Crazy Old Man

My father often said in his forties and fifties that he wanted to die young and sane. His greatest fear was losing his mind. Probably because he’d come close before. He knew what it was like to be at war with his mind, as did all of us. Also, our minds were really our only assets. Without them we were undernourished, unhappy outsiders.

He didn’t get his wish. He went crazy early on. Every time I spoke to him we’d meet all over again. I learned that he wanted to be a paramedic when he grew up. He started spending time outside in our suburban wasteland yard, where the razed garage used to stand at the end of the driveway. As always, the yard was half overgrown weeds, half swamp, and the rusted skeleton of our swing set.

He spoke to our neighbor’s dog for hours, through the diamonds in the fence.

I wanted to know if there was sense to his words, and we couldn’t understand. Or if there was none at all. If his prophecies and memories and musings were each distinct from each other, momentary thought bubbles that came and went.

My mother moved a table out there for him. There were books on it, usually open, and when people came to talk to him, he’d pretend to be looking at one of them.

Once I asked him what he was reading.

“Oh, nothing you’d be interested in,” he’d answered, and quietly closed the nearest book. After that I didn’t ask. I sat with him and he spoke to me.

“I should travel more,” he said, “I’ve been practicing my French”. He didn’t tell stories of his past but often made reference to it. “Mel should have traveled more,” he’d say, referring to his brother who died as a young man.

“It might have saved him.”

I came home for Thanksgiving to find him still sitting outside in the yard. The weather was colder now. He sat in a sweater and a coat over an old bathrobe and pajama pants. His nose and ears were bright red.

“Why do you let him stay out there?” I asked my mother angrily, but she just shrugged resignedly. She was a devoted caretaker. Too young really to be tending to a crazy old man. I was angry at my siblings for not coming around more. They were angry at me that I could stand it, sitting out there in the cold, listening to him mutter sentence fragments. They wanted to remember him as he was – a scholar, a teacher, a brilliant mind.

“The dog speaks Yiddish,” he told me. “only Yiddish.”

I bought him an iPod but he refused to use the earbuds so I rummaged through boxes in the basement to find an old Walkman.

On my third day home he was already outside with his coffee cup and his pile of books when I woke up. I made myself a cup of coffee and layered myself against the cold chill.

He’d been crying. His face was still wet. He was sitting cross legged on a folding chair and his body still thin and lithe, shuddered when I reached out to touch his shoulder.

He looked up at the pale blue sky over the yard. “It’s too big,” he wailed. “It’s much too big!” His eyes were magnified by his large, nineties era glasses.

“It’s going to be okay,” I said and patted his shoulder. He threw it off.

“It will not!” he shouted, and more quietly “Why is everybody lying to me?”

He sighed, crossed his arms over his chest. The wind blew through the willow tree that stood in our neighbor’s yard but drooped over our drive way. The neighbor’s back door opened and their dog bounded out. He came up to the gate and started barking, calling to my father.

My Starbucks name

Mine is Reese, which is similar to my middle name. Or sometimes Sarah. Once it was Nicole. And by once I mean, that’s the name I had in mind when I entered the store. I’ve never managed to lie about my name.

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Vegan Sun

Open door to patio, to the fragrant sun mockingly gentle

On a day of striped and spangled sorrow

The mirror is a prophet and a liar

The window is not a key, bars of sunlight in the wrong direction,

The day’s long begun and there are people now

Wearing yoga pants, writing screenplays on charging laptops

Speaking into microphones in malls and in studios

Visiting the pier and Universal City and Pink’s and all the other

Things To Do In LA.

The billboards all sneering, the traffic heading nowhere

The dirtiest streets the most alive with the anger of life

Street vendors selling cherries in plastic tubs

The salt of the beach tracing the outline of chapped lips.

Impostors badly disguised spy on heels too high for living

The sun is unnecessary here, the sidewalk cafe tables full of brunch

eating residents, eating the vegan sun in yoga pants

Worshiping the vegan sun, all natural, organic, free trade

Sunlight for sale, packaged sunlight for a limited time

Capitalist sun, innocent stripes of capitalism, bars of gold.

Photons fuel the digital display of the parking meter

Zero zero hours and thirteen minutes, flashing

The price of a coffee is sixty three dollars, as of yesterday

Speak to the stranger in the mirror, or do not speak at all.

Corner of Santa Monica & Highland

With the window down I feel exposed.

The man on the pedestrian stripes walking past my scarred car

he can see me eating yogurt and raspberries with a spoon

out of a size large yogurt container

while I wait at the light.

He can hear the music playing on 98.7 FM

LA’s rock alternative,

he probably knows the song.

I Am Witness

If I have a destiny, it is to be a witness

A blue hat

The sky that stretches over all of us

Distant but present

Silent but listening

It’s a curse

To see the things I see

To see everything as a symbol

To cry for a single tree like it was every tree

To tear for every old man

That misses the bus

To see both sides of every story

To feel his anger and her dissapointment

Her guilt and his insecurity

To think that somehow made me immune

To my own petty fears

Only it was more so

To take the whole world to bed with me

And wake with it pounding in my head

To be freer and more confined

To fly further and fall harder

Knowing I’m alive from the breath

On my side of the glass

Where more often than not

When the darkness comes

All that I can see through the glass

Is my own reflection

Guide to Madness

The rain is the color of instant coffee
A No Parking sign leans at an angle somewhere between 45 and 90
Nothing else is certain
The orange pixelated letters announcing the upcoming bus stop
Are blurred
The truth of many conversations
As a unit, is background noise
It’s raining only at the edge of the awnings

Madness is a popular word
People are proud to be mad
And prouder still to know that they are
Madness means different
Or it means entertaining, to watch
It means neurotic New York Jews
Drug induced genius, tormented artist,
Justified, worshiped, voracious need.

Madness is the space between what’s true
And what’s unknown. The interpretable space –
As David Foster Wallace would say
The never-quiet fears and hopes
Fears of the hopes
The always in question, in flux
The stay up at night, alone in a crowd
Driving down a dark highway, with a heart broke

But enter the filthy, the hopeless
The survivors of suicide
The unsuccessfully mad
The person you once knew who is no longer herself
This is unacceptable madness
This is tragedy that no art can justify
She had so much potential
This is perversion, waste of a life

The space between normal and broken
Between conformity and a self
Between the beginning of your mind
And the end of you soul
There’s more there than every
Beautiful sunset and child’s smile
Every distant star and mathematical discovery
It’s easy to stay.