The Hand of Calibos

I fear there exists an alternate version of Hollywood’s version of a popular myth, one where Perseus emerges as a much more flawed, tormented and tragic hero. His eyes “open to grim reality” as he awakens in Joppa and finds himself with

no helmet!
no sword!
no shield!

certainly no winged white horses or
severed Medusa heads which have the power to turn gargantuan sea creatures to stone.

Unaided by the Gods, he is left with nothing but his wits, intuition, and a modest level of grating charm. Equipped with only these things, this 4th rate Perseus is tasked with defeating the swamp forces of Calibos, lord of the marsh, in order to free the beautiful princess Andromeda from the clutches of a wretched curse. In this version, it is Calibos who operates with every advantage. Firmly entrenched in the deep swamp, with nearly unlimited resources and acolytes at his disposal, Calibos cruelly and relentlessly manipulates the environment which we have no choice but to clumsily maneuver through.

Andromeda for her part⁠—a far cry from the idealized virtuous and loyal princess⁠—is herself deeply flawed, hopelessly conflicted and tortured by the complex workings of her own troubled mind. Long under the spell of Calibos, Andromeda is unwilling if not unable to separate herself from the treacherous elements she desperately wishes to be rid of. Unsurprisingly, a visit to the oracle reveals a vision of nothing but mathematical improbability. Yet, despite the bottomless pit of disappointment and emotional horror that a royal courtship with Andromeda would inevitably result in, she somehow remains as irresistibly desirable as ever. Myths don’t always have to make sense logically.

It would seem then, that Perseus and his cohorts would be doomed from the get go on this “journey,” destined only to succumb to their own romantic delusions, their heroic dreams swallowed whole by the unnatural conditions imposed by shadowy architects of a marshy maze of misdirection. With Andromeda an unreachable headcase, and Perseus condemned to a fate of flailing about in the syrupy molasses swamp, one might ask “Why bother at all? What is the point of even playing at all when the deck is stacked and the outcome is a forgone conclusion?”

Because Western man is often a foolish romantic, prone to embarking on fantastic quests. He will risk ruining his life for mere sincerity or to satisfy a morbid curiosity. He will jump into a canal filled with grody water in an attempt to save a golden retriever and will do so for no reason other than empathy. Successful heroes bask in the glory of their achievements and savor the spoils of victory. Yet even tragic heroes serve a worthwhile purpose, if not for what they achieve then for the lessons they offer for those after them, whether in mythical, metaphoric form or as simple clues left behind for those who inherit the same mission.

Either way, when “Western” man feels passionately enough about something, whether it’s an abstract idea, a love interest, a nation or a fever dream, he will not hesitate to drown himself in a cause greater than himself, even if he initially dove in for selfish reasons.

If there exists, as I fear, an alternate version of Hollywood’s version of a popular myth…

unfortunately, it appears to be the one we’re in, and we’re in it up to our necks.

Beyond the Ice Cream Sea

The micromoon’s tidal forces,
an inflatable holographic chair,
the boardgame Candy Land (1984 version)
no strategy involved just chance of the cards

photograph from a
vintage camera with a
scratch on the lens

a blue otter pop
fresh from the freezer

and random
dancefloor of emotion that lights up and
dynamically changes with the clearest music

matching “glow in the dark” decoder rings
a temporary tattoo parlor
translucent image
of what? a rat?
fades fast in a cold shower

a certain kind of wearer
makes a one day waterpark wristband
nothing it’s just a cool color
nervous laughter

A Glow In the Dark Neverland

Sometimes I get sidetracked by things, you know…things. It’s like well, I don’t really know what it’s like. Things just happen. They really do. Who can understand what I’m trying to say? Nobody, except maybe you and/or you and/or you, too. For my sake I hope it’s more than one or two of you but not too many of you. I’m saying a lot here, just telling it like it is. Yep, that’s me. It really is me, too. It’s been me this whole time. You figured it out before I did, then forgot it, then figured it out and then forgot again (for the last time.) It’s okay, though. It was my fault you forgot. I didn’t go far enough, fast enough, hard enough, but I never told you why, one way or another. Hesitation is the short version, but think of it as a tree with many branches, a hydra with many heads that I was bogged down battling until the clock pretty much ran out. No point in explaining at this point. You’ve said all that needs to be said.

Words don’t matter anyway. I only recently realized I didn’t need them (or need very few of them.) Most people aren’t capable of understanding you or them. They just can’t communicate on the same level, and for those who can… even one word can be enough. Blah blah blah, blah blah blah. That’s what they say. It’s just code for gibberish and the mark of a subhuman (harsh but true) in the current year. We’ve graduated from words to something else. I’m not a scientist, so I can’t say how it works. It would be nice if I knew, because then I might have some way to control it, or use it in a way which might benefit me, but I don’t. I really don’t. I’m like a wide-eyed teenage boy (trapped in a jaded hipster artfag’s body) who found a pouch of magic coins and is just skipping them into the fountain, one by one, wasting them, conflating them with wishes and hoping one sticks so that I can repeat the maneuver same way until I figure out the mechanism. That’s all it is. It’s in the experimental phase. What a complicated experiment it was.

When I entered the maze, the odds seemed like maybe 10 to 1, but as I made my way further into the labyrinth, the complexity increased exponentially, with previously invisible obstacles appearing left, right, behind, above, and below. Before I knew it the whole fucking thing glowed in the dark and not in cute glow golf date or sexy strip club kind of way. Knowing all this, I stayed in the maze anyway, because I knew there was a chance something like you might be on the other side. 50 to 1…100 to 1 and so on. I stopped checking. Suddenly I found myself running a Gauntlet. And to what end really? No fairy tale endgame in sight. Fine. Even just to meet up once a week and have our secret game of Candyland would have been worth it. It was a place to restart, but the sky was always the limit.

The manipulative forces of the maze are as strong as they are scum, but they have a weakness. They are textbookish philistines, unversed in the language of abstraction. They can deal only in the tangible. Outside of their inflated bubble, they are average. You can see it in the lack of creativity, the market researched memes, the inability to recognize an obscure (high or low) cultural reference. Not to mention, terrible fashion sense. They can’t recognize something superior to them when they encounter it, so they underestimate it. That is how someone like me could manage to break through, (until I was thwarted by hangups and limitations of my own.) Maybe next time a hero with less flaws will show up. The maze has no power over people like us once we’re aware of it. It ain’t true, that your life has kicked you. It’s your mind, and that’s all that’s tricking you…

Mining For Elizabeth

For many years I wondered what ever happened to Elizabeth, my old friend Andrew’s high school girlfriend. Like it was yesterday, I can still remember the three of us driving around in the summer and fall of 1997 in my black ’87 Ford Escort EXP, a car which, while prone to breaking down at the most inopportune times, nevertheless by some miracle managed to get us to Tempe and back on several occasions to see bands play at once iconic (now long defunct) establishments like Gibson’s, Boston’s and Electric Ballroom. I’m not even going to write about the more scandalous and amusing shenanigans that occurred on some of these adventurous car rides, because well, let’s just say those were innocent times and leave it at that.

Elizabeth was a very pretty girl, way too pretty to be hanging around with Andrew and I, but lucky for us, I don’t think she was aware of that. I don’t remember having a “thing” for Elizabeth myself, but I do recall being envious of Andrew for having a girl like her, just a beautiful and normal looking blonde Phoenix girl, unlike so many of the troubled skater and raver girls I had always managed to end up cavorting with. Elizabeth was always kind and friendly. She never seemed to talk badly of anyone.

One night I gave Elizabeth a ride home from Andrew’s house, and it was just her and I. She was complaining to me about how Andrew wasn’t being “affectionate” enough, and she wondered if she was “going to have to get her needs satisfied elsewhere.” I won’t go into detail, but she went on and on in such a way that for a brief moment in my deluded young mind, I wondered if perhaps this was some kind of signal that she wanted me to make a move or something. I highly doubt it was though, and I quickly dismissed whatever impulse I may have had and dropped her off at home without doing anything stupid.

One thing I did do was endlessly pester her to hook me up with her friends. I didn’t deserve such charity, but Elizabeth was good natured enough to entertain my requests anyway. This almost ended up panning out. She had an attractive friend named Michelle whom she made an effort to set me up with. However, when the four of us hung out at my apartment one night, a rather annoying guy tagged along as “the fifth wheel.” Even though Michelle and I were only inches away from one another on my bed, I never got the chance to be alone with her, to find out one way or the other if anything was going to happen. That was that.

I lost touch with Andrew and Elizabeth not too long afterwards, and from what I remember they broke up a year or two later. Andrew and I are forever bonded though by an incident which occurred in October of 1997, when the two of us were robbed at gunpoint outside the movie theater (which no longer exists) on 32nd St and Bell, after seeing the film, The Devil’s Advocate. Neither of us had any money in them when we handed over our wallets, but on the tense drive back, Andrew bemoaned to me that he had pictures of Elizabeth in his.

Anyway, fast forward to the present. I always wondered what happened to Elizabeth and what she was doing with her life now. I never was able to look her up, because I didn’t remember her last name. You see, back then there was no social media, so a lot of your friends and acquaintances you would only know by their first name, sometimes even a nickname. To this day there are people I used to skateboard with that I will never be able to reconnect with because they were only known locally by outlandish monikers like “Bugle” and “Turbo Chris.” Believe it or not, some of them still have never learned to use the internet either.

Of course, I could have just asked around and found out from someone what Elizabeth’s last name was, but I suppose that would have been too easy and logical. Tracking down Andrew and asking him what his ex-girlfriend’s last name was would have been kind of awkward. Nevertheless, by chance a few days ago, I accidentally discovered she had a profile on Facebook. When she left my friend request on “pending,” I assumed that maybe she didn’t recognize or remember me after all these years. An even worse possibility was that she did remember me and just thought I was a douchebag or something. Social norms have changed a great deal since then, and it wouldn’t be the first time I remembered a girl fondly who didn’t share a mutually idealized recollection of me. So I began to wonder introspectively, just how much of a jerk I had been, how much of a creep I was all those years ago that Elizabeth would be unwilling to entertain the idea of merely saying hi.

I guess I will never know what she thought. I found out from a friend that Elizabeth passed away a few years ago after she fought a tough battle with cancer. She was only in her early 30’s. The way that I remember Elizabeth from the time I knew her, I would have thought she’d live to be a hundred years old. Elizabeth was one of the coolest girls I’ve ever met and animated with vitality. Maybe it’s tasteless to write this kind of tribute to someone who isn’t a celebrity or in the public eye (hence the reason I’m not using people’s full names.) Elizabeth deserves a tribute though…so here it is: Think about what an amazing impression Elizabeth left on the world, that years after she was gone, people would still be wondering what she was up to, remembering things she said, and hoping to reconnect with her. I only knew her briefly 20 years ago, and yet I would have been so excited just to run into her somewhere or talk to her online for like five minutes…and I’m sure I’m not the only one. It wouldn’t have even mattered to me what she looked like now or what sort of condition she was in. If she only knew how thrilled I was when I thought I’d finally found her. I was nervous even when I tried to send her a message!

One of the best things one can hope for is to be remembered fondly after they’re gone. It’s not fair that Elizabeth lost her life prematurely. It doesn’t make any sense at all. Clearly though, Elizabeth lives on in the minds of those who were fortunate enough to know her. Wherever you are, we’re reliving the good times with you a thousand times over. RIP Elizabeth, aka “Lizard Breath.”

Pageless Wonders

Some of you have never professed your love to a girl by spelling words numerically on a translucent Motorola pager, and it shows. You’ve never known what it feels like to be the boy/girl who cried wolf and paged someone “911” even though there was no critical emergency, and all you wanted to do was just get their attention. You’ve never been on the receiving end either, frantically rushing to a pay phone outside Baskin Robbins, mustering the 35 cents to call the number, only to discover the person was just wondering if you could give them a ride somewhere. You will never experience the euphoria associated with your pager “blowin’ up,” with pages from a welcome romantic interest or uneasy dread that accompanies the uninterrupted flurry of spacelike electronic beeps from a scorned lover…the emotional energy seemingly to physically emanate from the illuminating device.

If you own a cellphone, you might think you could relate, but with the pager there were no words, no images, no voice, only the numeric digits which spell out the only things which matter to a teenager. There was also that abstract language of intensity and frequency understood only to those of a particular place and time. The pager in this sense, heightened the intuition and psionic sensitivity of the user. “Pager battles” may have been fought with a limited vocabulary but the high drama conveyed was perceived at the extra sensory level. I wouldn’t have even needed to spell out 31723170717 or 1*177155*400 to Laura Wenz in the summer of ’97. She would have just known.

I did get to experience these things, and sometimes I feel as though I would like to experience them again. Occasionally, I look at those old pagers on ebay, hoping to find a translucent teal model identical to the one I once brandished, securely clipped to the front pocket of my Faded Glory jeans as my friends and I skateboarded around North Phoenix strip malls and the campuses of Chaparral and Paradise Valley High School in the
middle of the night. I even think about buying one of those pagers and actually using it again just to hear the sounds and reconnect with…something.

The trouble is, there is no one left to page and no one left to be paged by. Laura and Jen and those Chaparral girls are all long gone, married with multiple children and have long ago stopped visiting the overgrown mental neverland I’ve continued occupying this entire time, and they won’t ever be back. If I bought a pager, how could I even activate it? What would I even use the damn thing for besides meditation and self-hypnosis? In the post-Columbine age of school shooters, those high schools which we were once free to rampage through at all hours like wilding young centaurs, have long been placed in a state of permanent lockdown. Roaming anywhere remotely in the vicinity seems out of the question, and no cop would ever believe my story in a million years if I told them what I was actually doing there.