We protestors walk in panama hats, naked below our faces except for cell phones tied on necklace ropes and loincloths fastened further down. The sun bands across our backs, making skin glisten like arbutus bark. What is our purpose on this road? To march in flip-flops and shimmer for our cause, to block traffic that hums in neutral as we stand. I look up to see black winged vultures glide. I have no sugar in my coffee and I show my true form to my fellow demonstrators by toasting them with a half-full cup. Long-haired women raise their slender arms in tribute to my uplifted beverage. I am not an artist, yet this is art, immersive as its politics.
“The vaccine substance contains sperm,” says a willowy woman beside me. “Anyone taking it up the vein will reproduce side effects out their ying-yang.”
She rode her pony here and he stinks like old socks—there’s no bond better than between a woman and her pony. I note she wears striped leotards right up to her loincloth. She tops it all off with a T-shirt that resembles a marshmallow puff.
“We welcome nudity like round stones on the beach,” says a skinny old fellow in granny glasses.
“Painting ourselves blue is not facing the yoke.”
It’s Kayboy Morky.
I shared a duplex with him off Main Street fifteen years ago. Like most everyone here, we reconnected online, under the shadow of the half-mast Canadian flag, on the website known as “Stark but Free.”
“Kayboy, remember when we listened to the Beatles?” I ask.
“I acquired a bad back from lifting all those records up and down the stairs,” he tells me. “The best thing about our time together was stopping smoking and singing out of tune.”
“I preferred A-flat,” I say. “And the xylophone.”
“I recall we shared one electric plug-in,” he tells me. “Now I’m married to a retired professor of neuro-mathematics. We live in a house in Shaughnessy Heights.”
“Congratulations,” I tell him. “I recently separated from a madwoman.”
“You must have joined up first,” he says, and I praise him for this perception.
He tells me he remains a naked iconoclast.
“I haven’t sipped a Cola since 1987.”
I carry a big litterbag, and the more garbage l pick up, the bigger the litterbulge. It’s the least I can do. The amount of miniscule plastic dots floating in the ocean is greater than the sum total of my brain cells, so they say.
I know that in the field beside us turtles hide deep beneath the muck, and they suffer, imbibing runoff from old cans, bottles, and chemical fertilizer. The turtles worry me, and here I am. To feel what it’s like to be aware, in the presence of the committed. I empathize with intensity, no matter what the cause. It’s the least I can do to narrow dichotomies.
A stocky man pulling a cart recognizes me.
“You were my teacher at the school for the destitute,” he says, and I remember his long right arm dangling from a desk, though it seems to me I heard he committed suicide. Was it James, or Jim, or Jackson? Yet here his zombie corpse remains, a fleshy specimen of hope, his cart decorated with slogans that give him purpose.
It’s nobody’s body but mine, says his sign. I control what I inject.
“Teach, you’ve lost your sugar face,” he tells me. “You used to be so huge.”
“I’m trying to be an artist,” I tell him. “Frugality is my response to the waste of the earth.”
“I ate my bank account,” he jokes. “That’s why my guts are so full of money.”
He tells me he graduated from school to work for a drainage company.
“I’m worried about the turtles,” I tell him, “With all the nitrate waste.”
The woman leading her pony offers this: “You should use CBD oil, man, get over your bad conscience.” Then she says, “Call me Jane.”
Jane tells us she lives on an island originally settled by a group of Finnish theosophists. She says their bodies soaked in saunas while their emigrant souls voyaged to the sun. Now the pony lady lives in one of their old, abandoned houses.
“It’s a square palace of cedar planks separated by inch-wide cracks,” she says, “The planks imported from the island’s original indigenous longhouses.”
Her statement intrigues me. I’m a big student of history. How did the world we know now come to be? Who originally stole those cedar planks? I look out at the road and all the half-naked protestors, and I think it’s human nature, and wanting to survive, yet it’s also taking good care of your pony and quitting bad habits. Maybe it’s not trying too hard.
“It’s a short step from democracy to an oligarchy,” says Kayboy. “We should paint some flowers on the road, take back control.”
“That sounds like a song,” the stocky man says. “And I forgot my spray can.”
“There’s a big line of internal combustion engines waiting,” I tell him. “We have successfully stopped a certain momentum. That might be enough.”
“It’s a message,” says the stocky fellow.
“We’ve untangled the pretzel, if only for a moment,” Jane adds.
“I like your tan,” I tell her.
“When I’m free and straight, I can really dance,” she smiles.
“And when you have to fry an egg, it’s better to do it before the hatching starts,” says Kayboy.
An incessant beeping rises from the road ahead, a sound from all the annoyed and restless motorists. Obviously, because of us, their wheels can’t turn, unless they run us over.
I understand though there is always reverse gear.
“Their will is to continue straight on,” says the stocky man, “Like most of us.”
“Have the police showed up yet?” I ask.
“Look between the vehicle rows,” offers Jane. “Way up the line, some metal is flashing red.”
“Hotter than hot,” I say.
“Have you received the needle stick in the shoulder muscle?” Kayboy turns to me, his eyes round and blue as the sky.
“I already have society’s succubus deep within my essence,” I tell him. “Like a vast forest now turned to lumber.”
“How can something deep within you change like that?” he asks.
For this, I have no answer. Maybe I can put it to Buddha.
“I have a new koan,” I tell Jane, and riddle over the words.
“Sounds puzzling,” she says.
I take off my Panama Hat, pick another discarded mask out of the ditch, tie it to the hat brim, along with all the other discarded masks.
“This is my artistic statement,” I tell Kayboy.
“Reminds me of the prayer flags I used to see in Tibet,” he nods.
“You know it,” I tell him. “We’ve staved off the vultures for another day,” and indeed their black wings are far down the road blockade, flying over a huge transport truck carrying a load of chickens.
I’m filling my second bag of litter. I’m trying to use less and contribute more, marching towards the garbage cans in solidarity. I want to add to our communal positivity, make less mess. I want to travel to the edge of the sea, where the sand vanishes, and raise my hands and my coffee cup one more time, “I have no regrets this day,” I’ll tell the sun, and the sun will burn my ears, for it is far hotter than it used to be.