Aug 30, 2004

Something simple something everything

She had a nightmare, she says, of me laughing. And she laughs at her slyness, at her teasing, 10-years-old and wearing Easter’s bow. He laughs too hard at a throw away-line of mine until his wife comes in with a two syllable han-ha laugh and the kids want to hear again the impersonation of Joseph in jail doing his late night call-in dream-interpretation radio show.

Her hand’s on my shoulder as she says something simple something everything as if there’d never been anything to forget.

Good-bye Daniel, they say, as if afraid I’d get away before they got it in, before they got in to me. Thank you, she says, as I stand on the stairs and wonder what, ever, they could owe me and wondering when between the un-slept days of giving offense, of growling and snarling through, of being fought and hated and despised then, and now, when how I became likable.

So I smile in the sweetness of my silence, still within the raining of their cacophony. Thank you, I say.
3 short reviews of good films

      Great tones of sweetness and irony. Graduate-esque about going off the medication and accepting sadness. Some excellent acting, music.

      Absolutly stunningly beautiful. Warriors learn stoicism, the power of martyrdom. Plus: music, go, calligraphy. Minus: crass American viewers.

      The the of hip. Oversold to me (my own fault) but still very good. A fascinating basic self-subverting theme of comfort/awkwardness. Some excellent work. Bill Murray, Tom Waits, Jack White, etc. Minus: It's read hard to go to a diner after seeing this movie and not act very weird.

Aug 28, 2004

Mau mauing me

Leonard comes in every day. Between 2:25 and 2:40, he’s there with his list of lottery tickets that comes up costing $22 and then he adds one, thinking maybe I think that fate won’t know he’s betting on a number if it’s not on the list.

Every day he’s there and I have his numbers almost memorized. I hold his list in one hand like a prayer, typing it out with the other hand, fingers running, ‘round the keys sideways for 456 and backwards for 654, doing a double step down is case the answer’s generous and a quick peck up in case it’s not like he asked. Every day he comes in and I hold and type his hope for luck, his numbers, thumping the send button and rocking on my heels while the lotto machine rattles up to $22 and he doesn’t say much past how’re you, not normally more than that, and just smiles.

I think he looks glad to see me, when he smiles, but then he leaves it there, not quite letting it fade out, leaves it there until maybe it’s a sneer, a condescension. His shirt says granddad a couple, three times a week, though I’ve never seen anybody with him, just him rolling in a new red SUV and standing there and letting his smile go stale to a sneer.

He left his wallet, one day, and I saved it for him. I opened it carefully to look at the driver’s license and tried to find him in the phone book. I left it behind the counter for him with a rubber band ‘round the outside with his name noted down. He said thanks and I said sure, next day at the appointed time when he gave me his list. He said you didn’t expect that anymore and I said you gotta trust people. He smiled and I smiled and it was, I thought, pleasant passing comradery.

And then today.

Today I woke up before my alarm and sat outside on the stoop watching the oak tree and listened to a bluesy-folk version of Dylan unexpected on the radio and I tried to match my voice to the gravely velvet of this New Orlean’s guitarist I’d never heard of before. He was tapping his feet and quick triple picking the guitar mellow and the whole way to work I pattered my fingers on the steering wheel and remembered to remember his name. 2:30 came and Leonard was there with his list and a scratch off ticket from yesterday.

This isn’t a winner, I said.
It says free ticket, he said.
I don’t see where you’re talking about. If it were a winner it’d say here in the code.
What’re you blind?
Not a winner said the machine. Do not pay out.
You’re just supposed to give me a free ticket, he said, getting loud and looking over back at the line behind him lined up for luck.
Look, I said, it’s just not a winner I’m not tryin’ to hassle you.
Well that’s what you’re doing, he said. HASSLING me.

And everyone looked, looked through slitty eyes and shuffled their feet at the nice old black man being hassled by the white kid with his machine and what’s he think he’s doing not giving the man his ticket, he says it says free ticket. What was that look he gave them that they saw a free speech saint, Democratic Man smiling smugging for his rights for not be trampled over by some green machine says he didn’t win, some kid with a Texaco emblemed collar shilling shitting for the state for the rules for the business that’s eating the old man’s dollar?

For a minute I thought about how I didn’t care - one dollar – I’d give him the ticket and then I thought about looking at the little slot on the sheet at the end of the night said I if was all right and how I’d be taking this dollar out of my pants pocket and giving it away. Just a dollar, I thought, and he smiled.

He smiled smug and sneering un huh yeah he was getting his and I thought what about him saying thank you and me saying trust and four months of numbers between us and now, here suddenly, I’m white, I’m the enemy, I’m the bad luck symbol the unfair slight of the world and the people in line said un huh he’s getting his and I thought goddamn it, you can’t mau mau me.

I gave his ticket back to him. I gave him his money, dropped it on the counter – didn’t explain, didn’t say Hey Leonard relax or say my collar’s blue or that this wasn’t The Man this was me. I flicked his money down and it slid out across slow over the edge, off and fluttering to the floor.

You throwing my money, he said, he demanded, loud with his anger.

I shrugged.

Aug 23, 2004

Sick day

I sound like I'm talking through a cotton ball.
My stomach only stops curdling to give my head a chance.
My mouth tastes like numb metal.
My throat wants to come out and eat me.
On Tuesday's

Her hands jammed in jean pockets as she leans back.
One freckle on her neck.
Feet crossed on the dashboard in the sun.

And I think I'd throw slow, a flaming box of matches underhand, to burn it all down. I think I'd smell her hair, and wouldn't care, with a smile I think I'd drive out straight to the desert and let the sun beat me all to hell. I think I’d give it all away all up to her, letting it come back in the rain down in rhythms and rivulets, into pools that spill themselves out into the little rocks of the sand.

I wouldn't. But I think I might.

Aug 20, 2004

Just can't see

I’m not blind, he said. I’m not blind. I just can’t see.

And he laughed. Mr. Jones they called him, his blue eyes distance-staring, black head back holding the note to a laugh and laughing sending wrinkles down south his cheeks, his weather brown lips pulling up over chipped china teeth parting pealing laughs into the blind-bound world of Mr. Jones.

I grinned, but he didn’t see me so he said it again.

He said it again and I laughed.

"Not all postmoderns are libertines. Some are guilt-ridden nihilists."

"God will forgive me. It is his specialty."

Aug 18, 2004

Standing in line to lose

George is playing Tunk on the trunk of the Cadillac in the street, cards spread on a towel, playing for fives and tens and the neighborhood guys stand around talking loud and teasing brave. He swears at his five of spades, rubbing his hand through his curly hair and grinning goddamns and they all laugh, him standing there in his khaki work shirt and untied boots.

George comes to the gas station every day, after work. His name isn’t George but Parnel or Pernel or something but his shirt says George Allen Sewage and every day he comes into the gas station to swear at the daily numbers I mark up permanet black.

Numbers, he says numbers.

He says he should give them up and I say he should give them up and just swear at the board every day, keep the excitement and save the money. But quitting isn't winning and he just comes in every day with his losing grin, his laughing-at-himself grin and curses at me and the state of Pennsylvania, at himself and his numbers, at the numbers that didn't come out and did come out and almost came out.

They know the number’s you play, he says. I gotta give up these numbers.

It’s rigged,
he says, me nodding from behind the green machine waiting to type his tickets for tomorrow because maybe, maybe they'll drop this time crack this time, waiting to tap the tickets for luck for hoping for a break.

It’s rigged, I say, from my dropout gas station, red rag wiping at red-topped counter again. Everything’s rigged.

Man told me the other day he promised he’d quit. By this Monday because he knows he’s addicted. Thinking of the numbers before he moves from his pillow, before the alarm goes back still into the gray of morning shading in, before the shower stops gobbing spits of cold water down the porcelin drain. That's when you know you're addicted, he says. So he's out. 'Sposed to quit by this Monday and be done with it all but, damnit, now he’s won three times this month and what’s he gonna do? Stop when he’s finally cashing in?

Ain’t no good for the poor boy, Jim always says to last night’s numbers, his wrinkles running blacker, white eyes wide and his numb-tongued West-Virginia voice guessing at the sleight of the spin of the government-run roulette wheel of numbered balls dropping always almost.

One two two, super straight a dollar, he tells me, one two two. One se’n two, fiftyfifty, one se’n two. One se’n three, fiftyfifty, one se’n three. Two quail, dollardollar, two quail.

But they ain’t no good, ain’t no good for the poor boy.

Aug 17, 2004

Ecceliastic numerology
for my high church friends and others similarly afflicted

It takes three bishops to ordain a bishop or, I understand, 40 priests. Thus 13.333 priests equal one bishop, 13 being the number of the 12 apostles (St. Matthias replacing Judas) plus Paul. Apostolic succession, we say, passes through bishops.

So, could apostolic succession be passed via the laying on of hand's by 13.333 priest's or, I don't know, by 13 priests, a deacon and a layman?

Aug 14, 2004

Just heard on NPR:
The hurricane is big and it's dangerous.

Aug 13, 2004

Damning dichotomies

Sinfest brings us a comic revisitation of the platonic preference for existence, which reminds me I'm confused about creation ex nihilo.

If in the beginning, before creation, there was God and nothing, if nothing can be defined as not-God, doesn't that give us a dualism? How can we have an eternal outside-of-God and not lose the Christian God to a gnostic or manichean half of an eternal struggle (in this case a struggle between existence/nothing)?

But if, instead, we say that God is more than existence and that nothingness is subservient to God, created by God, is not nothingness (and that which was created out of nothingness) within and therefore a part of God? Which is, is it not, pantheism?

So- If creation happens outside of God, dualism; if inside, pantheism.

Bumper sticker:

long live paper and scissors.
cast & heave

Aug 10, 2004

Me, more or less

The bar tenders have their collars turned up like greasers and the waitresses have southern accents and dimples. Yeah, says the guy leaning his suit jacketed elbow on the pay phone talking into his cell phone hand, I’m in the Cincinnati airport which is like in Northern Kentucky or something.

I dial my pre-paid calling card, 1 for English, the area code for the area west of Seattle between the mountains and the sea, get my family’s tape machine and say the layover’s been longer.

Keep your bags with you at all times, says the electronic lady-voice, so I sling the duffle bag over my shoulder, roll up the sleeve of my jean jacket again and wander down the terminal through the magazine stand, read the time off a stranger’s faceless watch as he flips through the Halle Berry issue, and wander down the terminal grinning at the kid playing ball on the escalator and the girl who looks more sad than pretty.

I throw away a paper cup and my gate seems a little empty. James Silly-man? says the guy at the counter. S-i-l-l-i-m-a-n? James Silliman. I slide my bag on the linoleum floor and pull my boarding pass from the ink-blotted pocket.

Yes? he says.
You were just spelling my name into the phone, I say. You’re James Silliman?
Sure, and hand him my ticket.
Well let’s go.

He scans my pass through the machine looking more like a habitual ritual of modernization than a war on terror and I walk down to the plan where babies look from laps, business men tussle with magazines too wide for coach seats and stewardesses take roll of pillows.

If James Silliman is on the plane will he please ring his call button, says our pilot as I steer my duffle bag down the belly isle of the over-crowded sky-whale and he can pronounce my name, so maybe he can fly.

Hey, I say to the short stewardess stretching for the open door of the overhead bin. That’s me he’s asking for.

Oh, she says settling from tippy toes, arms resting raised in a hallelujah against the ledge of the bin. You’re James Silliman?

Looks like it, I say.

Which is how I lost my first name in an airport that can’t decide if it’s Ohio or Northern Kentucky. Which is kinda like losing your heart in San Francisco but a little sadder.
These people & the art of clerk

“Hey Boss,” they call me. Working the counter without a nametag, working with guys named Joe, John and Dave, I’m selling gas, tea and Coke, rolling lists of lottery numbers and candy bar prices with the station-clerk patter of “how’s it going” and “good luck” and “have a good night.”

I tell them stories I’ve heard and lived and made up. I befriend them. Make this one grin and that one laugh. Just making these people like me.

A few of them know my name, the woman who asked and the neighbor who saw me in the street and the guy I loaned three dollars, and the rest of them just make themselves comfortable, settle in and say hey.

Dude, they say, Man, Brother, Chief, Bud, Buddy, Mac. Gov’na, said a cool one. Pal, said a salesman.

For a while there were Chief days and Boss days – not that I could tell why which days were which – and then everyone settled on Boss.

“Hey Boss,” they say now, truck drivers, retirees and cabbies, highschoolers and mothers and nurses, the black kid and the Korean grandma and the wrinkled Italian. “How’s it going Boss?” they say, counting quarters to gasoline and reading the kabala of winning numbers, grabbing a soda for lunch and getting directions to the turnpike.

The career planner thinks I’m a dropout, the IRS a clerk. Former friends think I’m dead, former acquaintances I’m a failure, former enemies I’m provenly incompetent. But to these people I’m a wit, a wag, the guy who tells a story and sells you a line, can help you calm you save you serve you. To these people I’m the boss.

Writing is style.

Aug 5, 2004

Waiting wanting
for the morning raining on the ditch-walking dog,

words washing out to the window’s darkened picture of my face.

Aug 4, 2004

The First Vice

A stack there of prayer books and old family bibles and theology in the antique shop on the main street side street closed with boards crossing the window where we looked through into the dark. Prayer books, we said, tantalized, grinning tantalized.

There was an organ in there, three pianos and assorted old furniture, tools and shelves of glass. And books. We wanted the prayer books and the theology books. Scatted there were Graham Greene novels and the works of Conrad and histories of the Irish revolutions, as buried in a field. Closed, the sign said, and then later: Call Michael and later Auction.

We went that Saturday, the old man sitting downstairs a little quiet and little sad talking about sicknesses and surgeries with the dealers muttering price sheets and the wrinkled wearing-barn-boots men hooking thumbs into pockets. The auctioneer stood on his stool, boot heels knocking for luck, shouting old-fashioned help-your-neighbor capitalism in a performance half revival, half rock, readjusting his mesh-backed ball cap, sweating on the brow and asking does he hear hundred fifty. I signed my name for a number 83 remembering back the way the mountains looked when an auctioneer’s daughter wore sunglasses and that auctions are about not making eye contact.

So, he asked me when it was over, you wanna start a bookstore.
Shee-it, I said, it might be the only thing I know how to do.

The books are spread now like continents drifting on carpet, stacked thigh high, shoulder if you’re short, ink seeping into the aging-paper air of Apt. C rear. One thousand, we say. Give or take a few hundred.

Two shelves and two and a half truck loads of books for $45: decades of novels re-read some and some forgotten, travel guides to South America, libraries of priests and pastors, sex education and financial advice in a serial of modern updates, sorority handbooks from Amherst, Latin primers and three copies of How to be a Mortician.

I piled them up to my chin, moving them from basement to truck, truck to apartment while friends laughed loving our intoxication and the neighborhood children sat watching on the slide graffitied Hey Buddie!, watching us white and this the greenest of bookmobiles, and dared each other to go, take a book. Then coming, they carried a few, climbed into the truck and told us their names, careful not to stand on the books, taking cookbooks for their mothers. Ooooooooo, said the other children, walking around into our alley, gonna teeeeeelllll but the kids pointed out the bibles, the Why Jesus Came (for Children) we’d given then, said we were nothing but ghetto scholastics, bachelor monks working out our salvation where sweat swirled with book rot on our chins. A few, the jaunty-walking Anthony Thomas and the speech-impeded Megan, ventured inside to return telling of the St. Michael on the wall, the Madonna with naked angels and the bull fighter in red, yellow and orange, to read Suess’s Oh! The Places You’ll Go and ask if they could take it home. A first grader in need of a hair cut tucked Sex and the Contemporary Christian under his arm until I made him admit he didn’t know if he was a contemporary Christian and told him that, actually, I needed that book.

Our friends came over every night for a week – ticketless circus featuring freaks without a Ferris wheels – sitting on the floor where the books towering teetered, inhaled, and smiled. They read Highway Blonde, The Black Cloud, The Other Woman, and Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to New York, quoted Methodist advice from ’57 (try sleeping on your back) and the biography of Padre Pio.

He read the bible in German. I read the mass in Latin.

Im Unfange war das Wort, he said. Und das Wort, war bei Gott, und Gott war das Wort.

Itta missa est, I said. Deo gratias.
Among the psueds, niks and disgruntled sons of the moral majority:
Posting into the silence

Peter Krupa in Costa Rica.

My Cassidy in "an improvised but effective farmboy's imitation of a rain dance."

Resistance, blood and suckers, or, the post-Prizio Hillsdale Bloggers list.

A begat-litany of Silliman houses (for me, 12 homes, if you include Kaweah, the Nelson's, and Ohio, in 22 years and still hittin'-the-road-Jack).

Jen Perkins as a blog.

The Parousia of Sarah Hatter.

Also (always) Amy's tourist's guide to K-mart birds, talking trees of God, & doors.

Aug 1, 2004


Other brothers divided bedrooms. We divide the world.