Saturday, November 26, 2011

When is My Brother Not My Brother?

I imagine that you would use the mattress I found as a mattress.

Is that a fair assumption?

That you’d use it to sleep on? For its stated purpose – a stated purpose maybe even appearing on that Do-Not-Remove-Under-Penalty-of-Law tag, if that Do-Not-Remove-Under-Penalty-of-Law tag had not been torn off this mattress I have blocking the entrance to my little closet?  

Yessir. Torn clean off and gone. Lost. It’s no wonder so many of the homeful view all of us homeless as criminals.

But I am not using the mattress as a mattress. It is doing me more good blocking the entrance to my little closet. And anyway, a mattress would only cramp my style. You cannot readily sustain a transient lifestyle if you have to worry about lugging around an enormous mattress from place to place to place.  

So I do not sleep on a mattress, in my little closet beneath downtown Houston, but that is okay by me. There is nobody here for me to try and impress.

I do not expect visitors.

I do not believe “MTV Cribs” will be popping by for a surprise visit.

Grunewald's "Temptation of Saint Anthony" (1516)
I am under no illusion that this is where the magic happens.

I do not intend to stay long, at any rate.

This little closet of mine beneath downtown Houston, I think maybe it was once a server room. Or maybe a place where they kept backup generators, back before the big flood of 2001, when they all realized that underground was a lousy place to keep server rooms and backup generators during a big flood.

When I push past this mattress, then I walk further up and I look out on an old elevator shaft. There is a truck hanging there – vertically – held aloft by something-or-other hooked to its rear axle.

This is how I gain entrance my little closet: I climb down through this truck. I bet the truck has been there since 2001, too, hanging. There’s gotta be a story behind how it came to be hanging like that. I do not know that story.

But what my point is is that it’s not all that easy to find my little closet, what with the elevator shaft and the truck and the mattress-that’s-not-a-mattress and whatnot. And that is why, roundabout noon this past Thursday, I was so surprised to hear someone on the other side of my mattress shouting my name.

“Katy! Katy? I know you are down here somewhere!”

The voice was correct. I was down here somewhere!

Now normally, a voice’s accuracy would not – in and of itself – convince me to allow the voicer entry. I mean, would you answer a late night knock upon your door merely because the knocker proclaimed, “The square root of 529 is 23!”?

I imagine you would not. Is that a fair assumption?

But this voicer who voiced the truth so unexpectedly outside my little closet was not just any voice. No, this voice was in fact that of my own twin brother, Anthony. Anthony, who also happens to be the husband of my husband, Aesop, and of my wife, Dana.

Salvator Rosa's
"Temptation of Saint Anthony" (1645)
This was an important voicer! So though my closet was not really set up for visitors, I pushed the mattress aside and I let Anthony in.

He had an enormous backpack packed upon his back.

“Happy Thanksgiving!” my visitor said. Then he handed me a carton of cigarettes. I do not smoke cigarettes.

“I know you don’t smoke cigarettes,” he said. “I thought maybe you might need them to, um, you know, trade for things or something.”

“Thank you,” I said because I am polite. I set the carton of cigarettes on a shelf.

Then I said, “But you know, I am not in prison.” This was demonstrably true. I looked around me. The Supreme Court would never have allowed the State to store its criminal humans in this manner.

“Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving!” my visitor tried again. Then he reached into his backpack and he showed me some food.

“This is just like the first Thanksgiving,” I said. “White man goes out into the wild and shares food with those who do not believe in the concept of property. Bring on the smallpox-laden blankets!”

At this, Anthony looked sheepish. He pushed the blanket he had brought me further down into his backpack.

We ate food for a little while. I was moderately thankful.

After we had eaten most of the food, Anthony said this: “We found your blog.”

He meant him and Aesop and Dana. He meant this blog. He meant “Lesbians in My Soup.”

“In your blog, why do you call me ‘Anthony’?” said Anthony.

I shrugged. “It is a masculine pseudonym I use sometimes,” I said. “After Anthony of the desert? … The fourth century Egyptian monk?”

My visitor with the blog-name “Anthony” shook his head. It seemed my brother – who had lived in Nepal for a little while in order to meet Tibetan monks – was not familiar with Western monasticism!

Salvador Dali's
"Temptation of Saint Anthony" (1946)
I said, “Anthony of the desert lived for many decades in a hut on a mountain near the Nile. Other contemplatives fashioned their lives after his example.”

Anthony chewed a piece of bread. “Christian monk, though, was he?”

I ignored my brother’s question. I said, “In art, Saint Anthony is famous for the temptations. Demons came to his hut in the desert and they descended on him. People at the bottom of the mountain could hear Anthony screaming. But he withstood the demons’ temptations, people say, and he kept on living alone on only bread and on water and on contemplation.”

I said, “So ‘Saint Anthony’s Fire’ is a medieval term for hallucinations due to ergot poisoning.”

Then I was quiet. We ate a little bit more food.

My brother stared at the mattress, which was blocking the entrance to my little closet. The mattress was dirty. Probably, it was too dirty to sleep on.

Finally, my brother said, “So are you hallucinating demons, Katy?”

Then there was a long pause.

“There are no gods here,” I said to Anthony. “There are no gods here, and there are no spirits, and there are no temptations, and there are no demons here.”

This was correct. I had never slept so soundly in my life! Saint Anthony of the desert could not have hidden so well as me. I knew that nothing and nobody – no matter how long and how deep they searched and searched – could ever find me in my little closet behind my mattress below the hanging truck.   

I said, “Why, not even the Devil himself could ever find me down here! Not even –”

I looked around my little closet. I looked at my shelf.

There was no carton of cigarettes. There was no backpack. No smallpox-laden blanket.

No Anthony.

I lay down and I slept.

I imagine you would sleep, too.

Marten de Vos' "Temptation of St. Anthony" (1594)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. @5464: A mattress is just a mattress?! I don't know... I think you are forgetting the "...But a Manwich is a Meal" Paradox.
    And I don't care WHAT you want to call it, our kid's OLD mattress you probably just threw away could have served as a fantastic (and insulating!) back wall to my closet!

  3. Normally, when I read a post beginning to end, I always have a comment to leave...I got nothing. Still trying to wrap my mind around what message you are sending here, if any.

    If anything, this post has my mind working in high gear, which is a good thing. And so for that, I thank you for getting my mind going on this balmy, rainy Sunday morning.

    After reading again, slower this time, all I got was Anthony's visit was just a hallucination?

  4. It would be interesting to go 1000 or 1500 years into the future and see which, if any, figures from our time have reached the mythical, legendary status of people like Anthony of the Deserts.

  5. Also to visit a museum and see our primitive servers on display as ancient artifacts.

  6. @danjor21: Sometimes there's just nothing to be said!

    I have been blogging - not here, but blogging - for a few years now.
    And every year, the blog I write on Thanksgiving weekend ends up with fewer page views than ANY other blog I write all year.

    Knowing that no one is going to read it either way, I tend to make the Thanksgiving blog a little less accessible than some of my others.

    That having been said, though, I HAVE been thinking a lot about what a person can accomplish in their life and the right way to go about accomplishing it... Not sure that's in there really...

    Next week's will be completely different!

  7. @Elliot MacLeod-Michael: You know, I saw the movie “The Social Network” – about the founding of Facebook – for the first time last night.
    So in my head, I was sort of juxtaposing Mark Zuckerberg’s fame and what it says about “us” with Anthony of the Desert’s and what it says about the 4th century.

    The movie casts Zuckerberg as this odd but brilliant guy who spends a lot of time in his own head and alone – but it was for very different reasons than Anthony. I mean, they both sort of disappeared into their little caves but came back out with something completely different.

    And of course, the idea of purposely denying yourself food and sex and material goods and basic comforts in order to contemplate the ineffable is pretty foreign to contemporary values.

    I don’t know.
    If Hollywood folks are our modern art masters, then Mark Zuckerberg’s story is our modern myth and legacy?

  8. Great writing Katy. I appreciate the peek into your world. Although it does beg the question, "when is a door not a door? When its a mattress." And I have to agree, you clearly have better accomocations (and company) than the OWS folks camping over your head.

  9. @Brent: I was going to do the unthinkable and post actual pictures of my living arrangements, but then I decided I liked the Saint Anthony paintings better.
    I also think my writing benefits when people are not quite sure what is fantasy and what is true.

    As for the OWS crowd, I WILL say that my little closet with the mattress for a door has a noticeable lack of pepper spray in the air compared to some of their campsites. So I’ve got that going for me, I guess.
    I like NOT being the one pissing off the authorities for a change!

  10. In anycase, it's good to know you sleep deeply with a truck hanging around.

  11. "I also think my writing benefits when people are not quite sure what is fantasy and what is true." That caught me off guard, do you think readers really face that issue?

  12. @JerseyDave: I’m not sure whether anyone who reads my stuff is overly concerned with the blurring of the line between fantasy and reality.
    But I am.
    I said my WRITING benefits from blurring the line… (most of my favorite movies and literature, too!)
    There’s a concept in mythology about the difference between “Mythos” and “Logos”… Logos would be essentially literal historical truth. Mythos is where origin stories and legends come from.
    They don’t operate on the same playing field… and mythos is MORE true than literal truth.
    So when, say, talking monkey-men pop up in my blog, you might take it literally… or you might assume I’m just being very, very, very profound again and it’s going over your head…

  13. very very very. I like more true than literal truth.

  14. Ah yes, starvation will do that sort of thing to you.

  15. @JerseyDave: Very very very.
    Mark Twain said that every time you want to say "very" in your writing, say "damn" instead. Then your editor will remove it and the sentence will be exactly how it should have been in the first place.

    @Bill the Butcher: As will slow drumming, chanting, trepanation, drugs, self-flagellation, sex magick, and a hundred other things, supposedly.
    Starvation seems like the least fun of the list.

  16. Katy NEVER post the real pics! We must not be allowed to see behind the curtain... or mattress. Now, as far as they "found" your blog, you have been doing this in secret? Actually I approve since I keep my blogging to a select few, none of them related and no offline friends.

  17. @Brent: Well, I think that - at least for my purposes - my blog is more useful to me if I don't have to worry about having to live with the consequences of my words in my daily life.
    It;s like a therapist, but cheaper.

    Tonight, on the eve of the 1 year anniversary of my fleeing my old blog, I thought about going back over there for a few minutes.
    I don't think I will.
    But I need to change things up a bit here.
    As the hip hoppers would say it: "I'm'a haveta take it to the next level."

  18. This is pathological behavior and you are celebrating it as though it were a good thing.

    You have uprooted your life, rejected your loved ones, moved out onto the street like an animal, and now you are bragging about hallucinations.

    Seek help, Katy. There are medications that can control this behavior.

  19. Katy - you cannot go home again. I am still amazed that a year later, the old place still hangs on. Clearly the spells you cast there have a long half life. And yes, this is cheap therapy.

    Bring on the next level!

  20. @Anonymous: I was going to ask if this was Dana, but it can't be anyone I know - they all would know I'm ALREADY on those medications.
    Anyway, it's not an illness if it's a calm and rational decision I make with full recognition of the consequences, right?

    @Brent: In retrospect, it is strange to think of how I'd have 25 comments in the first half hour after I posted there. I always had twice as many comments there as I end up with page views here.
    And I'm not going back, but to an extent, I know how it feels (in my own limited way) for these guys who were in big rock bands to want to go one more round...

  21. I take everything you say as literal, and so I must tell you that I severely injured myself trying to get through an elevator shaft to a truck to get to the talking knocker behind a mattress that wasn't a mattress.

    I have many bruised ribs, and you will be hearing from my lawyer. Who is also me. So hello.

  22. Katy the Goddess of Blogging. Even if the numbers are lower your writing here is better than before. Little less surreal but enjoyable.

  23. @A Beer for the Shower: You'd think you could get those ribs patched up by your doctor who is also you.
    If you need to find me, you can ask the little homeless guy who plays stringless guitar for 8 hours a day in front of the Main Street CVS. He can point you in the right direction.

    @Brent: Damn. Less surreal? That, sir, sounds to me like a challenge!

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  25. @5464: What could have been dismissed as a simple typo by a bigger man was turned into a screed by 5464!

    But insofar as human/animal hybrids are still banned under federal law, I would NEVER acknowledge our children publicly online. That being said, this jackal/Katy hybrid is adorable and almost housebroken.

    You could be right, though: Maybe I ought to be like a bard or minstrel, traveling from town to town telling stories for cash and bread. The upside of living a mobile life is that I have things to write ABOUT – and that is something that isn’t always the case when life becomes too predictable.

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  27. @5464: Outside of the morning rush, the lunchtime rush, and the afternoon rush, it's always slow in the shop.

    I don't think I have anything to say to the rest of that.
    I do not believe that most of the things I do are grand statements about the human condition or even self-conscious statements about MY condition.

    I'm not sure how that works. Does everything you do represent some sort of multi-layered statement?

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  29. @5464: I don't know what those consumer products you mentioned ARE.
    It sounds as though you are a very good consumer though! Many people measure their worth and happiness in the consumer goods they can decorate their homes with.
    And if someone can do that - to keep the darkness out a little with the stuff they buy - then I guess that's okay. I mean, the darkness WILL get in eventually, and if it can be hidden for a little bit of time using STUFF, then... who am I to say that is wrong?

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  31. @5464 said: "you should keep in mind that in the real world not everyone has the same issues as you"...

    You're probably right. Not everyone is going to die.
    Not everyone is going to suffer loss.

    Keep buying them consumer goods and they WILL fill that hole and fend off the darkness.

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  33. @5464: Did your name brand consumer goods teach you that? ;)

  34. I have nothing to contribute here, but I love your writing. Its fun to read.
    Please do not stop.

  35. @Loafer: Thank you!
    I need the encouragement from time to time - to know it's not completely a tree falling in the forest...


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