The rhythm of trees falling down

Twelve days in a row writing the same marketing copy for a project we started in July that was supposed to end in September. Sitting at my desk in the bedroom while the sun set reading it a final time before shipping it to the client. Pouring a drink, then returning to the sofa with my pizza.

Next door they took out five or six really big trees, by the looks of it. Muddy paths across the lawn from the tractors, all the men with hard hats and gloves like animated figures. Now, all this new light comes in from the north but feels unnatural. I dreamt the trees looked like candle stubs, snapped in half.

Writing marketing copy is a lot harder than I thought. I just figured if I could write poetically that would transfer to marketing, somehow. And it does, but only sometimes. Combining global presence with a local touch. That’s one I was proud of, they liked. It’s hard to be poetic with technology marketing, but important just the same. And so much of it’s just rhythm I think, how it sounds. We want things to be fluid and simple, we need that.

I got short with the guy working with me on the project, at the end. I was sick, bed-bound sick, on my fifth client review of the week. Having to pitch the final copy to them and sit back in silence as they read, waiting for their comments. And then defend our logic and rewrite it, again.

I wrote the final copy blocks and he said don’t you think we’ll need to rewrite those and I said, do you think you can do better?, as a kind of challenge–and then I immediately felt small, and had to apologize. It was November 9, and we’d now spent four months on about six PowerPoint slides.

Dawn watched a video in bed and I tried to sleep, woke in the early morning for aspirin, to blow my nose. Outside, the sound of coyotes yipping like they’d gotten something and were circling in for the kill. I went back to the dream I left, reassuming the outline of my body, told myself it’s Saturday, try to sleep in.


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‘The pink opaque’

Surprisingly, all the muscle I once had in my chest has loosened and now feels like a boob when I cup it in my hands.

The kids lost or broke all the cell phone chargers, so we ordered more from Amazon and the cat slept in the box while we drank and took pictures of her by the fire.

We watched the first Terminator movie and mocked the old technology, and then I made Lily watch Gary Numan and Flock of Seagull videos. And I told the story about turning the clocks back when I was fresh out of school, my first temp job: a plastics factory where they made cheap picture frames, those blocky cubes that come in all sizes, and cut the webbing of your hands when they shoot down the assembly line.

I was late getting there because the directions were bad, and the factory was in the middle of nowhere, intentionally, as it spewed toxic fumes and looked broken down and Appalachian, like they were trying to hide something. And they referred to me as The Temp when I arrived and no one asked my name, I just got on the side of the belt catching frames as they spit down the line and stacked them in boxes.

There was an old, round clock on the wall but they hadn’t turned the hands back yet and every time I looked at it I was reminded I had an hour more to go than I thought.

My friend Mo and I sat on my apartment floor drinking: a Monday night, so she was off from the bar, smoking and ashing in a coffee cup. Mo was short for Moira, Irish, with a host of issues that only grew worse and more complicated with age. She spent the night often but we weren’t romantic per se, just lonesome. And somehow between the two of us we decided I shouldn’t go back to the factory in the morning, so I called the temp agency voicemail machine and left a dramatic message about the conditions there, comparing it to the film Silkwood, and then Mo and I stayed up late and slept in the next morning.

The rain is general now throughout the region with the snow level coming down and the rivers going up, and I spent the afternoon browning beef and drinking beer with my shirt off, barefoot on the back patio cheering in the rain with my fist in the sky shouting ja voll! I haven’t showered or shaved since Friday but got a lot of work done and took a few naps.

Dawn pointed out the rainbow and it’s true, that little bit of color and mystery really helps this time of year with all the rain and gray.

Those kind of temp jobs are going away, or gone for good. I listened back to a recording of a guy I interviewed for work, who corrected a colleague of mine by saying, in the future robots won’t need to be programmed by humans, they’ll learn all they need to on their own.

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“Fall back”

I got as close to the light as I could though it was all gray and not much to speak of, and there in the corner of the window a stink bug fanned the glass with a limp leg, and then fell on its side and died.

We are all swipable now, a click away from obscurity or fame.

How bad I stank after a long week of work with no manual labor, all cerebral: and why stress coaxed the toxins out of me and made for that miasmic brew, that hung onto me deep into Saturday by the fireplace with my jazz and cold stout…how hard it was to live just in between, to feel the passage of time whipping past me like a boat I’m not on, just watching.

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‘My mind is in garlands’

Our inability to get our kids to do stuff manifest itself most in their rooms. This week, after years of trying, I gave up. There are wet towels, empty bags of chips, old glasses of juice, clothes everywhere they should not be. It hurts to look at, but like a tabloid cover I can’t stop.

But this month is Scotch month for me: the month I dedicate to drinking Scotch. I’ll stock up on Scotch and generally nip at it through the spring, then wait until November to start all over again.

And this is like the archetype of the scorpion from the Zodiac, from astrology: the end of the lifecycle represented by this simple, old creature who must endure its own death to realize itself and transform to Phoenix. This is me collapsing inwards in my den with solemn music. And candles on the mantle, the dog by my feet on her side looking dead.

Driving home the sky was orange-red with puffy clouds and a strange glow, the wind raking the leaves off the trees, scattered by the handfuls on the streets.

We flipped the calendar like we’d accomplished something and replaced the nail in the hole with a new page, November. It’s laid out like a fresh set of sheets waiting for us to crawl into.


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‘Wax and wane’

By the time we got to the end of October I was done with it. The Halloween decals on the windows, the witches and skulls…it seemed to go on forever, like it should have been over by now. The skeleton couple on the mantel, I remembered the day we got them and I was getting sick. How summer still had its sway over us then…but walking to the bus I realized today it’s gone for good: the shades of loss through the distance.

We drove across the Scottish Highlands from Arbroath, the first day the sun came out, and made the landscape gold past the old cemeteries and towns. By the time we got to Inverness it was getting dark near 4, we checked in to our place and I went out for groceries…and followed the sound of bagpipes in the town center, and came back to make soup.

We took the kids trick-or-treating the next day but it just wasn’t the same, how could it be? We came home with empty bags and stopped at a McDonald’s, hoping for some lesson we could take away from it. And the next day, we drove to the Loch Ness and a walk to some waterfalls, and it was all sun on a Sunday, November 1, with the whole month ahead of us to just be in Scotland, to see all that we could see.

I took the bus to work today and stood for a while waiting for it, the first one of the day. And remarked when I got home how quickly it went, the day! How we click the days off like that and march headstrong to the end. How it will come sooner than we expect it to, though we deny its existence…but in the end, it will deny us our own.

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Companion Piece

October 28, 2018 (Sunday)

The moody look of the freeway heading east toward the foothills with the rain coming on and the color draining out, now down to yellow. Fog and clouds over the dark mountain contours. Lily and her friend Meg in the back seat with me playing one of my favorite singers, her voice low and smoky, crackling like campfire wood. It is the time of poets with this color palette, the time of cardigans and corduroys, of lap cats and candles: me in my den with a decorative pipe and a long, sullen smoke: the warmth of wood fires, wool, and whiskey. The time I go back to that first stop we made in Scotland this same time of year, some town without a name just outside of Arbroath. The beating wind and rain and the thickening mud, the sense if we wanted to, we could fade into the ground ourselves.

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The same deep water as you

We went back to the old elementary school, Charlotte’s last year, for the annual Halloween bash. Dawn and I stood in the playground feeling tired and out of sorts, trying to make out the identities of kids running by as the light fell. Charlotte and her friend Anna were easy to pick out, they went as bananas. For some reason Lily came (she’s now in 8th grade), dressed as a Starbucks barista with fake nails and tight jeans, fashion shoes and pumps, make-up…with a boy named Adrian she’s befriended who has to like her on another level, I think…but Lily insisting she’s gay, even though she shows no signs I’d associate as gay…and it’s all so confusing.

We stood facing the sun set, past the tall trees: a knot of bloody clouds changing shape, a candle going out. And I said to Dawn, remember Scotland?—three years ago we were there for Halloween, and the light was like this. They have another name for trick or treating neither of us could remember. Dawn said, check your blog.

And we talked to a mom with one of the only African American kids at the school, a gay couple who adopted a black boy and girl—Dawn made friends with the moms, who are separated now, and I can only remember one of their names but I’m afraid to use it on the wrong one, so I just smile and say hi.

Adrian had to get home by 7 which I was glad for, and we left without sentiment. They sat in the back of the car as I drove Adrian to his dad’s, and Lily commented on the music: I said this is The Cure, a song called The Same Deep Water as You…and I drove slowly over the speed bumps in Adrian’s dad’s waterfront community so we could hear the last of the lyrics…and remembered being 13 myself, in the back of my parent’s car driving home from the movies with a girl I liked, springtime but warm enough we had the windows rolled down…the look of the sky going from pink to purple, the first time I heard the song “Take a Walk on the Wild Side,” laughing at the lyrics, then he was a she… 

I remembered it in bed Saturday morning lying next to Dawn, the sound of her breathing, the clock tolling downstairs, the dog smacking her lips…thinking I’m older now, but richer. Riches defined not in gold, but memories.

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