Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lake In The Jungle

The lake lay just under the earthy banks pierced by roots which dipped their tips into the cool green water. It was long and narrow, making it easy to rest hidden among the trees on one shore to spy on the bank of the next. Tigers of a brilliant orange camouflaged with black stripes did just this, spying on brown skinned men who watched them from the opposite bank.
Floating near the surface of the lake, mid sized alligators let their green bumps and ridges break through the glassy green water like tiny islands, now and then yawning to expose the pink insides of their cavernous mouths with lake weed caught on pointed white teeth. Where the bank provided a beach rather than dropping abruptly from jungle to water, the wily reptiles lay in the dark moist sand pretending to sleep, sometimes with mouths open so that daring little birds could venture inside to pick out the lake weed and worms and leaches that made their own micro dimensional jungle around the white teeth.
The larger jungle which held tigers, and men, and alligators, and tiny birds that could travel between macro and micro worlds, was possessed of the sort of trees whose arms and roots twisted and intertwined so that it was difficult to discern where one tree ended and the other began. They wore streamers of dark green moss the way Spanish ladies wear lacy shawls over their arms and shoulders, and sometimes vines dared to wind themselves around the pale trunks and branches.
Lines of ants employed these thick juicy tethers as highways and marched throughout the canopy and back down to the earth on them, stopping now and again to attack some other insect in mass or to sample the nectar held in the yellow blossoms that interrupted the vines' straight lines like Diners made cheery by a waitress named Doris along an abandoned interstate. They knew the jungle and the lake's perimeter from a vastly different perspective than either the men with their long black hair and dark round eyes or the tigers who went about silently on padded feet or even the alligators and little birds.
The men, the tigers, and the alligators had to be wary of one another, whereas the ants were rarely considered by anyone but the vines and trees whose flesh they tickled incessantly. The men would dive into the lake for a moment now and then, shaking the water from their long hair after bursting back up from the lake's verdant depths. There was an awkward symmetry to the lake's patrons; alligators preferring the sunny bank and men therefore preferring the shady side.
Fish were universally threatened, swimming pink and silver, and green and even striped in the lake's depths. Now and then a school would shimmer just under the surface looking like a trove of jewels before meeting their fate. One third swam into strange pink and white caverns, never to return to the wide open waters, another third became tangled in nets fashioned from retired vines and the other third managed to collect together far from peril and preserve the future of their species.
The lake banks were mostly quiet, disturbed by the occasional growl of a tiger or the laughter of a man or a splash as an alligator rose or descended from the lake's surface. Tiny birds made tiny noises and tigers sniffed through the moist lake smells to make out the odor of edible flesh. The men checked their nets and watched the tigers prowl the opposite bank. They smelled like the lake themselves, with only the tiniest hint of salty sweat betraying them.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


I stand in a dimly lit room alive with the sound of gentle murmuring from a few dozen men. They are all dressed in a similar way. Dark shirts and jeans, black shoes and thin dark jackets. They all have dark, dirty hair that has been styled by the salt-drenched wind, left wild and crusted with the taste of tears.
The room is crowded, already filled beyond the capacity of the short walls and uneven floor and more men enter every few minutes having paid the entry fee at the door. They enter through an open doorway off to one side of the room, a man stands just outside the doorway collecting money in a wide coffee can.
Beyond the doorway the night is dark. A wide, flat parking lot sits empty, the black tar and white lines of demarcation are illuminated by a lone double-bulbed lamp that towers thirty feet in the air. The lot looks forlorn in the yellow light, missing cars, people and trash.
The small single-storied room packed with men is attached to a larger structure, having been built at the same time decades before. Through the wide rectangular window facing the parking lot, I can see the larger structure since the entire building is shaped like an L. The surface of the larger structure is covered in corrugated metal, though the small room where I stand seems like an afterthought, a janitor’s closet that has been forgotten, appropriated by a handful of young men in the dark night. The windows of the larger building are dark and I know that we are the only ones here.
I look around and realize I am the only woman in the tightly packed room. There are young men sitting on the floor, others leaning against the wall in silent pensiveness. Others have merged into small huddles talking quietly, filling the air with a gentle murmur of anticipation.
While most of the men sit or stand, there are five among the dozens that move, setting up their musical equipment against one of the walls. At their feet are several amps, half a dozen microphone stands and a crate of miscellaneous cords. There are other hard black cases on the worn blue rug waiting to be opened, waiting for electricity and skilled hands that know all the right knobs and switches to make them come alive.
I look at the various men leaning against one of the walls and see a familiar face. Pale white skin and a long dark beard, his eyes look around the crowd observing it all in interested delight. I know that in this crowded space, among this many men, there will not be any place for me to hide.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Auto Shop

The smell of oil and tires linger, though a breeze moves through a wide open roll-up door that faces a moderately busy street. Every so often the multiple swooshing sounds of moving cars outside enter the quiet chamber of the auto shop, interacting with the occasional bursts of mechanical drilling that come from the heart of the garage. There is the occasional clatter of metal hitting metal, or a drill, or the sporadic chorus of ringing phones.
The space is long and narrow and goes deep into the two-story building. The front of the shop is evident to the outside world simply by the open roll-up door and the sign above it that reads in handwritten red paint: “Mas Auto Shop.”
There is a continuous low hum coming from the back of the shop, from someplace far behind the roll-up door and office and waiting area by the front. The sound comes from something mechanical, some machine in a state of waiting, charging for use.
Fifteen feet from the roll-up door is a walled-in office with glass windows on two sides that open into the garage. Inside the space is illuminated by yellow overhead lights. There are two long wooden desks piled with paperwork. There are two computers on each desk, miscellaneous office equipment: pencils, staplers, ballpoint pens, notepads, a calculator. A girl, hidden behind the counter in front of the desks, is talking. She speaks with an Asian dialect, she talks very quickly.
On the outside of the office wall, just above the window, facing the opening of the roll-up door, is a big square blue sign with the Chevron emblem in the center, below the emblem in bold white letters is the word ‘Lubricants.’ Next to that large sign is a collage of other smaller signs. There are signs for the shop’s promotions and specials. “Lamp Station Prices” with hand-written in prices, ‘Smog Check’ signs with the type of inspection and the hand-printed prices beside them, and on the corner of the wall, a big STOP sign, below it is written: ‘Stop here please.’
On one side of the rollup door is a rack of new tires, a small wind chime hangs from a metal bar on the rack. On the other side of the open door is a small space for waiting. A row of decorative bookshelves three feet tall delineates the space between work and rest. The black bookcases are divided into a checkerboard of cube-like shelves, some with open backs and others with cardboard backs. On top of the bookcases are four equally spaced plants in white and blue ceramic pots. Towards one side, there are two variegated climbing ivy plants, and then two other small palms with alternating stripes of green and white.
Within the waiting area are a variety of seats. Against the wall of the shop that faces the street is a black exercise bike. A few feet from it is a gray and slightly stained rug with two loveseats and a wooden bench that face each other. The cream leather loveseat sofa faces the wood and wrought iron bench. Perpendicular to the cream leather loveseat is a worn light brown loveseat. It is plush and the fabric on the headrests is slightly darker than the rest of the fabric, indicating that many people have rested their heads against it.
In the center of the carpet, between all three loveseats, is a large round coffee table. There are piles of newspapers, a week’s worth of news. Almost all of them are in an Asian script, though there is one local newspaper in English, pictures of a neighborhood fire grace its cover. A pile of magazines with only their spines showing sit buried below the piled-up newspapers. An abandoned white paper coffee cup and an empty folded white paper bag which once housed a pastry sit on one end of the coffee table. Across from the coffee cup, on the other edge of the table, is a wide jade plant in a terra cotta pot. A terra-cotta looking plastic tray rests below the pot. A small stuffed Hello Kitty face hangs from a thin string from one of the jade plant’s thin branches.
Between the two plush love seats is a small end table. The wood is worn and the varnish is nearly stripped along the top, though the legs are still shiny. On its surface is a large jade, its leaves are smaller and lighter than the plant on the circular coffee table.
The phone rings and is quickly answered, then again, the space is made alive by the tinkling of the chimes.