This is the seventh installment in Peter’s “Bum Logic” series, about his investigation into our inadvertent complicity in climate change, continued from his last post, Paradox Cake.
I was sitting—reclining really, a dignified slouch—reading Alison Hawthorne Deming’s book Genius Loci, a poem titled the “Temple Harlot.” It was late-morning, 11:15ish. “What is the wild man’s destiny? / To be remembered by those…” I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket and cursed the contraption for breaking my focus, my dream. I attempted to ignore it as I raced to the end of the stanza, “…wholovehim. / Whereistheharlottoday? / Homeless,givingshelterinherragstostrays.”
I extracted the offending appliance from its pant pocket garage, glanced at the caller id: Mr. McGrath. Not in the least bit surprised, I pressed the button that opened the auditory avenue and said, “Yo-Yo.” I heard my friend reply, “Mr. Nichols, my good sir.” Greetings dispatched, I cut to the quick.
“What’s your world doing, Corey?”
“It is windy as shit,” he answered and went on to assert his belief that he would be gracing me with his presence before the hour ran out.
“Oh, wow-zow.” I replied. I’d been expecting news of this sort for the last couple of days. Corey, a friend from my time spent as an undergraduate Saint in way upstate New York, was doggedly biking from New Orleans to Los Angeles. I was envious. I hung up.
Mere minutes later, again, a disturbance in the pocket of my pants. This time I didn’t even attempt to salvage the integrity of the poem I was in; I left it broken, permanently crippled by happenstance. “Yello?” I answered.
“Quite a nice irrigation system you got going here.”
“Fuck you,” I responded and hung up.
Outside in the parking lot I saw Corey resting his bike on the front of my truck and scanning the ridged, sub-letted horizon. Behind my vehicle, the sprinkler system which had been running constantly for forty-eight hours, in spite of my efforts to inform the cogs with the power to turn it off, kept on saturating the synthetic Southern Californian soil. I unleashed a salutary tirade of anger aimed at the absurdity. Corey turned and smiled. He was wearing bike shorts and a button-up polyester. “Good to see you,” he said, as we embraced.
“Good to see you,” I affirmed. “What do you need?”
“The Internet and running water.”
“Follow moi,” I said, and led us into our immediate futures.
After taking care of self-care, we moved up the Maslow Scale. We drove into Los Angeles and what for me had been a highly anticipated evening. The Do The Math tour, Bill McKibben’s latest push towards tenable environmental/economical stewardship, was in town and they’d sold out the Grand Ballroom of the UCLA Ackerman Student Union. I’d obtained four tickets at ten bucks a pop. We’d be joined by another mutual friend from our collegiate past, Pete Fitz, who’d convinced a former coworker of his, Mike, to break with his routine and DVR Once Upon a Time.
On the way, an audiocassette of Steppenwolf provided apt musical accompaniment to Corey’s tales of adversity, uncertainty, and endurance approaching the periphery of pleasure. He swam the Rio Grand. He did Marfa right. He showed off his tan lines to tourists at White Sands. And, he grew thighs more powerful than mere thunder. In passive-aggressive competition, I decided to display my urban savvy by cursing at other drivers and multitasking while behind the wheel. For the sake of a well-balanced conversation, I told Corey about my efforts with the still-growing CommonLuck Theater. I told him about how the most recent performance had been composed of a shredded beet/cucumber/white onion/avocado/black pepper salad. I told him about how it had coincided with the culmination of the Queer Arts Collective’s annual week-long parade. I told him about how I’d thought the Q.A.C. were attractive allies to my movement because: a) they are the longest continuously coherent collective on campus, boasting a membership of ____; and b) “To me, Queer means doing without the false solace of categories.” – Dodie Bellamy, a line bloated with obvious congruencies to the Freak Power Movement, of which I am a proud regeneration. Strangely enough, Corey expressed his jealousy for my pursuits. I’d apparently failed to make readily apparent the sheer number of hours I spent in prostration before a computer, a contraption not nearly as worship worthy as a bicycle.
After navigating my rig into a parking garage spot, phones facilitated the coordination of our two travel groups. United, we sniffed out the ballroom. Unlike a sporting event, where the closer to the field of play you get the more uniform the insignias become, this brouhaha lacked, or perhaps had yet to fully develop, a brand identity, a describable demographic. I saw an old Asian guy who looked liked he’d just finished riding a Harley Davidson, leather vest, tattoos, bugs in his teeth, chatting with a young latina lady who exuded the aura of an up-and-coming business shark. She produced a business card from her suit pocket, like it was the normal thing to do when a conversation neared its conclusion. I saw myself, a white guy, with a white t-shirt, jeans, and a baseball cap, profession and hobbies unknown but predictable.
Inside the arena, we ambulated to some vacant seats, and unceremoniously deposited our butts. No sooner had we achieve that feat than a gaggle of coeds marched in formation through and around the audience, chanting, “Fossil fuels have got to go…YO!” I cringed, not because I disagreed with the content but because I distrusted the format, which felt overly coordinated and insufficiently critical, like the Midwestern-Methodist prayers of my childhood. Thankfully the murmuration abated as quickly as it came, leaving me to wonder just how an aspiring utopist should behave. I felt that relationships of convenience were the only ones worth spending energy on and time in. I had a long standing relationship of convenience with my body, so I sat up straight, cocked my head to the right until a vertebrae cracked.
I noticed the crowd hushing, and I looked at the stage. A man, a bald former football player type, had taken up a position behind the podium. Into the microphone he announced that the audience was welcome in the space. My inner cynic quipped, “Yer darn tootin I’m welcome: I paid the price of admission, I paid rent, so anyone thinking I ain’t welcome can help themselves to a kick in the ass.” That monologue was bookended when the host stated that the evening would start with a musical act. He gestured to a black piano and “Nellie McKay.” Applause, in anticipation of gratification, erupted.
Then awkwardness. Something had gone awry. Nellie McKay didn’t appear. The crowd got tired of cacophonic percussion. Nervous conversations sprouted. But before they could germinate, the musician struck a cord. On stage walked a ukulele-tickling, apparition of a blonde 1940’s pin-up girl. The melody was infectious, the sort that will set your lips to whistling without first obtaining the proper permits from your byzantine right brain. Lyrics came and they were dead-on, deadpan satirical, reminiscent of Todd. I noticed a pretty girl two rows ahead and a couple of seats to my right. She wore a teal shirt printed with the text “National Dance Institute of New Mexico.” Nellie sang, “I don’t care what they say / I won’t stay in a world without love.”
Peter Nichols is a poet, rock climber, and vagabond originally from Toledo, Ohio.