Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bleeding to Death on the Bus (heavily anthologized)

I wrote this story almost 4 years ago, but I really enjoyed reading it again so I thought I'd pull it off Myspace where it's been moldering, unread, for quite some time now.
Apologies to those who have already read it and didn't like it the first time.

The kid's looking at me like I've got leprosy.
"What do you mean 'damn'? How bad is it?" I ask, trying to keep the hysteria out of my voice.
"Man you've got a hole in you chin!" The kid lets me down gentley.
"Fuck." At this point it's all I've got. It's all I know: fuck. "Fuck."
I'm about an hour subway ride from home out in the middle of nowhere sitting on a bench trying to keep my blood from running all over the place. My shirt is covered with gore and hair from my unshaven face. Well, unshaven until now when the concrete did it for me. Taking just a little extra and only in one place. I've got no map or anything so I hardly know how to get home despite the fact that I did a bang up job of getting down here. Also, when your bleeding as much as I am now your thoughts tend to jumble around a little. The blood splatters down on your shirt making new red lines in the cloth. On your shoes the blood coagulates in the dust and forms little beads. When it hits the sidewalk blood looks so remarkablely red and opaque that it has all the visual power of a bright yellow wasp or one of those poison dart frogs, bouncing around the rain forest like fire globules. Stop signs are dramaticaly red for a reason, the color makes you pay attention. It's a warning and right now I've got warning spalshed all over me, from my chin down to my shoes.
"Do you know where there's a hospital?" Suddenly it occures to me that I should probably get moving.
"It's like a BIG hole, man" I've apperently impressed the kid with my injury but as flattered as I am I'm starting to get a little nervous. I lift the edge of my voice a little higher.
"No man, I have no idea."
This kid's been a great help. I'm starting to walk away when he suddenly snaps to.
"Those guys might though," he says pointing to a group of surly looking kids in the corner of the park.
Immediatley I'm walking up to the kids trying to control my steps afraid I might fall again. Everything feels numb. My finger tips are tingling. A trail of blood is following me around the park.
"Hey guys," I butt into their conversation trying to look as relaxed as possible, you know like I bust myself open everyday.
"Do you know where there might be a hospital around here?"
"Not really." The surliest looking one says without even looking up. And I can't help but to think about grabbing him, shaking my head and screaming like Tyler Durden did to his boss in Fight Club, flinging my blood all over the place, mostly on him.
'Not really?'
What kind of shit is that either you know or you don't. Look at me for shit sake. Do I look like I only kinda' need a hospital?
Another one takes sympathy on me, or maybe he just doesn't want any blood dripped on his new Emerica shoes.
"I think there's on on Valenica, like Valencia and 19th."
Ok that's enough I have a vague idea where that might be and I don't want to stand around anymore leaking like a faucet. I thank the guys and skate off in the direction I came.But the skating is slow under my wobbly feet. One of my shoes is all ripped up and the blood pouring down my shirt is taking my concentration away from everything else. After about three blocks it's all hills and I've got to get off and start walking. The kid's words keep echoing through my mind.
"There's like a big hole. Your chin. Big Hole"
It just keeps playing over and over again. making the injury in my mind worse with each repitition . By the time I'm out of the hills I'm seeing half of my face hanging off. I start thinking about debilitating scars and and amputations. My mind is abuzz with staples and stiches. If I do get out of this I'm going to end up looking like Frankenstein's monster. All the while my shirt is growing darker and darker with the blood its taking on.
After about 10 blocks of intermitant skating and running I begin to realize I realy have no guarantee there's going to be a hospital at the end of this road. Those kids didn't sound very sure and it seems like I would've seen a sign by now.
I'm back to that again now. Cursing my self for my exteme penury that won't even allow me to get a cab at a time like this. I've got blood all over myself but I can't stop thinking about how expensive cab rides are. It's a good thing I've got insurence or I probably wouldn't even go to the hospital.
After about half and hour of searching I'm moving up the lower Mission. I see a man at the bus stop who looks like he might know where things like hospitals are and, hesitating no longer I ask him.
"Well what kinda' hospital you looking for? There's quite a few. They got St. Luke's up on Chavez St. there's the General on...wait where's the General again? I can never seem to remember that one or maybe you want a clinic there's a shit load of 'em around here."

The man continues to drone on seemingly oblivious to the severity of my situation, as if he sees blood streaked guys around all the time. I finally cut him short and ask which hopital is closest.
"Well," He begins seeming kind of offended at my impertenence. "Well this bus here'll take you right to one of 'em." He gestures to a bus coming, about a block down the street.
"Thanks," I tell him fumbling for my change hoping I have enough for one of the costly San Francisco buses.
The Number 17 Valencia pulls up in front of me and I wait for everyone else to get on so I can speak to the driver.
The bus is packed. The seats are all filled and the people standing are all packed in like sardines. The windows are all up and the air inside is stiffeling, at least 20 degrees warmer than it is outside.
When I reach the bus driver he's yelling in Spanish for everyone to move back further,despite the fact that everyone is already shoulder to shoulder, even head to head, childern and elderly people are squashed in the middle of the crowd. I don't know what these people are breathing but it isn't air. I think air technically has to have some oxygen left in it and there's none what so ever in here.
"Dude, you got like a hole in you chin!" Ahh fuck. The kid's words again. Why did I ever ask him what it looked like? I should have just gotten up and walked out of the park to the donut shop down the steet and asked one of those nice old folks how bad the wound looked. Shit, they probably would've offered to drive me to the hospital too. Instead I...
"Come on kid get moving!" Oh shit almost forgot what I'm doing must be the loss of blood. the bus drivers scowling at me, either because I havn't payed my fare yet or because I look like I just robbed a liquor store and didn't quite make it out before the shotgun went off.
"Hey are you going by a hospital?" I stammer, no time for formalities now.
"Which one?" He asks looking at me from under his bus driver visor. A green plastic thing that makes his face look even less inviting.
"Anyone." I'm getting tired of this run around so I answer blankly hoping he'll get the point.
"Well if you get off at 16th and walk about 8 and 1/3rd blocks clockwise from the five-way intersection there's another bus that'll be coming by, you don't want that one but you want the one after it. you take that to..."
This seriously went on for about 10 minutes. Someone in the back starts to yell, babies are beginning to cry.
"You got that?" he asks, almost pleased as if hes been enjoying the convoluted directions hes been giving.
"No," I tell him. But I'll try." I don't know what else to say.
"It's easy!" He tells me closing the door and slamming down the gas. Sending my stumbling toward the back, blood and all.
As the stops go by I begin to notice that no one is actualy getting off the bus. Riders get on but none get off, there is no counter measure and within a few short moments I am engulfed by the crowd. They swarm around me edging by, stepping over the seats, hanging from the safety bars and crawling beneath the seats. Normally I wouldn't mind but I'still bleeding all over
the damn place! Doesn't anyone notice? I've got my shirt brought up around my chest trying to catch all the blood that seems loosened by the warm, fetid bus air. My shirt, is sticky with blood, it's all over my hands and running down my chest. A man is standing right in front of me with a brand new white button-up shirt on. The bus rocks and sways going over the bumps and around the bends. I am doing everything I can to stay far away from that white shirt, straining my muscles to compensate for the movements of the bus. I hear someone near me say 'Sangria.' I look up but no one is looking over at me. I'm trying to hold the bar with one hand and mop my face with my shirt with the other. The bus stops again, more people get on and the guy with the white shirt is even closer to me now. I notice a few mothers pushing there kids past me, quickly. A group of kids are learing at me. My skateboard falls and when I reach down to steady it five or six drops of blood splash on the floor. I pretend not to notice but I'm afraid that they've splashed on someone. The bus is getting hotter by the minute more
people get on. I feel like I'm saturated in blood, light headed, beginning to wonder why the hell I got on this damn bus.
"It's like a HOLE, dude!" Shut up, kid. I hardly even care anymore. I'm resigned to dying on this bus now, The Number 17 Valencia. I'll fall down, collapse in a pool of my own blood and these people probably won't even notice, if they do they won't care, probably just take my wallet or something.
"Hey Hospital Guy?" The bus driver is suddenly yelling at me over the din of the 3 thousand people on the bus.
"Hospital Guy, get off here ok?"
"Thanks" I stammer out shaking with excitment of finally getting off this terrible bus.
"Yeah," he adds. "Get off here and get on the bus behind us."
Great another bus probably packed even tighter than this one, everybody wearing brand new white shirts.
When I go to get off the bus everyone clears a path for me. I almost feel gratefull that they finally seemed to have noticed.
The next bus is almost empty. The bus driver is very cordial and there's even a place to sit. After about five minutes she nforms me that we've reached the hospital.
I walk in, check in, wait in the waiting room, still bleeding all over myself.
The nurse calls my name and I follow her to the preliminary room.She runs through all basics asking me how it happened, where it happened etc. while taking my blood pressure. I've got gauze packed in the wound now and I'm waiting for here to tell me they'll have to amputate or do a graft.
She doesn't say anything so I ask.
She looks at me, smiling like nurses do. "Oh you'll probably just need a few stiches, nothing major."
I practically collapse in relief.
"We'll have to do something though," she smiles " I mean you've got like a big hole in you chin."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"but Soft..." or Posies

It's always the usual days I want to write about, but when I sit down to write something about them I find that all the flavor was in the individual moments, leaving me with nothing to write about, nothing that will flow anyway. For example if I wrote a sentence like "the sky had that faded rose color that precedes a storm, back over the mountains, and two of the neighbor's kids were chasing each other around a broken pipe sticking straight out of the ground, running around and around like they were never going to stop." it's fine as a sentence but if I tried to expand upon that further, by bringing in a series of events to lead up to and away from the kids and the sky, well, it just wouldn't work; it would be obvious I was just leading up to that sentence. Furthermore, some days are just paced out in sentences rather than paragraphs or pages.

-I went down to get bread from the new Georgian place (Vratsakan haats), yesterday's rain still all over the place, and it took me twice as long to get home as I decided to pick up everything else I wanted for breakfast on the way back.
-Paige and I walked to another part of town that I now realize I've hardly been through; I was still drowsy from sleeping in so late but it didn't hinder our conversation as I'm so comfortable talking to her.
-We waited for the marshutka to take her back to Vyke sitting on a rock by the road.
-I stopped at the post office as I've been waiting for a letter from my friend Sam for awhile; the letter was there along with the last package my mom said she'd mail me, what she called my "welcome home" package, full of stuff that could be eaten on the road, some of which I've already eaten.
-I read Sam's letter on a ridge just north of town that overlooks the village Getap below, while the flies buzzed around me in the hazy May afternoon.
-I couldn't ask for a nicer letter from an old and dear friend, although it arrived nearly a month late,
-I stopped by the trauntella nest I found about a week ago and have been looking at nearly every day since.
-One of my students called me down to the university to practice for a recital coming up that my skateboard and myself are to play a part in, while I was talking with her I noticed her eyes, in some way, remind me of a butterfly, and as a result I talked in a quieter tone than usual.
-I came back to find the area around my apartment building in a flurry of late afternoon activity, my neighbors talking while their kids jumped and ran around shouting; they joked with me and I joked back, including me in the community activity.
-Bought a local brand of spring water to take to my favorite bench to read some more of the Central Asian Lonley Planet guide that I haven't been able to put down lately, jotting notes here and there, only to scribble them out after finding out about another visa restriction.
-Two old men sat down next to me and talked for some time; it was clear from the way they spoke that they'd been friends for their whole lives.
-I was offered popcorn later brought to the bench by a young girl and and young woman who was there with her 2 or 3 year-old child, who'd just been gifted with a new tricycle.
-Every time a car would come down the sleepy street everyone would stop talking and look up to see where the little girl and her tricycle were.
-I spoke with the old man after his friend left; he invited me in for vodka, I declined but meant it when I said I'd take him up on it some day, he does, after all, frequent my favorite bench and I'm sure I'll have another chance.
-I listened to Bjork's Vespertine while making a dinner that I expected to be lousy, but turned out to be tolerable.
-The sun went down about half an hour ago but I still haven't turned on the lights in my apartment.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dreaming with the TV on or Your Tone of Voice is far too Serious for this Occasion

There's a mania taking over. It's not really a bad thing; I haven't lost any ability or sense as a result and I wouldn't even say that anything has been dulled, still, I'm living with thoughts that vacillate so quickly I usually have a difficult time gauging my own opinion on anything, especially issues of importance. The problem here is that my service here is almost over. This brings a cascade of thoughts that have been building up for these last two years down on top of me. The stretch of time that separated the day I arrived from, say, today, often seemed interminable. I realize now that in my listless, day-to-day musings I was thinking about eventually leaving in such an abstract way that I had nearly blocked the possibility from my mind. Now, just two months from some kind of departure, I find I am not at all prepared for this drastic change. In part because I anticipated it far too much, and in part because I took my anticipation to be indulgence and not really connected to reality or worth my time.
The question I seem to be continually asking myself is whether or not I want to leave. Of course I don't want to stay here for ever, in fact even the idea of staying here another year is really not appealing at all. There are things I miss, things that I feel entitled to miss. Yet, the idea of returning to America does not fill me with enthusiasm either. I know I've built up a ridiculous picture of what America is in my mind. Two years of exaggeration have taken their toll. And when I really look through the memories the only relevant and worthwhile thing I can find are my friends and family. Yes, I desperately want to eat avocados, fake cream cheese, bagels and all sorts of crap again, but, really what is appreciation of such things? Am I going to savor the flavor of these things for months on end? Am I going to thrill every time I get on my bike (Which I've been without) for years? Yes, there's going to be an immediate, probably overwhelming shock of readjustment, but later, when these things again become normal, I know that my mind is going to wonder back to this place, the people I met and the things I did, and I already know that I'm going to regret not having done more of a great many things.
So I find myself in a kind of limbo. Stuck between the incredible contemplation of a realistic return home to all the things I have ever known and my last two months in Armenia, a place that I will not return to for many years, if ever, but none-the-less, a place where I have left an indelible mark of persistence, of will.
I know that I will continue to relive this place for years, much in the same way that I still remember what was happening in California right before I came here. Sometimes, what was two years ago seems like it was only a few months ago. For example, my last night in America, in Philadelphia, before catching a plane from NY the following evening,I walked around all night, past Ben Franklin's grave, down by the river, up to the north side, which seemed more hood than the west side. I remember walking through this city thinking over and over to myself that this was the country that I was going to be leaving the following day, that all the things I found familiar here were soon going to cease to exist except in memory.
I had my headphones on most of the night, I remember listening to "Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss" a lot and finishing a letter to a girl, shortly before trying to call her from eight different payphones and losing something like 6 dollars in quarters on old drugdeal AT&T coinslots. I went to a bar later on where other volunteers were meeting each other. I felt pretty numb to the whole thing, trying to remind myself that it would be a long time before I heard live rock music again.
And then, like that, it's the next summer and I'm standing in a bar in Novi Sad, Serbia listening to a decent rock band, with vague memories of a year in Armenia. After I left the country for my first vacation after a year, it was almost like I'd hardly spent more time than a month there. If I really pondered it I could pull up all kinds of memories from training and subsequent site placement, my first host family and moving out on my own after 7 months of living with families, but, usually, I didn't really ponder it, I just experienced it in waves of vertiginous dreams.
It'll be like that again, too. I'm going to lose a lot of this experience just by leaving. It's collapsible somehow. When I really want to think of it I will, but not without regret, but mostly I'll just remember the tunes to Armenian and Russki pop songs, the swallows outside my window and the sound of the recording on the Yerevan Metro, warning passengers that the doors are closing.
"skushasek dnera pakvum en--hajort gayarana yeritasardakan"
but that one I'll keep until I'm old, shuffling around a retirement center, mumbling it to myself through a trick of Alzheimer’s.

I haven't been writing much because I can’t help but to feel like these posting are becoming fairly formulaic. I try to elucidate on my internal struggle, my new dual identity as someone who lives in Armenia, someone who hasn't seen his friends and family in years, someone who has changed with none the usual people around to witness the change and, well, the kid who graduated from Jackson high in 2001, moved to Chicago, moved back to Michigan, worked in a bookstore, took road trips to Minneapolis and Pittsburg a lot because he knew people there eventually moved to San Francisco after discovering it to be the most beautiful city in the US, one February evening after driving all day up from LA, to the Richmond and getting out of a van that smelled like Red Bull and socks on 19th Ave and something, watching the light from the setting sun run up the street car rails that cut the streets out there. The kid who grew restless even in SF and moved up north and, eventually left for the Peace Corps, by again driving back across America for the forth time.
I write and try to reconcile these identities by talking about what I miss about America, indulging that character for a while, but this always seems kinda' fake, not that I don't miss these things, but I often find that I hardly have the attention to give full description to what I miss and why, mostly because my life here is continually hammering at my door. The kids who live in my building are coming in and bring their English homework, or their just coming in and asking me what I'm doing while sorta' drifting around my apartment, as kids are wont to do. If it's not that, someone's calling me asking me when the hell I'm ever going to come back over, people I met once, months ago are still calling me with this question and it's not unusual to me at all anymore. Even if nothing is deliberately intruding on my American musings Spring here is just too lively to ignore. In the evening the crickets chirp in alternating waves of somnolence, a sound at once so beautiful and bucolic that I listen to it and wonder why I ever enjoyed living in cities so much. During the day my neighbors are outside working on cars, revving the engines, yelling out their windows to each other, walking their babies, who have been imprisoned inside all winter, around the building. There are at least 5 different kinds of bird song that I can differentiate outside my window, all of them enchanting. When the kids get home from school they seem to just run frantically back and forth under my window, switching their aim every three minutes but always running, running and yelling. With all that going on I try to reflect on my time here, I try to think about what I left and what I'm going to return to and I'm not really there at all. I get fleeting glimpses of things, American things, that I try to write down, but can never seem to mold into anything substantial. I think about food and I mention that I miss certain food but no one, besides perhaps my mother, would care at all that I miss certain foods, to tell the truth I don't either. I write those kinds of things and I think to myself, "you're writing about avocados again, aren't you tired of writing about that?"
This all, of course, begs the question what the hell am I trying to express? If I'm totally acclimated to being here why do I keep trying to reminisce about things that I've obviously drifted too far away from to say anything interesting about. If my Armenian life and my American life can't be reconciled why do I continue to write about them in the same post? The only solution I have is that the two, for me, are totally intertwined. My Armenia doesn't exist without American fantasy. I can't really think to any time period that I was here when a certain facet of American living wasn't in the back of my mind. The first six months I was here it was the people. I just missed the raw material behind the people I knew in the states and wished I could somehow conjure up analogues to this in Armenia (I also didn't really have any friends here at that time.) Then, as I began to meet more and more people I began to miss the specific entertainment options. I would meet the people I had come to know and wish that we had something better to do than smoke cigarettes and talk, I wanted a background to the conversation like I'd always had at home, a bar, a bike ride, a to-go coffee and a beach-side bench. In time, I found this as well, cafes replaced cafes, mountains replaced the ocean, kitchens replaced bars, marshutkas replaced subways and bikes. As I became more and more acclimated I began to miss the little things, like sounds and flavors, things that are hard to replace, things that do not often play a very auspicious role in one's life but are constant. This began the long lament over foods and ephemera of life in America. But now I feel even this is fading, the little specific things have lost their import, they just aren't important enough and I can't hold on to them forever; I like the foods and the smells and the sounds of life here now. These things have become my life, and as they too are ephemeral I'm taking more time to appreciate them. So what does that leave me with? Just when it seems like I've gotten over every American fantasy my mind could conjure up, a new theme presents itself, probably the most troubling theme of all, that of pure fantasy. What now prompts me to write about America at all is nothing that comes from my own experience, but things I imagine I may be able to obtain when I go back, things that I have no familiarity with heretofore not because I've never done them, but I've never experienced them the way I think I will after having been away from them for years. It seems odd to say but this category of pure fantasy is probably the most mundane longing or nostalgia of all because it takes the most commonplace things and converts them into nearly limitless experiences. Let me give to an example to illustrate my point.
I was listening to This American Life today and there was a segment where two people talked about watching TV together and singing the theme song to a new TV show that they liked. A married couple singing along to a sitcom theme. When I heard this I was immediately transported to a reality where I was sitting next to someone after a long day of work and awaiting the start of our favorite new TV show. The between-shows commercials ended and the theme began, we began to sing lustily in anticipation of the continuation of a story we had come to appreciate and identify with. There was really nothing else to this fantasy, but while I was considering it I felt inexplicably happy, especially for someone who, back in the states, hadn't had any kind of network TV connection since 2002.
That's it, that's what I think about now when I think about going back to America. That's what makes me happy. The really boring parts of life that are probably the hardest to appreciate anywhere. I don't like TV, but the idea that it could really mean something to me and play a background role to the relationships I would have with other people is novel as hell. That's what entertains me now, the prospect that the things I used to reject as dull and unimportant will now be reinvigorated with a sense import, a sort of background potential I was never able to see before.
The only other thing I really think about, fairly frequently, are the cups of coffee I'd like to drink with different people in different places, some of them don't even make sense, that is, the cafes I'm putting these people in are thousands of miles, in some cases, from where they live. Sometimes my vision of America can almost be totally reduced to a handful of people and cafes, indeed there's really little else I'd want from it at this point, permitting a job.
There are about 14 weeks left. I'm going to travel around the country, work at a summer camp or two, finish all my paperwork and try to get a final project finished, then I'm going to Iran and onward to central Asia through Turkmenistan. My somewhat sedentary period is coming to an end, so the focus of this record is probably going to change. There's a lot to anticipate in returning to America, but I'm not going to write about it anymore, I think I exhausted it tonight. It would seem, just 20 days short of a full two years, I've finally used up all my desire, which should make this summer incredibly interesting.