Something is wrong with my left eye. I haven’t been able to see out of it the way I used to since February. And because I’ve had a lot of rotten luck, and lost my California health insurance, which was rotten too, I can’t ask anyone with a medical degree what the hell is wrong with it.
Occasionally it will get blurry, and then correct itself. I asked a barista at Southeast Grind if she had ever experienced this. It was four in the morning and I was delirious and friendless in a city that didn’t altogether hate me. She blinked a few times, said she hadn’t. There was a pause, and then she informed me that people with vision problems usually only get screwed out of good vision in one eye. “Is that true?” I said. She bit her lip. There was a line forming behind me. “That’s what I heard, anyway,” she said.
Twice now I have gotten what looks like pink eye. A few weeks back I had a stye. What is this? I’ve been keeping a warm washcloth on it whenever I can, which is a very nice feeling that I hadn’t experienced since I was a kid, and someone was holding the washcloth against my face for me. (Tangentially related: I wouldn’t mind if someone did that to me as an adult. These days I am willing to let people do a lot of things to me.)
Presently my eye is in a partially crusted-over state, and so am I. I don’t know if either will ever be the same again. I reckon you’ve got to take these things as they come. In some ways it’s all downhill from here. It’s a good thing I already own an eyepatch.
• • •
I have been busy recently with the business of staying alive. What’s difficult for me is that I can never get past the “Why do I need to stay alive?” part. I suppose I can’t lie down and die. Trust me, I’ve tried. It really doesn’t work. I’ve tried disassociating, and hiding in the dark. I’ve tried inventing personas, and crawling inside them, and living there for long periods of time, hoping I can stay there forever. . . .
These days I wander Hawthorne Boulevard in search of friendly faces. There’s bound to be one sooner or later who will make eyes with me, see all the terrible things swirling around in there, and take my hand and lead me to the promised land. Maybe they’ll have come from a wealthy and altruistic family—and, taking pity upon my poor soul, will let me live in their attic until I’m an old, old man.
I was telling someone recently that the only way I’m ever going to find a little bit of peace on this earth is to wait around until one of my talented friends makes it big. Laura Rokas, bless her Canadian heart, has told me that if her art career ever pans out—and it really is looking like it will—then Dante and I can live with her rent-free forever. At least that’s what I think she said. Hell, I’d chip in $200 a month if that made us square. She, like my ex-wife, who I think about every single day of my godawful life, don’t you know, still laughs at my jokes. I don’t dare for one second take this for granted. It means that I pay my dues with bad jokes and cheap laughs. In spite of everything else about me, most of it bad, they still squint their eyes and smile and utter a sound. And maybe that’s good enough for her. What more can you ask of anyone, really?
In the evening I walk past little families outside their great big houses, all covered in flowers, as are most houses in this neighborhood, and I know that I’ll never get my hands on any of that. Hell, I never even had it to begin with. I consider that I will likely never see a great deal of my family again. I wonder if they wonder about me. I am alone, and have been alone for ten years next month. I have been free, horribly free, and it’s looking like there’s no end in sight, all horrible, all alone.
I buy a Slurpee from the 7-11 near my house, and I tell the kid behind the counter: “Brother, sometimes one of these damn things is the only thing that does it for me. It’s my little buddy, when I have no others.” He blinks, tells me I owe the cash register a buck and some change, and I go off, strutting down the street, checking out a few babes, and eyeing the wooden palettes leaning against a dumpster behind the pizza place. I make a mental note to return later with Matt’s car.
• • •
Our basement is filled with palettes. There must be fifteen or twenty of them down there. I have memorized when trash day is, and I’m not going to tell you when that is, because I need at least twenty more palettes so I don’t feel so empty anymore. And on trash day I go a-wanderin’, and I find multitudes of these things all over the place. I have come to know what separates a good palette from a bad one. I get the good ones while the good ones are still out there. These beautiful little orphans—I want them all.
You see I have this idea in the back of mind that if I build furniture I’ll be all right. There is a tool library right around the corner, and I am scheming to walk over there to borrow a rotary saw and the biggest hammer they’ve got. And then I’m going to build me a hideous Frankenstein’d bookshelf—a great big fat one, long as hell, and toss it beneath the only window in my bedroom, which is closed and darkened about eighty-percent of the time. And I’m going to put my books on that shelf, and a lamp on top, a dim one because I can’t exist around bright ones, and maybe a few dumb little things that I’ve got laying around this loner cave of mine. And I’m going to stand back and cross my arms, and see that it is very good, and say aloud to absolutely no one: “You did it, old man. Now you can finally die.”
• • •
I’ve lost my balls. I told this to my friend Ella yesterday. I said it without any context: “I’ve lost my balls, and I’ve got to get them back.”
To which Ella said: “What?”
We were lying in my bed looking at old pictures. Here I had a Mad Max-looking decommissioned police car, and there I had a red glowstick in my mouth at the highest point of Grizzly Peak. I’m standing near the San Francisco Bay at night wrapped in a blanket with my arms outstretched, speaking to unseen midnight entities. I’m kissing Laura on the cheek. I’m eating popcorn in a bar. I’m splitting firewood with a cigarette in my mouth. I’m wearing an Oakland A’s hat, and holding a kitten who lived in my backyard. I’m dancing like Pee-wee Herman on the long table in an empty Donut Farm on a Tuesday morning.
What happened to me? I wonder. Have I been fucked out and left for dead? I was a freak, wild at heart and weird on top. Now I get my kicks rolling around on the living room rug with a handful of fine and interesting people who seem to like me, though I don’t know why. Is that enough for me?
For God’s sake, I’ve just got to make a little money. It’s the only way I can turn it around. I think about it all time. I try not to. I have to make money because I have to take care of a fifteen-pound cat who can’t live without my love and affection, and vice versa. Otherwise I would go off and find some place to die. And then, near as I can tell, I’ll end up in The Other World.
I think about that all the time too—The Other World. If I never get my balls back—well, at least there’s that place. The cold comfort of death is sometimes the only thing that gets me through the day, and helps me cope with the fact that baby, I’m getting old.
If there’s no more pain, and no more suffering, and no more tears over there . . . then that’s fine with me. All I want is to live on a forested asteroid with my friend Dante. I want to have a house and I want to sleep inside it. I want it to be nighttime all the time, until I decide I want to see the other thing.
I told Dante tonight, when we were both in the basement eyeing those delicious palettes I’ve been collecting: “We’re all we’ve got, buddy. I won’t ever let anything hurt you. I’m glad you’re my friend.”
• • •
I’m editing my novellas. I’m writing two more. I’m going to put them up on the homepage of my little publishing company, which is called King Meteor. I have decided the site will just be a list of titles in black and white. You click on the title and it takes you to a synopsis and maybe some artwork. Beneath all this is a place where you can type in a price. You can type in whatever price you want. You click a huge button and it emails you a single-serve link that lets you download a PDF and an EPUB file. Then you maybe read this thing, and wonder what sort of deranged moron would write something so egregiously bad.
I really ought to publish my novel, which I think is halfway decent. What am I afraid of? It’s not like anyone is going to give a damn about it. For the longest time I didn’t either. I hated the god darn idea of it. I would read it and feel sick. But now I’ve come around, and I think it would be OK if someone else read it too.
Picture this: It is nighttime. Some creep named Rayon Starpuncher is sitting on the rainbow bridge in a derelict nowhere in Baltimore. He is a hundred and fifty feet above some railroad tracks. The wind is blowing. He hangs onto a steel beam so it doesn’t blow him off. He hates himself a whole lot. The city is perfectly silent in a way that makes him hate himself even more. He gets bored and wanders home, where he lives alone. The monolithic brick fortress where he lives is surrounded on every side by abandoned warehouses filled with punk squatters who call themselves artists. He lies down in bed and watches the pale moonlight flicker on his ceiling. He hears someone cough. He looks down at his feet. A ghost covered in shackles and chains is sitting at the foot of his bed. The ghost looks similar to him, but also just different enough to be frightening and unnerving.
The ghost is friendly. He offers Starpuncher a gift. With nothing better going on, Starpuncher accepts the gift. The ghost gives Starpuncher a new left eye. With it he can see the future.
The ghost tells him the world won’t last much longer. Starpuncher says he’s not surprised. The ghost also says that Starpuncher’s world is not what it seems. Starpuncher says he figured that was the case too.
The ghost mentions some sort of vague journey that Starpuncher is to go on. He says good-bye and returns to his own dimension—to The Other World.
Starpuncher doesn’t sleep. He never sleeps. He gets up and walks into the bathroom. He stares at himself in the mirror. He closes his right eye. With his left eye he watches his body mutate into a skeleton.
In the morning he buys a train ticket. The world is scheduled to end sometime the following week.
Would you read that? Man, I don’t know. It’s OK if the answer is “no way.”
• • •
My nightly ritual for the last month has been to write a few paragraphs and then watch an episode of ‘Cowboy Bebop.’ I have so much fun doing this that I almost don’t want to tell anyone. I guess I just blew that idea. And then I read one chapter from ‘Moby-Dick.’ I am reading just one chapter a day. Isn’t that great? And then I read ‘A Scanner Darkly,’ which I read once before many years ago when I was somehow an even bigger idiot than I am today.
Dante is asleep on a pile of my clean laundry, all black and maroon. The lighting in my room is perfect. It is dim and indirect. Though hell, I reckon I am too. It’s not so bad. A few people don’t mind it, and I’m not about to convince them otherwise.