Wednesday, January 27, 2010

morning memory haiku

I read morning news,
arm snaked around your back as
you dream against me

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

the measure of time

I told two people today about my former life as a barista.

I can remember clearly standing on those rubber mats behind the counter, swinging gallon jugs of milk, flipping cans of whipped cream up and around in a lazy arc, the toes of my black earth shoes perpetually glazed in glossy lactose. I remember drinking a soy chai every morning for breakfast. Eating ramen quick-cooked under the scalding hot water for the tea, prepared in a for-here cup every day for my lunch. Taking the New York Times for my lunchtime reading material. Looking out the window at the drive through scenery- the immense, hulking snow-capped Pike's Peak. Watching the grey streaked view of Speedway for my boss' car to pull in, which it inevitably did, even when she took the day off.

It seems like a different life altogether. The memories themselves wholly apart to me, as if I read them somewhere and misappropriated them. Or perhaps they are nothing more than the vestiges of a particularly vivid dream.

I talked to my dad last week on the phone, and he told me my old manager from Starbucks stopped in at his GFS store, looking for a job. Which would make him her boss. I told her she is an absolutely kick-ass worker, if you can get over the constant swearing and verbal abuse. But she'll work herself to death. I guess certain skills are always marketable.

I hope to find diversity in what I do, not disconnection. I'll tell you, though, the thought of Kelly at the cash register, answering to my father of all people, has my internal record player skipping. As warped as the song is, I do not find that I mind.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

continued roll in

I remember this kind of skinny kid leaning in the doorway as we ran, past the white sheet hanging down from the ceiling to hide H class off from the rest of the 3rd deck. Everybody was dressed comfortably, warm and clean looking in PT gear: blue sweatpants and long-sleeved white t-shirts. I ran with my seabag in front of me, carrying it upside down with a deathlike bear-hug grip. Knife hands. The kid was pale, and called after me as I threw my stuff down in Preston’s room, where I’d been assigned, “Be loud.”

We followed the Master Gunnery Sergeant downstairs to the first level of the building to where his office was located. Everything was fast. Everything was going to hell, I could barely keep up with him and he appeared to be only walking. I hated this.

We followed the small man outside, the New England twilight choking the sky with a heavy gray stranglehold. It was spitting again, neither ice nor rain, just a cold, miserable wet. We went to a sand pit, the “rose garden.” And oh, the irony of this misnomer.

I will take a moment here to say that this, technically my first “beating” in the accepted nomenclature of the environment, I learned one of the most important principles of survival in military training: the meatshield. The meatshield (or heatshield, if you prefer something less verbally bloody) is essential for survival. I cannot stress this enough. The purpose of the meatshield is to provide a buffer zone between yourself and the Marines, who are looking for any weakness. They like to eradicate this weakness at the source. It is best to never be this source. As callous as it is, you get a fatter, dumber, slower person, and you keep them between you and the salivating devil dogs at all times. At all times. And you just melt into the background- another worthless candidate with BCGs and stupid tall socks and hideous running shorts. But you do not become the source.

Amy and Preston quickly proved to be invaluable meatshields in the Rose Garden. I lay on my back, doing 6/90s next to Amy, feeling like my legs were on fire. The Smokey Bear hat that the Drill Instructors all wore jutted out like a knife from the Master Gunnery Sergeant’s forehead, pointing directly at Amy’s face. We were supposed to be keeping our heads off the deck, chins on chests while we lifted our legs into the air over and over again—“Six, aye sir! Ninety, aye sir!”—and I suppose it was because she was tired, but whatever the reason her head kept nestling itself down in the damp sand. He was yelling at her to keep it up, and she would pull it forward weakly on her short neck, and then it would flop back… I was resolved not to be screamed at like that. I kept my head up.

Preston was worse, she kept collapsing into a whimpering heap when we had to bear crawl. Steele looked like the four horsemen of the apocalypse were clambering at the edges of his mind. Tim caught my eye once, briefly, a mix of chagrin and sadness clouding his face. I wanted to quit so badly. The next time we were on our backs, I stared out across the muscular, flinty water, churning in the bay. I thought of how Dan had hugged me so hard the night before I left to start this cursed journey. How he just held me, for moments that turned into whole minutes, and spoke so softly and comfortingly into my ear. Dan knew I was tough- that episode hadn’t been a lack of confidence in me, but simply a knowledge of what was coming. Dan is my brother, and he’s never defended me to anybody, because, as he once told me, he’s never had to. He knows I can take care of myself. And at that moment, that ten-minute-long hug in the narrow hallway of my parents’ house was the only thing keeping me from a plane ticket and the kind of regret that turns into a nursed heartache.

We got on our knees, after what seemed like hours but had probably only been about fifteen mintues. We were instructed to fill up our pockets with sand, so we did. All of them. We were told to get back into the building. It was coming up on full dark, and people were so tired they were forgetting things. I was the last one out of the pit, carrying three canteens and two chrome domes. The people I gave them back to were too exhausted to care.

We got back in the building and dumped all the sand from our pockets out onto the carpeted hallway. Tim had been in front of me, and as I stepped over his pile I saw his driver’s license poking out of the top of his little mound. We all carried our ID in our left breast pockets. I quickly bent down and retrieved the card, sticking it in my poopy suit. We stood in a semi-circle, sweating, clotted rivulets of snot hanging down out of our nostrils and encrusted with darkened sand. Our poopy suits were wet and stank. We were asked to give a sort of basic account of ourselves, answering questions the Master Gunnery Sergeant might ask us. He asked several candidates what their college majors were, and I dreaded the moment he might discover I had spent four years with Shelley, Coleridge, Gilgamesh and Woolf. The moment never came; when it was my turn, he asked me the fewest inquiries of anyone. And, oddly enough, he asked if I had siblings, and what they did for a living.

chow two

Chow procedures were clearly delineated in the cumbersome OCR, or Officer Candidate’s Regulations. One of these large, plastic covered books was issued to each room in the barracks to share between the two occupants therein. Even though I immediately went to H, and therefore had nothing to do all day except go to chow, there was still a steep learning curve. Candidates who remained with their original class just had to pick it up as they went along. This meant lots of mistakes. Lots of mistakes means lots of corrections, and lots of corrections means very little time to eat. Desperation and hunger are excellent teachers.

Frequently in the first week, and sometimes even beyond for punitive measures, a class would be fed personally by the numbers, all lifting their war spoon in unison, chewing in unison, zombie-arming their cups in unison. It is very easy to see when someone is jacking up this way. A remarkable number of things, first of them being dignity, fall by the wayside. Looking out over the sea of sweaty, concentrating, fear-filled faces facing your direction, and the number of shaved heads facing away, there is at a minimum the comfort that you are not alone. Not alone with eggs or sauce smeared all over your face, because you will not earn napkins for weeks or perhaps months. Not alone with rice dribbled all over your tray, water spilled down your front, hip joints straining in their sockets. Sometimes it would be far better if you were.

Nakanaela was short. He had an excellent sense of humor, a great laid-back island outlook that was a breath of fresh air when he rolled into H. One of the best things about him was the fact that he didn’t speak unless he needed to. All day, all night in one hallway with the same 40 people can get old.

It had been about a week, I guess, since Nakanaela rolled in. We were at chow, senior H-ers seated strategically throughout the new kids on the block to keep an eye on potential disasters and try to surreptitiously answer questions. Eating literally everything with only a spoon could have its pitfalls. Nakaneala was across from me, and fortunately I’d gotten a good table-leg spot, so I was fairly relaxed. H did have a few perks, especially in the area of food. We were allowed salads, though dressing was taboo. We were also afforded napkins, something regular classes didn’t enjoy until they were at least midway through the program. Though I was uncomfortable and injured, I could still have a clean mouth.

I snapped my head down, going for the salad on this trip through the numbers. A juicy, ripe looking cherry tomato sat on top. I shoveled it in, replacing my war spoon to the right side of the plate and returning my hand to my lap. My head snapped up, lips slightly pursed around the tomato. Nakaneala blinked owlishly at me from across the table, eyes magnified by the freakishly large, navy issued BCG’s. I bit down, and the tomato exploded.

The force of the fruit forced my lips open and shot across the table, splattering his tanned face and the lenses of his glasses with thick, red juice interspersed with seeds. In my shock, I almost laughed, remembered where I was, then nearly choked. Nakanaela didn’t flinch. He brought his hand up out of his lap and shot it out towards me, the white square of napkin coming into sharp relief between the two of us. Then, in one precise, military stroke, he brought the paper to his eyes, wiping across the BCG’s like a large windshield wiper. His hand shot out towards me again, then down into his lap.

Across the table, I grunted and shook, and then got stuck for a while on step five.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


(a brief excerpt, again...)


Chow was easily the best part of the day before taps. Besides eating, which was one of the few pleasurable things you could do at OCS, you got to see everybody. And everyone got to see you, which could be good or bad or both. More often than not, chow was comedy hour, especially where H class was concerned.

Now, let me amend: I previously said chow was pleasurable. It was, in the barest of senses; you could fill your stomach and thereby not be hungry anymore, which is typically not pleasurable. You could physically taste the food. Marines have not yet figured out how to deactivate taste buds. I believe if they could have, it would have happened a long time ago. Other than that, chow was not pleasurable.

First of all, the candidate would be seated uncomfortably. This would involve sitting on the front third of the seat (This, I heard, was a throwback to days when Drill Instructors would walk along the back of the seats, shoving candidates’ heads into food. Like much of the rumor mill at OCS, this was completely unverified and therefore believed wholeheartedly). Legs together, feet at a 45 and to the left of the table legs. This meant every other man or woman at the table would have a disclocated pelvis by the time the meal was finished. Backs, of course, were straight, and eyes, of course, were staring 1000 yards away. We ate on an eight-count, numbered system. On the first count, the head snaps down. The second count, the left hand comes up from the lap (forget about your right hand completely during any type of activity where it might be useful) and comes to the right side of the plate, where the only utensil permitted was waiting: the mighty war spoon. Three, grasp huge spoon, four, shovel it full of chow. Five, put in mouth. Six, put spoon back and so help you baby Jesus don’t chew or it will be all over. Seven, bring head back up and hand to lap. Eight, chew chew chew. Repeat.

Drinking was much the same, shooting the left hand straight out like a zombie lurching towards brains. Except these brains were two large, large cups of blue powerade and water. (As an aside, approximately 60 ounces of blue powerade consumed daily does interesting things to the old GI tract. More on this later.) You drank as awkwardly as a person could drink, a sad awkward distance-staring robot, finishing all your liquid. So help you baby Jesus if you didn’t.

There were tricks to eating chow, stuff I worked out over long periods of time. The glasses would sweat and scoot, ghostlike across the table once they were empty. I would take the single napkin we were allowed, folded into an inch square, and move the cup, then wipe the table underneath. Precise wiping. Precise movement. I would use my thumb to shove bits of food onto the spoon when staff was distracted. I would keep the fish on my plate longer so I could use it to scoop rice against. If I was sitting in the middle of the table, where nobody could see, I would move my legs wherever I wanted. If a person started laughing uncontrollably, it was best to just keep your head down, as if you were stuck on step 5. And I got stuck on step 5 a lot. Remember, despite all this, chow was the best part of the day before taps. Chow was comedy hour.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

zee zay zoe zay zah

choral warmups are invariably the same.

last night I had a sort of impromptu-audition before my first rehearsal with the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus. it was more than I expected, and less than it should have been. surprisingly enough, they told me I was in, and here I am, in my third Symphonic Choir in 12 years. Michigan, Indiana, Florida: perhaps I should have a goal to sing in all 50. I sat on the front row in the seat that my friends Anne and Jean held for me. they drove me to rehearsal. Jean dropped a not-so-subtle hint that she'd like to attend my winging. despite everything, it seems that everywhere I go people are determined to like me. I frequently stand amazed.

I sit, in the afternoon afterwards, drinking a dubbel, listening to WTTS online and thinking about everything from the price of apartments in Anacortes, WA to the recent destruction in Haiti. I listened to Wyclef Jean last night on CNN talk about his home. it seems despite the distances, the money, the fame, the heart lingers on.

last night my mother warmed up in Indianapolis with the ISC as I sat, transitioning a half-step over sixteen counts just as I used to do with her in the north. the internet brings these sounds of bloomington and the circle streaming to me. location seems to have less and less to do with place.

in so much, I am blessed. present in this present with a skype-fly-on-the-wall to NOLA, texting to Denver, planning to rock the Casbah with friends that in a year will be a thousand miles from me.

under it all, the beat rolls on.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

the best kind of day

I'm tired, so this is going to be brief. However:

it is more than nice to lay on a couch and not say anything. Just listen to the soft sounds of another human, a human you trust and love, do something they enjoy. And be totally at ease.

a night luftpause

Will I ever rest this year? - JP Hoe

I'm with Joe this weekend. I'd had enough and had to come see him.

We went and saw "Up in the Air" shortly after I got here, and both loved it. Loved that it didn't end in a prepackaged fashion, that there was just enough real life in the script to keep it messy. The actress who played Natalie was perfect at portraying the bitch you love to hate. The actress who played Alex, Vera somebody-or-other who was also recently in that otherwise horrible film "The Orphan," was deliciously relaxed, down to earth: the quintessential man's woman. And George Clooney was... well, George Clooney. What is there not to like?

At one point in the film, Alex says to Ryan (Clooney's character) "Think of me as you, just with a vagina." Joe and I both laughed, because despite the plumbing and a couple of other minor differences, we are essentially the same.

In the car on the way, he showed me gifts his s/o had gotten him for Christmas, the s/o who's not an s/o. She'd sent stickers from XKCD and a Darwin fish for his car. I laughed with him about how when we got our house together in Washington State, I'd have to put a Jesus fish on the back of mine and that way when we pulled them in side-by-side in the garage, it would be like our own little peace house, differences of belief nestled safely side-by-side. He told me the last time he had a Darwin fish on his car, it was vandalized. Yes, that makes a lot of sense with the example Jesus set up. I told him probably a lot of people wouldn't even think I was a Christian these days, and just the idea cuts me to the quick. Sometimes a life lived outside the presorted and prelabled and prepaid envelope is one filled with more belief, not less; but I digress.

The standard Pensacola booty call was apparently at BW3's just before we got there, probably pulling out of the parking lot as we pulled in. He texted my phone repeatedly with regret, talking about boredom and alcohol. I was polite but not encouraging. My booty is going straight to voicemail these days.


It is 0450, local time. I fell asleep about 5 hours ago, and have been up now at least a half an hour. I doubt I slept for more than 20 minutes at a stretch on the couch... I got too hot, my skin was too dry, the couch is too short for my long frame, etc. Mostly, I'm just restless. Or, I should say, I'm still restless. This moment in which I slink around, getting water and pottying and emptying my brain publicly of yesterday-detrius, is an in-between day. A night luftpause. Hopefully there will be more sleep when I am finished, but I'm not counting on it. There's very little I count on. Differences, and mess, and missed connections are pretty much, however, guarantees.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

some new work

talked to Dave and Rachel tonight about a new thing I'm going to start working on. below is a very small excerpt: the names are changed to protect the innocent (or, as Dave said, the guilty). thoughts?


We lost our first shipmate to D.O.R. Sunday night. Scott Dannon, the kid who was going to be a SEAL and had no bearing whatsoever was supposed to be standing across from me. Every time we would stand and look at each other with a thousand yard stare, his face would slowly contort and then screw up into a clownish smile. I knew he was going to be my undoing. But, suddenly he wasn't there, and his name wasn't scrawled on masking tape, sticking to the wall, either. Dudley stood alone next to the other side of the doorjam. A candio came by and asked him what his roommate's name was, and he stuttered for a moment and finally said, "Drawer."

After taps Monday night, before the subsequent PFA Tuesday morning, the wind was already howling. It came in off Narragansett Bay with a weird moan, scuffling along the screens just outside our latched windows. Amy and I had to use the head, and we decided to see if maybe Dawn or O’Shea might as well. There were six fifis in all. We crept out into the p-way, the door nearly slamming behind us with the draft. As we slunk along towards the nearby hatches, the floors illuminated in dim shafts of directional lighting, I turned to Amy, ready to ask about the loud gusts. Instead, in my near-sleep, I tossed out: "Hey, can you smell that wind?" Yikes.

I held out some kind of futile dream that they weren't going to roll us at first. We did the PFA first thing, before five, and then they just kept us with the rest of the class- breakfast chow, then all these briefs... the only one I really remember was the Chaplain. My chest felt heavy. This was ridiculous. I was ridiculous. I was tired. We whispered in between presentations, trying to figure out who made it and who hadn't. Almost everyone I'd personally made a connection with was rolling. Steel (my ride), Dawn, Amy, Post, Rolls, another girl Preston, Pete Ivers, and Tim. He'd failed pushups, too, and we'd kept a near-even pace on the run. My roommate Amy had collapsed at the end of the run after failing by one second. At least I'd have companions.

Late in the afternoon we were in the Killzone and prepped to meet Chief Drill Instructor Master Gunnery Sergeant Foster USMC for the first time. He came out, and though I topped him height wise, was immediately dwarfed as I have never been. When he announced that he was in charge of the PFA failures, and then called our names out, I honestly thought I was going to Hell. It's just shortened to H.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

epiphany and the firecat

today I found out this sickness I've been fighting is an upper respiratory infection. I came home after frequenting the clinic and the hospital, carrying yet more pills in a brown paper bag. I chugged five and nasally sprayed myself (and let me tell you, isn't THAT nice) before brunch. I passed out rather quickly after eating and enjoying a particularly spectacular stomachache. I am on SIQ, or doctor's orders to remain "sick in quarters" for 48 hours.

the cat is ignoring me. and I... I am bored. tonight as she sat, perched on the back of the couch and looking all cozy in front of the fire, I snuck stealthily up behind her. like a great, sweatshirt-clad coughing ninja. she was sleeping, a little mass of humped-up grey fur. I poked. she yowled. I was the teaser, she the firecat.

the thing that makes me the most grumbly about today is that today is Epiphany. nobody really pays attention to Epiphany anymore, but COGS does, and I was supposed to sing tonight in honor of those great eastern sages, plodding along on dromedary to find a very small boy in a rather small town underneath a blazing, astrological phenomena. instead, tonight found me laying by the fire, looking at the tree a few more times mournfully, and occasionally sneezing at the cat. she didn't stir. yes, and I said looking at the tree- it will come down tomorrow. or whenever I next feel up to it. Christmastide is now officially past. but only barely; we have twelve days, and then a bit of discovery, you know.

happy realization of hope day. happy completion of journey day. happy light of the world day. tomorrow: the flight to egypt. tonight: gifts, and the recognizance of the wildest dream ever born.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

clear miracle citrus

the ferret is in the dining room. I can hear it out there, clattering about. our bungalow is delightful in many ways, not least in the tendency for the ground floor to be chilly and the upstairs (the ferret's normal home) to be a furnace. apparently, it was near death from heat exhaustion... so, the ferret is in the dining room.

this evening, when it was already near dark, the doorbell rang. bella went ballistic, barking and growling at what turned out to be a rather short, older african american man on our front porch. I stepped out and shut the door behind me so "pooch," as lindsay frequently calls her, wouldn't escape.

the man was selling cleaning fluid, stuff that would power away mildew from grout and permanent marker from a towel he carried in his pocket. he used the word "agitate" as normally in a sentence as it can ever be used, and I was impressed. he was a formerly homeless man from Atlanta, he told me, and this was part of a program he was working with, going door to door to work on his communication skills, and provide him with a job in sales to transition to being a productive member of society. he was working on getting points for a certain number of units sold, which were available of course for the modest price of $47.50 each. he pulled out a brand new bottle of the stuff, called "clear miracle citrus." I politely declined, and told him I would ask my roommate if she was interested. she declined less politely. I came back in the house, leaving him somewhat dejectedly repacking his bag on the front porch.

I try not to shut those guys down. if part of what they are doing is truly to work on communication skills, then go right ahead. if they are in fact savvy business people, they will not be able to savv me, and I will keep them longer on my porch, unable to savv others who might be ripe for the savving. plus, I don't like to be rude and slam the door in someone's face. or slam the phone down in someone's ear. I'm not much for slamming in general.

about an hour later, Linds took Bella outside for potty, and she came back in weilding the brand new bottle of clear miracle citrus. apparently in his dejection he forgot to leave our porch the way he found it. apparently I do get to clean my grout and my marker-stained washcloths, after all.

so sorry, homeless solicitor. and thanks.

Monday, January 4, 2010

the fornication tarp

today I got sick. it started off with the drippy nose last night, where I was just sniffling over and over. I remember when dad used to do that when I was growing up, and I would want to drown him, the sound drove me so crazy. last night, I pretty much wanted to drown myself.

I ended up falling asleep on my back, Olive laying close by on the body pillow like usual. this was a conscious choice, because then I didn't have to wake up in a puddle of my own drainage. the bad news was that said drainage went all into my eustachian tubes and my ears were close to explosive level when I awoke. I went on base for a couple of hours mid-day, but otherwise today was lay around the house, watch The Discovery Channel and TLC (back to back episodes of Overhaulin', Mythbusters, Little People, Big World, and Cake Boss), wear old sweats and nap fitfully. Linds was a darling and went to the grocery, bringing me back chicken and stars and some airborne. I took a handful of assorted pills from the medicine cabinet.

I can't remember when I've watched this much TV in one day. The really prime moment of the evening was when I got a call from what very nearly amounts to a long lost friend from college. we talked about TV (naturally, as it was my only activity today) and how we'd both loved the show "The Sing Off" a couple of weeks ago. Seriously, that Ben Folds. I could just eat him up. and we started talking about modern lyricism, and how nobody really wants to make love up in this club. or make love nah nah nah nah. nobody wants to make love on the dance floor. firstly, they want to f***, not make love. and secondly, i highly doubt that even the thuggiest gangsta would whip it out right then and there. maybe in the VIP room. maybe in the bathroom stall. but in the middle of everyone? I'm doubtful.

we came up with the idea of the fornication tarp, or f*** tarp, if you don't mind using all the words in the king's english. You could put it out in the middle of the dance floor. It would provide some privacy if interested parties wanted to wrap up in it, or get under it. It could be easily hosed off. It could be marketed in neon colors, which might augment the ambience with the usage of blacklights. perhaps the fornication tarp could be featured in autotuned, overproduced hip hop videos, endorsed by rappers with icy grills and t-shirts that hang past their knees.

only one question remains: if they would be able to sacrifice their romantic lyricism for the capitalistic powerplay of the moneymaking tarp. after all, not much rhymes with f***.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

poor old Michael Finnigan

A friend asked me yesterday if I was still writing. Basically, not really.

There was a time I couldn't stop. The internal monologue became external, and I would provide narrative to the spoken word. Actual events became rife with literary symbolism, shadows of books that hadn't been written, echoed on the cave wall of my mind.

I have previously vowed not to let certain, very changeful things change me. And now, with a bit of crow in my mouth, I look back and see that the times, they have been a changin'. Some good, yes. more than just some- a lot good. but some of me has been left by the roadside, and I suppose I just want to make sure that the creative outlet isn't one of those things. The guitar has sat in its case in the livingroom since I got to JAX in October. I'm singing a lot, but writing only sporadically and certainly not uploading it. I guess I've just been burned too much. so this... I don't know what this is going to be yet. perhaps just a horse of a different color.

It's the third of January, but it's not too late. Not too late to say a few things about 2010. To say that though I feel strong enough for anger, I also can't think about anything that's worth getting angry over. To say that I'm going to embrace patience and vegetables. Peace and long walks. Introspection and saying words that are unsafe when it feels safer to be safe: words that have meaning and carry weight further than their own conversation.

To say yes to writing, and no to fear.