Vodka and Melatonin-Part I


He squinted through the match light to read the numbers scrawled on a wrinkled shred of brown paper that she must have torn off of an old grocery bag.  742, they said, which did him absolutely no good as the hovels and shitholes along this alley were not numbered in the back. He shook out the match and let it fall to the ground.

A little further along, toward the lone streetlight, something about the wire fence behind the blue dumpster seemed somehow familiar. He walked on carefully, avoiding the scattered guts of an overturned garbage can. A rat-it’s grazing interrupted-squeaked and skittered away. A few more paces and a garage materialized from the shadows-the twin doors boarded tightly over. This could be it, he thought, remembering when the doors would stand open by day allowing the ins and outs of the men who worked here. He recalled the rough whine of the impact wrenches and the impossibly loud crashing tires and brake drums and all manner of automotive detritus onto the grease-stained floor. Was that here?

A dim light glowed in one of the high windows of the apartment above. With a cautious familiarity he slipped into the inky shadows of the passage between the garage and the empty house sliding his hand along the cool brick wall as he had as a boy. He came out from between the buildings into an abandoned courtyard illuminated in a muted orange from the foundry glowing brightly across the field.

The fifteen wooden steps up to the simple porch were rickety but the platform itself was sound. The knob turned easily and the door opened into the kitchen-empty but for the appliances leaning forlornly with doors sagged open.  Instinctively he reached for the light switch to his right and snapped it on. Nothing. Thick shadows from the side room played against the wall opposite.

He moved through the void where the table and chairs had once been, into the glowing living room. Against the far wall was a high table draped with a tattered, nondescript cloth and covered with candles. The room was otherwise empty of furnishing but occupied by an enormous naked man posing in the center. The guttering yellow light of dozens of tiny flames reflected in the rivulets of sweat that ran down the man’s wide back and massive arms as he flowed-in a grace that belied his size-from pose to pose-freezing at the completion of each, then sliding into the next.

The massively round beach-ball shaped belly might have been his most remarkable feature had it not been for his balls. They hung heavily like a pendulum and swung lazily from side to side like the clapper on some awful church bell. From the doorway he somehow knew the particular form the behemoth was doing and knew that the coming sequence of movements would involve slow spins and high stately kicks which he in no way wanted to witness so he moved on down the hall.


Lengthening Shadows


I lit two candles with the wooden matches from the cigar shop. Even with the fog veiled moon hanging over the hill glowing through the windows, the room was dim. It would take a few weeks after daylight savings time to get decent light into my attic again. Two more candles helped.

A few stretches and a (premature) sun salutation and I was ready to begin my tai chi practice. There was no clock but I knew what time I climbed the bare wooden steps. I would have fifty minutes to do my forms-including the sword and cane which had recently been added.

The last conscious thought I had was the word “now…” trailing off to silence swallowed by a deep emptying exhale. As far as I could tell, the first-the short-form went well. It was my strongest having known it the longest. Sometimes, with my mind unavailable to keep track, my body would lose its place and I’d run over the same section again and again like a record needle stuck in a groove. That didn’t happen this morning. As far as I could tell.

In the space between the long form and the sword-when I had to break to pick up and unsheathe the weapon-I felt a little winded. Which was typically not the case in my tai chi practice. This was measured, deliberate, contemplative movement. If I wanted “winded” I go back to sparring or the bag.

My mind wandered to the book I was reading. Haruki Murakami’s writing is to be lingered over. It doesn’t come to you in the words-but in the spaces between. I think there is a notation in music that means “pause” or “breathe”. I can’t guarantee that because the only music class I ever had was in the fifth grade and barely remember. But pauses are as important as anything else. To make space. To allow for slow, total absorption. Lately I’ve been reading too fast; feeling my eyes flowing down the page, running like raindrops down a windshield.

Slow down. Outside the moon was dipping below the front hill but the morning was brightening as the sun rose over the tree line in back. Slow down…even saying it made my heart beat a little faster. Maybe I should masturbate, I said, startled to hear my voice. Living alone I found it sometimes difficult to separate thoughts from words and am surprised when the room echoes to silence after a thought.

I find self-gratification an excellent soporific-not as long lasting as Xanax or some other big-pharma concoction but on the plus side, doesn’t make me crave cold Chardonnay after an hour.

Downstairs the clock told me that all four forms had taken less than forty minutes. Was I running? I made a cup of strong coffee and sat in a chair in the dim house facing away from the sunrise.

“Are you going to work today?” my father asked from the next room.

“Go away”, I ordered. “No ghosts this morning.”

The shadows lengthened.