In an ordinary neighborhood in Palm Springs…photos by my travel guide Richard Feldman, who is in himself an Atlas Obscura.
In a motel whose name means “hot” in a language not English.
With its tiki decor in Palm Spring. It smells faintly of mildew, is fake Polynesian, yet evokes charm–mountains, pool, bougainvillea, orange umbrellas, half moon…you know I love that slightly run down back in the day Miami Beach feel (without ocean but desert will do). VERY hot–global warming will not be kind. The cab driver complained. In a way the Hot motel already speaks–has always spoken–of apocalypse, water waste, crowding, the death of culture…ah, I could live in this room and write a short novel but luckily Rich will be back from picking up a rental car & farmer’s market before lunch. Heading to Joshua Tree which can be other worldly too, but in a more natural fashion.
Across the street–I’m not making this up–the Hotel California.
Katherine Shelton sent this to me–what a great discovery!
“On I 80 at Iowa City there is a rest stop tribute to the Iowa Writers Workshop! There are a dozen or so quotes all cut out of steel at the shelters. I photographed a few quotes that were readable and that I liked!!! How wonderful is that??”
Quite wonderful. Thank you Katherine!
By Our Hands
Maybe today nothing will happen.
No one will walk miles for water.
Nothing will move in factories
where guns are built nor
where bread is sliced and bagged.
On tables cleared of night’s debris,
we will spread our hands––
Officials will close their doors
and stare into the past.
Desks piled with bills and
half-written novels will neither gather dust
nor quake in the cubicles of workers where
light falls across feet twisted around
the rungs of chairs.
Maybe today nothing will happen.
Children will sleep against each other’s breath.
Fields will go unmowed and mail
sink unsorted in bins.
Electricity will fail and prayers
in mosque and temple,
the building of bombs,
the weaving of bright cloth,
will cease. We will
study our hands,
every line and knuckle,
each cracked nail and stain,
Although I cannot say that times are good now here in our United States, I grew up in a rather apocalyptic corner of the Sixties. Indeed, I fully expected civilization to collapse before I could graduate from college. Part of this was that my father was under surveillance from the government. This gave me a dark view of our society from the start. I’m not sanguine about our “present troubles,” but I’m not very surprised either.
The click click click of the legal tap on the phone in my father’s house confronted us every time we picked up the receiver. It drove my friends–a bunch of small time drug dealers–crazy, although it was not aimed at them. It was aimed at my father, because this was the height of the war in Viet Nam and the president of a peace organization of which my father was treasurer had gone to visit Hanoi. Click, click, click. My father was a happy man. The most powerful government in the world was concerned with him. He was arrested, Mirandized, released over a matter of cash at a rally. His name appeared on Nixon’s enemies list. He was audited on his taxes straight through through until the first year of Carter’s administrate
Click, click, click. What the fuck is that? asked Joey Patmos. He was my friend my junior year in high school, skinny, dirty blond, wrapped in an old army jacket, Greek, from two towns over. Joey announced that he was coming over and I tried to dissuade him. It was dinner time, and he sounded high. I wasn’t much of a druggy myself. The sight of a close friend’s little brother hurling himself through a plate glass window tripping at a party had been enough to reinforce my natural caution. But I could talk you down.
My mother, despite the disintegration of civilization around her, still believed in dinner. She was terrified, though, that our father’s activities would lead to the kidnapping of one of my younger siblings. “Look,” she said desperately to my father, pointing to an article in the New York Times in which he was described as a millionaire opposed to the war. “They say millionaire–you know what that means. Some lunatic will go and kidnap the kids for money.” The Lindbergh baby was as clear in my mother’s imagination as if it were yesterday. My father paid no attention.
I’d barely tucked into a nice chicken breast with rice and broccoli when Joey arrived and I hustled him upstairs to my room. He was in a very bad part of the trip–the non-blissy paranoid part–which appeared also to be just the start. He slumped down at the foot of my four-poster bed, rapidly opening and closing his eyes. It had been raining, and his hair was matted. I kept him stashed in the bedroom while doing homework, fighting with my sister, even, eventually, brushing my teeth. Every so often Joey said “I’m going to die” and I said “no you’re not.” It was a school night and I had to get rid of him. Click, click, click. I called a friend of ours who lived around the block, hustled Joey Patmos out, and out into the rain. I watched him walk away. I was as alone in the world as if I were on an ice floe.
Time passes. Thirty-four years later I am sitting in my backyard on a summer’s day with my father. My daughter is a teenager, and she has been drifting in and out all weekend with her friends. A tall boy on a bicycle comes over. He is introduced, shakes my father’s hand, and disappears into my daughter’s room. My father looks pained, perhaps, I think, by the boy behind closed doors.
“Remember when you were that age?” says my father.
“Yes,” I say, which is quite true.
“And they arrested me that time and read me my Miranda rights?” He looks happy all over again.
“Mom was scared,” I say.
“Nothing was going to happen,” he says. “It wasn’t like McCarthyism.
“That time that Joey Patmos came over,” he says, “that evening…”
I am completely startled. “You remember that?”
“He was on LSD, wasn’t he?” says my father. “Some kind of drugs?”
“Yes, LSD, he certainly was.”
“I’m sorry,” says my father. “I wanted to help you but I had no idea how. So I just didn’t say anything.”
I listen for the click that is sometimes in my brain, but it is silent.
***Bluebeard’s Castle is available on Amazon, at your local bookstore, or through Small Press Distribution. https://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9781732650138/bluebeards-castle.aspx
1. A Place to Stand, by Jimmy Santiago Baca.
The poet’s autobiography, gritty and spiritual both. Especially moving to me was his account of his years in solitary confinement in a high security prison—in that confining space he found a much larger space within, and saved himself by learning the art and craft of writing poetry.
2. Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert: My Life among the Navaho People, by Erica M. Elliott.
Elliott’s memoir of her time among the Navaho, first as a school teacher and then later as a doctor, employs a spare and direct prose that allows the complexity of her cultural encounters to shine through.
3. The Walk, by William deBuys.
Another memoir! I’m still reading this. The author recounts the stages of his daily walk through his small farm nestled among hills in northern New Mexico. The gorgeous prose inspires reflection, and after a week I’ve just barely cracked page 30. No need to rush, when the writing is this good.
4. The Memory Police, by Yoko Ogawa.
In the haunting future Ogawa imagines, a cruel authoritarian State, without giving a reason, periodically censors things—calendars, photographs, flowers, even birds. Even something as trivial as toast. All examples must either be destroyed or turned in to the Memory Police. Once this is done, people forget they ever existed. Slowly, the world trudges toward extinction.
5. Poems New and Collected, by Wistawa Szymborska.
I keep coming back to this book by the Nobel laureate, for a kind of mental rejuvenation. She finds a way in her accessible and exacting poetry to burrow into subjects such as miracles, the sky, hatred, and love at first sight in such a way that you see the world anew.