We are all just prisoners here of our own device


I turned right on the N6 past the Klondike Marsh, past Clay Pit Road, past the grate-covered mine shaft, the cave holes shown on the map. I met my hair stylist outside my old building where I worked and we hugged, and when I said goodbye half an hour later I told him he looks like Robert Plant, now that he’s back from two weeks in the Amazon he has that look of someone who’s seen a lot, it made him go white.

And when we were done I stood outside his salon and looked down the hall where my desk used to be and on the other side where my colleagues were, it was dark on a Saturday with no one there and just some light coming in that made everything look gray — and maybe it’s because I love my stylist so much, it feels like there’s a ring of protection around me when I’m there, I didn’t feel any sense of attachment or strangeness looking around, I didn’t feel anything at all.

I saw myself at the sink in my mom’s house looking out the window, down toward the Spielplatz, a turn in the cobblestone road where I sometimes saw Gilles, the Parisian my mom was friends with once and then wasn’t, and it was awkward bumping into him because he’d pretend he didn’t see us, he’d just turn away, and after we finally talked one afternoon he said you know where I live, you can come see me before you leave if you want to — but I decided against, and visited an artist named Matthias instead.

Now that the cottonwood blooms are falling they’re like soap bubbles on the shoulders by the bus stop; it gets caught in the spider webs off the deck and looks like someone’s dismantled Santa Claus, a thousand phony beards in the air, a new kind of tinsel.

Beth’s 80-year-old neighbor who’s Mormon looks like he’ll live forever, will die on his feet doing yard work, cutting grass, stops to pause underneath our deck — and I can tell he’s listening to the music I’m playing as he comes to get Beth’s recycling and garbage: the music’s so bad I play it loud hoping it will get better; I don’t even like it but I’m still trying to, and sometimes things get better with volume, sometimes they don’t. I imagine the look on his face under our deck with the music, the Incredible String Band, coming out the screens between the slats in the decking, filling the spray of bugs and cottonwood blooms with its transcendental hippy bullshit, they’re so far gone it sometimes sounds like they’re really onto something, or more likely just on something.

My stylist and I talk about what it’s like to feel the sense of dying and rebirth, to watch ourselves do that, our miserable, pathetic selves — how most times we don’t learn from our mistakes, we just keep making them: we build new cities right on top of the old ones, we act like nothing happened.

I contemplate Gilles, how the person becomes a fictitious character looking up at me from his bike at the bend in the road, and I wonder if he really sees me or if he’s pretending he can’t, if there’s a glare or bad angle or his eyesight that’s preventing him — how he visited his mom in Paris before she died so he could tell her what he really thought, and let her take that to the grave — how even the most contemptible of people we meet we share something in common with, that we need to see ourselves in them before we can believe they’re real.

When my time was up and my hair cut was over I started the car, adjusted my mirrors, and said to my reflection let’s get out of this place.

Categories: travel, writing

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16 replies

  1. I like the image of you standing in the hallway outside your old office, everything dark and gray after getting … a haircut? … Odd, but I like it. And by odd I only mean I’ve never been able to get a haircut in the same hall as my office, that’s fancy. I can also see Gilles down there on his bike maybe pretending he sees, maybe not. And the end, with you looking in the mirror wanting out. And I’m thinking of being a prisoner of the decisions we’ve made, but that’s not your point, I don’t think, that’s me layering on my own issues, I think. Anyhoo, the wife is out all day and the girls have been on their leap pads way too long while I putter around, so it’s time for us all to put away the screens. Have a good Sunday.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. and the mirror never lies –

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sounds like that’s the story of your life just now – check the reflections and adjust the mirror.


    • Thanks Dave, yes ‘the story of our lives,’ that’s it — you probably know the song “Tempted,” by Squeeze from the 80s? I liked a line in that song from the beginning, that ends the first section with the phrase I said to my reflection let’s get out of this place, so I used that and a line from Hotel California I liked even better, and tried to connect the phrases to the scenes. Thanks for reading and enjoy your week. — Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Fantastic. It took me a minute to figure out what the title was from, and you nailed the ending here. I remember you writing about Gilles towards the end of your trip and how he sounded so interesting and part of me hoped you’d go. And now, reading about his mother, it’s yet another lesson that interesting doesn’t mean worthwhile. The part about your stylist and protective spell was cool.


    • Yes, I remembered what you said about Gilles and had planned to write about him some more, I’m glad you saw the lesson inside that. I played Hotel California all the way through for my family Saturday and was struck by that line, the whole song obviously so good. It’s nice to sometimes re-experience music like that and feel like you’re discovering it for the first time, as my kids were. And we talked about the themes in the song, whether it’s about a bunch of devil worshippers or drug addiction — which reminded me of the Tarot card for the devil, where the two figures are cuffed to it but the cuffs are big enough they could get out anytime they wanted…found that interesting. Glad you liked the part with my stylist, he is a cool dude alright. — Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It doesn’t get more beautifully descriptive that Clay Pit Road. A little art from city services. Mormons DO live forever. Haven’t you heard? I’m going to respectfully disagree. I meet people all the time who I don’t have anything in common with and never will. And I’m glad for it.


    • I know, I think the name Clay Pit Road inspired me to write this. All the names on the map for this area I like to hike here, in what’s called the Issaquah Alps — and funny of course because I was in the real Alps last summer, fun to tie the two together and toggle. And it’s OK, I’m glad you respectfully disagree — I put that notion out there for consideration, when creating characters do we need to see ourselves in them to relate? Even if they’re detestable? Makes me always think of Darth Vader for some reason. “Free neck hugs” (I saw a T-shirt saying that last week, with a picture of Vader and his arm thrust outwards).


  6. I never had such deep conversations with my hair stylist. I’m one of those “good listeners,” so it always seemed like my stylists revealed TMI while taking a little off the back and sides.

    Now I cut my own hair, so the chats are more interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw, but you miss out on all the fun cutting your own hair. I’m lucky, my stylist is terribly fun to talk to and be with, so that’s more important than the cut in some ways. And it’s bizarre, his salon is within spitting distance of my old desk. I never considered going to see him still, but I can go on Saturdays and it’s not as weird.


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