Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fifty-Sixth Beginning: Invasive Species 02

I'm halfway through the burrito when Terry comes out with the goods. She parks them in front of me and parks herself in the next chair, stretching out her legs. Which means she's on break now. Most of the girls at Sid's like okra. I'm not fond enough of it to eat a whole order. So it works out.

"How goes Monday," I ask.

"Too busy for before the lunch rush. We're supposed to get a lull, let us get our prep done before lunch."

"A lull-less Monday. I wonder how many L's you'd have to put in that, if you didn't use a hyphen."

"No idea. Ask me when I'm sane."

"Should I make an appointment for that?"

"Sure.  Wednesday, mid-morning, I should be sane for about an hour."

"How so?"

"I actually have two consecutive days off.  Tomorrow will be spent recuperating and doing chores that are way behind.  Wednesday I can relax a little.  Of course by lunch I'll be worrying about everything that I didn't get done on my 'weekend' and the sanity will go by the wayside again.  At least I'm working days again.  Shift work sucks."

"How are classes going?"

"I hate when you ask that.  I get close to chucking the whole thing twice a day, but I know you'll be asking.  Bill-bill got sick, so I late-dropped everything but econ.  I kept that just to keep up the momentum."

"How is he?  Did he miss much school?"

"Nearly two weeks.  He's made up most of it, though.  Make-up is easier in fifth grade."

"So he's over it."

"Yeah.  He's well enough to cause trouble again.  How has life been treating you?"

"Been mostly poking along.  Things have been slow and profitable."

"You hate that.  But you don't look like you're hating that.  What else is up?"

"Went to visit Larry.  Got a couple of new toys."

Terry's a nice person.  She worries about me.  She's smart and knows me well enough that I can talk about my work and she'll understand without a lot of side questions.  I show her the toys.  She likes the book.  We bounce ideas around pleasantly - making alternate notes for arrows A through JB.  She avoids looking at the other toy.  Eventually I start to fiddle with it while I talk, just to see how far she'll go to not look at it.  It isn't all that far, really.

She lets her eyes fall on it completely and her eyes start to get sad.  She's stopped listening to me, so I stop talking and just hold it.  She reaches out and takes it from me, turning it over, looking down on it.

"I don't like it when you play with Larry's toys.  You go too far.  You get impatient with people and treat them badly.  You said you had nightmares when you were doing the sunglass pieces.  And the way you treated Mary was just wrong."

"Not nightmares.  Scary dreams.  And I didn't treat Mary at all."

"You let her hang around and think she meant something to you.  And what's the difference between a nightmare and a scary dream?"

"A nightmare is all about fear.  The events of the nightmare may not even by logically frightening, but the fear is there, pounding in you and knowing that it's a dream doesn't stop it.  A scary dream as logically dangerous or frightening things in it, but you don't necessarily have to take them seriously."

"What do you mean, knowing it's a dream?  You don't know it's a dream while you're dreaming."

"No.  You don't know it's a dream, maybe.  And maybe most people don't.  I can count on one hand the times I didn't know I was dreaming."

"You're joking!"

"No.  It's called lucid dreaming if you want to look it up.  There were a bunch of articles on it awhile back.  I was surprised when I read the first one.  The idea that someone could not know when they were dreaming had just never occurred to me.  I mean I've had that dream where you wake up and then you wake up again, so I know it feels like.  Once in junior high I went through half a day and then woke up and had to do it again.  I was not happy with that."

I scratched the back of my neck and continued.  "How do you rewind a dream if you don't know you're dreaming?  How can you decide it's time to float?"

"So you control your dreams?  That sounds wrong, somehow."

"I don't control them much.  I mean, they always have sort of a flow to them, and you can't go against the flow.  In one dream I was at the Rose Parade and there was a queen on one float who threw her crown into the crowd.  I wanted to catch the crown, but I was in the wrong location.  I was about half a block away.

So I reran the scene with me in the right area and she threw it again.  I forget if it took three or four reruns before I was in exactly the right spot."

"That's wild.  I like that better.  It just doesn't seem like a real dream if it's just you making things up."

"Yeah.  I mostly leave things alone. I figure it's always possible that whatever is guiding the dream may know something I don't."

"Nice to know you're open to it."

"Besides, if you know you're dreaming, it doesn't matter if something rips your lungs out through your mouth.  Your dream self doesn't need oxygen.  Of if it does, it can get it some other way."

"I thought that was 'rip your lungs out through your nose.'"

"In the dream I'm thinking of, they came out through my mouth.  Don't remember how it happened.  I think I just coughed them up."


"Way yuck."  It was at a party, too.  You'd think someone would have noticed.  But once I told myself to stop fighting it because it didn't matter, it just happened and the champagne trays kept passing and the conversation kept buzzing.  I think that within the logic of the dream the lungs kept working even though they were hanging against my chest and getting my shirt wet."

"Damn.  You must not like parties much.  Think you were trying to say that people expect you to cough up too much personal stuff at parties?"

"Doubtful.  I was in high school at the time and mostly didn't go to parties.  It would apply to my life now, but as far as I know I've never dreamed it again."

"As far as you know?"

"Most people dream three or four times a night.  I'll go months without remembering my dreams.  I assume I'm still dreaming, I just don't remember what it's about."

"Maybe dreams aren't tied to linear time like our lives are.  Maybe that was a dream from now that just happened to hit you in high school."

"Good.  I like that idea.  I think it's unlikely, but it's interesting, which is better.  Pity I don't write stories.  That would make a good story.  Maybe I'll find a way to work it into something, somewhere.  I'll certainly find myself thinking about it.  Hmmm.  Today has been a good day."

"Yeah," she said, picking up her pad again.  "You have enough now to go hide for weeks."

"Nah.  Today is still an acquisition day.  I'll probably go down to Weber Park and see what the fishermen are up to.  If I ever paint a canvas, I'm going to paint a fisherman leaning his pole against one of those hexalingual Do Not Eat The Fish signs."

"Yeah, I've seen those.  Tell them hi for me.  And what you did to Mary was still wrong."

"What kind of woman moves in because a guy starts ignoring her so thoroughly that he can't tell when she's there?  You know how I am when I'm working."

"Yeah, but she doesn't.  You should have warned her."

"We weren't even having sex.  I just stopped talking to her and she moved in."

"How do you know you weren't having sex?"

"I asked.  I'd say she might be lying, but that seemed to be the thing that made her eyes go all sparkly.  We weren't having sex and I hadn't kicked her out.  So it must be love.  I just hope she has enough sense or enough pride to stay away."

"You didn't stop her from cooking and cleaning for you."

"I wouldn't have stopped her from stabbing me if she'd managed to do it without bumping my arm or getting blood on the piece."

She heaved a sigh.  Why are sighs always being heaved?  It makes them sound heavy.  She tossed a sign lightly behind her as she turned to walk away.

"I know.  I explained it to her.  She still doesn't believe it.  I think it makes her look too foolish."

There was one piece of okra left.  Terry never takes the last piece.  But it was too cold to eat, now, so I bused my table and headed back downtown.  
A lot of people don’t think of the end of the channel as downtown.  Other’s think of it as the heart of Stockton.  It’s impossible not to think of it, though, because it’s the center of the City’s redevelopment plans.  It gets press.
That’s where I headed:  to Weber Point where you can walk on the site of the old Weber House, to which they have erected a monument.  The house itself didn’t do much for Stockton, but Captain Weber donated the land and surveyed out the City.   Well, first he put up some money and convinced this Dutch guy (Dutch?  Danish?  Something European.) to buy a Spanish Land Grant.  Then he bought the guy out.  He couldn’t get a grant directly because he was American and the Spanish Grantors were nervous about all of these Americans moving into the neighborhood.  Then he donated the land and had a surveyor come in. There’s an amusing story about the surveyor’s chain.  After that he promoted the city as a natural port.  The appeals for federal money to dredge came later, from the City Fathers.
During the Gold Rush, he could say that it was the furthest east that a body could get by boat on the west coast.  In a land with no paved roads, that is not a small thing, especially if you were going to be walking the rest of the way to the gold fields.
It was during the Gold Rush that California became a State and Stockton became a City.  I think Stockton beat the State by a few months, but I’m not certain.  What was left of the local Indians helped the Americans beat back the Spanish, whose influx into the area had pleased them not at all.  Insert the ironic phrase of your choice here. 
Early settlers in the Stockton area wrote home to say that the flocks of ducks were so huge that when they took to the air they blotted out the sun.  We have other ways of blotting out the sun in this century.  The tule elk can be found only on the Stockton City Seal.  You will no longer find it in the Central Valley.  The beaver that gave the Spanish Land Grant it’s name is no longer found in the area.  (The land grant was xxx which translates as French Camp – as in French fur trappers.)
All of which is a long way of saying that I walked down to the park.  Hey, a guy can think while he’s walking.
Down at the park I did not walk on the site of the old Weber House.  Nor did I walk through the adjustable maze by the tot lot.  I didn’t go that far.  Just barely reaching the park, I turned left and walked along the promenade on the south shore of the channel.  It’s where the deadbeats and the serious anglers go.  The deadbeats usually stay up on the grass on the street side of the promenade clumped in happy, drunken arguments, while the anglers stay quietly against the rail on the channel side.  Pedestrians pass in between.  It usually works.
There are cement platforms, spaced a couple of hundreds of yards apart, that jut out over the channel.  There are gates through the railing to them that are always locked.  I have no idea why they were installed, but they’re just big enough for an angler to stick a chair on and deploy his gear about him without feeling crowded.  Some anglers ignore the lock and slide over the railing to set up shop.  I saw a familiar face on one of them.
When I say face, I mostly mean back, and when I say back, I mostly saw backside.  Lawrence isn’t that far overweight, but he does not carry his weight in the middle and his fishing chair is small.  He doesn’t mind talking while he’s fishing, but he never turns his head.  His eyes are always on his gear or on the water or on the fish that he is pulling out.  His hat is always pulled down and his sunglasses are always on.  While most channel fishers catch catfish or carp, Lawrence comes for the stripers and usually gets them.  He says he has a system.
No system is foolproof, though, and that day he had a catfish in his bucket. 

“Is that a channel cat or a black cat?”

“All this time and you still can’t tell?  They’s no hope for you.”  Lawrence only shifted into Ebonics with folks he knew and even then he shifted in and out. 

“I’m surprised you’re keeping it?  You can’t be hungry.  Your gear’s too expensive and shiny.  Not to mention that car.”

“I am upholding my black heritage.  I’ll keep one catfish, if it’s a nice one.  I won’t keep carp, though.  Only beginners and chinamen keep carp.”

“Now I’ve heard that they’re unjustly maligned.  They have carp tournaments over in Europe.  In Europe they prize the lovely fight a carp can put up.”

“Well, that part is true.  But you can get the lovely fight without eating the fish.  I catch and release if I don’t plan on eatin’ ‘em.  Even the stripers.  What you doin’ down here in the fresh air?  Shouldn’t you be off in a dark room sniffin’ paint fumes or welding smoke and gettin’ pale?”

“I come out sometimes.  I have to come out and get some new ideas or everything starts looking like the results of incest.  Besides, if the mitten crabs ever take over the world, I don’t want to miss it.”

“Them mitten crabs ain’t no joke.  Lost lots of bait to mitten crabs.  You won’t usually find them here.  They like an earthen bank and this is a metal seawall with riprap against it. 
They’s folks say that the population goin’ down.  That’s what the folks in England thought once, too.  Now they know they’ve got a cycle goin’.  Boom and bust.  They be back.  They an invasive species.”

“I hear the delta’s full of them.  Invasive species, I mean.”

“Yup.  The San Francisco Bay is the most thoroughly invaded water body in the world.  What folks didn’t import and let loose, the ships brought in with their ballast water.  They got laws now say the ships need to drop their ballast water in the ocean and pump up new, local seawater before they come in to port.  We’ll see how well that works.  Maybe it’ll slow it down, but it’s got a long history. 
The carp were brought in on purpose: released to be fished.  The water hyacinth was brought in and just kinda let out.  Got tiny potamocorbula clams pushing out all the native species in the bay.  Clams and bivalves and shrimp.  And the native fish can’t eat them as well as they can the stuff that’s been pushed out, so they in a decline.  Not that they weren’t declining before.  The natives match the delta and the delta has always flooded.  The invasives do better when the floods are controlled and the government do like to put out the control.  And don’t get me started about pollution.  We still got mercury in the delta that washed down from the gold rush.”

He was well in stride.  I pushed back a little, arguing that the gold rush had also seen government enact legislation against hydraulic mining, the first environmental protection act in the state, if not the country.  But that was only to make sure he kept going.  I liked listening to Lawrence.  Back when I first met him, I checked out some of the things he claimed, and he knows his stuff.  Claims to get it all from the internet.  Says he’s allergic to books.  Says books chase him in his dreams and bite at him.  I still don't know if Lee is his first name or his last.
After a bit I told him about the disc and the book and the ideas that were forming.  Some ideas you can’t talk about while they’re half-formed or they’ll tear.  Others have to be talked about in order to shape them.  Watching other people listen to them helps define the shape.  I told him about seeing Terry and about her talking about Mary.  He agreed that Mary is whack, but points out that I’m crazy.  Crazy first because no sane man gets that wrapped up in his work that he can’t tell a woman’s moved in on him and crazy second because I didn’t just shrug and let her clean and cook and buy me things.

“But she was thinking that I loved her or something and I don’t.”

“Well, you never said you did.  That was all her craziness.  If she say she love you, just frown and grunt.”

“That’s probably exactly what I did.”

“That’s good.  Good instincts, even if you are crazy.  It not your fault if her craziness drive her to look after you.  Long as you don’t lie to her, you can let her crazy take her any which way.”

We went on.  I started seeing forms in the water.  Started feeling like I needed to take that disc out and look at it and turn in over and over.  Funny, I though that I’d do the piece with the book first.  Oh, well.
Lawrence caught his striper and let the catfish go.  Lawrence didn’t believe in freezing fresh-caught fish. 
I stayed and watched the sunset.  The forms got closer and closer to the surface of the water.  They weren’t as firm as mitten crabs or as pretty as jellyfish.  They were ooze colored:  grey and black and brown and dark green.  There were eyes and teeth and other things.  They climbed up the side of the seawall and began to eat me.  It was a good thing I knew that I was dreaming.
You  might think that being eaten would be a harder thing to deal with, in a dream, than coughing your lungs out.  But, even dreaming, I remembered that neopagans claim that if something eats you in a dream, you get to become that thing and use its power.  There was a flickering moment when I considered that this might be a problem, rather than a help, in some situations, but the thought passed quickly.  I discovered that I tasted pretty good.  Sweeter while I was still alive, but not bad after I was dead. 
Once we/I were all full, I just sat and looked around.  There was too much hard concrete and other dry, uncomfortable things.  The minds around me were too placid, nearly flavorless.  When I say minds, I was focused broadly on the entire City.  I felt no real terror anywhere.  I knew, intellectually, that in a City this size, someone had to be feeling fear, but it was washed out in a lowing, background moo of, not contentment, really, more a vacant submission to the presumed undangerous ordinary.  Who would have expected that of Stockton?
I focused in closer, to try to pick out individuals.  Maybe I could push or prod a satisfactory reaction out of someone.  Closer in were some of the deadbeats, long drunk and completely ignoring the voices inside them that said that they were killing themselves, that said that they were no good and no use to anyone, that said that they deserved to die and should do it, do it, do it, ah, yes, you are doing it, thank you.  You can feel good now.
If I could turn up those voices. . . but the deadbeats still floated, like individual tapioca beads in a pudding of the other minds around us.  The voices were buried, like tiny worthless diamonds in the center of each shifting, gelatinous bead.  It would take a sharper knife than I had to cut to the center of one tapioca bead in the middle of the pudding to get at the voice inside.
Then I touched a mind that had been opened.  No voices talking about booze or death.  Just confusion and a sincere wish to get back to his can, which would pull him from his body and take him flying again through all eternity and all possibility.  He had no defenses at all.  I boosted both the confusion and the longing, then shifted the longing into the surety that he would never, ever find the can again.  The fear was delicious.  The images got clearer and clearer as I sucked him dry.  Images of where he’d been, both in the can and in other bodies on other worlds.  There were canisters closed in a dark place.  Soft things flitted with no sound.  It was better than sex. 
I slumped back satiated and let my focus slide back open.  As I fell asleep, I felt the presence of others of my kind in the City.  I remembered the bay and the delta and the invading species and the Indians and the Spanish and the Americans.  We were there too.  We had been there for a long while.  We just moved slowly.  Reproduced rarely.  Were best suited for a moist environment. 
I remembered that Stockton had once been called Mudville and Tuleberg and had been the inspiration for the poem Casey at the Bat.  I remembered city histories saying that, before paving, a horse would sink up to its knees into south Stockton roads in the rainy season.  Just before I woke up, I remembered that bats made almost no sound when flying.  I knew I was waking up.  Knew I’d only been dreaming and that no harm could possibly come to me.
I woke up walking along a dry gully towards a bridge.  Mormon Slough.  Not the right direction.  My studio was the other way.  I climbed the closest bank and walked along the top of it to the bridge.  Diamond Street.  Damn.  East of where I wanted to be, too.  Oh, well.  Walking is good exercise.  The images had been vivid.  Well, not images, exactly.  Not related to sight.  More toward smell and taste and a very tactile sense of position.  Our language is skewed toward the visual.  Ironic, that.
My feet felt foreign the whole walk home.  I felt cold, too, although I’m pretty sure the temperatures were in the upper eighties.  It would have been higher, but the delta breeze was blowing.
I slept.

I don’t remember the dreams, but I did not wake up refreshed.  I pocketed the disk and headed to breakfast.  Why not Sid’s?
Sid's actually does a pretty brisk breakfast.  There are no combo breakfasts, just a la carte prices for breakfast items.  I'm feeling oatmeal, bacon, and orange juice.  Maybe a couple of other things.  Since I don't order toast, I'll have no toast to leave behind like greasy, dry parsley at the end of the meal.  
Terry is on, but so is Mary, so I won't get any conversation with my porridge.  Pity.  I could use a good talking to.  I can still see the shapes slipping against the underside of my eyelids.  This will not do.  I look around, hoping to see something to engage my focus, and I see Weber.
There aren't any real goths in Stockton, but Web comes close if you catch him in dim light.  His slut of a mom never did him any favors and naming him Weber was just the first sign that she was going to screw that baby over.  I've tried to convince him that the name means that he was conceived on the ground next to a cheap kettle grill; but for all his skepticism, this is one point on which he needs hope to spring eternal.

He was sitting inside at Sid's, eating oatmeal with no sugar.  The OJ was already finished, of course, because he always drank it first, slowly.  He probably took exactly the same number of sips every day.  The glass of milk was untouched.  He didn't like it cold and would only begin on it after the oatmeal.  He was wearing black trousers with an ironed-in crease, a black polo shirt, white socks, and black boots.  You couldn't see the socks, of course, but I've known Web long enough to have heard the lecture on dyes next to your skin in intimate places more than once.  So I knew the socks were white.  I didn't know why feet were intimate places, but I've learned to leave monologs alone.  If you ever get the chance to hear the warm-up, feel free to prolong the experience.

I sat next to Web and didn't say anything.  He thinks I'm terribly intuitive for not talking to him before he's done with meals.  Like Mary, it's another case of someone reading something of their own into being ignored.  Neither Terry nor Mary can be expected to come take my order, so I flash Sid three fingers when he looks at me pointedly from behind the counter.  He brings me coffee and oatmeal with everything.  He'll bring the rest later.  I say "Thanks, Sid" politely and load up half of the oatmeal with sugar, brown sugar, raisins, and sliced peaches.  I pour on a little cream.  Well, half and half.  Web does not comment.

At the first bite I discover I'm famished.  While Web steadily measures oatmeal from his bowl to his inside, I dig in and am finished before he is.  Sid notices and brings over a danish and the pot to top off my coffee.  Usually the danish is last, but the bacon evidently isn't ready and Sid doesn't like to see people waiting.  Just as well.  I'm on the danish.  I add creamer to the coffee, too, which I almost never do, and more sugar than usual.  Web watches without comment.  His spoon slows for a few beats and then resumes its pace.  I beat him easily, draining the coffee.

By the time the bacon arrives, Web has started on the milk.  Slow sips.  I'm slowing down, but still outpacing him.  By the time he's finished I'm on my fourth cup of coffee and going slow.   Web won't talk until his dishes are taken away.  Just as well.  I'm not sure I have anything I want to talk to him about.  The dream from last night is still vibrating my bones like a gong that's stopped sounding, but hasn't stopped moving yet. 

"You're working." he says, as one of the girls buses the table.  He's pleased that he can tell. 

"Yeah.  I've got more than one thing going.  It's annoying.  No - it's a little frustrating.  I ended up sleeping down by the channel."  I could have said Weber Park, but he was looking halfway content.  And I was feeling halfway content.  I decided to keep us that way, if I could.

"What did you find?"

That's what I liked about Web.  He knew that I found stuff and made art.  And he always asked about the found stuff, the seed that gave me the idea.  Never about what I wanted to do with it.  Never how the collection was going.  Never, thank all small gods, how I felt while I was working.  He'd ask about the found stuff and then think over what he saw in it and what he'd do with it, if he were making art.  I suppose it was self-centered of him, but it was relaxing for me. 

I showed him the book, pointing out the pictures.  He traced the lines with his fingers.  He frowned.  I went to get another cup of coffee.  I was starting to feel a bit wired.  

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