FLOTSAM, JETSAM, JUNK & SPUNK

I am an inveterate worrywart. I try and fight it, but it can’t be helped—it’s in my blood.  Could be the Latino’s innate sense of impending doom; could be a deep awareness of the problems of the universe; could just be that I’m a paranoid loon. Can’t take my niece to the playground because the thought of her tumbling off the monkey bars and splitting her little skull are all too real (and I suspect that the little demon would fake a mortal injury just to give me agita). Can’t enjoy myself at parties because I tend to agonize over how my breath is holding up (“Did you see the way her nostrils flared when I said, ‘Heh-lo?’ I’d ask my bemused and long-suffering girlfriend). Like Hamlet’s Horatio, I have intimations of stars with trains of fires and dews of blood, disasters in the sun. You see, I often have a special knack for depressing folks. I once drove a poor homeless man into such a state that he gave me a dollar. Hey, it’s a gift.

Naturally, before setting off for my sojourn at Provincetown, I expected the worst. I already knew that I was going to get lost on my way from New York— even with a GPS— because I’m an idiot, so that was no big surprise. But what, exactly, did I think was going to happen? I guess I envisioned an endless stream of glitter-happy beefcakes on Atlantean stilts hurling grenades, a ramshackle cottage with acid dripping from the rafters and seething with vicious mice, an ocean full of hungry viperfish. Of course, none of this materialized (except maybe the beefcakes—all those walking slabs carting bulbous pectorals and mounded muscle, moving as if their spines had been ironed with pure starch, guilted me into committing to red-faced push-ups and crying crunches every morning). Instead, this wayworn, reeking scribbler—who dragged himself over the threshold of the Mailer household like a whip-scorned sackcloth saint—was greeted warmly by Anna and Jessica, two lovely, smiling young ladies who generated nothing but beneficence, and all of the dark and doom of this sackcloth scribbler instantly sloughed away.

After all, who can maintain a stormy mood in this miraculous paradise?

Not me! Not after I was shown into my writerly quarters, which contained an amazing Escher-like staircase and a bed big enough to ensconce a harem. Not after I could hear the ocean and smell the salt-spray in the air. Not after I saw the melonmuddled evening sky, so much like California wine, and then the brass-butter moon melting against the horizon. The prodigies of penumbra that pluralized my mind! I could feel the energy coursing through my veins, my blood shook, my heart stammered, my head nearly exploded.

Thus began the first flashes of inspiration that begged to be bottled, and then uncapped, so lightning could strike the page.

The rage of ransacking creation made depredations upon the brain.

My first Provincetown sun soon climbed, the same color of gold that the sea dreams. The ocean received me with a gentle hiss. And the yipping array of dogs on the beach, how they skipped and skerfuffled, rebounded, resounded! (making me a little wistful for my dogs and my girlfriend back home). I floated beneath the marbling blue, fantasizing about bobbing for octopus and jigging for squid. I’d have to settle for a beer at the Old Colony instead, bellied up to the mast beside tawny fishermen.

Having broiled myself unevenly beneath the sun, my skin had turned a bizarre combination of pink, white, and brown. I looked like a Brachs Neapolitan coconut sundae candy, the kind my father used to cajole me into eating whenever I had a loose tooth as a kid, just so he could save on an expensive trip to the dentist. A few chews on that and your tooth was bound to suck away from the socket. Hell, it beat the shit out of the old string-and-a-doorknob technique.

Still, no matter how unsightly I was at the time, I wasn’t going to hide away.

On the night of the fourth of July, after tucking into a delicious basket of fried clam strips and a mouth-watering, eye-boggling lobster roll from Burger Queen (overt product placement! Hope you’re reading this, Burger Queen), I stepped out of my backwater dwelling and strode past the clumps of knotweed and the dangling bloom of orange roses. A steep-stoop bird squawked beneath the eaves of a frame house, seeming to follow the same celebratory concussions as me. My shoes flattened the spuds of sand as I moved down an alley toward the shore and I watched with fascination as the flares illuminated the shambly dance of the crisping sea. It was a night reminiscent of first-blush kisses, with couples clasped and tender promises issuing. But as much as I enjoyed the arch geometry of that dread dazzle in the sky, I couldn’t linger, because the flies or mosquitoes or sand fleas—buzzing hopping stinging things— practically devoured me. I was convulsing so bad you might have thought I’d eaten a live wire. Needless to say, if you come out here, bring your can of bug-death.

I couldn’t sleep that night. Too many thoughts and ideas rumbling through this once-barren head. At the sign of first light, I once again emerged from my dwelling. Underfoot, a plush radiance like summer fruit fresh off the vine; just above, the song of sunrise shooting its striations across the sky; and I couldn’t help thinking, even though I realize now that my old morbid habits were creeping back, It’s a goddamn shame that a man has to die.

I think I just might finish something worth the doing in Provincetown.

Edwin Rivera is a dollar mug of Budweiser. He’s bald knuckles on a scarred wood bar. He’s a cigarette burned down to the nub. He ain’t nothing but a goddamned writer.

Edwin is also a Mailer Fiction Fellow. He is using the month of residency to work on a novel called Sun Street, Moon Street, about a fictional town in New Jersey and its Latino community. Read an excerpt published in White Whale Review.

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One thought on “FLOTSAM, JETSAM, JUNK & SPUNK

  1. Dear Edwin Rivera,

    I love your style of writing, so very descriptive. I’ve been at the Mailer household when they each were very much with us.

    Good luck on your book.

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