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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
Two Pieces
by Moises Velasquez-Manoff
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The Parade

Shooks and I knew that there was a parade somewhere on the West side, so over our first cup of coffee we decided to take our cameras and a few extra rolls of film to document what we had decided would be our project for that day: the parade. Over our second or third cup of black coffee, Shooks and I also decided to film a variety of sizes, colors, shapes and succulencies of ass at the parade. An ass at a parade was the best kind. Needless to say, we were hungover and any idea with the smallest spark held tremendous sway over us. The drizzly gray spring had just turned into a bright summer. The streets and alleys around Shooks old loft stank with the warming winter layers of urine. The bums on the corner fighting over beers had a little more dance to their step, displaying a little more enthusiasm as they begged from and hassled the passing cars. The sole female bum, the most powerful, yelled and spit with a little more verve, demanding that the other bums hand over their brown-papered bottles. It was summer time, enlightenment seemed a little closer, and the idea of a people celebrating in the middle of a broad avenue while tossing confetti held us in a delicious spell, lending our lives meaning where otherwise there would have been none.
     In the subway on the way uptown, I began bothering Shooks about this very point. His face was sagging with the weight of the hangover, and you could see he was balancing it like a yoke on his shoulders. His eyes squinted, his mouth puckered and the inside of his head was so irritated that he kept running his hand through his thinning hair while glancing at something that pursued him just over his shoulder.
     I took my hand, cupped it, and slapped him on the back. It made a loud smacking noise--there's nothing like an open-handed wallop to put someone on edge--and then I screamed:
     What the hell are you going to do with your life!?
     He didn't say a thing, barely flinching at the sting of the blow, and only kept on looking at the buzzing emptiness any good hangover presents to you. I repeated the question, making it a dramatic shakespearian supplication of brooding importance: WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WHERE ARE YOU GOING WITH YOUR LIFE? I bellowed.
     People on the train looked, waiting for entertainment, peeking over the newspapers and through their half-closed eyelids. But Shooks was stonelike and not in the mood to respond, so after everyone else had gone back to reading their papers around 42nd street, I dropped the question and found myself getting sucked inward down my own drain, along with my own dishwater.
     I had, some days before, insisted to my grandfather in his well-lit study whose walls were upholstered with short haired, green velvet, that me being unemployed and living from one day to the next was exactly what I should be doing. My grandfather was a strong man, tanned, bullish like a thick piece of worn oak, so as I gaily explained, at times utilizing historical references his face became sad, even pained. And it was only a matter of time before he stepped into my path, splashing me with mud and grime, and interrupted me:
     Listen, he had said--Your father and your uncle spent their young years piddling around. They wasted the best years of their life. They should have worked, not wasted their time. So don't get the idea that the way they did it was the way to do it.
     But that, exactly, had been my idea, only to do it better than they had.
     Grandpa. I am working, I said. I'm a writer. I've decided. That's what I am.
     Then write, he said.
     You can't just write--I said, but he wasn't buying it. He needed concrete objects, facts, coins in the bank, recognition from colleagues, things that you could measure. In this sense, he was still a stalwart marxist--everything boiled down to what you could see and hold in the palm of your hand. There were no mysteries, only work and the modes of work and the things generated by work, the fruits of labor.
     Grandpa, I said, my father and uncle are philosophers. They would make great kings. Nothing's wrong with that. And even I would make a good court jester.
     Grandpa, I said, sure of this at least this. You gotta do what you gotta do.
     He didn't didn't bother pausing to ponder the depths of such a saying. Instead he raised both hands to side of his head and said:
     No, You gotta do what you're supposed to do. You gotta do what you're meant to do--and what he meant by 'meant' was what other people meant me to do, what had been planned for me to do by 2000 years of this civilization, what had been perscribed and handed down for me to do not for my own good but for the good of the father-culture, the behemoth of free market trade, the wonders of capitalism, the global market, and other vaguely criminal enterprises of the present world.
     I fell backward in my chair, bowled over by the Old World force of such a statement: You gotta do what you're supposed to do. You have responsibilities. I fell down out of my chair, writhed, regained my composure on my knees and eventually sat back down. By then my grandfather had left for his evening workout and I found myself alone. I had spent months, years even concocting this delicate and beautiful work of art that would be my life, the schematic for it, and there it was now, sacked, broken and ruined.
     I went home and wrote a story about a monk who was so sensitive it made him sickly and weak. With all the praying and worshipping he only became weaker. He read voraciously, constructing palaces in his mind, fortresses, to protect himself, but each day it only took the slightest breeze to blow them down like a house of cards. One day, he gave up. He stopped trying to avoid his own weakness. He let the breezes batter and beat him with no effort at self-protection until he looked like a mushed fig. Then he quit the order and became a career criminal, a man of action and immediacy. He dealt only with the problems at hand, took what he wanted without justification and no longer bothered with ideas. He had discovered that ideas, because they promise you something but do not have the power to deliver these promises, only cause you to suffer. He had discovered that unfounded hope causes the worst suffering of all. And he had discovered that action, its immediacy, was the only salve against being mauled by the coarseness and brutality of the world.
     I wrote the story and then threw it away. That Friday night I got things back into perspective and drank until the sun was coming up and the birds were chirping. But the conversation still bothered me. On Saturday I sat down in my room and waited to know without a doubt that I was right. My back ached from the cigarettes I had smoked and I had the shakes. The question was one of dedication. That's what I repeated over and over until I fell asleep, slumped over against my wall. And when I woke up I understood in the twilight between waking and sleep that I had been afraid, still was afraid, of one thing and only one--that I was a fool. There was one absolutely terrifying possibility--that I had it all wrong and was the worst sort of self-deceiving idiot. So, I then picked up a book from the Brooklyn public library about the yogis and read about the truth in madness, something that has always filled me with hope and confidence.
     Which lead directly to this day of Sunday, a day like all the rest, full of hidden magnificence, waiting for two experts like Shooks and myself to wade our way through it, scour it and bare some of the truth just beneath its surface.
     At 59th street Shooks and I emerged from the Subway tunnel into the heat and cement of summer-bound Manhattan. We were immediately out-classed by the perfect tans and austere elegance of the people streaming down Columbus avenue. We were sweaty, I had an old shirt that lay on me lopsided. I had dried it impatiently in the ferocious heat of the local laundromat and it had warped, losing its crispness and shape forever. Shooks' belly was peeking out from under his T-shirt, leering at the bronze and marble surrounding us. In short, we began walking with the limps of a pair of lame horses, swinging bowlegged limbs while assuming an air of superiority and strength in filth--too much cleanliness was obviously a propagation of the grand illusion, of pasteurized milk and creamy mayonnaise, red ketchup, yellow mustard, mealy tomatoes, white bread and the stuff people painted on their faces.
     It was only a matter of time before Shooks muttered:
     Goddamn, I hate rich people. They're so fucking...--he didn't finish the sentence, instead taking refuge in the downtrodden's faith in cycles, movements that stretched out of sight far to the east and reappeared unrecognized and in stranger's attire to the west.
     It didn't need saying because we both knew it: we would get our day. The day would come when everything would be turned on its head and everything on the bottom would then be on top. Then we would get our chance.
     In the meantime we continued up Columbus Avenue and then up Broadway, all the while looking for some sign of that parade. But it was nowhere to be found, though we shamelessly looked at enough asses--at married asses, asses pushing babies, spandexed cottage cheese asses, flat oblong asses, bouncy asses, solid asses, cartoonish asses, rebellious asses, FreeMarket Economy asses and the best of all: the globalized ass, the ass that could be anyone's in any metropolis around the world. This one was, because it had been sculpted and crafted to be such, the most beautiful, a vague promise filled with optimism, a symbol of something indescribably good. Our constant observing had the effect of alleviating our frustration. After all, the parade was millions of people filing down some avenue somewhere and it was just a matter of time before we'd find ourselves in the middle of it. Yet there were moments in the heat of the search where the motive would seem contrived and desperate, but then purpose and meaning would surge back and it seemed a grand enough goal, people celebrating some damn thing that we could hide in, where we could buy greasy fried food and drink sugary sodas until everyone went home.
     Suddenly, Shooks saw a store. He had to go there, he said quickly. I thought that was fine, comprehending that someone had to document some of what was happening. Obviously, Shooks, in our failure at finding the parade, was feeling increasingly impulsive. When he got impulsive, he became bullish, his hairy neck becoming thicker and swollen with chords. For my part, I supposedly despised stores and was usually gripped by an irresistible urge to sleep when faced with the racks and racks of clothes, shelves, fitting rooms--there was nothing that more quickly sapped my will to live. But there were other times like this when shopping contained something of the vastness of the future, and reminded me nostalgically of the days gone by when I was an expert shoplifter--now that was how to go into a store. No dozing then, no sleepiness, but rather all alertness and watching. That was the way to shop, you felt like you were accomplishing something, alive. As a shoplifter, an individual given over entirely to his own greed, I understood the hordes grazing down the major avenues. As a plunderer I understood the hidden promise in acquiring pants and skirts and shirts. It was the same promise that art held out, the same excitement and glee of a soap opera, the promise of beauty and harmonization with incomprehensible and confounding forces.
     Shooks pushed the door open, one that had a sign hanging over it. The sign read "mog", or "shog". The sign got me to thinking about the reasons for which I had such a hard time understanding things like instructions imparted by people in uniforms, or even conversations between professionals. The truth is I do remember most of my childhood. It was happy and good and simple. Most of what I remember from the early years is living in the open air in foothills populated with grand cacti. These cacti were called Cholla Cacti and posed with their many arms outstretched night and day like flocks of preachers frozen in lengthy sermons. Very slow preachers that would struggle to say a word every fifty years. Somehow I had come to think of myself growing up in the high deserts of the southwest as part cactus, as if the characters had become confused, or maybe were confused from the very start.
     And it seems that the time I spent sitting and gazing, listening to those immobile gesticulating plants with hide-like skins, made me slightly dumb. Dumb in the sense that I don't understand what's happening when I walk into a shop led by my thick friend, and I especially get caught off guard when words I don't understand are posted big and glossy over doorways into buildings. The deeper meaning is always similar--I get that one but can't explain it--but the superficial meaning, the one that everyone truly lends their attention to always escapes me. That I seem to have absorbed some of the cacti personality makes me slightly unfit for the world of the upper West side--an idiot of sorts, a madman of the classic school.
     We entered nonetheless, riding on Shooks wave of impulsiveness. The place was a skateshop, I quickly understood. The walls were stacked with various sizes of rollerblades, skateboards, posters of cartoon characters getting blown up, crushed, impaled and so forth. And it was full of foreigners--Germans and French, and a handful of other nationalities who generously travel to the farthest reaches of the world without ever falling in doubt as to their own inherent superiority. Imagine, these people rolling around with wheels strapped to their feet...
     While I mused, Shooks grabbed the nearest skateboard, a thing that seemed abnormally long, and began rolling back and forth across the shop. The board bent almost to the ground and looked pregnant with his weight. It was far too small for Shooks' 230 pound mass and I waited for it to crack in half. But before it did, Shooks hangover lifted like a thunderstorm in May, the glower disappeared and he was a smiling pudgy boy again.
     I love these boards, he said. The long ones are the best they come, he said. Then he rolled away from me to the other side of the shop.
     Then, a girl with jeans so worn that there was nothing more than strings spanning her two buttocks emerged from some doorway. She was the kind of spectacle for which I never tire of being a spectator. There was a metal bar pushed through her tongue, and ring jammed through her eyebrow and lip. She had tattoos peaking out around her neckline, studs lining her ears like upholstery nails and yet with all this adornment she displayed a look of such boredom that it if a CPR team arrived they would tell you to stop wasting their time, that she was far beyond rigor mortis and beyond hope.
     Shooks rolled past again with a thundering presence that gave the French women the heebeegeebees. Two of them, tanned to a Riviera brown, hid their daughters behind their backs. To me, the feeling of an unstoppable mountain passing close behind me, moving my clothes in the eddies of its passing, was comforting. It was as if I had the ability to unleash this power if I chose.
     But the girl with the metal in her face didn't care. She came over and asked in some unfamiliar northeastern accent if I needed help.
     Help him, I said pointing to Shooks. He's possessed. He needs to buy something but can only roll around like an idiot until someone helps him. Make him decide. The girl gave an uninterested smile, showing the gleam of all that surgical steel at once. And a funny thing happened. I suddenly saw through my own paranoia--through the fact I couldn't pay the upcoming rent, Shooks' random obsessions, the unfindable parade, my deathly fear of the nonsense I had yet to encounter in The Rest of My Life--I saw there in that girl's forced smile a baby. It was something in the smoothness of the bridge of her nose and the uniform peachiness on the inside of her lip. I was suddenly overwhelmed by a new-testament compassion and, as Shooks rolled away again, I said:
     God is within.
     Then I quoted the only line of Jesus I really knew by memory, one I had learned in the self-help section of Barnes and Nobles where I went, clearly, to people watch.
     If a man brings out what he has within, it will save him. If he does not, it will destroy him, I said.
     At that moment, Shooks came rolling back, hopped off the skateboard and asked:
     How much for this?
     The girl was running the knob stuck in her tongue along her lip and it looked nauseatingly mean and surgical against the youth I had just so unexpectedly witnessed.
     That's two hundred, she said. When she spoke, I flinched at the sound of gray steel clacking against her teeth. The cultivation of opposites was becoming a much more complicated philosophy than I had anticipated. The picture of steel against the soul's temple weakened me, an image that has a lengthy history of sapping the strength of the more bardic--and all those prone to nightmares.
     I sat down so as not to fall over. Butterflies fluttered in my stomach.
     Meanwhile, the girl was explaining to Shooks why he shouldn't buy what he wanted to buy, but instead the next model that was fifty dollars more.
     See, when you buy this, she said, running her hands along its wheels, you won't have to buy a new skate when you get better. This will support you as a beginner and as an advanced. Whereas if you buy that, you'll have to upgrade.
     There it was again, the sound of nonsense. I prickled at the audacity and my seasickness evaporated. I filled with strength again, a rage...
     Shooks! I stood up. Buy whatever you want to buy! Buy the goddamn longboard if you want. Buy two of them!
     You think?
     Yes, Goddamnit, yes! I took him aside for a second, our backs turned to the girl.
     Listen, it's a hard job, not knowing anything like me. It's hard to maintain the right kind of emptiness. But just making the effort helps me to decipher when people are full of it. And she is. Absolute caca!
     You'll do it too, then?
     Do what?
     If I buy a board you'll buy one too? And then we'll skate to the parade.
     Fine, I said. Fine. I was too frenzied to think about the money I already didn't have for my bills. We turned around and found the girl waiting for us deep in a schlump that had its roots far below the concrete floor, deeper even than the subways screeching below us.
     I'll take this one, Shooks said, kicking the skateboard so that it popped up and against his thighs. He grappled with it for a moment.
     And I'll take those Blades, I said, pointing to the cheapest pair stapled to the wall.
     We measured my foot with the girl keeping a safe distance from the steam rising out of my socks, the result of my determined walking on all the city cement. Then, with my measurements firmly cleaven to her skull, the girl went to find my size while I resumed my watch on the world. Predictibly, a man was making his way into the store on a pair of very sleek-looking rollerblades, ones that seemed to lack both a boot and a brake. They were like tennis shoes attached to wheels. As soon as he entered the store--a well-tanned fellow with parts of his hair precociously gray--I was filled with the urge to ask him a question. This was not a problem in and of itself. Rather, it was why: certain men of the modern world, and probably of any time in history, have the witchcraft to make all bystanders ask questions of them. Which is also fine. But somehow, all wonderment and curiosity aroused in the surrounding people ends up flattering this sort of individual, as if spirits suddenly controlled the tongues of everyone for his benefit. Here was one of the longstanding mysteries of civilization, wealth and human social interactions--the individual worth nothing who convinces everyone that they should buy him round after round and listen to him pontificate.
     Sure enough, it was only a moment before a man standing in the shadows asked:
     How fast can you get going in those things?
     The mystery man leaned fitfully against the wall and, inevitably, started a long dribbling answer which was somehow irresistibly fascinating.
     Depends, he said. Depends on the wind. Depends on the cars. Depends on a lot of things. But I can usually get around central park in, say, 20 minutes.
     The other man whistled between his tongue and his teeth, imitating the sound of an unsuccessfully restrained fart.
     That's about twenty-five miles an hour, average, he said in amazement. Then he turned to me, who was bystanding. He goes an average of twenty five miles an hour, he said. He smiled at me.
     But I, personally, had a much more pressing question on my mind:
     How do you stop without a brake? I asked.
     Oh, he said, like this. Suddenly he lunged, striking a pose like I'd seen fencers hold when going for the gore--a lunge, feet splayed at right angles to each other.
     See, he said, these skates are especially designed for speed. That's why there's no ankle. It would impede you if you didn't know how to use it. And that's why there's no brake. Gets rid of extra clutter. But if you don't know how to use it, all this will only make it harder. He parted his lips and showed me the white caps on his front teeth in what I recognized, finally, as his version of a smile.
     He stood upright and began running his hands along the striations of his muscles, along his pectorals and over his abdominals.
     I said, Like anything else.
     Like what? he said, smiling royally and massaging himself.
     If you don't know how to use it, it gets in the way--like every other damn thing, I explained.
     I got yuh, he said. I hear yuh. Then he skated past me, uninterested, the bystander turning around and facing the wall as soon as he was gone. With his desertion, I was reminded in a flash why I was never in with the Doers and the Shakers. It was precisely because of how I stole the world from them and, in doing so, bored everybody. Everybody honestly wanted these people to have the world, despite what I thought. As soon as they didn't, it was as if the universe sagged in boredom, lowering its face and dozing. And then the mob moved on, waiting for the next person toward which to direct its attention.
     At that moment, the girl came out with my skates in a box. She handed them to me.
     Your friend already payed for them, she said
     With what?
     A credit card.
     My god, I thought. Is this my fault?
     But then I said, out loud: What a grand idiot of a friend.
     I then sat down and struggled to attach the rollerblades to my feet while the girl offered to outfit me with kneepads and a helmet that, she insisted, were necessary if I was a beginner. I got her to leave me alone by telling her I was no beginner, that I'd done this all before, exactly this, down to the gnawing off of the tags with my molars. And, even to me, the liar, the idea wasn't that far-fetched. Again, it was the deeper meaning that was the give-away, that seemed so familiar, nightmarishly so. Something about buying machines that would makes me roll fast--especially downhill--and strapping them to my feet. The aimlessness was what gave it away. Yes, I had lived all this before. And I would live it all again, covered with different veneers and rouges each time. But as long as that insistent, inexplicable turbulence provided the background I would know it for the puzzle it was. Did I have enough time to figure the puzzle out? On average, how much time did it take: 40 years? 60, 100, 140? If it was the latter, it would necessitate 2 lifetimes, which would entail reincarnation of some sort. And this was assuming there was some intelligence out there that cared whether the puzzle was solved or not. With reincarnation everything got more complicated and bureaucratic: who ran these reincarnations? Who made sure they were proceeding fairly and not unmeritoriously? How did I know I hadn't been waiting in line for some lardish bureaucrat to finish his lunch, and that's why I was stuck here, for the who knows-how-manyth time, doing this?
     Asking myself these questions, I knew I must have had quite a hangover. Or maybe I had spent too much time as an aimless vagrant in this monster of mongering called New York. Truly, you never saw insanity like you saw it in New York. You never saw people talking to themselves like in New York. Even people who looked normal--that is, they had clothes on with all the most recent brand names, sneakers, headphones to provide ambiental music--even they would carry on incredibly intricate conversations, hurling insults back and forth at themselves. All of it as if there were some force in New York that drove you inward, that imploded you with its unrelenting pressure, cracking you so stealthily that you never noticed, not even when you found yourself in pieces. One day you simply woke up, got dressed in your special brands, plugged your ears with your choice of violence, sex or romance, and then fought with your nonexistent friend the whole way to your job where he or she respectfully waited for you in the basement next to the boiler, until 6 O'clock--that's with one hour overtime--when he or she accompanied you back home, pulling on your ears and inventing new epithets for you the entire way, even accompanying you on your forays into the dream world at night.
     I put this thinking on the back burner and stood up, slipping back and forth on my new skates. I ended up grabbing for the shoulder of a tall German who smelled like he chewed some root--a tangy, acrid aura of seriousness and rectitude. I muttered the word "scheisser" in tribute to this scent, unchanged for 2000 years, the one that the Romans feared and which overran Tuscany, eventually sacking the great city itself.
     Then, I voiced: Without our idiosyncrasies we are nothing but sperm bereft of destiny, wandering hopelessly in the infinite sterility of God.
     I rolled, slipped, and also put this impoverished thinking on the back burner where, if I had cared to notice, my beans were burning, ruining my pots and stinking up my kitchen.
     There was simply no way we couldn't find the parade now, outfitted as we were with rolling shoes and armed with the subtleties of language. The sun hadn't let up in the slightest and it was only a matter of minutes before the two of us were wet with out distinctive sheens of sweat. Shooks was quite a good skater. It wasn't that he could do many tricks, or even turn that well, but he did it all like he meant it. He wove in and out of the shoppers on Columbus Avenue, the long board bending almost to the pavement, torking, jerking, his lips squeezed together in determination, while droplets of perspiration came off his arms like ocean spray.
     I tried, myself, to weave through the people as if I knew what I was doing, but to no avail. It was all I could do to keep up with the intent Shooks as we made our way toward central park. And I knew that Shooks' mastery of technique was really a matter of a more pragmatic philosophy.
     For example, once circumstance had it that we found ourselves possessed of a huge discoball, four feet in diameter, that we were supposed to get into Shooks' loft. The problem was that the doorway measured, at its most warped, three feet across. While I stood calculating how to swing the ball into the broad window from the roof like I'd heard they did with pianos, Shooks, in one samsonite heave, picked up the reflective ball and rushed for the door.
     Shooks, I yelled, the Ball's way too big! He ignored me, took a running lunge and, like a bear, flew at a spot just on the other side of the steel frame. There was a loud cracking, a squealing, the noise ice makes when rapidly melting, and a dozen or so of the small reflective squares spun off the ball, shattering on the sidewalk into slivers of glass. Meanwhile, Shooks continued struggling in a lover's embrace with the enormous globe, getting red and bending over backward as the ball remained stubbornly wedged in the doorframe.
     It's too big! I told him again. But he kept shoving until his shirt rose, his waistband dipped and I could see the redness of his ass crack.
     What the hell's the matter with you? I asked.
     Finally he stopped pushing and left the ball suspended in the jam. He pulled up his pants by the thick beaten leather belt he wore and explained, as he paced up and down the sidewalk, wiping the sweat off his upper lip:
     I'm a man of action. I like to DO things.
     Since that day, I admired Shooks as a man of action. The centuries of Italian peasants had done him well, begetting a bull of a man who, while the rest of us talked, forced things to go where they belonged, regardless of whether they fit or not.
     And, as we whirred past the brassy shopwindows, through the eternally bored souls of well-to-do shoppers, my college education which had repeatedly failed me as a thing of reliance and was more than a little responsible for enticing me into the realm of daydreaming, brought Darwin to mind.
     Just like in a jungle, all around Shooks and me there was silent, terrifying war being waged. Only this war was not between living organisms but rather among the clothes and the handbags, the cuts of the dresses, the pills for fatburning, the lotions that tanned you orange, the platform shoes and the spiked heels. And in this case it was not terrifying for its mechanistic cruelty, but for its pointlessness. Here the whims, boredom and caprice of New Yorkers played the role of Darwin's forces of Natural Selection. These were the dynamos that shaped the living world around me. And Me? Where did I fit in? Without money, I had no mark to make. Without a desire for things, I had no influence in the shaping of this world. As an agent of change, I exerted the minutest force, like a cranky school child forced to act in what everyone else considered a great and timeless play. In the end I was nothing, not responsible for any of this in the least.
     The nuances of such a profound insight were completely liberating. I began skating faster through the crowds, brushing against clutched shopping bags, over doormen's shined shoes, and, at one point, overtaking Shooks. For one moment we rushed through space together, our faces like prows in the wind, cutting through the mists and gigantic tides of adventure. Shooks must have felt the shockwaves of my epiphany, because he said, the words stolen from his mouth by the wind of our speed:
     What a strange day. Everything is all at once today. And when I see it all at the same time, it seems warped and large. And contradictory. But the contradictions make sense. They make more sense than no contradictions.
     We rolled along in silence together, the silence of people hailing cabs, young women telling their dogs where to shit, buses honking and, far above us, the constant wind which blew the City's brown haze to the wilds of Canada.
     As we moved to enter the park, we came upon an icecream truck, big and silver, and in our new mood of solemnity stopped for a quick cone. The man who served us addressed us as buddy and chief while he made a practiced twisting motion with the cone and the icecream machine slowly shat the white goop out.
     It was the sort of icecream that was delicious, uniformly creamy, yet full of the slightest texture of icecrystals, as if this smooth sugar fantasy where derived from something lumpy and grotesque. We stood there, utterly content, quickly licking at our cones before the sun melted them and showed them for the flaccid, runny smears they were. But we couldn't keep up with the sun and the cones quickly began dripping on our shirts, eventually leaving sticky white droplets on our new rolling apparati.
     Then, as a figure emerging from a wavering mirage in the distance, I saw the Speedskater. He moved at a lame-horse pace, as if he'd tangled with barbed wire in a field somewhere, or stepped on a mine and blown his ears in. He struggled spastically in the frenzy of someone always about to lose their balance. Yet he continued smiling at passersby, a grin which would have, had he stopped, forced them to ask awed and impressed questions.
     I saw him at the end of my cone and understood that I could not stand for it. It there's anything you've learned at the age of a quarter century, it's that you must, at all costs, ooze and struggle onward toward making the universe what it should be. After all, this is why I spent hours upon hours at the nearest library devouring books on Zen and philosophy; why I drank myself to vomitous oblivion; why I got jobs as busboy, as office lacky, why I kept it all up--that I might in the end make even the smallest detail of my existence what it should be.
     What are we, I asked again, out loud, as I skated to the man, Without our idiosyncrasies? We are nature's idiosyncrasy. And what is nature without us? A vision of infinity. And what is infinity without us? Endlessness, nothingness, sterility...
     The speedskater turned as I approached him from behind. He had heard my vociferating from over his shoulder. He glanced at me and gave me a smile, one to placate, but I ignored it and as I got close grabbed his arm above the elbow. We united into a singular rolling mass and began to clamor as we fought against our desequilibrium. But I held fast, carrying out clownish gyroscopics, until the two of us were rolling smoothly again.
     What the hell are you doing!? he asked.
     Don't remember me?
     No. But he did look at me, harder than at most, and there was a slight understanding that something he had released into the world might be coming back to him, the way a morbidly religious father looks at his son the manaiacal killer; or the expression a televangelist might have when faced with Satan, realizing that there really was a god all along; or maybe the confusion that overtakes a school principal as he finds himself under the thumb of an idiot at the bank or the jail, one that looks like that little bastard Bobby Jones from 15 years ago. For a second, the resignation of an asshole to an asshole's fate flitted across his eyes and I thought it might be easy. But one moment later it was gone and only indignation remained.
     I said, C'mon, and began skating hard, dragging the man who had no brakes over the uneven asphalt. It only took a few well-executed strokes and we were going at a nice clip, on the verge of collapse but still upright. Then I did what had come to me when I first saw the fuck skate out of my past.
     At the corner I slung him, whipping him by his arm and endowing him with both our momentum. The effort caused me to slip sideways, trip on a bush and pitch into it. But as I was in the midst of my own fall, I saw the speedskater careening away, grabbing for anything to stop him. He screamed out his desperation as people turned their heads and thought about complimenting the man who wore such obviously technologically advanced skates.
     Myself, I fell through the brambles and onto the black earth littered with condoms, cigarette butts, and soaked with the ammonia smell of dog piss.
     And I just lay there.
     I lay there in the dirt, staring up at the bushes and the clouds beyond. After such violence, I was filled with milky serenity. So this was it. This was the magic of spontaneity, the secret of the madmen and the prophets of the ages. This was the peace it inspired. The mind quieted. The thoughts slowed, cowed before the awesomeness of action.
     And the truth of the situation came: thoughts were only disguised desires that demanded, above all else, to be realized as action. They were little buzzing schematics waiting for the incarnation of movement. They drove you mad, but once you started moving, acting and committing, they quieted and quit their whining. They stilled. They watched in awe and the little shits became tame.
     I understood, suddenly, why war is so glorified--for its action, why the proto-hero is always violent--to assure movement.
     Lying there with my legs out of the bushes, I began looking for a piece of paper, a napkin, a wrapper, anything to write this down so I would remember. But before I could find my pen in my pants, leaking as it must have been from the heat, Shooks arrived accompanied by the grating of rubber wheels on asphalt. He began yelling my name.
     Jose! he screamed.
     I realized we hadn't yet found the parade and the matter was pressing, but I had to write this down before I forgot--write down any of it.
     Jose! he yelled again.
     I'm here, I said.
     Those are your legs? He laughed and came closer. I thought it was some alcoholic. Or a body. Who was that guy?
     I don't know, I said. Someone from the skateshop.
     Well, there's a cop with him.
     I can't leave yet, I said.
     Shooks giggled and repeatedly kicked the tail of his board so it sprang upward. I could see it hitting his thigh from where I lay. But the pen was nowhere to be found so I broke a twig off the brambles clawing at me and scratched the words in the dirt, a few desperate keywords etched into the earth and into history. So I would remember. So the excavators would, in a thousand years, decipher the events taken place here.
     It wasn't more than a sentence but it was good. In that moment, it was a philosopher's stone. The meaning shone through, illuminating me. And then, still in a state of vast serenity, I crawled out from the bushes, my knees black with trash and dirt. I looked and saw the speedskater who looked and saw me and pointed. The policeman who accompanied him was so accustomed to everyone's petite catastrophies that he looked at me and a stifled yawn was all he could muster. I rose to my feet and Shooks and I sped off, down the winding, cement path, into the wilderness of central park, through trees and next to lakes as fast as I'd sped only when the dobermans the field over chased me as a little boy.
Shock Treatment

I had this big fellow of a friend, this guy of Scandanavian stock from somewhere in the Midwest. He had a quiet way about him most of the time, but sometimes he'd burst into a thundering laugh that made you squint and put your palms discreetly to your ears. When he did this his face would turn red and you could see furrows in his cheeks, and the areas on his face where his beard grew would turn a deep purple. One day my friend--his name was Fredrickson--was telling me an interesting story about how he once decided that it wasn't worth talking to anyone anymore.
     I just stopped talking, he said. They all thought I was depressed. But I wasn't depressed. Talking was like an unnecessary disturbance, like ripples in a pond when you're waiting for it to become placid.
     Personally, I had been reading about meditators in Japan who came into unity with Everything by practicing techniques that had been invented in India eons ago. So I said:
     You had reached perfect silence.
     You could say that, he said.
     You were a monk and didn't know it, I said, and I crossed my legs underneath me, lifting one foot onto the opposite thigh in what was called a Half Lotus Position. I noticed Christmas lights dangling from the walls in my living room. They were supposed to have been draped from the place where the ceiling meets the wall, but there had been some general neglect recently and instead they fell to the floor in unorganized coils, tangling with the lint and the dustbunnies like jungle creepers.
     Fredrickson looked down at his feet housed in dirty sandals, sandals as big as he, and said:
     Maybe. But they ended up giving me shock treatment.
     Goddamn! I said, leaning foreward and pounding my loosely made fist in the air, They stole Nirvana from you.
     He looked from his feet up to his legs. He was wearing a pair of khaki shorts so we could both see the thick bronze-colored hair there. Then he looked at his knees. Soon, he was staring at his lap. He took his hands and put them in his lap, palm up, so he could look at them too.
     Not exactly, he said. It wasn't as good as Nirvana. At least not Nirvana's reputation.
     I was about to say something else that had to do with what I'd been reading. But I held back. I began to see the seriousness of his situation. I imagined his big, red, sunburnt body with lodes all over it, tied down, blindfolded, him getting shocked, him tearing at his restraints, gnashing at his tooth guard, maybe even screaming. It was the same way I imagined an execution. No, I didn't say anything more about the monks, not for now. Instead, I said:
     Shock treatment. They still do that? He nodded his head.
     It's very effective. The most effective. I think they stopped doing it recently, but not before they did it to me.
     And why? I said. There are people with worse crimes than not speaking.
     Crimes? he said.
     Like refusing to talk.
     Now he looked up at me. He had steady eyes and an expanse of shining forehead. His hairline was beginning to recede but he still wore his hair long in the back.
     I'll tell you the story, he said. The problem with them not shocking me is that, I realize it now, I was in a dangerous situation. I was right at the edge of something. I don't know how to explain it. Maybe the edge of a cliff would be the best way. But everyone says they're at the edges of cliffs and the metaphore's crapped out... I was staring over the edge of a precipice, metaphorically. And if I had decided to jump, there would have been no helping me. And--he paused here and looked around at the lights we'd plugged in for improved ambience, the table which had sticky rings from cups and saucers, shiny rings you could only really see from an angle--he looked back at me.
     I'm joking around, I said. If it's something not to talk about you don't have to tell me. I don't need to know...
     Not at all. It's not that--Not that at all, he interrupted himself. I have a hard time because, really, I can still see how I was. The ME I became when I decided not to talk has never left even though they shocked me for days on end. I still am that person I became, somewhat. I can't explain it well but it's something like this: at some point I saw a road open up. Down this road was some kind of promise. So I stepped down it. On the first step I realized I would have to give up a lot more than I had imagined. But I said Okay. Okay. The second was the same, asking more of me. Okay, I said. But by the third the world had changed. I looked back and didn't recognize it any longer. It didn't have any merit. I couldn't see whatever it was that animated me through it before. So not talking was really secondary. What first happened was that the world changed. Because when you think about it what the hell are we talking about half the time? People're just wasting time when they talk, just filling up the quiet. But really, when you get there, there's nothing wrong with the quiet.
     That's why they shocked you?, I asked.
     He paused and thought, remembering something by looking up and into the distance, into the shelves against the wall.
     Too bad you couldn't have explained it to them somehow, I said. A shame that it was speech that you decided to give up and not something else like, maybe, eating meat. At least you could explain the theory behind not eating meat. It makes it difficult to explain about not talking if you can't talk.
     No, he said. No. It was good they got me back. When they shocked me, it was like an old friend returned. Sort of.
     But what's strange, he said looking at me, is that it's still there.
     He stopped talking and I stayed very quiet. I didn't want to say anything wrong or insulting, something I did very easily and without meaning it. Sometimes when I was rambling along about this idea or another, talking into the wind, I would look over at my girlfriend, Rosa, and see tears welling up, her lips pressed together in anger. I would say:
     What? What did I say?
     She would say, If you don't know, you might as well fuck yourself. In fact, just go fuck yourself, go fuck yourself anyway.
     This scenario was more common than I liked.
     Other times I might be at a party babbling with a beer in my hands, maybe about basketball like happened with this cat named Gary. Gary was from Brooklyn, born and raised, and he lived in a rent-controlled apartment in Little Italy where his grandmother used to live but had passed away. He'd always been one of those kids that makes you warm just to be around. And there I was talking about basketball when suddenly he said:
     You know, you should check your facts.
     What facts...
     I don't think you knows the second thing about what you're talking about. I looked up at him and saw that his normally friendly face had gotten flushed and even quivered at the cheeks. I looked over and noticed some other people laughing at me as if they knew something I didn't. Then Gary got up and came over. He looked me in the face from a close distance and said:
     You know, you need to get yourself some new glasses. Those look funny on your face... They make you look like a clown. You look sort of like a clown.
     This was the kind of situation I was trying to avoid.
     I watched Fredrickson closely. He had begun to gesticulate with one hand in the air, the hand nearest to me. The way he moved it, it was as if he were uncoiling some rope from his abdomen and I was supposed to take it up as he palmed it to me. His face was redder now and I saw a purplish vein rise at one of his temples.
     Then the stopper that held in all his bellowing popped out. I could feel something loud coming on. I thought of raising my hands to my ears, that's how big a fellow Fredrickson was.
     ACTUALLY, he blurted, let me tell you the story from the beginning. It's a strange story. From the beginning. The whole thing started when I had just graduated from highschool, I couldn't'a been more than 18 or 19 and I wasn't really in the mood to go onto college. I wasn't really fond of school at all. The teachers were a bunch of idiots and the kids were crazy. In highschool all they did was drugs. I'd never seen so many people doing acid at once in my life. Acid, weed, X and alcohol every night...
     He paused and lifted both hands up, palms tilted upward and his mouth open. He seemed to be holding his breath, too, pushing against his ribcage with his diaphragm muscles, compressing the air in his lungs. Then he let it all out again, and his voice boomed and echoed as if he were talking across a beer hall.
     BUT THAT'S NOT THE POINT TO THIS STORY, he said, as if competing with someone else. I wasn't big into drugs back then. I tried them all, even tried the acid once, even cocaine, but I didn't like them too much. They didn't effect me beyond making me sick and tired. So, if I didn't like drugs I didn't see the point of staying in school, I mean of going on in school.
     Instead I decided to move up to Portland, Oregon. I got a job as a busboy to pay my bills and moved in with some poet friends of mine. They were quite some poets, too. They would smoke cigarettes all day and sit at this window sill we had and write. This house had this windowsill you could sit on. I don't know what you call that. A niche? A banco? And then at some point during the day, this one guy named Owen, he would begin reciting out the window to whomever was there outside and felt like listening to the stuff he had written. He used to scream it out for a good half hour. Him and some others. And it became a kind of custom. It was so spectacular that it eventually convinced me I was a poet as well, just by watching it. I began keeping my own journal and when I was feeling courageous and outward I would go and scream my entries out the window along with the rest of them.
     This went on for a while, maybe for a year and it was alright. I mean, I remember it being alright, you know. I thought I was having a good time and was about as content as I could be at the age of eighteen, talking with my friends, writing in my journal and screaming nonsense out the window. It seemed fine except that one day my memory sort of goes blank. For a period of a month my memory is blank. The blank has been filled in since then by what my parents told me and what my friends told me, and what the doctors at the hospital I was committed to told me. I just disappeared one day. Gone. And then it's all the same story: after a month of looking they found me sitting on a beach in California looking out over the ocean. Just sitting there with unchanged clothes, a little thinner than my normal weight, and no one could tell how long I'd been sitting on that piece of driftwood looking out over the ocean...
     He stopped and leaned back in the chair. He'd told me before that he weighed near two hundred and thirty pounds, and he looked it. He wasn't fat, just tall and big. He bent his elbows and made a pair of wings behind his head. His arms were sunburnt on the upward parts while perfectly pearly on the downward areas.
     You know, he said. I love the ocean. That's what I miss the most about the west. The wild Pacific. The sun setting over the ocean. Maybe one day we could drive to Maine and see the ocean there. I hear it's rugged and wild like the Pacific. But I don't imagine that anything could be like the pacific. That ocean's so big. It's the biggest, idn'it?
     Maybe one day we can rent a car and drive up to Maine, I said.
     Then we thought about Maine together and about driving a car up. Some kind of animal was making a racket in the trashcans in the building's airshaft outside the window. We listened to the rattling and rustling for a minute or two. Cans clattered to the floor and cardboard crumpled. It sounded too big to be a a squirrel so I imagined it was a cat. One of the timid alley cats that nested in the deserted lot next door. I began to see its brood in some old suitcase, squirming and mewing, and I was thinking about ten or twenty dirty kittens when Fredrickson continued:
     I think it was my mother who actually found me, he went on. They had been looking for me for a month, ever since I disappeared from Portland. And for some reason I think it was her that actually found me on the beach. Somehow she knew where I was. It was a place I'd never been to, just north of San Francisco but it was near a place I used to love to go to. I guess that's how she found me, sitting at the end of a turnoff from the highway where the tiretracks gave way to beach sand. She still tells me how she saw my figure from the road, came up to me and looked me in the face. And she tells me that I didn't see her even though she was only four inches from me. I looked right through her, she says. That I didn't even seem to recognize her any different than I recoginzed the inanimate scenery.
     She talked to me the whole way home, talked and talked and when she couldn't get a response is when she realized how serious things were. It's funny because I remember this part. It's not a blank. In fact I sometimes think I remember the previous month too. When I say it's blank it's not exactly that. It's more accurate to say that during that month while I was alone and wandering I was on a different time. We'd normally call it a blank but really it's that I have memories of these dreamy experiences which don't fit, which are difficult to perceive with normal remembering.
     He stopped again and sat looking at the air. I sat there, too, thinking about how when I first met Fredrickson, he seemed slow and contemplative, so much so that I asked someone who knew him better if he was on psychiatric drugs. No, they said. He's always been that way. I think he burned out a fuse somewhere along the way, that's all, they said.
     And now Fredrickson was explaining a little bit about why he was the way he was. And I began thinking: Who in their right mind wouldn't yearn for repose from the restlessness that plagues a person day in and day out? Who wouldn't? The constant movement your mind demands of you becomes a kind of exile after a lifetime.
     So my mother took me to this hospital, he continued. I remember this whole period very well. I got to the hospital and all these doctors examined me. They kept trying to coax me into talking. Asking me questions, Who I was, If I knew what day it was, that type of stuff. But I wouldn't talk. So they would write down DEPRESSED as their diagnosis. They'd say it in front of me: Fredrickson, he's in a deep depression. And I would think, I'm not depressed, this is not depression. I'm not in a bad mood. These people, all they want is to get home and take off their shoes and pick at their toes and drink vodka with orange juices. Who's the depressed one? And even when I look back I don't think I was depressed. I remember all those doctors looking in my face and I remember seeing them back and thinking, Are they even worth talking to? With my mother I even thought the same thing: if she were listening I would have talked. But she was so scared and worried she couldn't hear a thing, not just by me but by anyone else in her life. It's always been that way with her. Her life is supposedly so glamorous, but really it's so frantic I don't think she enjoys anything. I would look into the faces of the people around me, the doctors, my mother, my stepfather who I don't talk to normally 'cause he's sort of a fucker, I would look around and assess them and see without a doubt that they weren't really listening.
     But there was one doctor. He was the only one who got a response from me. I looked into his face and knew just by his eyes that he was listening. He asked me my name and I told him. Those were the first words I had uttered in months. Then he asked me if I knew what had happened to me.
     Yes, I said.
     What's happened? he asked.
     Well, you can see we might think it's a little strange, you disappearing for a month and you, now, not talking. Some people were worried you might have had some kind of stroke, a lesion that affected the speech centers of your brain.
     I don't think so, I said.
     Neither do I. But then what's this about, we have to wonder¾
     I didn't say anything at first because, honestly, it was hard for me to see how anything was wrong.
     Okay, he said. Okay, fair enough. But you should also know that your brain, and I mean its wave pattern, your brain is displaying the patterns commonly associated with clynical depression.
     I'm not depressed, I said. I don't feel unhappy.
     What's with the not talking, then?
     Why should I talk to people?
     That doctor was a good guy. After thinking about it,
he said: Part of being a normal human being is talking to the people who aren't listening. That's part of it. Being petty and stupid. That's part of being a whole, functioning human being.
     I looked at this doctor, this one person who I'd seen was listening and said:
     Are you sure about that?
     He paused, and said: No, honestly, no I'm not. But I know that there's something wrong with people who cannot laugh or smile about anything. When was the last time you remember yourself laughing?
I thought. And thought. I couldn't remember any times.
See, he said. That, for sure, is not normal. So we're going to treat it. After the treatment you don't have to talk if you don't want, but at least you can laugh.
     And that's when he told me about the shock treatment. I agreed to it and some days later they tied me town to a table, put wires to my head and ran current in flashes behind my eyes. There was an immediate improvement after the first session. I began babbling to the nurses and they babbled back. And that's what I was telling you: it was as if an old part of me had suddenly returned. I talked, they talked, and it didn't matter so much. I even flirted with some of the nurses.
     Fredrick then fell silent. For me, all this was new information. Before this conversation I had thought it was solely used as a means of torture. I said:
     My god, you agreed to it? You mean they asked you first? I thought shock treatment was something they forced on you.
     When I said this I was thinking of that huge bureaucracy of watchers, the deniers of freedom who monitored us all from their bunkers under the Nevadan deserts. I thought of bugs in the lamp shades and taps on the phones. These thoughts were something I had inherited from the sixties, from seeing how the sixties had degenerated into the seventies and the despair of crumbling cement and chainlink fences I remembered from my own childhood in the eighties. At some point I had realized that thoughts like these, no matter how true, weren't worth a damn. Anything that broke you into a cold sweat and set you into a rage wasn't worth a damn. So I had just recently learned, with the aid of those same Yogic techniques, to catch myself before I became too deeply entrenched in these paranoiac musings. So, while I thought these thoughts, I said to myself, Just let them flow past. Watch them. You are not your thoughts. Your thoughts are not you. As tranquilly as I could, I let these images flow past--of older men with vericose cognac faces and cigar lips issuing commands from grey cement rooms; of the hordes of grim slavs gathering at the hinterlands for invasion; I watched the smartly dressed, six foot SS guards, and saw muddy trenches peopled with World War One helmets like Don Quixote's. And I began to wonder: if I was not my thoughts and these were not my memories then whose the hell were they?
     You know, I said as it came to me out of my memory, they shocked Hemingway for depression. The story is that after they shocked him he lost his creativity. And, at least as the story goes, that's why he committed suicide, because his sole reason for exisiting, writing, was no longer available to him.
     Fredrickson looked at the table for a good minute. His lower lip slowly dropped and pushed out, his eyes narrowed. In the silence I realized that even despite my own vigilance I had succeeded in letting the wrong words fly. I thought, quickly going through my own list, of some story I could tell in exchange. I searched frantically. But before I came up with anything, Fredrickson said:
     Not me. For me I think it worked. Point is I wasn't prepared for being in that kind of quietude. I think it was driving me mad. Don't those monks and yogis train for years, lifetimes, to be able to withstand that quiet?
     Sometimes reincarnations, I said. Maybe you shoulda gone to the Himalayas and found a master instead of going to California to the beach... Or there are plenty of gurus in California as well, though they're probably a bunch of fakes and molesters...
     While I was running my mouth, something unexpected happened. This huge animal scurried out from under the couch, the couch I was sitting on. It was black and quick and I couldn't make out what it was. My cockles rose, my skin prickled and in an instant I had jerked my feet upward and was standing on the couch. I was shaking. I saw the thing make its way across the floor. It wasn't an animal, I realized, but a cockroach, one of those mother New York cockroaches as big as a mouse. Finally it stopped against the wall on the farside of the room. I was shivering.
     Goddamn! I said. Fredrickson, you gotta kill that thing! Fucking hell! How many more little bugs is that thing going to spawn if we don't kill it? Probably has a nest right here in this couch. I looked down at the striped couch we had bought at the salvation army, the one I was standing on.
     We probably imported the bugs with our couch, I said. Then I looked at him. You got to kill it! I can't do it. Please? You gotta do it.
     Fredrickson looked at me quietly for a moment and then got up. The animal was still against the wall. He lumbered over and lifted his foot with its huge sandle. He put his hands against the wall to brace himself and brought his foot down. But the thing scurried to one side. His foot thudded on empty floor and the shelves along the wall rattled. The thing stopped two feet away. Without cursing, Fredrickson lifted his foot again, his hands still against the wall and brought it down. This time he got it, though there was no crunch or splat like you would have expected with such a big mother. Fredrickson lifted his foot up, looked at the sole of his sandal, took it off and got the broom from behind the fridgerator in the kitchen. He swept up the remains of the bug gingerly, almost gently, squatting down, and then beat his shoe against the wall outside the front door. I listened to him wacking it. Then he came back in and sat down. I was sitting with my feet on the cushions, sitting on top of the back, still sweating. He looked at me and a smile lit up his red face.
     Don't like bugs? he said.
     It's not that. I don't like them, no. But that's not all of it.
     There are people who don't like bugs and people who don't care, he said. It's always funny when people are afraid of something so small.
     It's not that, I said again. It's that when I see something come outta nowhere it scares the shit outta me not because of it, itself, but because of what I have to do to it. As soon as you see something small scurrying around your house you know you have to kill it. And by squishing it, too... I can't stand killing things. Which is weird, right? Because when I was young I used to kill things left and right. I used to crush beatles. I used to burn ants with magnifying glasses, not that I was an especially cruel kid. Just normal. I used to set mousetraps and then see those mice get squished in half. I would even take popshots at birds with a BB gun, though I always felt weird when I hit one. It's harder to kill animals that can fly. It seems like a bigger crime to end a life carried out on wings. But most of all I used to fish...
     I was quiet remembering the tug of the rod in my hands as the fish went up stream, tried to hide under a boulder, sped downstream, and how finally, with firm patience I pulled it out. It was really a memory of all fish I'd caught, all in one recollection.
     I went on: How I used to fish. It's funny because I hadn't fished in a long time and recently I went back home and thought it would be nice. So I pulled out my old rods, my tackle box from when I was eleven years old, and went out to the rivers. I know those rivers well, their special spots, and it wasn't half an hour before I'd caught my first fish...
     When I was a kid what we did was cut off a willow branch with some good stubs and then put the fish on the stubs by their gills. Then you could put them back in the water without them getting away and they stayed alive and fresher longer. But I knew I wasn't going to do it this time. It's torture sitting there in the shallows stabbed through the gills. I decided I was going to kill it right away so I wouldn't have to think of it stagnating and dying, pierced though the gills. So when I'd finally got the thing out of the water I put it on the bank in the grass. I picked up a good, palm sized rock and hefted it up. I looked at the fish, just kept looking at it and realized after a minute or so that I couldn't kill it. I had even raised my arm with the rock but I just couldn't bring it down.
     The fish, of course, was suffocating to death. I knew I had better kill it soon because it's crueler to have it suffocate. So, finally, I closed my eyes, held the rock out above its head, and let the rock fall. I heard it thud, opened my eyes and there was the fish quivering and shaking, it's tail flopping around. I saw that one of its eyeballs was hanging out and still it wasn't dead. But I didn't have the heart to hit it again. Honestly, all my muscles were weak. So in the end I watched it die with its head bashed in, suffocating and convulsing at once. Worse, probably, than if I had just hooked it by the gills and let it sit in the shallows. I decided right then and there to stop fishing.
     Fredrickson was watching me tell the story with a faint smile on his lips. I went on.
     That's the same feeling I get when I see an animal running around my house, no matter how disgusting. I go weak with the thought of killing it, no matter how nasty¾
     I stopped talking and thought about the fish and the smell of the tangy river plants along with the smell of the stony banks themselves, a minerally smell of mud and moss. I thought of all the rivers I had ever been on, the ones I could remember anyhow, from Colorado to New Mexico to California, and the kind I liked the best: the small creeks up in the crevices of the foothills. I got up off the back of the couch and sat down again like a normal New Yorker. Something else occurred to me: that I would be a terrible soldier now, going weak with the thought of doing harm. But I would have been a tremendous killer as a child, especially with my ability to creep about the woods and wait, squatting, in a semi-sleep. I was fearless then, not only fearless but practical as only an animal is. Ruthless is the word.
     I looked over at Fredrickson. He was staring, with his hands in wings behind his head, at the distance again. The faint smile was gone and he only looked, through the shelves and the wall and the garbage piled up outside, into the distance.

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