading malaria throughout the world.
It kills lots of people. Thom travels to some pretty unsavory places to study and kill lots of them. Thom saves the lives of lots of people. Thom is in no small way a great human being. Such a pleasure and honor to be his friend.
Congratulations Dr. Gilbreath. It’s a big day for The Club.
Middle of the night he awakes just long enough to turn over and kiss her arm. The scaffolding must be removed the director told the crew. We cannot go on like this. If the quakes come as predicted everything will crumble down on us and we will be forced to admit we were wrong. But the crew would not accept that there was any problem. They had built it strong with dowels. Dowels damn it. Struck eight to twelve millimeters deep with their fists. Strong fists. Caked with mud from carriages of the their infants. After long hours in the marshes the two ducks slipped under the brackish water and chased each other. There was a storm brewing above and the dam would not hold. Could not hold. Morphed into geckos and climbed the rock. Stuck to it as if by magic or some incredible glue. At the top she said she had to go to the bathroom. Again? Yes again damn it. The question seemed to upset her. Bladder full. Overflowing from her body. Never been wet like this before. Ever. The wetness seeped from her skin. Hairless flesh. Lazered smooth. She’s not that petty he tells himself. But I am he admits. Trying not to be as much the raccoon keeps staring at the rings around his eyes and convinces himself that he needs more sleep. Always so eager to wake up and jump out of bed. No he never jumps. Drungs really. What’s drung mean the girl in the second row asked. It seems like some word you just made up. Well yeah kind of. But it does sound like it’d mean something just like what I want it to mean. Which is? I don’t have time for this the raccoon snaps. Once he starts moving he hates slowing down until he works himself into a stupor. It ain’t as easy as it looks you see. These are rough drunks. Always trying to get one down without bringing up the others. The dam is cracking. It simply cannot hold. Molested in the middle. The art director kept shoving his hand down her pants. Saying that’s just part of the job. Don’t like it, find another line of work. Mining for tin is no way to live for the soft. So tired. Need to nap. Wakes up even more tired. Anchors for eyelids. The anvil on his forearm more of a welt than a tattoo. Or was it an anvil over his eyes and anchor on his body. No matter. Sitting at the edge of the bed he curled back his toes and then clenched them. The joints crackled. In the quiet of their dawn bedroom the snaps so loud. He wondered if it’d wake her. No she sleeps hard. Much as everything else she does. Cranes neck to stretch sore muscles. Shoulder stiff. Aches. All of him hurts. For such a tough guy he sure is sensitive. Does not cry but feels so deeply. Wishes he cried more and felt less. Five for fighting but would take ten to never fight again. This has nothing to do with my work. What work. I don’t know either. Work is so much easier. This I don’t even know what it is. Just trying to get the words out. The thoughts do not linger, they stampede, not through but in circles. Relentless. Beasts. Punched a whole in the dam. Now busted open, water bursts through. Geysers blasting out of the seams spraying the coon. So tired. Even the cold wet spew only gave him more cause to dream. Nightmare. Dream. Nightmare. Dream nightmare. Nightmare dream. Drung down to the bottom of the river. Little ducky was there waiting for him. Before he even knew she was, she was already waiting for him. A lifetime she said she’d been waiting. What took him so long to arrive? Were you about to leave? No, but I was getting hungry. I hear the branzino is excellent. What’s with all the bones. Needles in the mouth, no better than the ones in my nose, yet the ones in my back have done wonders. Drung together a pair of ducks knowing no better but best. Snoring works only like garlic breath. Shared.
Drake was by and large a clean bird. Although not a fan of bathing itself, he absolutely detested being foul. Seemed like a waste of time when he’d just get grubby again and have to do it all over the next day. However the real reason, and what he never once shared with his flush or sord, was that the few seconds he plunged below water to wash behind his crown down to his neck ring terrified him. Forced to shut his eyes, so vulnerable to predators. Any number of things could sneak up or swoop down in those brief moments and snatch dear sweet life away. Wolves and foxes – hawks and cougars – badgers, falcons, even weasels and wolverines too.
Some weeks ago, when waddling down a sunny path, he ran into a beautiful Barbary duck also enjoying the warmth and light. Didn’t take long before adoration consumed them. Frolicking in the shallows after short but intense flights across the marshes. Activity partners they found in one another. Exploring their world deeply. Sharing similar tastes in play, nesting, and mollusks wrapped in algae, the Mallard and Muscovy scarcely wanted to untangle their wings. Nevertheless, Drake still had some migrating left in him this season. And Barbary was well settled near a lake of wooded holly. So before leaving her, he drenched his down in her spittle and for all the while he was away he never once bathed. For not only did he fear loosing her scent from his feathers, but now he finally had something that he’d really miss if a predator got him while his head was under and eyes clasped.
Foreign. Far away and not from this place? Of course not from this place. Something new? And wondrous. An alien? Sure, an alien. Scared? Perfectly. Might she devour you? Maybe my mouth, or so she promised. Threatened? Barbarians, you see, none of them are from around here.
Waiting for you. A thing yet also not.
Anticipation not of a thing but what may be. Hoped for … Dreaded perhaps.
It’s a thing yet also not. Once it becomes any thing it no longer is. Flower.
Some months ago I moved out to Joshua Tree to write and climb rocks.
My home is in a compound. We have an incredible workshop.
Since I can only stare at my glowing box for so long I have been making custom pieces. The aesthetic I aim for is best captured by the term “buttery.” Joints are perfectly smooth. Even if the wood is hard, I try to make it look soft and alluring to the touch. The pieces are made to be used. All pieces always solid, real wood, never plywood or pressboard. I try to use mostly found wood that I work until pristine. As such, I have included some pictures that show the pieces in development as well as finished.
Toy chest (pine)
The finish is a technique that Der and I developed a couple years ago.
Coffee Table (pine and redwood)
These tiles are from a bookcase my grandfather had built a long time ago that I had ripped apart. I kept some pieces until I had a project where I could showcase them. Here they are laid within a redwood frame.
Towel rack (cedar and drift wood)
Table top (redwood, pine, walnut). Work in progress. Legs will be a rusted steel.
This table with have benches on two sides. The tops of the benches are strips of redwood. Below is a picture of one of the bench tops.
Frame (pine and redwood)
More information about this painting and other work by Der Baca, here.
Joshua Tree. It’s raining today. Although I’ve been coming for years, my visits were always predicated upon ideal climbing conditions, as such, excessive wind, severe cold, and any dribble of rain would cancel the trip. This is my first experience of rain out here. It’s quite amazing.
The air smells wet. Just like it would every where when it rains, but when it’s so dry all of the time, such dampness hanging in the air makes me think of an icicle suddenly erupting in the middle of a fiery lake. A different sense of clean is present today. Usually the wind whips every thing pure, constantly eroding the outer shells on things to a raw stripped kernel and eventually oblivion. The rain however subdues. Protects and pacifies. A desert where everything has spines and sharply pricks, with a thin glaze of rain softens. The crisp top layer of unadulterated sand muddies and imbibes rather than cracks underfoot. What usually ruptures now swallows. For the first time the desert doesn’t seem so harsh but inviting. A sweeter, gentler, kinder desert.
Still, mingling with the water in the air is the distinct smell of gunpowder. The residue of the explosions from the Marine base, usually hanging high in the atmosphere sprays down with every droplet. My nostrils first burn for an instant with every inhalation, then are immediately soothed by the rain. Even in the windless, rainy silence, without an explosion of any note for the last day or so, the stench of people practicing killing nearby lingers hard and infects exactly when it seems almost forgettable.
A couple of months ago I moved out to the desert. Joshua Tree. My house is only a few miles from the highway, but it feels really like the middle of nowhere. At night the black that consumes my space is thick and viscous. It seeps in and around everything like molasses. The desert is unrelenting. Never letting me pretend for even a second that it’s merely just like being at the sea, but all beach and no ocean. As soon as I open the door to my house, the desert rushes in. No matter how often I clean there is constantly a thin film of dust that settles as soon as the dust rag is lifted from whatever surface I just polished.
My house is more window than wall, or so it seems, as I have no curtains. The sun rises over a hill just beyond my house. Every morning the sun blares into my life and awakens me. I’ve never been much of morning person, now I mostly wake up at dawn. This is a good thing given that the sun sets around five in the evening and by eight it feels like midnight. It’s just so dark. Being from Los Angeles, I’ve never known such darkness. Nor had I experienced this sort of quiet. Although the coyotes howl through the night, from twilight to midnight I don’t seem to hear them. I step outside and the wind, the meanest of all elements, blasts like static on a radio from the heavens. I hate the wind. Always been the bane of every outdoor activity I’ve ever engaged. Now I find myself in a place where so much of the landscape, the weather, and the essence in fact is founded upon and contoured constantly by the wind.
Despite the largely absent trace of humans in my midst most of the time, there is one inescapable thorn that pierces me and reminds me that not only am I not in the middle of nowhere, but perhaps even lolling in a fantasy of absurd proportions. Some twenty miles from my house is Twenty Nine Palms, which houses the US Marine Corps: Marines Air Ground Combat Center, commonly known as the largest marine base in the world. Jets often grid the sky with chem-trails/con-trails/chem-trails/con-trails(?). It’s not unusual to see a mighty caravan of military vehicles on the highway. I’ve met many young boys with buzz cuts, Semper Fi tattoos, and ever less innocent eyes at the saloon. Yet such things are seemingly innocuous enough that they remain novelties to me and even though my body and house quiver from the incredible rumble created by the pairs of Viper helicopters crossing overhead, nothing compares to explosions that I hear all of the time from the base. I can only assume that they are running training missions, war games or whatever. Pretending to be in some hot, arid, miserable place like Pakistan or Afghanistan, shooting at brown people and blowing shit up. Having grown up in a city where the rattling of my house caused terror through my entire being and inured a desperate sensitivity for the quakings of the earth within me, every time these Marines blow up some pretend enemy, they also send ripples through me. More than my own earthquake traumatized past, it’s the realization that what they are doing as training today a couple dozen miles and a few hills away from me is actually being practiced on the other side of the world on real people. Every explosion I hear over here, likely resulting in nothing beyond scores on some sort of tactical assessment, is ultimately intended to prepare these young boys and girls for killing other young boys and girls. I imagine it’s much easier to kill people when you can’t see their faces. Press a button, a rocket flies off into the distance, and then some seconds later an immense blast confirms that something has blown up. But they only hear the collapsing of buildings and the shattering of glass, the shrieks of people are muffled under shrapnel, mortar, and brick. How much like a video game. So easy to keep pretending.
Most days I’m up at dawn. The sun is bright. Air crisp. My windows rattle intermittently. The earth grumbles in deep remorse. And I do my best to pretend I’m also in the middle of nowhere.
It’s been a while since I’ve written anything, thought Khalid. Not for lack of want or ideas, but conviction. Sometimes just getting out of bed is so hard on the body that the brain drags along just barely in stride to keep lungs breathing and heart beating. The mind is nowhere in sight. Khalid has been spending too much time at malls and shopping centers. He goes to watch people buying stuff. It makes him happy because he says Americans are never more content than when they are buying stuff. In fact it seems like every one of their holy days has some aspect of gifts associated. Even Thanksgiving, he had his third one in America last night, included every one coming with a bottle of liquor or flowers of some sort. The mere presence of each other seems inadequate to Americans – perhaps one of the luxurious affectations of living in a first world country. In any case, Khalid likes seeing happy people, especially Americans, who he thinks are some of the unhappiest people in the world. Explains why they’re always buying stuff. The more stuff they buy the more they can feel happy, even if only for a few moments, even if it’s all pretend, it looks like happy from the outside at least. And that’s all Khalid really wants. He never talks to the people. He himself never buys anything, he doesn’t even take his wallet. He simply goes to the mall, brings a thermos full of potato vodka and Earl Grey tea with cinnamon and watches the people. This is obviously his favorite time of year, because people are swarming the malls like locusts in Egypt. Today was to be a glorious day except he drank too much with his new Mexican American friends the previous night at their Turquía fiesta. He didn’t even realize how much he had drunk until dawn when he shot out of bed to go to the bathroom only to realize midstream that he had to vomit something awful. He was able to sustain the stream just long enough to get his head down toward the toilet, already well yellowed from the expulsion of seeming liters of urine. Just as he bent down, somehow he had the wherewithal to flush as he was beginning to explode. Yet there was just enough water and urine still in the toilet that when he bent down to puke, a splash spurt up back at his face. His vomit was thick. A viscous residue of fowl, grains, and vegetables still only partially digested, coagulating in a stew of tequila. It didn’t stream from him so much as burst out in thick clods, more of a cough than a wheeze. Khalid bent down and emptied the rest of his belly into the toilet newly filled with clean water, driblets of urine dangling from his brow and nose. After washing his face he returned to bed. Awaking every few minutes desperately hoping he felt better so he could go and watch the shoppers. Alas, he didn’t feel human again until the sun had set, and Khalid had recently become more and more afraid of leaving the house at night. Living his life more and more by the hours of the malls and shopping centers, he didn’t like the vacancy of the streets and the stores as closing time neared. He knew that most stores would remain open quite late on this night, but he also realized the people shopping then were of different kind than those who did so by day, when most people worked. People who shopped at night didn’t inspire him like those during the day. They seemed like they were shopping because they had to, as if their workday was not yet complete; they never appeared to experience the flagrant joy of the day shoppers. Khalid preferred to stay in at night. His head felt better and his stomach even hungered. Everything seemed so far away though. He stayed in bed. Thought about malls and shoppers. His body relaxed and he finally fell into a healthy slumber. Saturday would be almost as good. Khalid smiled.