During a strange period of my life, I worked an acting gig on a military base. We were called “Standardized Patients.” Our job was to portray hypothetical subjects in training exercises for nurses, doctors, emergency personnel. Some days I’d play a soldier suffering from PTSD or a schizophrenic planning to murder his boss. Other days I was just a guy coming in for a routine physical. Occasionally we’d get assigned disaster scenarios for first responders. A plane crash, a suicide bombing, a mass shooting. We’d be decked out in special effects make-up, painted with fake blood, prosthetic broken bones, silicone skin. All the actors had different briefs. You be in shock, you be difficult, you be dead. We’d all be screaming bloody murder with pre-recorded sounds of carnage blaring from hidden speakers. We had to make it as convincing as possible. “These exercises save lives,” we were frequently told. Macabre stuff. Almost immediately after I started working there, the idea for Crisis Actor began gelling. Much of what I describe in the book is based on these actual experiences.
All I remember from childhood are the colors. Colors so vivid they appeared to be artificially induced, colors unimpeded by any intermediaries, pure color without form, pure sensation divorced from memory. A world saturated by colors, colors carried on the winds of autumn and spring, colors bleeding out of the trees and into the greenish summer air, colors blending all together on winter nights and shining forth in a single white radiance. No words, no shapes, no faces, only a blur of blind experience: grass smells, pencil smells, soap smells, sunset smells when the red orb of the sky sank into the horizon and set free the redolence buried deep within the dirt of our shrinking suburban woodlands. Life happened all at once, everything simultaneously beginning and ending, time both passing away forever and leaving an indelible residue upon the immaterial stuff of life. I wonder now, as I did not then, what this stuff of life might be. Back then it still seemed like a porous and living thing, a body pushing itself through the winds of time, one that bore, however faintly, the scent breathed upon it by the changing of the seasons from one to the next and the next.
My nose starts to bleed.
I ate three large pepperoni pizzas
for dinner. I ate seven
slices of prosciutto for breakfast. I know
Mother Mary is always with me.
I ate five cucumbers and dipped
them in ketchup. I voted for Justin Trudeau
four times. I put my milk in containers.
I buy all of the milk at the store
and poke holes in them,
hanging the bags off of my balcony
to feel like God.
We’d wandered into the courtyard of a dimly lit castle at dusk, drawn by a man gesticulating wildly from a keep far up above. It was difficult to tell if he was trying to get our attention, or simply waving his arms in the air for one reason or another, but was curious enough to draw our eye. We walked and sat on a stone bench in the courtyard below, gazing up at where we thought his arms might extend once more. But the moment we sat down, his arms quickly disappeared from view. A moment later a horrid, retching noise began—echoing as if amplified by a loudspeakerfrom the spires high above. At first, we’re unsure of what it is and fear for our lives, then cover our ears with our hands and cower beneath the stone bench, the only noticeable fixture in the courtyard. The noise continues (in a moment we realize it wouldn’t be stopping anytime soon). Once our ears adjusted to the nuisance and we realized we weren’t in any immediate danger we crawled out from beneath the bench and continued gazing upwards. After a time we discerned some renewed sense of movement. The gentleman was back at the window. The retching continued forcefully and then stopped, almost as suddenly as it began. A white object was thrust out into the air and fell toward us at an alarming rate. We barely had enough time to sidestep before it hit the paving stones of the courtyard with a sickening thud. It began moving awkwardly, dragging itself toward us upon its broken limbs.
I buy the crime sprees
the clear bag with orange flowers
filled with plastic curlers
I buy your tall tales of Florida
but I still don’t care.
I walk back and forth in the hot humid rain
the headiness of everything
I do is a moon phase.