Sunday, September 23, 2012

landscape versicolor

the colors always amaze me while driving.  the variation in color never cease to surprise me during long road trips.  right now my uncle gary and i drive east on interstate 40 away from albuquerque, new mexico toward amarillo, texas.  the map says clovis lays directly south of us.  we will soon cross the texas border.  the land here seemed bulldozed, flattened over, dotted with dark green scrub, but at five in the afternoon the grass otherwise glows yellow and gold, champagne colored.  in the south, flattened mountains streak the lower horizon, a band of deeper blue speckled with yellow and red under the pale blue and yellow sky.  signs flash golden white, blinding until we race right by them: speed limit 75.

this morning red and white and purple dominated the landscape.  

leaving flagstaff, gary and i drove east and stopped through the petrified national forest.  crystal forests they call them.  226 million years ago, arizona existed as a tropical paradise of trees and ferns and alligator-like creatures and early dinosaurs, close to the equator, pressed up against africa before continental drift.  california and nevada lay under the ocean.  and over the years trees in this area fell, sinking into sand and mud rich with silica and iron, mostly likely from volcanic activity.  after the sand and mud preserved the trees from further  decay, the silica replaced the organic material of the trees, turning the trees into quartz deposits.  when erosion pushed away the mud, the petrified trees found themselves exposed to our aeon millions of years later.

logs strewn about in the sand, or entire trees felled and petrified, broken into regular segments by erosion.  the exterior bark had become dark dark, tinged with red.  but the sagittal view of the logs revealed geode interiors, white and yellow and red and amethyst crystal whorls instead of rings.

in the distance hills, sometimes jagged and sometimes flat topped, enclose us, breaking the skyline.  the rock can be dotted with scrub, but mostly nude the rock is striated with lines of color.  driving away from the crystal forests we drive by a vista of the painted desert, white and red and purple and striped.  entire hills of red.  red like mars.  and empty.  and i had to wonder who lived here ever and how.  the land seems too hot, too inhospitable.  beautiful but merciless.

tomorrow will be green. continental reverdie.  in eastern oklahoma and arkansas the trees will thicken with the accents, and the shades of green will darken, the air become moister.  driving the foliage will increase and our vision as my uncle and i drive will be a blur of greens and blues and yellows with just touches of orange, of brown.  then the brown and lumbering mississippi river.  (i will say, “there she is!” as we drive over.)  and in the heart of dixie, in the deepest south, the browns and yellows of the grass and trees will jump forward, the heat having sucked away so much moisture and chlorophyl from the plants.  then the tennessee river.  and the trees thick, dense, the canopy creating a regular carpet held aloft.  in the distance the hills rise low and curved, soft.  the foothills of the appalachians surrounding the tennessee valley.

the old growth and dark spiked fir trees of the pacific northwest seem haunting and intimidating and spooky in comparison to the warm yellow green blanket of north alabama.  there’s something lazy and burnt out about even the landscape here.  blown out.

i will be back in ‘bama.

Friday, September 21, 2012

get me out of here

at one in the morning i found myself walking past circus circus on the las vegas strip finishing a tecate tall boy.  saturday evening after the flight to vegas and dinner and beer and finally finding our hotel, my uncle after his long flight from okinawa, japan retired for the night.  i turned to my cousin vince and said, “hey, do you want to go for a walk?”  and he said sure.

i bought a tallboy at the corner store.  in vegas no one cares about your open container and i thought, well, if nothing else this town has that.  vince, a las vegas veteran, led me down las vegas boulevard, charon down the river stix.  this is what i remember:

throngs of people walk down the streets, fascinated and aimless.  just walking to another destination.  constantly walking.  visitors do a lot of walking, which actually works in their favor, walking off all that liquor and the calories and the mindlessness of putting bills in a slot machine.  throngs of people: trashy southerners and californians and latinos and australians and the brits and euro trash speaking german and spanish and dutch.  i cannot comprehend what brought them to the desert and to las vegas.

my uncle and i walked out of the venetian on the las vegas strip and i said, “okay, well, i guess we should buy a tall boy and walk home.”  that’s what i like best about vegas i guess: one, you can drink anywhere and no one cares about your open container, and two, no one cares how trashy you look.  class in vegas seems to be non-existent, because everyone there believes they’re living like royalty for a weekend.

it’s no monaco.  and one doesn’t need to read jean baudrillard’s america to predict exactly what that crazy old coot has to say about vegas.  the bellagio amazes the crowd on the street with a huge fountain display, louis vuitton and prada and gucci and couture outlets strung about its entrances.  the venetian holds a canal with neon lined gondolas, replicas of gilt baroque paintings.  everything here is fake.  and nothing works together.

las vegas is the ugliest city i’ve ever seen.  the casinos do not work together to create a manicured landscape.  vacant lots sit next to flashy buildings.  half the city is under construction.  the streets need to be cleaned, the buses need to be more efficient, everything needs a facelift.

when my uncle and i pass a slot machine, he asks if i want to gamble a little before we leave vegas.  he does not gamble himself.  i said, “no thanks.  i’ll just take this five bucks and buy another tall boy of tecate.”

Monday, September 17, 2012

13 steps

thirteen steps from the door to the street; two hour flight from portland, oregon to las vegas, nevada; a three day car trip to huntsville, alabama, the city in which i was born; a two hour drive to birmingham, alabama; and finally a six hour flight from birmingham back to portland.  when about to embark on such an extreme journey, from the west coast to the heart of dixie, when you find yourself faced with the deep expanses of the continental divide, you truly understand exactly how far you live from the place you were born and grew up.  and i have to wonder, was i running from something?  why do i live so far from the people i love?

i arrived in portland, oregon on october 3rd, 2008, the night of the vice presidental debates four years ago.  i have lived in that pacific northwest city now for four years.  i’ve traveled back to alabama, too; i’ve visited my family there several times over the years, making the six hour flight there and back with lay overs in houston, and dallas, and phoenix.  but this is different.  this trip does not following the expedient logic of flights to atlanta or birmingham and home.

the plane takes off from portland, the sun setting in the west over the hills, the bright light at the end of the day and the end of the continent striking in through the oval windows of the plane.  dots and saucers of white appear on the opposite wall of the cabin as we begin to lift off; ufo’s psinning and bouncing above the head of the other passangers.  out the window to my left we rise up and i observe the inter-costal mountains far to the end of the willamette valley, the river directly beneath us.  we fly north then turn east and i see mount st. helen, brown and rounded, exploded, and another whiter volcano past that.  mount jefferson perhaps?

we fly over mount hood: dull, forest green half way up the slopes then brown to the peak with only patches of shiny glacial white now on this summer day.  on a clear afternoon like this, i would have seen from the west side of portland mount hood floating over the east half of the city, a hazy mirage in the distance, a promise of warm, dry weather.  i’m leaving portland during at the very end of the season, with one more week of clear, beautiful weather promised to the northwest.

let me try to explain why i’m on a flight to las vegas.  it’s a little confusing.  my cousin recently found a job in wyoming.  he’s moving from atlanta to jackson hole, and has driven his father’s car with all his belonging from the southeast to central northern united states.  i was six when my uncle moved to japan.  he has a wife and children there, and though they do not have any immediate plans to move to the states, he bought a car here last year that he keeps in alabama for the trips that his family makes every year or so from japan.  my cousin has driven his father’s car from wyoming to las vegas where my uncle and i are meeting him.  my cousin will then drive back north and my uncle and i will drive his car back to alabama.  make sense yet?

in short, my uncle needs someone to drive with him from the southwest back to alabama.  i have a lot of vacation time accrued, no other plans, and a constant desire to see more of the country.  so i said, sure, why not?  drive from last vegas all the way across the southwest through texas and most of the southeast to alabama.  i’ll get to see the country and my family back in alabama.

today i found myself nervous.  i did not understand why i am making this very, very, very long trip; why am i driving across the united states.  i did not want to fly.  i did not want to spend two days in las vegas.  my cat is sick and just wants to lay around with me, and i just wanted to lay around in bed, watch cartoons and read.  i just wanted to stay home.  it was too late.  the southeast calls to me.  in other words, the plane tickets had already been purchased.

i’ve never seen the hoover dam.  i’ve never seen the grand canyon.  i’ve never traveled across the southwest united states.  and i constantly miss my family.  i love madre.  my sister and i are closer than any other pair of beings living on opposite sides of a continent.  my father loves me greatly and wants to make the drive from atlanta, georgia to alabama to see me while i am in the region.

i’m repeating this litany because really, if i love my family so much, why did i move so far away from them?  while i find my family integral to my identity and personality, i found myself thinking today that perhaps i needed to be away from them.  if i say that i loved birmingham for so many reasons, i still found it imperative to move.  today i started to worry that in moving away from alabama i really just attempted to move away from all the problems i had there.

these worries seem unfounded.  i did inheret a constant anxiety from my parents if no other personality trait, but if there’s one thing i’ve learned from my time with friends it’s that sometimes you have to take the leap, let whatever happens happen, and wake up the next morning to say, “that was interesting” or “that was that.”

just like i expect to say, “well, that was las vegas.”

Saturday, September 1, 2012


john sent me a text message asking to meet him at maui’s.  i found myself last there with him and mikiel this past saturday, late in the evening.  at some point john demanded that i retrieve him another beer.

i said, “do you think this is that scene in mad men when the parents just lay on the couch and the kids just pour bloody marys for them all morning?”

there was a pause, as if he and mikiel had not heard me.

he said, “yes...  i like this song.”

mikiel responded, “i also like this song.”

they seemed dazed, out of it.  the flow of the conversation bucked from under me, disturbed by the music, our concentration interrupted by the alcohol.  the moment seemed uncanny or uncomfortable as the space our conversation had created failed momentarily until we found our footing again.

i’ve been told that i’m sometimes hard to follow because my thoughts jump around and sometimes there doesn’t seem to be a connection between one thing and another.  i believe all the connections are there; they’re just not laid out on the table.  how long would my stories be if spelled out everything, processed everything?

i’ve been told that i talk a lot.

i’ve been told that i have logorrhea, too.

my favorite people can keep up.  my favorite people demand that i keep up with them.  smart, clever, funny.  even we end up talking around each other, not quite listening or understanding, or perhaps hearing but not understanding until later.

i told ryan our conversations sometimes feel like dialogue written by tao lin.

via gchat, i wrote to ryan:

“i think the blog post i wrote makes me sound crazy.  
i need to edit it.  
edit the insanity out of it.”

“a book on existentialism would fuck me up.

i don’t know how i feel about the tao lin thing
but i’ll take it
because sometimes he’s funny
and lemme read it and measure your craziness”

“i like tao lin and existentialism.  how would it fuck you up?  it’s a humanism.”

“i’d start to fall into an existential k-hole
don’t make me go back!

i don’t actually make ryan do anything he doesn’t want to.  i certainly don’t force any intellectual exercise upon him.  but he is a smart and clever guy.

the letters that my old friend writes to me are not intellectual, but i also know how smart he is, and always enjoy the letters i receive from him.  the way we talk to each other differs from the late night bar conversations i find myself lost in every night with john and mikiel; it differs from the intimate, personal, quick and witty conversations ryan and i share all day over the internet as we’re working.  the space between drew and i is greater; the time between the call and response longer.  our conversations build like floes of ice, glacially moving and building.

in one letter he told me of his parents’ new country home in rural alabama and his experience reading absalom, absalom! (one of my favorite novels.)

in the next letter i wrote of a southern obsession with history and my ambition to write a novel.

in his most recent letter he writes:

“I think you’re right: as Southerners, we must be obsessed with history and time.  There is something literary in our blood, however wise it may or may not be.  I’m sure you already know how difficult writing a novel can be.  And you’re right, too, that it would be much easier if you had a quiet, scheduled place to go for a while.  I don’t know that moving back in with your parents would be the best option, considering the nagging and judgments that accompany prolonged stays with one’s parents.  But perhaps you could go stay with my parents at Mulberry for a while.  It’s very quiet there, and the countryside is beautiful.  I’ve told you (I think) that I’d like to turn the place into a sort of Yaddo, but who knows if that could ever happen.”

our goals and projects differ; our lives have taken us to different cities.  however, in many ways we’re cut from the same cloth, and our letters to each other easily maintain and build a strange closeness to each other, extraneous and yet influential to the quotidian life i need.

if silence provides those moments of meditation that allows one to collect one’s thoughts, put one’s self in order, escape the chaos of each day, then i would say the moments when we talk and converse sustain and fertilize, too.  i need all of it.  i need all the different layers and levels.  and i need more, too.