Saturday, March 11, 2006

Bleak City

This is in reaction to a friend’s letter. S/he was having a day in Bleak City and I got to thinking about those days and that place. I’m sitting here, cozy in my blue robe and slippers. Today is not my day to travel there, but I know the place - how it sneaks up when you least expect it. It’s a bit like this:

Wake up cobwebbed in disturbing dreams you don’t quite recall except for the feeling of dark and darker. You were running somewhere, getting nowhere.
The alarm clock explodes in your ear, shrieking voices and loud music.

It’s up and stuff the body into clothes and a stale cookie into your mouth.
No time for breakfast. Got to get to Bleak City.

Feet slap the pavement, eyes focused in midair. The sun is listing in a dishwater sky. Miss your bus and walk. Don’t look at that figure huddled in a blanket by the market door. His eyes are blue as bruises and he’s shivering with cold. Don’t. Look.

Shake it off, drown it with coffee. In a café, the waitress sees you try to catch her eye and keeps on going when you signal. Who do you think you are? The coffee arrives late and when you add cream, it congeals into lumpy islands that float on top. The toast is cold and filmed with too much butter. Never mind. These are not omens. These are not omens.

At work, the boss lectures your favorite coworker unfairly and in public. You are trapped within earshot, helpless not to overhear, thereby adding to her humiliation. Afterwards, you want to help but words fail you and she’s staring at the papers on her desk, blind with frustration and embarrassment.

Finally the work day snail-crawls to a close and you join the dispirited rush hour crowds heading home. There’s a bigger than expected bill when you check the mail and your key has suddenly started to get cranky in the lock. On the street outside, city crews are using a pneumatic drill to break up concrete.

And the sun goes down in the joyless sky.

Next day or the day after, you wake up in another place. Drink your orange juice and eat your cereal. You are early for the bus. Time to watch the birds spell hieroglyphic messages in the sky. The sun makes a friendly warmth on your face. And someone huddled in a blanket, with eyes as blue as the sky, says, as you pass, “Isn’t it beautiful out?”

10 comments:

Teri said...

Yep, been there! Great writing. Perfect word picture of that place we all know and loathe.

Yasser Rahman said...

hmmm...great pice of writing, i read it over ten times jsut cause i loved it that much, was wondeirng if I was missing something..gladly , ive figured it all ;)

Mella said...

The sun is listing in a dishwater sky What a perfect description...poetry.

Mary said...

mmm .. nice writing.

So what's the reason for the difference I wonder? Hormones, phases of the moon, or is it really just the weather?

LJ said...

Hi Mary,

Hormones? I loved a thing that I once heard a famous (woman) gynaecologist
say - "Woman talk about their hormones like they live in one state and their hormones live in another."

My spooky theory is that Bleak City is a kind of phantom, an energy vampire that settles on a place (or a person)for a day or two and moves on. The city version of "Dark's Midnight Carnival." But then I tend towards a kind of graveyard whimsy at times.

In my friend's case? Transiting Pluto within a couple degrees of squaring midpoint of (widely conjunct) Sun/Mars which are at the MC. Poor toad. And right after a Saturn return, too.

LJ said...

Oops. I thought I thanked everyone for commenting. Blogspot ate my thank you note, I suppose. And here it is. I always appreciate the visits.

marko said...

There's an film, Carnival of Souls. If you've not seen it, you should try and track it down.

Bleak City is/can be/is never/will be/won't be wherever you happen to find yourself. The rats notice it first, like an impending earthquake. All squeals and twitching, and your friends have another cuppa joe and wonder, to themselves, "What the fuck are the rats on about now?" The rats, for their part, have to put up with being treated like children, that being the understood price for never having to wonder why you don't feel well.

Negotiate, negotiate...

Mind you, Bleak City is far more assertive in an urban environment. And if it rains a lot, like in a port town, all the better indeed. Helps the doltish rats y'know.

"Astrology is goddamned hoodoo." the man says at the coffee machine, all black-eyed and Mountain Equipment Co-op'ed up.

They say the Atlantic Ocean has about 85,100,000 cubic miles of water in it. And every twelve hours or so the moon shoves that whole damned thing around. Where I grew up, the tides would rise thirty two feet from low to high in that time. A cursory glance gets me to thinking that this braying ass contains just over two and a half square feet of water.

Hrmph.

-m

LJ said...

Actually, I HAVE seen Carnival of Souls. Used to be married to a film buff, remember?

I love this:"The rats, for their part, have to put up with being treated like children, that being the understood price for never having to wonder why you don't feel well."

And apparently I'm a rank amateur at graveyard whimsy.

I'm going to check the ocean.

marko said...

Huh. I've actually always felt you were a master of the graveyard whimsy...

Mary said...

The astrology certainly does explain it ... ouch.