Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Carol of an Argument

A horse carriage passes, out for the holiday season. A little girl sits inside dancing around to the music that’s echoing through the streets, sort of twisting and turning to the beat and kind of waving she passes.
I woke up to the music blasting in my house. It was still dark out but somehow I knew that it was early in the morning. My housemates have been pretty considerate thus far and the music didn’t bother me.
I avoid the house during the day because it’s dark and gloomy in there. Out on my bike I’ve found some familiar parts of the area. I don’t really have anyone to hang out with, but, I’m not really making much of an effort anyway. It’s probably for the best, given that I spend all my time talking to people that I’m usually at a loss as to how to communicate with, for instance, job interviewers, campus staff, bus drivers and my housemates.
One thing that I’ve learned about aging drug addicts and alcoholics is that they have a hard time listening. A lot of people that come over to my house love to talk but are completely inept at processing anything anyone else is saying. It is an interesting thing to hear a conversation through the wall at 3 AM in which two people seem to talking to themselves. It begins like the familiar situation in which one and one’s interlocutor begin speaking at once. Each have a pressing point to make and sort of drive their opinion through that of the other. Most people will realize they have reached an impasse within a second or two and stop talking. Not so those who frequent my house, both parties will speak as if they were respiring through their words, staying alive through them. Often there seems to be little coherent message in what they are saying. It seems to be an issue of quantity over quality.
Lizabeta (I’m using a fake name here) barges in demands an audience with Rodney, is told she’s not allowed in, pleads that she has alcohol. Everyone stops and considers this. She is let in and immediately begins to babble, always beginning with some kind of reason for why she is coming in:
“I stepped in cat shit. I stepped in something…cat shit. M’fukin, shitheads, they told me! Mmmm. Hey, you’re nice,” she says to me, “I like you.Hmmm. Rodney!”
Don’t misinterpret the “you’re nice” talk. It is entirely without content. Filler. Something to address me with because I’m unfamiliar and might be nonplussed by the whole thing, the, “you’re nice” is an attempt to pacify me, the same way one tends to interact with a stranger who responds to “how are you?” with “awful”. If you’ve only just met this person it’s impossible to empathize when they tell you that they are ‘awful’ and you’re both aware of this. You mutter convention, phatic speech and there is no real meaning. Lizabeta sounds like this every time she says something to me. As if I had just strolled up to her and told her the most depressing thing, apropos of nothing and she must respond.

What We Talk about When We Talk about How I’m in the Wrong Line.
On my way home the other night I stopped by the health food store to see if they had those little soy ice cream pies to go with the coffee I had left in my thermos.
I got into line. The wrong line it turns out. Something was wrong with the register and the attendant had put the closed sign up to deter customers from waiting in a line that probably wasn’t going to move for a while. The register wasn’t actually closed, it was just a sort of hazard sign, ‘long wait ahead!’
I didn’t know this, however. I only saw two lines, one long and one short and got into the short line. I stood there for a while with my single purchase, sort of swinging the ice cream pie back and forth. At some point I noticed the ‘closed’ sign. The attendant hadn’t said anything to me about being closed so I asked her if I could wait, as I only had one thing. She said that it was no problem.
Someone had watched this whole thing play out, in fact he had even been scrutinizing every detail, waiting for me to make all the necessary realizations so he could yell from across the checkout lanes,
“Hey, Buddy why don’t you wait in line like everyone else!” As with any other speech that begins with ‘hey, Buddy’ his tone was enraged, nearly strangled by its own emotional impetus.
“Uhh, I…” I meekly held up my single purchase.
“Yeah, hey,” he volleyed, “I’ve only got one thing too!” And he held up a small brown bag, looking like it might have contained a single bread roll.
“I didn’t see the sign,” I tried, “She said it was OK. I don’t want to start an argument. I was just already here…,” I trailed off. He didn’t add anything, just turned away.
I swear, the next time this sort of thing happens I’m just going to walk to the nearest exit and motion toward the door in a sort of ‘after you’ motion. I had forgotten how abrasive people can be in this country. How they think they understand everything.
The Smell of Decay.
Today was the first day that I actually stayed around the house most of the day rather than just using it as a place to eat dinner and sleep, that is to say, I attempted to live there. The experience is not something I’d like to repeat. When I woke up, there was already a gang of young kids hanging out in the living room. My new roommate, who is a really nice guy, albeit slightly incoherent, pulled me aside to tell me that someone had been threatening people, but he didn’t seem too sure if the guy was still around. I scanned the room, wondering who among all these tweaked out kids was the loose cannon. It seemed to me they all had the potential to be threatening, given that they cannot seem to stay still for more than a few seconds, and I’m sure all that energy probably bursts out through some weird channels sometimes. I considered the story my roommate had told me about waking up to his last roommate pummeling him in the face, completely unprovoked. Shit. What is less provocative than sleeping?
I walked gingerly through the living room. Bodies rustled under blankets, the few awake eyed me suspiciously as they always do, because, to them, I am just someone else hanging out in there, probably tweaking just as hard as they are. Maybe I want their stash, maybe I’m just waiting until they go back to sleep to take it. The look is fairly disconcerting and I try to avoid being trapped under its heavy gaze, so after my shower I went right back into my room and just sorta’ sat on my bed, abject before the day really began. It wasn’t long before I decided I needed a walk.
When I came back I was feeling much better but the sour atmosphere of the house stole over me like a fog of dreams deferred and I immediately went back to hide in my room.
Every time I came out of my room I couldn’t help but to notice that no one who actually lived in the house was out in the living room/kitchen area. They were all looked in their rooms, apparently hiding from these interlopers. I considered asking them to leave and reconsidered after one of them gave me a particularly intense grimace of revulsion and excess, drug-induced, energy.
I spent the afternoon out by our laundry shack, reading Dostoevsky. The backyard of the place is really just a pile of old motors, rags, chains, mud, cat pee and trucks that aren’t going to move until they are towed out, nonetheless, they are all for sale, I was informed by one of the less truculent tweakers. In addition to all this crap there is a little facility set up for resident laundry. It’s a horribly depressing conglomeration of garbage and barely functioning washing machines, imagine an outhouse equipped with two secondhand, coin-operated washers and you have the place where I spent my afternoon reading about how the privation of man is causing his downfall.
Ortachala, Ortachalita.
I hear the word Ortachala in a café and wonder where I’ve heard it before. I take a drink of my luke warm coffee and stare out the window at the flat, white sky for a moment.
Ortachala, Ortachala, where have I heard that? How could I have forgotten such a euphonious word?” I think to myself.
Then I remember. Ortachala is a bus station in Tbilisi, the capital of the republic of Georgia. It’s the bus station I used to take to get back to Yerevan before I discovered that there was transport back to the Armenian capital from the central station as well, which was much more convenient.
Still, all the routes out of Yerevan stopped there. Ortachala was far outside the city. It was a long walk and an expensive cab ride from any point of interest. There was probably a marshutka that went out that way but I never figured out which one.
I kissed a girl last February at the Ortachala station. I returned to the Caucasus from the Balkans through Ortachala, leaving the decadence of Turkey, all the locum and halva and sesame seeded everything behind. I spoke with Armenian marshutka drivers there in a little kiosk which they used as a lounge and a ticket counter. We smoked over a little wire-coil stove together, drinking sweet coffee from plastic cups, while the snow-rain sloshed around in the streets outside.
When I came out of Armenia the last time I took a marshutka to Ortachala. I had a massive backpack that I had to sit down on the ground to put on. I had to stagger for a while even after it was situated on my back. With this awkward bag, teetering through the dirt lot of unmarked taxis, empty plastic cups used for chacha or vodka drinking and still smoldering cigarette butts, I was hailed by every driver. They waived me over yelling “Tbilisi, Tbilisi, center, center!”
I was a regular at Ortachala. I was a tourist. I took a cab into the city from Ortachala with a Yezidi Kurd who spoke Armenian and at least three other languages.
After considering these details, I realize that whatever was said next to me a moment ago in this American café was certainly not Ortachala.
They Stole The Fucking Quilt, Brother.
An argument in the living room:
“Chuck get rid of this fucking bitch right now!”
“Wrong words of choice!”[sic]
Chuck, by the way, is sweating out DTs in his room. He’s not in any condition to kick anyone out of here. Neither is the guy telling this girl to leave. No one here has any designs on changing the world around them no matter how malicious it becomes. Perhaps this is because they are already far too accustomed to a malicious world, maybe they expect it. In fact, sometimes it seems this sort of thing is necessary.
My roommate woke up on Sunday, immediately complaining that his ring had been stolen. Later that day, it became clear who had stolen the ring. The thieving party claimed that he actually had to buy back the ring from the true offender. For this reason, 20 dollars was owed for what was probably just a ransom for the ring. It was later pronounced that the person everyone assumed was responsible would not be allowed in the house again. Today, I came home and found the young man on the couch, chatting with everyone as if nothing had ever happened, really nothing had happened. There is no sense of permanence in this place. Anything that is done is lost a day, or perhaps an hour, later to a nebulous black out.
Still, the house maintains an oddly strong memory. While the residents all carry heavily selective memories they are still quiet adept at remembering other things, especially that from the past. Everybody here holds a lengthy compendium of interesting life stories. I live with bank robbers, guys who were intimately involved in the 1980s LA punk scene and guys who have eaten nothing but pancakes for weeks in Oregon. Unfortunately, their stories tend flow in loops, which makes them hard to follow, certain details are repeated ad nauseum.
Imprecations ebb and flow out in the living room, and still nothing changes. No one leaves, despite the castigations slung at them, and no one tries to make anyone leave. Everyone is in their own world, they have built up the dura mater around their brains to an opaque thickness that allows nothing in but bemusement and nothing out but apathy, no matter how grandiose the statements or actions around here, no matter how threatening, nothing really matters. A person who is crying one minute is laughing hysterically the next, taking in the novelty of everything and letting out the appropriately modified apathetic response. The laughter rings hollow, the tears swell with absurdity and everyone is talking over everyone else’s story.
In the last two days I have had an apartment in Arcata and lost it only to find another. I got two jobs making coffee. At one place, I went to work on Monday and was let go on Tuesday. “You did a great job,” the owner told me, “but one of our employees requested more hours.” I start the other place on Thursday and hope that I will not be laid off on another pretense on Friday.
I rode my bike over to the Mad River bridge on Monday. The street that leads over to this old railroad-cum-pedestrian bridge weaves through a number of pastures that initially impressed the hell out of me when I first moved here. Being near entire fields of cattle was a new experience to me back then, and I never failed to marvel at the sentience behind the enormously aqueous and beautiful eyes of the Holsteins and Jerseys.
Since I have last visited the pastures, I noticed one very conspicuous change. Near the bridge there used to be an area that seemed set aside to rear veal calves. Up near the road there used to be a small roped off section where calves were confined to very small areas. I remember some of them even being held in the notorious veal crates. I used to bike past this place feeling the appropriate surge of pity and remorse, however, I have since had to admit to myself that I also enjoyed the site of these beautiful animals all penned in together, no matter how much dolor I felt at the sight I still enjoyed the presence of the animals, at seeing all the innocence and curiosity of their expressions turned to me at once as I rode by on my bike.
On this last visit I noticed that the supposed veal calves are gone. The area is vacant now. Since my guard was down and I was doing little more than vacant musing, my first thought at seeing the area empty was sadness. Of course this was immediately followed by happiness that the cruel practice had seemingly been abandoned. Still, I cannot deny my initial reaction, which affirms my own incredible selfishness to me.
Perhaps, I too am lacking in my catalog of appropriate responses.

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