The blood clot occurred on the crown of his head, that spot where the priest would put his hand when you were too young for the Eucharist. It’s true that sometimes something could hurt so much that you don’t even feel the pain. That’s what Packer would tell people when they would ask if it was painful. “No. I don’t even remember the ambulance or the two weeks that followed. All I remember is one day noticing that Judge Judy was on an elevated TV in the corner of a sterile and lonely room, and I thought, ‘this can’t be heaven’.”
One week before the blood clot…
Packer was walking down Fairfax Avenue, near the hip hop shops and Kosher bakeries when he passed a homeless guy whose pants were down. The homeless man was scrubbing his genitals with a dirty newspaper. Although Packer was repulsed to look, he couldn’t control noticing that the headline on the paper read: 9 Die In Fiery Highway Accident. The man was muttering either gibberish or a Latin prayer. None of the other passersby acknowledged the man. Packer went into Canters and bought a Pastrami sandwich to give to the man, but when he returned, only the paper remained, pushed up against a wall with a mural of a robot holding a balloon in the shape of a heart.
The world’s got a bruise on it the size of two Earths.
Packer got to his girlfriend’s apartment and as he climbed the stairs he noticed her downstairs neighbor’s succulent had a bright red flower growing from the top of it the color of a fast food sign. The sky was a poignant post-rain blue. The kind of day where L.A. puts on a show for the tourists. He knocked on her door. She didn’t answer. He waited a minute and knocked again and then turned the handle. The room was messy. There were bras on the floor and magazines all over the couch. Empty Styrofoam coffee cups piled up in the fireplace like kindling. A Teddy Bear with a tie around its neck hung from the curtain rod, as if it committed suicide. It looked like a strong gust blew through the apartment and tossed everything around. This was how she lived. Like a human tornado.
He called her name but she didn’t answer, so he sat down and turned on the TV. He fell asleep and when he opened his eyes it was dark and she was curled up next to him lightly snoring. She smelled of whiskey and perfume. Her shoes were abandoned beneath her. He contemplated shaking her awake but scooped her in his arms and carried her to bed instead. She stirred when he laid her down and muttered something about a flat tire on her bicycle. He wrote a quick note and put it on her fridge, then left.
You are the branches to my nest, the heart resting in my chest…
He found her bicycle leaning unchained against the fence. When he began pushing it the front wheel wobbled and the tire made a squishing noise. Two blocks away was a Chevron station and he exchanged a dollar for four quarters and pumped air into it, thinking about how irresponsible she is when she drinks: leaving her apartment and bike unsecured, talking to strangers in bars, telling him things like ‘I love you’.
Star or satellite, what is that I see tonight?
It was the first incident that there was a change inside him. Instead of turning around and taking the bike back to her, he climbed on it and pedaled toward Sunset Blvd., away from both his girlfriend’s and his apartment. The hills rose in scope before him, triumphantly coruscating and grandiose, million-dollar homes lording over a ripped-open land below.
The city clamored around him as he rode. Oblivious to what transpiring chaos surrounded him, he weaved from side to side, onto and off of sidewalks, navigating like epileptic cursive, spelling out some doomsday message from a lunatic. ‘We Are All Going To Die’ he might have been transcribing in a schizophrenic scrawl, wavering thoughts steering him blind. He felt transmogrified.
The next incident occurred the next day when he stopped by a turtle pond in front of an apartment building. He picked up a rock from a nearby garden and threw it violently at a turtle that was swimming toward him, thinking he was going to be fed. The turtle yanked its head into its cracked shell and ducked under the water. He didn’t know what made him suddenly do it, or why he didn’t feel remorse. Why should a turtle have a shell? Be fed? Have it so easy?
When Packer got home there was a spider on his door. He stared at it for a few minutes and then blew it off and felt an overwhelming desire to move to Australia.
Jellyfish and little kids and wisps of cotton candy, we’re all just blown around by a breeze.
A few days later the smog was back and Packer had to fill out job applications. He dressed in beige chinos and a blue checkered button down. It made him feel anxious, afraid that he’d be hit by a car and this is how he’d be found, laying strewn on the sidewalk like a banker on a lunch break. No, he’d prefer to go by nuclear bomb, so his clothes would shred and evaporate along with the trees and his flesh and his teeth and those dreams he held tightly in his heart like a clenched fist.
What is will one day be no more…. Take my photo, die my alkaline death, preserve me in toxic formaldehyde. Don’t get used to anything.
He went office to office, inquiring about jobs he was certain not to get. It had been three months since he was laid off and most of that time he spent with his girlfriend or out taking photos of graffiti or catching up on Netflix. He could feel parts of his mind atrophying, or just outright washing away, like a sand castle at high tide. The truly scary portion of this, he realized, was that he was unconcerned. There are people he sees on TV, on those daytime talk shows that scream at each other and use phrases like ‘not in my house’ or ‘he don’t want the sex anymore’, people who don’t know what the capital of their own state is and don’t care to learn, and he envies their simplicity, their almost animal-like demands upon the world: sex and food and booze and that’s it.
Packer didn’t drink, but a few days later he started. This was the day before the blood clot. He walked into a bar and ordered a scotch with his credit card. He started with scotch because he thought that was something successful people drank. There were only three other people in the place and none of them were speaking and none looked successful. He liked this. He scouted a table that was equidistant from everybody else, then rooted himself there for three hours, drinking three scotches, shaking the ice around, and watching the shadows move from west to east. He realized that so far he had been going through life without making any decisions, just allowing the world and its infinite array of experiences land upon him like rain on the ground, and that he would reverse this, he would attack the sky.
If the world were a piece of fruit, would it be ripe still? Or rotting away in an old lady’s basket?
He stood up and felt the ground shift beneath his feet. He almost toppled ove. This caused him to laugh. Is this what being drunk feels like? Packer paid his bill, signing his name with a wiggly line. “Thanks for the education,” he told the bald and pudgy bartender, who resembled a giant egg, he thought.
“Be careful out there,” the man replied, eyeing Packer skeptically.
“I don’t drive, but thanks, not many people, you know… I will,” he slurred, then added, “People drive but I don’t.”
The bartender repeated, “Alright, well, be careful anyway.”
Packer started to say something. “It’s like buildings and houses and, and, and never mind.”
Packer stumbled out into the theorized night, all blazing heart and drunk heat. His was a new purpose and it was to make a dent in the world. Were the forces that formed the Grand Canyon good or bad? Who the fuck knows? Wild floods. Death. Wearing away of rock and Earth. And what is it? A giant void. We gaze at the emptiness, take photos of absence, filter them on Instagram for acquaintances just waiting for their turn to speak.
Packer went down the street ripping band posters off of walls, petals from stems; tearing down the sidewalk, howling as he leaped over fire hydrants, and kicked his feet in the air like a modern day Charlie Chaplin. He felt unleashed, campaigning through the streets like a high-powered piston. The moon was crisp and shone like a chalky disc of whipped cream. He shouted at it and laughed at his own madness. It stirred incredible feelings inside him. The sense that he was not made of this world.
Trundling down the staircase of your mind to the basement of your heart.
He walked up to a pretty girl, snapping selfies of her and her friends outside a Melrose bar, and shouted, “This is what it looks like, take a good look, to be alive!”
They awkwardly laughed and one mumbled, “Weirdo.”
He shouted, “The weirdest! Hahahah,” then ballerina-twirled and bowed.
Packer kept moving, something pulled on him like a trout at the end of a fishing line, into a boat of superlatives. “I’m the greatest King of Los Angeles! The most American God!”
A tiny flashing sign caught his attention from across the street and he zig-zagged through onrushing cars to inspect further. It was a tattoo parlor, empty except for a man with a beard like a buffalo. He pushed through the door and announced, “I am here. I have arrived.”
The tattoo artist looked up from a magazine and gave Packer a nod. “So you have,” he replied. “Do you need anything?” His beard hanging to his chin.
Packer looked around, remembered he was in a tattoo parlor and that it was his sudden intention of getting one. The only image that came to mind was a jar of fireflies. When he told the man with the buffalo beard what he wanted the man asked, “Are you sure? You might regret it when you sober up.”
“I’m sure as shit,” he said. “I’ve never been so happy to be so small.”
The man grinned, shook his head. “Okay, you’re the boss.”
Packer wanted to hurt. He wanted to change his life. He wanted to be different. He wanted to feel different. Put ink on his flesh. He needed something permanent to go with everything else he was feeling. Feeling tossed around in the foam.
Tides moving chemicals inside your ocean brain, carry seaweed deep into your thoughts.
I’m a man different from everyone else, he thought. We all have knees. We all have legs in the air. We are knees and legs in the air. But my legs and my knees are different.
The needle buzzing. The appearance of blood. The cotton swabbing of said blood. All of this pleased Packer like a sugary smoothie on a hot day. There wasn’t even a pain attached to it, but a subtle pleasure. For an hour he didn’t speak, he just watched the slow forming of a jar of fireflies on his arm.
Life looks aflame from afar, but close up it’s just fireflies in a jar…
When it was all done he took out his credit card and told the tattoo artist to add 100$ for a tip. What was money? What is it but a slow, yanking death feast? The man told Packer instructions for how to care for it but he wasn’t listening. He couldn’t understand Time anymore. Time didn’t belong to his realm. He heard the drone of Charlie Brown’s teacher.
He wasn’t even drunk… drinking is for mortals.
He was electrified, a discharged current running through water.
He was magma rolling into the Pacific Ocean.
Packer was a day away from the blood clot and the world seemed like a brand new place. It still had the sticker on it and everything. He had a new sticker on him too now.
It occurred to him in the middle of this that he hadn’t seen his girlfriend in three days, followed by the realization that he didn’t really care. “I’d like to solve the puzzle, Pat…” he mumbled casually… “The Man Who Doesn’t Give a Fuck,” he answered himself and then broke into hysterical laughter. Yes! Everything was coming together… hahaha… falling apart. Same thing, right? You travel around the globe, you’ll get back right where you started. Right? Unless you hit a mountain or something and have to take a turn. But isn’t it impossible not to hit a mountain? He asked himself, then shook it off. I’m not a cartographer. I’m not Magellan. Of course you hit mountains!
You can’t live life like a fencepost, no matter how strongly you want to mark your territory.
“I’m the fucking man on the moon,” he shouted, pointing up at it, laughing. “I’m going to go there someday,” he promised, his sincerity filling his marrow. Packer marched forward, staring at the moon, until he smacked into a lamppost.
He was knocked to the ground by the collision. His head rang, stars swirled, somebody passing by in a car laughed loudly. Eternal dusk slapped him on his forehead. Lying on the cement, he watched a cricket hop on his knee and hop off. A tree branch dissected a mauve galaxy. The sky’s vertebrae cracked in half, it spilled its guts in a pool of falling dead stars, then crumpled next to him on the sidewalk, covering him like a cold blanket.
When he opened his eyes there was a homeless man with a tangled tuft of chest hair piling out of a flannel shirt bending over him. He had a concerned, benevolent look and wild gray hair. Packer mistook him for something else.
“God?” Packer asked.
The man shook his head. “Larry.” He lowered his hand for Packer to grab and then lifted him up. His clothes were disheveled and his breath smelled like a distillery leaked into a swamp.
The corner of your mind is where your secrets go to hide.
“Do you know where you’re going?” Larry asked.
Packer was confused, felt like his mom was lecturing him. “I don’t believe in planning everything out.”
“No. You walked into a lamppost, son.”
Son? Was this man his dad? God? Just a stranger? What the fuck was going on? He didn’t remember the lamppost. He looked down and noticed the tattoo of the fireflies and wondered when that had happened. Everything was a blur. The world bobbed up and down like it was a beach ball floating in a pool that half a football team just cannonballed in.
Packer did not believe him. Why should he believe some bum? “I did not,” he argued. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Larry the homeless God smiled at Packer, a simple, empathetic show of teeth. “Tonight, your life will change.” He said it not like a curse, but a prediction. “I see the moon in your eyes.”
“Fuck off!” Packer spat.
He took his leave of the man and charged down the street, careening in and out of consciousness. He was on the sidewalk one second and in a jar of fireflies the next. In the middle of the street and then the clouds. Bottom of the ocean and then bumping into parked cars. Synaptic cartoons engulfed his thoughts. He was a 100-foot tall car mechanic, tinkering in a wooden garage. He was an eel. His body was nothing but lightning. The sky a green algae swamp.
It was in the midst of this chaos that the blood clot struck. Instantly knocking him unconscious.
Everything stopped at the speed at a cue ball hitting its target.
c’est la vie…
The delusion. The running. The yearning. The fear. The regret. The joy. The love. The confusion. The pain. The feeling things. The looking at things. The thinking about her. The thinking about money. The putting food in his mouth. The shitting it out. The dirt. The cleaning up. The putting on clothes. It all stopped in the time it takes to take a picture.
A flash. A thunderbolt. A slap.
A shout from another room.
One minute you’re standing up, two weeks later you wake up watching a courtroom show about a man who borrowed his girlfriend’s car one day and never returned it.
Your name is yours as long as people know who you are. Gravestones are blank pages.
The blood clot caused a stroke, but it was the moon that changed his life.