High above infant America
by Charles Hill
The beaches of Topanga are littered with the forgotten limes of tropical drinks and the bikini bottoms of remembered passion. Carried out by approaching tides, churned and trundled, battered and brined, this citrus and cloth bookmark crosses the sea and washes up, to be bagged and deposited on the bottom of a landfill.
High above infant America, everything’s redeemable. 30,000 feet above the Southern soil that rejects my roots, and to some extent my soul, (though in fairness) the threads of my moral shield have become migrant. The first letting go was a viper. She takes advantage of the night vapors, when my defenses are down. Her undercover moves, a resiliency for all things mathematical, fueled by top-shelf Vodka, Triskets™ and Brie, a dervish of sorts, the dance begins. I fall in line perfectly. At some level, all things are transitory; our collective need to be righteous and our retrograded resistance merge I am currently residing there. I am home.
This is how it began. Twenty five years ago, I wrote a book that threw me on the world stage (a feat I’ve never recovered from, or repeated.). Twenty five years ago, she burned off her fingerprints so her sentences couldn’t be traced back to her.
“I never ask, I never wait, and I never give second chances.” Words I’ve heard and heeded. The mouth this proclamation comes from, turns up at the corners, the eyes blink, the nose scrunches, and the universe is starting to congeal. I have witnessed from all distances these rumblings of discontent.
*There are some days where every moment feels like an introduction.
Tina has connected the threaded nuance and made a tapestry of illegitimate philosophy. This allows her to escape the pain. She said I’m a pervert of epic proportions, then I do something domestic like buy a shower curtain or install a switch and I’m sweet. She recalls kind words whispered in the dark, it reminds her of past lovers, this is when she understands the world. This will be my prelude to excellence, and we will dance like chickens on a wire. I am not without sources, I have moments and I fall victim to my own hand. Because I don’t do nuance, I’ve become my own hostage. That, and the fact that I sport the look of the freshly fucked in public places like the merit badge the Scouts don’t award, my relationships are doomed from the get-go.
*Milo knows shit. He has spent the day researching legitimate causes and shoring up his existence, both are on rather shaky ground. It’s easy to be the loved one when you don’t have paperwork. This simple fact, the difference between his work day and Tina’s work day, is not lost on him. But, again, not understanding nuance he’s bound to fuck things up.
The problem isn’t whether something is or isn’t, whether something is this or fucking that, that isn’t the problem, the problem is that once you give it a name, a label whether fair or not it becomes that and has to live and exist within those walls, the very thing that made it special evaporates the instant that it has a name. What you’ve done the minute you’re given it a name is set expectations as well as limitations as to what it might actually be. People ask, sure, people like to have shit put away into little boxes, to peg you or me or anyone else, while their life hasn’t exactly fit the pattern they wanted and by labeling us, (if indeed us is us, why can it be you and me, why must the individuality of our lives be glummed into an us, or a them, why can’t two be two but travel in pairs?) This isn’t a fear of commitment rather a desire of preservation.
It begins as all love stories begin, on a day when the News runs dry, the air is thick, and the heart wanders off the reservation. There were, as there always are, indicators that we notice when we realize we’ve lost control, these are moments of rationalization and a capitulation to a higher power.
Religions are built on less.
I am not Ahab, nor was I meant to be. I am Milo, I am insane. I have baggage, perspiration, anxiety, guilt and the knowing look of a man that is always in the wrong. This is confused as impish. I am not by nature a joyful man. I do not write love stories. I write about despair, about desperation, about depression, about loneliness, about the marginal members of society that populate the edge between mad and genius, the chronically misunderstood, and discarded. I write about those with one leg over the rail, those who find no reason to go on and too weak to follow through. I write about what zero looks like. I write about emptiness. I write about the other side of love. As one that has a livelihood dependent upon producing works that make the desperate feel better off and the well-heeled smug, I am a whore. I cash in on the forsaken. I sleep well. I have an over-active conscience and a truly Catholic view of right and wrong. In the words of those who know me well, I’m fucked. Duh! Doomsday never looked so bleak. In order to get back there, the place that makes a dime possible and the drinking necessary, I have little choice but to mainstream this invective.
*I am trying like Hell not to let the monsters win, but the water is fluorinated, the prescription has run out and the Doctor won’t return my calls, these are desperate times!
I have to write a love story before I can be miserable. To tell a tale that is true, in order to move forward and paint a world that is not. I need to move to a less desirable place and throw away the key. I am a man that makes his living peddling hysterical realism.
“Oh! The pomegranates’ are in bloom”— I must react in a fashionable way—I am the adult. Tina has on occasion shared one of her many internal monologues. We are both medicated for ailments imagined and real. Doctors seldom return midnight calls from the desperate. I wrote ‘Equinox in Cambodia’ a decade after the troops came home. I was not a War correspondent, I’ve never been to Southeast Asia, I have no bones to pick with the Vietnamese, and no score to settle with Uncle Sam, I am a guy trying to balance his checkbook. Only after my moment of glory faded was it classified as Hysterical Realism, at the time it was simply fiction, but editors and publishers need a label. I spent the better part of a year going to bookstores, lecture halls, college campuses and even a short stint on public radio, promoting the book, hocking my wares, and generally being a whore.
Tina grew up in a family of revisionists. The childhood she had, bears no resemblance to the person she has become. This is the girl I fell for. I too bear no resemblance to the person I am. Tina knows that the Milo she knows is not the Milo she knows. I know this too. We are a walking paradox and content in the concept of self. I applaud my failed efforts and she relishes the moments of attempt. Peas in a pod.
There is little difference between a college bookstore in Fresno and a college bookstore in Baltimore, even the center table parades the same best sellers, the same color photographs of mainstream writers and the black and white photographs of intellectuals. We are propped up and showcased like in-season fruit.
“Oh! The pomegranates’ are in bloom.” I remember that sentence because it was the first thing Tina ever said to me. I was leaving the lectern and she was thumbing through ‘Equinox in Cambodia’. I remember that sentence, not because of the absurdity, but because it was from a story I wrote years before that was marginally circulated and by all accounts a flop.
Confession, all writers want to be quoted, all writers think little of their popular work and believe their best work is unnoticed. Tina knew my Achilles heel.
Tina says that that was not a pick-up line, that it was a sentence she adored. I’m a muddled man, I was happy either way, and was not going to let doubt invade this moment.
The follow up was, “Writer-guy, give us a new line.”
“I’m severely hungover, my pants don’t fit, and I’m having thoughts about the apocalypse.” I say this is all earnestness.
“Vision of post-apocalyptic-existence are often the side-effects of gin.” She is a visionary.
Currently we occupy a shared space neither of us created. The undercurrent that we are trespassing on our property never truly leaves. Milo has evened his keel and Tina has started to regrow her fingertips.