beta / by laurel

This piece of writing may or may not find you sitting behind a desk when you read it. You may be one of those 'students' or one of those 'works at home' types, or you may be unemployed, but there's a good chance that what few eyes this will reach belong inside the skulls of the working class.

There's also a good chance that if, by some merciful act of God, you've managed to escape being ball-and-chained to a desk, you won't be free forever. In other words, at some point, I would dare to say that anyone who reads this will, at some point in their life, understand what it's like to tan in the unhealthy artificial glow of a computer monitor. Mine is 24-inches across; there is no place where I am out of its gaze; a sweeping statement of a piece, it takes up nearly half of my desk and all of my peripheral vision. And even though it's already 6pm, I'm looking at at least another hour of basking before I can plait myself into the unending braid of taillights on the 710 freeway (it's our nightly performance: the orchestra assembles, the players scurry to their place, and like a deeply moving crescendo, we inch forward--choreographed, timed, graceful--the entire city in a dizzyingly spectacular gridlock).

The mercury has dipped below 50 degrees, and while the air bites at the back of my neck when I walk to my car, really the only marked difference between Los Angeles Cold and Los Angeles Warm is that the newscasters now get to declare that we are in a "state of emergency." I guess it's winter now. The subject du jour is Winter Wanderlust, or so my friend Josh tells me. Josh's insatiable appetite for wandering has been temporarily gorged by European treats like the Louvre and Big Ben and that one Tower that starts with an E, so it probably seems wildly romantic to him to wander (literally) across some moor or marsh and consider what the ends of the earth must look like, and perhaps also when the earth itself may end.

At least these are subjects I imagine fit neatly into the category of "Winter Wanderlust."

I myself don't wander much. If you're wondering now what desks have to do with anything, and especially wandering, you can now mentally touch the green wire to the red wire and witness the glittering explosion called Adulthood and the subsequent fallout which basically means: I can't wander as much as I'd like to. Not in the summer, not in the winter, I do not like life on the lam, I do not like it, Sam I Am.

I digress. Sometimes when I'm sitting at my desk and the comforting drone of office sounds--of phones bleating and keys pecking and machines growling--lulls me into a waking coma, I travel to a perennial summer solstice where all I can think about are moments from a summer already laid to rest.

Winter Wanderlust, I salute you. It's cold now. These things happened when Los Angeles was warm.


……….


July, in the beginning.

"I'm damaged goods," He confessed, lying face up toward the stars which seemed to wink back with a nervous tic. We were motionless, the yellow ribbon of the road's middle--now rendered colorless and harmless by the night's disguise--bisected our temporary bed and sailed unimpeded into the future. Others were asleep in the car, a failed attempt at an epical night surrendering to bodily necessity. The conversation then drifted through the solar system and landed, inevitably, on relationships.

I couldn't disagree with him. Oh, I may have tried, may have offered a skeptical "No, don't say that..." But the desert swung its heavy head from side to side, a disapproving gesture for which I had no response.

It was deep in the middle of summer. July. 90 degrees even in the dead of night. We would spend the rest of the month rolling around like fatted calves for the slaughter come Fall. But the slaughter never came; instead of a bloodbath, we were met with the nobly fraying end of a season out of sorts with itself: September. In the meantime, we escaped to the desert to sort out things of importance; heat, sun, relationships, asphalt, stars, love, death. It was the middle of the night. We were laying in the middle of a road, and we were fractured though our bodies were intact.

And so we offered up our damaged souls to the jitterbug stars and the solemn night sky, retiring on a bed of asphalt whose dividing line tucked us in before slipping off into the horizon, to the future, where we were both a little less damaged.


……….


July 21, 2006.

Al died that morning, or at least the news of his passing reached me that morning, and I cried four times throughout the day, a personal record though not a personal best.

By nightfall I should have been sleeping, but my eyes were open gaping wounds, awake to the nighttime air. My feet twitched. I was haunted not by spirits passing, but by my own aliveness. Ticking clocks and time bombs reverberated off the stucco’d walls; noisy, messy. I felt in danger of spending the rest of my waking hours twitching to the mechanized tick of a clock so I got up. Passing through the ephemeral living room like a ghost, I called the only person whose face flickered in the back of my mind.

I crouched in the corner overshadowed by dimly outlined furniture and the swaying, breathing night. The phone rang only once before he answered, "Hey, buddy."

I wanted to spasm, to scream "It's YOU!", to ignite roman candles in my living room and watch the spray spiral through the telephone lines where it would meet his ear. His ear, with its intricately patterned maze of cartilage and flesh, attached to his skull, traveling to where his heart sat, beating, beating, 72 beats per minute, the sound of my own thudding pulse. We were alive.

But instead I said, "Hey..." pausing briefly to consider if I should say the next part, especially the roman candle bit, and instead I whispered, barely audible, "I just needed to hear someone's voice. Your voice. I just--"

And then the aliveness boiled up within me, as though provoked by salt, and again for the fifth time that day I was crying, but no longer haunted.