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❚ protopian ❚ ampersand ❚ california ❚ sexuality

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ampersand, chapter two, “the Sur”

Jon, a successful entrepreneur in his mid-30s, has fallen into loneliness and despair, questions society, takes a trip through Big Sur California1

I woke up in the middle of the night, walked around the house, moved small appliances in the kitchen counter as if it mattered now. I put some extra shirts in my backpack, noticed that I only have one pair of pants that actually fit me. I checked Netflix to see if I can watch something, just to pass the time and shut down that voice in my head, that buzz, that agonizing feeling of detachment. I made myself a coffee and couldn’t finish it, it tasted so bitter, and like metal, I felt as if I had a film all over my tongue and mouth cavity. I cough, pour coffee into the sink. I brushed my teeth, continuously gazing into my eyes in the mirror until the electric toothbrush turns off. I moved back to the bedroom, still dark outside the windows. In my bed staring in the ceiling, and the black hole of the skylight, no single star out there. Eventually, I fall asleep again.

I wake up from the noise of somebody knocking on my door hard. I walk downstairs in my boxers and swing it open. “Hey Jon, how are you, dude?” I hate all this surfers’ “dude thing” it makes me think about whale penises, even though I know it’s supposed to sound cool. “Hi, Josh, come on in.” I hired Josh to take care of my household, my accountant found him for me. My house is mortgaged, and I ran out of cash and into some credit card balance. Still, all and all my accountant believes that with renting my home out, I can land back on my feet, considering that I will find some other place to live, rent-free. I make more coffee for both of us, Josh blabbing something non-stop, I don’t even listen to him. I feel anger toward college kids as if I know that they all going to fail and end up like me, and I’m sorry for them, but I also jealous that they still have a chance at the same time, one that I will never have.

I used to drive up to UCSC campus up the hill, just to hang around young college girls from all over the place, like some kind of predator, probably that how I looked to them and to security guards. There are kids in the house next door, maybe 10 of them sharing the same roof. One of them will always block my driveway, too many cars. It’s a mystery for me how do they all fit in, and how many share one bed at once. They may have orgies, or I don’t know what, they do parties often for sure. Sometimes I even want to call the cops, but not because they bother me, they are never too loud. I just seem to want anybody to ever have fun if I can’t.

Josh is still talking, and I hand him over a coffee mug and take a sip myself, studying his face. Everything I hate about California boys: blond, superficially cheerful, overly-instagrammable, too young to wear a beard, too old to use slang that much. He must have a condom in his wallet and a pack of gum to freshen his breath. Always ready. I don’t trust his smile, he doesn’t know what it takes to be happy, he lives that illusion of “having fun” and “everything is ahead of us.” Headed into the delayed drama that nothing will ever make any sense.

I interrupt Josh and tell him to look around and make himself at home. I pointed him at a stack of keys and an envelope with paperwork that allows him to manage my property while I’m gone. I go upstairs and take a shower, I slowly dress, I go through my bathroom drawers looking for things I may need for my trip. I glance around my bedroom, stop by a mirror, and look at my reflection, a sad man with a backpack on his shoulders. I feel cold, but I also don’t want to stay. A road trip should cheer me up, and who knows what may be waiting for me in San Diego.

I walk around the house and toss my backpack on the back seat of my car. I find the charger unplugged and a cable on the ground, either I forgot to plug it in, or someone pulled a prank on me. I get in the car and start it, the battery range shows a little bit over 100 miles. I check the map for superchargers on my way South and find one in Big Sur and another in SLO. It may work out. Most importantly I don’t want to wait, I’m leaving now.

Two hours later, I’m pulling in parking right off PCH in around Pfeiffer that promised me a charger. It’s a fancy Big Sur resort with Hot Baths and a Restaurant overlooking the coast from low heights. There is only one charger, but lucky me, it’s not taken. I park and plugin, making sure it “pumps” I still think of it as pumping, ironizing about that stupid idea of electric cars in fossil fuel economy. We produce electricity from oil anyway. I walk in the restaurant and sit at the bar, next to a cute blonde that pays no attention to me, busy with her gram-phone and a glass of wine. I get myself a beer. Sun is breaking out from the clouds, it was cold and gloomy today so far, and it rained repeatedly. Somehow, after all the years of drought, we had so much rain in California now, which I guess is good, I like it better that way. It’s fresh and just a little windy outside, getting warmer and warmer as the sky clears out. I finish my beer and pay the bill. But I still need more time to wait for my car to get all the juice.

I walk out of the restaurant and take the stairs behind down the hiking path covered with gravel. It gets in between the sole of my sandals, my toes, and feet when I walk, making it unpleasant. It’s also too cold for sandals. But I’m not sure if I pack any shoes. I left Josh an instruction to move some valuable items to the storage and donate everything else. I hope he wouldn’t take and wear my shit. I would hate to imagine this punk wearing my rags. I probably should have stopped by the Salvation Army myself. Still, I felt so much resistance doing anything at all, lately. Everything is so heavy, so intense, every breath is a challenge to me. I used to walk for hours circling the West Cliff, now I only take a straight line to the edge and back home. I sit in my bed most of the day, sometimes looking at the old pictures or reading the Facebook feed, replying to the messages from “friends” that try to impress me with the success of their startups, a newborn, or a new fiance.

Someone will always ask me about what I will do next. “What’s your next one, Jon?” As if I cared. I feel afraid that I’m crazy, that I’m broken, that I am a fraud. That I will never be able to create anything again, write a single line of code, or yet n email. I installed this software on my Mac that enables me to shoot canned responses, just if I was a customer support teammate. Things like “this looks so cool, man” and “ugh, congrats, sounds great!” I humored myself that this may all be fair because nobody feels or even thinks much writing these things anyway. We are demonizing algorithms and “using learners,” not noticing that we are turning into machines ourselves. Transient excitements at the input, meaningless, senseless reflection at the output, pause to order that cool thing that just popped up on the Instagram add, and back to the next input. Somewhere there a hundred miles away in the North, the farms of servers are running my own retargeting algorithms spreading the madness, I feel disgusted about that fact. I didn’t want that. I didn’t start my company to end up feeding kids with fake dreams, spinning around the confusion in this senseless consumerist centrifuge.

The hiking path ends with a gated pool and a group of wooden cabins. I read the sign that says “Japanese Baths,” and it sounds very appealing, considering that I’m freezing and maybe 10 minutes of walk from my car. I follow the directions and find an entrance to the structure that breathes vapor over its roofless top. I walk in and find showers and bathrooms, stacks of towels, and the ray of nooks and hooks to store things. I can see the edge of the pool of the hot bath. Nobody seems to be around, there are no locks or attendance to check me in or show me out. I decide to undress. I stack all my clothes together and put a folded tower over it. I take another towel, holding it against my exposed navel and groin as some form of a shield, I awkwardly move forward, slowly emerging myself in the hot thick water. I leave the towel on one of the top steps by the wall, immersing deep, leaning against the tiled wall, and finding the level I could sit on. I watch the now clear skies, noticing that the sun is already setting. The light is so beautiful right now, particularly when it melds with a vapor chased up from the water surface. I watch that thick layer of mist, admiring how it moves and whirls in the gentle wind coming from the outside, climbs up and fades in the green crowns of the trees and the blue skies. The water reflects the rustic wood walls and marble tiles. The sound coming from the outside peacefully resonates inside the baths chamber, rumbles between the walls, and escapes away.

Immersed in that warms and marvel, it feels so peaceful that I almost forget how I ended up in that place, also that I’m intruding. This is when I notice that I’m not alone. A woman is sitting across me. I feel as I’m caught up stealing something. I also acknowledge that we are less than 10 feet away from each other, bathing in daylight in the clean, transparent water that barely hides our naked bodies. She smiles at me before I figure out what to say. Just a friendly, relaxed smile that says, “It’s Ok!” I open my mouth and nothing comes out an awkward “ah…” I take a short breath and recover, finally say, “I’m so sorry, I must be in the wrong place.” She moves her body a little to the right, and I notice how her breast dive through the surface of the water momentarily exposing the areolae surrounding the dark and swollen nipple to the surface before hiding it back. My heart races faster, I’m uncomfortable with the unexpected closeness with a stranger. She finally speaks, “Why do you say it’s a wrong place?” Her voice is soft, calm and deep. It is a voice of a young but a mature woman, a mother. She doesn’t seem to be expecting an immediate response from me, and I hesitate what to answer. Then say, “I just didn’t expect anyone here to be… .” I pause, and she finishes for me “… a woman,” it almost sounds like another question.

We sit across each other, she appears to be momentarily dreaming away somewhere, closing her eyes. She is content, noticeably enjoying herself, and not minding me. After a while, she exhales deep and opens her eyes, instantly focusing on me. I was admiring her all that time, and now I feel as an intruder again, she caught me twice. She looks at me as if she was giving me an exam. Her body animates from stillness, and very slowly, she moves towards, no glimpse of a smile or anything that may tell her intention. A mysterious woman raising above the hazy water edge. She is now exposing her breasts fully, and I begin mechanically moving my eyes very fast up and down to both look at it and pretend that I didn’t until she gets too close to me to continue doing this.

She stands in front of me, looking down on my face, she must be very tall, because I feel so small right now. She moves her left hand towards my face and touches my left cheek, her fingers continue moving slowly around the side of my face, curling her hand around the nape of my neck. She looks straight into my eyes. Dark hair, medium length, brown eyes. She looks Persian, her face is intelligent but warm, she emits strength and grace. I feel hypnotized under her gaze, losing the sense of time and space, this moment seems to last long.

A door bangs on the other side, and two loud male voices traverse through the Bathhouse. I jerk my head instinctively to the right and feel the resistance of her hand. She waits for me to look back in her eyes again and move her hand to my shoulder and lower, the base of her wrist almost touching the area of my heart, her gaze unchanged, I don’t think I ever saw her to blink once or look elsewhere all that time. The voices from the right side of the Bathhouse are now louder, and I feel conflicted between these two forces. To remain in the moment or retreat to cover my nudity and transgression.

I look back at her and ask for her name. “Leila,” she replies softly, and adds nothing else, not asking for mine, and I’m not sure if I can speak my name right now. She finally says just three more words, “you’re almost there,” recovering her arm from holding me, disengaging the eyes. Turning both head and body away from me at once, she slowly takes steps up and out. I follow her with my eyes, watching her back surfacing first, exposing the vast tattoo on her back. It is a snake that first looks like an ouroboros forming the number eight, but then I recognize that it doesn’t eat its own tail, so it’s more like the ‘&’ the ampersand. She keeps emerging from the water, exposing her posterior. Two tall orb crescents of her buttocks untangle into the slender thighs, forming a seed-shaped opening that is now filled by the light that renders the edges of vulva cradling the labia lip pointed right at me.

I got out of the Bathhouse and walked the trail back to my car fast. I feel a folding calamity, my teeth chatter, my mouth makes short and sharp breath sounds. I’m shivering with my entire body2, feel every muscle shake while I’m walking even faster. I pull out my phone, trying to check if the car is fully charged, but there is no signal. The sun is about to settle and curl under, performing a late show with the ocean and nearly clear skies.

I made it to my car, unplug the charger, and climb inside, rushing to set the heating to the maximum. I feel a little better, my chills gradually go away. I look around the empty parking lot through the mirrors and pull out. Spiraling the narrow road, I land back in the PCH entrance and turn left, South, without delay. I accelerate, surprised that the coast highway is all clear ahead. No stupid old RVs and slow “B.C. plates” minivans that usually slow the cruise. I curve into the snaky road with ease, imagining that I am gliding the waves of the ocean to my right. My mind slowly wanders away, I think about the encounter I just had.

It’s almost five now, the sun sets behind my right shoulder, dispatching the orange light that underexposes the deep blue waves. The white foam shattering into the cliffy edges of the coast. The purple pregnant clouds and the dusk sky lit from both sides, contrasting with the black road with a yellow line ahead of me. The hills are descending, revealing the massive yellow disk of the full moon on the left. I lose myself in the overwhelming scene for a moment. “There is so much beauty so close to me all the time,” I think, “how could I ever miss it?” The moon dominates the sky now and leading my way, while the ocean is fading away into the darkness of the night.

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  1. Big Sur, also South; “to go south” but not to deteriorate but rather to go towards the “ground chakras” or entry of the vagina↩︎

  2. chills and aesthetic emotion: “… humans are particularly prone to shiver when a group does or thinks the same thing at the same time … sharing a common goal … Perlovsky predicted that such an event should involve knowledge about other minds and about the meaning of life… origins of human thought to the tremendous changes in temperature at its birth” - Psychogenic shivers↩︎

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  1. ok levlc

    This page is a writing pad, something I'm currently working on. It is a draft, and it should look undone and unfinished. Reading this page is a great way to jump into a conversation with me right now, that's why I keep this link in my email signature. Any thoughts?