Me and Jonah

Jeff Weston

for Liza

 

The water is cold, cold enough to break the skin of the boat,

the skin of me, oh, itís a little too much. We started days ago.

That was good, when we started out, leaving port the way

you do with the engines throttled full and there were good

skies and I was saying to myself, weíll get lots of fish this

time out and I think I was planning to take the money and get

a new truck. One time I made seven grand on a trip after it

was said and done.

Oh, I hear such beautiful music, it makes my heart

break, like the ship, was broken, across the rocks.

If I could move my leg along the slick deck, if it werenít

already gone to the place where legs go, when theyíre sick

and tired, I would move along the deck and examine the

possibilities.

One needs possibilities.

Occasionally I listen. I listen very hard, straining, no,

harder than that. I can hear a whole lot of things. Sometimes

I hear the engine sputtering. Like itís going, I think, excellent,

then weíll continue on to the Banks and nab fish and Iíll be

out with nets and Iíll have my gloves and this is very

important, Iíll be looking out over the bow and can see the

ripple of the surface of the water as waves come towards us

as if we were cutting through the lines of a great symphony,

like the one on the radio at the moment.

The light of 12 Pound island is a laser. I shiver every

time it slices across us, and am slivered into pieces the way

you take an egg and sever it into equal sections with wire,

the wire in an egg cutter like they have in kitchens. I try not

to look at the light. Then I look at the light, trying to fathom a

purpose. I remember its purpose, to guide, thatís what it

does. Everything is being cut. Time, I have seen, by waiting

for the swivel of the light of the light house, is a paradox.

Perhaps everything cut up is a paradox.

I remember once, I was traveling the length of the

coast, in a car, a nice car I had, it was a 2002, one of the

older ones, and in driving I could sense that the ocean was

cut up into pieces from my view in the car. The landscape in

the winding road slid into view, then broke to allow the

ocean. It was cold, like now, very cold, and the ocean

doesnít freeze, not like lakes and ponds, but around the

edges it did, and steam rose from it, as it struggled to remain

in motion. There I was, in motion, struggling to remain in

motion. I think I was running away from something, from

some situation. I donít believe I was running for ever, like,

trying to actually escape, I was running for the sake of

running, to clear my head. And the water, as I wound around

the road of the coast, puzzled me with its distinct personality.

I must say I felt fear. So large, so much. Like now. Except I

donít want to think about that exactly, Iím just going to try

running, in my head, until my head clears. If I could reach the

radio down in the galley, I would turn it up. Although itís

pretty loud right now. It was left on before we went belly up

on the rocks. And the rocks cut too, oh yes, I found that out.

But we didnít sink, that we would have, we were speared on

the jagged points. It is useless to mention this. Even if I had

grabbed the log book from the cabin, in some miraculous

foresight, of the time at hand, and a pen too -- I speak for the

fishes who taunt me. I am telling them. You then, are the

fish. You are listening safely in the tide, warm enough with

your fatty insulation from the icy salt.

Blasted radio I hate you I really hate you! Why donít

your batteries run low so you can stop tricking me and

keeping me listening as if I were tethered to you, with long

cords of stainless steel cable never capable of rusting,

always closer to the infernal speaker and the commercials,

ugh, I think itís the commercials which get me. I would like to

go down to Demarioís for some new vinyl house siding! I

would like to open an account at the Cape Bank! But I canít,

you see? Itís very simple. No need to get upset about it.

I think it was an argument with a girlfriend.

When the spray comes in over the railing, I can feel it

against my face, but it seems to have calmed down, the

water and the fish are quietly listening.

I always liked when, in the summer, you went into the

freezer and it made your whole body tingle. That was great,

although it does occur to me that there in the winter, in the

snow, when the snow gets caught between your gloves and

coat, just at the wrists, it burns. I guess I liked that too. Iíd

take either right now to be quite frank.

If I were named Frank, I would no longer be named

Mikhail.

My father named me this, you see, and my mother

grudgingly agreed. She wanted to name me Frank. No, I

believe she wanted to name me Boris. I donít think I would

have liked to have been called Boris all my life. There is

something absolutely grainy about it, the sound of it, in my

ears, with the sound of the water constantly moving, the

sound Boris does nothing to please me. My parents say

theyíre from Moscow, but I know theyíre really from the

Ukraine. Just like them to name someone Mikhail rather than

Boris, not Frank, not Joe. But Iím from Leicester, not from

where theyíre from and even having to carry around a name

like Mikhail, although not Boris, has always been a heavy

load. I was ruddy cheeked. Maybe the cold is in my blood,

and it fires the area below my eyes with constant streaks of

red. I have no mirror now, but if I did, I would check this tidbit

of a thought, to verify it.

Letís see, if I were speaking to salmon how would the

story differ from one told to tuna?

I have given up on the fish. I donít think theyíre

listening. Iím speaking now to the lighthouse, yes, it will

surely listen. My words will be absorbed by the light, and in

being absorbed, redistributed over the whole water. I am

imagining other sailors have done this too, so that there are

layers on top of layers. The waves bump them so they mix,

and we have one story mixed into another, like paint spilled,

or like something else, something I canít remember at the

moment.

There are many things to remember. I have tried to

remember them all, but have settled for select things, pulled

out at random.

Letís see, there are so many. Hereís one.

I am seeing that place Iíd rented right on Agawam

Beach. It was a cabin, sort of a cabin, that was open to the

air, I had it for the summer, it was open like it had no

windows. It had slats which were hinged at the top and held

open at an angle by a pole, you could lower them if you

wanted, when it was raining or whatever. I had the place all

summer. And there was a small foot trail down to the beach,

and I spent time drinking wine and playing guitar and I would

sometimes build a fire on the beach and cook what Iíd

caught. I had this girl, Maria, who used to come to the cabin.

And we had great sex there, in the cabin, on the beach, the

kind of slow sex that went with the tempo of the waves, like

we werenít in any hurry. I spent a lot of time thinking about

things then. Oh, what sort of things did I think about? I wasnít

a teenager, but I wasnít grown up either. I guess those sorts

of things. Why is insurance so important to everybody? Why

did peasants pour vodka down Dostoyevskiís fatherís throat

so he died? If I were Nietzsche, and I walked into a bar, how

would I explain my philosophy without being beaten up? Why

did I say those cruel things years ago to Boris? Why donít

people say what they mean, or why donít people keep it to

themselves, or why donít people spend more time laying on

the beach with a guitar smoking some weed? I really felt I

was getting to the bottom of enormous burning questions. I

imagined I could impart this knowledge to my fellow man. I

told Maria and she laughed. I didnít mind. People are always

saying, oh, these are the best days of your life, like, since

you were like, three. Maybe those days on the beach were

mine. I donít know. They kind of embarrass me too. Those

days, the best ones, which I look at now. Now. Not now. I

donít want to think about it right now. The fire inched over the

wood as if it were alive. Thatís what I remember. I thought

the fire was alive, those nights. And I thought the ocean was

too. I could understand, rolling sand between my fingers and

toes, why the four elements were chosen. I tried to play an

Earth, Wind, and Fire song on the guitar for Maria but I was

never very good. My fingers just donít seem to be able to

move around in a musical way. Itís as if theyíre glued

together. I can only strum in a dirge sort of way. Maybe itís

my Russian blood. Iíve heard my Uncle warble out some

terrifically mournful Russian songs. Iíve forgotten a lot of my

Russian, but I remember the songs were always about some

worker for the people sacrificing something. Ah.

What I would like is something to do. When youíre

doing things you donít have to think so much, and it would

take my mind off the ocean.

When you have bad thoughts, like very bad thoughts

about hurting or being hurt itís sometimes best to let them

flow right through you, as if you were transparent.

So Iím opening my eyes again, although the lids are

hurting quite a lot on my eyes, and the eye balls themselves

are aching with the cold, I look at the water, as if I were

transparent.

Like the fire. Every bit is moving. Every tiny jutting bit

of it is moving of its own free will. This is an enormous animal

I am surrounded by. It is angry, maybe it is angry with me,

oh, tell me, what have I done wrong, wonít you tell me, why

go on punishing me this way! The radio is good. I like the

radio, it takes away my attention from the water. Iím listening

to the announcerís voice, I know the announcer, I mean, I

know every thing about him because of each subtle

intonation. I know where he went to school, what he had for

breakfast, who heís sleeping with, what his goals and pet

peeves are. He doesnít like the toilet paper roll put on so the

sheets hang close to the wall, I can tell that. And he has

trouble sleeping, and he has a few bills he canít seem to get

around to paying, and he sits in the morning and wonders

sometimes why he doesnít just pick up and move in with his

cousin who has this great place in North Carolina, where he

can finally get time to paint and maybe even sell some of the

paintings of forests and portraits in a small gallery. Thatís

what heís always wanted to do. His dog is very sick. Heís

worried about him, he doesnít want to have to put him to

sleep, after all, heís had him since he was a teenager. I hope

he plays a song I like. Even if he doesnít I forgive him. Oh,

why doesnít the water forgive me and transport me to the

shore so I can get that vinyl siding?

Wait, I think I rushed my interpretation of the radio

man. I mean, I believe I was thinking of different tones, in his

voice, and now that Iím listening harder I can tell some stuff I

didnít have right in the first place. No dog, first of all. He is

not the sort of person who has a dog, maybe a cat. Maybe

not even a cat. Certainly not fish. I donít want to conceive of

fish at the moment, who donít even have the decency to

listen to me. A cat would. A dog would. No, the Radio Man is

indeed sleepless, an insomniac. That much was correct. He

does not paint ideal scenes. He is not an artist. But he does

dream of escape. Like me. And why does he? That is a good

question.

Maybe he is trapped by forces beyond his control, as

if he were bounded in by a huge raging expanse.

When I was traveling across Alaska, with a backpack,

and working for a while at the fisheries there, hoisting huge

salmon onto conveyor belts, I was distinctly aware of many

hedgings and expanses. Becoming conscious of the gravel

beneath my feet, and the mosquitoes, and the north winds, I

sought to follow the footsteps of Jack London and see the

whole wide world. My eyes, so pained now, had wings. I

wanted them to fly the entire way around. Tagging behind, I

could pick up the pieces of my journey. But there were large

chunks of time when I was only concerned with solitude I

was never able to find. I was continually interrupted from

more than a half hour of aloneness. Once I was out in the

woods in Alaska, and I had walked three days out of Juneau,

and I thought, my god, I am going to get away from things

now, Iím actually going to be alone like Iíve never known

before, and then maybe Iíll get to the bottom of myself, and

Iíll be like the Indians and have known and be visited by

Mother Nature herself and understand everything I need to.

So there I am, having pitched tent for the night. Iíd put out

the fire. I laid down on my sleeping bag and was so very

much at peace and content like Iíd never been able to know

before, when I can hear this sound in the distance. Itís this

whizzzzing sound. Itís the sound of bombs falling in

miniature. Then a great big BOOM, and laughter. Oh Jesus,

what the hell almighty Christ is going on? Out of the tent with

my flashlight I walk over a rise and see below me a truck and

a few kids -- oh I donít know, they were my age -- and they

were drinking and yelling and shooting fireworks. Out in the

middle of nowhere. In the middle of everywhere. In the

middle of my god-damn solitude and peace and quiet and

diplomacy with Mother Nature. I was mad. I was livid. I

shouted WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING? and the guys

they stopped and they looked up at me, and one of them said

Hey dude, what are ya doing way out here? And I said

TRYING TO GET SOME PEACE OF MIND. Hey, they said,

come on down we got some beer and some good tunes. And

I went down and had a beer with them, and we talked and

they were working with a logging company. I liked them, we

got along. I suddenly understood that seeking this solitude

was impossible, that it wasnít meant for me, and you know I

just sorta gave up then, seeing them there. So isnít it sort of

ironic, I think, that now Iíve got it, when I donít want it.

The captain went over the side in an inflatable lifeboat

on the first day. He said he was sure he could make it to 12

Pound Island and the light house.

I mean whatís it about?

I have questions. Iím not sure what they are exactly,

but I feel them in there, nudging the insides restlessly. Often I

like to sit outside, on the porch I have, and drink a beer and

smoke some, and the questions go away for a while.

Sometimes they get so big and so bad, that I feel as if Iím

slowly being swallowed, like Jonah was in the whale. Maybe

he was swallowed up right away, so Iím more like being

digested. Thatís what people imply, I guess, when they say

Ďwhatís eating you?í Questions, I have some. I would tell you

what they were if I knew them.

What was the story, the one about Jonah, being

swallowed by the whale. Wait. Let me think. Yes, God told

Jonah to go to Ninevah as a messenger, to tell Ninevah it

had gone sour and that God was going to punish them. But

Jonah didnít do that. He ran away, he got on a ship, going

somewhere, a place whose name is too long and too biblical

for me to remember at the moment. Oh that I could. That the

tiny details would come to me easily. I could be on Jeopardy

with an ability like that. Anyway, I donít recall where Jonah

was going, but the important part was, he was going there on

a ship. God was pissed off. Made a storm. And Jonah lay

sleeping in the ship, and a sailor shook him awake saying,

Why are you sleeping? Weíre about to be smashed by the

storm, donít you have a God to pray to? Oh yes, says Jonah,

I have a God to pray to, the one that made the land and yes

the storm too. Made the storm? they said. Well, tell him to

make it go away. I canít do that, Jonah said, heís got to

punish me I guess. Punish you? They conferred. Sacrifice

him, the sailors said, throw him out where his God can get

him and so we can survive. So the sailors said prayers and

took Jonah and threw him overboard. And in the water a

great beast waited, sent by God, who swallowed up Jonah, in

whose belly he stayed three days and three nights. It was a

great beast, OK, letís get that straight, it does not actually

say a whale, but I prefer to think of it as a whale, so abide

me will you? Jonah prayed and apologized I guess.

Afterward, he was vomited up and went to Ninevah to preach

the end because they had been very bad. But everyone

listened to Jonah, in Ninevah, when he said God was going

to destroy them in what, forty days. So everyone in Ninevah

went and fasted, and threw away their clothes and wore

sackcloth. And they repented. God saw that Ninevah was

changed, and he forgave them and didnít destroy them. But

Jonah was upset. I guess he really wanted to see Ninevah

leveled. And this is the part I donít understand so well. The

thing I canít figure out is the gourd. I canít figure why Jonah

wants to die either, but Iím going to put that aside, at least

momentarily. Letís just say Jonah wants God to kill him. But

instead of killing him, God makes this gourd, which hangs

over Jonah, which shades him from the sun. Can you figure

this out? A floating gourd? Out of his gourd? And this isnít all.

Jonah still wants to die, and he gets used to the gourd being

there, and Ninevah being there, so God creates a worm that

he places in the gourd, which makes it shrivel up. End of

story. Does this make any sense whatsoever? It starts nicely,

with the part about the whale (how I started on this whole

thing) and ends up with a floating gourd and a worm.

Maybe Jonah wanted to die because he could not

escape God. He was, in a sense, stranded. He sat out in the

desert after saying what he had to say, and God wouldnít

leave him alone, bothering him with floating gourds.

I should take some time to explain my position, to you,

on the radio. Thatís who Iím addressing, Iíve given up on the

fish. The guy on the radio will listen to me, as Iíve listened

patiently to him. But heís not exactly in the same situation is

he? He can probably leave whenever he likes. He could put

on a very long album and walk outside the station and look at

the sky and sit on some stairs, and maybe even drive down

into town for a little while before he has to return. I would too

except for this leg. What happened. When the waves started

coming over the sides, and the engine went kaput, and we

began drifting, I sloshed around on the deck unhooking the

lines, in hopes we could gain some control, and then with a

crack we were impaled on the rocks, and everything went

crazy like the sounds of screams and the metal hull

crumpling and thatís when the winch came down and

smashed my leg. I donít see much left of either. I would like

to think that the leg hurt the winch as much as the winch hurt

the leg. The pain was bad for a while. I mean, when Iím

talking about pain here, Iím talking about excruciating bone

wrenching flame rocketing around the whole surface and

inside of the body. I squirmed. The captain tried to move the

thing off, the winch thing, but he couldnít budge it. No

choices, he said, very few choices, Iíve got to try and make it

to 12 Pound island and then send somebody back. There

was a survival suit in the pilothouse, along with the wrecked

radios (the oneís that broadcast, oh why am I tormented with

one that only receives? One out of reach at that) and the

shattered glass and busted electronics mustíve been quite a

stab at the captainís heart, what with how much money heís

put into this boat. There was a brief moment of him debating

about the suit, which is a sort of orange bunny suit for low

temperatures, and of course I couldnít have gotten the thing

on what with my leg and the winch being so intimate.

But I donít feel so much pain now, I get real sleepy,

but I know I shouldnít fall asleep, cuz thatís what happens

when you get too cold.

How long has the captain been gone? I could fathom

large blocks of time that were, well, near forever. I have been

here forever. There was once a class I took, in school, a

physics class, about how time and space are connected.

This always excited me, and I often thought about it, in a

playful way, when we left port for six weeks when going on a

big trip, how if we were moving the speed of light when we

got back more time would have elapsed than what we had

experienced. Everything wouldíve changed. Everyone

wouldíve grown old and passed on, and their children too,

cuz thatís what happens they say, when you mix up time and

space like that, by going so fast. Perhaps, now I muse, I am

experiencing the opposite reaction: I am not moving in

space, not one inch, not one less than one inch, and so time

slows down for me while it progresses at the same rate in

Leicester. So that when I get back, itíll seem to me like Iíve

been gone for years, decades, and everyoneíll say, oh, back

so soon? How was the fishing? I like to think about this.

What would happen to space, for instance, if you moved

through time at a different rate? I mean, this isnít possible I

know, to time travel, but if you could, what would happen to

the space around you? If I were a physicist I would know the

answers to these things.

I believe what is playing now is a Curtis Mayfield song.

When I was young certain songs had an effect on me.

I would sit in the back of my auntís VW bug (she was a

hippie, who wore bell bottoms and braided her hair and

decorated herself with flowery patterns) and the songs would

make my whole body vibrate. The hook, of the songs, the

pop songs. It was radio then, playing stuff I hear again once

and a while but those songs donít make my whole body

vibrate anymore, instead, they seem to hook the hook. You

know what I mean? Like the reflection of a reflection of

yourself in a mirror. Itís removed, and yet it has a sort of

effect. It isnít exactly reminiscence. Iím not specifically

reminded of specific times. I donít travel in time. The songs

donít do that. Itís more like being poked, in the head, with

something youíre not really conscious was there. This is not

entirely coherent. Let me try saying this another way,

because this seems very important at the moment and I

would like to get to the bottom of it.

Certain songs remind you that you remember.

There, I think thatís it. Thatís like one of those

drawings, by that guy, oh shit whatís his name, the one who

does the drawings of staircases that ascend into themselves

and of endless patterns and waterfalls that go down and up

at the same time. I think itís Etcher. Something like that. I

guess he did etchings, thatís not really his name. Those

drawings have always been some of my favorites. There was

one, a poster of one, in Sabinaís house when I knew her,

right above her couch. And I would sit there and stare at it

a lot. It was of a tower, and stairs going around the tower, and

men walking on those stairs, and they were walking up and

down at the same time, all together, forever. There were

columns, and a fountain too, and looking at it, I would get

glimpses of thoughts I never knew I had. Like they were

buried very far back, and only occasionally would they shift

and show up -- but never fully, they never came out all the

way, which often disappointed and frustrated me. And I

would say something, about one of these thoughts, but

stammer and it would make me very frustrated and people

would laugh. Well, donít get me wrong, I donít blame them

for laughing. My tongue gets worked up, and then I realize

Iím not actually saying anything. Like one of those men

walking on the stairs and not getting anywhere.

I have often wondered about illusions too. I think since

the captainís been gone Iíve gotten to the bottom of some

things. Iím not only thinking of getting back to Leicester, Iím

thinking about what it means to get back to Leicester. I canít

help it. Itís out of my control, to make some meaning out of

some things.

You need to have some meaning.

Perhaps I will be like Jonah, and after the three days

are done Iíll be deposited back home, vomited up by the

ocean. But if that is true, if that is the case of which we are

speaking, that means Iím here because Iíve done something

wrong. Iím asking you, Radio Man, what have I done wrong?

The Radio Man tells me I have forsaken him, done him

ungodly wrong and when I shouldíve been listening I wasnít

and when I shouldnít have been listening I was. Iím sorry OK,

Iím sorry about that, and now that Iím in the belly of the

whale Iím gonna prostrate myself (that sounds worse than it

may be, I dunno) and everythingíll be OK and the Radio Man

and I will be right as rain. Radio Man! Listen to me! I want to

sing you a song, about my leg, about the winch, and about

what Jonah found in the whaleís belly!

The huge jaws of the whale gulped water in and

Jonah, who struggled in the webs of the baleen, flailed

around terror stricken. Pushed by the rushing water, he rolls

head over heels swept down the very gullet of the beast.

Spinal bones above his head, under a thin veneer of red slick

flesh, a cavern before him stretches half a mile. Small waves

subside around his feet. He walks on resilient ground. There

are smells of rotten fish, and something else, blood and oil.

There is very little light. What little light there is makes Jonah

wonder, and heís looking to where it seems to come from,

and it comes from, get this, from a boat! And Jonah walks to

the boat, through the slush of fish parts and mucous, and

when he gets to the boat who does he see sitting there with

a lantern? Itís you Radio Man! Youíre there in the whale, with

Jonah. And he sits in the boat with you, and you both look at

the lantern, running on whale oil, and then you start, the way

you started a little while ago, before playing that song,

saying, "Itís quarter of eleven, and itís a nippy thirty five

degrees out, and weíre sitting in the belly of a whale, Iíd like

to play you a song, this is going out to everybody working on

the docks, maybe just to warm you up a little bit." Then from

your mouth Radio Man comes the sound of the radio, of a

song, I think itís a Paul Simon song, Kodachrome or

something, and this is like when they have freak occurrences

of molars with fillings tuning in to radio. And Jonah sits and

listens. His head is downcast, the song doesnít cheer him up.

After all, heís sitting in the belly of a whale. You have to

admit itís hard to be cheery in a situation like that. When you

are done with your song Radio Man, Jonah tells you his

troubles, and you listen intently, nodding your head bottom lip

jutting out a bit and face drawn in sympathy. You can identify

with Jonah. After all, you are in the whale too.

This does nothing to speak of the leg which has

begun to beg me with icy air, slowly climbing up my hip like a

poison, or from the winch, into my leg, up my hip, into my

chest, where it squeezes my heart. Like a cold hand.

But you have the same trouble too Radio Man, in the

boat, in the belly of the whale, with Jonah. You are trapped

by a fallen winch. Jonah tries to move it off of you, but it is

too heavy. Occasional shreds of day light come from the

blow hole far above both of you, when the whale surfaces.

Like, this magical whale has no insides, just a huge cave.

Jonah tries to lift the winch off with an oar. This doesnít work

either. All the while Radio Man you have your mouth open

and out comes music.

Iím concentrating on the light house again.

I went there a couple of times. Who hasnít?

I imagine John, Billy, Joe, and Sal in their bunks

sleeping peacefully, under the water of course, under the

cold water, peacefully, wrapped up in blankets and snoring. It

would be nice to sleep, but I know I shouldnít. I believe I

have already stated this. Itís remarkable, noticing the broad

loops which certain elements continue to surface. The leg.

Sleep. The captain. The water. The radio. Thatís all there is.

No, there is more. If I want to really get to the bottom of

things, there is always more. Iíve changed my mind, the

basic elements are in fact only other things in disguise. Do

you see this? Wait, I want to make sure I have this right. If

one thing, like the leg, actually means another, then the leg

itself can no longer be a source of pain but merely reflection.

I think I was closer to the truth with the drawings that never

end than I gave myself credit for. And when I was thinking

about space and time too. Why do I sell myself short like

that? The leg means nothing, but it hints at everything. It

does not move, I do not move. Have I ever moved?

I am determined to make some sense of this new

thought. It seems to me that movement is not possible, and

that the reason the physicists have so much trouble with

space and time is cuz they donít exist. They are an illusion.

Everything is static. And Iím sure Radio Man would

understand me when I say everything is static. What is he

doing anyway, but moving tiny pieces of static around so that

it forms words and songs. He doesnít change the static,

nobody changes the static, just shapes it momentarily. But

what is static molding static? More static? OK, I must admit

the idea seems to have gotten beyond me. Better to watch

the ocean than think about things like that. The ocean is

good. The ocean is always changing. The ocean is always

moving. Like the world is a glass globe and shaken up by

some very large child standing out by the moon.

Oh! I want to shout and scream!

When I was five I pushed another kid down the stairs

and he was hurt pretty badly. He was, his name was, Bobby

Something, Bobby Palmer. I didnít push him cuz I hated him

or anything. I remember it very vividly. Like it was yesterday.

Of course it isnít. I was wearing this awkward pair of overalls

which I couldnít stand cuz the straps were always slipping

and consequently the pants themselves almost falling each

time. Funny how kids canít stand of being thought of as cute.

I didnít like having my hair ruffled by some idiotic adult

guffawing at my preciousness. Cooing bothered me as well.

OK, so this gives the impression I was a mean little bastard.

Maybe I was. But thatís not why I did it, pushed him down the

stairs. We were playing in the neighbors backyard where

there was a pile of sand being used for god knows what. The

sand was damp and cool. We were out there digging tunnels

and caves and roads for our matchbox cars. We made this

whole town. Over a couple of days. Each day we woke up

excited, we couldnít wait to get back out there and expand

the thing, making more elaborate tunnels supported with flat

sticks, and roads that wound around and up the sand pile,

and secret tunnels and storage places for the cars.

Sometimes thereíd be a cave-in, and we liked that too, cuz

we imagined all those tiny people in the tiny cars being

trapped under tons and tons of earth. Nobody actually died

or anything, they had like air tanks in their cars which could

go under water too of course. And we could do this day after

day after day. We were doing it that day, the day I pushed

Bobby Palmer down the stairs. He was my best friend. It was

late in the day, the sun had started to descend. We went to

the bulkhead of my basement, I donít know for what, we had

to go down there for some reason. I know, it was to get a flat

broad piece of wood, we wanted to make a huge secret area

under the sand to keep the cars in over night. And Bobby

was standing in front of me, at the top of the stairs going

down to the basement, and I wondered, what would happen

if I pushed? Not like I didnít know or couldnít visualize it. Not

see what would happen entirely, which is why I guess I did it.

He went down. Split his head wide open. Immediately I felt

resounding guilt. Iíd never felt it like that, I mean, he was my

best friend right? What was I going to say? So hereís the

worst part. I ran and told my mom heíd fallen. And they found

Bobby down there with his head spilt and they called an

ambulance, and he was in the hospital years and decades

and forever. Thatís what it seemed like. When he came

around he had no idea what happened, oh, he said, I mustíve

fallen, oh, they said, you mustíve fallen. And I said, yeah, he

fell, just like that. I didnít tell them. Never have. And that

stayed with me, oh yes it did, and now if I get back to town

Iím going to look Bobby up and tell him, Bobby, you

remember that time you fell down the stairs, well, I pushed

you Bobby, I pushed you down them because I wanted to

see what would happen.

So sometimes you carry stuff around with you, for a

long time. Iíve been keeping it all in my leg. Just filling up the

leg, year after year after decade. And now that itís smashed

open, I can see all of that stuff, jammed in there. Well, I canít

see it with my eyes or anything, since the winch is taking up

a chunk of my majestic view. If you could crack open people,

the way you do with a nut or a lobster, youíd find alot of lost

things there, stuck and encased by sacks like cocoons.

Youíd find old pictures, alarm clocks, baby dolls, shoes, nails,

oh all sorts of stuff. Youíd find light bulbs like lost ideas (that

once floated above your head the way the gourd floated

above Jonah) and bits and pieces of other people youíve

been selfishly stashing.

Iíve got a book at home about freaks, and there was

this one part about Siamese twins. Well, they werenít entirely

formed Siamese twins, the way Chang and Eng were, the

most famous of the Siamese twins, no, these were jutting out

of the personís body like, not quite done. They were called

One-and-a-Halfs. There was one man whoís twinís head

came out of his chest and grew whiskers and everything, but

the small thing never opened his eyes or spoke or anything,

and they had him baptized anyway since they thought he

possessed a soul. Sometimes I feel guilty about being

interested in this sort of topic. Iíve hidden the book and a

couple of others from people because from what little

indication Iíve seen they seem terrified not by the freaks

themselves (or Prodigies, as the freaks wanted to be called

in a strike against Barnum) but more frightened by someone

interested in it. But thereís something there. Something very

powerful. Something that says a lot about getting to the

bottom of the questions I canít quite get right. Letís see, I

think the medical way of describing the One-and-a-Halfs is

Autosite and Parasite. Itís easy to remember stuff youíre

interested in.

I would have liked to have met Koo Koo the Bird Girl.

Me and Jonah and Koo Koo and Radio Man could get

together and hang out on the beach for a while, waiting for

that whale. Maybe Melville could be there too, after all, it

wouldnít really be a party without Melville. Iím thinking now of

two pictures of Melville: the first was painted around the time

he was thirty, when he was probably working on Moby Dick,

and the last was a photo taken in old age when he was

working at the customs house, working a regular old job. In

the first picture he looks like a lion, very arrogant, and the

last he looks like an old toothless lion, very defeated. Maybe

he made a big mistake presuming people would like Moby

Dick. I mean, it takes people a long time to figure things out.

Like now. Iím just starting to figure some things out.

The main observation I have right now is that there

seems to be a fog forming. It starts with a gray, a gray which

rises up out of the water, imperceptibly, to grow and congeal

around me, and whatís left of the boat, and the leg, and the

winch, and the distances between me and the water is

becoming fuzzy. Not fuzzy, thatís not the correct word.

Iíve got one foot in the spirit world, I know.

What is now has been before, of that I am sure. It has

become remarkably clear for the moment, like the fog, is in

one sense remarkably clear. Hereís how that works. When

everything is evened out, becoming a plane in which ideas

and objects are equal, you have no need to measure things

against one another.

The steel of the hull creaks along, in time, with the

song on the radio. Radio Man has left for this second of

absolute understanding. That is good. It makes sense to me.

The light house is obscured so I have one foot there and

another here, trapped under the winch. What does a winch

do, but pull. Pulling, winching, falling on legs. You know. The

steel of the hull and the steel of the winch, with droplets of

water, from the ocean. Thatís whatís around me. I can see

that now.

And there was this one time, I should say before it

might no longer be able to be said, to those to whom Iím

speaking, that I once figured everything out. At least I felt like

I did. For many years, and years, and decades, I worked in

construction near the sawdust that was particular in scent

and dull white covering the floors the beams of walls level

and the glorious sound of hammering and drills and saws

and yelling. It was kind of exciting. I mean, we all wanted to

get off work, but when we were working we were really

working. Itís that way fishing too, except you canít go home

at night, you get cooped up on a boat with a few other guys,

and after a while you just want to finish and go home until

you do go home and you canít wait to get back out. But in

construction we built. It was a slow process and when you

were away from the building you would think about building

and how soon it may be something complete. Making

something whole and complete and how you can touch it and

live in it, or whatever. I would satisfactorily re-check the

joints. Satisfied that everything was right. But I didnít have

that job for very long. Not that particular one. Although Iíd

done that sort of thing for a long time, it seemed. I donít know

how long, just a long time OK? And I wasnít fired, but I simply

became sick. Not sick like the way you sit in bed with a fever

coughing and sneezing and wishing you could get out of bed.

Not like that. I was sick of the job all of a sudden. It was an

impulse not to do the job anymore. Maybe I only wanted to

get back to fishing, even though I knew fishing was much

more dangerous and lonely and fisherís wives leave them

cuz theyíre out so long and itís not unusual for fishers not to

come home at all. I guess I quit cuz I was thinking I would

wait for my ship to come in. I mean that literally. I would

spend a lot of time going in the woods and drawing trees and

stuff. I can draw about as well as I play guitar, but itís

something to do you know? I never had a class but

sometimes on boats I would draw and give them to people

and people seemed to like them, so that was good. Thereís

this one day Iím out there, in the preserve, not really woods

in the old sense, and Iíve drawn a couple of squirrels and

birds and rocks and I swear to you it was like being hit over

the head with a two by four. Just was. I stopped and looked,

and looked, and at the same time I could sense this feeling

slipping away...

When the captain left he was sitting in the life boat

and it was rocking around in the waves and my God I donít

think I was ever so upset to see someone go even though

the captain has always seemed a big SOB to me. Isnít the

captain supposed to go down with the ship? Maybe this rule

falls apart cuz the ship isnít actually sinking. The captain, the

skipper, although, itís funny, whenever any of us ever called

him skipper instead of capín, we always thought of TV. You

know what I mean little buddy. So itís funny how TV has

changed something that was common for so long. Makes it

just laughable. Sometimes we would call him skipper, and he

knew what we were alluding to, and he would grumble about

it. Not like you can take charge when youíre being compared

to TV. For a while we all took titles to make the skipper part

easier. I was the professor, I guess cuz I could monkey with

the engine and cuz they thought that I was thoughtful. But I

never believed the professor on TV to be real thoughtful, just

handy with coconuts and wire. Maybe cuz they thought I had

been raised with class. At least my parents always thought

they had class. Even though they lied about Moscow. Maybe

when they visited Moscow theyíd gotten it into their heads

that they were part of the city somehow. My mother was in

the theater, but believe you-me that does not automatically

give you class. It wasnít even in Moscow, I know this from

my Uncle who breathed it in my ear, but in the Ukraine, and it

wasnít even theater like Shakespeare and stuff, but more like

TV. I donít begrudge them their fantasy. They got out in the

early sixties. Heard the story a hundred, a thousand, a million

times. Mother was visiting France in some respects in a

theater way, and my father was in Poland doing something

statistical, and they both jumped the hammer and sickle and

met up in Normandy where they scooted over the channel

and in London had a friend who got them over here on a boat

with a bunch of IRA guys and when they got here they just

stayed and stayed and stayed. Theyíve been here longer

than they were in Russia but they pine, oh they pine. They

gave me books and music and I guess they wanted to give

me class that I never wanted cuz I wouldnít feel right having

to plow through Tolstoy when all the other kids were

watching Battlestar Galactica, or listening to Tchaikovsky

when everybody else was cranking ACDC. None the less,

some invariably seeped in. So I guess Iím thankful, I donít

know. Sometimes itís not easy to be thankful for events out

of your control.

And there was a time some friends and I were on the

howl, partying hard like spending our lives as if they

were endless, and the nights seemed much warmer than

now, how has it grown so cold, weíd lounge with comfort on

the rocks, having split up for some frolicking, there on the

island, and we had the whole thing to discover, like brand

new, and it was exciting and maybe we felt a little too alive.

Route 1 curves around the edge of the island, and we ran up

and down it, tickling the road, from cove to cove, roaming

with nothing to do and it seemed like with everything still to

do. Iíd hang my arm out the window and it would be pushed

by the force of moving. I had long hair. It whipped around in

the car. We had beer under the seat. Somebody rolled a joint

as we swerved potholes. We drove past haunts and ruins,

those estates on the nub of the neck which rotted after the

prosperous period of rum running in the twenties, old

Romanesque columns and vines and windowless mansions

full of trash, spray paint, and blackened by fires weíd start in

trashcans to make heat and light. Driving without headlights

was scary and daring. Dom was always telling me to slow it

down for godís sakes, and then I would and heíd say whatíre

you gonna do jump off a bridge if yer friends tell you to? the

way my folks would say, but making fun of it, in a reverse

manner. And Charlie was usually laughing, oh heíd laugh at

anything, until sometimes heíd laugh so hard weíd get

worried, as if we were still kids and the milk would shoot out

of his nose. I think Charlie had some kinda problem. And

once we started this scavenger hunt, which really caught on

with everybody else, until there were maybe fifty of us in on

the thing, and we made this most ridiculous list we could,

figuring, my lord, nobody is gonna be able to get these items.

A brick from the Garret ruin. A plastic lobster and a lobster

bib. A motel registry book. A sign from a mortuary. A laundry

cart. A Jesus Christ bird fountain. An ashtray from Sparkís,

which always had Sparkís printed on the bottom so that when

you put out your cigarette it went right in the eye of the

fisherman. A golf ball washer, the kind you find on the

course. A copy of Mrs. OíHeanyís poems, that she printed up

herself and always tried to pawn off on people. A photo of

John Norton, head of Norton fish. A bunch of other things.

Whoever got all of them won. The ashtrays and plastic

lobsters turned out to be difficult, because after a dozen

ashtrays were swiped Sparkís had a keen eye out, as well as

Ship Ahoy, whose collection of plastic lobsters that hung in

fake nets from the ceiling was decimated after a week. And

there werenít that many golf ball washers, but you could go

far to other towns for those. A whole wall of the Garret ruin

was broken up. Motels panicked when their lists

disappeared. And! With fifty people sneaking around tailing

Norton not only were the police called by him, repeatedly, to

the policeís skeptical amusement (they thought he was a

paranoid coot anyhow) but there were several photoís

snapped of him rendezvousing with his mistress -- which was

no great secret anyhow. There was an uproar! What

hooligans are running the town looting? All the plastic

lobsters gone! The no-parking signs at the mortuary, dug up!

Along with the very plaque on the door, ripped off! Anarchy,

destruction, are we being invaded by a new criminal element,

the Leicester Times claimed. A rush on OíHeanyís fucking

poetry! Was it the end of the world as we know it? They

seemed to think so. I was determined to win. There was one

thing on the list that no one dared swipe. We were pretty far

in, a couple of months, and no one had dared. Iím talking

about the shipís bell on the stoop of City Hall. Supposedly

this brass bell was brought on the very first ship -- although

that has been disputed again and again, that actually the

founders of Leicester came in a beat up skiff, not even a

sloop, too small and inauspicious for such a fancy bell, no,

they were criminals escaping the oppressive air of Plymouth.

But no one had stolen it. Consider the difficulty. It was well lit.

It was the center of town. Even at night, so close to the

police station. And it was fairly secure, hanging on a steel

pole bolted in either side of sturdy wooden posts big as

railroad ties. The problem to get the bell off the pole and not

be seen besides. I didnít think I could do it alone. There was

only one bell, that was the problem. So Iíd been asking

Charlie about how he was doing with the whole thing, and he

wasnít too much into it, like, he laughed in the funny way he

would, and I think he was something of a simpleton. But he

agreed to help me. What we did was drive up and park a few

blocks away, not too far away, between the cops shifts. They

were usually making a circuit of the island, and we all knew,

had timed it, so that at about one thirty in the morning we

knew they were always bound for the north end. They were

pretty regular about it. So we figured we had maybe twenty

minutes before they swung back down. Even better if they

found some trouble and were delayed and weíd thought, all

right, Iíd thought that if we could get one person to create a

distraction on the north end then we would have more time,

but I couldnít find anyone else to get in on it. And theyíd

probably have to spend the night in jail anyway, for whatever

distraction it was they made. Charlie laughed when we

parked the car and took our saw and crowbar and wrench. I

wanted to win something fierce maybe partly cuz this was

also a wanton action against the false symbol of the town. It

was cool, a brisk wind, and there were high clouds made of

ice obscuring the quarter moon, when we snuck around

corners, dressed in black, to the side of the city hall which

was bright and sterile. The bell hung from its place, very solid

and quietly, like itíd been waiting for us to come along. The

rope dangled out of the bottom. I told Charlie he would be the

look out and he could hand me tools when I needed them, as

if it were a sort of surgery. Maybe it was. Charlie grinned and

glanced around dramatically. I told him to cut it out and just

look natural. Everything goes right in old movies if the

criminals just look natural. We were what, sixteen? So I get

up there on the steps with Charlie, and I start going at the

bolts with the wrench, and man are they rusted in, fixed there

by the salty air of years and years. Gimmee the crowbar, I

say. Charlie hands me the wrong thing a few times and this

makes me even more nervous. But I think Iím making

headway with the crowbar. Shit, but Iíve stripped the end,

and then I just take the saw and go right for the metal loop

holding the bell to the pole. It cuts quickly, and I kick myself

for wasting so much time already. How much time do we got

Charlie? And he looks at his watch and I can tell by his

snickering that weíre real near the time when the cops come

back down. I yank hard on the bell, trying to avoid making it

ring any, and the metal loop snaps right off freeing the bell.

We hustle back to the car. Iím wired with elation. All of this

thrill is pumping through my blood, like the same when youíre

on the boat and youíve got a problem pulling in the nets or

something, and you have to fix it fast or the take could be

ruined. We stash the bell under the back seat of the car,

where weíd taken up some of the cloth (no, vinyl) and dug

out a spot where weíd keep beer or whatever, cuz when

youíre out after midnight the cops always stopped you no

matter what, and walked up slowly to your car, with the

sound of their shoes in the gravel and theyíd hang their belly

in the window then shine a flashlight around the inside of the

car while they make small talk, asking about your dad or

similar tactics. But thank god they didnít see us, making our

way home in a straight fast line, as fast as we could, cuz

either they wouldíve already noticed the bell was gone and

search us, or see nothing, but remember us when they did

find out the bell was gone.

We set up the bell in my basement, an object of pride.

And I won.

The papers went bananas the next day. They knew it

was kids at that point. They were zeroing in. All itíd take is

somebody to squeal at school or be overheard. And I was sort

of a hero cuz Iíd gotten the bell. It was whispered. But I also

knew that theyíd get me after some time, and I treated the

while thing very seriously, as if I were a secret agent. So

what could I do? I decided to bring the bell back. But I

couldnít bring it back to city hall. Theyíd get me then for sure.

What to do? I was worried Charlie would say something cuz

he was so scatter-brained, heíd probably already forgotten

that you werenít supposed to take the friggin thing. He was

like that. So what I decided was to bring the bell back to the

kind of ship it wouldíve belonged. I mean, it came from a

bigger ship, and maybe if they found it on one, everybody

would be happy in some way. I wanted them to think lots of

different things.

Pilfered relic appears on the Ageyev! 100 plastic

lobsters recovered in Churchís shed! Youth interviewed by

detectives, in spectacular crime wave! Owner of local diner,

Sparks Lockridge says he counts cost of stolen ashtrays at

over ninety dollars! Mrs. OíHeany speaks tonight about

young peoplesí appreciation of the arts, at eight in the

gymnasium! "What we have here," says mayor Bleaker

interviewed earlier today, "is a group of very determined

mischievous individuals who have no respect for this townís

heritage." The mayor was commenting on the theft of the

Powle Bell hanging outside City Hall, which was brought here

by Leicesterís founder more than 400 years ago. The bell

disappeared one week ago, and mysteriously reappeared

last night on the Russian ship the Ageyev, docked at Norton

Fish Company for repairs. Sources of this paper have

information that a snapshot of J. Norton was found along

with the bell. Police chief Williamson says he has no

comment on this information, and that Norton is in no way

implicated in the theft. "Weíre looking at pranksters, thatís

who we think did it, sick jokers," says Williamson, "and

maybe even sympathetic to the communists." Well, thatís

when there still were communists.

I see a thousand ships rise up and float about me.

They breach the water and glide, along with the music from

the busted galley, slipping over my leg into the expanse, from

the start, going to the end, and staring hard at them, I see

sailors and fishermen waving distractedly, with chiseled grins

accustomed to months yes even years away from home in

the cavernous belly of the whale. Radio Man tells me they

are fixing a hole in the ocean. No, maybe not him, somebody

singing through the mouth of the speaker, through the

waves. I think itís the Beatles. Not on the ships, on the radio.

The ships, my god, look how many, a swarm, and theyíre

playing games on the deck like shuffleboard and craps and

monopoly. And theyíre not fishing anymore, not that they

need to, once youíre dead you donít need to fish anymore.

The risen ships drag up seaweed, coral, treasure,

bones, tires, broken lobster traps, abandoned bales of drugs

and ancient crates of whiskey (both dropped in fear),

rejected manuscripts, motor homes, pompons, frozen fish

sticks, union leaders, and subscription magazines with

Gibson girls. All of this and more.

Iím lying with my head to the north, which is said to be

very good.

When Iím listening to voices, like now on the radio,

and Iím sleepy, nearly dozing, like now on the boat, I can

hear the concert voices make, bending together in a

masculine-feminine duality, the way famous piano pieces are

played with left and right hands, black and white keys,

alternating major and minor scales. Let me tell you, I had to

take piano lessons at a certain point. Part of what I

mentioned as that middle class idea of sophistication, shit,

we all know the piano is civilized, enough to soothe a savage

blue collar, right? Thatís a bad topic to get on. I donít want to

get on that topic. Piano is better. Piano is not so much a

topic as an instrument I suppose. I have always had a great

fondness for pianos. I donít mind admitting that. I envied

masters, like I would keep a picture of Glenn Gould in my

room for a while (even though my folks hated him, but you

see he was a sort of piano rebel) until I grew out of the piano

or the piano grew out of me. The bench was always very

slick, so that you could slide across it, and the fact you could

lift the top of the bench and find sheet music gave me

pleasure on afternoons when Iíd have to practice Joplinís

Ragtime (no, not Janis), or the theme to Doctor Zhivago as

preludes to the true work, those indomitable fortresses of

piano, Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart, as well as the Russian

composers my parents touted proudly. And sometimes I

would hammer thoughtlessly, imagining I were going to be a

new Thelonius Monk, cuz, really, I could play with clunky

elegance. But I was too young to grow a goatee.

Iím thinking of other things. Drifting, I guess you could

call it. Whatís wrong with that? There are places which are

hinted at, in retrospect.

You know when I first toured the Witch Museum in

Salem I was disturbed and shocked by the guy, yes the only

accused male of the atrocity I think, who was slowly crushed

to death with stones. I had a recurring dream, no, nightmare

where popular cartoon characters slowly crushed me with

stones and I would wake up in a sweat. Iíd had a bad bout of

bronchitis. Thatís a good reason not to fall asleep, this place,

that dream, I think I could have that dream again, but Iím too

tired for the bronchitis. (I can see Deputy Dawg putting

pressure on the winch, that bastard.)

In the start we drifted after the engines flooded and

the scuppers were jammed by netting and jackets and drop

cloth, so the water seemed to pile up, you know? Nowhere

for the water to go but into the hold, and down into the

engine, and into the other places deep in the boat, in the

crevices and places men cannot fit. Oh there are places,

although people donít speak of them often, and why should

they? When this happens, with the water, a boat is doomed.

As we were. But! A giant wave picked us right up, as if we

were a model ship like not a real honest to god twenty ton

ship and dropped us on the barbs of a rocky pin cushion. If I

could pluck out the granite pins I would use them to sew the

boat together. Everything would be OK again. Bow and stern

are lonely so far apart, the way fishermen get lonely on the

land, which is funny and doesnít make much sense, but I

think youíll have to accept this even though it may seem trite.

So many things seem trite these days maybe cuz of that

damn radio! Oh I canít take one more minute!

If this were funny it would be laughable, if this were

laughable I could rumble with a huge rolling guffaw. Instead,

Iím looking at the deck, averting my eyes from the water,

away from the radio, although with the fog everything is

indistinct, as if detail were a quality you could lower. But the

deck is close enough to make out. One of the rough thin

rubber tiles that kept us from slipping on the wet shell is

curling up and I see a peek of metal below: thereís the boats

solid shiny self. And when I feel Iím becoming acquainted

with some interior formerly covered, decorated, I feel a rush

of well being, knowing that Iím getting to the bottom, and

donít doubt me when I tell you that I scrape the paint absent

mindedly off whatever I can cuz my curiosity is somewhat

insatiable. I donít think itís too much of a stretch to claim that

this sort of absent minded scraping can apply to people as

well. Rubbed raw. When someoneís angry you see who they

really are, you know, itís a sort of unrestrained nakedness.

Maybe saying nakedness is misleading cuz even without

clothes many folks can still be living under layers and layers.

Like strata. I remember that from Earth Science, strata is the

same kind of rock in a layer, among other layers. But you

know what? I looked that up one day and it also means a

layer, in society, of people who are similar. So I donít think

my analogy is off the mark. Because, if you have rock strata

and people strata, then youíve got to have personal strata

donít you? Well admit it, Iím right arenít I?

This is the sort of thinking Sal made fun of me for,

God rest Sal, he didnít have too many strata if you get me,

and thatís one of the reasons I always liked Sal. In off times

on trips Sal and I would play cards, gin rummy, first weíd play

to 500, then 1500, then 5000 points, weíd fix it so the whole

trip was a huge game of rummy and weíd bet too. At first

weíd go a buck a point, so if he were at 500, to my 350, well,

you see what I mean. The difference was important, and

costly. Then weíd start betting more valuable things, like,

money isnít too important in the 4th week out, youíre thinking

more like cigarettes and cheap novels, those things we could

pass the time with, and weíd certainly already watched all the

video tapes 3 times over, although one of my favorites was

The Killing by Stanley Kubrick, and I could probably be

content watching it over and over. The movie is about a

bunch of guys who rob a race track. It has Sterling Hayden in

it, who was so very good in Dr. Strangelove. Iíve heard he

liked to sail too. Anyway, Sal and me used to like to argue,

oh weíd argue about Sterling Hayden, weíd argue all the time

about anything. And Iíd play it smug after a while, when Sal

was getting hot under the collar, he had no problem yelling,

thatís for sure. Iíd say, Well Sal I think you might be right on

this one Sal I think youíve got the bull by the horns fer sure I

mean work camps for people on welfare is a great idea you

should run for office Sal you really should youíre wasting

those damn fine ideas on the fish Sal nothing we need more

than herding up already mad people and forcing them to

work for less than minimum wage Sal. And heíd go berserk,

trying to show how he was right about this that or the other.

And if I changed the words a little and argue the same thing

he was arguing, but against him, heíd change around

completely just to keep it going. Then Iíd bring this reversal

up, that Iíd trapped him, that he was simply arguing because

he was a stubborn old mule, and heíd deny that too. Sal was

a great knucklehead. His wide set eyes and curly black hair.

And he was short and usually smelled bad and he had a way

of rolling his own cigarettes which was a ballet of fingers.

I hope to make great returns, on the island, catch or

no catch, I am, after all, ambitious and still young, relatively

young, one has to go out into the world champing at the bit,

bite the bullet, go to the beat of oneís own personal

drummer, oh there are many more ways of saying it, some

which elude me right now. I would like a procession with

flowers, a red carpet, adulation and girls and old women

weeping in hysterical fits of joy, men shrieking with thanks for

my rescue, when I step back on the island. My leg thanks

me, I thank me, the boats in the harbor sound their horns

thanking me. The light house gleams in celebration. Birds

alight on my shoulder and that whale of Jonahís jumps

waves in girlish glee.

If Iíd only been keeping track of time. They give time

over the radio, but as Iíve mentioned, there is a certain

amount of relativity involved in my not moving.

If Iíd been keeping track I could calculate... No, this is

ridiculous. There is a kind of down-to-earth wisdom that says

a watched pot doesnít boil, and the more often people in

uncomfortable situations check the time the slower time

seems to go. When I was working in a factory, for a couple of

months, assembling little red wagons (this is unquestionably

true, as funny as it may sound) putting on the wheels, I would

be listening to a walkman, which was absolutely the wrong

thing to do. You know why? Because time gets split into 45

minute increments, when youíre listening to ninety minute

tapes, with each flip of the tape I became aware that only 45

minutes had elapsed. I looked at the other workers, with their

sunken eyes, barely conscious, and thought they were nuts

for not keeping entertained or something -- that they didnít

please themselves with a little music while making the little

red wagons. Well. After a month I knew they were right,

indeed, because the only way to work an assembly line is to

turn your head off. I wish I had a switch, in back, like a

toggle, with a small green and red light, so that I could flip it

back one way then to the other, from the red to the green,

the green to the red. It is possible that I would flip it to the red

side, here, on the boat. This is not an uncommon thought,

people sometimes have this imaginative switch in terrible

situations. Not to say this is really terrible, hell, I can

conceive of worse. But itís just bad enough that I think of the

imaginary switch. So what gets me about this idea of the

switch is, when youíve turned it to the red, so that your brain

is Ďoffí, how on earth would you ever turn it back to green? I

mean, look, everybody knows you need your brain to work

your arms and legs and eyes and stuff like that.

My leg has washed away, has become a fish and

swims happily in the endless waters of cold and warm

currents, chopping waves of bitter salt, gulls navigating their

own empire staring into the vast place of once easy catches,

and I can hear an accordion, like a soundtrack, as the leg

swims south to bask on the decks and wharves of Florida,

being fed tidbits of popcorn, peanuts, ham sandwiches, by

tourists who amass on the shore and are ready to dive in like

lemmings. I canít feel a damn thing.

At the factory what I did was take a metal pole, slide it

through the holes in the bottom of the red wagon, and then

take two wheels and put them on the pole using small cotter

pins, and finally hammer on tiny hubcaps. Youíd think one

would be proud to have helped make a little red wagon, but I

couldnít have cared less. The pay was bad, and the coffee

worse. I donít think they wanted us to have too much

caffeine, so they cut their break room coffee with something

uncoffee -- you donít want anybody to get the jitters there out

on the factory floor, shit, there could be an accident, one of

the tiny wheels might go flying outta my hand and poke

somebodyís eye out. It could turn into a Rube Goldberg

machine of disaster. (Do you know who Rube Goldberg was?

He was a cartoonist. He designed silly machines like you see

in loony tunes, where say, the cat is finally pulled through a

small hole in the fence by a distant door opening, which spills

a pail of water, which fills a cup on wheels on a track, which

runs down by gravity to a platform, where the water fills a

cup on a lever, and the lever moves to strike a match, and

the match ignites a candle, and the candle burns a rope, and

the rope holds a twenty ton block which comes crashing

down, and the block is attached to another rope, which has

been secretly tied to the catís tail by a mouse or a dog or a

small yellow bird. Boom! Cat gets yanked through fence and

up a tree through the pulley that held the weight, and onto

the candle or into a bottle, or a meat grinder or even hit by

the twenty ton weight or some such thing. What I always

liked about these devices was the slow way they worked,

while the cat was unaware. Not only were they intricate, but

they were irrevocable. That might be part of the phrase,

Rube Goldberg machine, like dominoes collapsing, the catís

fate is sealed as soon as the rope is tied.)

There was a song I remember, about rain, sung

whenever the weather got bad. "Itís raining, itís pouring, the

old man is snoring -- he bumped his head, went to bed, and

couldnít get up in the morning." This goes through my mind

every time it begins to rain. Yes, every single time. And the

point is, it has started to rain. Nothing better than a driving

cold rain to soothe a ship wreck. Perhaps you, Radio Man,

have sensed my facetious air. If this were an air then you

must have smelled it, but being on the radio, I doubt you can

smell through such a small speaker. No matter. When Iím

holding my head up, out of the crook of my arm, which has

comforted me the time my leg pained me, before it was gone,

with my head up I can drink some of the rain, and Iíve

realized I am very thirsty. Unfortunately, this rain seems to

have some spray too, some ocean mixed in. Now one of the

first things you learn is not to drink salt water. It screws up

your whole body, the salt I mean. But I was so thirsty, and I

donít think there was too much ocean in the rain. (What if

things were turned upside down? What if it rained salt water

and the ocean were a huge lake, what then?)

I lay on my back and let my face soak up the water

and I feel like Iím drowning. Do you know what itís like to

drown? To have the water around you as an infinite blanket,

to have it melt and move slightly with you, as if your every

cell were crying out to it, to the water beyond a temporary

barrier called skin, and seeking reunion, a sense of euphoria

sweeps through the bones and muscle and your head gets

quiet. The image of drowning has been as appealing to me

as the small switch. Many nights Iíve wanted to swim out as

far as I can, farther than I would be able to swim back. This

strange desire for annihilation didnít come out of misery, but

out of a kind of nothingness, out of boredom and a need for

adventure, cuz, when you get to it, thatís the biggest

adventure there is right? Like, adventure is confronting what

you donít know, so that you can know. Radio Man

understands this tack, I can tell. There is a certain tone in

peopleís voices, a subsonic cadence that relays this

understanding. And once I almost did drown, when I was

very small, once when swimming off a dock near my house,

and maybe those couple of minutes laying on the bottom in

the sand is what Iíve always been trying to get back to,

traveling around looking for some impossible solitude. Iíve

frightened myself with that thought, but not too badly. Like a

Rube Goldberg machine, there is a certain absurd order. The

rope is pulled by the weight of water poured from a genetic

cup, sliding down a track, freeing fish, pushing me around

the island, onto a ship, and into the belly of a whale. The ribs

of the whale form a cathedral of bony beauty, light

occasionally flashing through the sinews as if stained glass,

the incessant pounding of a heart the size of a Cadillac, a

tattoo for invisible oars. The rhythm makes us go faster.

Feeling it up through our feet, the thumping, through the

ends of our fingers, yes, the monster lives and careens

through the waters, and I rescind my earlier belief a whale

swallowed Jonah up, by looking now I see it in full view as

something much more devilish and uncommon, no belly

could be as wide and alien, a fantastic landscape of deep

flesh, a leviathan, the end consequence of Rube Goldberg,

an invention of necessary intricacy.

Iíve heard the noise it makes, out in the fog.

The beast that swallowed Jonah did come back, Sal

told me about it.

He said in 1817 a society in Boston, a society that

studied the fishes and the water, formed a committee to

study the sea serpent seen repeatedly in the harbor of

Leicester. Twelve witnesses! REPORT/ of a/ Committee/ of

the/ LINNEAN SOCIETY OF NEW ENGLAND/ relative/ to a

large marine animal/ supposed to be/ A SERPENT/ seen

near Leicester, Massachusetts,/ in August 1817,/ Twelve

Witnesses! Their names: Amos Story, Solomon Allen, Eppes

Ellery, Wm. H. Foster, Matthew Gaffney, James Mansfield,

John Johnston, Wm. B. Pearson, Sewall Toppan, Robert

Bragg, Wm. Somerby, and Elkanah Finney. Sal gave me the

little book, thatís how the book started. The beast was seen

for twelve or thirteen days, one creature only, one witness a

day I guess, before it moved northward. No legs, fins, gills or

mane were observed. It slithered I tell you, thatís what they

told us, in the book, that it undulated, that it had smooth skin

(two said rough but forget them), and it was nearly a hundred

and twenty feet long! There was great unanimity of opinion

as to the monsterís extreme lateral flexibility. A-ha! Flexibility

is important. Let us take close note of that fact. They dubbed

the new creature, the serpent, something scientific and Latin.

That makes it authentic. New names make hard to believe

things more acceptable. The committee stood over a

portfolio of drawings done with a fine point and hues of

brown. But there were developments. Better the beast

remain testimony of twelve witnesses than thoroughly

investigated. I know what it was despite developments. What

else could it have been? There is only one. Whether or not it

lived or not lived. What lives in the water? What undulates?

When at rest, sometimes in rapid motion, it was seen to have

eyes like an ox, bright and unbiased. Terse and vigorous

beyond description. Evidence of very serious consideration.

What it was, was not a whale. No, Iím sorry. So to speak. It

was the beast with cavernous belly. And there, inside, Jonah

sat, Jonah and me. Me and Radio Man. Two kids poking and

fluttering around Loblolly cave found a 3 foot snake, a black

snake. Were they scared and shocked? They called their

father who killed it with a pitch fork. Anomalies without new

names, in the guise of older things, killed with a pitchfork in

late afternoon, are snakes or serpents, or savage.

Regardless, someone wanted to buy it, dead even, maybe

hoping this serpent and the monster of the waters, Jonahís

former home, were blood brethren. Surely local pothouse

pundits speculated between songs of Cape Cod Shanty (oh

Cape Cod girls they have no combs, heave a-way, heave a-

way, they comb their hair with cod fish bones, heave a-way,

heave a-way, oh Cape Cod boys they have no sleds, they

slide down hill on cod fish heads...) and these drunkards and

ruminators decided, yes, the sea beast had come to

Leicester to drop eggs and this snake was a mere babe of a

sea serpent. Hereís the part I like. Not that it changes my

mind any about the monster, but only tells of strange

reasoning endemic to the island; the smaller snake was

summarily dissected and a report written, speaking of the

obvious similarities to its supposed mother, and this report

sent off to shock the civilized world. It was quickly seen by

several smug European doctors who said the new species

was nothing but a common black snake. Scoffing ensued.

Doubt was fostered. Testimony forgotten in the face of the

found snake, by the boys, killed by the pitchfork of the boysí

father, in Loblolly cove one afternoon. Yet one conniving sea

dog, a Cpt Rich of Boston, fitted an expedition to set out to

track and kill the great monster. As proof of the islandís

integrity. For several days they skipped along the coast into

the bay without seeing it. Why, they had to bring back

something, donít you think? So they snagged a 700 pound

tuna, advertised it as the sea serpent caught, and charged

people to see the thing. Word spread. Rich claimed he had

no part in deception. Unfortunately for his reputation as a

fisherman this was completely believed by the public.

Couldnít tell a tuna from a monster. Combined with the boys

snake, opinion of the islanders intelligence went pretty low.

Not that it hadnít been low before. Like the rhyme, Lynn Lynn

city of sin never come out the way you went in. Cuz you

could do all sorts of things in Leicester, all sorts. Really, it

was founded by criminals and pederasts, murderers. So not many

thought of folk from Leicester as real bright if you follow me.

Not in a way the more civilized world appreciated anyhow.

The sea serpent, monster, beast, wasnít seen again in the

waters, or out, and if it was, never spoken of for fear of

ridicule. Well, I wouldíve listened. Intently. The way Iím

listening now and have heard I donít know what. To listen to

them not simply cuz I like those kinds of stories, but I do.

Plus, I want to hear peopleís voices dip with the fantastic

notions. Can you believe it? Stranger things have happened.

Me and Jonah and Radio Man and Koo Koo and Cpt

Rich and Sal sit waiting. Weíre always waiting. So much

waiting. When I think of the amount of time Iíve spent in my

life waiting I am staggered. We could work it out with some

simple math. I must admit Iím waiting to be rescued, picked

up by the whale, the serpent, the monster, what have you. If I

could throw off the damn winch I could leap into the jaws.

Jump off the boat, off the boat into the water, cold, waiting

for me like Iím waiting for it. Nope, hold on, I think I could be

misinterpreting. I am waiting for the captain, yes, thatís right.

Heís coming back. Iím sure of it. How can I be so sure, Radio

Man asks. Iíll tell you. Youíre playing Devilís advocate on this

arenít you? I can tell cuz Iíve got a gut feeling. Thatís right. In

my gut, right above the pancreas. Thatís where sureness is

felt. Itís pumped out. Sureness flows upward. Maybe not

above the pancreas, maybe itís right near the appendix. I still

have mine. When you have your appendix removed you can

no longer tell with your gut. OK. Got it? Since Eng and

Chang were connected by a tube from gut to gut, they could

tell twice as much. I trust my instincts. You have to. Alright,

you donít have to, but I think itís better to. Wait. Iíve had an

awful thought, that comes over me not from my appendix but

from the place in my skull. The place in my skull, donít get

me started. Iím thinking of the fog. Youíve got to understand.

When you canít see, you canít see. What would happen if I

were the captain, in that little dingy, and I was paddling

toward shore, away from the boat, in the correct direction,

using the light house as a point of reference, and then the

fog rolled over me? If I were the captain I would continue to

paddle, hopefully continuing in a straight line. But this is

ridiculous, because you canít paddle in a straight line in so

small a boat, with so small a paddle, with so many waves, so

large, and pushing you here and there, out of line, out of

reference. Like going up when you think youíre going down,

going east when you think youíre going west, Jesus, the

captain couldíve paddled right by me on his way to the

Banks. Out into deep sea. Towards the middle of the

Atlantic. Hah! This would seem to be a sobering thought. It

would appear this kind of thought takes away hope. But I am

not deterred. I think the captain would use his compass, at

least I believe he had a small compass, that he took with

him. Who would leave without their friggin compass? What

idiot would paddle off in the open sea without a stupid

compass? Oh Christ. Oh Jesus. He would. If anybody would

it would be that moron. Heíd forget. Heís probably out there

right now, miles to my east and panting away thinking only a

few more miles now and then Iíll bump right into the island.

Sure. Thatís what the buffoon is doing right this second. I

canít believe it. And you, on the radio, youíre mocking my

defeat arenít you? I can hear it, donít deny it. All this time

youíve been keeping me distracted from whatís really

happening, the full impact of my plight. I canít believe it. I

swear on somebodyís grave that when I get back to

Leicester Radio Man Iím gonna punch you out man, I mean

it. Fucking radio.

When my friend George had his appendix out he

didnít feel anything worth mentioning. It was as easy as a

tooth, maybe easier.

There was a story Iíd heard about some guy who

made a raft out of dead bloated bodies, and I donít

remember where I heard it, but that image gave me a kind of

morbid thrill. So hereís what I was suddenly thinking. Of

taking Sal, Joe, Billy, John, and tying them up together and

using some flat long thing, something, as a paddle, and

going for shore. Fuck the compass, I have my gut. And Iíd

have theirs below me. Of course this wonít work. There are

other grisly scenarios Iíve been contemplating while talking to

you Radio Man. Do you want to hear them? Sure you do.

Nothing like being squeamish to make the grisly that much

more enticing. I mean, morbidity is not mere fascination at

this point with me. OK. I was thinking of getting rid of the leg.

The pain seems to come and go, but doesnít let me out from

under the winch, what Iím saying is, removing the leg

altogether. Iíve thought about it. Iíve got this small buck knife

in a pouch at my belt see, and, well, you get the picture.

There are far more extreme examples. Much more far, much

more intense. Done by people more desperate. Would I saw

off the leg to be instantly transported back to the island so I

can drink beer and punch out you Radio Man? Maybe I

would. Thatís a difficult question, if it were posed to me, what

would I do. How far up would I have to cut. Would I pass out.

You know, those sorts of things. Maybe I shouldnít be

thinking about those things. Maybe I should be thinking of

something nice, something harmless, something hopeful and

yes maybe being cheery would do me a world of good. Letís

see. Something cheery. Nope, sorry, canít think of a single

cheery thing. Iíve only been laying here contemplating

making a raft out of corpses and pushing my best friend

down the stairs and some poor slob swallowed by a great

fish. Think of something happy, he says, why are you so

glum, he says. Radio Man I thought you understood me, I

thought we had an understanding, that we came from

different directions, sure, but we met in the same place. In

the center. Somewhere, wherever the center is. On the radio

maybe. I could be on the radio, I could do what you do. But

now thereís no point since you have betrayed me, our

understanding is not an understanding. I donít think itís quite

a misunderstanding yet. I believe it hasnít gotten to that

stage. But it could. Why are you insisting I think happy?

What is it to you anyway, like, whatís in it for you hunh?

There are certain facades. They make me tired, like I want to

lie down in the street with my head in the crook of my arm

and a winch on my leg and I want to moan, oh I want to

moan about it like an old woman. Do you ever feel this way?

When youíve had enough of it? Then I would like a drink.

Perhaps this should be addressed. When you get a pocket

full of money, cold cash, in your pocket, and youíre waiting to

go out again you really want to spend it as fast as you can.

There is no facade in this, in spending money drinking. The

situation is cut and dry. You could end up laying in the street

anyway. Sal has, Iíve seen him. Radio Man has, but would

he admit it? Do you drink to moan, or do you drink to forget,

or do you drink to recall, or do you drink cuz there is an

oppressive boredom bearing down, or do you drink cuz

youíre excited. When I was working construction there was

this guy, a writer, named Henry, and he and I got into this

habit. We were not thinking cheery. Not happy. But we were

happy. Every Monday we would name a famous death. A

death that out-did other deaths. He named the deaths of

famous writers, since he said, writers have the best deaths. If

either of us couldnít think of a counter death to the said

demise, weíd have to top it later. So it was a sort of game.

Dylan Thomas drank 50 or 60 Guinnesses and almost as

much whiskey, went home to die, decided he should go back

to the bar for more, afterward he crawled into bed and slowly

slipped away. Didnít Sylvia Plath gas herself? The Japanese

writer Mishima gutted himself and then had his head clumsily

chopped off after taking a general or something hostage.

Hemingway was always fascinated by guns. Didnít Kawabata

gas himself too? Malcom Lowry chased his wife around the

house with a broken bottle, and after she ran away he took

pills. Rimbaud had syphilis and his leg was amputated, and

he died. Camus, car crash. Kerouac bled wine

spontaneously. No one really knows what happened to Poe,

maybe he just got real sick. Maupassant died in a madhouse

thinking the flies were licking the salt out of his brain. Gogol

starved himself after realizing he was not the Russian

messiah. Shelly drowned in a boat accident. Weíd do this for

hours, we would, and Henry was very good at it, the writers

being his favorite but heíd stray. And I couldnít keep up with

him, was fascinated by his fascination. And I wonder how I

got on this topic, was either the fact of nothappy thoughts,

which sometimes make you pretty happy, and that damnable

topic of drinking. You see a pattern? Well, take it from Henry,

there was one. But whether it was chicken or egg first, I canít

tell you that, and for all of Henryís morbid tidbits I donít think

he could tell you either. Who could?

When I think of water I see forms and motions and

places taking shape to be eradicated in only a second as if

they never were and never could be, yet, I have kept them

with me, the people places and things, as they rise and fall

over the eternity Iíve been on deck, here, with my dear friend

the winch, and Iíll tell you something, but you have to

promise to keep it low key, that is, to yourself to a degree,

Iím not denying you anything. What happens, as the waves

rise and fall, and the songs on the radio begin and end, and

the fog wanes and thickens, and the light house lights and

spins, and the captain paddles and paddles, and the fish bite

and swim, and when Iím holding my face in my hands with

my eyes shut I feel a large space thatís decaying like greasy

sandpaper, as if my feet were being bent backwards so they

touched the top of my head, and I could go away for a long

time to a cold place, where the birds chirp and fly and the

trees grow imperceptibly and telephones rot on piles of trash

and I wouldnít be bothered. I have certain obligations and I

intend to fulfill them. After this, the water of forms and places

and motion which tickles a rocky harbor far distant keeps the

people and places solid and intact best way it can, as chords

strumming away from me, no longer near me, possibly I

could be safe from the decay of people and part of natural

decay that is a much more noble way of going far away.

I have gone far away but I keep coming back. You

may not consider going far away in a boat going far at all.

Like, you have to go to Nepal or something to be thought of

someone who travels. Cuz then it has foreign qualities that

you can bring back in token forms, loose change, trinkets.

But when you go across water, the shapes and forms are

what you take with you, and you leave them in the water, and

you leave them in you, but you canít exactly hand this over to

anyone and say, See Iíve gone far away and come back.

I have often dreamt of the ultimate going away.

There are moments here when I am sure.

I often looked forward to going away. My parents

never wanted to, still donít. Although my father finally did.

The big going away. Iíll ask this gull to deliver a message, Iím

positive it can fly that far, up or down, sideways or to the very

dark bottom of the water, underneath me, thatís right, under

the boat, not under the rocks, I donít think heís gone to hell,

heís gone to what is it, purgatory. Mmm, thereís a concept

Iíve always enjoyed. Iíll write a small note on the back of a

crumpled receipt found in the bottom of my pocket, a receipt

for something, yes, bought weeks, months, years ago. Iíll

give the note to the gull. No, Iíll tie the note onto the gullís

leg, like they did with carrier pigeons before they went

extinct. Or was that homing pigeons? Some damn pigeon.

And this will be fitting, to tie the note to the pigeon, and have

the pigeon deliver the note to my father in purgatory because

he always hated pigeons so much. But itís not a pigeon, itís a

gull! What will the note say? Aw, it doesnít matter I guess.

The gull goes, laughing, and I can see its wings

moving in the air, struggling against the wind, which pushes

and pulls the water, much the way a winch would with rope,

or cable, or something else. Thatís what waves are, wind for

your eye. If they hit the boat hard enough the boat will fall off

the rocks and sink down like tons of steel, which is what it is.

At the bottom I would be safe from whatís up here, and no

more radio, as far as I know, radio underwater makes no

sound, or very little sound I imagine. Take that Radio Man!

Your grasp cannot clutch, through waves and fishes, and I

do believe the electricity of you would become quite

extinguished.

I am afraid if the water touches me I will be

electrocuted. Every time it swoops over the edge, I flinch.

Thereís a pulse that goes right up my spine, oh, my poor

spine, I think it would like a little vacation, somewhere warm,

somewhere with no water, inside the country, in the middle of

the desert, with other spines, and I believe I could simply

divide myself into parts to disperse, this whole experience

seems to be about dispersal. Iím being pulled apart. Soon

there will only be a quivering brain left on the deck.

Flattened. White and smooth. Pecked at by gulls.

I vacillate on this topic.

The air I breathe has become smoke, congested, full

of particles. They could crystallize, the way it happens with

snow, tiny bits catching ice. I know this shouldnít distract me.

If I get distracted at this point where would I be?

Look, everyone has bad days. Nothing seems to go

well, as if the day were sabotaged by unseen forces. Iím not

suggesting a conspiracy, of hushed planning, or organized

destruction, just that, hmm, it often seems that way. Iíve had

a few. Now, these days donít make me suspicious, theyíre

simply something you have to work through one frustrating

step at a time. Thatís what Iíd like to think anyhow. There

was one bad day, and this was one was sort of exemplary.

Not like there was anything tragic, not to me, but little things.

Thatís what I think makes it bad, theyíre are many small

moments. So I wake up, on a Sunday, I like to sleep late,

and Iím gonna make myself coffee and itís all gone even

though Iíd bought it the day before, and I look in the filter of

the machine, and thereís a 1/2 pound of wet and used

coffee, which my roommate mustíve drank, but Iím thinking,

thatís almost a couple of pots of coffee, coffee for like 10

people, in one day, between the time of buying it and the

next morning. Youíd get a seizure drinking that much coffee,

really. But he mustíve cuz the coffee bag is empty on top of

the trash, and I have no coffee to drink now and I feel very

grumpy. So Iíve got to go to the store, on Sunday morning,

which I hate to do. I donít want to sit somewhere and have

someone make me coffee, I wanted to make it myself. I go to

the store. The aisles are maddening. Iím grumpy. Very fat

people seem to be everywhere, like, this store, it has aisles

and aisles of cookies, soda, chips, frozen pizzas, cakes and

pies, crackers, cosmetics, stationery, but not much in the

way of real food you know. This makes me more angry. Iím

not sure why, but large stores have always made me mad.

But I want to get out of there, quickly. I get the coffee, some

other things too. The lines are enormous. Iím disheartened.

Iím mad that Iím here in the first place. And of course the

express line Iím in has a problem, some kind of screw up, a

mile away from me, down the long line. I glance at my watch,

but try not to. 10, 15 minutes go by me in the line. I take a

chance, cuz I want to, need to go; I have to get out of there

or Iíll go nuts, I think. And I feel a bit guilty, thinking some

things in line, that everyone there is so fat and ugly and they

smell bad too. Iím thinking what a miserable lot humans are

in general. But Iím in the line so long I donít even feel guilty

about this anymore. I jump to another line which appears to

be moving faster. This can be a big mistake sometimes since

there is this pattern, especially on your bad day, when, like,

cosmic forces have aligned to make you regret getting up at

all, a mistake since you know when you go to another line

the problem will get there ahead of you. So Iím standing in

the new line, and the line is moving, and Iím thinking, oh,

maybe Iíll get out of here, when a searing pain shoots up

from the back of my heel, the Achilles tendon I guess. Some

woman has just run her grocery cart right into the back of my

leg, and I turn a bit, and I scowl, she hasnít even noticed. I

stand still, waiting. The cart moves up again this time with

less force, but still itís now steadily pushing me forward. This

enrages me. But being stupid, I only kind of lean back

slightly, well, assuming sheíll noticed the cart is being pushed

back a bit and realize that sheís grinding my calves with her

cart. Nope, she doesnít. She starts fumbling with her

groceries, I can hear, to get ready to put them on the

conveyor belt thatís got milk slime like a long snail trail or

snot. As she does this she moves the cart back, then slams

it into me again, and at this point Iíve had it. I turn and I grab

the cart with my hands on either side, stopping it from

moving forward and I look her in the eyes and quietly say

Please Stop. She glances up, wide eyed, noticing me, and

you know what the fat bitch says, Oh Iím sorry I didnít see

you. Like, whatís up with that? But I say, Itís OK. I always say

this, and I donít know why. You can cut me off, hit me, take

advantage of me, and I always say, Donít worry about it, itís

OK. Then maybe Iím hoping it is. Sort of a dumb act of will,

which is ridiculous, donít you think? Itís OK donít worry about

it. Iíve said it a million times already I swear. Why not yell,

Look you stupid cunt youíre hobbling me with your fucking

cart full of Ho-Hoís and Coke and donít even think your

gonna buy this stuff for your fat ass with food stamps. Maybe

that would be a step too far. Maybe I said nothing other than

Please Stop cuz I am unable to draw the line, itís like, all or

nothing right? Iím afraid thatís the way it is, I found out, right

after that, in the store with the woman, when I walked out. I

left the store, brow dark and shoulders drawn up as if they

led me forward by the tension of a spring. A cigarette, I

believe, will make it OK. So Iím standing outside the store,

with my single bag of items and digging for a smoke in my

jacket, and out of the corner of my eye I see this guy. You

know what I mean, hereís a guy whoís trouble in my bad day,

un-hunh, I can tell that the same way the mysterious organ

above or below my pancreas acts like a compass -- I can tell

and Iím saying to myself, no, no, no, I canít take any more of

this. The guy is dumpy, mid-fifties, thick spectacled, buck

toothed and has a mean look on his face. Heís also holding a

rosary, a large blue beaded affair. He walks right up to me,

and I stand with cigarette, Iím staring at some invisible point,

trying to ignore him. Do you know about this? He says

pointing to the rosary. Yeah, I say, I know all about it. Iím

holding my hand up in a stop motion. Iím lifting my groceries,

going to move on. I start moving. Then this guy hisses, he

hisses Iím telling you, saying, Youíre a fool. Oh, I couldnít

step anymore. I went back to him. Iím a fool? I say, Youíre

the one praying in the parking lot, I say. He opens his mouth

and out comes scripture, very predictably. I hold my hand up

again, Stop! Iíve read the bible, I know scripture, donít even

start with me. Heís getting closer to me, still snarling, upset

Iíve stopped his brainwash recitation and he says, Youíre an

asshole! So I push him. Yup, he was so close what I did was

throw my arm out, not really even that hard, but I also

grabbed at something, with the other hand, not even thinking

about it. Iíd grabbed his rosary. There was, I recall, either an

expression of horror or bewildered anger. I donít think he

knew exactly what had happened, Iím not sure I did either.

But I held the rosary and he looked momentarily powerless,

looking at me with no comprehension, then it flooded into his

face, deep hatred perhaps. And hereís the thing, I was mad,

so mad I lifted the rosary over my head and threw it to the

ground. I did more. I took my foot and stomped on it, grinding

it, saying Fuck you and fuck your god. I grabbed my bag and

walked, very quickly, cuz as soon as Iíd done it I worried if

there was a law against stomping on rosaries, but I felt good

regardless, well, pretty good. The guy yelled at me,

frantically, with the scourge of his relentless preachery,

Unrepentant Sinner! Unrepentant Sinner! Unrepentant

Sinner! I felt fairly relieved though, I mean it was good to get

some stuff off my back. I could even say I was thankful in

some sense.

So sometimes you have bad days, and I believe I

could be having a worse one. Thereís stuff that couldíve

happened to have made this one much worse. There is a

way you know when youíre going to have a bad day before it

even begins. But you canít do anything about it. The same

way with fishermen. There have been eerie predictions and

dreams that plague sailors before going on a trip. They see

women in white hovering out over the water. They have

nightmares of storms. There are documented cases of this

happening. I had a friend who didnít go on this very trip, this

very voyage, the one Iím on right now. He just didnít go, and

this made the captain a bit nervous, but what could we do?

We could hope he was wrong, thatís what. But I guess he

wasnít. Although we never heard from him, or through him,

why he changed his mind at the last minute. Shame. I would

like to compare one story with another, it would give me

something to do. Thatís what I need, something to do. You

know Iíve counted all the bolts within my sight on this side of

the boat while I talk to you Radio Man? It comes to 255.

Thatís a good amount. Just right. Itís right simply cuz it

makes sense, to me, I think. Why? Well, I counted them

didnít I? That means Iíve invested a certain amount of time

and energy into the project. Not that this alone makes it

interesting, I donít want to suggest this.

But what else can you do?

I can look up, into the froth, the muddled atmosphere.

And I know I have a secret. Something to admit. I didnít want

to tell you Radio Man.

Iím hesitant to tell you Radio Man cuz I know, or at

least believe, that you feel dominant in sound, that you are a

master of your realm, that competition is a nagging

disappointment. The rush of water and the air and birds, well,

granted, these are natural and beyond your speaker, the

ever present jingles and snippets. But man made sounds, I

donít want to suggest there could be something other than

you I listen to Radio Man, yet there could be, has been

something. This is how I am being honest now. Iím not

denying you anything. It was a kind of TWAP TWAP sound.

You know? Sort of TWAP TWAP TWAP TWAP. There are

very few things which could make this sound. One thing Iím

thinking of is a helicopter. Thatís right. But as my face, nose,

eyes, head is pointed up into the lush fog, to scan back and

forth occasionally, I saw nothing which could have made a

TWAP TWAP sound. I didnít smell one either but then I donít

Ďspose you can smell a helicopter. At least from not far away.

I heard it though, quite undeniably heard something which

made that sound. What are the other possibilities? The first

and most obvious is you Radio Man. You have devised a

cunning trick. I canít conceive of how exactly you could do

this, but I know you have tricks up your sleeve. Why would

you, with me and Jonah in the belly of a whale, wish to

deceive me? Or us? Iím speaking for Jonah here, he has

interests in this too. Iím presuming this sound would get his

hopes up. Yet, we have seen nothing. There may be other

possibilities. Hmm, it could have been a natural

phenomenon. The same as ball lightening and the aurora

borealis, only with sound. A sort of sound mirage. Like when

youíre out in the desert and there are waves of heat that look

like water, maybe waves of fog sound like helicopters. I find

this difficult to swallow.

What else? It could be the trick of gulls, although,

again, I donít believe so -- gulls have an inborn stupidity and

greediness that denies that kind of plotting. I am at my wits

end. Whatever that is, Iíve never known.

There could have been many things but I believe it

was a helicopter. And do you know what that indicates? The

belly of the whale convulses, the surfacing of Leicesterís

mythical leviathan, the time Jonah sits and waits with me,

playing gin rummy betting fish bones, with an absurd

soundtrack coming from Radio Manís teeth -- I think it is now

Barracuda by Heart, oh God, is there no end to the popularity

of bad taste? Letís see, I think the sound of a helicopter

snakes through the blow hole, alerting us, Radio Manís chin

chomps shut, our faces so darkened and smudged with

smoke from our whale oil lamp, turn upward to the savior

whirlybird, to men there wearing rubber suits with zippers and

helmets colored, oh whatís the color? survival orange,

nuclear pink. You know, you can see it a mile away. For a

time many things had these colors, luckily they faded, faded.

In a thrilling comic book style these helicopter men dangle

down into the cavernous belly, on ropes, bouncing off the

sides of ribs and pumping secretory organs. There is an

exciting sequence of removal, and then a happy laughing

finale, no, a tearful farewell as Jonah, me, Radio Man, go our

separate ways. Jonah to Ninevah. Me to my house to take a

shower and drink a beer. Radio Man to eternal Goddamn hell

in his station, broadcasting atrocities to humanity in the form

of pop music. You see how Iíve changed my tune about

Radio Man? I thought the radio was fine, great, before my

incarceration in the belly. I didnít know then, did I know what,

nothing couldíve been known before I started getting to the

bottom. As I am doing now, with gumption. Him, what heís

done, is inexcusable. But I may change my mind again, I

leave myself enough room for that, although I still plan a

punch to the nose once my leg is free. I donít mean my leg

will do the punching, only that you need to move around for

that sort of action.

Most certainly a helicopter. Perhaps I will take a nap,

a small nap, not entirely sleep, until it comes.

 

copyright 2.98 by Jeff Weston

 

 


Last Updated March 25th, 1998
For more information contact: Jeff Weston