lost in the woods

SOMETIME IN THE WINTER, I took a ride out to the woods outside of town. This patch of forest is nothing spectacular, some trails rising and falling, a waterfall in the middle. I almost never see people in these backwoods trails, though now and then there is a white van parked there on the outskirts, which I am sure is used for disposing of dead bodies or doing countryside dope deals. It seems like that kind of place. I went out there to get a woman out of my mind, of course. For days she had been pounding in my head like a furious migraine, and it seemed I could do nothing to rid myself of her spirit. No consultations with a bevy of psychologists, healers, and tarot card readers could alleviate the spell. I wanted her and I wanted her bad and I hated her for how badly I wanted her, and I hated her for making me want her when she was nowhere to be found, invisible to me, and maybe even oblivious to my aching want for her. Of course, I didn’t hate her though. I loved her, if such desire could be called love. The hatred or frustration was actually for myself, the aspect of myself that couldn’t be suppressed or controlled. The part of myself that belonged to her. That part of me that she knew she possessed. There I was, lost in the woods, looking for solutions that couldn’t be found, looking for an escape, a way out. It was inescapable though. With a look, she could make me lift heavy objects, loan her money, give her rides, and — most dangerously — significantly increase the Estonian population. One cannot underestimate the life force that flows through the male body when aroused. It is this energy that led men to erect the pyramids in the sands of Ancient Egypt, or to board ships to circle the globe. The same otherworldly force that makes the waves roll or the heavenly bodies spin. We are at its mercy. So why are we always told that we have a choice? Or, even worse, that we create our own realities. Nonsense. There is give and take, but you can’t really expect me to believe that when a woman’s spirit starts to incubate within your heart that you have a choice. The most infuriating aspect is that many women are aware of the control and sway they have over their men. They know they are inside before we even wake up to this new dawn. They know they have us dancing on their fingertips. They revere and worship the strong man, who doesn’t give up so easily, but only because he has not given them what they want just yet and, oh, how they want it. “Women maintain a variety of energetic connections,” one of these faith healers admitted to me. “They know when someone is close, and they know when someone is far. They can sense it.” They do. How many men haven’t experienced a situation when, shortly after a breakup, while meeting with some new interest, suddenly their phones start to vibrate and ring, because their former partner senses — somehow, miraculously — that their man is slipping away. Even more curious are the cases of the women who leave their men and take on new lovers, but keep the old partner around just in case he is needed to screw in a lightbulb or fix a broken appliance. It is not so much about love, is it? It’s about some kind of intangible telepathic control. Which is not to demonize women or make them out to be manipulative. Not at all, I say. I think it’s just the way things happen, and they are probably just as much at the mercy of their own gravitational forces as we are. They can’t control the men they pull, either but, for whatever reason, they keep on pulling them in like fish. Why do they always pull certain men, while those they desire remain beyond their reach? There are no easy answers, but I continue to study these things out of  curiosity. In my study of blues music and folklore, I learned that in the Deep South long ago, Black and Indian women used to carry pouches around their waists that would dangle near their genitals. Into these sacks — called nation sacks, for the Indian nations that wore them — they would have keepsakes of the men they wanted to control — a lock of hair, or some personal item like a ring or coin. This is how they kept their men under their influence.  It occurred to me in the woods that day that there were probably multiple women out there walking the land who were carrying pieces of my soul in such little charmed bags. Yet I decided not to resist in the end if only because it was exhausting. Maybe being possessed isn’t worth the fight. It’s better and easier to surrender. And sometimes, you must admit, it does feel wonderful to be possessed.

An Estonian version of this column appears in the April 2021 issue of Anne ja Stiil.


IT’S NOT SO HARD to start flying again, even if you haven’t flown for a long time, maybe even years. All you have to do is look down and focus and it will happen, you’ll rise up and the wind will rise with you. People are always amazed when they see it, because they don’t think it’s possible, but it is! All you have to do is try. For this last attempt I felt particularly ambitious. I decided to fly across the country, meaning the United States of America. It was after a high school graduation for some cousin, but I needed to stretch my legs, or rather my arms. I imagined myself dining on a pier in San Francisco in just a few hours, listening to the blue sounds of local jazz and the songs of the sea lions. I set off by the Peconic Bay on Long Island, and in a few effortless minutes had already cleared the sandy bars of Sandy Hook. It was easy, I tell you. Then over all of drugstore, downtown America, laid out in boulevards and avenues, parks, electric grids, square and rectangular counties, all of those cultural ghost towns that were to be experienced in their own right at the local five-and-tens, corner bookstores, backstreet diners, places with names like Centreville or Uniontown, Liberty City or Nowhere Springs. I was headed for the southwest, in general, that area, but I had drifted straight across the north, so I set down in a small city that was bifurcated by an immense rushing waterfall. I came down in the courtyard of a student house for a local university, and a series of good-humored but utterly bored sandy-haired students let me through a variety of doors. In the back of the house, a young blonde woman stood before a mirror, applying lipstick by candlelight. She let me out the final door and I encountered the falls. A series of log platforms had been built on both sides, along with a crossing point. “Welcome to Historic Fort Dulcimer,” a sign said, and a series of geysers shot glops of water into the air, one of which drenched my face. “That’s the historic Dulcimer Rip,” a tourist nearby told me. I decided to pull my phone from my pocket, take a photo, send one back to my father. I felt tired for the first time since I began my over-the-country trek. Maybe I would turn back, like all those other tourists who make it as far as Grand Teton National Park and don’t have the nerve, resolve, or interest to cross the Rockies and hit the West Coast. Or maybe I would sleep it off in that local university town, start tomorrow fresh. From my perch on the platform of Fort Dulcimer, I had a good look at all of the colorful and zigzagging architecture, the custard and red painted balconies, the curling blue chimney smoke. The air high stunk of deep-fried dough and pan-fried white fish. It was clearly française in derivation and reminded one of the French Quarters in Hà Nội or Sài Gòn. Maybe an old trading center of New France? I accosted another tourist group, and the young blonde I had seen applying her makeup before was there dressed in frontier dress. She must have been a tour guide. “What is this place?” I asked, gesturing at the habitation beyond the falls. She smiled and said something in French. It sounded like “Touzants” to my ears, but later, upon consulting an atlas at a local guest house, I learned the name of this commune was in fact Tous-Les-Saints, “all the saints.”

when eddie murphy starred on cheers

FEW REMEMBER HOW a young Eddie Murphy starred on Cheers, way back in those early seasons that nobody watched. Long before Woody Harrelson and Kirstie Alley joined the cast, there was Eddie Murphy in his red leather suit from Delirious, working the Boston bar with Sam Malone (Ted Danson), barking, ‘Yo, Sam, you better serve them muthufuckas quick or I’ll bust yo’ ass,’ or giving him love advice (‘If it was me, bitch be gettin’ fucked’). But then the slow decline, the drug habits, the unscrupulous characters turning up at the bar, Charlie Murphy, Rick James (‘I’m Rick James, bitch’), not to mention Charlie’s unrequited love for Shelley Long, so throbbing and painful that he quit when she did. And then we were left with Cheers, just Cheers, Cheers with Norm, Cheers with Cliff, Cheers with Lilith and Dr. Frasier Crane. Cheers, where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came. “Cheers is filmed before a live studio audience.” It wasn’t the same bar without Eddie Murphy though. Just not the same.

bertolt brecht will have to wait

PUTIN VERY MUCH wants to be Astrid’s boyfriend, but she is unsure. He keeps coming to me for advice. We meet at the bar of the hotel where she works and he confides in me. Putin usually drinks his vodka neat, and he sips it slowly. One conversation is the equivalent of one glass of vodka. He comes dressed in a beige turtleneck, a sports jacket, trying to play the part of normal Russian kommersant. Putin is well groomed for his Astrid, but she is not so sure. For one, he is older than her, much older. Astrid flits around behind the desks in her dress, with her necklace shining and her dangling earrings sparkling and her eyes twinkling. She is a pretty person and she is much too young for him. He could be her father, easily, and does any woman really want to be touched there by a man who could have changed her diapers? But still … he is Putin. A man of power. He’s had petty liberals poisoned and shot with a shrug of the shoulders or twitch of his cheeks. Putin is not to be trifled with. Of all the women he could have in the world — gymnasts, United Russia party apparatchiks, FSB secretaries, ABBA cover singers — Putin has chosen the completely unknown hotel manager Astrid. She is secretly touched in a way, touched that of all women in the world he has chosen her. “It’s a good hotel,” says Putin. “I like the way she runs the place.” He sips his drink and thumbs a copy of Bertolt Brecht’s 1934 book ThreePenny Novel. “It’s my favorite,” he says. Putin thinks that once Astrid reads the book, she will change her mind, see his heart, acknowledge him for what he is. A glance to the other side of the hotel shows she is aware of his presence, but has more important things to do. There is a conference of Social Democrats in the seminar room, and the coffee has fresh run out. Hands are wringing. Off to the kitchen in those sexy high heels. Bertolt Brecht will have to wait.

and no dead bodies

BEAUTIFUL SNOW, I told you so. They said that winter was over, but it wasn’t. Thick, fluffy stuff. Dream One: a large mansion, Gatsby-style, and a grand party. Everyone is there, even my ex-wife, who has an apartment in another wing of the building. Even my mother, who is happy, believe it or not. There is some kind of song-and-dance routine in the garden, with men in those old-fashioned 1910 straw hats and canes, with green hedges rising behind them, as if the backdrop for the stage. Even my brother and his wife and their kids arrive, but they are unimpressed and spend the evening in bed paging through magazines. Then word begins to spread among partygoers that the police are going to break it up, on account of COVID-19 restrictions, and there is panic. I run into my ex-wife’s apartment, but she is nowhere to be found. Instead there is a bathtub full of plants, and the taps are running and it’s about to overflow// Dream Two: Our gray old female cat got into a fight with the cat from down the street — named Ronja in the dream — which tore her ear clean off, and I put the cat ear in the refrigerator. In the midst of this, the girls are nowhere to be found to take the cat to the veterinarian to have its ear stitched back on. I find the middle one whispering in a cabinet with her cousin, but she won’t help. Then I find a phone, which has candid photos of my black sheep Uncle Giuseppe — hanging by the beach, sprawled in a chaise lounge, paparazzi style photos — and I think it’s Uncle Roberto’s phone (maybe some family reconnaissance), but it turns out it’s my eldest’s phone. But why is she spying on Giuseppe? I just don’t understand, but I don’t have time. Instead I take the cat alone, the cat and its ear, and drive off to Viiratsi. I hope they can reattach a detached cat ear, but knowing my luck, they’ll tell me it’s no use, and better to just put her down. Then all of a sudden I awake in a bright room, sprawled out on an elegant couch where I am wrapped in coitus with the Lady of the Lake, combined in heaving white warmth and flesh, perhaps the sole remaining source of safe female energy in my life, and I feel at least connected to her as we immerse. It’s a good, satisfying intercourse, and some things in the universe start to realign and flit into focus. Oh, thank heavens, I think. And no dead bodies! Then I am awakened by the snow plough outside my window and see the weather, chunky flakes floating down, beautiful snow. I told you winter wasn’t over.