Tuesday, February 24, 2009


So Vivian mentioned that the blog was hard to read in white text on a black background. I don't know. I grew up typing DOS commands and playing hours of text-based adventure games in just such an environment. I thought it looked pretty cool, personally. But I also think text-based adventure games are cool, so...

I opted to follow the lady's advice on this one. The format might go through a few changes as I try out different themes to see what I like. But I'm really not concerned too much about the page design. If it's comfortable for you, that's all that matters. Want bigger text? I can do it. Want it all in navy blue? Easily done. If any of you have thoughts on something snazzy then feel free to let me know. I don't really have to look at this page at all since I only come here to post what was written in another program. Who knows what kind of dust gathers when I'm away.

Otherwise, the main reason I'm writing now is because of the response I got for Rope Bridge. It was really wonderful. Besides a lot of comments on this site and Facebook, I additionally received several personal messages from people that enjoyed the piece probably much more than they probably should have. So from the same chapter of my life I've started writing another piece. The next one won't have the metaphorical slant to it, though I did enjoy that quite a bit. But I have a few stories that I can tell about my time on the island that might be interesting anyway. We'll find out, I suppose.

Since I was out of school last week I had a lot of hours for writing, so I was able to update the blog every day. I won't be able to do anything close to that right now, but I will begin the new series soon. Hopefully it will be before the end of the week. (This new one is shaping up to be quite long. So I'll break it up into episodes just like the last one.)

So that's it. Thanks again to all of you who asked me to keep writing. In response, well, that's what I'll do.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Rope Bridge part 4/4

The vine completely obscured my view out the window. It covered the kitchen table. It hid away my toaster and left a ransom note in its place. I started to think about trimming it back, but I was curious to see just how much it could grow. Besides, that was right around the time the tree frog moved in, and I couldn't very well ruin its new home, could I? As for how the frog got in, I think the window sill had buckled, creating a handy entry point. Or maybe the little feller stowed away on my backpack from one of my daily trips down to the river to collect more water. (Tap water had almost killed the vine at first. In desperation I went back to the source and brought a jug of that pollution home. Surprisingly, the vine loved it.) However it happened, I now had a cute little croaking critter hanging around and I was happy for the company. At any rate there had been a lot of fruit flies in the place as of late, and having an amphibious predator in the house seemed like a welcome addition to the family. I named him Eater.

Well, you can imagine where things went from there. The vine continued to grow. The humidity rose. At some point I decided I was really into loincloths. The only thing left to do was to set the mood. I switched out all the normal halogens for low-intensity red and blue bulbs. Jeff Buckley was on the stereo at all times. I became fascinated in the decorative properties of mold. Yep. The jungle had moved in. “But it's not like I'm living over there!” I would say to myself, pointing in the vague direction of the window and, by extension, the island across the way. “This is nothing compared to that. Nah. Nothing to worry about.”

Eater couldn't have been happier. In fact a whole quorum of croakers had joined him. I never bothered to name the rest of them. They all looked like Eater anyhow, so that's how I thought of them. A big gang of Eater. And boy could they make a racket. The neighbors complained once or twice, and I had to answer a few angry letters from the landlord. All in all, though, I went to work on time, payed my bills, and kept larger pools of water from standing on any surfaces which lacked immediate drainage. No one bothered me too much. And I felt comfortable. Natural. I don't know, liberal.

But then the coughing fit started. A fever came on. My eyes swelled up and my bowels ran down. I felt terrible, and it wouldn't go away. It started to affect my job. I'd show up to work most days, but I wasn't totally there. My eyes would start tearing up for no reason and I'd loose the ability to focus on what I was doing. I felt nauseous constantly. Pretty soon I could no longer properly feed myself. I was often too weak for the task. Furthermore, the microwave had become Eaters' favorite hangout. They had quite a pad in there. Things were good for the frogs, but they were bad looking worse for me.

By this point the vine had long since taken over every surface of my home. I had never seen a thing with such a will to live. It was as if any second it would spontaneously evolve into a sentient being and ask for directions to the nearest Mexican place. I couldn't step anywhere without breaking off a handful of leaves or a sinuous branch. It didn't make no never mind to the creeper, though. The thing grew too quickly to even notice. Like a Greek monster of myth, one severed head would just sprout 3 to replace it.

Then one day a friend came to see me. I'd like to say it was Ryan, because that would wrap this story up in a neat little package. But since I've told the absolute truth about everything so far I might as well keep on that way. So no, it wasn't Ryan. This friend's name is David. He's a gentle and soft-spoken sort who's always got a good ear and plenty of insights. He was just the guy I needed. (Might be I take advice better from those with my own name. No surprise, really.) David found a relatively dry place to sit and asked me about my life. Well I paraded out all my aches and complaints, and he listened dutifully. “I'm sick, David,” I started. “But more than that—I'm in a real funk, man. I mean, I'm lonely and I can't find anyone. I'm tired and I can't sleep. I'm angry and I can't catch my breath. I'm hungry and I can't feed myself. Mostly though, I'm afraid. What if it never gets better, man?”

“Those sound like serious problems, David,” he said to me. “I won't argue that you are sick. But there's one thing I see that you haven't mentioned. What's going on here in your apartment? Is this just one vine, or a collection of several all joined into one mass? Everywhere I look I see mushrooms and small animals and a heavy mist. You've got your own ecosystem in here. Have you stopped to consider that it might be what you've let happen here which is causing your symptoms? I don't just mean physically. You might be less lonely, for example, if a person could sit in a semblance of comfort without worrying over snake bites. You've got to admit that some of those troubles might solve themselves if you just got rid of this plant.”

Well in retrospect I suppose David's assessment was obvious. But I was in perfect denial at the time. As he spoke, however, I found myself nodding to his wisdom. Maybe he was right. Maybe I hadn't left the island at all...you know, metaphorically speaking. It was possible that I never really had gotten that party out of my system. Maybe in some sick way I was in love with the cause of my disease. There was no getting around it. So I squared up, looked David straight in the eye, and shrugged. I'm stubborn, you see. I don't like to appear too ready to jump to the right conclusion. I thanked David for his time and showed him to the door. That's not just a turn of phrase in this case. Such guidance really was necessary.

As soon as I was alone I lit up the tiki torches, climbed into my hammock and tried to get a nap. But I couldn't sleep. I just swung there in the vine and looked around at my place. I really looked.

“Oh what the hell. I might as well give it a shot.”

A week after cleaning all traces of jungle out of my apartment I was already feeling better. The cough was gone. The inflammation was down. The rash had disappeared (though the itch remained for a whole year). Things got back to normal and I had to admit that David had been right. I took Eater and Associates down to the riverbank and let them go, which seemed to suit them all just fine. Wasn't much food left for them after I'd gotten rid of all the rotten organics.

Of course a vine like that doesn't just completely go away. It never works that way with this sort of botany. Every few days a new shoot would make an appearance out of the carpet, or from the back edge of the counter top, or lord knows right out the toilet bowl. Occasionally I'd even let the things grow for a few days. But then I'd start feeling ill again and so I would break out the plant killer.

As I kept on with this regimen things got to be even better than normal. I got a better job. I moved into a nicer place. I got a girlfriend and my band signed a big record deal. Well, ok. That last part isn't true at all. I just couldn't go all this way without trying to tell one little fib. I get carried away sometimes. Nope. Truth is the band broke up. Turns out that we all worked best in vegetative environs. The Rock just wasn't as fun anymore once the practice space was dry.

And that pretty much brings us up to the present tense. Of course Ryan eventually comes back into the picture. He looks good and sounds healthy. I don't ask about the details, but at some point he got himself off the island as well. He does tell me that they ripped up the old bridge. Not long after my accident, it turns out. But then they turned around and put in a massive rope swing which goes from one side to the other. Occasionally the rope snaps and someone goes down, but for the most part people get from here to there without too much trouble. The trip back and forth is a lot more fun, too, one imagines. Ryan hasn't been on it, though. He says he just doesn't have the heart for that much excitement any more. “Neither do I,” I told him.

The next day I found myself at the hardware store looking at heavy duty bolts, some nice sturdy gloves, and a length of strong rope...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Rope Bridge part 3/4

Portland was absolutely perfect for me. It was full of thousands of other people my age who never fit in with their peers. We met in a series of bars and retrofitted theaters and made a solemn oath to relive our youth together. One of my jobs was scouting out venues and reporting back to Hipster Central. I published a sort of shoestring scene guide. Portland is lousy with venues for art and music. Everywhere you turn there's another rock band setting up for a gig or a rehearsal or to change the world or something. In the coffee shops, the malls, the courtyards and the bowling alleys you can expose yourself to more creativity than one could ever hope to actually appreciate. More fertile ground for arty types could not be found.

The Willamette River (pronounce will-AMM-it) runs right through the heart of the city and carries the runoff of oil paints, sculpting clay, cheap beer and power chords. One day I was down there scouting more urban landscape to be turned into the next hot spot. Riverfront park had yet to be hipsterized. That was when I saw it. Turns out Portland has one of those islands, too. I recognized the outline of palm trees against a backdrop of gray, rainy skies while crossing the Hawthorne Bridge. It was a bit of a way off, but unmistakable. I finished crossing the bridge and headed downriver to get a better look. A mixture of feelings came up when I got close enough that I could actually hear the party. It was like seeing an old lover and having those mixed temptations to both strike up a conversation while diving under the nearest vehicle. (A stationary one is preferable, though a moving one will do if it's more convenient.) It felt exhilarating to to hear the revelry again, but I had absolutely no desire to find the access bridge which I knew would be nearby. Just smelling the grilled meats and hearing the beating drums was enough. It sparked an enthusiasm in me that I hadn't felt in a long time. I then decided it'd be a real kick in the pants if I rented an apartment across the way. So that's what I did.

Living there was great. I admit the noise was a bit loud and made it hard to sleep sometimes. But I chose not to care and felt that doing so reaffirmed my status as young and cool. By far the best part of living there, as it turned out, happened whenever I saw someone come stumbling out of the forest. They always looked like hell and were obviously trying to find a way back to safety. The first time it happened was a bit of a shock, but each time thereafter became a welcome interruption. See, I just knew I had something to offer these people. With the first sign of a human silhouette approaching the edge of the water I would hurry down to greet them. Then I would holler something over. Some simple words of encouragement like, “Try harder!” It always left me feeling really good about myself.

Knowing I'd done my part to make a difference I would head back up to the apartment, faithful that my new friend would not only try harder, but subsequently do better. I'd whistle myself a happy tune as I trudged back up the bank. Once inside I would put on a pot of water for some tea, toast a piece of white bread, then sit at the table and look out the window. Without exception the schmuck would still be rooted to the same spot, glassy eyed, and staring at the middle distance. “Look at that guy,” I'd say to myself. “I can't believe he's still standing there just shivering. Well really, if they don't want to accept help, there's nothing you can do for them. People have to find it within themselves.”

Such wisdom I had gained throughout my own trials. Life was good. One morning I took a trip down to the riverbank to sit and ponder my successes. (The best time to contemplate life, I've always found, is while looking at danger from a safe vantage point.) In the midst of my ruminations I happened to look down and see the prettiest, most vibrant little plant growing out of the rocky ground. “Tough little sumbitch,” I thought. Mind you, this was no Victory Garden soil. There was nothing in the way of ideal conditions. If it wasn't the rocks barring the path to sunlight then it was the constant wash of polluted river water. If not that then the broken bottles and candy wrappers dripping into the gravel. Looking down at that little leafy creature made me think of, well, myself really. What an ambitious and hearty little manifestation of God's will! So I dug it up and took it home. I found the perfect little pot, got some soil from the neighbor's flower box, and set to watching the magic of life unfold.

A week later the vine had taken over an entire wall of the kitchen.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Rope Bridge part 2/4

I have a hazy recollection of getting up to take a leak or get some more coconut juice and finding myself lost in the trees. It was dark and I was quickly disoriented. Normally in such cases one follows the sounds of revelry in order to get back, but it seemed I had lost my hearing. That sort of thing happened often enough. (Seriously, what was in that juice?) I knew my ears would work again in time. They usually got this pleasant, low level hiss that if you closed your eyes could almost convince you that a waterfall was nearby. But at that particular moment it was mighty inconvenient.

So next thing I know I'm stumbling around and running into trees and stepping on rocks and slapping at mosquitoes and then there it is. I'm standing there, looking at the bridge. Across the way I can see everything as I remembered it. The freeway is there. A McDonalds isn't far off. Cars are going by at what seems hyper-speed to me and I'm totally taken aback by the whole thing. Anyway, since I couldn't find my bearings on the island any more, civilization was suddenly looking pretty tempting.

I step out onto the bridge and find out that my legs aren't as strong as they used to be. Maybe I didn't do as much dancing as the other kids at the party. I must have been one of the more horizontally inclined because that rope bridge not only didn't agree with me, it was winning the argument. It creaked and groaned and shook and did just about everything it could to dissuade me from whatever notions I had about crossing it. But I kept on. It's not that I was tired of the jungle so much. I could go back any time I figured. But it was certainly time to leave. With every passing minute I was becoming more acutely aware of the rancidity wafting from my personal regions, nether and otherwise.

Then I stepped on a weak plank. The thing snapped and down I went. As one would expect, there was no troll to take pity on me. I just went into the water like a sack of steel. The river was cold and powerful. At first I thought myself lucky because I could see enough boulders sticking up that I thought I would be able to arrest myself on one of them. Turned out I just banged in to every one of them on the way down. I'm not even sure if I stayed in the water or just got tossed from one stone to the next by the sheer force of my own momentum. I could see both sides of the river, jungle on the right, highway on the left, but couldn't control my descent toward either one of them. The last thing I saw was a long branch coming out from wild kingdom. I reached up to grab it, but it snapped off in my hand and came down on my head. I was out.

I awoke downriver in a severely uncomfortable state. The body that washed up on the shore sort of looked like mine, except it was emaciated and bruised and colored yellow where the eyes should have been white. But the fates were kind I just so happened to land on the side of the river what had hospitals, so that's where I went. They patched me up and sent me home with a long and disturbing bill. Getting treated for 76 different ailments was costly. But most alarming was that only 4 of them came from the river. You wouldn't believe the things I had picked up in that jungle. Everything from congenital foot lice to severe frontal lobe laceration. Good party.

Things hadn't changed much on this side of the river. People still had to work for a living, unfortunately. So I moved in with some friends, got a Joe Job, and even went to college for a while. When I got bored with all of that I moved up to Portland to pursue my ambitions as an outsider. A lot of people go to Portland for that. I was Home.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Rope Bridge part 1/4

Alright. So here we go. Blog promised, blog delivered. So what's the topic? Well, I have no idea. I am pretty much just entertaining myself at this point going all stream-of-conscious. It's fitting, though. The person who asked me to post is my old Beatnik friend named Ryan. He and I went to the same schools until we graduated senior high, but never hung out until afterward. During childhood I was anti-social, arrogant, and generally not fun to be around. But all of that changed with the freedom of post-high school. Thank God for drugs.

In 1995, and in the spirit of all things too-young-to-know-better, Ryan and I set out to convince ourselves that we were the reincarnations of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady. (It was never formally agreed which of us got to be Jack. I think we avoided the topic so we could both believe as we would prefer. But in hindsight I can say with the utmost clarity that Ryan was the poet slash artist and I was the drug-addled hanger-on.) Our experience On The Road was nothing like the non-stop trip to Mexico that it should have been. Instead we would get high with no real sense of adventure on any old night of the week and drive in circles around Salt Lake City until one of us passed out. With luck that was usually the one in the passenger seat.

So one night Ryan and I were driving past a particularly treacherous part of the Jordan River. Not many people outside of the Wasatch Valley are familiar with this wormy landmark, and even fewer the part Ryan and I found. We saw fires blazing from the other side of the river, but couldn't discern the source. Seeing fires while driving around Salt Lake all night turns out to be a not unusual experience. But normally one can see where it's coming from. This one looked controlled, and by the sounds of drums and voices one would imagine that a good time was being had on the other side.

Ryan parked the car and we got out to inspect the scene. I had heard something about this geography-defying tropical island on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, but I had never actually seen it. What you hear growing up is that it's rife with danger and turmoil and one should avoid it at all costs. But it didn't sound tumultuous at all to us. It just sounded fun. So off we went.

Now, accessing this jungle island meant crossing a nasty little bridge that hung limp from the Interstate-5 Looking Point side and the No Mans Land side. It was one of those rope numbers with the wooden slats just like you see in all the fantasy movies right near the climax where some dwarf has to run across and he slips and almost falls but a previously unfriendly troll has a sudden change of heart and comes along and to save him. It was that kind of bridge.

Certainly we were nervous, but we were also young and horny and, as mentioned earlier, high. Much too high, in fact. And on a daily basis. But we didn't know anything about partying until we got onto that island. The people there were outrageous. They were half-naked and dancing around and screaming and screwing and eating and drinking and just taking any notion of propriety I'd ever been taught and sacrificing it on the altar of lust. Just amazing. Someone gave me something to drink out of a coconut and that was it. I don't remember much until about 9 months later.