The papers went bananas the next day. They knew it was kids at that point. They were zeroing in. All it'd take is somebody to squeal at school or be overhead. And I was sort of a hero cuz I'd gotten the bell. It was whispered. But I also knew that they'd get me if it had some time, and I treated the while thing very seriously, as if I were a secret agent. So what could I do? I decided to bring the bell back. But I couldn't bring it back to city hall. They'd get me then for sure. What to do? I was worried Charlie would say something cuz he was so scatter-brained, he'd probably already forgotten that you weren't supposed to take the friggin thing. He was like that. So what I decided was to bring the bell back to the kind of ship it would've belonged. I mean, it came from a bigger ship, and maybe if they found it on one, everybody would be happy in some way. I wanted them to think lots of different things.
Pilfered relic appears on the Ageyev! 100 plastic lobsters recovered in Church's shed! Youth interviewed by detectives, in spectacular crime wave! Owner of local diner, Sparks Lockridge says he counts cost of stolen ashtrays at over ninety dollars! Mrs. O'Heany speaks tonight about young peoples' appreciation of the arts, at eight in the gymnasium! "What we have here," says mayor Bleaker interviewed earlier today, "is a group of very determined mischievous individuals who have no respect for this town's heritage." The mayor was commenting on the theft of the Powle Bell hanging outside City Hall, which was brought here by Leicester's founder more than 400 years ago. The bell disappeared one week ago, and mysteriously reappeared last night on the Russian ship the Ageyev, docked at Norton Fish Company for repairs. Sources of this paper have information that a snapshot of J. Norton was found along with the bell. Police chief Williamson says he has no comment on this information, and that Norton is in no way implicated in the theft. "We're looking at pranksters, that's who we think did it, sick jokers," says Williamson, "and maybe even sympathetic to the communists." Well, that's when there still were communists.
I see a thousand ships rise up and float about me. They breach the water and glide, along with the music from the busted galley, slipping over my leg into the expanse, from the start, going to the end, and staring hard at them, I see sailors and fishermen waving distractedly, with chiseled grins accustomed to months yes even years away from home in the cavernous belly of the whale. Radio Man tells me they are fixing a hole in the ocean. No, maybe not him, somebody singing through the mouth of the speaker, through the waves. I think it's the Beatles. Not on the ships, on the radio. The ships, my god, look how many, a swarm, and they're playing games on the deck like shuffleboard and craps and monopoly. And they're not fishing anymore, not that they need to, once you're dead you don't need to fish anymore.
The risen ships drag up seaweed, coral, treasure, bones, tires, broken lobster traps, abandoned bales of drugs and ancient crates of whiskey (both dropped in fear), rejected manuscripts, motor homes, pompons, frozen fish sticks, union leaders, and subscription magazines with Gibson girls. All of this and more.
I'm lying with my head to the north, which is said to be very good.
When I'm listening to voices, like now on the radio, and I'm sleepy, nearly dozing, like now on the boat, I can hear the concert voices make, bending together in a masculine-feminine duality, the way famous piano pieces are played with left and right hands, black and white keys, alternating major and minor scales. Let me tell you, I had to take piano lessons at a certain point. Part of what I mentioned as that middle class idea of sophistication, shit, we all know the piano is civilized, enough to soothe a savage blue collar, right? That's a bad topic to get on. I don't want to get on that topic. Piano is better. Piano is not so much a topic as an instrument I suppose. I have always had a great fondness for pianos. I don't mind admitting that. I envied masters, like I would keep a picture of Glenn Gould in my room for a while (even though my folks hated him, but you see he was a sort of piano rebel) until I grew out of the piano or the piano grew out of me. The bench was always very slick, so that you could slide across it, and the fact you could lift the top of the bench and find sheet music gave me pleasure on afternoons when I'd have to practice Joplin's Ragtime (no, not Janis), or the theme to Doctor Zhivago as preludes to the true work, those indomitable fortresses of piano, Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart, as well as the Russian composers my parents touted proudly. And sometimes I would hammer thoughtlessly, imagining I were going to be a new Thelonius Monk, cuz, really, I could play with clunky elegance. But I was too young to grow a goatee.
I'm thinking of other things. Drifting, I guess you could call it. What's wrong with that? There are places which are hinted at, in retrospect.
You know when I first toured the Witch Museum in Salem I was disturbed and shocked by the guy, yes the only accused male of the atrocity I think, who was slowly crushed to death with stones. I had a recurring dream, no, nightmare where popular cartoon characters slowly crushed me with stones and I would wake up in a sweat. I'd had a bad bout of bronchitis. That's a good reason not to fall asleep, this place, that dream, I think I could have that dream again, but I'm too tired for the bronchitis. (I can see Deputy Dawg putting pressure on the winch, that bastard.)
In the start we drifted after the engines flooded and the scuppers were jammed by netting and jackets and drop cloth, so the water seemed to pile up, you know? Nowhere for the water to go but into the hold, and down into the engine, and into the other places deep in the boat, in the crevices and places men cannot fit. Oh there are places, although people don't speak of them often, and why should they? When this happens, with the water, a boat is doomed. As we were. But! A giant wave picked us right up, as if we were a model ship like not a real honest to god twenty ton ship and dropped us on the barbs of a rocky pin cushion. If I could pluck out the granite pins I would use them to sew the boat together. Everything would be OK again. Bow and stern are lonely so far apart, the way fishermen get lonely on the land, which is funny and doesn't make much sense, but I think you'll have to accept this even though it may seem trite. So many things seem trite these days maybe cuz of that damn radio! Oh I can't take one more minute!
If this were funny it would be laughable, if this were laughable I could rumble with a huge rolling guffaw. Instead, I'm looking at the deck, averting my eyes from the water, away from the radio, although with the fog everything is indistinct, as if detail were a quality you could lower. But the deck is close enough to make out. One of the rough thin rubber tiles that kept us from slipping on the wet shell is curling up and I see a peek of metal below: there's the boats solid shiny self. And when I feel I'm becoming acquainted with some interior formerly covered, decorated, I feel a rush of well being, knowing that I'm getting to the bottom, and don't doubt me when I tell you that I scrape the paint absent mindedly off whatever I can cuz my curiosity is somewhat insatiable. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to claim that this sort of absent minded scraping can apply to people as well. Rubbed raw. When someone's angry you see who they really are, you know, it's a sort of unrestrained nakedness. Maybe saying nakedness is misleading cuz even without clothes many folks can still be living under layers and layers. Like strata. I remember that from Earth Science, strata is the same kind of rock in a layer, among other layers. But you know what? I looked that up one day and it also means a layer, in society, of people who are similar. So I don't think my analogy is off the mark. Because, if you have rock strata and people strata, then you've got to have personal strata don't you? Well admit it, I'm right aren't I?
This is the sort of thinking Sal made fun of me for, God rest Sal, he didn't have too many strata if you get me, and that's one of the reasons I always liked Sal. In off times on trips Sal and I would play cards, gin rummy, first we'd play to 500, then 1500, then 5000 points, we'd fix it so the whole trip was a huge game of rummy and we'd bet too. At first we'd go a buck a point, so if he were at 500, to my 350, well, you see what I mean. The difference was important, and costly. Then we'd start betting more valuable things, like, money isn't too important in the 4th week out, you're thinking more like cigarettes and cheap novels, those things we could pass the time with, and we'd certainly already watched all the video tapes 3 times over, although one of my favorites was The Killing by Stanley Kubrick, and I could probably be content watching it over and over. The movie is about a bunch of guys who rob a race track. It has Sterling Hayden in it, who was so very good in Dr. Strangelove. I've heard he liked to sail too. Anyway, Sal and me used to like to argue, oh we'd argue about Sterling Hayden, we'd argue all the time about anything. And I'd play it smug after a while, when Sal was getting hot under the collar, he had no problem yelling, that's for sure. I'd say, Well Sal I think you might be right on this one Sal I think you've got the bull by the horns fer sure I mean work camps for people on welfare is a great idea you should run for office Sal you really should you're wasting those damn fine ideas on the fish Sal nothing we need more than herding up already mad people and forcing them to work for less than minimum wage Sal. And he'd go berserk, trying to show how he was right about this that or the other. And if I changed the words a little and argue the same thing he was arguing, but against him, he'd change around completely just to keep it going. Then I'd bring this reversal up, that I'd trapped him, that he was simply arguing because he was a stubborn old mule, and he'd deny that too. Sal was a great knucklehead. His wide set eyes and curly black hair. And he was short and usually smelled bad and he had a way of rolling his own cigarettes which was a ballet of fingers.
I hope to make great returns, on the island, catch or no catch, I am, after all, ambitious and still young, relatively young, one has to go out into the world champing at the bit, bite the bullet, go to the beat of one's own personal drummer, oh there are many more ways of saying it, some which elude me right now. I would like a procession with flowers, a red carpet, adulation and girls and old women weeping in hysterical fits of joy, men shrieking with thanks for my rescue, when I step back on the island. My leg thanks me, I thank me, the boats in the harbor sound their horns thanking me. The light house gleams in celebration. Birds alight on my shoulder and that whale of Jonah's jumps waves in girlish glee.
If I'd only been keeping track of time. They give time over the radio, but as I've mentioned, there is a certain amount of relativity involved in my not moving.
If I'd been keeping track I could calculate... No, this is ridiculous. There is a kind of down-to-earth wisdom that says a watched pot doesn't boil, and the more often people in uncomfortable situations check the time the slower time seems to go. When I was working in a factory, for a couple of months, assembling little red wagons (this is unquestionably true, as funny as it may sound) putting on the wheels, I would be listening to a walkman, which was absolutely the wrong thing to do. You know why? Because time gets split into 45 minute increments, when you're listening to ninety minute tapes, with each flip of the tape I became aware that only 45 minutes had elapsed. I looked at the other workers, with their sunken eyes, barely conscious, and thought they were nuts for not keeping entertained or something -- that they didn't please themselves with a little music while making the little red wagons. Well. After a month I knew they were right, indeed, because the only way to work an assembly line is to turn your head off. I wish I had a switch, in back, like a toggle, with a small green and red light, so that I could flip it back one way then to the other, from the red to the green, the green to the red. It is possible that I would flip it to the red side, here, on the boat. This is not an uncommon thought, people sometimes have this imaginative switch in terrible situations. Not to say this is really terrible, hell, I can conceive of worse. But it's just bad enough that I think of the imaginary switch. So what gets me about this idea of the switch is, when you've turned it to the red, so that your brain is 'off', how on earth would you ever turn it back to green? I mean, look, everybody knows you need your brain to work your arms and legs and eyes and stuff like that.
My leg has washed away, has become a fish and swims happily in the endless waters of cold and warm currents, chopping waves of bitter salt, gulls navigating their own empire staring into the vast place of once easy catches, and I can hear an accordion, like a soundtrack, as the leg swims south to bask on the decks and wharves of Florida, being fed tidbits of popcorn, peanuts, ham sandwiches, by tourists who amass on the shore and are ready to dive in like lemmings. I can't feel a damn thing.
At the factory what I did was take a metal pole, slide it through the holes in the bottom of the red wagon, and then take two wheels and put them on the pole using small cotter pins, and finally hammer on tiny hubcaps. You'd think one would be proud to have helped make a little red wagon, but I couldn't have cared less. The pay was bad, and the coffee worse. I don't think they wanted us to have too much caffeine, so they cut their break room coffee with something uncoffee -- you don't want anybody to get the jitters there out on the factory floor, shit, there could be an accident, one of the tiny wheels might go flying outta my hand and poke somebody's eye out. It could turn into a Rube Goldberg machine of disaster. (Do you know who Rube Goldberg was? He was a cartoonist. He designed silly machines like you see in loony tunes, where say, the cat is finally pulled through a small hole in the fence by a distant door opening, which spills a pail of water, which fills a cup on wheels on a track, which runs down by gravity to a platform, where the water fills a cup on a lever, and the lever moves to strike a match, and the match ignites a candle, and the candle burns a rope, and the rope holds a twenty ton block which comes crashing down, and the block is attached to another rope, which has been secretly tied to the cat's tail by a mouse or a dog or a small yellow bird. Boom! Cat gets yanked through fence and up a tree through the pulley that held the weight, and onto the candle or into a bottle, or a meat grinder or even hit by the twenty ton weight or some such thing. What I always liked about these devices was the slow way they worked, while the cat was unaware. Not only were they intricate, but they were irrevocable. That might be part of the phrase, Rube Goldberg machine, like dominoes collapsing, the cat's fate is sealed as soon as the rope is tied.)
There was a song I remember, about rain, sung whenever the weather got bad. "It's raining, it's pouring, the old man is snoring -- he bumped his head, went to bed, and couldn't get up in the morning." This goes through my mind every time it begins to rain. Yes, every single time. And the point is, it has started to rain. Nothing better than a driving cold rain to soothe a ship wreck. Perhaps you, Radio Man, have sensed my facetious air. If this were an air then you must have smelled it, but being on the radio, I doubt you can smell through such a small speaker. No matter. When I'm holding my head up, out of the crook of my arm, which has comforted me the time my leg pained me, before it was gone, with my head up I can drink some of the rain, and I've realized I am very thirsty. Unfortunately, this rain seems to have some spray too, some ocean mixed in. Now one of the first things you learn is not to drink salt water. It screws up your whole body, the salt I mean. But I was so thirsty, and I don't think there was too much ocean in the rain. (What if things were turned upside down? What if it rained salt water and the ocean were a huge lake, what then?)
I lay on my back and let my face soak up the water and I feel like I'm drowning. Do you know what it's like to drown? To have the water around you as an infinite blanket, to have it melt and move slightly with you, as if your every cell were crying out to it, to the water beyond a temporary barrier called skin, and seeking reunion, a sense of euphoria sweeps through the bones and muscle and your head gets quiet. The image of drowning has been as appealing to me as the small switch. Many nights I've wanted to swim out as far as I can, farther than I would be able to swim back. This strange desire for annihilation didn't come out of misery, but out of a kind of nothingness, out of boredom and a need for adventure, cuz, when you get to it, that's the biggest adventure there is right? Like, adventure is confronting what you don't know, so that you can know. Radio Man understands this tack, I can tell. There is a certain tone in people's voices, a subsonic cadence that relays this understanding. And once I almost did drown, when I was very small, once when swimming off a dock near my house, and maybe those couple of minutes laying on the bottom in the sand is what I've always been trying to get back to, traveling around looking for some impossible solitude. I've frightened myself with that thought, but not too badly. Like a Rube Goldberg machine, there is a certain absurd order. The rope is pulled by the weight of water poured from a genetic cup, sliding down a track, freeing fish, pushing me around the island, onto a ship, and into the belly of a whale. The ribs of the whale form a cathedral of bony beauty, light occasionally flashing through the sinews as if stained glass, the incessant pounding of a heart the size of a cadillac a tattoo for invisible oars. The rhythm makes us go faster. Feeling it up through our feet, the thumping, through the ends of our fingers, yes, the monster lives and careens through the waters, and I rescind my earlier belief a whale swallowed Jonah up, by looking now I see it in full view as something much more devilish and uncommon, no belly could be as wide and alien, a fantastic landscape of deep flesh, a leviathan, the end consequence of Rube Goldberg, an invention of necessary intricacy.
I've heard the noise it makes, out in the fog.
The beast that swallowed Jonah did come back, Sal told me about it.
He said in 1817 a society in Boston, a society that studied the fishes and the water, formed a committee to study the sea serpent seen repeatedly in the harbor of Leicester. Twelve witnesses! REPORT/ of a/ Committee/ of the/ LINNEAN SOCIETY OF NEW ENGLAND/ relative/ to a large marine animal/ supposed to be/ A SERPENT/ seen near Leicester, Massachusetts,/ in August 1817,/ Twelve Witnesses! Their names: Amos Story, Solomon Allen, Eppes Ellery, Wm. H. Foster, Matthew Gaffney, James Mansfield, John Johnston, Wm. B. Pearson, Sewall Toppan, Robert Bragg, Wm. Somerby, and Elkanah Finney. Sal gave me the little book, that's how the book started. The beast was seen for twelve or thirteen days, one creature only, one witness a day I guess, before it moved northward. No legs, fins, gills or mane were observed. It slithered I tell you, that's what they told us, in the book, that it undulated, that it had smooth skin (two said rough but forget them), and it was nearly a hundred and twenty feet long! There was great unanimity of opinion as to the monster's extreme lateral flexibility. A-ha! Flexibility is important. Let us take close note of that fact. They dubbed the new creature, the serpent, something scientific and Latin. That makes it authentic. New names make hard to believe things more acceptable. The committee stood over a portfolio of drawings done with a fine point and hues of brown. But there were developments. Better the beast remain testimony of twelve witnesses than thoroughly investigated. I know what it was despite developments. What else could it have been? There is only one. Whether or not it lived or not lived. What lives in the water? What undulates? When at rest, sometimes in rapid motion, it was seen to have eyes like an ox, bright and unbiased. Terse and vigorous beyond description. Evidence of very serious consideration. What it was, was not a whale. No, I'm sorry. So to speak. It was the beast with cavernous belly. And there, inside, Jonah sat, Jonah and me. Me and Radio Man. Two kids poking and fluttering around Loblolly cave found a 3 foot snake, a black snake. Were they scared and shocked? They called their father who killed it with a pitch fork. Anomalies without new names, in the guise of older things, killed with a pitchfork in late afternoon, are snakes or serpents, or savage. Regardless, someone wanted to buy it, dead even, maybe hoping this serpent and the monster of the waters, Jonah's former home, were blood brethren. Surely local pothouse pundits speculated between songs of Cape Cod Shanty (oh Cape Cod girls they have no combs, heave a-way, heave a- way, they comb their hair with cod fish bones, heave a-way, heave a-way, oh Cape Cod boys they have no sleds, they slide down hill on cod fish heads...) and these drunkards and ruminators decided, yes, the sea beast had come to Leicester to drop eggs and this snake was a mere babe of a sea serpent. Here's the part I like. Not that it changes my mind any about the monster, but only tells of strange reasoning endemic to the island; the smaller snake was summarily dissected and a report written, speaking of the obvious similarities to its supposed mother, and this report sent off to shock the civilized world. It was quickly seen by several smug European doctors who said the new species was nothing but a common black snake. Scoffing ensued. Doubt was fostered. Testimony forgotten in the face of the found snake, by the boys, killed by the pitchfork of the boys' father, in Loblolly cove one afternoon. Yet one conniving sea dog, a Cpt Rich of Boston, fitted an expedition to set out to track and kill the great monster. As proof of the island's integrity. For several days they skipped along the coast into the bay without seeing it. Why, they had to bring back something, don't you think? So they snagged a 700 pound tuna, advertised it as the sea serpent caught, and charged people to see the thing. Word spread. Rich claimed he had no part in deception. Unfortunately for his reputation as a fisherman this was completely believed by the public. Couldn't tell a tuna from a monster. Combined with the boys snake, opinion of the islanders intelligence went pretty low. Not that it hadn't been low before. Like the rhyme, Lynn Lynn city of sin never come out the way you went in. Cuz you could do all sorts of things in Leicester, all sorts. Really, it was founded by criminals and pederasts, murderers. So not thought of folk from Leicester as real bright if you follow me. Not in a way the more civilized world appreciated anyhow. The sea serpent, monster, beast, wasn't seen again in the waters, or out, and if it was, never spoken of for fear of ridicule. Well, I would've listened. Intently. The way I'm listening now and have heard I don't know what. To listen to them not simply cuz I like those kinds of stories, but I do. Plus, I want to hear people's voices dip with the fantastic notions. Can you believe it? Stranger things have happened.
Me and Jonah and Radio Man and Koo Koo and Cpt Rich and Sal sit waiting. We're always waiting. So much waiting. When I think of the amount of time I've spent in my life waiting I am staggered. We could work it out with some simple math. I must admit I'm waiting to be rescued, picked up by the whale, the serpent, the monster, what have you. If I could throw off the damn winch I could leap into the jaws. Jump off the boat, off the boat into the water, cold, waiting for me like I'm waiting for it. Nope, hold on, I think I could be misinterpreting. I am waiting for the captain, yes, that's right. He's coming back. I'm sure of it. How can I be so sure, Radio Man asks. I'll tell you. You're playing Devil's advocate on this aren't you? I can tell cuz I've got a gut feeling. That's right. In my gut, right above the pancreas. That's where sureness is felt. It's pumped out. Sureness flows upward. Maybe not above the pancreas, maybe it's right near the appendix. I still have mine. When you have your appendix removed you can no longer tell with your gut. OK. Got it? Since Eng and Chang were connected by a tube from gut to gut, they could tell twice as much. I trust my instincts. You have to. Alright, you don't have to, but I think it's better to. Wait. I've had an awful thought, that comes over me not from my appendix but from the place in my skull. The place in my skull, don't get me started. I'm thinking of the fog. You've got to understand. When you can't see, you can't see. What would happen if I were the captain, in that little dingy, and I was paddling toward shore, away from the boat, in the correct direction, using the light house as a point of reference, and then the fog rolled over me? If I were the captain I would continue to paddle, hopefully continuing in a straight line. But this is ridiculous, because you can't paddle in a straight line in so small a boat, with so small a paddle, with so many waves, so large, and pushing you here and there, out of line, out of reference. Like going up when you think you're going down, going east when you think you're going west, Jesus, the captain could've paddled right by me on his way to the Banks. Out into deep sea. Towards the middle of the Atlantic. Hah! This would seem to be a sobering thought. It would appear this kind of thought takes away hope. But I am not deterred. I think the captain would use his compass, at least I believe he had a small compass, that he took with him. Who would leave without their friggin compass? What idiot would paddle off in the open sea without a stupid compass? Oh Christ. Oh Jesus. He would. If anybody would it would be that moron. He'd forget. He's probably out there right now, miles to my east and panting away thinking only a few more miles now and then I'll bump right into the island. Sure. That's what the buffoon is doing right this second. I can't believe it. And you, on the radio, you're mocking my defeat aren't you? I can hear it, don't deny it. All this time you've been keeping me distracted from what's really happening, the full impact of my plight. I can't believe it. I swear on somebody's grave that when I get back to Leicester Radio Man I'm gonna punch you out man, I mean it. Fucking radio.
When my friend George had his appendix out he didn't feel anything worth mentioning. It was as easy as a tooth, maybe easier.
There was a story I'd heard about some guy who made a raft out of dead bloated bodies, and I don't remember where I heard it, but that image gave me a kind of morbid thrill. So here's what I was suddenly thinking. Of taking Sal, Joe, Billy, John, and tying them up together and using some flat long thing, something, as a paddle, and going for shore. Fuck the compass, I have my gut. And I'd have theirs below me. Of course this won't work. There are other grisly scenarios I've been contemplating while talking to you Radio Man. Do you want to hear them? Sure you do. Nothing like being squeamish to make the grisly that much more enticing. I mean, morbidity is not mere fascination at this point with me. OK. I was thinking of getting rid of the leg. The pain seems to come and go, but doesn't let me out from under the winch, what I'm saying is, removing the leg altogether. I've thought about it. I've got this small buck knife in a pouch at my belt see, and, well, you get the picture. There are far more extreme examples. Much more far, much more intense. Done by people more desperate. Would I saw off the leg to be instantly transported back to the island so I can drink beer and punch out you Radio Man? Maybe I would. That's a difficult question, if it were posed to me, what would I do. How far up would I have to cut. Would I pass out. You know, those sorts of things. Maybe I shouldn't be thinking about those things. Maybe I should be thinking of something nice, something harmless, something hopeful and yes maybe being cheery would do me a world of good. Let's see. Something cheery. Nope, sorry, can't think of a single cheery thing. I've only been laying here contemplating making a raft out of corpses and pushing my best friend down the stairs and some poor slob swallowed by a great fish. Think of something happy, he says, why are you so glum, he says. Radio Man I thought you understood me, I thought we had an understanding, that we came from different directions, sure, but we met in the same place. In the center. Somewhere, wherever the center is. On the radio maybe. I could be on the radio, I could do what you do. But now there's no point since you have betrayed me, our understanding is not an understanding. I don't think it's quite a misunderstanding yet. I believe it hasn't gotten to that stage. But it could. Why are you insisting I think happy? What is it to you anyway, like, what's in it for you hunh? There are certain facades. They make me tired, like I want to lie down in the street with my head in the crook of my arm and a winch on my leg and I want to moan, oh I want to moan about it like an old woman. Do you ever feel this way? When you've had enough of it? Then I would like a drink. Perhaps this should be addressed. When you get a pocket full of money, cold cash, in your pocket, and you're waiting to go out again you really want to spend it as fast as you can. There is no facade in this, in spending money drinking. The situation is cut and dry. You could end up laying in the street anyway. Sal has, I've seen him. Radio Man has, but would he admit it. Do you drink to moan, or do you drink to forget, or do you drink to recall, or do you drink cuz there is an oppressive boredom bearing down, or do you drink cuz you're excited. When I was working construction there was this guy, a writer, named Henry, and he and I got into this habit. We were not thinking cheery. Not happy. But we were happy. Every Monday we would name a famous death. A death that out-did other deaths. He named the deaths of famous writers, since he said, writers have the best deaths. If either of us couldn't think of a counter death to the said demise, we'd have to top it later. So it was a sort of game. Dylan Thomas drank 50 or 60 Guinnesses and almost as much whiskey, went home to die, decided he should go back to the bar for more, afterward he crawled into bed and slowly slipped away. Didn't Sylvia Plath gas herself? The Japanese writer Mishima gutted himself and then had his head clumsily chopped off after taking a general or something hostage. Hemingway was always fascinated by guns. Didn't Kawabata gas himself too? Malcom Lowry chased his wife around the house with a broken bottle, and after she ran away he took pills. Rimbaud had syphilis and his leg was amputated, and he died. Camus, car crash. Kerouac bled wine spontaneously. No one really knows what happened to Poe, maybe he just got real sick. Maupassant died in a madhouse thinking the flies were licking the salt out of his brain. Gogol starved himself after realizing he was not the Russian messiah. Shelly drowned in a boat accident. We'd do this for hours, we would, and Henry was very good at it, the writers being his favorite but he'd stray. And I couldn't keep up with him, was fascinated by his fascination. And I wonder how I got on this topic, was either the fact of nothappy thoughts, which sometimes make you pretty happy, and that damnable topic of drinking. You see a pattern? Well, take it from Henry, there was one. But whether it was chicken or egg first, I can't tell you that, and for all of Henry's morbid tidbits I don't think he could tell you either. Who could?
When I think of water I see forms and motions and places taking shape to be eradicated in only a second as if they never were and never could be, yet, I have kept them with me, the people places and things, as they rise and fall over the eternity I've been on deck, here, with my dear friend the winch, and I'll tell you something, but you have to promise to keep it low key, that is, to yourself to a degree, I'm not denying you anything. What happens, as the waves rise and fall, and the songs on the radio begin and end, and the fog wanes and thickens, and the light house lights and spins, and the captain paddles and paddles, and the fish bite and swim, and when I'm holding my face in my hands with my eyes shut I feel a large space that's decaying like greasy sandpaper, as if my feet were being bent backwards so they touched the top of my head, and I could go away for a long time to a cold place, where the birds chirp and fly and the trees grow imperceptibly and telephones rot on piles of trash and I wouldn't be bothered. I have certain obligations and I intend to fulfill them. After this, the water of forms and places and motion which tickles a rocky harbor far distant keeps the people and places solid and intact best way it can, as chords strumming away from me, no longer near me, possibly I could be safe from the decay of people and part of natural decay that is a much more noble way of going far away.
I have gone far away but I keep coming back. You may not consider going far away in a boat going far at all. Like, you have to go to Nepal or something to be thought of someone who travels. Cuz then it has foreign qualities that you can bring back in token forms, loose change, trinkets. But when you go across water, the shapes and forms are what you take with you, and you leave them in the water, and you leave them in you, but you can't exactly hand this over to anyone and say see I've gone far away and come back.
I have often dreamt of the ultimate going away.
There are moments here when I am sure.
I often looked forward to going away. My parents never wanted to, still don't. Although my father finally did. The big going away. I'll ask this gull to deliver a message, I'm positive it can fly that far, up or down, sideways or to the very dark bottom of the water, underneath me, that's right, under the boat, not under the rocks, I don't think he's gone to hell, he's gone to what is it, purgatory. Mmm, there's a concept I've always enjoyed. I'll write a small note on the back of a crumpled receipt found in the bottom of my pocket, a receipt for something, yes, bought weeks, months, years ago. I'll give the note to the gull. No, I'll tie the note onto the gull's leg, like they did with carrier pigeons before they went extinct. Or was that homing pigeons? Some damn pigeon. And this will be fitting, to tie the note to the pigeon, and have the pigeon deliver the note to my father in purgatory because he always hated pigeons so much. But it's not a pigeon, it's a gull! What will the note say? Aw, it doesn't matter I guess.
The gull goes, laughing, and I can see its wings moving in the air, struggling against the wind, which pushes and pulls the water, much the way a winch would with rope, or cable, or something else. That's what waves are, wind for your eye. If they hit the boat hard enough the boat will fall off the rocks and sink down like tons of steel, which is what it is. At the bottom I would be safe from what's up here, and no more radio, as far as I know, radio underwater makes no sound, or very little sound I imagine. Take that Radio Man! Your grasp cannot clutch, through waves and fishes, and I do believe the electricity of you would become quite extinguished.
I am afraid if the water touches me I will be electrocuted. Every time it swoops over the edge, I flinch. There's a pulse that goes right up my spine, oh, my poor spine, I think it would like a little vacation, somewhere warm, somewhere with no water, inside the country, in the middle of the desert, with other spines, and I believe I could simply divide myself into parts to disperse, this whole experience seems to be about dispersal. I'm being pulled apart. Soon there will only be a quivering brain left on the deck. Flattened. White and smooth. Pecked at by gulls.
I vacillate on this topic.
The air I breathe has become smoke, congested, full of particles. They could crystallize, the way it happens with snow, tiny bits catching ice. I know this shouldn't distract me. If I get distracted at this point where would I be?
Look, everyone has bad days. Nothing seems to go well, as if the day were sabotaged by unseen forces. I'm not suggesting a conspiracy, of hushed planning, or organized destruction, just that, hmm, it often seems that way. I've had a few. Now, these days don't make me suspicious, they're simply something you have to work through one frustrating step at a time. That's what I'd like to think anyhow. There was one bad day, and this was one was sort of exemplary. Not like there was anything tragic, not to me, but little things. That's what I think makes it bad, they're are many small moments. So I wake up, on a Sunday, I like to sleep late, and I'm gonna make myself coffee and it's all gone even though I'd bought it the day before, and I look in the filter of the machine, and there's a 1/2 pound of wet and used coffee, which my roommate must've drank, but I'm thinking, that's almost a couple of pots of coffee, coffee for like 10 people, in one day, between the time of buying it and the next morning. You'd get a seizure drinking that much coffee, really. But he must've cuz the coffee bag is empty on top of the trash, and I have no coffee to drink now and I feel very grumpy. So I've got to go to the store, on Sunday morning, which I hate to do. I don't want to sit somewhere and have someone make me coffee, I wanted to make it myself. I go to the store. The aisles are maddening. I'm grumpy. Very fat people seem to be everywhere, like, this store, it has aisles and aisles of cookies, soda, chips, frozen pizzas, cakes and pies, crackers, cosmetics, stationery, but not much in the way of real food you know. This makes me more angry. I'm not sure why, but large stores have always made me mad. But I want to get out of there, quickly. I get the coffee, some other things too. The lines are enormous. I'm disheartened. I'm mad that I'm here in the first place. And of course the express line I'm in has a problem, some kind of screw up, a mile away from me, down the long line. I glance at my watch, but try not to. 10, 15 minutes go by of me in the line. I take a chance, cuz I want to, need to go; I have to get out of there or I'll go nuts, I think. And I feel a bit guilty, thinking some things in line, that everyone there is so fat and ugly and they smell bad too. I'm thinking what a miserable lot humans are in general. But I'm in the line so long I don't even feel guilty about this anymore. I jump to another line which appears to be moving faster. This can be a big mistake sometimes since there is this pattern, especially on your bad day, when, like, cosmic forces have aligned to make you regret getting up at all, a mistake since you know when you go to another line the problem will get there ahead of you. So I'm standing in the new line, and the line is moving, and I'm thinking, oh, maybe I'll get out of here, when a searing pain shoots up from the back of my heel, the Achilles tendon I guess. Some woman has just run her grocery cart right into the back of my leg, and I turn a bit, and I scowl, she hasn't even noticed. I stand still, waiting. The cart moves up again this time with less force, but still it's now steadily pushing me forward. This enrages me. But being stupid, I only kind of lean back slightly, well, assuming she'll noticed the cart is being pushed back a bit and realize that she's grinding my calves with her cart. Nope, she doesn't. She starts fumbling with her groceries, I can hear, to get ready to put them on the conveyor belt that's got milk slime like a long snail trail or snot. As she does this she moves the cart back, then slams it into me again, and at this point I've had it. I turn and I grab the cart with my hands on either side, stopping it from moving forward and I look her in the eyes and quietly say Please Stop. She glances up, wide eyed, noticing me, and you know what the fat bitch says, Oh I'm sorry I didn't see you. Like, what's up with that? But I say, It's OK. I always say this, and I don't know why. You can cut me off, hit me, take advantage of me, and I always say, Don't worry about it, it's OK. Then maybe I'm hoping it is. Sort of a dumb act of will, which is ridiculous, don't you think? It's OK don't worry about it. I've said it a million times already I swear. Why not yell, Look you stupid cunt you're hobbling me with your fucking cart full of Ho-Ho's and Coke and don't even think your gonna buy this stuff for your fat ass with food stamps. Maybe that would be a step too far. Maybe I said nothing other than Please Stop cuz I am unable to draw the line, it's like, all or nothing right? I'm afraid that's the way it is, I found out, right after that, in the store with the woman, when I walked out. I left the store, brow dark and shoulders drawn up as if they led me forward by the tension of a spring. A cigarette, I believe, will make it OK. So I'm standing outside the store, with my single bag of items and digging for a smoke in my jacket, and out of the corner of my eye I see this guy. You know what I mean, here's a guy who's trouble in my bad day, un-hunh, I can tell that the same way the mysterious organ above or below my pancreas acts like a compass -- I can tell and I'm saying to myself, no, no, no, I can't take any more of this. The guy is dumpy, mid-fifties, thick spectacled, buck toothed and has a mean look on his face. He's also holding a rosary, a large blue beaded affair. He walks right up to me, and I stand with cigarette, I'm staring at some invisible point, trying to ignore him. Do you know about this? he says pointing to the rosary. Yeah, I say, I know all about it. I'm holding my hand up in a stop motion. I'm lifting my groceries, going to move on. I start moving. Then this guy hisses, he hisses I'm telling you, saying, You're a fool. Oh, I couldn't step anymore. I went back to him. I'm a fool? I say, You're the one praying in the parking lot, I say. He opens his mouth and out comes scripture, very predictably. I hold my hand up again, Stop! I've read the bible, I know scripture, don't even start with me. He's getting closer to me, still snarling, upset I've stopped his brainwash recitation and he says, You're an asshole! So I push him. Yup, he was so close what I did was throw my arm out, not really even that hard, but I also grabbed at something, with the other hand, not even thinking about it. I'd grabbed his rosary. There was, I recall, either an expression of horror or bewildered anger. I don't think he knew exactly what had happened, I'm not sure I did either. But I held the rosary and he looked momentarily powerless, looking at me with no comprehension, then it flooded into his face, deep hatred perhaps. And here's the thing, I was mad, so mad I lifted the rosary over my head and threw it to the ground. I did more. I took my foot and stomped on it, grinding it, saying Fuck you and fuck your god. I grabbed my bag and walked, very quickly, cuz as soon as I'd done it I worried if there was a law against stomping on rosaries, but I felt good regardless, well, pretty good. The guy yelled at me, frantically, with the scourge of his relentless preachery, Unrepentant Sinner! Unrepentant Sinner! Unrepentant Sinner! I felt fairly relieved though, I mean it was good to get some stuff off my back. I could even say I was thankful in some sense.
So sometimes you have bad days, and I believe I could be having a worse one. There's stuff that could've happened to have made this one much worse. There is a way you know when you're going to have a bad day before it even begins. But you can't do anything about it. The same way with fishermen. There have been eerie predictions and dreams that plague sailors before going on a trip. They see women in white hovering out over the water. They have nightmares of storms. There are documented cases of this happening. I had a friend who didn't go on this very trip, this very voyage, the one I'm on right now. He just didn't go, and this made the captain a bit nervous, but what could we do? We could hope he was wrong, that's what. But I guess he wasn't. Although we never heard from him, or through him, why he changed his mind at the last minute. Shame. I would like to compare one story with another, it would give me something to do. That's what I need, something to do. You know I've counted all the bolts within my sight on this side of the boat while I talk to you Radio Man? It comes to 255. That's a good amount. Just right. It's right simply cuz it makes sense, to me, I think. Why? Well, I counted them didn't I? That means I've invested a certain amount of time and energy into the project. Not that this alone makes it interesting, I don't want to suggest this.
But what else can you do?
I can look up, into the froth, the muddled atmosphere. And I know I have a secret. Something to admit. I didn't want to tell you Radio Man.
I'm hesitant to tell you Radio Man cuz I know, or at least believe, that you feel dominant in sound, that you are a master of your realm, that competition is a nagging disappointment. The rush of water and the air and birds, well, granted, these are natural and beyond your speaker, the ever present jingles and snippets. But man made sounds, I don't want to suggest there could be something other than you I listen to Radio Man, yet there could be, has been something. This is how I am being honest now. I'm not denying you anything. It was a kind of TWAP TWAP sound. You know? Sort of TWAP TWAP TWAP TWAP. There are very few things which could make this sound. One thing I'm thinking of is a helicopter. That's right. But as my face, nose, eyes, head is pointed up into the lush fog, to scan back and forth occasionally, I saw nothing which could have made a TWAP TWAP sound. I didn't smell one either but then I don't 'spose you can smell a helicopter. At least from not far away. I heard it though, quite undeniably heard something which made that sound. What are the other possibilities? The first and most obvious is you Radio Man. You have devised a cunning trick. I can't conceive of how exactly you could do this, but I know you have tricks up your sleeve. Why would you, with me and Jonah in the belly of a whale, wish to deceive me? Or us? I'm speaking for Jonah here, he has interests in this too. I'm presuming this sound would get his hopes up. Yet, we have seen nothing. There may be other possibilities. Hmm, it could have been a natural phenomenon. The same as ball lightening and the aurora borealis, only with sound. A sort of sound mirage. Like when you're out in the desert and there are waves of heat that look like water, maybe waves of fog sound like helicopters. I find this difficult to swallow.
What else? It could be the trick of gulls, although, again, I don't believe so -- gulls have an inborn stupidity and greediness that denies that kind of plotting. I am at my wits end. Whatever that is, I've never known.
There could have been many things but I believe it was a helicopter. And do you know what that indicates? The belly of the whale convulses, the surfacing of Leicester's mythical leviathan, the time Jonah sits and waits with me, playing gin rummy betting fish bones, with an absurd soundtrack coming from Radio Man's teeth -- I think it is now Barracuda by Heart, oh God, is there no end to the popularity of bad taste? Let's see, I think the sound of a helicopter snakes through the blow hole, alerting us, Radio Man's chin chomps shut, our faces so darkened and smudged with smoke from our whale oil lamp, turn upward to the savior whirlybird, to men there wearing rubber suits with zippers and helmets colored, oh what's the color? survival orange, nuclear pink. You know, you can see it a mile away. For a time many things had these colors, luckily they faded, faded. In a thrilling comic book style these helicopter men dangle down into the cavernous belly, on ropes, bouncing off the sides of ribs and pumping secretory organs. There is an exciting sequence of removal, and then a happy laughing finale, no, a tearful farewell as Jonah, me, Radio Man, go our separate ways. Jonah to Ninevah. Me to my house to take a shower and drink a beer. Radio Man to eternal Goddamn hell in his station, broadcasting atrocities to humanity in the form of pop music. You see how I've changed my tune about Radio Man? I thought the radio was fine, great, before my incarceration in the belly. I didn't know then, did I know what, nothing could've been known before I started getting to the bottom. As I am doing now, with gumption. Him, what he's done, is inexcusable. But I may change my mind again, I leave myself enough room for that, although I still plan a punch to the nose once my leg is free. I don't mean my leg will do the punching, only that you need to move around for that sort of action.
Most certainly a helicopter. Perhaps I will take a nap, a small nap, not entirely sleep, until it comes.