Waves onto and off the beach scudding my ankles in the blue pall, fog hazy down the beach obscuring highrise beachfront units and fat Midwesterners dipping toes in the surf then squealing piggies smoke from a pork roast rummaging through the salt air and redneck cigarette smoke and we’re just miles from that thunder and now it’s thundering for real, far out and off the beach, out to sea, a mysterious Christopher Columbus hurricaney boom wet with mist and wondering. These Midwesterners, though, don’t share this wonder, they only wonder how the Twins fared against the Sox, do they want their steaks rare or medium, how many emails when they get back to the office and meanwhile the eyes of the Florida South glare salt and bloodrimmed…
First we were kids, little kids playing in the backyard, exploring the woods, not knowing the time or the ancillary stillness of things, not believing in the slowness of time, young not old not dying, knee-skinning, pool-pushing, locker-slamming little kids bright in the morning sun, getting our pantlegs wet in morning dew, air crisp, lungs clean. Little kids.
But it’s all too strange, too strange, like that odd-as-hell couple with their little blackgirl at Java Vino fooling with those odd images while you sat stressed drinking Dale’s wondering what was happening, and the man was wearing a ridiculous “Poetry” t shirt and the woman was a bedonk-a-donk and her child just threaded the scene like silken spiderwebs and wondered why she couldn’t just leave but there would be no leaving, no relief from their 25 tumblr posts per 25 minutes, you wondering what could be so compelling in these images, half-drunk on Dale’s but transfixed and smacked with an odd longing for those three lives, a careless happy scene while you were the model of CAREWORN and haggard.
And you didn’t know how awful you looked. And you didn’t know how bad it was, how bad it had been or would be, only how badly you needed that Dale’s tingling at the back of your tongue, just holding on until a night you could forget but you could never forget it and didn’t you know it you did you dummy you ditz drinking Dale’s while dactyls and dicks and dolts dallied and doled advice that no one wanted to receive but receive they would because everyone knows how much advice adores being given…
…let’s give some more, bleed more blood on this tiny page, diarrhea pouring from your pen when the words can no longer be held and there’s the mystical communion of pen to paper and your head tingles like a Dale’s drunk and maybe you’re drunk but probably not, just tied up in the words, the sounds they make, their feel on your skull, the way a good word purge could make you soar for hours as if on jetstream wings, just beaming, flying like new love, like Icarus to the sun till your wings melt with the accumulated Dale’s Pale worry, the anxiety of watching weirdo coffeeshop scenes of careless lovers and “Poetry” shirts and a little girl looking and likely feeling left behind.
Left behind and wanting sunshine in the comfy, sticky air. Like a blankie or a little baby…
…doll that maybe she had as a tinygirl before the weird guy in the “Poetry” shirt began dating her mom, before it was her and her and him, back when it was only her and her and things were simpler and mama took her out for smoothies and slushies and kids’ meals and she never got fat, just full and sunshiney and content like greasetrap daydreams and skillet greasetrap smells, full and mushroomy, slimy, froggy—swampy—viscous like her mind after too much school and homework. Do your homework, girl! and she did do it but it cramped her hand and it hurt her to look out the window onto the playground and see her friends playing and laughing and even waiting, expectant for her presence on the playground—it isn’t the same, isn’t the same when you ain’t around, girl, ain’t you comin’ ain’t you comin’ out to play?—and she’d almost scream, “YES! but mama’s keeping me here she’s dating she’s on a date she says he’s a fine man but he wears a “Poetry” shirt and he smells like candles and he wants to be my daddy and he’s always not looking and he’s always not posted up not locked in he’s always keeping me here doing homework making sure mama makes sure I’m OCCUPIED. I’m WAITING for something to happen some way but till then I can’t come out to play, girls. Y’all go on, girls…I’ll be here.”
That was well enough, and enough anxious energy and posturing was expended, but then there was the problem of the haze and mist hanging over the buildings and the brick facades marred with bad graffitoes that were disrespectful of history and emotion and the continuity of pretty streets convivial like Main Streets but not with the awful graffitoes—marred and sad and hurt, smarting like half-chopped trees—
this is what worried you although much else stung and hurt you and made you grasp your chest and ask why some jerk would wear a “Poetry” shirt to a coffeeshop, what other reason but to be seen by some drunk Dale’s-drinking jerk—jerk to jerk, same for same but who’s counting?—and the shirt combined with the bad poetry of graffitoed-wall Main Street Atlanta was the dumps, a dumpy way to see this street and would boosters ever bring boosterbackers here to boost minds with caffeine poop and boast and laughing concept conversations?
We were failing to understand the significance behind that mathematical preamble, that playpen for bigkids, pent up and bored — the stylish ennui of teenagers — and we thought we were so cool but what were we really?
Dorks. Whale penises. You didn’t figure that out till years later, after it was far too late to go back and change all the things your hindsight said you’d done or not done, the wrong and the right (latenights on porches or barstools: “First off I’d-a worn smaller shirts, and I’d-a shaved that unibrow. Seriously dude, the fuck was I thinking? And I’d-a just talked to a girl I liked. God, if I’d known how far just talking gets you, man, and that was seriously the first and best chance I’ve had before or since and it’s gone and what were we thinking?”), but at the time none of that was known, it was hardly cared about and it was absolutely certainly no way ever talked about, except perhaps in furtive doodoo philosophizings, pants around ankles and shit tickets wadded up in fists not yet hairy, not yet rough with callous — dude, you’re a dork. No girls like you, just a metalhead dork and mom even thinks you’re GAY. Dorky fag — little inner belittlings which were nevertheless over by the time the can was flushed and your butt was clean, put back on the backburner of consciousness so that you could go back to the more important business of thinking and acting like you were a badass — put on, of course — with beerfridge larcenies and metal shows and outdated skate tricks and messing with people who, if you’d met them years later, you’d probably think were really good people but not now, not then — not ever, you’d think.
And all the while, really, you were only a scared gawky dork-kid who’d go home and cry into pillows when some football captain or smartass football captain hanger-on would laugh at your hair or your clothes or the way you talked or the kids you poked around with, cry and punch the side of the bed, filled to the ears with bile and bullshit and backtalk you never dared to use to a football kid’s face. And heavy metal the only outlet, the only purpose to your snotty little shitty life except maybe for that time your English teacher made you write a poem, and you went home and wrote it — an afterthought — while Slayer blasted in the background and you just did it to be done with it (twenty or so unrhythmic rhyming lines about spring and rain and unrealized romance, so teenaged, so grungily earnest), but you turned it in and the teacher read it and her eyes widened and you thought you saw the barest creakings of a smile contort her pudgy pancake face, and she said “James, this is fabulous. I mean really, it’s simply fantastic,” and she kept it at her desk and a few days passed and you forgot about it but then one Friday the teacher asked you to see her after class and you tried to think about the number of times you’d fallen asleep at your desk that week or how many tardies accrued or which test you’d bombed or even, vaguely, if she would pull a wholly-undesirable TILF proposal (she wasn’t the hot just-out-of-college geometry teacher/cheerleader coach, she was the spinster bluehair English teacher, the kind you’d see in a Twisted Sister video or something) but she smiled warm and said “I hope you don’t mind, I submitted your poem to the student literary magazine with my recommendation. Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you tell me you wrote poetry? I never would have thought…” and on and on until your head was heavy and tingling with praise and self-congratulation and hazy notions of being a heavy metal Homer or some kind of teenage prophet, some Coleridge of the cafeteria, and she asked what poets inspired you and when you answered Phil Anelmo and Bruce Dickinson and James Hetfield it was an honest answer that you wouldn’t slap your forehead upon the recollection of until years later…
An infinity of competitors down in the streets. The vagabond digging through the dumpster—competition: he lives free while I live chained to my chores. The Mexican kid rolling the mop bucket to the sewer — competition: his is a heartening tale of American ambition; his entire life sweeps ahead of him. The guy pedaling his bike down North Highland — competition: he probably knows all the right people, and those glasses make him look like a writer.
The competition surrounds me. I go down into the streets, dodging the potholes. The potholes, too, are the competition. I must sidestep or be left lamed by the ravages of ever-moving time.
The competition is my friend. The competition is my enemy, too. The competition will see to my failure and the competition will assure my ascendancy, which will in turn ensure theirs.
The competition toils in the dark; most will never know that they compete. As the opponent, I can expect no more. Why fight that which cannot be bothered to fight back? Why turn every foray into the streets to an introverted pugilism?
The answer lies in the competition. When I walk into the stores, I see in all the faces the contentment of that sweetest of knowledge— I have that which you will never have. I see the happy knowledge and slink away, planning my next move against the competition. When I walk into the bars, the laughter of the regulars is the sound of the struggle — I am alone, and this is the competition.
Sometimes the competition is middling and easily overcome, but more often the competition is brilliant and shocking in its energy and sharp of tooth. The teeth of the competitors gnash me to a mess. My struggle is to keep the mess to a minimum — a controlled clutter — while I deign to create a response to the gnashing of the competition.
There is much to know. The competition is the dignified professor and I am the eager pupil. I cannot hurt or best the competition, and in the end I cannot sidestep the competition. If the competition twists me lame, I can only patch up and keep walking. I cannot defeat the competition. I must, one way or another, be the competition.