Friday, July 03, 2009


Olson’s hand pillows his bristled cheek, shields his face from cold and damp tile. Eighty-two fetal inches curl against a plywood door, alcove of the abandoned theater. A wilier derelict would have pried open the box office, sat warmly adrift the fog and mist of Fredericksburg Road. Wilier and smaller. This leviathan is neither.

The cold is the least of his worries. Dead of San Antonio winter is nothing to his howling Gloucester. He’s walked daytime streets in postal blue, prowled – blearycold and frazzled – dogroads at night. Ice in his brain, ice floes in the arteries of his long body, ice that gathered him in, took him down and beyond all known landmarks of cold, grim catacombs of rimed ghosts, bearded death. Vaults where hunger whispered, despair echoed, and hope died. Olson’s many deaths.

His unpillowed eye opens. Streetlight moons bleed into the night’s gauze; one is Luna herself. A rat crosses to the curb, fidgets in the garbage bag dumped there. Bag and rat absorb the night’s moons, the green neon flicker from a Money Box across the street, the infernal flame of Olson’s gaze. Where have I landed?, he wonders to the rat, then remembers that he pilfered the bag first. Hot dog buns, Chinese food cartons, donuts. Mostly dry wastepaper trash besides, thank God. Slim pickings for the rat.

Olson creaks up to sitting, fumbles in his jacket for cigarettes, lights one. The rat stops and notes the tiny blaze, goes back to rummaging.

If you’re the asshole got to this bag first, fuck you, thinks Olson for the rat. Newly back from the dead, he’s not sure if people actually see him; he does a lot of talking and thinking for others. The rat pulls out the hot dog bun left behind, looks his way. You got that right.

“Knock yourself out, you little shit.” Olson has the seafarer’s ease with vermin, we’re all on this stinking sinking ship, though he’s never shipped out of Gloucester, never shipped out of anywhere. His father, who sailed from Norway, has the landlubber’s dread. Wartime D.C. bureaucrats were inoculation enough for the likes of this curbside friend. He takes a last drag on his cigarette, flicks the butt in an arc over the rat’s head.

Two headlights troll slowly up the street. Yellow cab. Olson thinks to hail it, not for the ride, but for the company. The driver sees him, slows, stops just past the rat. Red tail lights mix with Money Box green. Merry Christmas.

Olson waves the driver off, looks at the rat polishing off the bun.

“You and me, buddy.”

The rat runs off. Think again, chump.



Anonymous Teresa said...

Grim, gritty, and grimy. One of my "adopted daughters" just did a photo book project on the street kids of Seattle. She was over showing it to me today. This reminds me of her project. She spent two weeks hanging with the street kids asking them questions and taking pictures. You have captured the persona of a street person pretty well in this story.

12:19 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

T: That's an ambitious project by your adopted hija.

I've one scene to go on a play I've been writing over the past few weeks; my plan for the summer was to write the play and then start another novel. "Olson" was in the attic, one of a handful of candidates that has been lurking around for expansion; I may just start fresh with something completely new - not sure what the muse has in mind.

9:24 AM  
Blogger Teresa said...

I'm not sure I could handle an entire novel of "Olson." A short story would be horror enough, but that's me. I come in contact with enough true horrors in my translation business that I like my reading to be light and escapist.

My "daughter" has finished the book, and her teacher is entering it into a contest. Someplace called is printing it for her. I guess it will even be on sale after the contest. I'm really proud of her.

(I acquire daughters like some people acquire shoes.)


10:11 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Imelda Teresa: I'm not sure I could handle writing an entire novel of Olson, though I have some more fragments still in storage. I may put them out as part of a garage sale here in Muravia.

Starting a novel for me usually means rooting around in the attic and digging in the compost heap, just to see what's cooking.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Dee Martin said...

Man that second paragraph - gonna be over 100 today and when it climbs I'll read that again. Just out of high school, little hippie chick without a car in a small Michigan lake town with no public transport, hitched everywhere and sometimes late at night walked miles without a ride, winter and just a blue jean jacket. Only way I can come close to that kind of cold.

11:40 AM  
Anonymous missalister said...

This is your exceptional writing in my opinion. I could read this sort of thing from you every day and it wouldn’t become too much of a good thing. It wouldn't because you’d make each one hit the heart in a slightly different spot. And there are infinite spots in the collective heart : )

11:56 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Dee girl, you're probably still thawing out from that underjacketed winter of yours.

Happy 4th. Stay hydrated - lots of sweet tea.

11:59 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Especially that big ole heart of yours, Duchess. Over the next coupla days, I'll post the rest of the Olson fragments.

Love to you up there.

12:02 PM  
Blogger Teresa said...

We'll look forward to more of "Olson" and whatever other fragments are rattling around up there in the attic. Definitely interesting.

I was going to say that I don't deserve the "Imelda" sobriquet, but then I started counting... I have enough to fill several rooms, two of them came with us when we moved (and not my natural ones). Of course, daughters are much larger than shoes, so rooms are filled with fewer of them. But I do have more daughters than shoes...

1:17 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Teresa: Imelda was just a typical paschalian tease. I wonder if your openness to new daughters is part of your Chinese acculturation, the way in which families seem so very committed to one another.

On a slightly tangential thought, I've been wondering how traditional Chinese families rationalize Mao's revolution. I don't mean rationalize in the sense of a quick dismissal, but in the sense of how the cultural heritage of, say, Teacher, can explain it.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Teresa said...

Well, teacher was very much against all that Mao stood for. And most of my friends who are middle-age and older deplore what has happened to the culture in China. Mao's movements tore away traditional family structures, and Deng's pragmatism means that they will do anything for a buck or personal benefit. Some attitudes expressed by spoiled only sons (some daughters, but mostly sons) are quite frightening.

I think that picking up daughters is a Chinese trait. They mentor younger people and call them "dry sons and daughters". The social strictures are not quite as rigid, but dry sons and daughters do help contribute to the elder person's upkeep in old age and have a place in the funeral, especially if that person took them in and contributed to their success as a human being. The same thing goes for students and teachers, especially students who received extra help and mentoring by the teacher.

How do they explain Mao's revolution? Well, the Qing Dynasty had lost the mandate of heaven, and he was the one, who at the time was truly working with the ordinary people and caring for them. Chiang Kai-shek was not seen as caring for the people after he took over from Sun Yat-sen. Had Sun not died, and had he implemented his Socialist plank of the Three Principles of the People, Mao would never have had a chance. Many of Mao's more radical changes didn't occur until several years after the 1949 victory. His first changes of redistributing the wealth and making sure everyone was fed, were warmly welcomed. The average Chinese was illiterate at the time and looked on him as a Savior-Hero. They never forgot what he had done for them in the early days, and many times they blamed the excesses on his subordinates and lower level Party officials.

Does that answer the question?

2:47 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...


Thank you: it's a good start for me to go and explore further, as the spirit moves.

Your answers about both Mao and the "dry" sons and daughters hearken back to your conversations with Mr. Liu: it shows how meticulous and purposeful his questions to you were. He needed to know if there was integrity in your soul and if how you lived came from a Source outside your own ambitions.

Why "dry"?

4:05 PM  
Blogger Teresa said...

"dry": I suspect because you acquire them without the messy fluids of birth and usually you acquire them after they are weaned. Hence, none of the fluids of life went into their production; it's a truly spiritual/emotional relationship. But I may be wrong. "Dry" is a literal translation of the Chinese, and I also thought it was like an opposite of "wet" nurse, even though that is an English term, and I guess I was code switching.

"conversations": With respect to my conversations with Mr. Liu, I believe you're right, even though he may not have consciously known what he was looking for. He was asking about things dear to his heart and critical to his way of life, and he wanted to be sure I could fit in with the family. I also have to say that almost a quarter of a century living in the Liu family, which is less than a generation away from its peasant roots, has given me a much deeper, organic insight into Teacher's theoretical teachings. I hope to explore that in my blog, but I'm still looking for the way to express it, because a lot of things crept up on me, and I wasn't even aware that they got in there until I looked back and said: Wow, I'm Chinese!

I do appreciate our conversations because you pick up on points that I don't always see as being salient any more.

6:06 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Teresa: I think you are exploring what you hoped to in your blog, and will continue to do so. I don't know just far you plan to take your story - it's a majestic undertaking. Perhaps at some point, you'll start with where you see yourself now and work back. The wonderful thing about comments is that they allow an added exploration.

Whether he was conscious of an intentional search with you, Mr. Liu's questions reveal a lot about himself. How many American families would explore what he found critical to discuss? How many would even have the conversations? By revealing his own spiritual values, he was in essence also honoring yours - while also trying to assure himself that the values could blend.

6:59 PM  
Blogger Teresa said...

It's unfortunate that many families and/or couples, even Chinese ones, don't have those conversations before marriage. There are so many things that we take for granted, which really need to be explored.

I don't know how far my blog will go. The children of course want to read about themselves. I do want to discuss life as an immigrant, something that most people who have ancestors that arrived prior to 1776 can't do. One of the twins took a class on the Asian-American experience at San Francisco State University this past year. The professor didn't quite know what to do with her because on her father's side she is generation 0.5 and on my side she is generation 6+. Her education and English came out as the generation 6+, her values and views of family came out generation 0. She kind of exploded his theories (and enjoyed doing it, to boot). Our family breaks all kinds of molds, which is what we wanted, but at times gets lonely.

But we seem to be pied pipers to the daughters of new immigrants and what we like to call the "halfies". The kids who walk the line between cultures and often never have a sense of truly belonging to either.

9:10 PM  
Blogger anno said...

Messr. Olson shows some interesting possibilities, especially if your dreams are in a gritty post-apocalyptic vein. Seems like a character out of Gibson or Atwood, but that's because I'm currently reading Oryx & Crake, and I'm too lazy to come up with something of my own. The references to previous life, the question about where'd I land now sure caught my attention.

Here, the skies are grey, but the delphiniums are in bloom. After three weeks of driver's ed, though, and one more to go, sure could use a chimayo cocktail.

9:19 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Teresa: What an archive you are building for las bambinas: life as an immigrant (x2, right - for you) will certainly be compelling. Interesting that you were a bridge in Taiwan, and continue to be back here in los estados unidos.

7:03 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Anno: Only one chimayo? I'd say that four weeks of DE rates a chaise lounge in the back of a truck and a steady round served up the minute your hand goes slack.

Nice light summer reading you got there. I don't know if it's up there with Mr. Diaz, but I do know that I reveled in finally breaking the Atwood code of pleasure (odd pleasure, that) with O&C.

7:08 AM  
Blogger anno said...

Atwood is an odd pleasure, one of those cold, fierce-some intellects probably best enjoyed at a distance; she seems like the kind of writer who enjoys making her readers feel squeamish, while possessing the skill to keep them turning the pages. Not a congenial dinner companion.

For dinner companions, I would much prefer Emma and Alejandro. And plenty of those chimayo cocktails, of course.

3:57 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Anno: Odd pleasure indeed, and you got the distance thing right: not one to suffer fools, though she certainly makes them suffer in her fiction. No surprise to you, I'm sure, that she is a fellow Scorp.

She spent a couple of days down here, when I was working with Gemini Ink, so I got to spend some time around her: sort of the antithesis of Grace Paley's visit. MA is a brilliant woman with an acid-bath wit; interestingly, the master class that is taught by all the authors in GI's Autograph Series was not a full class (these classes have a limit of 15-20), so I think your fierce-some intellects probably best enjoyed at a distance is right on. Still, I remember being strangely energized by O&C in a way none of her other books has done for me.

6:11 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home