Short Story: The Rain

A short story, which recalls a conversation between Jose Anselmo de la Cruz and Jude Moonlight, on the day Hurricane Irma hit the coast of Florida.

The rain was beating down hard. I heard it coming down mercilessly as the wind howled outside. We sat in the garage, in the dark, our faces glowing in dim candlelight. Through the door, back down the hallway I heard whispers, and the sound of someone laughing. Maybe they were still playing cards. I heard another cracking and fizzing sound. Someone opening another can of beer.

It was only three o’clock in the afternoon, but it felt like three in the morning. I think most of us had lost all track of time by now. Except for Anselmo. He sat there in front of me still, looking somewhere past me, over my head, as though listening for the slightest change in weather, communicating with it in some strange way. He sat relaxed in his chair, smoking his pipe.

I was starting to feel a little high, but not too much. Whenever I smoked, I never got too high. I had a feeling Anselmo was the same way.

“Some storm,” he said.

“Yea. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

“How old are you?”

“23.”

“23. Yea, so you weren’t alive for Andrew.”

“No, I missed that one.”

“Feels like just yesterday. That was the year after I arrived. We had an apartment in Kendall then.”

“What happened?”

Anselmo laughed to himself a bit and kept quiet. He smiled and let out a long sigh before speaking again.

“My wife and I hunkered down in the bathroom. Next morning, when we stepped outside the door…well, we found ourselves outside, looking right through where the wall and part of the roof used to be.”

“Oh man.”

“Yea, you’re telling me. That was some scary shit.”

He laughed again.

Welcome to Florida,” he continued. “I’m surprised we even stuck around afterward, not that we really had anywhere else to go.”

“What kept you here?”

“We hadn’t been overly fond of Houston or New Jersey, and my wife’s family had all moved down here too. So after the storm, we just moved in with her sister for a bit until we found another apartment. Besides, what the hell, I’ve been dodging hurricanes my whole life. I remember when I was a boy, we had quite a few. Seemed like every summer we’d have one or two, at least.”

“In Cuba?”

He nodded.

“That’s what you get living in the tropics,” he said. “But still, even in Jersey, we had to deal with one. Hurricane Belle, I think it was called. 1976. I’d been living there for three years.”

“You’ve got a good memory.”

“I give it a lot of exercise.”

“Do you think a lot about Cuba? Your memories there?”

His face darkened a little as his eyes shot down to the floor. For a second, I regretted asking the question.

“Well, sometimes I do, sure. Of course. I think about the mountains. The beaches. I miss the streets. The people. Hell, I miss just about everything but the politics. I miss the feeling of writing and at the same time knowing, or at least thinking it was going to make some kind of difference, outside of me getting thrown in jail.”

“Do you ever think about writing anymore?”

Anselmo was quiet for a long time before he shook his head.

“No. No, I don’t think I…No, I don’t. I don’t think I ever will. Just never really got that desire again.

“Yea.”

“For one thing, when I arrived in New Jersey, I barely spoke any English. I learned quickly enough, but by the time I had, I was already keeping busy with other things. My family for one thing. My day job, another. Just blending in, I guess. I got real deep into history. American history. I’ve always believed the most patriotic thing a person can do is study the history of their country. It’s the best way to throughly understand it’s character. You can better assess the present and more intelligently influence it’s future.”

“I’ve always liked history.”

“Yea?”

“Yea, I mean, I never really thought of it the way you just put it, or really thought twice at all about why I even liked it, though what you said makes a whole lot of sense.”

Anselmo smiled. “What part of history do you enjoy?”

“The revolutionary generation I think. You know, from 1776 to the first years after the drafting of the constitution.”

“Sure.”

“I’m not exactly sure why…”

“You know, when I think about the founding of this…republic,” he said. “I see a group of highly flawed, yet intelligent men with a vision. They’re so close it, they can touch it. They hold it right in their hands, you know what I mean? Like some raw orb born right out of the soil, strikingly beautiful for having lived so long in the earth and the mud. But it’s hot. It’s way too hot for them to handle, so they hurl it across a vast wilderness.

“Anyway, I think we, as in subsequent generations, we’ve been looking for it ever since, forgetting a little bit more each day what it even looked like, but we add our own experiences to it as a way of filling in the gaps, for better or worse. Though, in the back of our mind, we know we’ll never quite get there in the end.

“But that doesn’t matter. I think as long as we remember where we come from—enough to hold it close and study it, talk about it, shake hands with it, write and sing about it even—and we do it with a lens wide enough to cover our sins as well as our triumphs…then we’ll survive. But I think remembrance is key. Without that, we’re truly lost. We might as well be swinging in the dark.”

I shuffled in my chair. It was all a little hard to believe. I was thinking about the rioting in the streets I’d witnessed just days before.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“Well, I’ve seen a lot of violence lately that doesn’t leave me feeling so optimistic.”

“Yea those clips I saw on the news were pretty disturbing.”

“I’ve had mixed feelings about whether it was all necessary.”

“I see.”

“What do you think?”

“Well…I’ve got mixed feelings on riots, or at least revolutions in general, but I favor them if they’re carried out effectively.”

“Seems like a sensible view.”

“–Though easier said than done.”

“–Even if that revolution is carried out violently?”

Anselmo seemed to think long and hard about the question before speaking again.

“I don’t celebrate violence as a means of action and I never will, for the mere reason that we so often feel it’s even necessary in order to be heard, and create the world we want to see. That, in and of itself is a tragedy.

“However, while I don’t celebrate violence, I do accept why people resort to it as a course of action; and I can’t altogether disagree with its usefulness in calling attention to the problems in our society.

“Now, with respect to recent events…let’s say a business owner’s store gets destroyed by people rioting in the streets. He or she has every right to be angry and resentful. I don’t judge them for it. Yet at the same time, I cannot judge the people who destroyed it either. Their anger is real and is the result of being overlooked and unheard.

“Now, in a situation like this, I think both sides are essentially right. But it’s always been difficult for us to accept that sort of complication. We are used to viewing things in a binary way. We’ve always been more comfortable with black and white. One side being right, and one side being wrong. It’s less messy for us that way. Easier to understand.

“Of course, that’s never been the nature of reality. Some thing’s cannot be labeled so neatly. In situations like these, then, it’s less a question of who is right and who is wrong, and more a question of addressing the root causes of why the whole thing happened to begin with.

“Until the root, systemic causes are addressed, we cannot expect peace.”

“Right,” I said. “But in this case, that root cause is racism.”

“You bet. Something intimately tied to the history of this country.”

“I saw a storefront owner get his whole shop destroyed. I knew him. He seemed like a good guy–”

“I’m sure he was. But that really is a basic universal truth seen in action, isn’t it? Right before our eyes. The truth being that we cannot isolate ourselves any longer from racism and hate. It doesn’t matter if you’re a good person. If you’re a good person, you’re still vulnerable. The problems of the world will still, sooner or later, come crashing through your window. It’s a testament to the fact that racism is not merely their problem, that is, the problem of any one community. In fact, it’s never been their problem. It’s our problem, one that all of us need to finally own.”

“Ok, so let’s say we own it. Then what do we do?”

“We destroy it.”

“How?”

“By standing up for it’s opposite, and by facing the people who need to be faced. Not online, but by actually facing them. By talking to them, and communicating the truth of our cause in whichever way will most effectively convince them.”

“And if that doesn’t work?”

“If necessary, we must be ready to defend ourselves and those who need more immediate defending. But never stop trying to speak up, to stand up for the right thing. Communicate always with compassion and basic respect. Violence, ultimately, is a failure of communication.”

“Yea well…sometimes communication just fails.”

“Yes, sometimes it does. But we’ve always had a hand in it’s failure, most specifically when good people do nothing.”

“Yea. I guess that’s pretty true.”

“Yea. It is. So do something. Now.”

canyons at dawn

by Ren Michael

stepping out
from the canyons at dawn
the pain of the world’s
left him humbled and strong
before a breeze
most familiar
and yet brand-new,
he breathes in the view
receiving rhythm and tune

rising from the river
like the birth of the blues
between the symphonic currents
of the beautiful Danube

go with it, friend
and embrace the flow
as you remember again
the things you’ve always known

and never be afraid
for we are one
heart and soul
we’re the bull in the rain,

with a new world to grow

 

Petrified Forest National Park

I left California a few days before the lockdown. I reached Joseph City, AZ by nightfall and parked at a Love’s Truck Station on I-40 where some industrial plant loomed about a half-mile up the road with it’s lights glowing and smoke rising high in the dark of night.

By this time, I was already considering how best to avoid getting sick, since I still had a long drive ahead of me from Arizona to Fort Lauderdale. I’d never been much of a germaphobe, but now here I was wondering how many people I’d have to dodge suddenly in a place that likely saw travelers and truck drivers come and go every day from all corners of the country.

I’d never paid much speculation to these things before, and now I felt a sting of disappointment at how much current circumstances required me having to think twice about every place I might stop, and how many people I might encounter along the way, and whether I should wash my hands again after briefly touching that door handle which might have been grabbed by who knows how many others.

Yea, it sucked.

In Los Angeles, the biggest talking point concerning the virus was the sudden disappearance of toilet paper in all the grocery stores around town. When I left, businesses still hadn’t shut down but the reality was beginning to sink in, at least for me. Maybe it had something to do with the police helicopter that had been flying over my neighborhood everyday for the past week.

California Desert at Sundown, on State Road 95 outside the Chemehuevi Mountains.

Anyway, the next morning I grabbed coffee at the Love’s station. It was delicious. I liked it so much I even bought a souvenir thermos. Of all the truck stops across America, Love’s has come to be my favorite. Maybe it’s the name. Maybe it’s the logo. Or maybe I just bought the thermos as a way to settle down and lighten up.

Sure enough, during each of the four nights I was on the road, I’d stay at a Love’s Truck Station.  It provided a reassuring familiarity I’d long come to appreciate over the years on the road; and now as things seemed to be getting more serious everywhere, I appreciated that familiarity even more in everything from the country music and tacky t-shirts to the coffee machines and souvenir shot glasses.

To my added satisfaction, as I set out that next morning I saw another familiar face, a National Park that I’d been meaning to visit for a few years now and that I’d bypassed every time I drove down I-40, because I hadn’t had the time or it was too late at night, or some reason or another. It was Petrified Forest National Park.

Now that it was early in the morning and I wasn’t in any particular rush to get anywhere, and probably because I needed the distraction, I decided that now was as a good a time as any to finally see what it was all about.

A quiet morning outside the park entrance; Petrified Forest National Park, AZ

National Parks have always served as an escape for Americans looking to reset and decompress, an escape from the mundane, or from the stress and congestion of city life.  Yet in the coming weeks, they’d receive a new influx of visitors looking to escape the coronavirus.  So many, in fact, that the parks themselves would become congested. 

As I read now of park officials at Grand Canyon currently submitting requests to close down as they field up to 600 visitors in a single day, visitors with whom they undoubtedly come into close contact, I think back to just two weeks ago when I arrived at Petrified Forest. 

I support that request by the way, though I’ll admit, I’m happy I got to visit beforehand when everything seemed totally normal, to the point that you’d never know anything was going on in the rest of the world. 

‘The Tepees’; Petrified Forest National Park, AZ

I parked at the visitor center and watched a quick film about the park and it’s indigenous history.  It felt good to do something normal like that.  To go in and simply look at souvenirs, or get my park stamps and grab a map like I’d typically do.  The rangers were in good spirits and so were the visitors; though again, just like at the Love’s Station, I was suddenly aware of how close I stood next to everybody and felt the same sting of disappointment at the fact.

Then I left the station and set out on the road and into the park, driving alongside the cliffs overlooking the Painted Desert, an endless vista of pink and red rock leading out to the horizon.  The weather was great.  The sky was still a bit overcast, but the sunlight peeking through the clouds felt wonderful on my face.  I could have easily stayed out there all day.    

Along the way I stopped at the Painted Desert Inn and thought about all the people of decades past who’d stayed there and stood out on that same balcony to take in the view of the Arizona badlands. 

The landscape did remind me of the more famous Dakota Badlands some 1,000 miles to the northeast, which I’d visited nearly two years before.  Still while the shades of the green, grey and brown were the dominant colors of that region, here everything was red and pink, and so I might’ve been more inclined to think of Mars, some vast frozen tundra out in space, were it not for that glorious morning breeze and life-giving sunlight. 

Painted Desert; Petrified Forest National Park, AZ

I closed my eyes like I’d done a million times over the last few years in places like Yellowstone and the Everglades, in New Mexico and the Swiss Alps, along the river Danube or the Mississippi, and on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City.  I closed my eyes and stood beneath the sun, allowing my mind to quiet with the surrounding landscape. 

As difficult as things are getting lately, I’m grateful that I still have the ability to do this, where I can at least step outside my door and breathe in the air provided to us everyday. 

With enough patience, I feel like I can get back to anyone of those places whenever I need.  I thought a lot about this, that day at Petrified Forest, and considered the likelihood that I wouldn’t be able to visit again for a while in the days and weeks to come.  I opened my eyes and looked out over the Painted Desert.  Indeed there was nothing petrified about it.  It was in fact teeming with life.

I’d get back there soon.  In the meantime, it would still be here.  Living and breathing under the same sun, beneath the same stars and moon.  And when I consider that, even today, it doesn’t feel too far at all.  Just like every other place I know and love.

Issue #3
Q&Co. 

 

Washing Our Hands

The COVID-19 outbreak leaves me with more questions than revelations about human nature. 

I’m wondering what effect it will have on the world beyond people’s physical health or the global economy, and whether it will change the way we think. If so then how?

Like many people, I’ve long been convinced that the root causes of the world’s most pressing problems are systemic, and not exactly the kind that can be resolved through any sweeping piece of legislation.

That’s not to say the solutions aren’t simple. However, systemic change requires everyone making individual changes not because they are being made to, but because they have internalized, often through personal experience, how and why they should be making the change at all, because they are personally invested in doing so, because they realize they are a part of something bigger than themselves.

That universal realization would most definitely require a shift in the current collective consciousness; and while the shift itself might be simple, how we go about creating it has always proven complicated, because it has less to do with the laws we pass and more to do with how we educate ourselves with respect to the human experience, how we contextualize that shared experience and reinforce it to ourselves on a daily basis.

We’ve always seemed to know theoretically that compassion and respect, listening and sharing each help to create happier, more healthy relationships, and a more sustainable environment for everyone. It’s only in the practical application where we seem to have difficultly.

What’s more is that it only seems to get harder for us as the world’s population grows. How do you get everyone, everywhere, so suddenly and simultaneously, to internalize deeply enough just how tied they are to the person next to them? That the idea of each of us going at it alone, with little to no regard for the other person’s welfare and prosperity, is and always has been a delusional fantasy, especially as the world’s population grows?

It’s likely an easier concept to grasp, say, for crewmen on a ship, or people in a village, or a family in a home. Anyplace where the physical space is smaller and interactions more frequent and visibly consequential.

On the ship you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who ever questions the point in doing their part, or who gives up on the rest of the crew because they’ve suddenly grown cynical and bitter and tired. They do their part because they know if they don’t, the operational integrity of the ship will suffer.

Yet whether it’s the age-old global issues of war, poverty and racism, or the more recent and very real threat of climate change, the problems we continually face seem directly attributable to the fact that we as a planet lack any real sense of investment in one another.

One might be compelled to look up toward the heavens now in surrender, as if only some sudden, cataclysmic event might serve as the last remaining instrument in creating such sweeping behavioral change.

You’ve probably guessed it by now, but that is exactly what the coronavirus can be; and though it has left many of us justifiably worried, I can’t help but see it as a critical opportunity.

‘2020 Reboot’ by Ren Michael

As the world’s population has skyrocketed over the past 100 years, so too have our technologies.  With our additional advancements in medicine, it’s safe to say that we have grown more inclined to simple solutions for complicated problems, more or less adopting a ‘magic pill’ solution–be it legislation or an actual pill–for problems that can be more effectively, if not even permanently, remedied through fundamental changes in our lifestyle and our collective point of view. 

As technologies have made our daily lives easier and done more of our work for us, whether it’s in how we obtain our food, care for our bodies or solve our geopolitical differences, we have grown less accepting of complication, ignoring the fact that complication doesn’t necessarily mean ‘more difficult.’

And though technology has long been replacing manpower and, by extension, increasingly reducing human interaction and cooperation, the consequences of that trend only seem to grow more evident and critical with every year, leading not just to the atrophy of basic, interpersonal skill sets but more so to the already broadening disregard of our own basic interconnectedness, understandings which are no more spiritual than they are practical and essential to the long-term sustainability of any society or ecosystem.  

Sure enough, that disregard has filtered out to virtually every sphere of public life in the industrialized world.  Remember only a month ago when you’d go out to a restaurant and likely see people at the table looking at their phones instead of each other? 

Remember when images of people walking around in face masks seemed like some distant reality, like something that could never and would never happen here? 

Remember the last time you walked amongst a crowd of people not giving it a second thought?  Without ever considering that someday soon, and for the immediate days following, you suddenly wouldn’t be able to do that?

How often and easily we took our daily lives for granted, our extraordinary privilege to walk alongside each other as friends, strangers, lovers, brothers and sisters.  Personally, I can’t wait to stand in a crowd again without worrying about getting sick and simply walk as just another citizen, another human being, one of many throughout the world who live under one sun, inhabiting a very precious and unique planet.   

I can’t help but feel that physical isolation from one another in recognition of a greater good, in which we are so suddenly allowed time to ourselves if not with the people we love, is exactly what we need at this pivotal hour in our history.  For in taking away something so essential to everyday human life, we may yet learn to appreciate and utilize it more.

In Barcelona, every night at 8:00, residents stand outside their balconies and look out over what is typically a congested street and applaud the country’s healthcare workers. 

While Spain has long been marked by tension between its autonomous communities and the national government, any sort animosity people once felt toward each other, and particularly toward their government, is now gone.

They applaud in Madrid, Seville, Valencia and Pamplona, and in many other cities throughout the country, in a sudden and resounding show of support and solidarity.  

Things have changed.  Circumstances have dramatically altered what once seemed to be an indomitable perspective. 

More than once I’ve pictured myself locked in some conflict with a person I love, with whom it seems there is no conceivable reconciliation until that person is thrust into danger.  An accident occurs and they lie in a hospital bed, at which point all our past disagreements are suddenly revealed to be petty and ridiculous.

Our planet faces a turning point now.  We stand at a crossroads unlike any we’ve encountered before.  Indeed unlike crises of the past, it involves all us, everywhere.  It pays little attention to race, religion, rich or poor, left or right.  East or West.  No, it comes for us all and we can face it together or we can continue as we’ve been, divided. 

So long as there is one good person out there in the world, then there is hope for it.  Fortunately, there is more than one good person.  Fortunately, there are millions, and they form the oldest silent majority in history.   

I’m sure you’re one of those people.  I am one of those people.  Our brothers and sisters are in trouble.  They’re sick.  They’re suddenly out of work.  They’re overwhelmed.  They need us.  I need you. 

We can do our part by staying home not only for ourselves but for others, for those who are in hospitals, and for everyone out there every day because they have to be. 

We can remember that we’re in this together, and that our actions do indeed affect one another. 

If we each do our part, we can and we will get through this.  

Truly now more than ever, there is no them, no they

There is only us.  

Issue #3
Q&Co. 

Kerouac

I read your words late this morning
to rock and roll in
the living room
booming, resounding
as clouds roll, overcast
in mysterious
oncoming afternoon
daze………

Are we here?
Is everybody in? Is that working now.
Is it just me?
Do I type too fast? I am just?
Trying
to type
my
poem, for Kerouac
triumphant
having licked the devil
toward the end of his book
of pomes
I like that
lip drummer
Pome
little sketches
all that was familiar to me
returns to me
as Jack and I
lick those demons
once again
yea once and
for all

Issue #1
Q&Co.

#24/8

I keep reading about your life
wanting to know more
and see, increasingly
how much one can learn
from you, by your example.
your level of commitment
your discipline, vision
your athleticism
and focus
a keen intellect.
with respect to your craft
and further…
a heightened awareness
of self

a devotion
to your family
and your friends

I know the mamba
as the mentality lives
it continues to elevate
an inspiration to millions
as the image of you,
determined and true
lives on,
a global icon, yea
but also a local hero
a beloved father
husband
friend

we wave the purple and gold
numbers 24 and 8
we hold up that jersey
bearing your name

from your hometown of Philly,
from which signed & sealed,
came the USA to that golden coast
your adopted home
to these streets of LA

here your legacy lives
far beyond the game,
as we honor all that you gave
and worked to create,
in others and in yourself
it’s a calling, a cause
to celebrate
a reminder each day,
of what it is
to live

& what it is
to be great

Issue #1
Q&Co.

Cambria Kicks

Tucked away on California’s central coast, just a mile or so south of San Simeon leading into Big Sur, the small seaside village of Cambria is home to great people, beautiful weather and stunning coastal shoreline. For all you romantic lovers out there looking for a sweet spot for anniversaries or maybe your Valentines weekend, I’m pitching this your way.

Me and Andrea on the Boardwalk; Cambria, CA

My first real acquaintance with it was years ago when my car’s tire blew out close to midnight and I needed somewhere to sleep. That’s another story for another time, part of which is recounted here in earlier tales. I’ve come to know Cambria more recently in my continued travels along the California coast up Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway).

So why is it one of my favorites?

Me and the Boardwalk; Cambria, CA

For one thing, when you’re looking for a good vacation to simply unwind and relax, few places in the state provide for as tranquil a backdrop as Cambria. One of the best things to do right off the bat is walk along the shoreline, where the town has built a nice little boardwalk that’s perfect for a stroll and breathing in the mist of the ocean waves crashing along the bluffs.

I could easily spend my whole day there just walking, and watching that ocean, saying hello to everyone who comes and goes always with the same, great big smile on their faces, happy to be there with you and happy that a town like this exists at all. I’m telling ya man, it’s a gift; and like so much of that glorious Central California coastline so near and dear to my heart, it truly replenishes the soul.

It replenishes the soul; Cambria, CA

Now I’m not exactly what you’d call a foodie, but if you’re looking for good food, cross over the PCH and head into the east village, as it’s known, and into the deeper corners of town. Linn’s Easy As Pie Cafe is a cool, easy-going, counter-service spot that makes a fine cup of joe, and it’s a definite must for folks like Yours Truly, who appreciate a good slice of pie, particularly in the morning with a cup of coffee. I’m not a big eater early in the day, so yes, it’s my kind of breakfast.

A little further on Bridge Street is the aptly-named The Café on Bridge St., which makes some of the tastiest sandwiches & salads this side of the Mississippi. I would also very highly recommend Sebastian’s just a few miles down PCH in neighboring San Simeon, even though it’s closed for renovations but should be reopening soon. Anyway the Bridge St. cafe is built in what appears to have been someone’s house once upon a time, with a lovely outdoor area in the front and back that makes for a great spot for lunch.

Speaking of Sebastian’s and San Simeon, back towards the coast sits another one of my favorites stops—the Hearst Ranch & Winery. I’ll put it this way, I liked it enough to join their wine club and become a fancy club member, but maybe that’s another story too. The open-air setting allows for a great wine-tasting experience with a complementary ocean breeze provided to you by the great state of California. In any case, it’s the perfect way to cap off an afternoon.

Robin’s Restaurant; Cambria, CA

For dinner, back in Cambria in the east village, one place reigns superior over them all, and that’s Robin’s Restaurant. It feels like a hole in the wall that’s been there forever; or at least, like The Café on Bridge St., a place that feels like you’ve stepped into someone’s home, not just because it may very well have been once before, but because the food is home-made and the service first-rate.  My personal recommendation: Try the lasagna.

Every time I step in there, I’m reminded of why I keep coming back. It’s home.

Then again, I feel that way all day, every day that I spend in Cambria. In that little, unassuming town on the California coast.

Issue #1
Q&Co.