23 July 2009

Play: River: Need

A___ and I promise to quit drinking and smoking and chewing and pills and pot and coffee and overeating and impatience (where applicable). We draw up a plan, which reads largely like this: we get in a canoe with two fishing poles, a tarp, two paddles, some worms, a flashlight, and some matches in a ziplock bag – our homemade detox.

We put in up above Tionesta. That first night, the sky closes in fast and we’ve never seen so much rain, and, once we hit the island, we can’t decide whether we should make a shelter first or build a fire. We can’t decide whether we should wade out in the deluge to find some crayfish for dinner or whether we should eat the worms. The short version of the story ends with us hungry and soaking wet, wrapped up in the tarp like so much meat inside a big blue burrito. In the middle of the night, I catch a fourteen-inch Maglite with the back of my head, because A___ woke from a dream in which I was a bear, sleeping in his tent. An honest mistake; we think no more of it. Next morning, A___ catches a crayfish and we can’t agree whether we should eat it or fish with it. In the meantime, I notice a Maple tree about two feet in diameter, shaped like a U, the trunk running horizontal for about twenty feet along the ground. A___ cannot fucking believe I’m worrying about trees at a moment like this – seconds after he’s baited his hook and I decided we should get on the river. We get on the river and there’s not a cloud in the sky, not a drop of sunscreen in the universe, and the minute I get my hook baited, Ange decides we should try to row like hell, the forty or so miles downriver to the camp. We throw up our hands in frustration. A___ decides he’ll agree with whatever I want to do, and that pisses me off, because I need his input, not his fucking approval.

I decide to act like I’m the only person in the world on the river, and I’m not sure what A___ does for the next couple hours, even as I steer us to shore under a bridge and watch him walk up over the hill. Now I’m the only person in the world on land, and when he gets back down the hill, I don’t know A___’s opinion about us carrying the canoe up to the road, and when D___ gets there I act like I’m the only person in the world tying the canoe to his roof, sitting in the car, walking into the restaurant. We smoke D___’s cigarettes while we wait for our omelets, acting like we’re each the only person in the world in that booth.

D___ asks us how our trip went. We stub our smokes and don’t look at each other and don’t talk about that canoe trip for more than six years at which point we’re good good buddies again, chewing tobacco and drinking our beer and smoking our pot and popping our pills and drinking our coffee and impatiently overeating (where applicable) and having a laugh about the tenure of our friendship, and A___ says, “You know, sometimes, when I think about that canoe trip, I still get pissed at you.” I set down my beer and lean forward a bit and say, “You? Get pissed? At me?”

22 July 2009

Lineage: Generations: Drill Rig

My mom, my sister, and I ride along with Dad to Ohio on a business trip. We stay in a motel room while he works on oil rigs – he’s an electrical engineer for Chicago Pneumatic Tool, and very hands on. The drive from Reno, Pennsylvania to the other side of Ohio takes four hours, but people back home are not travelers, vacationers, roamers, so this part of Ohio is the other side of the world. It’s a whole other planet. For instance: channel three is on channel eight, channel twelve doesn’t exist. Further: the sky turns green one night and a bright white squaw line roils in from somewhere, no hills to shield us from the ever-expanding horizon. New weather patterns to us, and this one, the radio says, could lead to a tornado.

A tornado! That’s the neatest thing my sister and I have ever heard. Mom, on the other hand, seems distraught, despite our six- and seven-year-old reassurances. We watch some big old hail in a dark midday. Some rain washes a couple weeks worth of dust off the world. The wind picks up. The wind dies down. The air clears. Rain falls.

During which time, we tire of waiting for a tornado, and turn instead to the motel television. The sky outside grows lighter and eventually dark with late afternoon. Dad comes home earlier than we expect with a gash on his forehead above his right eye. New excitement after a bust tornado warning. He’s been hit in the head with a hammer – I plan my vengeance. He’d been hit in the head with a hammer by accident – I postpone my vengeance. The company asked him to go to the hospital to get stitches. He and the hammer-swinger went to the bar instead to get gin and tonics. At the motel, he’s brighteyed, and when we ask what happens, he says, “What this? Well, I was sorting bobcats and I got a hold of a mountain lion.” He puts a Disney bandaid over a gaping wound, and we said, “But doesn’t it hurt?” He said, “Oh, it don’t hurt.”

Moments like this, we pick our heroes.

21 July 2009

And the Mountains Shall Labor and Bring Forth . . .

prologue (end)

Thunder stops his heart and the burst of lightning shatters the world. He hears the science-fiction arc of lasers, and the second wave hits this time with less force and more surprise. The rain and wipers enter their on-going authorship / erasure, giving each other meaning against the clear and uninvolved windshield. He leans the wheel harder to the left as the wind picks up and the ground swells beneath him. The darkness, which was the horizon, brings night to this afternoon. Thunder cracks again and the lightning brings the cabin of the car into clear relief. The dark dashboard wraps itself into the doors, and the gauges spike into redzones and maximums, and the road is silence and the air is silent and the rain is the world, and he is in the palm of the world’s hand. At this moment there is no word and he knows the future has past. He thinks clearly, though not in any kind of language, I am in hell and I am hell. And the lights on the control panel go dark and the gauges never existed, and the thunder crashes in his chest and in his head and in his gut, and the lightning is his spine as the ground crashes all around him, spraying mud and glass and grass and plastic, and the palm of the world balls into a fist, and what was once the brandnew Jetta, and what was once the old green Jetta, and what was once the safety of a 3,230-pound mass of modern industry washes up against a series of trees and comes to a rest.

20 July 2009

And the Mountains Shall Labor and Bring Forth . . .

prologue (continued)

The heat of the day rises up from the pavement, and the trees and the grasses and the flowers and the bugs drink down the water all around. Pedascule empties his flask and feels the warmth inside him and all around him and finds himself the world and of the world. He smiles and thinks about a cigarette and thinks I could, I could not, and does not, glad to be ahead of the storm, master of his own whatever it is. The dark green Jetta pulls the crest of an I-79 rolling hill, and Pedascule looks off to the left and off to the right and from both sides the sky rolls towards him in swirls of grays and blacks and streaks of white (orange-tinged) like two great purple palms swirling with lifelines and lovelines and fingerprints and this is how the whole world could be in one’s hands, he thinks. He crests another hill and the horizon sits dark. Black clouds solid across in front of him, held at bay by a single orange streak while the blue sky narrows and shortens and narrows and shortens, a self-reductive geometrical pattern.

He pats the breast pocket of his button-down blue graduation shirt but leaves the smokes where they are. He flicks off the c.d. player and on his headlights. He rolls up the windows snug as he can get them and battens down the doorlocks. He breathes deep the stale smoky air and holds that breath while the interstate pulls him along. The blue sign by the side of the road offers a rest stop in two miles and another in thirty-four, and, time and space being relative, he decides to ride this one out. The blue sign by the side of the road says, “Rest Stop 1 Mile,” and the interstate pulls him on. The blue sign by the side of the road says, “Rest Stop Next Right,” and the tractor trailers line up on the off ramp. Pedascule raises his left eyebrow in what he believes is an ambiguously smug gestured. He pushes the knuckles of both hands together and a dozen small pops break up the sound of the engine and the tires and the silence of an afternoon full of promise, as formulas for coefficients of friction and velocity and mass and rates of acceleration draw themselves on the windshield and wash away. Pedascule believes life is a complicated series of simple equations and that a lightning bolt is a concentrated atmospheric discharge of electricity which can travel at the speed of sixty-thousand-miles-per second. And the great gray and black and white palms of storm cloud blot out the last baby blue up above and close in around him, a tiny conscious bug of a god, but (he tries to shake the thought) a mighty bug-god, nonetheless.

The first wave hits the Jetta from the left and pushes the car onto the rumble strip and blots out the remainder of bright day. Then he is in a carwash, the blown-water on metal sound comforts him, and he feels the safety which is 3,230 pounds of German engineering of metal and plastic and rubber and, yes, of course, combustible fluid. And just as the rain washes the world away, the wipers draw it again in a blurred and distinct swath of dark gray trough of highway between the green green waving hills. Pedascule leans the steering wheel to the constant left, holding steady against the wind and rain. The taillights of a less fit vehicle shine up from the median, but he knows it might be more dangerous to stop than to drive on, and he takes note of the mile marker to call emergency services for said disabled vehicle at that next rest stop. The wind relinquishes and the rain slows to a steady downpour and a single streak of ionized white light brightens, dims, and disappears like a multi-filamented bulb. He realizes he has not been breathing and pats his breast pocket. I could, I could not. And he flicks the c.d. player back on and back off. No need for that right now, he settles into his own racing heart. He glances down at his flask and reminds himself to fill it up as well at that rest stop.

19 July 2009

And the Mountains Shall Labor and Bring Forth . . .

prologue (continued)

He slides smooth into that driverseat and throws the keys into the ignition. Pumps the gas, revs the engine, idles out of the parking lot – no need to showboat. Back on the road, he winds along the bright beaten path and onto the highway. The punk music pumps. He flicks the butt of his cigarette out the driverside window and cranks it tight, exhales the last lungful of smoke off to the side into the vast tiny cabin of the world in which he moves down the road. Three single drops of rain hit his windshield, and he thinks out of the clearish blue sky, The universe is a blue sky with a single small cloud on which the sun floats ahead, and I am a single raindrop. Shouldn’t somebody be writing this shit down? The yellow lines ahead, pretending at a vanishing point, over the crest of a hill, around a hill, on and on and, “Yeahyeah, yeahyeah.” He small-skanks behind the windhield. He leaves a trail of cigarette butts to the past.

Meanwhile, right where he is and in other places, the Earth spins on, inclining people and other animals to eat and reproduce. He sees the world in blues and greens and opportunities, and the world does not see him. It rolls on. He sees the universe in patches and instances and heartaches and touches, and the universe is atoms and empty space. He knows all this as well as he knows the distributive function of multiplication, and, yet, he sees himself as important, as meaningful. Though he’s been trained not to see himself this way, he sees himself as a god or, at least, as a godfunction, creating the world and moving through it as such.

When the forth, fifth, and sixth raindrops hit his windshield, he cannot distinguish them from the other ninety-seven thousand that hit at that moment. This sheet of rain falls so fast and hard that, rather than mix with the ground cover, it forces the dust and pollen and leaves and mites and very small rocks up into the air and down onto the Jetta’s windshield in a thin layer of mud, which the rain washes away almost immediately. Pedascule breathes deep and remains calm and godlike, reaching for his windshield wipers. He flicks the switch and the sitting water shatters and the rain stops. Blue afternoon sky up ahead, and behind him the beginning of the world ends in darkness and windscape.

16 July 2009

And the Mountains Shall Labor and Bring Forth . . .

prologue (continued)

Pedascule moves like the pull of gravity across the dulled yellow striped concrete. He’s smooth, to be sure, he’s like his own music – like a river’s quick ripple, like a fresh-shinned tree branch, like f prime of three equals the limit of three plus h (the quantity squared) minus nine the quantity over h as the limit of h approaches zero – a beautiful music of theory, a prone and infinite S, a moaning bent back. Smooth, he sits hunched over a thick, pewter, roommate’s-graduation-gifted flask with a quote from ancient philosophy about rivers and valleys and the way we approach the world, written in Hindu, he thinks, he remembers his roommate saying, as the rum rolls across his palm and onto the parking lot. Close enough. The quick evaporating alcohol floats from his pale, slim fingers, his hand of a thousand books. He tugs the bottle to his mouth and moves it to his trunk as his door slams smooth and he gas-pedals smooth off towards this mythical around the bend he’d been fingered towards moments ago. With the back of his hand, he wipes the slim-dripping drop of rum from his smooth chin, rubs his cheeks and thinks about shaving again, not today, though, maybe tonight.

Five miles down this bright whitey-gray and winding Pennsylvania off-the-beaten-road road, he skids into a gravelled and spring-puddled parking lot and out of his car and skids into the stool farthest from the darkest dark corners of this dark dark bar, a stool amid-stream a flotsam of flannelled and smokey-bearded men and saggy women. Pedascule, B.S., builder of immaculate and unyielding cardboard bridges, pushes a bill across the bar with a serious downward tilt of his head, loosens his tie and asks if he can buy a drink for anybody who would celebrate a college graduation. Gas money made good. He lights a smoke, throws the pack on the bar, chalks a cue, racks the table, shoots a game, shoots some whiskey, shakes hands and hands, and stretches the cue above his head and behind his back as the flannel shirts and smokey and sagging men and women ebb and flow through his five-year triumph as the country-musicking jukebox shatters his hold on the future as he dances and breaks and sinks another eightball and downs another beer and downs another beer and buys another round and looks forward to this very moment in his life. He reemerges into the same bright fecund day, the dark green Jetta meets him in the gravel, his tie stays behind, wrapped around a sagging and flannelled and warm and lithe woman who promised him three wishes if he would just stay with her forever. The country music twangs stilly into the distance as the heavy wooden door closes on that world forever, goodbye, forever, thinks Pedascule, farewell, forever. Though he can’t be sure about the future, he only knows that this point, “p,” where he stands doesn’t allow for his presence inside the bar as well as outside. Though he can’t be sure about the future, if the past is any indication of how the present will pass, goodbye. Forever. A single bead of sweat shatters the puddle beside the driverside door and the world opens into itself.

Pedascule leans an elbow on the open driverside door and pisses into the impenetrable Pennsylvania forest – a bush, a shrub, an Ash, a Maple – canopies from years and years of forest. When the cop slows along the road to account for the not-from-around-here Jetta, Pedascule raises his arm and smiles and thumbs-up and the cop drives off. A damned good day. Pedascule slams his palm on the c.d. player and the angsty pumping punk crashes into thin air. He lights a smoke and moves – right arm left leg, left arm right leg, and again. And he’s flailing in place bobbing his head. Skanking into the brand new day. He pulls the flask from his pocket, still skanking, and twists the cap and the rum hits the back of his throat from two feet above his head. He’s a television commercial, selling himself to the world. If life were like me, you wouldn’t have to buy anything, but, because it’s not, drink rum. “Yeah, yeahyeahyeahyeahyeahyeahyeah . . . uhm.”

14 July 2009

Mid-July 2009

Dear Ones, Loved Ones, Loved One, and Friends,

Many moons have risen since I’ve added a familial update and otherwise kept you informed on the comings and goings of the Oberg / Connor family. It’s been a busy year, a doozy, even by our standards. Since last July, we have sold a house, rented to own a house, and bought a compound replete with concrete lions, three sheds, and a fig tree. Other things happened too, I’m sure, but the figs, by God, they look yummy.

The kids have all grown taller and tougher, and Chaos is typing away, waiting for one of his offspring to become Chronos and rearrange the power structure: that is, I felt more obsolete yesterday than I did the day before, and today, well, you can imagine, I hardly feel the need to draw my own breath. But I’ll be more specific:

Zac decided this year to become the tallest member of the household, putting me in a steady third (though I suspect Sam will occupy that honored spot before he reaches high school). He’s making his way through the ranks on the rock-climbing team, pulling himself up one hold at a time. In fact, he’s probably at the gym now. He took time this past winter to teach himself about electromagnetics and proceeded to build a motor out of some cardboard from a case of Yeungling, some Romex wire from the shed, and twelve dollars worth of magnets he bought on line.

Sam decided to study the Rubik’s Cube -- his best solve time is a minute thirty-one seconds, which is well faster than I can scramble the cube -- and he’s working daily to improve. He, also, competes on the rock-climbing team, but is taking the summer off to chop wood and keep an eye on my parents. A major triumph and joy for Sam this school year came when his band took second in a state-wide band competition, and would perhaps have done even better if the flautists had held their instruments at the requisite thirty-seven degrees, instead of thirty-nine and thirty-five.

Naomi, of course, walks mostly on her hands and that only when she’s not jumping. She advanced from level one to level three gymnastics this season at our local gym, and hopes to join the preteam team this fall. In school, she has fallen in love with math and is a member of the advanced learners program for such things. And in June she started reading the _Harry Potter_ series.

Leah runs everywhere, sometimes putting eight, ten miles on her sneakers in a day. Luckily, she often lists off to the side, so she ends up back at the campfire, and none of us has to stay in shape to catch her.

In the meantime, here we are in Pennsylvania, land of my progenitors. traci and I brought Leah, Naomi, Sam, and Desi in the middle of June and we’ll be here until the middle of August, leaving Zac to slug it out with North Carolina’s muggiest months. We’re at my parents' (Maga's and Pappap's) camp, making sure the Allegheny keeps listing off down to the left there. Traci and I are living in Pappap’s toolshed with the mice and the moths and a bottle of rum. Sam and Naomi sleep all but the windiest, rainiest nights in a tent. Leah usually tips over mid-stride and runs all night long in her sleep in whichever corner of the tent we set her down.

We’ve been here a month and I’ve started this update ten, twelve times, and each time I feel guilty and study for my PhD. exams instead. But I’m going to take a shot at being more diligent, more timely, more consistent in posting over the next few months, but, as some of you may or may not know, the best laid plans of mice and moths often end up petering out when something really exciting happens on The Deadliest Catch. So, here’s hoping nothing exciting happens on tv over the next month.

Take Care,

11 July 2009

And the Mountains Shall Labor and Bring Forth . . . (a novel excerpt)


Pedascule, recently Bachelored of Science, steers the old Jetta through the currents of Interstate 79 South. The Great Erie Lake falling away behind him. The future all around him, and now, just the distant hum of his tires beneath his feet, hummmmhnh. Five years of Higher Education and Internships and Kissing Asses and Now He’s Free to begin. He thinks This, now, this, this this this is the first day, for the first actual time, of the rest of my life. The rest has all been practice. The rest: clods of dirt and roots and small boulders, aggregate, moss and rot, bones and dust and layers and layers and layers of ashes: a base at the base of the rest of my life. This, now, this. Life. Cruise controlling through the slow rest of the world, he lights a smoke, flicks the ash towards the windshield, and watches it lift through the slightly open window. Whoosh, he thinks, though in fact the motion is without discernable noise.

Five years of college fall into and out of his head and that was not a life of moments, but movement, not a series of experiences, but an experiment in being human – the early mistakes of his Freshman year crash up against viewing the incoming classes making the same mistakes; the moment he crawled out of his parents’ brand-new Jetta and climbing the New York Hillside to his first college dormitory flows into his final hungover middle finger to the entire temporary hometown. The empire of books and computers and small late fees crumbles. He tames his mind’s chimera of lectures and Buddhists and breasts, soft underbellies of institutions and marvelously frail coeds. Hidden fistpumps of triumphs and regrets meld into one another and fade away like so many pebbly ripples in the vast and breathless waves of a hurricane. Fighting the urge he’s been fighting since the West Coast called him back and called him back and finally offered him the salary he’d anticipated, he refuses to even think the tune “California, here I come,” and shakes his head hard against the notion. Pedascule, B.S., he thinks to himself, slams his palm against the C.D. player, flicks his butt out the window and jams, baby, yeah yeah yeah.

“Yeah, yeah, hell yeahyeahyeah,” he says, to the tune of the c.d. “Yeah.” He lights another cigarette and fake flicks ashes through a crack in the driverside window. “Uhm, uhmuhmuhm. Yeah, yeahyeah.” The sun floats on up there. Floats bright and springy on a slow-moving day, the road pulling along underneath him. The world funnelling him on and on while the flowers and the Earth and the future open up all around, a bowelly, soddy smell – silt dredged up from a slow-slow-slow-moving stream. He blows smoke, pounds his palms on the handed-me-down steering wheel of the Old Jetta, a graduation present, alongside a few thousand miles worth of gas money. Better fuel up. The Jetta pops and swerves beneath the great big blue and green world, the sun high overhead, the crest and troughs among and between the I-79 Southbound stream. The Jetta hops onto an off-ramp, into a parking lot. Pedascule swipes Pedascule Sr.’s credit card for a carton of smokes and a bottle of rum, asks for a bar and gets pointed just around the bend there. He thanks the old man and flirts with himself in the tall glass door on the way out – Sharp, he thinks, and scratches the fifty dollar mess of hair back into place.

Work: Stone: Boss

The mason that A___ and I worked for called me his Big Mean Bitch. I’d sling two sixteen-foot planks over my shoulder instead of one. I’d pull the mixer out of the way rather than bother hooking one of the trucks up to it. I’d throw twelve-inch blocks four high onto the scaffold. He meant it, I know, as a compliment.

Somehow, each day, I thought that if I could push just a little bit harder, carry just a little more weight, work one extra hour, that my boss would be happy. I thought that if I were just a bit tougher and stronger that the jobs would go well, and he’d stop motherfucking his crew, his clients, Hebrews, his wife, his kids, the weather.

It also feels good to walk through the hottest heaviest days of the year, dripping sweat, spitting tobacco in swirls of mud and oil, and chasing away onlookers with a stare the way I imagine a bigger, meaner dog might chase away a smaller, smarter dog.

01 July 2009

Work: Steel: Scar

Purple and wide. Sometimes yellow, pink some would say. Roiling, bumpy, a costumey pastiche of cauterized flesh on flesh. In the pit, where the bars are two-hundred-fifty feet (still white hot, snagging on the old, old rollers), the guys sometimes walk away from a month’s worth of raking carrying a design like they hired someone to burn their lineage into their forearms in a forgotten hieroglyph.

Sometimes we get cut in awkward places, I mean, like, now-just-how-in-the-living-hell-did-you-end-up . . . ? And sometimes we need stitched up, but we’re not even sure if we brushed up against anything sharp, like being at the mill is reason enough to bleed, like just one more pain on top of another on top of a whole pile, a life, a religion of pain.

Doug comes into the Corner Pocket while we’re shooting pool one day, slams the world’s littlest manila envelope on the bar and says, “Buy a drink for the guy just lost his last tooth?” A couple months shy of his fortieth birthday.

We don’t get sent to shrinks, nobody thought that far ahead. But, like I say, you can see the neon lights of the Corner Pocket from the breakrooms of three different departments, and, though it’s a short stretch from the shower to that stool, you can do a damned awful lot of recovering once you get there.