Man: Why do you call me Mr. Peanuts?
Corvid: If we called you Mr. Peanut we’d be exposing ourselves to civil litigation over trademark violation.
Man: Why not Mr. Sandwich? You eat more of my sandwiches.
Corvid: Peanuts are better for caching, they don’t get soggy. And you can carry three at a time in your beak.
Corvid: At least three. You can carry three easily, more than that, it might lack grace.
Man: I’ve been meaning to ask you, why do you sometimes cache vittles beneath the tires of parked automobiles? Don’t you mind your food getting squished?
Corvid: Ehn, we haven’t figured cars out 100% yet.
Corvid: They make great toilets, though. That much we know.
Man: Why do you call me Mr. Peanuts?
We have a new cleaning lady at work because the old cleaning lady saw a ghost.
I realize one normally teases more suspense out of a ghost story, my apologies.
You notice we have a new cleaning lady? a colleague said.
Yeah, I said.
The old one was cleaning downstairs and heard a lady taking a shower.
Okay, I said.
Except there was no lady taking a shower. It was a ghost.
Okay, I said. Could she like tell by the sound it was a lady taking a shower or did she check? Why would she look into the shower if someone was taking a shower?
I dunno. Maybe she could somehow hear it. She asked the manager and the manager said, no one is taking a shower.
They went and looked?
Maybe they went back and checked and no one was there.
Okay. We’ve had ghosts for as long as I’ve been here, I said.
Yeah? I heard someone died or killed themself or something.
Someone killed themself in the other building a long time ago when it still belonged to someone else.
Someone upstairs said they heard a baby crying. And a secretary told me she felt cold spots.
The other building haunted too?
Someone heard someone walking in a room upstairs, when no one was in the building. And someone else saw footprints on the carpet — footprints being made, as if someone were walking across the room as they watched, only no one was there making them.
It’s too bad about the cleaning lady, I liked her. She liked to talk about philosophy.
The creature walks, the ghost, the spirit from the vacant house that youngsters see at dusk, over their shoulder or their father’s arm, watching from a cracked window, a curtain moving slightly in the breeze; it walks in autumn cold, clear autumn sun in a new winter coat and realizes, this is what color was made for, a crisp fall day – gold, orange and yellow against a sky of jigsaw-puzzle-blue, birch trees knitting it together with white and black and children in red jackets. The creature is eating lunch, cookies that are not what they promised and something with penne and curry and chicken and it walks a different street, past the artist’s mansion, where the crows do not know its face, not to avoid sharing, but to avoid interacting, and not out of some misanthropy (or miscoronisy) but because this afternoon demands one’s full attention. Pavement, dead leaves, brown grass, hand rails, green grass, tree bark, tar, a scrap of paper, apartment house facades, a mother speaking on a mobile telephone in a back yard while a small bundled toddler plays, facing away from her at an angle of 45 degrees, staring at something. One crow says something to another crow in a friendly voice, not a warning voice. A black limousine tailgates a black SUV. A man jogs past wearing a light summer jogging outfit – shorts and a white t-shirt. The creature walks.
Yeah I dunno.
What if you could turn off your negative background static, those echoes of the life-long big bang that formed your universe, the shame, anger and fear, the self-condemnation and self-judgement and autoaggression, the internal voices, the slogans, the cringe-worthy memories the sting of trauma the black holes of fugue and forgetting, the pleasing and the covering your ass and the projecting and just be?
Not be yourself, just be.
Just be, just think without interrupting yourself, without drama without interruption just be without thinking just be without having to just be?
Is that a thing?
What if you could do it for, say, 45 minutes?
Would it have a positive effect? How long would it last?
How often would you have to repeat it?
Oldfish hangs there (hang? is there? When you’re surrounded by water permanently so that you no longer even perceive it, you can’t really say swim, especially when you’re not swimming, but you can’t say ‘float’ either, not if you’re a fish, because floating… floating is the last thing a fish does, if you know what I mean, floating is just another word for turning the belly to the light, for meeting the gulls, for taking the air (except, of course, if your swim bladder goes and you lose bouyancy and sink instead, drift down, your sphere of visibility (I almost wrote sphere of light, which sounds too metaphysical) shrinking to darkness as the sunlight weakens and visibility decreases due to increased density of suspended particles in the surrounding water (which remember you don’t perceive, being ubiquitous) drift down to, finally, the bottom of this bottomless lake and stop and hear nothing but the sounds of life coming from far away until they fade away)… we’ll just say is) Oldfish is there at the center of his sphere of visibility thinking about how language brings him no joy anymore. Language used to be a thrill all the time. Not that language no longer interests him. It remains his primary way of experiencing and manipulating his world. He is hardwired for that. He remarked, he felt unexpected pride and an upswell of love when he remarked a while ago about how a reason he sometimes spoke slowly in conversation or felt it hard to keep up with a group talking fast was because everything he heard was seized upon by his mind and the language analyzed and dismantled to its constituent parts and each of them held up to the light and turned this way and that and the refractions observed and the different potential meanings and intentions regarded and correlated and catalogued, puns in this column, malapropisms here in this pile, etc., possible intended hidden meanings and double entendres and triple entendres… and Youngfish said, Aha that’s where I have it from! (meaning, Oldfish concluded, less a hard and fast belief in genetics than a feeling of (familial and occupational and etc.) relation. It was a loving (love of Oldfish, love of language) thing to say and made Oldfish happy, despite his declining interest in language, because language continued to and would always define him before anything else (surrounded him and permeated him like water, but a water he was conscious of and took great pleasure in swimming in, now maybe less than before, but still) as he continued to be here in his sphere of visibility, the dimensions of which varied according to several variables including depth (distance from source of light – sun or moon), density of matter suspended in the water (affected by depth, activity in the lake – churning by swimmers or boats, for example – season (more leaves and other debris in the fall, as well as lower angle of sunlight) and into which at any moment — this is another fact that defined him, that explained or was used as an excuse for what had a different cause, his anxiety, his hypervigilance — Bigfish could swim, appear suddenly, in which case either It was all over or Evasive action was taken or Bigfish was interested in something else and You lucked out, but You never know, in the end, until it is too late, or not too late. Oldfish hears further than he sees, he swims, his sphere of visibility moves, shrinks in the murk by the shore where teenaged humans swim and kick up mud and splash, grows toward the center of the lake until you get to the shady side then darker again although clearer water. Oldfish sees the furthest near the center of the lake, on the line between sun and shadow and there he remains a while, not basking, maybe resting, maybe eating a Smallfish, or a bug. Maybe thinking. Somewhere is Bigfish, but here is sun, and cool shade.
Stuck in bed for two weeks (dr.’s orders) with bronchitis (bronchitis taking up most of the mattress, stealing the covers) I finally get bored enough to attempt a blog post and find the below already written in my drafts folder.
When I die, I typed with my thumb into whatsapp, spread my ashes in the used camera place on Bennogasse. You might have to make a few trips so the guy doesn’t notice what you’re doing.
Ok, said my kid.
I thought you didn’t want to be cremated, said my wife.
It was more the idea of dying I objected to, I said, than cremation. Also Westbahnstrasse from the vintage camera stores to the apnea diving cafe, and on Kaiserstrasse in front of another camera shop and the photo processing place. Oh, and save some ashes for Powell’s Books in Portland (fiction and poetry section) and the university book store in Seattle (nonfiction).
I was only partly kidding, mainly about being cremated, as my wife figured. But we all have special places we’d like to haunt, or maybe just the ghostly among us.
It occurred to me at lunch that we can also haunt them while still alive, so I took the subway to the 8th district and walked over to the camera shop. The owner is retired and just runs it in his free time because he likes it. He had time for me today and showed me old Leicas THAT WERE POTENTIALLY WITHIN MY BUDGET and a Hasselblad and a Rolleiflex with tilt-shift and a wide-angle lens that focuses as close as you want, I mean, I was focusing it on stuff about a centimeter away before I got tired of that.
The place is in an old shop with old wooden floors and shelf-lined walls covered with the history of photography, all the best stuff locked behind glass.
I’d be happy just standing there, breathing the air, maybe holding out my arms, spinning slowly with my eyes closed but that would look weird and he was there showing me cameras and telling me stuff and even when he wasn’t there, there could totally be a hidden camera somewhere.
Anyway, lovely gear.
Same with Powell’s. You just want to lick the floor. So many books. You want to get locked in at night and sleep in a book fort. And the last time we went to the University book store in Seattle, they had to throw us out. My wife and the kids and I all wandered in different directions and met at the cash register at last call, all with armloads of books, each of us holding a whole different world and wondering how the hell we would get all these books back to Austria.
Other places to haunt: the Virgil chapel in Vienna (at least it was nice before they remodeled it, I haven’t been back since, but I will never forget being all alone there, underground at the Stephansplatz subway station, and the meditative ambient acoustics and dim light). Or wandering the streets of Vienna in miserable winter drizzle.
Or lots of other places, at night, in the early morning, whenever the light’s not too bright.
And in the foggy fields at sunrise. Or right there with you, when you feel alone.
Look for me there.
What saves you is the moment goes on forever:
You wake up. You plug in your phone. You feed the cats. You make coffee. You give senile cat water cause he’s staring at it. You give the other cats their milk-like cat beverage. You bring your wife her coffee. You eat breakfast. You move your car so your wife can get out of the driveway. You take a shower. You get dressed. You remember your hearing aids and put them in. You clean your glasses. You remember the litter boxes, you clean them. You gather and throw away the mylar envelopes the cat food came in. You open all the blinds in the house.
Then, standing in the middle of your bedroom, bam!
It hits you.
You’re an old guy.
You’re an old guy in a suit, and you always have been, because this moment goes on forever.
No feeling of, How did I come to be an old guy?
You just fucking are!
Always have been!
And one more thing:
You’re a happy old guy!
You dance a little, a happy dance.
Old, musical-style dancing.
You dance through your bedroom you dance down the hall.
Have to be careful on the stairs because the cats are still bent on tripping you.
You dance through the living room, the music is sublime.
You drive among maniacs and morons to your stupid job, or maybe it’s a good job, what do I know, it’s your job. You drive there, you work, you eat lunch and walk around sticking to new streets where the crows don’t know you yet, kicking through leaves on the sidewalk.
But the moment with the dancing is still going on and you’re grateful for that and that’s only one of many things you’re grateful for.
Pile on the grief and frustration and humiliation, life, you think, I’m a dancer.