The Trough of Love (April 21, 2004)

As you can see, Constance, I’ve decided write down as accurately as I can my thoughts and actions surrounding this latest bout of self-destruction. Several crazy days in San Francisco and New York and counting. Some details you may condemn as neither amusing nor germane to the main narrative, perhaps even distasteful and insulting, but I offer them in hopes of painting a more complete picture, in scope and in detail, of my psyche and being. Make of it what you will. But as you eat your carrots and realign your chakras, remember this healthy advice: Self-censorship is the worst kind — said the bishop to the actress. 

Meanwhile, on the fog-shrouded streets, in the alleyways marked by geraniums and crooked wooden doors, this tale of woe and petty larceny continues.

Upon leaving Alexia’s apartment beneath heavy cloak of silence my cock is chastened if not victorious. We’ve reached an understanding, man-snake and I: no more adventures with anyone trying on the mute robes of the Trappist, at least on Tuesdays; yes, Tuesdays are henceforth reserved for noisy celebration, pipes and drums, roars and clangs, a boisterous clamor commemorating the chittering half-naked lost tribes of Babel. To hasten this sirocco of mad music, I give a girlish shriek, determined to make this first Tuesday of the rest of my life memorable, if not profound. 

I drift to the little square by the little white church where DiMaggio slid his precious onto Marilyn’s pretending finger. It’s a typical scene: the green pissoir is out of order, delivery attendants wheel cases of chablis into restaurants charging $18 for a bowl of macaroni, an empty bus goes the wrong way up Union Street. Amateur photographers on holiday from Dusseldorf and men in overcoats congregate with tabloids and sandwiches and brown paper bags. I stroll narrow streets and see a white pigeon that recalls Yeats and pretty birds flying above the snow. In North Beach it’s hard to tell where Little Italy ends and Chinatown starts. Roman grocery stores and abattoirs press up against narrow railroad dives with windows full of steamed dumplings and newspaper stands selling wide-eyed comic books and pictures of Miss Cantonese American wrapped in sash and soft focus. I stop at Specs Museum Café to knock back one and then two whiskies and the jukebox has Nat King Cole singing “Perfidia” in Spanish. I begin to think and I begin to feel sorry for myself, the two go hand in glove. Sentimental, lonesome for a past I never knew. I think about your world and mine and the widening chasm. Take two percodans and a quaalude and wait for the fun to start. The beer surges across my molars, a mental diorama descends, a picture black on white on gray, or maybe a charcoal sketch where the lines between the real and the mundane blur, lose shape, melt into one another like someone you used to know leaving a message on your machine in the dead of winter when you've gone out for smokes and you get that funny feeling in the stomach like here we go again and outside through the window cherry trees without blossoms are trapped against a pale sky. 

Maybe it happened. Or maybe it’s the booze and the clock on the wall. But I can’t forget the time at the lake watching the silver fish jump, their brief shadows caught in the blanched light at the end of the dock, the water softly lapping and you with your feet hanging over and the laughter from somewhere behind the trees, bouncing off clouds and bluebirds singing in the hedgerows. When a thundercloud burst you ran to the cabin laughing and almost falling and the rhythm of the rain was a million tiny hummingbirds in the air, on the roof, and the poetry of a moment that has no words, like flowers trembling in the dark. 

Oh dear, oh god and when I raise my hand to finish the whisky I smell Alexia but imagine it’s you. Coleridge’s lantern on the stern, only the source of illumination coming from drugs and booze, or is that the subtle acrobatics of the noble, unfairly maligned quaalude? I call Grenville but he doesn’t answer so I have one more for the road, same glass and a fifty cent piece for change. 

From the dark of Specs stepping outside is like crashing through a brittle hard candy glaze of sunlight, the shards stuck in my eyebrows and on the tops of my shoes, sharp and sweet. I walk aimlessly up the beginnings of the hills, looking back at the tableau seeing diminuendo of houses and the girls like something in miniature, I don’t know what, Union Street and then at Hyde hear the clang-clang of the cable car and the memory comes climbing back. When I was born and my first memory is to hit the floor running scared at the bright lights and the agitated attention of the all big faces shiny with sweat and nervous laughter, look-at-me-little-boy wink-o wink o ha ha ha. 

I was six years old and the big men in the brass buttons and thick mustaches and serious caps smiled sternly keeping one hand on the brake and one eye ahead peering into the future where the skyscrapers met the hill and ladies in bright dresses stood on the corners waiting for the light to change. My father took me through Chinatown and red paper lanterns with silky fringes and strange meats and fruits on the sidewalks and the hundreds of feet and the satin coats on old ladies clutching bags of oranges and Chinese newspapers you read upside or sideways or in a peculiar way and “right here at this very stop” my father said solemnly at a drug store with a poster of a woman in a bikini holding up a beer can or a set of sparkplugs, “you could get two porkchops, a plate of fried cabbage and a big bowl of rice for a buck fifty,” practically lived there as a student, down to one meal a day and reading the beat poets, reading used paperback histories of the revolution, reading Mailer on Chicago and Dos Passos and Dwight McDonald and the sensationalist headlines on the afternoon dailies like two-headed dog bites postman and boy meets girl and falls hard and scrapes his heart smiling weakly a little dizzy unsure what to say or do next. 

My father, myself, my idea of your imperfect love, Constance, somehow making me whole. It’s absurd, I know. Suddenly the urge to fuck Alexia, fuck like a scared child on a mechanical rocket outside a supermarket, fuck her while she’s talking to her mother on the phone, changing a plane ticket to Ontario, fuck in the swelling dawn light and the sadness of all the breaths seeping creeping away. Fuck you through Alexia you may feel the contours of my love like the bloated skin of a flower full of seed. 

Sooner than later I am outside your building, it’s covered with scaffolding and two painters are brushing the trim around the entryway. On the sidewalk looking up I call you and at the sound of your voice my knees buckle and fear wins again. “Hello? Hello? Goddamn it, Max, is that you?” I can’t think of anything to say I haven’t already. I hang up, comforting myself with the idea that you assumed it was me, the heavy breathing on the other end. So maybe there’s a chance I can work my way up from hapless stalker to the kind of innocuous friend you meet for salads and gossip and matinee films in subtitles and coffee afterwards on Fillmore Street, though even in the sun it’s too cold.

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