An unsent letter to a friend in a parallel universe, no longer with us

Dear X________,

Here is a quote from Desmond Tutu for you:

Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.

Teach a man to cycle, I say, and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring. And you always liked to cycle, didn’t you? Just like me.

I don’t like to write electronically like this. I am very old-fashioned that way. I don’t deny it. But I have been very anxious to write to you, to be honest, and at least I’ve included an authentic artifact from my smith-corona – which is attached in a hyperlink below.

I understand if you think I am crazy and never speak to me again after reading this! But I hope not…It’s only an experiment like everything else I write – and I guess I like to think that you especially bring out something honest and heartfelt that I might not otherwise get to say. Also I am not crazy, I am not even spiritual, I don’t believe in much, but all of the the following is true and really happened.

It appears I am becoming a hypochondriac, in all the etymological connotations of that word. Today I fell ill and told my brother to bring me some soup and some dvds and some ice cream. But he ignored me. Apparently, I am the boy who cried wolf. So i ordered extravagantly-overpriced groceries from Yummy dot com instead, and felt like a shut-in.

Then I fantasized about being in Louisville since I just randomly and justifiably lied to someone yesterday, someone who I didn’t want to see or to find me, that I have been in Kentucky lately, hiding out from the heat. It isn’t hot here (don’t worry). And I am not on the run from the law or from anybody else. There isn’t even anybody trying to find me, really. But this is simply the way I cope with the pangs of adulthood – balancing the poet’s need for solitude with the novelist’s need for the flights of his own tiresome imagination.

I suppose I’m an old man, cranky and infirm, who is trying to grow young the best way I know how.

So I tell myself I am in the south, because maybe the steamiest fantasy I know is a geographic one (and maybe Burma is too violent right now and I’m trading old fantasies for easier ones), because maybe the south has more of a pulse than this sunburnt suburbia, this Mecca of lifeless young professional’s, because maybe you come to mind, consciously or not, whenever I try to grow young again. So I thought about the South. So I thought about how wonderful it would be to be bored enough to speak in a drawl in a gentleman’s manner. I thought about fishing or picking apples or drinking straight bourbon – maybe with bitters, but without all the cost-cutter stuff like fruits and creams – or making snow angels down in the bayou, or telling stories in a lazy way, outside on a porch someplace with an old vitriola.

Then I thought about the word ennui and angst and how I am becoming the type of person who the avant-garde would write satirical novels about:

‘A discreet member of the bourgeois bourgeiosophobe’ – the original Hipster, afraid of his own kind. It could be a hit if I had the absurd discipline to stay inside all day and write it.

Then I thought how much patience it would require to go fishing in the South or anyplace else; I thought about whether fishing isn’t just a glorified marionette show underwater for the other fish – ‘Miming for Nemo’, if you like – and how is that supposed to be Respectable? I thought about new hobbies, I thought about a whole urban gang of knitters, old women hiding in darkened hotel rooms – yarn creeping under the door – and I started to plot out a horror movie in my head about a knitting circle gone terribly awry, until I got scared of my own mind and wisely gave up.

Then i got sorta down again, got bored/got lonely with my own mind and decided to ride the bus around the city. Aimlessly, like a bedouin. Like a forgotten eremetic monk in an ancient desert. (Like I do whenever I get down/bored/lonely with my own mind). I wandered around Koreatown, Little Italy, Echo Park, looking for signs to read, for symbols, for coincidences (for what exactly?) – for what the french call a clochard phrase, for what greeks would call destiny. This isn’t easy to explain, since I don’t believe in that sort of thing. And yet there is something I chase in the streets when the urge strikes. It could be a conversation I overheard, the fragment of some street sign that’s the hint of a poem, the trace of another land where I might belong, the whiff of a song in a courtyard I’m meant to decode. It isn’t easy for me, tracing the sound of a banjo, following some clochard phrase.

When I get onto some path or other toward an intangible, towards some hazy notion or idea, I am incorrigible – it’s as if a madness were holding the rest of me for ransom, and I have to see it through.

I stopped to eat soup someplace for my throat and every single bite carried its own echo. Like a dagger held up to my ears. And I rode the buses some more with my typewriter and a sign  I sometimes hang that says ‘Hi I’m Mute, care for a poem?’

And so this way I met a meteorologist who requested a poem about Soup, of all things (and I knew I was on the right track). It should NOT be about the weather, he said.

I typed his little ‘piece’ on my typewriter and didn’t say goodbye. Then I still didn’t want to come home, so I went to a dive bar to read a while. An old cavernous place called Renee’s that is part doll-museum, part prohibition relic. It’s a cross between Charles Manson’s nefarious hideout and Michael Jackson’s wet dream. And I’m understating things. And all the while, still trying to grow young the best I know how.

So then a remarkable man started to talk to me, a man who seemed to know everything in fact, and fashioned himself after Salvador Dalí. In all kinds of different ways. And i wish you met him, you would have adored. He wore a crazy velour samurai suit patched up with glittering stars. And I thought he was absolutely brilliant. (Not just in a glittering way, but in a way that truly shines.) Eventually, the two of us walked in the streets. Well, he rode his bike in the streets, the kind with the big handle bars. He has a big handle bar mustache, too (and anyone riding toward him would be in for a moment of pure handlebar). He told me it took him many hard-fought years to feel comfortable in his own skin the way he does now. He said it took imitating people like Dalí and Carl Sagan and others, until the real old clunky self was left behind in the shadows. Like a borrowed suit, he said.

Then he said he lives close to me and goes to Renees every other night by himself, just like me, and why didn’t I come over. Then I noticed all the stars were out and I thought that was rare and incredible in los angeles, and I told him so. Then he said it was incredible that these collections of atoms in his body were walking along with those collections of atoms in my body and all of us were walking beneath all those atoms in the sky, and what a cosmic miracle and how did it happen exactly. And I said I’d have to ask the stars the next time I see them (which could be a while, of course), because even if they are dead, I said, the stars know more than we do – after all, they were the original poets – those stars who slaved away and died so many million years before their work (‘their purpose’ I actually said) could ever be known.

Then he asked me, And what is your purpose, do you think? And i said Who, Me? And he just pointed at me, and said You. And I said I didn’t know what my purpose was exactly but it had something to do with belonging someplace and I’ll know when I get there maybe. Not exactly trying to make an ordeal out of it. And he said You belong everywhere, that is your purpose. And I thought this was curious, something I heard before maybe, so I asked him What type of soup he liked.

And then he explained that in fact he doesn’t eat soup at all. Which was a bit of a disappointment to hear, I have to admit.

But then all of a sudden the man told me that his grandfather was a Nazi, who he never met but who was a painter just like him, he was also a painter apparently, and that everyday of his life he spends in penance, trying to make up for who his grandfather was and the crimes his grandfather committed. And I wanted to say that I felt just the same way about my grandfather, only my grandfather was on the other side of things.

But I didn’t say anything at all. The man didn’t know I was Jewish even, and I guess I thought it better to keep it that way I guess. Then he pulled out his cell phone and showed me pictures of his Jewish wife and his paintings of her, and of other things besides, and he placed them right next to his grandfather’s paintings (the grandfather he’d never met). Which was a strange thing to do, I thought.

And then we got to his house and i said goodnight and he said, It was a pleasure walking around in your mind sir, and after that I went home and dreamed and dreamed about la casa azul, Frida Kahlo’s House in Mexico City, the one where Diego Rivera lived also. And in my sleep i saw ceramic lizards and walls of volcanic ash in bright colors. And there was soup in all the colors of the rainbow, a bowl of soup the size of a crater, and I ate and I ate until I couldn’t eat anymore, and it felt good and then I saw – don’t ask me how – ten or twenty different men standing in different places around the world – and one was reading a dictionary and one was reading in spanish – another was playing a banjo – and someone else was there with each of them, too, maybe it was you, because the last time I wrote to you, you were definitely in my dream the night before (and you were talking to someone who I couldn’t see but I hoped wasn’t me and you were saying ‘i want a divorce!’ ‘I want a divorce!’ you kept saying that) and all of these men in different places around the world I knew they were me even though they didn’t look like me, but I could just feel it somehow, the way you do in your dreams and I watched and watched those men, all those men who were me, and I took pictures in my mind of all those forgotten rooms in all those abandoned places, and I felt right and fine in a way, as though I had belonged someplace all along and I was home.

And this is the poem I wrote on the bus (which isn’t a poem that’s entirely true but that doesn’t matter, because it was what I was looking for, the soup maybe, or the stars where I actually belong, and I found it):

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