Paper Towns

There’s a notch in the fence where a board has given way; a three-inch indention in the warped wood; the perfect amount of space to put a beer. Allows one to take a drag from a cigarette whilst simultaneously running one’s fingers through their hair, taking in the beauty of suburbia – that singular moment to contemplate and concern.

Yes, even suburbia can be beautiful, if one merely takes the time to admire.

The euphoria of finishing a book from cover to cover as lazy, gray smoke lists playfully about in the calm air; a feeling with few compatriots.

You can hear the laughter of neighborhood children as they chase one another up and down the block, giving Life to their still undaunted imaginations. Innocence before the misery of Real Life comes crashing through like a maddened bull against a Spanish matador, horns raised, red flashing, cheering crowds, and the abject danger of Man versus Beast as a single misstep can spell either victory or crushing defeat.

Apt.

An apt metaphor for Life.

The beer teeters precariously in a sudden breeze, the old wood shaking ever so gently at the nudging of Zephyr. But it doesn’t fall – of course not. The beer – the stimulus – that can never fall.

Tobacco and paper burn together as they are inhaled inward. In a few moments, the delightful toxins are expelled in a plume of smoke and sigh of satisfaction. A swig of swill washes the acrid taste down.

You can look through the glass door and see the piles. Stacks of them, haphazardly arranged as if Ajax and Hector were tossing their Trojan boulders about, hopelessly aiming to slay one another with but a well-placed stone, always missing their mark and adding to the battlefield Chaos.

Monuments of knowledge and history and philosophy and warfare and womanizing and politics and chivalry and poetry and madness and tales and myths and legends. Thrown about the room as if Katrina had worked her mischievous way to the bowels of Paper Town, New Mexico, her mighty gales picking up each stack and depositing them about the place without reason. What use had Nature – Knowledge – for Reason?

In a structured Life of Order and Balance, the piles were anything but. They represented the face one cannot show the world: this is me.

These, philosophically gesturing to the askew piles, are me.

Where the heretical mix with the orthodox and the deviant with the pristine. Where the drunkard laughs along with the teetotaler, while the Muses sing songs of poverty and richness to the tune of iambic pentameter and spontaneous prose. Where the traveler on the road is met by Logic and Reason but quickly accosted by Imagination and Stream of Consciousness. This unstructured Chaos, this ode to madness, these, these! These very piles – this is me.

Books, of course.

Piles of them.

Books still in boxes. Books in bookcases, in bookshelves, on the coffee table, on the kitchen table, on the writing desk, on the painting desk, on the record player, the laptop, the sofa, the nightstand, the bed, the kitchen counters. Books in piles thrown about the place in absolutely every room, growing here and there by the day, an escape, an outlet, to worlds far more intriguing than the one of laughing suburban children.

Tomes filled with dangerous thoughts and ideas, of sexual deviancy and extreme piety. Books on obscure characters – lost to Time – with even more obscure authors. Books from the modern era and books from before. Spines broken and unglued (the work of many a sleepless night) with pages scribbled upon in minute handwriting. Here and there a few pages – hundreds? A dozen? – missing completely, but others supplemented by indexes of numerous pages.

Now that you’ve read this, they whisper, read that.

It is like hosting a massive party with every person you have ever met. Not everyone at this party will be similar, indeed, even tolerable of one another, but here they are. Gathered under one roof for one mighty bacchanalia of insight and introspection. Every famous and obscure author sending their second to represent them in this dusty hole of a town where the host is just as damningly confusing as his guest list.

Dark now; when in blazes did it become dark?

He reaches for the beer tucked away in the safety of the rotten wood, but it crashes to the ground before he can place his grip.

The contents splash about the yard – overgrown – and the laughter of children has now given way to the still of the night. How long can one be lost in their imagination? Ballast; where is the ballast?

He turns, looking through the glass door. A ha! He chuckles to himself. That’s where you’ve been hiding, my love.

The euphoria of knowledge becomes the best high, the thrill of turning the page the most alluring conquest. The desire for understanding becoming the stimulus.

People. Work. Taxes. Phones. Electronics. All meaningless. All paper. All blinding him to the crests of the mountains he’s built for himself to climb.

Seeker, he hears – a chilling whisper upon the silent wind. When did you stop Seeking?

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Dangerously Beautiful

He spat out blood.

He wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his dress shirt, grimly admiring the red stains mixed with spittle as it quickly soaked into the fabric, darkening the soft color with a crude, rusty tinge.

There, his lifeforce, coagulating with cotton fibres; himself oblivious to the hustle around him as he quietly took in his precarious situation, ignoring the masses as they jockeyed around the tight corridors, focusing intensely upon the wonderful colors he himself had expectorated from the numerous unidentified sores within his squalid mouth.

Crouched over the dribbling water fountain, he brought himself to drink. With a gentle nudge upon the aged and well-worn plastic button, fresh, cool water came springing forth from the soulless steel, and he dipped low to take a mouthful.

Slowly swishing it about, he quickly identified the coppery aftertaste of a fresh wound. The longer the water remained, the more he could feel his mouth fill with tendrils of blood, the life-giving liquid encouraging the other to flow freely without recourse.

It was a unique taste – one he secretly enjoyed – but one he recognized as something out of the ordinary. This wasn’t normal for him, to be spitting up blood without cause, and a part of his mind feared the absolute worst. Was this how it begins, he thought. The end?

But the more sensible side of his mind urged caution, to not jump to conclusions, and to merely accept that he was ill. That’s all. Sick.

He spat out blood.

He watched as the wine-colored water splashed across the sterilized fountain; a fetid mixture of saliva, water, and burnished blood happily pooling across the fountainhead, a macabre rainbow he himself gave to Creation.

With delicate care, as if knowing he was watching with utmost amazement, the mixture slowly ebbed toward the drain, dawdling as it went along its course – its ultimate demise – to disappear forever down the unhallowed drains of yet another sterile fixture. The only thing living within the dull, polished steel of Man was the very elixir he himself had spat out, an ironic situation not lost upon him.

Pushing once more upon the machine, a stream of water sprang forth; he did not move to meet it.

The unmolested water splashed against his sanguine pool – scattering droplets of scarlet and pink and red and rust across his trousers and sleeves – adding fresh stains to his already dirtied attire. What didn’t collide with his unflinching form spread across the once-pristine machine or fell to the dull tile beneath his feet, another life lost in the misery of a constant shuffle, a dedicated rat race, and he, a bloodied sentinel paying no heed to those around him, merely watching with a mixture of abject curiosity, a tinge of horror, and a zealous fascination to see this latest ordeal through.

The more he pressed upon the lackluster polystyrene, the more ferocious became the constant jet of water, attempting to eradicate him completely from its polished-steel surface, as if the machine itself was crying foul at being used as a crude spittoon. It hummed as it pumped still more water through its spigot, desperately wanting to rid itself of his stains.

Slowly, the charnel mixture began to clear as the machine continued its cleansing operation. Where once a massive, red spatter was splayed across the drainage system – a bloody Picasso – it gave way to the clearness of the swirling water. Before long, the last droplets of blood were washed away from the surface.

He released the button and the process instantly ceased.

Standing straight, his hands still perched upon the fountain, he drew a long sigh.

This isn’t normal, he thought to himself (for the corridors were still crowded with proles, lest they think him mad). What is happening to me?

For several moments he stood there, frozen in pose, reflecting upon what had just transpired.

And there, at the back of his mouth, he tasted the sweet copper once more, feeling the vessels give way to another bout of blooded introspection. He quickly squeezed his mouth tight and sucked the mixture from its barrows, before stooping over the machine – feeling the bulge of his cigarettes as he did so – and releasing a parting shot.

He spat out blood.

He was dying – but he found it dangerously beautiful.

Penultimate Pain; Ultimate Life

Hey there folks,

A year ago to the day, my grandfather passed away in the quiet of his adopted home in Virginia.

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One time he cut his finger open, so he dipped it in schnapps to “prevent infection.”

Having left the devastation of post-WWII Europe, he settled in the United States where he spent his days as a salt-of-the-earth farmer, siring a large family in the process. Every time we attended Lutheran services with him and Grandma, the two of them would beam with pride as we took up our own pew. Lutherans: always sticking it to the Catholics, right?

Ever proud of his new home, but never keen on forgetting his roots, he instilled in us the nationalistic and cultural pride of both Switzerland and America. Been confused ever since: am I Swiss American or American Swiss?

Tough old man, that’s for certain: stubborn (like all Swiss men), punctual, dedicated, and unrelenting. The kind of role model kids need these days. And now he’s farmin’ with Jesus.

His passing, though expected, was still quite the shock for the family. First death in the States for the Ruch clan – how do we deal with the inevitable?

I’ve never been very good with expressing emotions – apart from writing them down – and penned a short piece following the funeral. Dreadful things, those – all the black clothing, tears, and somber attitudes. You would think I would be more at home in an element like that.

But no. How I detest laying the dead to rest.

He taught me many things in my youth – some brilliant, some good, and some casually racist and a bit outdated – but he was always an inspiration. The kind of guy you want to make proud and see that wrinkly smile of his light up across his face. And his final act was to teach me about Life through pain.

funsies
July 4th, years and years ago. Drinking beer and smoking cigars with the proudest immigrant to the States.

I wouldn’t say I penned this in his honor (indeed, far too much profanity), but after the services, I felt compelled to write exactly what went on in my mind during those moments. A year later and this piece still rings true.

Thanks for the lessons, Grandpa. Swiss dominance.

Continue reading “Penultimate Pain; Ultimate Life”

Wandering and Writing

Hey there folks,

There’s nothing quite like blazing through a busy street, blaring Finnish metal and trying your best to sing along, the plumes of smoke billowing forth from your open window shrouding your ignoble advance into Destiny.

There, upon the horizon, quartz-capped mountains lay in the distance, beckoning you to master them. One day, Sandias, one day I shall conquer you all.

Little moments like these are when I feel most alive.

If you’re in the mood for reflections upon wandering, writing, and everything in between, by all means, dear reader, progress! For I’ve got news!

Continue reading “Wandering and Writing”

Not Your Typical American

Hey there folks,

Foremost I would like to thank Michael and Kathryn from the Heart, Mind & Soul Project for hosting me at lunch today here in sunny Albuquerque. These two wonderful people were passing through my beloved New Mexico – of course we had to meet as fellow writers and volunteers are wont to do! Good conversation and better company is always on the menu.

That having been said, I have about a dozen drafts flitting about the place this moment – nothing is really worthy of being published I’m afraid.

That’s what happens when you are your biggest critic. Writers, amirite?

Whilst enjoying victuals this afternoon, Michael, Kathryn, and I swapped Camino stories – the two are quite well-traveled (the best kind of company) – and I was asked about my first Camino back in 2014. Rather than relate the conversation verbatim here, might I instead, dear reader, have you enjoy the following piece I penned shortly after Camino Primaris?

I’m not certain if I wrote the following for a contest or just because, but, all the same, enjoy it, eh?

Continue reading “Not Your Typical American”