Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Friday, December 15, 2017

Your Part In Buffoonery

You awake in fetal position, shivering, woefully naked. This is how John Connor must have felt after time-traveling in the original Terminator. Crumpled beneath sunlight slanting through a big, arched window, you hear the occasional ding of a bell, like you might hear at an historic hotel’s front desk. That’s because, you’re suddenly aware, you are in the corner of a mezzanine in an historic hotel. The Seelbach in downtown Louisville. Where Fitzgerald would carouse in the mahogany-walled Rathskeller, where Capone would broker bootleg deals in clandestine chambers and call the place haunted.
It takes you a minute to unravel yourself and get to your knees. No one around, thankfully. But time travel cannot explain this. More like a disorienting bout of somnambulism. This must be the case, because last night you were the Best Man at Kenny’s wedding.
You do remember going to bed, your room lined with leftover bottles of Maker’s Mark and cases of Miller Lite from the reception. You remember Lisa, the Maid of Honor, comatose on the pillow next to you.
First, you army-crawl toward the mezzanine rail to peek down into the lobby. A pretty girl answers phones at the black granite countertop twenty feet below. An elevator bell chimes. A man in a tailored suit and shiny shoes clops across the marbled floor, a newspaper tucked under his arm. The pristine chandeliers mock you.
No choice but to slink like an octopus back to your room. Room 605. You know you passed out in that room, and Lisa will surely let you back in. But what if she thinks you ditched the room as she slept and won’t let you back in? Worry about that later. You’re still four floors away.
You scan the area for an EXIT sign above a stairwell because elevators often have people in them. …Idiotically, you can’t find a stairwell. You sigh, standing at the elevator doors, covering your junk. Push the button: see what happens. Empty. So far so good. The coast is clear all the way to room 605 where you knock gently, whispering, “Lisa!”
Nothing. Your inconspicuous knocks escalate into muted pounds, but this goes on fruitlessly for a long three minutes and you start to wonder if you have the wrong room. Craning your neck, you consider knocking on random doors… then you reconsider. Near a stairwell, you find an in-house phone. Oh—there’s the stairwell.
The phone is only good for ringing the lobby, so you ask the pretty girl at the front desk to call room 605 and tell Lisa to let the Best Man back in. Pretty Girl says she will; crisis averted. You thank her and head back to the door of 605… which Lisa does not open.
This process of phone-to-door skulking repeats thrice and by the fourth time you buzz the front desk, Pretty Girl is annoyed with you.
“Sir, there’s still no answer. She’s either asleep, or the room is vacant. We can send someone up—”
“Oh no that’s ok!” you sputter.
Hanging up, you dredge your mind for the newlyweds’ suite… yes, number 708. But the seventh floor is inaccessible without a special elevator key for the Concierge Club, and you don’t have that. You have nothing, in fact, except your hands to cover your chilled and shrunken giblets. Back on the elevator, you try the seventh floor anyway. Maybe you can outsmart the elevator by pushing the [7] button repeatedly.
The elevator is an intellectual titan compared to you. It takes you down to [2] and back up to [6] three times. Whenever the elevator doors open, they reveal no one—and you start breathing again. Eventually, though, you find that you don’t even bother to cover your crotch on the elevator junket. You just fold your arms across your chest like someone who’s been bamboozled—as if confronting a dishonest mechanic.
An unscheduled stop. The elevator opens on [5] to a uniformed bellhop in his late teens holding a Courier-Journal. You cover your giblets and shrug. Who knows how big the boy’s eyes are normally, but they’re huge now.
“Dude,” he informs you, “you’re naked!”
“Yep,” you say, nodding. The Bellhop boards the lift and punches DOOR CLOSE.
He graciously hands over the morning paper and declares you could get booted out of here.
Again, you sigh. “Kinda figured as much.”
You attempt to envelope your fore and aft with the newspaper. “Room 708, please,” you say, forcing a smile.
“You know you’re on the service elevator, right?” says The Bellhop. It’s evident he isn’t sure whether to be amused or frightened. But he is clearly sympathetic; he doesn’t even ask what the hell you’re doing.
On [7], you amble down the hall behind him. A septuagenarian wearing tight shorts and a terrycloth shirt passes by. What a fine day this is for the old guy. He has a spring in his step… he’s on his way to the continental breakfast.
“Morning,” he says, with a polite nod. He even winks. He drifts by casually—as if you’re dressed in slacks and an oxford, rather than wearing a makeshift newspaper skirt.
The Bellhop knocks on door 708.
Kenny answers, his grinning face aglow. “Hey Kira, come here and take a look at our Best Man!” Then he laughs very loudly for this hour of the morning.
You ask Kenny: “Can I borrow some shorts?” And turning to The Bellhop, you ask, “Want your newspaper back?”
No, he does not.
It turns out Lisa is a heavy sleeper. She guffaws an apology…
Now checkout time in the lobby, your savior is doing his bellhop duties and Kenny floats you $20 to give him. The Bellhop still looks a little squeamish but he thanks you and asks you to keep quiet about today. Of course you will. This place is haunted, you remind him. Succubae lure you from bed and pilfer your clothes. You promise him you won’t tell anyone.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Lost You In A Dream

I have sequestered myself from sleeping with my fiancĂ©e, under the pretense of backpain and a clinical prescription for more legroom. Now I writhe uncomfortably on a memory foam mattress I’d installed in our cramped home office. This night, on occasion I do manage to sleep. I know this because my shadowy mind envisions Cheryl, at home on her couch in silky pajamas, reading Bachelard, rosy from a shower, shins tucked beneath her thighs, thinking nothing of me.
Noise outside the window startles me awake. My psyche churns, reflecting on the past few weeks, past holidays. Bright young couples who Tabitha and I would visit in Cincinnati—smart, informed, witty, empowered. Newlyweds on their second or third marriage who buy a foreclosed house and invite you over for drinks and animated talk of Walter, the childhood bully from Mount Healthy, about how he killed himself, and eventually we broach the ironic failure of Nixon’s War On Drugs. We pass a joint around until meaningful conversation falls off, and Dave and Amber tell us their plans to refinish the kitchen cabinets.
This was the end-goal? To lay plans for surrendering your life until the reaper comes to wake you with his gun? To get a new countertop composed of the shards from recycled blue vodka bottles, and to put little glass panes in each cabinet above it, which will remain unaltered until the day you both are shipped off to the farm by your children, who have their own burdensome existences to deal with.
My insomnia feels punitive, and it is exacerbated by the voice of a female passerby. I sit up, wrangling the blinds. A shiny young blonde holds hands with a guy in a sweatshirt on the sidewalk. Her face isn’t visible; I see only his goatee. In this instance, I would give up everything to be that guy, give up the prior weekend of sangria and tapas, all the celebratory toasts among Tabitha’s girls and my oldest buddies—the newlyweds and newly-engaged. All for a moment with the faceless blonde girl sailing past my window, chatting merrily at five in the morning. I groan aloud and wish that—in spite of her glimmering hair and straight spine—the girl on the sidewalk is a troglodyte.
Staring at the latticed shadows on my ceiling, I conclude that in the compulsive flash during which I yielded to marriage, I had resigned. Hereby I would cancel my youth, obliterate my freedom, execute my spirit. I was now cursed. I was self-imprisoned, already half-dead. There would be nothing to look forward to. All urgency to write anything down was abolished; everything from now on would be predictable… unless I went on living this second life, in which I would rendezvous with Cheryl at the Nach Bar on a Tuesday night under a full moon, somehow rationalizing my twisted lycanthropy.
Ironically, what I want is pure transparency. I want this life-book to be wide open; I want to apologize for nothing.
But now even music has lost its luster. No more artfully customized playlists, no mixed tapes. No more ambitious inroads into the head and heart and silky pajamas of a living, breathing mystery—a specimen like Cheryl. The lightning rod sensation of shared chords and rhythms, the potency of lyrics, their aphrodisiac potential. This was all gone because I, Nicholas J. Cronen, am getting married in three weeks.
…Yes, cursed. Matrimony is a mundane and prophesied moment in most people’s lives. It was for me a psychic breakdown and violation of all I’d championed for twenty years. What was I thinking coming back from that trip to Middle Earth, strung out as a Brazilian whore after Carnival? I was exhausted, lonely, weepy with gratitude at all Tabitha had ever done for me. But I was deranged, dissolute. Your Honor, can I claim temporary unfitness? Exhibit A is my knee-jerk reaction to I Love You by the Climax Blues Band while flying over the Prime Meridian. You see, I am unfit, Your Honor, because now I have exiled myself from the meat market, castrated all future hopes for the flesh rampage, and yes, I would surely go to waste in the wrong arms…
Yet Tabitha’s aren’t the wrong arms in any way, truth be told. Tabitha’s may be the only arms that would always be open to me, perhaps unconditionally. Tabitha understands me better than any living being in every dimension, including this ceaselessly billowing desire of mine, a desire for the Unknown—for strange—which fuels my compulsion to parade these obscene words across the screen. Tabitha is pure and whole. She is everything practical and solid and giving. Her love is real. And yet, some primordial, delusional urge convinces me that the impossibly magnetic allure of Cheryl is worth my existential undoing.
There would be no more sleeping for me tonight.
After stewing in the itchy swelter of insomnia long enough, twisting your stupid head around with eyes obstinately shut, eventually you must emerge from the aching womb and face the world.
As I walk into Tabitha’s bedroom—our master bedroom—at 6:59 a.m., the bed is pristine, the duvet neatly done up. Her closet is empty. Even the hangers are gone. There is panic in my throat. In the common room, her laptop is not on its docking station, the docking station also absent. The bathroom shower caddy is void of shampoos, body wash, the scent of her hair now crushing. I rush to the front door, braced for the vacancy of her silver Corolla.
I return to sit on the edge of her bed, nauseated. This crossroad is one I am not prepared to traverse. The hardwood floor is dimpled, dusty. And while I am gazing at the floor of the house that we bought together, I realize that Tabitha left her coffeemaker, which begins to sing its familiar song…

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Poem To My Brothers, Whose Father Passed Away Last Thursday

What I know is the two of you, known you since before Santa Claus
became a myth, since the days both of you
in your tank-tops and tight shorts
stood up for me against the stone-throwing street bully
down by the creek.
We grew up in that ankle-deep creek,
hefting home our quarry in buckets: crayfish, snappers, minnows, toads.
Your Dad would salute without raising his hand;
it was the I’m happy if you’re happy look on his face.

We’d blow up plastic Corvettes in the driveway.
Your Dad would warn us: “Use kerosene instead of gas. Gas explodes.
You don’t want to explode, do you?”
That I’m happy if you’re safe look on his face.

The last time I saw him, last August at high-sweat, we were passers-by
in a parking lot. He explained to me how underground cable lines
ran on a map. With his square pink fingernail, he traced a blue path on paper.
“Now I’ve got to do it on foot,” he said.
He pointed to a hand-sized electronic gadget with switches and probes
and used words I didn’t understand. He smiled.
It was a Friday,
and I think he looked forward to Fridays.

One time he was concerned about my paring an apple
in the wrong direction. That pocket knife
is still in his pocket.
And I remember how one snowy day he let me wear his boots
so we could all play Army behind
icy homemade forts. The boots were big and military;
the knife was sharp as broken glass.

I see him now in your living room,
snoozing hands behind his head
reclining in his recliner after six,
head tilted slightly, his big square glasses crooked
over the serene square jaw,
a steamy spy novel in his lap.
We would dodge the squeaky floorboards out of respect.

Here’s where it feels like lead.
I wonder about the last words you each got to say to him.
What’s it like, that final picture in your minds?
Today, I thought of his last words to me,
and then I thought of my own Dad. You see him living
your entire life, and suddenly comes a cold metal slab.
My head barked inside: Picture your own Dad, picture him living,
pot-bellied and biting into a salty hardboiled egg,
or tying a slipknot on the cleat of his boat. Picture him living,
and then on a slab. You think about that. No…
It makes it too hard to breathe.

“I’m so sorry for your loss…” You’ve heard this too many times this week.
And yet I could not make it to the funeral to say even this.
I had a meeting at school;
a collaborative project for Applied Mathematics.
No calculus can explain how a strong man’s heart
can turn on itself with no tingling harbinger,
no second chance.

Everybody can’t help but think of their own Dad.
But mostly I think of you guys, your glistering red eyes
the moment the news arrived, our friends’ group hugs
in your driveway last Thursday.

I awoke tonight, shaking the guilt from my head,
recalling the last words Jim said to me. They were:
“See you later, Chris.”

(February 4, 1997)