A Blind Play of Social Forces
Coming to you in the fall of 2022, a narrative podcast series based on the short fiction of yours truly. The series is in production now with voice talent from across the globe. The eight episodes of season one all focus on the struggles of youth. Season two deals with tenuous relationships.
The title of the podcast comes from a quote from Richard Wright’s Native Son: “They hate because they fear, and they fear because they feel that the deepest feelings of their lives are being assaulted and outraged. And they do not know why; they are powerless pawns in a blind play of social forces.”
In the fall of 2019, the multi-media installation Platypus opened at the Loudoun House. Based on the short story published in the Black Market Re-View, my goal for this show was to create an immersive sensory experience in which visitors could literally see, hear, and touch specimens from the lives of the characters in the story.
They entered the story through Joey’s summer school desk, held the glass eyeball that introduced him to Shannon, sat at Shannon’s vanity, listened to their phone conversations, flipped through Joey’s View Master vacation photos and Shannon’s Polaroids, read the platypus wildlife cards, held a walkie-talkie conversation with their own Shannons, and even experienced the bruises Shannon sustained at the hands of their father. Each numbered section of the 16-page story was displayed throughout Loudoun House, accompanied by the living artifacts which people were invited to interact with.
This video, featuring local actors, played on vintage televisions surrounded by pages from the story.
A MAN DEPARTED
While A Man Departed will be premiering on filmshortage.com June 24th, 2021, you can watch the teaser trailer here:
It became known as the Vault. A gigantic enigma, buried and forgotten…nineteen thousand feet down.
You’re gonna love this underwater roller coaster for your ears.
DAUGHTER OF OCEAN
A single dad struggles to be a supportive father to his college-age daughter as she navigates the oceans of the dating world
An undocumented housekeeper faces exploitation and sexual harassment from her employers to save her ill-stricken brother before he dies.
CHI Saint Joseph Health
Good times, bad times, and every time in between:
A Man Departed
Principal photography has wrapped on the Grant Lafferty short film A Man Departed. Grant is the youngest professional filmmaker with whom I have worked to date, and I have worked with some young filmmakers (Elliot Fish, Darien O’Neil, and Donavan Myles). Grant is an old soul with some mad skills. I fully expect him to earn some major awards.
The process of becoming Don Jenkins meant exploring the losses I have experienced in my life, reliving them, processing them, bringing them to the surface in Don’s subconscious. I suppose if I were to label it, my process is a combination of Meisner and the Warner Loughlin Technique. I don’t label it though.
In each screenplay, I look for lines of dialogue that reveal characteristics the character reveals accidentally. A well-written character will tell us everything about themselves without meaning to. Years of teaching literature have taught me that. For Don, who speaks very little, I found one line that told me everything I needed to know about his life, his love, his loss. I’m not going to share that here–if I have done my job as an actor, you’ll know. Grant has certainly done his job as a writer.
Me About Me
Back to Nashville to work with the Running Bear team of Stephen and Alexa Kinigopoulos on the RaeLynn video “Me About Me.” When my son saw the video, he said, “Dad, she’s young enough to be your granddaughter.” The “she” is Jacqueline Sullivan.
The awards ceremony for the 2020 Bristol Prize has wrapped. While I did not take home the top prize, I am honored to be among some wonderful international writers. What a thrill.
Alice has Wrapped
Okay, so Alice’s Playground wrapped a few weeks ago, but I keep forgetting to post this. Written by Zamyia Felton and directed by Tereanio Edgar, Alice’s Playground is a look inside the loving Robinson family (Jeff, Susan, and Alice) and the lengths they will go to to keep their family together and safe.
Honestly, I see Alice’s Playground as a satire on white privilege, but that’s just me.
Also starring Christina Gregg, Samantha Noel Van Sickle, Clara Doran, up-and-comer Samantha “Sami” Bray, and Sarah June Prusakowski, the film is now in post-production and will join the festival circuit later this year.
From the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival
LOGLINE: At eleven years old, Selena acts as head of the household and takes care of her disabled father. Child services and police officers discover their living situation, threatening to break them apart.
SHORT FEEDBACK: Wow. This is a beautifully written script and a well-told, poignant story with nicely drawn characters. I can sense the closeness between Pal and Selena, and how dependent Pal is on this 11 year-old kid. She’s just as dependent on Pal, since her mother abandoned them both. I encourage you to go out and film this (considering restrictions given covid-19, of course). I think the challenge is in the execution and acting, especially the interactions when Selena is cleaning up Pal. You could get around that potentially with body doubles. Also, it would be a welcome change if a differently abled actor plays the part of Pal. You have a really special story here. Congrats!
Lavender Boy Wraps
Written and directed by 19-year-old Donavan Edwards, Lavender Boy takes aim at the Lavender Scare of the 1950s in which the Eisenhower administration attempted to out all gay government employees.
I play Agent Thomas, a zealous FBI agent interrogating a frightened Alan Miller, who lives alone with his mother.
Shot over three days in July, Lavender Boy is now in post-production and headed to the festival circuit in the near future.
Bristol Short Story Prize Shortlist
You might be aware that Pal has been longlisted for this year’s Bristol Short Story Prize, announced this afternoon.
All the judging has actually been completed and I’m delighted to be able to tell you that it has been selected for this year’s shortlist and will be published in this year’s BSSP anthology. Many congratulations.”
Meet “The Man from the Egg“
In January of 2013, my life was, to put it mildly, complicated. That first week of January, I was living in a hotel in downtown Lexington as part of the Bluegrass Writers Studio winter residency. Sitting in my car in the parking deck, I recorded on my phone the rough draft of a story about a man who finds a tiny naked human in a chicken egg. I had no idea what the story was about, only that there was a man and an egg.
Over the years, I have tinkered with the story, edited the story, altered the story. I have submitted “The Man from the Egg” to countless journals. I even received a nice hand-written rejection from Zoetrope–they really liked the story, but…
Yesterday, while on vacation in Toronto, I received an e-mail from the New Limestone Review. They would like to publish my story. Right down the street from where the story was conceived. And here’s another strange factoid: the fiction editor’s name is Michael McEwen (McEwen is, of course, my step-father’s last name).
I am honored to place both the man and his egg with NLR. Looking forward to sharing my baby, conceived in a parking deck, with the rest of y’all.
Meet the Scientist
In my brief acting career, I have never worked on a project more bizarre and unsettling as The Noots. This satirical dark comedy series is as visually compelling as it is off-putting. I hope to make dozens more before my character dies in a heretofore unimaginable way.
Meet Dr. Kevin Albreit
In the summer of 2019, was cast to play physicist Dr. Kevin Albreit in William M. Crouch’s Fatherless. The film is complete and making its way through the festival circuit. However, here is a preview of this moving sci-fi drama.
Meet Tex. That’s about all I can say for now, but when you do get to see Tex in action…whoooeeee.
The Bluegrass Transplants show at the Loudoun House is almost over, but Platypus will live on. You still have time to head over and check out my installation. The show closes October 5.
4603 FRANKLIN PIKE
I didn’t get to swim in the pool, but driving the Porche 911 Turbo S was a mild thrill–mild because I don’t think I drove over 20 mph. The folks at Hypeman were professional and on-point. I don’t think I’m allowed to say whose house this is, but there are some hints in the video.
I have so much to do to prepare for this show. I still have to hire actors, film scenes, record voiceovers, create slides for the View-Master, write a journal, buy a bed, etc etc etc. It will be ready though. I promise.
Visit our IndieGoGo to throw a few bucks towards to supporting one of the coolest projects I have been involved with. J. Barton Mitchell has created a world to rival those of Ridley Scott.
The first short film produced by LT4 Productions is currently in pre-production. Fatherless is the story of a young physicist with a troubled past who seeks to develop time travel in an attempt to fix his childhood. As he discovers his theory may be more practical than he originally expected, he must choose between repairing his own life and fixing the lives of others. Fatherless is a co-production with MisterDuke Productions. The narrative short stars award-winning actor Chad Eric Smith alongside Michael Mau. Director William M. Crouch wrote the original screenplay.
Director of Photography: Clifton Radford.
Assistant DP: Eric Hajjar
Sound: Zach Blair
Lighting Design: Michael Dickman
Our Scripted Life
When soap opera actor Jake (Ryan Karloff) wants to find a creative way to get the attention of his cast mate Anna (Abby Wathen), he and his best friend Andy (Pat Germano) employ enigmatic and eccentric Joaquin Pachero (Michael Mau) to direct a Victorian melodrama that will allow Jake to get so close to Anna he can taste her wig powder. Our Scripted Life (written and directed by David Towner; cinematographer: Delany Ashley) is currently in post-production.
In June of 2019, I journeyed to Santa Fe, New Mexico to Night Rocket Studios to record the pilot episode of the narrative podcast Derelict, written and directed by award-winning author J. Barton Mitchell, and produced by Mitchell and Kirsten Rudberg.
“When the galaxy’s most powerful corporation discovers that the derelict ship belongs to them, and that the time to recover it is quickly running out, they send the only people they can, a group of washed up engineers and scientists who would do anything to reconstruct the lives they’ve destroyed. Their objective: find out what happened to the crew of the Crichton, and bring the derelict back…at any cost.”
As Blayne, my job is make sure everyone does what they are told when they are told…but will I follow my own orders? Find out when the first season drops at the end of 2019.
Big Sandy: Hall’s Court
Principal recording just wrapped on the first episode of the narrative podcast “Big Sandy.” Based on the novel Big Sandy Stories by Marsha Walker, the podcast is narrated by Amy Pritchett. Raised in the fictional town of Big Sandy by her mother and often estranged father, Amy must contend with miscreants, malcontents, and meatheads while trying to protect her little sister Marianne. I play Amy’s dad, Billy, a fun-loving drunk full of wanderlust. Produced by Aaron Greer, the podcast’s vanguard episode should drop before the end of the summer.
“GATHER” FIBER ARTS RECEPTION MARCH 22, 2019, LOUDOUN HOUSE
While I am not a fiber artist, one of my cardboard and scrap fabric collages, “Topography,” was accepted into the Lexington Art League’s Gather Fiber Arts Exhibition March 15 to April 21, 2019.
All of the pieces in the Topography collection are made from reclaimed fibers: scrap fabric, cardboard, Kentucky barnwood (or construction junk), and discarded paint. They represent a marriage of repurposed materials and childlike imagination. The interconnected fabric weaves its way in and out of the cardboard, looping around itself to form topographical maps. As one moves closer to the work, the aerial views of a monochrome landscape under a dissonant spatter of blue become intimate gatherings of diverse textures, forms, and hues.
A few years ago, I watched the show “On the Lot,” a Spielberg production featuring up and coming directors. One of the directors was Kentuckian Jason Epperson. His unique style and attention to detail found him in the top two in the competition. Recently, I had the privilege of working with “Epp” and his production company Eppic Films on a commercial for Turn Point, a regional HVAC company. The commercial will air during the Super Bowl, so I am about to be regional Super Bowl commercial famous.
I had not heard of C. Shirock before he hired me for his music video, “Stand With Me Tonight,” but working with him and the team from Inkwell Films in Nashville was a real joy. Sure, “Hot Janitor” seems like a small role, but he’s the real lead in this short film.
The NIPSCO commercial has dropped and landed. Two days in Indy makes a hard man humble. No? You can watch The Greenes Meet the Clays, especially if you are into power company commercials.
That moment when you get a message from one of your talent agents and they ask if you are available for a photo shoot with a photographer who recently moved to Nashville, and you are thinking, I have two agents; and you are thinking, I’m going have photos made and I’m not paying for them; and you’re thinking, I’m a model.
It happened, and AMAX Talent put together the team of photographer Jeff Nelson, stylist Courtney Jones, and assistant Nick Brier. The series tells the story of a man struggling with loss, anger, and a sense of helplessness. Here is a quick tease of the shoot.
My flight to Lisbon jets out of Atlanta June 27. For three weeks, I will be writing (through Disquiet International) and installing Perfect Little Envelopes throughout the city. This art project, using all reclaimed materials, fosters the magic of human connection. Everyone who interacts with the lilliputian collages joins a community of others who have stood in those exact spots and asked, “What is this doing here?” My found poems are sometimes irreverent, sometimes enigmatic, but always provocative. I inspire joy with old magazines, discarded books, and scrap wood.
They were kids. They were in love. They broke up. Twenty years later, they find themselves cast in the same terrible play. Will they fall in love? Will they change their lives? Will the entire cast end up kissing each other? Stage Kiss. Studio Players. Now through March 25. Tickets through the Singletary Center.
Rock House Brewing is a relative newcomer to the Lexington microbrewery world. Located off North Limestone behind Minton’s, Rock House’s taproom is a quaint, cozy bar that always reminds me of hanging out in a Smoky Mountain cabin. Behind the taproom is the brewery itself where beers like Wild Funky Love, Hi Ho Cherry Oh, and Apricot for Destruction are born. That is where, for the next two months, some of my artwork is living. Stop by Rock House, quench your thirst, and see my work.
When I was a kid, a very kind man picked me up off the pavement when I fell. He then taught me a racist chant. Years later, another older man brought that memory screaming back when, too, shared with unflinching hatred, his feelings about other races. I wrote about these experiences in “Silence,” which is being published in the upcoming issue of Watershed Review.
Two years ago, in the wake of the Kim Davis marriage certificate fiasco, I published a follow-up to “An Open Letter to America from a Public School Teacher.” This letter satirized a public servant’s unwillingness to follow the law to serve all taxpayers regardless of gender, race, or creed. The persona I created used Davis’s own religious rhetoric to defend his small-minded belief that LGBTQ students did not deserve to be educated by a Christian teacher. This letter is satirical. I no more hate any of my students than Jonathan Swift wanted to eat the babies of Ireland. The purpose of my letter is to ridicule those who would harm children. I recently removed this satire from my website because too many people took it quite literally.
Back from New York and our short run of One More Fine Day at the Midtown International Theatre Festival. Playing the bipolar Polowitz was both energizing and exhausting.
While our opening day competed with the Wildcats, the cast and crew of Translations put on some heartbreaking shows our first weekend. Two more weeks of Translations at Woodford Theatre.
I love Duotrope, if for no other reason than it helps me find journals that I never would have found otherwise so I can submit stories that I can’t ever seem to find a home for. Such is the case with my story, “Until Your Heart Releases You,” which recently found a home at Don’t Talk to Me About Love (http://donttalktomeaboutlove.org/). They are cleaning its room right now, but once it moves in, I’ll let you know.
If it’s art and donuts you want, then you can have both. I closed up my show at the John G. Irvin Gallery only to move most of the pieces to North Lime Coffee & Donuts. Now this quaint little donut shop (num num num) is finely decorated with reclaimed cardboard, compost, and barn wood. The show runs through February 28.
The cold and snow didn’t stop friends and art enthusiasts from coming out of the John G. Irvin Gallery to the reception for my show “Tossed Out and Cut Up.” Two gallery floors of my work to see, wine to drink, and an assortment of cheeses. I for one was warmed by the reception. Thank you to Patricia Wheatley, Central Bank, and all of the folks who braved the weather.
Wild Fig Books and Coffee, Lexington’s newest independent bookstore, will be hosting three evenings of dramatic readings featuring local actors performing three short plays by Michael Mau.
The collection, Childhood Disrupted, follows three children as they attempt to navigate youth’s landscape despite the adults in their lives. In “A Child’s War,” Sara, a young Muslim girl, is brutally attacked by a peer who is trying to impress a bigoted teacher. In “Little Bird,” Soldier, the daughter of an Army sergeant, retaliates against bullying friends by recreating the scenes from Abu Graib that her mother has shown her. “Papa” follows Blerta, an Albanian refugee, shares a doll made from the clothing of her deceased father, only to have her Papa stolen by a classmate.
The one-act plays work together to demonstrate the power that adults have over children and the horrifying effects when that power is used to manipulate. However, each tale ends with the idea that children can transcend the world into which they are born.
Two of the plays have already been published as short stories. “Little Bird” won the 2015 Black Warrior Review Fiction Contest.
Featured performers include Meredith Crutcher, a Lexington favorite; poet and teacher Christopher McCurry; and writer Christina Lynch.
Running May 12-14, each performance begins at 7 p.m.. This is a free event.
What: MauNotMao production of Childhood Disrupted, a dramatic reading of three one-act plays by Michael Mau
When: 7 p.m., May 12-14
Where: Wild Fig Books & Coffee, 726 N Limestone
Tickets: Free Event
Please come out to Circle of Light for Gallery Hop, March 18. My work is being featured in their cozy gallery.
In the wake of the Kim Davis marriage certificate fiasco, I published a follow-up to An Open Letter from a Public School Teacher. This letter satirized a public servant’s unwillingness to follow the law to serve all taxpayers regardless of gender, race, or creed. The persona I created used Davis’s own religious rhetoric to defend his small-minded belief that LGBTQ students did not deserve to be educated by a Christian teacher. This letter is satirical. I no more hate any of my students than Jonathan Swift wanted to eat the babies of Ireland. The purpose of my letter is to ridicule those who would harm children.
Dear Michael Mau,
We were excited to see your name in the mix for the 2016 Disquiet Literary Contest! It’s always good to hear from Disquiet participants and we hope life and writing are treating you well.
This year’s contest received close to 1,000 entries of exceptional quality. While I am sorry to say that you were not selected as one of this year’s winners, you should know that you finished as one of five finalists in fiction
“To the Touch” was singled out by our judge as outstanding. Our readers called it “a zany love story with two off-kilter superheroes like something out of Amy Hempel.” We especially loved the lines, “The mother drew up a contract. Separate bedrooms. Side hugs only.” — but found so much to admire throughout.
Laura B., Brendan, & the Disquiet Staff
What a fun evening at Fusion Gallery. Met some talented artists, discussed my work, and watched my kids destroy a piñata. Thank you, Vanessa and Chris.
Listen to the interview I did with John Cromshow of Politics and Pedagogy for Pacifica Radio. Janury 24:
Have You Ever
“An Educational Gift for Christmas”
The story at yahoo.com disappeared as fast as Santa and his reindeer dashing through the sky on Christmas Eve. No worries. “An Open Letter to America from a Public School Teacher” by Michael Mau, is still available at:
Mau’s letter is so important that it deserves more than 15 milliseconds of fame. Here’s why. He writes about problems teachers have been struggling with for years. Too few listened. The issues remain standardized testing, top-down curriculum, elimination of the arts in school, and the loss of creative thinking. A cookie-cutter mentality extends from the Department of Education to School Boards around the country. But rather than admit it, those in the educational hierarchy claim just the opposite. The rhetoric of “high expectations” combined with “individualized instruction” is good enough to snooker most of the media. Let’s not forget the lynchpin in this equation, “It’s the teacher’s fault.” Demonizing public education and teachers’ unions paves the way (with gold, I might add) allowing for-profit charters to take over.
There is no substitute for Michael Mau’s words, which get his points across with amusing satire:
“I had this ridiculous idea that art and music and drama and activity breaks would help my students grow…To think, I once had my English class produce a full-length play with original music and student-designed sets…many of them still e-mail me and tell me that was the highlight of their high school experience…” Mau concludes with a tongue-in-cheek analysis, “After all, what did they really learn? How to access their imagination? Developing original thoughts? Teamwork? I may as well have taught them how to file for unemployment.” Sham hope is on the way. “With a nationalized curriculum, so much of the guesswork will be taken out…education is all about job security and competing in a global marketplace…Why else would we send our kids to school? This is a standardized multiple-choice world. I know that now.”
Doing their part, parents, teachers and others don’t have to follow the Pied Piper into the land of mindlessness. They can speak out for the students’ sake.
Now that Christmas is upon us I’ve been getting educational gifts for children. One gift was for my Kindergarten teacher friend. She’ll enjoy reading “Beautiful Bible Stories” to her grandchildren. For her two-year old grandson, I bought a set of nesting, stacking blocks with letters, numbers and colors. When a friend in Wrightwood told me she was going to visit her family in Texas, I recommended “Too Many Tamales” by Gary Soto. Reading to children deserves more attention. In fact, why not start by rewriting some popular holiday songs? We could begin with, “All I want for Christmas are a few good books.” That’s another story.
Have you ever given an educational gift for Christmas? Please e-mail me email@example.com.
That letter was an indictment of a system, not a school or a small district. I need to say that now before I get fired.
This note is just to let you know we have nominated your story “Best Launderette”
for a Pushcart Prize for the 2015 issue. If it is selected we will hear about it in late
April or early May. Good luck.
Best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous year ahead.
Fifth Wednesday Journal
Just received an e-mail from McSweeney’s thanking me for my submission. And, yes, I will finally be McSweeney’d.
I will be portraying adventurous rogue Philip Lombard in the Studio Players production of And Then There Were None, Nov 13-30.
BWR is pleased to announce the winners and runners-up of our 10th Annual Contest in Prose, Poetry, and Nonfiction.
Michael Mau was selected as the fiction winner for his story, “Little Bird.”
Fiction judge Lily Hoang writes:
“Little Bird” is the kind of story that lurks, it creeps. It sets in long after the last period has been forgotten. While reading this story—and after—I kept returning to gendered expectations, especially for children, but this isn’t just another gender swapping story: because, cue it: enter the military industrial complex: enter brainwashing: enter the simple desire of a daughter not wanting to disappoint her father: enter rejection. Enter the violence of emerging sexualities and bullying. Enter the way violence is bred: through heredity. Because when all the terror is set aside, what remains is just a girl, trying to be good by her father’s standards, trying hard to impress. O little girl of realism: why are you just as frightening as a wicked old crone? O little girl of realism: you delight. O little girl of realism: always remain a little girl, even when you are grown. But you, too, must grow up, and this is only the beginning of monstrosity, the birth of insecurity.
This note is just to let you know we have nominated your story “Best Launderette”
for a Pushcart Prize for the 2015 issue. If it is selected we will hear about it in late
April or early May. Good luck.
Best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous year ahead.
Fifth Wednesday Journal
So I get a call from an editor who asks if one of my stories has been published yet. I tell him no, and he congratulates me for winning their annual contest. Then he says I can’t tell anyone until they make their announcement.
This doesn’t count, right?
After a fifteen year hiatus, I have returned to the stage to test out my community theatre acting chops.
Rehearsals begin Monday, October 6 for And Then There Were None in which I will be playing the handsome adventurer Philip Lombard.
If you are in the Lexington area November 13-30, come see me woo women with my British accent.
THE VIEW FROM MY BALCONY
at the top of Beco do Monte invites me to explore the seven hills of Lisbon. There’s the Jardim de S. Pedro de Alcântara where Ricardo Reis thought about Lydia and Marcenda. There’s the Jardim do Torel where the bust of Viana da Mota stands sentry. If I squint, I can barely see the Praca do Marqués de Pombal at the end of the green carpet of trees lining the Avenida da Liberdade. I have to imagine the icy cold Tejo hidden from view; the Largo de Camões near the strange sculpture of Fernando Pessoa; the Praça do Comércio, crowded with World Cup spectators; the Miradouro de Santa Catarina where Adamastor, the Spirit of the Cape, scowls with shrunken, hollow eyes; and the Café no Chiado with its secret entrance to the Centro Nacional de Cultura. Tomorrow I’ll meet there to workshop writing and get inspired, but today is running day. Today I will head down the hill and get lost in the city that has welcomed me with wine, seafood, bread, and music.
A right here, a left there, up this hill, down that one, and I have no idea where I am. This isn’t exercise so much as exploration, so I don’t mind to stop and take pictures. Sheets dancing from third-story clotheslines. Click. A pedestrian crossing sign, the silhouetted man wearing a fedora. Click. An ancient window on a wind-washed building. Click. A tree blocking the entire sidewalk. Click. Graffiti: buoyant monikers, revolutionary calls to action, spray-painted portraits—Tupac Shakur, Marilyn Monroe, Fernando Pessoa, José Saramago—their eyes following me. Click. Click. Click.
I find myself, strangely, in the Alfama neighborhood even though I am sure I was headed in the opposite direction. Streamers and lights. Fado. Ginga. More fado. I pass the Museum of Fado offering a history of this sometimes-controversial national music. I imagine the fascist Salazar ordering his people to love football, Fatima, and fado, the three Fs symbols of Portuguese nationalism. If I’m in Alfama, I’m close to the Tejo, the Tagus River feeding into the Atlantic. The Avenida Infante Dom Henrique isn’t the most exciting place to run, but I can see that river, Cristo Rei with open arms on the other side, Ponte 25 de Abril spanning the water. That’s where I’m headed.
I find a path closer to the river, and as I pass the Praça do Comércio, I think back to a few nights ago when revelers at the Pride Festival drank Sagres and Superbock and moved as one to the music of George Michael. The drag queen on stilts, the masquerade mask that I found and gave away, the kissing couples, smell of hash, sweat and sand and sangria. This morning, sunbathers sleep by the concrete shoreline.
Ahead of me is Cais do Sodré where I caught the train to Cascais just yesterday (or was it the day before?). Where I took the bus to Belém two days ago (or was it three?). Could I make it the six miles to Belém on foot? Fuel up with a café and two pastels de nata? Unlikely if I want to run back. I could use my Via Viagem card to hop on the train to Cascais and stink up the car. I could kick off my shoes and dive into the water that I can’t believe doesn’t have ice cubes floating in it. I’d rent a chaise lounge and sip a beer as I eyed brown bodies seemingly impervious to the sun. Well-salinated from the sea and sweat, I could stop in at the Duche Bar overlooking the beach and chow down on a bifana. Maybe run out to Boca do Inferno, the Mouth of Hell, where Pessoa helped occultist Aleister Crowley fake his own death in 1930 by pretending to leap into the chasm.
But, no, Cascais is not part of today’s adventure. I want to cross that bridge.
That bridge, the one that looks so much like the Golden Gate, was once called Ponte Salazar. The 1974 Carnation Revolution gave the structure a new appellation to memorialize the day that Lisboans took to the streets with carnations to celebrate the nonviolent overthrow the corporatist Estado Novo regime. Just ten days after our tax day, the Portuguese celebrate Freedom Day. Today I want to celebrate by running across Ponte 25 de Abril to stand at the foot of Cristo Rei in Almada.
As I near the bridge, I fear that it may be inaccessible by foot, and just like everything in Lisbon, there is no direct route to get there. I turn away from the river and up an uneven hill back into the city. The climb seems interminable, but if I can just cut over I could get closer to road leading to the bridge. It’s on my left, then it’s directly ahead, then it disappears behind office buildings that look like they would be more at home in communist Leningrad. I turn down what I hope will be a shortcut and end up in a dead-end alley where a mother cat lying near a festering pile of old spaghetti, feeds her feral kittens. This is a sign.
Ponte 25 de Abril is now to me a rainbow whose pot of gold I shall never discover. I check the GPS on my phone to find a route home. A blank grid. No service. Lost in Lisbon. Deflated.
Directionless, I scale another hill. Women in sun dresses sip wine and watch the American sweating profusely, the look of loss on his glistening mug drawing their sympathy. Then I see it: Aqueduto da Águas Livres. My faith in Cristo Rei dashed, I set my tired feet in the direction of the great aqueduct.
I pass the Cemitério dos Prazeres whose visitors’ sign tells tourists that the guided tours are “Trageted to interessent institutions and individuals, they pretend to be cultural tours through the alleys of the cemetery.” For a city whose residents speak English so well, someone should have consulted a translator.
A horse with blinders, I gallop towards my goal, disregarding architecture and art. I blend in, disappear.
I am a crumbling neighborhood. I’m a highway. I’m a park.
Some tattooed teens kick a deflated soccer ball back and forth. Collectively they eye me; who is this dripping red monster?
I pretend to ignore them as I make my way up yet another hill to the far end of the aqueduct. There I climb atop the over 250-year-old structure and look towards Lisbon. Dehydrated and delusional, I imagine myself as Diogo Alves, “The Assassin of Águas Livres Aqueduct.” It’s 1839, and I have just robbed a middle-aged woman of her escudos. Here atop the aqueduct, I will drag her to the middle of my perch over the Alcantara valley and push her to her death. They’ll call it a suicide, but I’ll know better.
I am not Diogo Alves though. I am just a writer, tired, thirsty, hungry, and in need of a shower. It is time to head back.
Every street I take ends at a fence or winds back in the direction of the park. Adventure is quickly turning to misadventure.
Why is there a horse chained in the middle of a field of dead grass? Another sign? Just as I am accepting that I will die panting on Rua Miguel Ângelo de Blasco, I see salvation: a bus stop.
The schedule at the bus stop assures me that this bus will take me back to the Praca do Marqués de Pombal where I watched Brazil take a German beating that left Lisboans in tears. As I wait for the bus, two elderly men take their seats besides me. My odor is pungent, and I am more aware than ever that when I stand up, I will leave a puddle.
The bus is early. The bus is crowded. The crowd is not as excited to see me as I am to be on that bus.
An Asian couple clings to one another, and when she kisses him, I shiver. Maybe it is the cool air on my hot skin.
At my stop, I remove my shirt as I step off the bus. I am still nearly three miles from home. Jogging unsteadily down Avenida da Liberdade, I pass the hotel that Denis Johnson and his wife made their home for two weeks. I think of him sitting at all of those readings and lectures, cane propped beside him, socked feet strapped into sandals. It took me days to work up the courage to approach him.
Down a side street that I hope will cut off some time, I pass a fruit stand with navel oranges the size of cabbages. I must. I do. Thank god I brought money. There I am standing shirtless in dripping short shorts, earphones dangling from my head, ripping into an orange like Mr. Peepers from Saturday Night Live. I want another and another, but I know what that will do to my already churning stomach. A quick “Obrigado” to the owner, and I am off again.
When I reach the foot of Beco do Monte, I stop my pedometer. Eleven miles, almost to the foot. The cat that I have dubbed Fernando Pessoa rubs against my sticky leg and licks me. “What a life, Fernando,” I tell him and walk towards a warm shower, a cold beer, and a nap.