Friday, September 22, 2006

Canted, angular, oblique

Arriving here was difficult. 10 miles up rough bouldered dirt road, deadfallen trees block the rutted road; winter blowdown. Drove around; offroad. Messed up a plastic piece on the underside of my car – went a little too fast, got a flat, changed it in the hot sun. Then a two mile walk, uphill through pink June Rhododendron and strangely beautiful white Beargrass, fir trees, moss covered basalt outcrops. Up switchbacks traversing the side of the steep hills, along ridgetop, back into forest and then, in a clearing, at ridges end, I found a kind of paradise.

This was an old fire lookout tower, at edge of ridge, in a clearing, built up over rocks up twelve feet on solid wooden beams. I climbed up, and saw the door was latched. I reached out, and unlatched the hook.

It was a pure bare space: a table, a few chairs, swept wooden floor, a cast iron stove, two iron framed cots. This fire lookout has not been in official use since the 60’s, but the people who have stayed here have left books, bags of rice, some bread, food, pots and pans, few blankets, unmatched utensils, a pair of binoculars, a star chart, candles, a harmonica.

On all four sides were shutters, covering the windows. I opened up the shutters, propped them up with wooden supports I found under one of the cots, and as the lookout was filled with light, it became part of sky, part of forest, part of mountain.

You can see Mt. Adams, St Helens, Mt. Jefferson, 3 Fingered Jack, The Three Sisters; The volcanoes of the Cascade range. On Mt Hood; stark snow covered white against the landscape - Palmer Snow Field, Steel Cliffs, Mississippi Head, and Crater Rock. A lenticular cloud.scrapes the top of Mt. Hood.

Today in one day it has been cloudy, overcast, and then a thunderstorm But now the sky becomes clear; clouds dissipate with liquid and hesitant drift. I have only prepared for a day hike but I realize, I must spend the night.

As the earth spins the sun down low in sky, I sit on the platform, barefoot, I have taken off my hiking boots, my socks are drying on the rail. I watch light shift and change on the curving forms (a sensuous morphology) of the tree covered Cascade hills. Subtle shadows of green in dusk light. Interplay of light and shadow and shades of greens. The sun becomes orange fire behind the trees.

I chop some aspen logs, throw in some broken cedar shingles, and make a fire in the cast iron stove I take a pan, open up a can, and make beef stew.

Stars are coming out now, Jupiter is visible in the west, a hands breadth above the horizon. I see something strange in the west; hovering where the sun set, a thin crescent new moon, so thin bright it is like a curved sliver, carved of bone white china. The thinnest first edge of moon, it sets an hour after the sun’s orange fire burn.

I am writing this by candle light. Burning aspen logs and old shingle that used to shield this place. I read a book of poetry I found in the bookcase. I write in my notebook. I play desolation angel on the harmonica late into night.

Outside, arching over Mount hood, or the dark mass of where Mount Hood should appear, from North and Mt. Adams, to the Three Sisters, is the Milky Way, densely spangled with stars. Stars full of sky, sky full of stars.

I read through all of the log books. “Came up in mid winter, January 8th, snowshoeing in over the snow drifts.” Someone who was a ranger here in 56 has come awash in memory. He writes “It’s all coming back to me like the twilight zone.” Jack Hues, 73 years old, writes proudly that hehas been here more than 50 times. The entries speak of what was seen: woodpeckers at dawn, the mountain covered with fog, bobcats, eagles. Two women write of how they were lost in the snow, calling for help on cell phone, until they saw sanctuary rising out of the fog. I read some wild stories of smoking pot and drinking whisky. One diary entry reads “3 girls, 2 guys, wild sex.” Others write of solitude, serenity, of the world closed in by fog. I see pictures, children’s musings, poems, love letters, and I read in the notebook where to find a spring – I did not bring enough water.

It must be close round midnight. The Milky Way has risen until it is like a spangled banner over the world straight above. I take the binoculars and see so many stars, look straight deep into galaxies center.

As I looked up at the galaxy, I thought about the path of the sun across the sky, the plane of the ecliptic, and I looked up at the angle of the milky way, the galactic plane. And I had a realization; that the solar system is at angles with the galaxy. I had always without thinking thought that the solar system was aligned with the galaxy, there was a reflexive symmetry in their positions. I suddenly realized the sun and its planets revolve and rotate canted, oblique round the galaxy. (I looked it up later, about 62 degrees) I had always supposed we were on the same plane, I had been mistaken. They were not aligned on the same plane. Oblique, not transverse, not longitudinal, not parallel, not perpendicular.

I put another log in the fire. It was cold out in the clear skied night, but warm inside. Lay down on the thin mattress, pulled up an old woolen blanket, and went to sleep.

In the morning, I was up before dawn. The sky became pink to the north, and not for an hour or so of soft light did the sun burn up past the right side of Mt. Hood. I made coffee on the stove, which I had kept burning through the night, and sweetened with lumps of brown sugar. Smoke my last cigarette.

I climb to the edge of the ridge, stand on and outcrop, and watch over a forest valley to the south. I look at Mt. Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Broken top. I don’t even know how far I can see. Hawks spire over the ridge, I hike down to the spring: it trickles out of moss covered rocks, in clear brightness. Carry 4 gallons back up the hill.

I spend the morning breathing the air, watching the glaciated face of Hood, looking at birds, studying the landscape, writing in my notebook.

Happy to be in a place so crazy beautiful. A place that seems to come out of the imaginations of the old beat wanderers, a place where they turned into desolation angels. New York, Denver, Mexico City, San Francisco, Morocco, Big Sur, Paris, and the Cascades, the stations of the beatnik cross, The beatnik bodhisattvas wandered, searching for kicks, enlightenment, satori - to leave the world behind, to look into themselves, into the mountains into the sky, into themselves in their holy yearning burn for the fire and ice of crazy beautiful existence. And they wrote, like me. I write in my notebook.

It drifts to the afternoon, and I am seeing the first people I have seen since I got here. Hikers pass through. It must be time to leave. I sweep the floors, close the windows, take a large bag of trash to carry back down, latch the door gently, and leave.

As I hike down, through switchbacks, past Beargrass, beneath ridges of rhododendrons. I can’t help but think about my misconception about the alignment of the solar system to the galaxy. I had traveled through life under misconception. I had believed in alignment without thinking, and was mistaken. There is no alignment, the path of the earth around the sun, and the solar system around the milky way; the relationship of the ecliptic, to the galactic plane, as my own path through life must be, is not aligned, it is canted, angular, oblique.

james honzik

Thursday, September 21, 2006

the god of new york

I lived in New York City for 10 years, from 1986 to 1996. I have not been back. I have no plans to go back. (rationally, I know it is better now - murder and aids and crack have all gone down - human tragedy that wears on the soul) I have about ten short stories - all true, as is this one, about my time there. They are hard to write. (thanks to Walt Curtis and Ben Fisher for edits and criticism)

the god of new york

When I first lived in Manhattan I used to hang out at a bar on the lower east side or the east village or whatever you want to call it. The place was on First Avenue, between 9th and 10th street, and was called Downtown Beirut. It was a dump, it was a dive, a hole in the wall, a long and narrow shotgun shack, just wide enough for the bar, bathroom in the back, one Pinball machine, a video game, and a jukebox.

Looming over the patrons, attached to the ceiling, was a huge papier-mâché effigy, six foot head, with hands extended; a grey apparition flying through the bar. Every one called it “god.”

Downtown Beirut was owned by a neighborhood Polish family. The matriarch of the family, in her 70’s, would on occasion show up and look as strange as everyone else, conferring with the bartenders, counting receipts in the backroom. I don’t think they trusted their staff.

When I first started going there against the back of the bar was a classic liquor rack, from lower tier to upper tier, from bottom shelf to top shelf. A panorama of bottles backed by a wall to wall mirror. It had been a display of Bukowskian beauty, but the owners, believing the bartenders had been dispensing a too liberal supply of buy backs, had purchased a machine that hooked every bottle up into a glass and plastic computerized octopus. The tubes snaked from the bottles to a liquor dispenser, like the IV drips in Frankenstein’s hospital.

Downtown Beirut was next door to the Village Idiot, which had a clientele worthy of its name. You’d open the door and you would see a crowd of people standing in a circle around a big curly haired, wild eyed hippy, who had a quart to his lips. They would be chanting “chug, chug, chug.” I never went there.

Beirut had a better class of customers. The regulars were an interesting mix of lower east side characters. There was an old painter who came in and locked himself to the pinball machine and was said to have studied under Hans Hoffman. There was a tall creature from Belize who was a nurse, and nursed her drinks silently at the bar. I always thought she really was a woman, but everyone said she was a he. No matter. She never spoke much, smiled into her drink. When I got my ear pierced she noticed. Smiling, without saying anything, she gave me one of her earrings.

There was a midget named Mannie who fell in love with every woman who came into the bar. There was musician from Texas who was heading his way downhill, who made a living walking in front of cars. Every time I saw him, he limped more and more. He caught AIDS, ended up infecting his girlfriend. Two Satanist auto mechanics, one who was most proud that the lines in his hand made a natural pentagram. He would tell the story of how he showed his hand to a fortune teller. Her jaw dropped in shock. One of the bartenders, moustached and tough, played in a rockabilly band, Carolyn, the chief bartender, had green hair, and played in a punk band. GG Allin had covered her band’s song “Beer Picnic.” She was smart, had been on Jeopardy, but came in second. There was a tough cute girl from Brooklyn named Sherry, a couple of artists from Canada, musicians, painters, losers, lovers, squatters, a yuppie or two, an occasional tourist, lots more. I was a regular.

I usually hung out at the front of the bar, on the ledge on top of the radiator. You could look out the window at the street life passing by. With the drug dealers on the corner and the cold winter wind blowing, outside it could be a war zone. The dealers kept up their chants, the litany of pharmaceutical possibility. “loose joints, loose joints.” Methadone, tuinal, Methadone, tuinal.” But inside it was warm, sitting on the radiator.

One night I had gone out to make a collect call from the corner. The operator said “we can’t do collect calls from your location.” “My screen indicates you are calling from a prison” “All long distance calls through the phone are blocked” I held up the phone. “Listen,” I said. “I am on a street corner in New York.” “I am not in a prison.” She finally let the call through.

Everyone came through there. There was this scary tall east side woman who would mask or veil her face and was emaciated - anorexic. I would always see her looking masked and haunted like an omen , a silent apparition walking the streets alone. You could only see her eyes. She came in once, with a big, brown paper wrapped package. She sat down and unwrapped the brown paper and string. Her family must have sent it to her. She unwrapped it, went through it, and said, in the only words I ever heard her speak. “it’s nothing but food.” I made up a story about her, that her family knew how fucked up she was, anorexic and lost and haunted, and loved her and wanted to help but they couldn’t and didn’t know what to do and sent her this food.

So they pretended it was an artist bar, and every month or so they had a new art show. They gave the painter two free drinks a day, as long as their show was up. That was the story with god. The looming sculpture had been installed for just a short time, as part of an art show, but they kept it up there until the bar closed. They just needed to spray it with insecticide once in a while. It had become infested. It had been created by an artist from Toronto. He had been getting his two free drinks everyday for years, as his payment for creating god. Eventually he became an alcoholic. He moved back to Toronto. I wondered to myself. “Is that the price you pay for the creation of god?”

Sometimes we had wild times. Once an artist friend and I were cajoled out to Long Island by two women offering us Jack Daniels and a good time, which was had by all. They drove us out there, but in the morning we woke up, in Long Island, trying to figure out how to get the heck back into Manhattan. They just laughed. The bus, to the LIRR, to the subway. It took us two hours to get back.

But mostly I hung out there for the companionship, to cut the loneliness, to act like I had a place to go and reason to be there.

I would sometimes sit at the bar, and read my stupid poetry, and try to get someone to listen to it. Sometimes they did. I still remember a skinny black woman with dreads named pebbles. I read her my desperately bad poetry. I think it was about a giant vacuum cleaner that sucks people in to die. I think she got it. She sang a song to me, quietly, sitting next to me on a bar stool, looking into my eyes. For a moment it seemed the world had stopped.

So one day I was hanging out at the bar and Sherry shouts down the bar “My wallet is gone. That bitch grabbed my wallet.” The girl who had stolen the money was slight, dark haired and spoke with an accent. Sherry followed the thief back to the bathroom, kicked in the door. Sherry pulled her out and started pushing at the girl, and a crowd gathered, and they stripped off all of her clothes, looking for the stolen money. So she is standing there, naked, cowering, being pushed, hit, screamed at. All of a sudden someone noticed that her body was covered with purple patches. “Karposi’s Sarcoma.” “That’s AIDS.” Someone shouted. “Don’t touch her.” “You could catch it.”

The crowd went through the girl’s knapsack , and threw the contents on the floor. I noticed a French English dictionary. She had been living in New York long enough to catch AIDS and be a junky, but she still needed work on her English. Sherry never found her money. She said, “The junky must have passed it off.”

If you ever are stuck in New York and need to steal, if you are infected with AIDS and need to get drugs to cut the pain, get a friend in on the deal. Pass off the money quickly, that’s the way it is done.

The crowd kept humiliating her, spitting at her standing naked, shaking in the back of the bar. I said “isn’t this enough?” Finally they let her go. She pulled her scattered possessions together, got her clothes back on, went outside, and to the corner. I followed her out. I think this is the part of the story where you have to say that the person who was humiliated had dignity about her and that she was smiling, laughing with a dealer, She had passed the money off, and was probably going to buy crack or dope. I just looked at her, with her story going through my head. She looked straight at me. It wasn’t exactly like a smile. She said something. It sounded like mercy.

I guess this young woman had come to New York, capital of the world, from France, expecting to find love or sophistication or art, came in following the beacon into JFK International like a moth, took the wrong path, got infected with AIDS, ended up with dirt junkies and crackheads, stealing purses, and eventually would die alone in delirium in a hospital bed for indigents.

They eventually closed the bar, moved it down to Houston Street, started having live bands. But I never hung out at the new one, and after too long left New York for good. But I wrote this story about the old place. It ends like this.

The god of new york hangs over the ceiling of a lower east side bar, it is made of papier-mâché and chicken wire, and at night its dreams are the rats and cockroaches that scuttle through its skull.

james honzik

While you are here, if you want, you could look at my best work.
Experimental Portraits (Visual Art)
Epistemic Purchase (A poem)
Borges: The Golem (My translation)
Eagle Creek (A hiking essay)
The Time Factory -SF story and video

Video - The time factory

Here is a video I created, based on part of my metallic sf novella.

Performance footage filmed at the Owl Parliment by David Acevedo - plus footage from the Internet Archive, altered, and shaped by me.

Video - David Acevedo: We are all dreams of the same being

I filmed this with David Acevedo in Forest Park, Portland, Oregon. It is one of the largest city parks in the United States, and for all practical purposes, it is in my backyard. David is a poet and writer (and Shakuhachi player) from Harlem.One hot summer day we walked up the wooded canyon, (wild trout live in the stream!) with completely different video planned, but this is what we ended up with. I cut up David's poetry, and flute playing, recombined them, with the green footage. All the sounds were recorded in a small chamber at the base of the ruin. This was a perfect day, something hard to describe, the moss and ferns and vegetation, the sound of birds and water, hanging out with a good friend. A day when life was good and I tried to capture it with sound and image.

Video - Zhalih: They Call

I was driving all over the state of Oregon for my job, photographing storefronts. Every so often I would pull out my own camera, catch a little piece of footage- the surf along the oregon coast, birds flocking in a nature preserve, water reflecting on the Williamette river at night.

Zhalih wanted to do a video of her work so I combined this footage with what I took of her on a photo shoot - we spent an afternoon walking around while she danced and posed and I laughed.

Video - Zhalih: up to you

My newest video - the max line (I was bicycling home at sunset - the colors were glowing), the steel bridge in portland (filmed from Walt Curtis's favorite spot on the Willamette), oak bottoms - a wetlands where I was hanging out with my friend Katie) and another video shoot with Zhalih (we hung out in the Northwest Industrial area, she climbed over piles of debris in the rain.

Zhalih's music again - it's a beautiful song.

Video - Oceanic Inversion

My friend Vahid had to speak at a conference in Santa Cruz and I drove down with him. I dropped him off, and spent a day at Point Lobos, one of the most beautiful small parks in the United States.

This time I had my video camera and took the footage.

When I got home, I took the footage, messed it up, fucked up the colors, and combined it with a sound sculpture I created from temporally distorted and filtered sounds of concrete and steel.