Saturday, August 30, 2014

Frosted Glass, Chapter Twenty: Not Climbing Mount Everest

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Not Climbing Mount Everest

The route to Rimsky was chipped into my vision; I had been mentally videotaping its confines all through my week at Spirit Mountain.  I didn’t drive there so much as track my way in, like a homing pigeon following his radar.  I had, however, forgotten the Koffeehouse’s unusual hours – they didn’t open until seven p.m., and it was just three-thirty when I arrived.
I didn’t want to sleep curbside like some homeless person, so I went for a walk.  It’s a good thing I had my artist-mojo going, or I might have felt intimidated, a middle-aged white woman strolling through little groups of surly-looking ethnic teenagers in East Side Portland.
I ended up at the water, on a bridge overlooking the Willamette. Large towers rose up on either side, rigged with cables and gears so they could raise the entire middle section for passing boats. A slice of sunlight cut through Portland’s resident cloud cover to turn the water a gorgeous jade green, scribbled here and there with marble-like swirls of eddy and current. The park on the west bank looked lush and inviting, but I realized I hadn’t eaten since breakfast - and I was eating for two now, wasn’t I? I never imagined myself saying things like that.
I went back to my car to fetch my jacket, then headed south in search of food.  It was a long walk, but I kept my focus until I found my treasure, an actual Mexican taqueria.  I can’t remember the name but it translated as The Happy Skeleton.  The walls were painted in bright colors only someone with Aztec blood could get away with, and there were also red-pepper Christmas lights, Pancho Villa news clippings and, of course, grinning skeletons.  The surest sign of authenticity, though, was that the guy at the counter could barely speak English.  He seemed pleased when I tried to order in my weak, high-school Spanish, and soon I was happily consuming a chicken tostada and tamarindo soda at a table of artfully scratched-up, bleached wood.
I got back to the Rimsky just after opening, but still I missed out on the hydraulic Brahms table - or the rotating Dvorak table.  I settled for Puccini, tucked away by the kitchen door.  The staff was evidently still setting up, as no one seemed in any hurry to take my order.  I took out my holy Indian casino cards and laid them out in a seven-tiered pyramid, a brand of solitaire that was almost impossible to win.  After my third failure, I was greeted by a slim waitress with short chestnut hair, large black-rimmed spectacles and the kind of resounding whiskey voice you might hear in a Jersey diner.
“Hi,” she said.  “Sorry I took so long.  We’re a little weird and erratic around here.”
“That’s fine.” I found myself a little shaky about conversing with a fellow being.  I assembled the next sentence in my head, just to make sure.
“Is there any chance I might be able to talk to Hessie tonight?”
The waitress smiled; I had uttered the magic words.  “Oh! Are you a friend of Hessie’s?”
I was pleased that my first foray had brought such a jackpot.  “I’m sort of a… postulant… at the Convent Bel Canto.”
“Pauline,” she said, extending a hand.
“Sandy,” I said, shaking that hand.
“Any friend of Hessie’s is royalty around here.  Although it’s a lesser kind of royalty, considering all the friends she’s got.  Oh, and to answer your question – Hessie usually does swing by on Thursdays, so I’m guessing she’ll be around.”
“That’s very good news,” I said.
“So what would you like?” Pauline asked with a smile.
“Could I have a nasty double Mexican mocha with whipped cream and cinnamon on top?”
“Oh-hoh! A serious aficionado.  And a dessert?”
“Frozen lemon cheesecake.”
“You’ve been thinking about that one for quite a while,” said Pauline, slipping me a wink.  “I’ll be back in just a minute.”
I suppose it was the elation of imagining a talk with Hessie that made the subsequent drop such a rib-cruncher.  Pauline pranced up to my table with a Mexican mocha and a newsflash.
“Hessie’s in London! She won’t be back for two weeks.  She apparently picked up a copy of the London Times at Powell’s bookstore, saw some new play she just had to see, and headed straight for the airport.  I love that about Hessie – she does the kind of things the rest of us only talk about.”
My face must have dropped a couple inches.
“Ah, man!” said Pauline.  “You were really looking forward to seeing her, weren’t you? I’m sorry.  I’ll be right back with your cheesecake - maybe that’ll help.”
I tried to take some focused pleasure in my mocha, but my taste buds refused to participate.  What the hell was I going to do now? I hadn’t even thought of making this decision alone.
I played solitaire.  I sipped my mocha.  I ate my cheesecake, a delicacy I used to think was the next best thing to orgasm, but then it was orgasm that got me into this fix in the first place, wasn’t it?  The coffeehouse filled up a little, but sadly there was no live music scheduled – just some Chopin over the P.A.  What’s a girl to do?
I had just lost my pyramid game by one lousy stinking card when my table erupted with a kind of industrial raspberry, and shook so hard that my mocha staggered away like a drunk.  Startled, I let out a shriek that sounded like a crow being run over by a tractor.  Then I began laughing at my own reaction with great cackling Phyllis Diller peals.  The rest of the coffeehouse, having processed the rude secret of the Puccini table, joined in, creating a crowd-size wave of merriment.  All this excitement proved too much for my tattered nerves, however, and I found to my utter dismay that my laughter was turning into spasmodic coyote-like sobs.  The more reasonable portions of my brain were signaling desperately for a time-out, but then my eyes welled up and I was gone for good.  I dropped my face to the smooth, cool glass of the tabletop, fuzzing out Puccini’s fine-boned face.
The rest of the coffeehouse had gone utterly silent.  I was shaking now, and I think that my left arm was sort of flailing, like a wounded seagull.  I felt a hand on my back, the space between my shoulder blades, and opened my eyes to find Pauline’s concerned brown pupils.
“I am so sorry!” she said.  “I thought maybe you could use a laugh, you looked so down, and this table’s sort of our new toy… Are you gonna be okay?”
I had no resource but absolute truth.  “No,” I said.  “I’m not.”
“Oh goodness.” She sucked on her teeth, thinking.  “Tell you what… let’s get you upstairs.  I’ve got a place you can rest for a while.”
She lifted me by the elbow and guided me up the steps, past the thousand-woman collage, and then we were in the hallway.  The doors were posted with Alice-in-Wonderland signs like “Not this room,” “Certainly not this room!” “This room? Are you kidding me?” and “Now why the hell would you be wanting to look in this room?”
This last one, oddly enough, is exactly where we went.  It was completely dark inside, and Pauline seemed to prefer it that way, mumbling something about not wanting to give me any further shocks.  She guided me to a futon against the back wall, then scuffled around in a closet and brought back a crocheted blanket.
It seemed like an odd thing for a nearly complete stranger to do, but I was grateful when Pauline leaned over to touch my hair and kiss me on the forehead.
“Just stay here and sob it all out, Sandy.  I’ve got to get back to work, but I’ll come back later to check up on you.”
I heard the scuff of Pauline’s footsteps, then the click of the door behind her as the shaft of light closed up.  I found a big, soft pillow and pulled it toward me like the last good thing on God’s green earth.  I intended to soak it with tears, but my old, pregnant body had had enough, sending me into a liquid indigo free-fall of sleep.

What I awoke to I can barely describe.  It began with a thunk and clatter, and then the visuals kicked in.  I blinked my eyes and made out a wiry hermit with a beard and dark hooded eyes.  The walls behind him gave off a rainbow shimmer, crystal cockroaches that squiggled around the room when I moved my head.  The hermit scratched his beard and put a hand on either hip.
“Who the fuck are you? Goddammit, I told Hessie to keep this room locked up.”
He knelt next to a plastic bag and sorted through its contents, lots of small objects that he clacked around with relish, no doubt enjoying their effect on his drowsy intruder.  I raised myself on an elbow.
“Bicycle reflectors.”
He gave me an annoyed look.  “No shit, Shirley.” And went back to his work.
I reached under my quilt to make sure I at least had clothing on, then ran a hand along the wall behind me.  The reflectors were lined up seven-deep, triangles, circles, squares, rectangles and ovals in orange, red, green, yellow, blue, even purple, coating the walls in a jungleburst of color.  The whole room was done up this way, even the windows and doorjambs, which were trimmed in fire-engine red.  The morning sun shot through a side window and lit up a swath of amped-out sparkle, like citric acid made visual.
Hermit-guy sat on his haunches, having sorted out a dozen orange triangles, and took a good long study of me.
“So what’s your story, futon-girl? Too many frozen lemon cheesecakes? Triple-mocha heart attack?”
“The Puccini Table.”
He let out a rough, squeaky laugh.  “Ah-haha! I told them that fucking thing was trouble.  Liabilities, man! Lie-uh-bilities.”
“So,” I said, sweeping a hand at the room.  “Is this one of Hessie’s preposterous notions?”
“This,” he said, “is my preposterous life’s work.  The canvas, yes, was provided by Madame Nygaard, as was a seriously sweet commission.  Hessie is a goddamn artist’s wet dream, and although this setting does lack a certain mobility, it will get much more exposure than some fussy millionaire’s living room.”
I looked at his triangles.  “So are those for the orange cross-hatches behind you?”
“Ah, futon-girl has an eye! Yes, although I intend to fade them out along the top, just to be a prick, and then I will weave some snaky yellow ovals to steal away the symmetry.”
“That’s good,” I said.
“Approval is nice,” he said.  “But it’s not what I need.  What I need is to not give a flying fuck about what anyone thinks until I’m done, which is why I wanted this room locked up.  Nothing worse for clouding the vision than worthless fucking mid-work commentary.  Afterward, you can love it, hate it, throw dog shit on it, so long as I’ve reached the point where there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.”
“Could I tell you it’s one of the most gorgeous things I’ve ever seen?”
Hermit-guy stood and clapped the dust from his hands.  “Now that,” he said, “is the kind of generalized ass-kissing that a guy can deal with.”
“Oh, it’s not ass-kissing.  I’m an artist myself.”
He delivered a theatrical slap to his forehead and looked to the ceiling.  “And she was doing so well.  So.  How long have you been an artist?”
I was not about to actually speak the words “three weeks,” but my expression gave me away.
“How many apartments have you been kicked out of?” he said.  “How many credit cards have you run into the ground? How many lovers dumped you after the three-month excitement of dating an artist wore off and she realized you were broke? How many times… have you purchased gas for your car… with the pennies rolled up from your coin jar?”
“I… uh…”
“You get the point, Gladys? You use that word ‘artist’ around some of my long-suffering friends, and we might have to glaze your white yuppie ass and stick you in a kiln.”
“Oh yes.  No one ever thinks they’re a yuppie.  Look at that perfect coiffure, sister.  Check out that Sedona sweatshirt.  You may as well be wearing a Three Tenors baseball cap, for Chrissake.  And I’ll bet anything you drive some junior SUV with a CD player and removable seats.”
All true, of course.  But I would have given anything if he could sense my sincerity, if he could understand the month-long rebirth of my eyeballs.  He seemed to reconsider, scuffling a hand through his salt-and-pepper hair.
“Oh, I’m sorry already.  I’m just a bitter old artist.  Feel free to stick around and watch.  Quietly.  You like jazz?”
“Okay then! That’s a start.  Name’s Jonathon.”
“Sandy,” I said.
Jonathon grunted and switched on a tape deck covered with smears of black and gray.  Out came Sarah Vaughan, that funny pseudo-British lisp, a swingy version of “I Feel Pretty.” I loved watching the track of his thoughts, a little bullet that traveled from eyes to head to hands, then burst forth in matador sweeps as he dabbed a reflector with adhesive and fixed it to a perfect spot.  After an hour, I had to let out a question or I would burst.
“So how long?”
“Isn’t that kind of personal?”
“How many years,” I scolded.
“Twenty-three torturous, impoverished, glo-ree-uss years.”
“Any big successes?”
“Every single thing I’ve ever made.  Every time I ignored some flat-head who told me I should do something more practical.  Including the painters, I might add.  They hate this shit.”
“Sold a piece in Seattle last week… a ten-foot sunrise of yellow, orange, little flakes of red.  Ten thousand dollars.”
“Wow!” I exclaimed, a bit too much like a cheerleader.
“And three years ago the Grand Ronde tribes commissioned a bunch of huge-ass geometric things.”
“Ohmigod! The Spirit Mountain Casino?”
That was the first thing I had said all morning that seemed to make an impression.  He stopped and scratched his beard.  “You’ve been there?”
“Yesterday morning I woke up there.  I was sort of… working on my vision.”
“Oh, Jesus,” he sighed, and turned back to his triangles.  “I’m sorry, but you forty-year-old women and this Native American thing…”
Okay, now he was pissing me off.
“Native American craps dice?” I asked.  “Native American playing cards?”
“What about them?”
“I use them in mosaics.”
He thought about that.  “Okay.  What else?”
“Frosted glass.”
“Sea glass?”
I nodded.
“I love sea glass,” he said.  “It’s so…”
“Random? Organic? Fusion of man and nature?”
“Say! There may be an artist in there after all.  Y’got any slides?”
Having passed through such fierce gauntlets, I took this as the highest of compliments.  “I’ve got the actual mosaics,” I said.  “They’re just outside, in my… SUV.”
“Oh-hoh!” he roared.  “Yuppie girl! Yuppie girl!”
“Yeah, yeah, so I got money.  All the more reason for you to kiss my ass, honey.  Let’s see…” I counted the points on my fingers.  “Loaded yuppie lady, crazy about art, crazy about your art, might want to pay ridiculous sums of money for your art…”
“Stop right there!” said Jonathon.  He stepped down from his footstool and rubbed his hands on a rag.  “What do you say we head outside for some fresh air?”

Jonathon had some blunt critiques – the pastels could have been manipulated more carefully, the six-section piece was much too anal-retentive – but when he got to my craps-dice, his eyes lit up.  “If you’d really like to be an artist,” he said, “you can start right here. Such sly humor!”
We were both feeling like some exercise, so I took him to my raisable section of drawbridge, where we watched the Willamette’s glacier-like course.  Jonathon evidently had a thing for bridges, because he gave me a pretty impressive rundown: Hawthorne Bridge, built in 1910, one of the oldest lift bridges in the world, both feared and beloved by the locals for its rickety steel-mesh roadways.  I was almost disappointed when he brought up his wife, a painter who created real-life scenes populated with primitive, cartoon-like figures.  She took the narratives from a childhood of incest and molestation.
“When I first saw her works, I was in such a state of awe – the sheer bluntness, the incredible courage it took to portray such ugliness.  It made me feel like my own work was too… I don’t know, decorative, socially irrelevant.  But then I took her to my studio, and she loved it! She said she was amazed by its imagination and humor – in fact, she saw in my work what was perhaps lacking in her own.  Our personalities fit into a surprisingly common pattern: the intense artist who’s incredibly easy-going, the humorous artist who can be a real prick… as you found out this morning.”
He fell silent for a moment, lost in the river.  I played a little game, testing my vision.
“I love the water here,” I said.  “It reminds me of…”
“Green marble?” he said.
“Exactly.” I wrapped my hands around the railing, smooth and cool in my grip.  “So do you and Marta have any kids?”
“No. Marta wanted to cut the string.  Not that she was concerned about herself – she’s the gentlest person on the planet – but the very act of child-bearing would bring back too many shadows.  It also gave her a chance to pull the drain on a very toxic gene pool.  She was their last chance.”
“Do you ever feel like you’re missing out on something?”
He edged up to my shoulder.  “There are a lot of things I’m not doing.  I’m not climbing Mount Everest, I’m not swimming with dolphins in the Virgin Islands, and I’m not playing mid-striker for the Argentinean World Cup soccer team.  If you think too much about the things you’re missing, you’re apt to miss out on the things you’re not missing.  Look at that room I’m working on.  I’m getting good solid American currency to revel in color and light on a daily basis.
“No.” he continued. “Rather than giving the earth more children it doesn’t need, I will leave behind lovely radiant works of art.  That room at Rimsky’s?  His name is going to be Jerry.  He’s a terrific little kid… and once I’m gone, he’ll have all kinds of friends who come to visit and ooh and ahh at the very sight of him.  Are you all right?”
I couldn’t help myself.  That same slice of sun was knifing over Portland to sow Jonathon’s beard with a ring of sparks.  I reached out to gather them in.
“Who are you, Jonathon, who do you work for, and how is it that you know all the answers without knowing the questions?”
Jonathon broke up his beard with a toothy grin.  “I’m nothing all that much,” he said.  “I’m just the reflector man.”


Photo by MJV

Friday, August 29, 2014

Frosted Glass, Chapter 18a: Pedro and Angelina

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I sat down beside him, aware by the near-emptiness of our vodka bottle that we both must be very drunk.  I smiled with stupid amusement, slapped Frosty on the knee, and started my story.

In the lovely orchard lands of Oregon’s Hood River Valley, in the shadow of the diamond white volcano, there lived a proud and prosperous grower of pear trees named Esteban Ochoas.  Esteban possessed a generous, joyous spirit, but one forever marked by the loss of his wife, Lucia, ten years before.  Lucia had perished in a car accident, forced off a snowy mountain road by an out-of-control big rig.  Ever since that morning when the sheriff had come to Esteban’s door, his soul had been touched by shadows.
Rather than seek the miracle of marital bliss a second time, Esteban chose to focus his attentions on his farm, and on his lovely daughter, Angelina.  The love between father and daughter was so strong that, after Angelina earned her business degree at a college in Portland, she passed up the big glass buildings of that city in order to return to the farm and keep her father’s books.  Doubly blessed by his daughter’s business sense and his ability to speak with his migrant workers in their native tongue, Esteban built the most successful family-owned orchard in the valley.  The old man’s happiness knew no bounds.
Intent on keeping their jobs with such an excellent and kind boss, the farmworkers took note of the bond between father and daughter and drew in any thoughts about Angelina.  There was one, however, who had more trouble with this task than most.
Pedro Poncilla had arrived at the farm ten years before – in fact, soon after the death of the boss’s wife.  He was an illegal immigrant from Guadalajara with a sharp mind and a great desire to prove himself as a worker.  He was profoundly moved by the grief he saw in the farmowner’s eyes, and resolved to care for the orchards as if they were his own.
Even through the fog of his loss, Esteban Ochoas knew a remarkable young man when he saw one.  He rewarded Pedro’s unfailing labor by helping him obtain a green card, and then his American citizenship, and, finally, by promoting him to the job of foreman.  Pedro thus became one of three workers who remained on the farm year-round, in a clean little cottage next to the south orchard.
From his front window, Pedro could look across the front lot of the farm and see the large window of Angelina’s office, where she sat late at night reviewing the farm’s paperwork.  This ready vantage of the prize he could not have – her pillowed lips, cave-dark eyes, hair that shone like blackbird’s wings – was not particularly good for Pedro’s health.
Five years into his torment, Pedro thought about leaving.  He could always hide his real reasons by making up some fib about an ailing grandmother in San Bernardino.  He was soon granted a reprieve, however, in the person of Gustavo, a bespectacled migrante who was always spending his breaks and lunches with his nose buried in a book.  Curious, Pedro asked Gustavo what was so compelling about these books.  Gustavo handed him the volume he was reading just then – a collection of poetry by a man named Miguel Hernandez – and said, “Why don’t you read this, and then you can tell me.”
Reading at his front window that night, the halo’d vision of Angelina across the yard, Pedro could not believe the things that he discovered in the pages of Gustavo’s book.  Why, these were not normal Spanish words at all – they were like tropical birds the colors of Christmas ornaments, scrambling around in his head and taking him to wild, impossible landscapes.  And all the next day, working in the orchards, the words of Miguel Hernandez continued to burn in his limbs, investing every small action with the goldenrod aura of new knowledge.
After consuming the dozen volumes in Gustavo’s collection, Pedro took off each Saturday morning to pedal his squeaky old bike to the biblioteca in Hood River and gather more: Cesar Vallejo, Juan Ramon Jimenez, Una Muno, Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Soon enough, Pedro found that he, too, carried the poetic impulse, that he, too, could make his language fly like birds – though at lower altitudes, and with feathers much plainer.  Still, he found that he could use his rough new skills as a way to tap off his irresolvable feelings about Angelina.  He found a café near the biblioteca where he could spend hours reading his latest discovery and then translating that same sort of magic into his own writing, filling notebook after notebook with tributes to forbidden love.
Alas! Just about the time that Pedro had come to terms with his plight, he left the café one Saturday to discover Angelina’s red truck parked across the street in front of the grocery store.  The following week, he noticed the truck’s arrival, and all the next month he made a study of Angelina’s deeply entrenched routine.  She would park outside the grocery just before eleven, walk down the street to do various errands, and then return at about one o’clock to do her grocery shopping.
This two-hour window was too much for Pedro to ignore, for here lay the opportunity to express his love directly, and yet maintain his anonymity.  He would arrive in town at ten o’clock and carefully lock his bicycle out of sight, next to a tree behind the café.  At noon, he would go next door to the florist shop, where a kindly old Anglo woman named Mabel would sell him a single blossom - a carnation one week, a rose the next, always changing.  Then, while Angelina was off doing her errands, he would walk as casually as possible across the street to clip the flower under the driver’s side windshield wiper on Angelina’s truck.
He was too afraid to observe Angelina’s return (the delivery itself made his strong workman’s hands shake with anxiety), but that night, Angelina would turn on the lights in her office to reveal a small yellow vase on her desk – and in the vase, Pedro’s flower!
This went on for a year, and still Pedro would feel a thrill when he spied his flowers on Angelina’s window, still his hands would shake like a teenage vandal’s when he made his deliveries.  Eventually, however, even this was not enough to quell Pedro’s longings, and once again he began to consider leaving the farm.  This time, he had a concrete offer, a cousin at an apple orchard across the river in Washington who said he could get him a job whenever he wanted.
Pedro awoke one Saturday morning in early March to find the sky over Mount Hood like a perfect oil painting of cerulean blue.  The orchards outside his bedroom window had just, in the previous eight hours, achieved the peak of their blossoming, a hazy field of snow-white flowers dripping here and there like the tears of angels.
Pedaling toward Hood River through this paradise, Pedro felt strangely overwhelmed.  When he arrived at the café he wrote a poem about a man who camped out in a pear orchard.  The man bedded down beneath a bower of blossoming pear branches, and in the morning a crew of workers discovered him dead, having literally asphyxiated himself in a pile of white petals.
At the florist’s shop, Mabel (who had long ago figured out the object of Pedro’s purchases) presented him with a white orchid, the most beautiful flower Pedro had ever seen.  She sold it to him at a price that was much lower, he was sure, than its real cost.  Still, even with the thought of the lovely orchid that would appear that evening in Angelina’s window, he returned to the café feeling like a condemned man.  He composed poem after poem about men killed by the terrorizing forces of beauty: a hunter clawed to death by an eagle with feathers of gold, an Alaskan explorer struck by a bolt of lightning from the heart of the Northern Lights, a teenaged boy so distracted by a passing bonita that he walks into the path of a speeding bus.
Two hours later, Pedro applied a final period to this gorgeous genocide, slapped his notebook shut and trudged from the café, too weighed down to even say goodbye to his pals Louis and Jake, hunched over their daily chess match.  At the very moment of dropping down that last dot of ink, in fact, Pedro had resolved never to write a poem again.  Once he escaped to the apple-fields of the north, he knew that the magic of words would conjure up Angelina’s face at every stanza.  His determination was so concrete, in fact, that he left behind a volume of poems by Federico Garcia Lorca atop his usual windowside table.
So it was that, with heart and feet turning steadily to iron, Pedro Poncilla rounded the back corner of the café to find a most unusual sight: his old bicycle, angled against the tree, covered from handlebar to rear fender in pear blossoms, whole branches of them, fixed to its metallic limbs with loops of white ribbon.  It looked like a kind of two-wheeled float, dressed up for an Easter parade.
Frozen in place in the alleyway, Pedro could feel the beauty that had always been outside of him, now asphyxiating him, filling his lungs and mouth and muscles, inflating him to a man three times his former size.  He knelt next to his bicycle, running his hands over its new tissue-paper skin, then untied the branches one by one, wrapping them in a sheet of butcher paper he got from Mabel.  He tied the bundle to the center rod of his bicycle, and carefully placed the ribbons in his pocket.  Then he rode home like a demon, questions flashing through his mind like the sparrows whipping past him in the wind.
He pulled into the farm to find father and daughter Ochoas standing next to the red truck, beaming in amusement and admiration, Angelina holding the white orchid in her hands.  As Pedro pulled to a stop in the loose gravel of the drive, he could feel the tug of one last anxiety: how in the world could he explain himself? His concerns were shattered by the booming laughter of his boss.
“Señor Poncilla!” he shouted.  “I see you have brought us more pear blossoms.  I am so relieved; I was afraid we were going to run out!”
Esteban Ochoas stepped to Pedro’s side and gave him a warm handshake.  “I was wondering, Señor Poncilla, if you would do us the honor of having dinner tonight with my daughter and myself.  I would like to discuss your apparently great interest in floral horticulture.”
Pedro smiled shyly, afraid to look at Angelina’s face lest it cause his heart to burst.  He caught his breath and said, “Yes, by all means, Señor Ochoas.  I… I would be honored. Yes.”

Frosty had shifted around until he sat before me, cross-legged like a kindergartner, wearing the kind of expression I imagine my Pedro had worn at the sight of his bicycle.  There were words approaching his lips, but I sealed them shut with a fingertip.
“My story is not quite done,” I said, and then rose on vodka-weakened legs to swing open the tailgate of my Mitsubishi and carefully extract my treasure.  I settled it at his feet and lifted either side of the blanket to reveal my mosaic, taking careful note of the glint in Frosty’s eyes as he wandered his fingers over its surface.
“This is your epiphany,” he said.  “This… is your…”
“My second self,” I said, then knelt down to bring my eyes level with his.  “You brought me the blossoms, Frosty – the fruit of your labor.  And this is what I have made with them. I wanted to thank you.”He had even

Photo by MJV

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Frosted Glass, Chapter Nineteen: Coyote on a Leash

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Coyote on a Leash

I could tell you that I didn’t intend to sleep with Frosty that night.  I’d be lying.  Let’s face it – I saw a weak, frustrated man, I drank with him, I told him stories about travelers suffocated by pear blossoms, I got naked.  I seduced about as well as anybody ever has.
Not to worry – my guilt was short-lived.  I woke up on the floor of my Mitsubishi, the gray light of overcast seeping in through the windows.  Thank God it wasn’t bright, because I had one helluva hangover.  I undid my origami body to a Catholic kneel and scanned the windows.  Not much doing at the Bel Canto.  No one at Gilda’s yet.  Good.  A note taped to my steering wheel.
You already know what was in that note.  Frosty was in love with Carlotta.  A round of blotto boinking with the old flame was not about to change it.  Frosty being Frosty, of course, he put it much more gracefully.
My mind had been sparking like a nuclear reactor since my boring lunch with George, but now I felt calm.  And focused.  I fired the engine and headed for the Waterfront.  Once there, I slipped into a homey little coffeehouse for a change of clothing, a splash of water on my face, two Extra-Strength Tylenol and a double cappuccino.
Thus fortified, I drove to the entrance of Knickerbocker State Park, paid my day-use fee, and then left the Mitsubishi in the parking lot and took the old trail.  As I neared Frosty’s campsite, I took a deer-trail through the bushes and ventured a peek, finding that Frosty and his car were both gone.
I raced back to the Mitsubishi and drove the narrow, looping road to the ranger’s cabin, finding that he, also, was gone.  I parked in the road near Frosty’s secret entrance and snuck into the backyard, bringing along my lug wrench.  The lock on the shed looked pretty sturdy, but I walked the perimeter and found the aluminum walls to be downright flimsy.  I discovered a seam at the back where I could insert the chisel end of the lug wrench and pop the sheeting right over the rivets.  After removing several along the bottom and a few up the seam, I took the corner with both hands and folded it back, creating a sort of tent-flap opening.  God! I thought.  I’m pretty good at this.
I quickly grabbed three white buckets marked B, W and G, and set them outside the shed.  Then I noticed two yellow buckets and one black, so I took those, too.  By the time I lugged all six down to the Mitsubishi, my muscles and joints were in full revolt.  Still, I managed to give the on-duty ranger a smile and a wave on the way out.
I was tempted to pull over in Depoe Bay and revisit the Spouting Horns – especially when I spotted an Internet café just across the street.  But I was on a mission from Frosted Glass Woman, so any delays were out of the question.  I waited out a dozen stoplights down the long thoroughfare of Lincoln City, passing the Chinook Winds Indian Casino’s large billboard, boasting of Bobby Vinton.
A few miles north I saw a sign for Highway 18 to Portland, and decided it was time to escape the Pacific Ocean.  A few miles past Otis, zippering through thick deciduous forests knifed off at the roadside like boxwood hedges, it finally occurred to me to ask my newly placid mind where the hell it was taking me.
I suppose my dogleg could be explained by Hessie’s gravitational pull.  But I knew it wasn’t time to see her yet.  Just then the woods to my right disappeared to reveal a soaring, broad-shouldered mountain, and at its base, what looked like a Silicon Valley shopping mall.
It turned out to be another Indian gambling joint, Spirit Mountain Casino, crouching in a small sea of parking lots.  The casino was a pillow of terra cotta, wearing a headband of bright geometrics, like the patterns in Indian jewelry and the logos of high-tech corporations.  I found myself entirely charmed, and fished around the parking lots until I found a space. 
I wandered into the plush interior, relieved to know that not a single soul here gave an even-odds goddamn about my hovering spiritual predicaments.  I purchased a two-dollar ticket and looked for the simplest nickel slot I could find.  The winning candidate was a country and western number with payoffs for different cowboy combos: a double-x branding iron, a broncin’ buck, a white Stetson, snakeskin boots, etc.  My plan was to kill an hour or two making pathetic little five-cent bets, but in my weary state I misfired, pressing the “Bet 40” button and somehow failing to hit on any of eight possible lines.  Just like that, my two-dollar ticket was gone (Crazy Horse snickering in his grave).
Strolling through the surrounding slots, I noticed that almost everybody was tethered to their stations by little plastic curly-cords.  I was dying of curiosity, so I queried an old guy wearing a navy squadron cap.  He seemed pleased with the chance to explain something to a youngster.
“Coyote Cards,” he said.  “They give bonus credits – the more you play, the more you get.  The little wire is just so you don’t forget and leave it in a machine somewhere.”
I thanked him and moved on, thinking Cripes! (No, really - cripes.) You can’t put a coyote on a leash!
I moved on to the gift shop, where I saw a basket of used craps dice and playing cards that were drilled through the middle with small, clean circles.  A redheaded girl with braces asked if she could help.
“These are sacred, you know,” I answered.  “These are the tools of a wounded people, used in the service of their redemption.”
Oh God, I thought.  I have become a crazy person.
The girl, who must have been used to weird people in casinos, smiled and said, “Yes, you’re right.  I like that!”
Bless you and all your DNA, I thought.  May you have many boyfriends who are terrific in bed and always bring extra condoms.
“I’ll take two decks and four dice,” I said.  I was relieved to find that my thought balloons were not yet leaking into my speech balloons.
As she was handing me my change, Redhead Girl told me I could find other sacred items down the hall, where a gathering of native artisans were hawking their wares.  I checked it out, but found their jewelry, ceramics and moccasins to be ruthlessly predictable.  Exiting their meeting room, however, I found a grove of trees to my left.  Suspecting hallucinations, I ventured over to inspect.
No, they were trees all right – genuine fake trees.  It was a dark hallway, twenty feet wide, twenty feet high, forty feet long, between the casino and the lodge.  A sign at the entrance read, Hall of Legends.  The trees were lined up at either side, their trunks disappearing into a black ceiling spotted with stars.  Behind the trees were realistic, woodsy murals, to the right a deepening forest, to the left a brook bordered by patches of snow.  The dirt in the center was made over like a campground, peppered with fir needles and carefully set tracks of deer, raccoon and coyote.  Hidden speakers played a soundtrack of crickets, breezes and coyote cries.
The only obvious man-made device was a light beam extending from the base of a cedar like some kind of security device.  I was willing to bet that something would happen if I tripped that light, and I wasn’t disappointed.  The thunder thundered.  The lightning lightninged.  Fortunately, the rain did not rain.  A stern-looking Indian appeared on the trunk of the cedar – broad forehead, proud tomahawk nose, granite cheekbones – and commanded my attention with roaring baritone syllables.
“Come! Hear the stories of my people.  Hear the legends that whisper in the land.  Listen for the sounds of spirits in the forest.”
The face faded away, and I noticed that the bark underneath was formed into smooth echoes of his features.  The crickety silence returned, then a second projector clicked on, conjuring a heavy-set native woman on the wall behind me.  She set herself squarely on her feet and addressed her hidden audience, speaking in spare, clean syllables, telling how it was that Coyote, The Trickster, deceived the Frog People into liberating their hoard of water so that all the creatures of the forest could use it freely.
My next visitor was a tall, broad-shouldered man who appeared over the brook, his features sharper, more aquiline than the cedar man.  He wore his hair in two long braids and held up his hands like a punter receiving a snap from center.  Speaking between them, he told of Coyote’s love of the moon, how one time the moon tricked Coyote into allowing himself to be lifted into the night sky.  The moon ignored Coyote’s pleas for release until he had traveled to the top of the heavens.  When he finally let him go, the impact of the fall sent Coyote’s blood flowing upon the land in a great river.  And that was why, ever since, the sons of Coyote would perch on the ridgelines and let out howls of anger and grief at the bright villain who murdered their father.
Just as the tall man was nearing the end of his story, poor Coyote dangling from the end of the crescent, two grandma types barged through the double doors from the lodge, chatting full-volume about someone’s fucking wedding in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  I nearly slapped them silly, but I figured I’d best not exhibit any further signs of insanity.  Curiosity eventually shushed them and drew them to a spot behind my shoulder.  “My,” said one.  “He’s quite handsome, isn’t he?”
I stayed for a couple more stories (How Coyote Created the Stars, Why Dogs Sniff Each Other), then wandered through the doors to the lodge, finding a long hallway painted the colors of autumn.  The walls hosted a gallery of framed landscapes engraved with the shapes of leaves; and the carpet held the familiar patterns of Navajo blankets.  At the end I found a lobby centered on an outcropping of boulders, a water fountain cutting between them to a pond littered with gamblers’ pennies.  Standing guard at the pond was a bronze Coyote, nose to the wind, eyes slanted, one paw lifted, ready for flight.  I placed a weary hand on his head, searching his keen metallic eyes for some sign, a lucky number, a hint of my direction.  Then I went to the desk to check in.

I had a beautiful room at the southwest corner, its windows facing a high, barren hill and, just over its western shoulder, the casino’s namesake mountain.  All right, I’m guessing, but it certainly looked like a Spirit Mountain, its peak rung about with clouds, dancing like ancestors at a pow-wow.
The furniture was made of bulky, rough-hewn wood, comforting and muscular.  The blankets and covers were a continuation of the Navajo patterns in the carpeting, and the walls carried three more of those warm landscapes with the leaf-shaped etchings.  All very homey, and if that didn’t work, there was a huge grandfather spirit of a television with all kinds of premiere movies (including a soft-porn channel, which the bellhop, a toothy redhead kid, seemed a bit too eager to point out).
Fending off a combination of paranoia and fatigue, I brought in the buckets one at a time, at random intervals (I didn’t want anyone thinking I was running a meth lab).  On a jaunt to the nearby town of Sheridan, I found a hardware store with lots of tile grout and a furniture store with several glass tabletops.
Over the course of the following days I dove into my work, taking time-outs for meals in Coyote’s Buffet, five-dollar slot sprees and visits to the Hall of Legends, where I lifted my eyes to my spirit fathers and mothers and learned their dozen stories by heart (including How Coyote Built Willamette Falls, which inspired the sculpture in the lobby).  And yeah, you’ve probably figured this out by now, but Coyote was exactly the guy I was in love with: the Trickster, the Man of Glass, transparent and evasive as ever.
My creative visions flew in all directions.  I began with the primary colors, exploring different patterns and groupings.  For the first of these, I got very precise, using blue painter’s tape to divide a circle of glass into three stripes, then taping it across the middle to give myself six sections.  I filled the center stripe with nothing but white.  I did the top left section all in green, then covered the section below in a rough checkerboard of green and white.  I did the same to the stripe on the right, only with brown instead of green.  The results were pleasingly symmetrical but not overly so, as the randomness of the material guaranteed a certain organic-ness.
For my next piece I spun a large green spiral, its emerald gyres cut off by the table’s square edges.  With this one, the thrill was all in the beginning; filling in the remaining spaces with a mottle of white and brown was much less exciting.  The effect of the whole, however, was quite satisfying, in a primitive, unified sort of way.
I jumped from this into something more evasive, marking off an oval table with cave-drawing figures – antelopes, sea lions, coyotes, poodles – then scattering the letters S-A-N-D-R-I-N-A among them.  I filled in the remaining spaces by complete chance, effectively turning my symbols into subliminal rebels.  A person could own this mosaic for years before discovering its menagerie, and I expected the letters would forever remain a mystery.
With my artistic bravado mounting (and my flat pieces dwindling), I abandoned functionality for form, selecting a long, narrow rectangle for the crags, nuggets, corners and bottle-threads I had previously set aside.  The end-product carried two elements I adored: the added dimension of contour, and the unmistakable Bronx attitude of “Hey! Don’t put your glass down here.  I’m a fuckin’ piece of art, okay?” It also gave me an almost sexual thrill when I ran my hands over its Badlands surface.
Finally, after six days of frenetic creativity, I unloosed the yellow buckets.  The first contained nothing but pastels – clear pieces with the faintest hints of blue, green and purple.  The approach here seemed pretty obvious: simply place the pieces and let their subtle variations dance the rumba.  I chose a square tabletop framed in straw-colored wicker, giving it a nice Caribbean vibe.
The second yellow bucket surprised me, because it didn’t contain glass at all.  What it held were sea-worn fragments of brick and porcelain, likely gathered at Glass Beach.  This spoke to me of great artistic possibilities, so I set it aside and waited for some wild inspiration.
I had already recalled what lay in the black bucket, but the sight still lifted me out of my shoes: a whole U.S. Mint of the rare and lovely blue.  This demanded no ingenuity at all – the beauty being right there in the raw materials – but it did demand patience.  Being cobalt, the pieces were all rather tiny, and the smallest of my two remaining tabletops – a smoked circle with beveled edges – was still rather large.  The placement of the pieces alone took two days, and the grouting was sheer hell, necessitating dozens of passes with the sponge in order to fill in all those little nooks and crevices.  By the time I finished the buffing, my back was killing me, but the pain lessened immensely when I held the finished product to the sunlight.  It looked like the entire left eye of Frosted Glass Woman.
I rewarded myself with a long breakfast at the Legends Restaurant and a thorough reading of the Portland Oregonian.  I was drifting by the gift shop afterward when I saw the Redhead Girl, Sylvie, refilling the sales-basket with craps dice.  Red dice, white spots – Sh-boom! There was my inspiration.  I bought all the dice she had and headed back to my studio.
I taped off the back of my last tabletop – a grand Thanksgiving-dinner oval – dividing it into four neat sections.  At the center of each section I applied an ace from my deck of holy playing cards.  Over these I glued a ten-by-ten square of craps dice, paying no particular mind to their numbers.  Toward the center of the table, however, I used DNA groupings of dice to count out my home phone number, my high-school locker combination, my best-ever bowling score, and the exact date and address of my deflowering.
I marked off the circumference of the oval with an inch-wide band of porcelain, then a two-inch band of brick, then another band of porcelain.  I peppered the remaining surface with an even spray of red and white.  As you might have imagined, the end results were fabulous.  I celebrated by entering the Hall of Legends just in time for my favorite story, Coyote plummeting the cobalt sky to pour out his brick-red blood on the hard Earth.
And my time was up.  I drove to a drug store in Willamina and made my purchase.  For something so monumental, the device was alarmingly simple, sort of a magic wand with a tip of stiff, absorbent material like the filter on a cigarette.  All you do is squat over the toilet, hold the tip in your urine stream for five seconds, then watch the little windows – a small circle and a slightly larger square, cut into the white plastic handle.
Step 2 of the instructions tells you that a little blue line will appear across the circle to signify that the test is working.  Which it did.  Step 3 says that if a second blue line appears, this one across the square, that means that you’re pregnant.
Which it did.  And I was.  And it was time to go see Hessie.

Photo by MJV