March 14, 2008

Letterbox

As a columnist, I received hundreds of letters daily. Some of which were junk, others not junk. Half of them (the non junk ones) were all business, a third would be utilities for my house and the last sixth would be a few rare letters of admiration of my writing.

I loved working as a journalist in Plainview. It was plenty of time to work and play. I would write a paper, catch a train into Hillsborrough and watch a little league game, then write about it. Quite literallly, I was the only journalist in town, but that would have been a lie. Now if you had said I was the only hard working journalist in town, that would be much more accurate. My boss was a tall, lanky, wispy haired old man. He was the kind of boss who would go out fishing during the day sometimes. Those days, the office would just shut down completely. The other journalist who worked at the paper, or supposedly worked there was my senior, One E.V. DeMartin. In the 12 years I have worked at the paper, never once did I see him. So I only could assume that he was either dead or just a figment of the boss' imagination. Somehow, he managed to get three columns in every sunday paper. Other than that, it was only me writing and the boss making a few contributions to the fishing page.

But fan mail was a rarity. Not a necessity or a commodity, but it certainly was a treat. DeMartin's desk would be piled in perfume stinky envelopes of admiring ladies, but never were they collected. I did note that one day after I had filled his last box with them, the boxes were empty the next morning.

It looked like every other envelope in my box that morning. I milled through the other things, browsing through the catalog for fishing tackle to buy the boss for chirstmas, then at possible useless things to buy for DeMartin. I thought he supposedly could have used a two speed shoe cleaner and buffer. But then I contemplated if he had feet or not. I had gotten from my uncle several years earlier what he called a Dynamus Speed Letter opener. It was an amazing little piece of machinery. Slip in a stack, turn it on, the letters zip through with the their tips shaved off and the letter ready to be read. I brought the stack to my desk, and carefully, I pieced out which was which, one by one. At the very bottom of the stack, a neatly hand addressed envelope caught my eye. You could tell it was a lady's handwriting. I had a knack for handwriting, I could tell which hand you were, what size your hand was and how you held the tool. Also, I could tell your sex. Sometimes, it gets ambigious, but for the most part, I could tell.

The letter was a fan letter, but it seemed strange. It made comments about how "dashing" I looked in my photograph in the paper. Funny, I had a photo in the paper? My arm shot out for the last issue of the paper. Sure enough, on the second page, There was a photograph of me dressed as superman. God, Boss must have thought ruin your worker's lives photo edition must have been very beneficial. I tried to find a picture of DeMartin, but only a big "Photo Missing" was in its place. I tried to look the other things that she mentioned. My "elusive" use of contractions, etc. Crazy weird grammar related things.

What made me post the letter in the paper, I dont know. But I guess it was now for all of Plainview to see. At least at this point, whoever read the Plainview gazette would see it. The next day, another letter arrived, this time, it was a bit angry at me. I could understand that. I decided to post a response to the letter when I published the paper tomorrow. It went on and on for several weeks. It seemed more of a conversation now than an admiration. I kept the letters carefully documented and filed in a cabinet. This was actually turning fun for once. At one point, I couldn't anticipate the moment for when the letter would arrive and I could start writing a response.

The last letter came in the middle of August. The weather was hot, the fans were all on. To leave the room with moving air was like stepping out into suicide. The humidity and heat hit you like a train. But anyhow, the last letter came that day. It said, lets meet. I was certainly speculative about meeting a stranger. But then again, were we strangers? We had been on a very civilized conversation for the past three months and now all of a sudden, there was a chance to meet the mysterious person. The person who had always signed her letters with a large A in red ink. I examined the A closer. It wasn't a ball point or a gel pen. It was one of the dip pens and the A was written with a scarlet ink. It still would glisten in the light if I moved the angle about. The thought nearly dazzled me, of printing lest writing all my letters in dip pen with shimmering ink.

My last response came without hesitation. I published my response.

I'll meet you in the Okeh Diner on Seventh street at ten tomorrow night.

I hoped she would read the paper religiously.

The Okeh wasn't anything fancy at all. It was your plain old ordinary kind of diner. One side sectioned off for passing truckers and the other side for the regular patrons. To have a seat at the counter was like being on the council of elders. Custom would dictate to never sit in any of the seats. Heaven help us if one day, a new comer would just walk in and sit at the first counter seat. I've seen it happen once. Judith behind the counter set down the scalding coffee pot on the patron's hands. He winced, and she directed him at a booth. Luckily, there were a few seats without names at the other end, all the way to the rear of the counter. I took my spot in one of these pleather chairs and ordered a cup of coffee. It came, in a still slightly wet mug. The blip stains now just leaving their trails down from the lip to the saucer. I heaved my shoulders up and leaned onto the counter and unfolded my paper. Stanford beat Washington in sports. Nothing new. There was hardly anyone in the diner. Just the fat waitress behind the counter, a shady looking teenager "enjoying" coffee while grinding something, then dumping it into the coffee. A few truckers could be heard snorting in the background and making farting sounds. A chortle of laughter from fellow brothers.

The neon clock on the wall indicated now it was half past six. I had sat in the booth for nearly three hours waiting. I had work to do, lots of it. I had a choice, I could stay and wait, stood up by a sap of sorts, or just leave.

It was now quarter til nine. The diner would close soon. The waitress stared at me with the intent of getting me to leave. I rolled up the bundled newspaper file, and I left for the door. My reflection did not greet me at the door, but a young beautiful face stared back at me. It blushed bright red and retreated back to a car and drove off. I stepped outside for a moment, tossed the file into the trash and went home.

March 13, 2008

Anvil of the Majesties

There was only so much work one could do these days. Weeks upon weeks of built up stress just suddenly came loose one day. I was working in lab when I decided to walk out, right in the middle. Professor Hartmann stopped me at the door.

"Where are you going? You have to finish your problem set."
"Out. I dont care."
"Then I wont hold you back."

He moved aside and I strode out. The let the wood door close itself and I went down the clean hall. It was one of those sorts of days. Where you'd much rather just sit about and do nothing. It was 11:43 in the morning. Fuck. It was too early to feel like this. I knew there were two more classes that I had work to turn in. I figured, I might as well just hand them to my buddy Sherman who would go to class and turn it in for me. He was really diligent about working through hours and hours without stirring or turning towards facebook.

I caught Sherman sitting in the north reading room. On both sides sat his usual piles of reference books. One lay sprawled in front of him. I caught a glance at it. It was the US Census of Okanawah County, OK in 1912. Seriously...

"hey Sherm."
"Oh hey there Adam. What can I do for you?"
"D'you mind if you turn in these for me? I dont feel like going to class."
"One of those days hm?"
"No... yes."
"Sure. You know the price."
"It'll be on your Bureau in the morning."

Sherman was 20. I was 21. We were roommates since freshman year. I just guess it worked out. Sherman, Earl and I moved into a place sophomore year and we've been there since. But Sherman, as brilliant as he was, was a heavy drinker and smoker. He went through a pack of camels a day. It was gross. But, his usual cost was a third of a fifth of whatever. Usually, I just poured tequila into a large flask and left it for him. He didn't give a care what I put in there. Just as long as it was drinkable and he would be asleep by the time he finished it. So I was free now. What do I do? I could have gone bar hopping. But no respectable place serves anything hard before six, let alone noon time. The park was out of the question. At all hours of the day, I couldn't find myself not being at the other end of a cup being shaken at me. So the park was out. I suppose I could find some solace in the library. Nah, Sherm was there. I guess to the bar it is.

The Charleston Pub is my usual watering hole, its decent, not the best. It wasn't one of those nasty grimy places you see in the tenderloin with men in studded leather standing at the door, nor was it a place where the bouncer a 5 foot 3 inch man wearing a turtleneck. It was the kinda bar where you'd sidle in, find a table, and drink and chat. I suppose you could call it the coffee house of pubs. It certainly felt like one for sure. They know me by now. Since my twenty first birthday, I was becoming a regular down at Charleston. But it seemed empty to me. Devoid of its usual cheeriness. The dining hall was dim and there were only a few couples scattered here and there. Lunch wasn't the same anymore. The pork chop looked less appealing, the beer tasted flat, the potato a mere pebble of starch. The world was certainly a much blander place now. I suppose going home would help. Then again, it would always be the same drab old place you went home to and ate dinner at and etc. Ah what the hell. Why not?

I had the waiter put the rest of my stake cube and marble sized ball of starch in a to go box and I left for home. For some reason, I only was ever comfortable sitting in my easy chair, by my favorite window, with my little table by the side and the smell my cigar humidor nearby. I found myself at a friend's place once. It was filthy and there certainly were fantastical things about the place. One of which was mold growing on ever flat face in the bathroom. To that, I gave my applause by running out of the apartment and never going back. But back to my place. Sherm, Earl and I had turned it into our own little club. The walls were white, we covered them with prints of famous photographs and paintings. There used to be a big stain in the middle of the lounge, we covered it with an navajo rug. The kitchen wall has a hole in it, well, its still there. But we covered it up with a decorative object none the less. That just goes to show how much we cared about house beautiful. Each of our rooms had a special quality to it. They were intended as our special private kingdoms. Sherman decked his out with a small laboratory, with a cabinet of all the safer elements and all sorts of cool things. Earl was the big sports fan of us three. He had pennants from every college covering every square inch of wall. In the corner sat the ColorKing television set. He had been watching football in front of that since he was born. Heck, his father was watching the same sport on it since he bought the television in '69. Of course, there was no color left and the image came out blurry, but the sound was amazing. Watching a UCLA game, we could hear individual hate calls from the USC side. Or when we would watch a Cal game, we could tell when the announcer was sick or had a frog in his throat. My room, I didn't go all out like the other two guys had. I only went as far as to have a few bookshelves put in, and several of my rare books brought out from home. I was the only lucky one to have a window that faced the street. Nay, it overlooked the street, the rooftops and the shops, plazas, markets, trees, parks and the bay. The bay. I had a view of the beautiful San Francisco bay. At least here, in my room, there had better be some feeling of solace and calm. Otherwise, it wouldn't be my room. I bought the most monumental looking chair to have by the window. I didn't go with the e-z boy recliner, those were tacky and Earl had two in his room. Nor did I go with the standard leather arm chair that typically found its way into every man office. No, I had been down to Urban or Ore and picked up this beauty of a chair. It had the curved legs of an egyptianesque chair, the hand sewn leather sling between the legs, the way I draped a sheep skin over the back. This was truly a chair for Zeus. Or Mars at least.

I eased my way into the chair, taking note of the crunching sounds, each sigh of stress as it sagged under my weight. Everything the chair did, it was both physically and psychologically. At least now, the world seemed to mean more than the small chop and tiny red potato. The weight of the world seemed to swell up into the cloud in the distance. I sat for several hours, just staring at the sky. Everything else moved, except for that one cloud. It only got larger and larger and at one point, it looked like an anvil.

It bore the brunt of the world's misery and boredom. It contained all our problems and gripes. Every gripe, every remorse, every to-do we had. Collected into a single mass of droplets and feelings. It consolidated over the other apartments, it stayed in place. Hours passed, the light went from bright to orange, orange to red, red to purple, then the light went out. The anvil was gone. The stars began to shine through the anvil cloud. Then it was totally gone.

St. Matthew's Belfry

I'm not a devout catholic. Mother used to punish me by coming to visit my dormitory back in college daily leaving my roommate cards for him to convince me to go to the ten o'clock masses at night. Religion in college was the last thing that was on my mind. I had my bachelors to work at then. I was majoring in civil engineering and two months after my mother stopped sending cards, I graduated with a B.A. in Civil with a focus on concrete structures. After that, she stopped communication altogether. I made several attempts to contact her, but each time, I had failed to reach her.

One day, a wax sealed envelope was carelessly crumpled into my small aluminum apartment mailbox. It had the crest of my mother's family and the heavy parchment felt almost like gold in my hands. Breaking the seal, I carefully examined the letter. An uncle of mine died. No matter, he wasn't that close at all. But a card fell out and it caught my attention.

Master Dwight Mulholland Joyce-Roosevelt
Your Presence is requested at the
Greer Family Morturary
Napa, CA

Your recent deceased relative:
Rutherford Bernard Regent Willford Roosevelt
Has passed away on:
June 29, 2008

Mr. R. Roosevelt has mentioned you in his last testament and will
And your presence is required to fulfill the last requests of
the deceased.


Uncle Rutherford? Never heard of him. To me, he certainly was new. So if I was needed at his will reading, why not? Napa is a bit of a distance to go, especially from where I lived. I made the necessary arrangements at the office, finished up some filework, made the final rounds and left the office. Little did I know, this would be the last time I walked through those rows of cubicles. My plane arrived in San Francisco with little trouble and the woman next to me had to shake me back to life. I guess I couldn't stand in flight movies. I had rented a small SUV for the drive north to Napa county. It was probably more than I needed. The scenery exchanged itself from the bustle of San Francisco to the vast open fields and plains and rows upon rows of grapes growing in lines whose effect reminded me of stacks from college.

It was a small chapel. Chapel is an inappropriate word to describe. It was more like a rustic shack with a lean to office. Uncle Rutherford must have not been that important. Inside, the chapel was filled with flowers and his casket sat at the end of the room. The room was small. It seemed as if only twelve or ten people could fit in here. From the door that led into the lean-to, emerged the director of funerals. He was a short, stocky man. His hair was snow white and his skin tanned from years under the California sun. His suit was ill fitting and he was obviously perspiring from the weather. At his command, the usher went to the windows and pulled the top transoms open.

"Rutherford Roosevelt. A great man, a philantrophist, a simple man, a king among paupers. He will be sorely missed."

Where did that come from?

"Born in 1942 to Harvey Lewis Roosevelt and Edith Jane Hamil, Rutherford..."

It went on for another twenty minutes.

"Thank you all for attending the service. If you would, the body shall be interred and if the funeral party would like to proceed towards the cars outside. People who came in personal vehicles, please adhere the 'funeral' sticker to the front window."

Funeral Party. That was one way to describe it. But I hadn't seen my mother yet. The procession found its way further north, into Ukiah, then onto a small side road. I thought this must have been the most remote cemetery location possible. The procession made one more turn and we were on a private road. I caught a glimpse past the three limousines and the hearse. There stood a massive victorian thing. Palace seemed like an appropriate word to describe it. It turned again and the hearse stopped outside a fenced area of grass. A few gravestones marked the area and obviously, this must have been a family site. The procession brought the casket to the corner of the fenced in area where a large stone mausoleum stood. The door was unlocked and the casket brought inside. The mausoleum itself was a round building with a rotunda in the center. In the center of the room was a long oaken table, with magnificently hewn legs in the shape of tigers claws. The casket was placed on top of the table and a silk flag with the Roosevelt crest draped over it. The director who had made his presence known back in Napa entered again.

"Friends and family, I welcome you to the Roosevelt mausoleum. Built in 1935 by James Naimsmith Roosevelt and his son Harvey Roosevelt, it currently houses the remains of all descendants of Thaddeus David Roosevelt when his body was exhumed and moved here"

He pointed at a dusty panel with an urn in front of it.

"In 1939. The mausoleum finally welcomes its last child of Harvey and Edith Roosevelt, Rutherford Roosevelt."

Last child? Grandpa Harvey and Gram gram Edie's last child to die was Rutherford? What about mom... My eyes frantically searched over the dusty stone panels. It took some finding but it was the top one on the south side.

Elizabeth Seagram Joyce-Roosevelt
1953-2005


I turned to the director. I asked.

"When did this happen?"
"Ah, it was a sad funeral. Only Rutherford and Bill had shown up. She specifically asked to be buried in a small quiet, immediate family funeral."
"But i'm her child."
"Oh... oh dear."
"What do you mean? 'Oh Dear?'"
"Well, we went through her will, the money went to Rutherford. But now that he's passed away..."
"But..."
"Come now. We'll deal with it after we inter the body."

The ceremony lasted a few minutes. The Pall Bearers slid the coffin into the narrow slot and workmen lifted the granite slab in place and sealed it.

The office of the victorian "palace" was comfortably furnished. A massive oak desk rested in front of the large windows and overhead, an old painted china lamp cast a dim light. By now, there were more people present. There were at least thirty of us in here. The lawyer stood up and opened the envelope.

"To my dear family. I know that the blood line runs dry and there are only a few of you left. To my only son Wilbur, I leave the Ukiah House and its lands except for the family plot to you. Also, the endowment of 200,000 dollars shall be compounded into bonds and three 500 dollar bonds will be issued to you every month until its expiration. To my only nephew. Dear Dwight. We have had such fun over the years watching you grow up. Although we never saw each other after you started middle school, you are not forgotten. To you, I leave you the safe deposit box 4220 in San Francisco, a trust fund of 130,000 as well as the envelope which I trust Mr Biddup (the lawyer) will give you. Its contents will be self explanatory."

The lawyer handed me the key and the check for the fund to be deposited immediately and the envelope mentioned in the will. I opened it. It was a detailed account of my mother's death. She was ill towards the end of my college career and went into the hospital from 2003 until she passed away in 2005. I was apparently not notified as thought it would interfere with my studies. But apparently, they completely forgot about me until Uncle Rutherford died. Inside also was one key. It was an elaborate skeleton key, with a cracked piece of marble in the handle. a paper tag tied to it said that it would open the attic door C. With Wilbur next to me, we went to the top floor of the house. Wilbur was older than me by a few years, but he was obviously a country boy. He grew a beard, and he had a rugged air and look about him. But in the attic, there were several rooms partitioned to be storage rooms. A and B were open, their contents soaked in dust. But room C remained at the end of the hall, its door firmly shut. The key croaked in the slot and with a bit of shoulder into it, the door opened.

Several paintings leaned up against one of the partition walls and there were a few boxes of things here and there. But the most noticable thing stood in the center. Draped in a faded and stained silk cloth, it made a formiddable shape. I tugged it off. Underneath lay my old baby crib, a hit & miss engine and a large trunk. The trunk wasn't locked and it opened. Inside, several old furs and a photo album. Its cover was bound in leather and it was cracked in several places. Opening it, nothing was in its pages apart from a single letter.

"December 21, 2000

To my baby boy, Dwight Gregory Hammond Mulholland Joyce(-Roosevelt)
I know I cannot keep you. Your father is not who you think he is. If you are reading this, you have either discovered Attic C's key, or I have passed away. Truth is hard to bear. But William Joyce has been a father to you for the longest time. Treat him that way. Your real father well, I dont know. Is not anyone I remember. Dont bother searching for him. I beg you son. Truth is, Mommy never really well, she was promiscuous during the sixties. Your father is one of many people. The world is your father. But Bill has taken care of you. Please. Forgive me Dwight."

The letter ended there.

One word

Funny how life can change at the utterance of one single word. Suppose worlds had clashed over one word uttered whimsically at a conference. I made the mistake. This wasn't a battle for quick resolve and victory. Its still going on. Its more attrition than decisive.

The Cut

Its been there for awhile. You'd never really notice it until you dug your hands into your pocket. Searching for some unfathomable hermitage from exposure. For me, I never knew where the hell to put my hands but the sure fire and accepted standard was the pocket. Sure it meant, yeah, i'm a punk. What ch'you gonna do about it? Or. Heh... So Embarrassed. Just put hands in pocket and look like everyone else. Well, screw it all. I never knew what to do with the damn things anyhow. Standing through endless reviews. What would I do with them? I could put them up to my face, the other one wrapped around the front of my torso to support the other one. I suppose, I could go with that intelligent air. But then, my hands were usually greasy from the pastels, charcoals, pencils and inks. To casually place my finger over my lips in intense thought might mean a small charcoal mustache underneath my nose. Or I could just fold them. Then they seem too high. Damn. I suppose the pockets are the last resort. By doing so, I guess i'm like 10% less efficient that with my hands free. Restricted by these prisons of cotton, duck and denim, they found solace, but limited life. It was like finding the perfect house. In Yreka. But commuting to San Francisco on call. But today was different. My hands are busy ones. Searching through my pockets for the phone, my wallet, sometimes my pocket knife or Leatherman. But today, I need the latter. But then, it stung. It hurt. Staring carefully at the wrinkled folds of skin, the most marginalized, the smallest possible cut emerged on the thumb. The thumb. The boss digit of the hand. Turned up or down, it was a matter of life or death with the thumb. One motorcyclist was so desperate enough to replace his lost thumb, he grafted his big toe to resume his racing career. But the thumb, this noble necessity, the judge of life and death, the meaning of good or obscene through biting, had been attacked. A small clean cut. It certainly was annoying. But much to my relief, there was hope. Like St. Helena to Napoleon, Alcatraz to the Birdman, the cut in my mind, was to be gone. Application of medication, it was still there. Half hour, it still was there. I guess I lost this battle.

no wait.

Victory!