Matthew Lickona 9:46 a.m., May 20
I am unemployed, and with bad posture: my neck crease crinkles forward as an origami swan; but I am not a waxy wad of paper, and this is not a fashioned art.
There are tributaries of nerves and blood vessels that irrigate inside the spine and saturate the heart and brain. This is a real river that streams red and gold and physically proves together your love and mind. When I stretch my cold fingers to the nape of my neck I can feel one vertebra solidly plumped in front of the one below, like a stolid boy sat fat up in the lap of Santa Clause, dreaming of what-ifs.
To dream such dreams upon a backwards-bent-in neck affects the flow.
In beginner theater classes, the movement instructor with tall and gainly legs will ask you to imagine your character and from where you act. Does your stomach gravitate you forward? Do you preside with chest as open as low tide? Or do you lead with head on stick surrounded with much thought.
Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts…
Such troubled thoughts can tumble forth when unemployed.
“Thoughts are powerful things for head people,” the slender boy spoke to the entire cavernous convention hall in Hillcrest, crowded and cool, in which I sat in attendance. He was a proper peter pan in a spare, close robe and his young voice resounded like the small orange birds who sing echoes on acoustic cliffs.
“Thinking is more real than teacups.” His gaze was proud and focused at us.
“A silly frilly tea-cup does not inspire war like ideas.”
His lotus-wrapped-up wrinkly master sat aside and hid behind, a wry illiterate smile crescendoing.
“These ideas are heavy things,” the biracial boy lilted, “where is the weight?”
The assembly paused. He unfurled a huge parchment woodblock print of a stunning stag with a thicket of horns crowning his skull.
“This elk has 30 pounds of antlers on his head. He holds them like hands to the sky.
“But us humans, are we no less grand than they?”
I exited the class with my head up my ass. Walking beside me was a bear of a man who had befriended me over a yerba mate break. I like bears because they, like I, are unemployed in the winter.
“Kid, many animals are unemployed. Most dead humans are, as they should be, every tree is, and truthfully even Pluto.” We were ambling with great pleasure at dusk through Balboa Park. It was February. Amid the towering trunks we were crunching grey leaves and watching the big bosom clouds spill around the sky. The stomach of the sun had satiated itself on the horizon and gave a glow of lustrous amber hues upon an asian couple in their heat, kissing in the cushions of the roots, thighs stretched against shorts wrapping around torsos; so many waves of warmth pressed up against a cool tall tree centuries old.
Moaning pricked my ears as my new friend put a heavy safe hand over my shoulder and stopped me. “Remember, kid,” he said over his pudgy nose, “dem trees always need you for their air.”
I cracked a sharp laugh and asked if I could put that on my resume, under two decades of pro bono medical ventilator care. References cannot be provided due to immobility.
He nodded tenderly.
-Why were you fired? he asked.
I lifted my head to his benevolent face.
-I was fired because my boss is a dick and I like dicks. So, the tension became too much between us.
He laughed and boomed like an orchestral bass drum. Some squirrels spurted and reeled.
-No, my little friend, why?
-I messed up a delivery order. I took a turn too fast and flipped over a whole bag of pizzas. They were ruined.
-That’s sad, kid.
-Yes. It is.
We were now bounding up fifth avenue, and I snuggled deep inside my fuzzy coat.
-Where are you now applying?
-Restaurant jobs. I now know such good restaurants to eat at with my family when they come. Like these four: I did this group all in one getgo: gelatin, gang eatery, attractor room, and juapangos.
-No dice, kid?
He scratched his husky beard.
I kept watching my friend as we caught on to University Avenue. He rounded out his stylish leather jacket with corpulent magnitude. His biceps seemed very big and very wise. I did not want to get musky with him, but I did sure respect his body: it was there to be. His food, I guessed, did not go straight to his head, but was used to make more profound his earth. He led with his great gorilla arms.
I was debating whether to tell him of this affection when
a great gaggle of gays floundered out of the City Deli and distracted me. Their shrieks and staccato laughter were mincing through the low rumbling dark like little lost rays of sun, as if to say—we’re fay, we may, get used by it!
They crashed their way over to us, all up in each others’ faces, reacting over one another like a river rapid, however, always with taut arms grasped snug behind each boy’s back, there to support the crew wherever they may sail.
As they were floating by, one of them turned to me and stopped the whole boat. “Hey slender,” he winked at me and jutted his narrow chin to my friend, “is that your fender-bender?”
Before I could answer, the questions came from all heads.
Aren’t you hot tonight?
Are you European?
You got a cig?
You don’t drag?
No fag on you tonight?
“No, I don’t like how they taste up on my lips.”
That got them shooting high like fireworks off the deck.
““OH NO, HE DID NOT!””
““WHAT AN ITCH!””
““MM-HM! Tango with this tongue!”” The man had stamped his foot out forward like a toreador and his eyes were feverish and starry.
My bear friend whispered in my ear: C’mon, let’s go.
We smiled at the passing sailors fishing for an ever danker horizon. I started to relax as we left them: their voices were always ending higher than they started as if there were always to be something more.
-Kid, you don’t like the gays here?
-What?! No, I love the gays here.
-You have a dry cruel humor.
I turned quiet and looked away. There were glossy postcards layered upon the ground of cream playboys in hip clubs. These condiments to the bland cement, softly spotted by the street lights, were being stepped on by the soles of every passing stranger. Stranger on stranger action. When the blue and yellow day forgets itself into an inky backdrop, Hillcrest crows multicultural: baklava, crème brûlée, port, mochi, and piroshki! Such sumptuosity, and still, night pass night, one and sober, I saunter up tall stairs to a small clean studio, study myself, drink a different wine, and think myself to sleep.
I have no friends, no lovers, no enemies, no job.
Cruel wits twit alone.
I was distracted from depression by our waylay at the great crossroads of Avenue and Boulevard. Stayed on the square of sidewalk, and around us curved the autos in their orbits.
My friend suddenly touched me.
“Kid, your mind is ahead of your heart. Troubled prince, come back from your Russian Riviera!” His beady eyes rimpled as he smiled. I shook the reverie fog from my head.
Beside me, he pinched up his pant legs and stepped and squatted before me, staring straight to my eyes. My glance moved aside to the flanks of cars and a leathery alms man who tightly grasped a musty sign—Foie Gras, Mardi Gras, da dame gras sings!
“You’re not proposing to me here, are you?” I spouted.
“That’s comedic, but no worry.”
“Kid, no one can love you until you show us how. To love you.”
My whole body gushed with clarion fear and my heart shuddered like a stampede. He was waiting for me to answer!
He spoke with an open palm: “My god! You strike like mercury. I mean love, in general, man. You needs not be the temperature gauge of the world.”
A homely geyser swelled inside soothing me. He continued with me, relating with buttery diction,
“I was committed to a proud poem in 2007. A jocund Japanese minstrel had declaimed it outside of a pluming pagoda. Pick dem pimples on dis.” His grin was now ferocious and with shaking excitement he impressed his hand upon my chest, squishing the soft muscle down until he could feel the heart beat in the bone, knowing I could love, myself and all the rest, like every other animal before and aft, for the same solid reason that within our mantle, inside our hearth, flames our heart.
And so annunciates:
“O, meaty mind of matter grey! What matter minds you for a fray!
Lie lower lover in your coat, and coax this heart so generous.
That herald trumps through brick and brine, still gushing being till you die,
In what you do you’ll always be: a moving mount of bravery:
The drum cares not the tune!”
We broke together, breathing. He smiled again, brought himself up standing, lifted his burly forearm to his forehead and swept droplets of sweat from his skin like foam. They stained and shimmered his weathered sleeve; he dropped his arm down to shake me goodbye, and then walked through the intersection.
O fantastic! An exalting! As if a great white bear had awoken from his wintered sleep and from his den had found me in the snow, to push his rubber nose upon my collar bone and sniff and breathe me with his snout: now all I know is in an overwhelming sultry smell and shaggy mass—a bear—not two inches from my face!
And though he leave, live the memory!
I dragged myself around, careful not to lose the feeling, and deliberately stepped off for home.