Thursday, July 31, 2003

Last night my wife and I were awakened by a phone call at 3:42 in the morning.

Normally I screen my calls for salesmen and such, but at that hour in the morning I figured it might be an emergency.

"Hello?" I said groggily.

"Is this Clay Sails?" a curt voice asked.

"Um, yeah," I said. If it was a salesman, I wanted him to be sure he was talking to me before I ripped him to shreds. If it was someone else who had business calling at that hour, I figured honesty was the best policy. Hostility could be injected later if necessary.

Officer: This is Officer [x] of the Yosemite Park Police. Aren't you supposed to be meeting somebody?" the voice said.

Me: *What?*

Officer: [First name] [Last name]. She says you're supposed to be meeting her here in Yosemite.

Me: Meeting her? I'm in Maryland. Do you know what time it is here?

Officer: We got problems here, too, buddy. So you know this lady, [First name] [Last name].

Me: Yeah. She's my friend's ex-girlfriend. She...gets confused sometimes. She's got mental problems, you know what I mean...?

Officer: Yeah, I was just coming to that conclusion. She seems to have lost her vehicle...

The conversation ended with me giving the guy my friend's phone number. I felt bad about sicking a ranger and a deranged ex-girlfriend on my buddy [whom I call "Unbreakable"] at 1:30 in the morning (California time) but there was no helping it. See, the woman in question has been having schizophrenic episodes off and on for three or four years now. Somehow I have become the object of her delusional love fantasies. She thinks that she and I were great pals and unrequitted lovers, yearning for one another at a painful distance. Neither could be farther from the truth, but there is no telling her that.

Over time she has sought to make contact with me in innumerable ways.
She calls me very late at night and hangs up the phone (I've *69ed).
She sends wierd emails containing odd innuendos and suggestions.
Last summer as she was driving through Maryland she left no less than 27 messages (most of them blank) on my answering machine, trying to see if I was home. (I wasn't, I was thankfully in California at the time)
She tells people we are/were a thing.

I first learned of her condition after a particularly long and memorable weekend. It was New Years 2000, in fact. Myself and six or seven other friends had spent a snowbound weekend shrinking our livers with booze and inhaling carbon monoxide fumes from the space heater. We played board games and ridiculed each other's mothers and blustered about as usual. Nothing at all seemed out of place with this woman, who was still dating my friend Unbreakable. She was perhaps a bit quieter than usual, which was a blessing because we were all at close quarters and none of us are particularly quiet people.

One morning, after an unusually resltess night, I decided to get up early and go to the store for a bag of coffee. This woman's car was pulled halfway out of the parking spot, blocking mine in. She was sleeping in the front seat. Keep in mind it was January. In the Sierras.

"What are you doing?" I said.
"Nothing. Just sleeping, I guess."
"I'm going to get coffee. Want to come?"
"You'll have to move your car."

We drove three blocks to the store. The sun was blinding and harsh over the snowbound valley. Life sucks before morning coffee. This recognition is mutually understood by all coffee drinkers everywhere. There is no need to communicate this sentiment, nor any other for that matter, prior to the first cup.

We got the coffee in silence and returned to the house in silence. I made coffee in silence. Soon my friends awoke and filled the house with noise.

We all went out for steak dinner that night. I sat in a corner, the woman in question sat several seats away next to Unbreakable. We ate steak, drank to our health, and blustered.

Three days later, at home in L.A. again, just days before I would drive to my new life in the East, I got a phone call from the woman.

Her: Hey Clay.
Me: Hey.
Her: I just wanted to talk about what happened.
Me: ...ok... What happened?
Her: About what you said?
Me: [thinking I had pissed her off somehow, as was not uncommon since I have a big mouth and she has a somewhat touchy disposition under the best of circumstances] What did I say?
Her: You know, what you said in the car.
Me: [silence] I'm not sure what you mean.
Her: You know, you said you loved me.
Me: [much louder silence] What are you talking about?
Her: And we were going to just keep on driving and start a new life together somewhere...?
Me: That never happened.
Her: And what about all of those things you whispered to me at the restaurant?
Me: I whispered things? How could I have whispered anything to you? You were sitting across the table from me.
Her: And you and Unbreakable got into a fistfight.
Me: That never happened, either. Are you feeling alright?

After assuring her that she was misremembering a great many things, I promptly called Unbreakable, who admitted that she had seemed a bit distant since that past weekend at Mammoth. "She's been under a lot of stress lately," he said. And [my favorite] "She's got a creative way of looking at things sometimes."

"Dude," I said, "she's got schizophrenia. She's hearing voices. She thinks we declared our undying love for one another."

Several weeks later, after she had called me at my temporary digs in Baltimore and revealed that she had had a conversation with the Sherriff of Placerville on a CB radio (which she doesn't possess), and she wondered honestly if I had shot my grandmother who had passed away, I spoke with Unbreakable again and again I revealed my suspicions that she had schizophrenia.

He speculated that she might be having a nervous breakdown.

After some months, she and Unbreakable split up and I heard other parts of the story: how she had followed someone for hours in a car because they had colored balloons in the window which indicated that they should be followed. How he had had to physically restrain her as she ran down the middle of a mountain road.

Eventually her family got involved. A doctor diagnosed her condition as schizophrenia.

On and on it went. The story is long and tragic and I don't even know all of it. Her illness is something terrible and unexpected. It creeps up on women in their late 20s (men earlier) and breaks down the boundaries between reality and fantasy. Often there is a sub-condition called "Eros syndrome" where people have delusional fantasies about love. Mark David Chapman and others had that condition.

This woman has always been bright and highly capable -- and is among the finest writers I know -- but her madness is frightening and difficult to fathom, let alone deal with. Especially for me because she and I have never been particulary great friends and our "relationship" at the best of times was only -- in my opinion -- a recognition that as mutual friends of Unbreakable, we had to achieve common ground and get along. We had reached that point, I thought, the couple of months prior to the Mammoth meltdown.

I have avoided mention of her off this blog because I wished neither to encourage her attempts to contact with me, or to humiliate her, but last night's phone call at 3:40 in the morning was simply too much. She must get help and cease this intrusive hammering at the gates of my life.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

For today's blog I was planning on ranting about Liberia. I even started. I got all revved up to question why people assume we should stick our neck into every god-forsaken overseas hellhole where children suffer. But then I realized that nobody in the world cares about Liberia -- especially not the U.S. with our many other troublesome overseas occupations (er...I mean obligations). So there's no need to get upset. George Bush blundered by impying that we would get involved, but clearly he had no intention of doing much. And even after I surveyed my logic for kinks, I realized that involvement would be messy, bloody, and likely ineffectual, but it would be...nice. It would be very very nice of us to look at some long gone historical connection to Liberia and say "don't worry, we'll send in the cavalry to save you." Nice, but stupid.

And thats not very good material for a rant. So instead I think I'm going to go across the street and eat pho -- a delicacy popularized in this country by refugees from another misbegotten war we should have had good enough sense to stay out of.

In fact, from now on, whenever I'm on the verge of getting excited over something abstract and irrelevant to my life, I'm going to eat pho. I encourage others to do the same.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

I was writing to a friend on email today, aimlessly describing my AFL-CIO research job, when I realized something extraordinary:

My "office" -- which consists of a glass observation booth overlooking a perenially empty reading room -- is painted pink. Dark, dirty pink.

Not only is it painted pink, begging the question WHY?, and not only are the blind slats on all of the windows pink, and the quilted vynl chair covers pink, but THEY ARE EXACTLY THE SAME HORRIBLE PINK that my apartment is painted.

Why, oh God have thee forsaken me in all of they infinite wisdom? Was it because I haven't gone to church except on Christmas every other year? Was it because I blame fundamentalist christians for hypocritically demanding respect for their personal views while they fail to respect mine? Was it because I said Jesus and David Koresh really were alike? Was it because I once scribbled "Church is boring" in a hymnal, or threw a rock at Johan on a youth retreat? I know since You created pink it must be sublime. I know that since little girls like it and little girls are good and wholesome expressions of all things You made, pink must be good.

I repent for all my sins. I confess. I'll join a monestary or forsake pork on Fridays. Whatever you ask.

Just please God, please, no more pink walls...

Monday, July 28, 2003

So what's the deal with librarians and copy machines?

This morning I went downstairs to the AFL-CIO library to make a few copies and this old librarian *WIGGED OUT*. I mean wow. She blew her lid. In a nutshell, she said that I had to ok everything with her (despite the fact that she wasn't even in the library at the time and that the archive director had ok'd me to be down there). I kept my cool, but just barely. After she had stormed off, her co-worker gave me a sympathetic pat on the elbow and told me I was welcome in the library and I could use the copy machine any time. Wierd. I mean, really far out. I hope when I grow up I'm not that angry.

So I was using the downstairs copy machine because the upstairs one had been on the blink since Friday and the secretary who deals with broken machines has been out. The upstairs machines makes copies but kinda crooked-like so unless your page was centered with really fat margins, bits got cut off. Eventually, after making sure I took my own sweet time on the old, slow copier downstairs (leaving it good and jammed) I moved back up to the automatic feed machine upstairs. Crooked copies were better than Lizzy Borden.

Some minutes later, back at my desk, this archivist who looks like Grace Jones storms up and says, pissily,

"Next time put a sign on the machine that says its broken!"

"Its not broken," I replied calmly. "It just copies crookedly."

"Well, its broken for what *I* need it to do!" she said, whirling on her stilletto heels and drawing up a HUGE "COPY MACHINE BROKEN" sign, which I subsequently had to move every time I needed to use the machine thereafter.

This morning's copy machine woes remind me of a time I had the audacity to re-load the paper in the copy machine at the Bowie Public Library. Some old shrew librarian tottered up and started screeching. I just shrugged her off, of course, but damn. You would have thought I had just spilled yoohoo on a copy of the Gutenberg bible.
NPR is reporting that Bob Hope died again. I swear that guy dies every few months. They're still claiming he was 100, but they've been saying that for several years now.

I'm pretty sure the real Bob Hope died in a plane crash in 1963 with the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. Since then, the USO has paraded around a series of progressively less hillarious androids with interchangable golf-hats. Of course I have no evidence for this, but I've got about as much as Bush had before sending us to Iraq to avenge Al Qaida's attack on New York and D.C.

Anyway, whether he died last night or thirty years ago, we will all, I'm sure, miss our monthly quota of Bob Hope birthdays, tribues, and death announcements.

On to other fronts. If you've been feeling denied you your regular Panacylum fix, blame Blogger. The past three or four posts I've written have ended up on some indeterminite page, unpublished, languishing. Usually this is a position I reserve for myself. Its all better now. We've come to an understanding.

Friday, July 25, 2003

In my job I sift through safety/OSHA records compiled by the AFL-CIO. Here is part of what I read all day:

Benzene, berrylium, polyvinyl chlorate, chromate, chromium, silica dust, lead, amonia, acetylene, keytone, cadmium, carbon monoxide, flourine, flouride, carbon tetrachloride, chlorine, ethelyne dichloride, hydrochloric acid, mercury, methyl alcohol, dichloromethane, sulphur dioxide, sulphuric acid, hydrogen tetrachloride, terpentine, formaldehyde, benzol, xylol, asbestos, cotton dust...

This is a short list of over 4000 industrial chemicals known to harm humans. We drink, eat, and breathe many of them on a daily basis. Others blow in from Ohio or collect in the tissue linings of the food we eat. Many are sprayed on the vegitables we eat or, if you're from Southern California, get sprayed on your head by helicopters trying to eradicate pests.

Chrome dissolves your nasal cavity, merging your sinuses with your throat.

Ammonia drowns you in your own blood.

Benzine gives you the "Naptha Jag", a kind of jerky dance you do as your nervous system disintigrates.

Beryllium gives you "metal fume fever" in which your lungs become coated by a fine layer of heavy metals.

Cadmium inflames your lungs and weakens your muscles permanently.

Carbon monoxide gives you such severe brain damage that you fall into a coma before dying.

Chlorine causes your vocal chords to spasm uncontrollably, blisters your lungs and dissolves your teeth before arresting your heart.

Hydrochloric acid scalds your lungs and closes your throat before sending you into a coma.

Lead weakens you, loosens your teeth, and destroys pigment before giving you permanent brain damage.

Methanol gives you cramps, vomiting, dialated pupils, and fatal heart paralysis.

Sulphur dioxide turns your lungs blue and gives you permanent bronchitis.

Tetrachlorethylene makes you instantly retarded.

Turpentine makes your piss smell like violets before melting your gastrointestinal tract and leaving you with the mental acuity of a medium-sized potato.

[stay tuned for more]

Thursday, July 24, 2003

So part of my silence has been a futile effort to...process. To be. To exist without language, or scrutiny, or explanation. Sound like a dream? It probably is. Its the hermits dream and I'm a hermit. An urban hermit. Of sorts. Or maybe just an aspiring hermit who likes people but likes solitude, too.

I went to California a few weeks ago. I spent my time in a strange imbetween space, recognizing that on some levels it is home, and on others recognizing that in my absence it has not remained still, either.

At a party of attorneys in Oakland I became a purveyor of industrial bamboo and Cuban booze.

I drove back roads with my old man like we used to do when I was a kid. We hit the White Mountains -- high, dry hills full of ancient trees and dusty sage. Above the ruins of Benton, we stopped at a shallow lake where years ago I said goodbye to a girl and a ghost. We slipped past the shoulder of Glass Mountain, whose meadows and high pastures had remained hidden from us for all our years spent in the area. We ate chili cheese bread in Bishop. We listened to Dylan. We swam in the sulphurous murk of Hot Creek, where boys and dogs are boiled alive every day on the lips of swimmers. We went to Bodie, a town without people in hills without trees. We were both quieter than we used to be, but it was better that way since there isn't always a way to say things aloud.

In L.A. I drove through old familiar haunts, the apocolyptic orange smoglight at sunset, the beautiful unfinished places I always wanted to know full of people I always meant to get back to. I missed people I met and missed people I couldn't meet. I regretted nothing but longed for everything the way it could have been just the same.

I sucked down sushi with ol' Jimmy and gave my face over to the relentless tongue of a little white dog.

I flipped the fingers of my newest nephew and gave him the gruffest truth I knew, something about what things would be like someday.

I waited while they cut my old man again and flew away when he was safely pissing blood and smiling.

Then I returned to my somnolent East, to a job where I uselessly sift through the records of long dead meetings, hunting for references to a legal battle fought in the seventies. I returned nightly to my pink walled apartment, to my looming job search. I return to my steady relationship and my polished routines. If I pause and consider that already it is July in a year I haven't become used to yet, it is only for a moment. Dreamless sleep awaits and I ease back into it, forgetting and ignoring all my many wonderful lives.

I figure I owe somebody an explanation for being so lazy about blogging. Truthfully, my summer "vacation" from blogging has been nagging at my conscience since I announced it. Partly, it is because I feel that regardless of my present circumstance/disposition/or condition it is my duty to jabber endlessly into cyberspace (how will I know I'm still here if I don't hear the echoes of my voice?). Partly its because I constantly have things to write that qualify as worthwhile. And partly its because I've been spending my computer time making music in my home studio rather than writing and also playing endless rounds of Windows XP Pinball.

All of the time that passes between entries just builds up like calcite in the mind, forming clogs and making honest blog entering utterly impossible: too much happens, there are simply too many things to say and all of them must be said or any one of them might turn to lies either through relevation or omission. I won't explain that. Its not that important. Part of blogging, for me, is to keep going. Don't look back. Its like breathing. I could waste time apologizing or philosophizing, but instead I'll just blog.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

[This Blog is on Summer Hiatus as apathy and heat-induced indifference sweep over me. Look for its regular resumption sometime in the Fall, with occasional updates imbetween. Until then: play hard, work easy, and don't turn off the music.]

[p.s. if you're looking to kill some spare time with, try this one about ninjas:]

Tuesday, July 01, 2003