Notes for the Missing

Inspired by messages to elusive someones that came and went.

This post is part of an ongoing series I can’t seem to resist, inspired by posts on online message boards.

***

You were at Home Depot, wanting to talk. You were turning around at the marina, and I was passing toward the end of the dock.

You were helping at a thrift store near the train station. You were seen later, camping near a picnic table at the Park ‘N Ride, and then you were gone. Where are you staying now?

You were at the bakery, the swap meet, at Major Market on Broadway.

You were my friend, my lunch partner, my gym buddy. You made me smile. I have missed you.

We miss so much, don’t we? Going about these daily tasks, getting dog food, gas, and BAM! A sighting, and it’s you again, isn’t it? Peeling back the veil of the world I think I know, when you arrive, and just as quickly, go. 

***

Others in this series:

Cat People

Ancient paintings, liquid bodies, and universal mysteries.

Some consider the ancient Egyptians to be the earliest-known cat people, although recent pictograph discoveries suggest more ancient traditions of feline reverence.  

I saw a painted image in a tomb in western Thebes. It depicts a scene from the Book of the Dead.

Is that the one with the cat slaying a serpent with a sword?

I heard they worshipped them. Didn’t they get mummified with the Pharoahs?

Not worship. But they did make little cat mummies. Cats were seen as sacred to other deities.

Hmmm. I watch mine sometimes, and you do have to wonder. I mean, look.

Yeah, think about it. A body sleeping that much must be involved in astral projection at least some of the time. 

She’ll do this thing where she sits facing the wall sometimes, her face inches from it.

Hah! I love that one, like the kid in a dunce cap in a nineteenth-century schoolhouse. 

Quite a meta form of satire, really. Given that she’s obviously –– well, you know.

Engrossed in any number of universal mysteries?

Exactly. See? Look, she’s at it again.

Do you think somebody would think we were worshipping her, sitting like this?

No, just watching. Paying attention.

Is there a difference?

First Lessons in Life Management

Wisdom from the old wives.

Never do your knitting outside. You’ll lengthen the cold months. Avoid sleeping with your head to the North. Or West. Shoes off the table; those mean death. Never, ever say happy birthday before it’s time. Think facing mirrors look good, with those infinite reflections? Think again: you’re inviting el diablo.

Speaking of which, you must avoid going directly home after a funeral or wake, else you may bring a spirit with you. That’s why you have to go to a restaurant or someplace with friends. Remember, never poke chopsticks straight down into your food, and protect your parents by tucking your thumbs near a cemetery. Think it’s fun to whistle inside? Okay, but have fun living with demons. Same goes for singing at the dinner table. And don’t even think of using water for a toast, unless the point you mean to make is a death wish for your companions.

Hands itchy? The right one means money is coming. The left means you’ll lose it. Avoid haircuts on Tuesdays, and yellow flowers. Never gift anything with a blade. If someone does this to you, give them a coin.

Never enter with your left foot, don’t trim your nails at night, and keep an acorn in your pocket.

And ––

Listen: that sudden pause when we’re here together and the conversation lulls? That means an angel passing over.

The Escape Artist to the Magician

Harry Houdini confronts predecessors, past illusions, and posers of the moment.

On this day in 1926, Harry Houdini gave his final performance, at The Garrick Theatre in Detroit. To mark the occasion, I spent some time exploring what I could of several books he left behind. I was interested to learn that Houdini had suffered a period of deep disillusionment when he discovered that much of the appeal of the artist who inspired him, Robert Houdin, was artifice assembled from the work of countless unnamed others. Houdini set out to name these in The Unmasking of Robert Houdin. Later, he devoted much of his non-performance time to debunking the claims of many of the leading mentalists of his time, a process he describes in A Magician Among the Spirits. This is an imagined monologue in which the escape artist considers the toll of his lost belief, even as he remains steadfast in revealing the truth. It includes borrowed phrases from both texts.

Do you think I imagined nothing of soaring heights? My first act was the trapeze. I was nine, and my father had lost his job, and all we knew then was how to live on the edge. It should go without saying that not all edges are the same. Some you walk by necessity; others are brandished by the charmer, those swords and weapons not for protection or battle, but merely to catch the light, wow an audience, earn applause.

With some people, greater intimacy only yields greater discoveries, the rewards like that of earth itself: the closer you look, the more there is. With others, these sword-bearing magician illusionists, the effect is the opposite. The more you look, the less there is to see. Looking long enough, the familiar patterns and tired tricks reveal themselves. Finally, broken hearted, the once and future believer has no choice but to accept. The emperor wears no clothes.

I have been interested! I held seances, surprised clients. It was a lark! My ambition, my love was gratified. Moving forward, some hallowed reverence advanced with age, and I was chagrined.  I became more plastic, interested to discover if it was possible to return from beyond the veil.

What lengths I have gone to, by now. How many compacts I have made with the living: when you go, will you reach me? They agreed. I have waited, watched. No one can accuse me of being unwilling to receive a sign.

To be clear, I am a sceptic, not a scoffer. My heart softens still to remember the believer I once was, the unsuspecting heart of inexperience. I sometimes wish I could return. It is not so unusual, after all, for the senses to mislead. A little sign, appealing to the waiting imagination, the endless promises and guarantees of charlatans claiming special insight, heightened vision––becomes a menace to health and sanity.

No doubt some are sincere. Even my trained mind can be deceived, how much more susceptible the ordinary observer. Magician, you are lost to me since I have seen you. I thought knowing, as with all good things, would only enhance appreciation. I could blame you for pretending to be what you are not, but now who is the fool? I was told I had no finesse for illusion, not enough sleight in my hand. I lacked the guile that came naturally to you; it was your daily bread.  

I’d prefer not to look, but there are others at risk. My purpose is to warn them. After all, I was never the magician, only the escape artist. I have escaped the nailed box, the sealed coffin, the underwater milk jug, the chains, and now I fly from the illusion that you were ever anything like the promise you pretended to be. It hurts my sore wings, long cramped. I’d rather not do it, but there is an audience, after all, and their attendant faith. If my loyalty runs parallel to the seed of this faith, then my exodus is the sacrament at hand. Blame the moon for peeling back the veil; blame the intensity of my childhood will, to believe. Blame the failure of the blinders that you counted on, to hold. Blame the persistent posture of looking; I learned this as a matter of devotion early on. Try as I might, even in the early days of watching you perform, I could not unlearn it, not completely, until now. 

Rock News

Late-breaking developments in geologic time.

Today brings a preference for those sorts of conversations where it is understood that “recent news” refers to that which began to develop in the last one to two million years, such as the last ice age or interglacial period, or the rising of granitic mass of upstart mountain ranges.

For example, since the Pacific Plate beneath San Diego is drifting northwest as it grinds against the North American Plate at a rate of about two inches per year, forecasters are predicting that in fourteen million years, the southmost major city of the golden state will be a good deal north of San Francisco. Roads and aqueducts will obviously need some restructuring. It is unclear what current commissioners of infrastructure development and transportation are doing to address the issue.

Worldly-wise love to speak of pressing issues, but on a literal level it seems that the shifting of plates floating over the molten layer of planet should qualify here, except for the fact that one gets accustomed to speaking of it’s composition in familiar cliché’s like the ground beneath my feet

Confidence is one thing, but smug complacency is another. I like the confidence of the child who calmly and steadfastly articulates a vision of the universe in crayon. As in, here is the bottom of a rectangle of white paper. Here is a box of eight colors. This brown horizontal line, the beginning of earth. These vertical hash marks, assorted vegetation. These longer ones, trees, and so on: sky, clouds, people with wheels for feet, legs and arms extending directly from their heads. 

Give me this, or talk of volcanic islands sprouting in the ocean, their collisions into the mainland. Let’s discuss the movement and crystallization of molten earth, the nibbling friction of wind and water and other erosive forces, in concert with pressure and time, the undressing of earth’s layers, exposing batholith and other decadent depictions of time. 

Let us banter about the goings-on among granodiorite, of tonalite trysts; may the gossip of the moment feature gabbro rock and scintillating details about sandstone, shale; a conference of conglomerate, an expose on metavolcanic rocks metamorphosed with the last island collision. That’s the news I need today.

News from the Isle of Cats

Todays news: updates from Cat Island, Aoshima.

Since posting about my fantasy of taking a voyage to cat island, I’ve been gifted with an abundance of virtual news about the island of Aoshima, Japan, which only enhances my appreciation for its magic. Last night, I realized that I had been neglecting updates (these cats have their own Facebook group and Instagram account, for anyone interested), and made a note to resume when I woke. When I refer to “checking news” in the morning, I’m generally referring to updates pertaining to cats, craigslist, news from publications such as The Siberian Times, recipe blogs, and poetry. As for other news, that happens later in the day when I’m sufficiently primed for its assault.  

I was grateful to remember this after hitting snooze for the second time this groggy morning, so that I could wake with a clear and immediate objective to accompany my first sips of coffee. Let’s see what’s new on the island, I said to Buzz, assuming the imagined vocal inflections of a top-tier investor over numbers reports while delivering her obligatory morning helping of Gravy Lover’s Seafood Selections.

Apparently, some of the cats have been getting drunk on matatabi brought by tourists (I’m thinking this is in the family of catnip, but perhaps of the higher-grade variety that only celebrities know). They may fight under the influence, but then they fall asleep. 

Nana-chan’s preferred spot is on the laps of visiting tourists. They call her “sleeping princess,” and her fan base continues to grow.

This is the sort of story I imagined when I first learned of the place: cats wandering around: much loping, lounging, purring and meowing when the Captain and Cat Mom bring food, and engaging in inaudible cat-banter about the antics of these two-legged servants among them, in all manner of motley dress and vocal expression. However, I have since learned that Aoshima, like any inhabited isle, is not without dramatic inflection.

Consider, for example, the tale of Choco-chan, one of the last litters of the island, now that all known feline residents been spayed or neutered (In my original post, I shared that a prior attempt had left a critical mass of cats untreated, and no doubt these continued to mate, argue, and bear litters in a manner that suggested an endless proliferation of cats on the island—but alas, the numbers may witness a decline in coming decade). Choco-chan, a white-chocolate kitten born in 2015, was quickly certified as “The #1 Cutest” of all the Aoshima cats. Reporters and television crews from the mainland came to take his photograph. “Fabulous!” they exclaimed, as Choco-chan posed with a pink feather boa looped festively around his neck and torso. He was spoiled with extra sausage, sashimi, and other delectables while the other cats (many still un-neutered, mind you) grew resentful.

You know the story: to everything there is a season, and the pride cometh before the fall. After kitten season, news crews vanished. Choco-chan, no longer having to be plied for photo shoots with extra servings of cat-delicacies like sausage and sashimi, was escorted back to the common feeding area. “He is middle-aged man cat now” and has survived being widely oppressed by the other cats, who seem to have given him quite a hard time upon his return. Choco-chan no longer attempts to eat in the feeding area, and is presumably fed in a furtive manner by the same adoring cat mom who originally singled him out for preferential treatment. 

October is a hot month, and the cats have mostly been lounging in the shade. “No one is fighting anymore,” one tourist observes. “Everyone has eaten. It is a peaceful world.”

People put great bowls of cool water out for the stars. “The cats are drinking water deliciously,” someone posts, and it is true. They drink, orange heads over stainless steel bowls, absorbed in the ritual, and it is delicious. 

Overheard

Overhearing a conversation on a Friday morning in October while more than a little tired.

How are you?

Oh, you know.

Yeah.

You know. To be real, today I am a little bit tired.

I know it.

Truth be told, today I noticed that I am almost always extremely tired. Like, more than I have ever been, is that possible? Don’t answer, of course it isn’t. I mean, you remember what it was like, way back. When––  I know I was more tired then, I must have been. And yet. I can’t help it, I just —

Endorphins, maybe?

What?

They say that it’s something about the endorphins that make new mothers forget the pain. 

Of childbirth, you mean? But I’m not talking about––

No. I mean, sure, that was the reference when I read it who knows how long ago but think about it. You could apply this to other things. 

Don’t tell me a puppy because I don’t even want to––

No, but being a teen, maybe. I mean really, it was awful but that’s not the first thing you think.

True.

And some of those all-nighters when we were nineteen, twenty? Some because we had to but then we would go do another one just because, when the whole world was constantly falling apart, not to mention all the bombs, remember? They were like every other day in the news then, it was just what we lived with. But looking back, what do you remember?

I remember dancing and singing the lyrics at the top of my voice, even when I didn’t know them.

That’s it!

Especially when I didn’t know them.

Exactly!

Haven’t done that in a while.

Well, there you go, then.

Maybe that’s why––

You’re so tired?

No, I know why I’m so tired. I could give you a list, but you’ve got your own. But I mean––

Why it feels like this?

Yes, like more than ever before.

Because ––?

Because I don’t have the scream-dancing at the same time. I’m just––

Trying to survive?

Yes, like this. Coffee, I feel like I live for this––I know it’s more than these sips, obviously, but when I can’t remember what that is exactly––not by name, anyway, that’s when I really don’t want to talk and I definitely don’t want to have to put down the cup. I just want to be in this space where I’m still at the edge of a dream, and no one is poking at it, letting the air out. 

How’s that working out?

Well. There are many rough edges.

How many?

Too many to count right now. I’ve still got half a cup. Can you just––.

Would you like one of these?

What is this?

A bunny. I found them at–––

No, see, that’s what I mean. Why are people collecting these bunnies and handing them out?

They are soft.

I don’t even––

Feel!

News from the Health Well

Once again, my favorite online message board offers a cornucopia of transformative options.

While I regularly turn to Craigslist on mornings when I’m looking for some element of local flavor and character drama with my news, I realized this morning that my tendency to gravitate immediately to “lost and found” and “missed connections” has me potentially missing some fruitful connections in a section intriguingly named “health/well.” Since one of my recent horoscopes came with strong advice to broaden my horizons, today’s news comes from the health well.

When it comes to health, you may feel less than optimal because you are not aware that some services are available. But as life coach Miguel points out, “Knowledge is key!”

With this in mind, you may want to consider these options: Plumbing plus MORE! Tarot card readings! Plus, a narcissistic recovery coach on call, prepared to cater to some very specific needs––personalized, of course, and on-demand. It’s all about you!

Feeling out of alignment with your highest self? Try Reiki. Wanting to test your alignment in general? This aerial circus personal training group may be just what you need. Now there’s a fitness session you can’t get at your run-of-the-mill gym down the street!

You may not know this, but there is someone less than thirty minutes away willing to come juice for you. Right in your own home! Unfortunately, the link wasn’t working, so I am unable to verify if such an offer is a euphemism for some not-yet-imagined service, which might be the key.

Stressed? Try a free hypnotherapy session! You can control unwanted behaviors. You can even rent this salon space and start making money. Now!

If you are thinking of being a life coach, you may want to get some headshots in order. Apparently, the ideal way to market yourself (so far, I’ve seen only male coaches in the health well) is with a neatly trimmed beard, smoky eyes, and with your collared shirt open three buttons at the top to reveal a deep V of confidence. However, if you are a woman considering the service of a coach, I suggest patience. There is currently a market surplus in this industry, and no shortage of men willing to give out this sort of thing for free to any woman not currently in the middle of a sentence. In fact, such offers are so abundant you can probably keep talking and still receive a bounty of unsolicited (and 100% free!) advice.

Want something more physical? Jon, a personal trainer, introduces himself as a “32-year-old human male.” One has to appreciate the transparency of his advertising, which includes species specification. It seems to matter to Jon not to mislead his clients by leading them to believe that he is an enthusiastic Labrador who has unlocked the fountain of youth via exercise, as some characters will do. For emphasis, he includes a photograph of himself standing on what appears to be a stage in workout attire. Jon is very tan.

But perhaps, as I am, you are having some trouble prioritizing areas of need. Fear not! There’s a one-stop-service provider that advertises energy, mood, focus, weight loss, AND mental health, all in one place! Now that is good news.

***

I suppose we all have our quirky obsessions, and this one of mine has become glaringly obvious to me since starting these posts. More craigslist-inspired posts can be found below:

Horoscope Buffet

Some days, just one isn’t enough.

What’s wrong?

I don’t think my coffee is working. Did you switch to half-caf again? 

No way. How about some astrological guidance? Let’s see. . . Here’s Cancer.

Mmhm.

Begin an honest discussion.

What else?

That’s it.

Well. I’m going to need a little more than that today. Read the others.

You mean the other signs?

Yah. Start from the beginning. I’ll sip, you read. We’ll see what takes.

Okay. Let’s see. . .  Ram says once your priorities are straight, it’s smooth sailing. New information is coming to reveal a higher purpose.

Then, according to the bull, an ounce of prevention now will save you lots of headaches later.

The twins suggest adding beauty to your surroundings. The lion suggests exercise.

What else?

Who’s this one, Virgo?

The nurturer.

Well, she’s saying you’re about to have a change of heart.

Hope so. Keep going.

The goddess of justice wants you to do more research and this scorpion forecasts a gift on the way.

Vacation?

No, it says it may actually look like extra work, at first.

Hmmm. Next?

The centaur is of a mind that a good walk can help you process your shifting emotions. . . 

And?

Wants to remind you to ask for guidance.

Exactly. Keep it coming.

The sea goat insists on expanding horizons. Plus, standing your ground. But they don’t specify the order of operations on this one, so it’s not exactly––

What else?

The water bearer says it’s time to relax your expectations.

Of?

Um, others. And there’s one more. This from the fish. They say, whatever you’re doing, it isn’t working. So––

What? I thought these were supposed to be encouraging!

They are. They say try something else. 

Earthling to Moon, on News of its Departure

Imagining some awkward breakup conversations inspired by the moon’s inevitable departure from Earth’s gravitational pull.

At first, I didn’t believe it. My gravitational gauge is oversensitive sometimes.  I always think things are closer than they are. For this reason, I avoid parallel parking when possible. (“You’ve got like, three feet! Seriously!” a helpful person will try to explain. “No, no, never mind!” I’ll say, preferring to walk a few more blocks as needed to avoid what looks like a near collision.)

Needless to say, the idea that you’ve been drifting away this whole time comes as a bit of a shock. 

You say it’s “just gravity” but isn’t that sort of like one of those noncommittal statements that really mean a whole other thing (“It’s not you, really, It’s me,” or “I just have a lot going on”)? Isn’t gravity what we had going on? I mean if that’s getting weaker, what are you really saying? 

I know there’s something you’re not saying.  Was it all the photographs? I know, I know. It’s a lot, but you were always changing––color, size, shape; we couldn’t get enough.

Was it how were always projecting our own insecurities, variabilities and hopes onto you? I know it’s a lot: our moods, our energy levels, certain personality traits. 

Wait a minute, now that I think of it, what did you mean when you did that thing at the festival? Well, I know it wasn’t You-you, but c’mon. I mean, that thing with the balloon at the parade? That huge one that looked just like you, with craters and everything? How it broke free and started rolling in the street, remember that?  

I bet you do. People ran after it, but it never came back to the parade. They called it “a mishap” but you planned that, didn’t you? ––As, what, like a hint? Like a sign of things to come? Is this your idea of communicating?

I wasn’t alive when we were supposedly much closer than we are now, but I love the idea: once we needed only a ladder and a willingness to leap, and there we were, scooping cheese from your surface and hurling it back. Thank you, Calvino. I love to imagine the small earthlings, like jellyfish and children floating into you until they are caught by someone on a boat.

Apparently, the same forces drawing you away are slowing our days. We can barely feel this, of course. When does anyone ever feel when this happens, in real time? Once it was four hours from sunrise to night-time, and what were we doing then? 

Just wait, someone tried to say. They called it our honeymoon phase. We laughed. But, I wonder now, how will we explain the totality of what we felt here, when you were close enough to block the whole sun?

Inspired by Marina Koren’s Atlantic article The Moon is Leaving Us. Also, the thought of moon distances shifting inevitably calls to mind Italo Calvino’s wondrous story,  “The Distance of the Moon.”