• Wake up at 7am. Kindly curse the birds that can’t stop speaking. Apologize and abruptly roll onto the floor as if to put out all ensuing metaphorical fires.
• Check the internet to note that it still exists. Read comments on various news sites. Thoughtfully stroke beard hair while wearing sad clown makeup.
• Brush teeth. Give a groggy, bedhead smile to the non-existent surveillance cameras.
• Make two pots of coffee in quick succession. Burn oatmeal. Elatedly eat it with maple syrup anyway.
• Hide in the basement and pretend it’s a gateway to another world. Emerge periodically in clothes from different eras. Convince at least one imaginary person that time travel has transpired. If only to kiss Amelia Earhart.
• Practice drums. Only toms. Give up all unnecessary thinking.
• There should be no more than five perishable items in the refrigerator at one time. Or everything goes. (Two couples of produce and one scruffy loner of lowfat milk.)
• Finish the rock opera that’s been lingering around the notebooks for too long. “What Are We Going To Do With Randy?” A squirrel is born to human parents. They hide him in a cinderblock wall where he tirelessly practices a tiny, magical guitar. He becomes famous, leaves home and never looks back.
• With absolute conviction, wear a straw hat and adopt a cliched southern accent. (Do not respond to the name Matthew or any of its derivations. Ever.)
• More animal lamps.
• Slice up four pickles, some red cabbage and a handful carrots. Use a fake Russian accent and grouse at the ghost-like guards.
• Keep saving up for that Cross Classic Century, 14 Karat Gold ballpoint pen. (Oh, baby!)
• Write a screenplay about people who talk about writing screenplays.
• Write a treatise about the sarcastic soul living in the mirror. (There is still time to repent! Or maybe just try being a decent human being.)
• Make a third pot of coffee. Incant the words “Hotsy Totsy!” when the water boils.
• Pet the Mets baseball cap on the coffee table. Two times on the outcroppings of the N, three times on the tail of the Y.
• Work on an unconditionally fictional song concerning living in a small city as a quiescent balladeer, slowly becoming a useless, childless commodity within a murmuring community.You know, fun stuff.
• Consider celibacy and sobriety. Fall down laughing. Bruise knee. Make sure no one’s looking.
• Go for a run on one of three increasingly familiar loops. Tree, tree, car, tree, car, tree, car. Repeat while reciting a list of complaints in time to the pavement patter. Muttering teasing wheezes until the ominous thoughts and clouds evaporate, until it’s only Daft Punk and air guitar.
• Make two perfect seven-minute eggs with blanched broccoli and Sriracha. Eat slowly while staring at the metal arrows from the Several Arrows Later Anniversary Tour. High-five forehead.
• Play guitar to Tom Petty songs. Sing like Petty, squint like Petty. Be Petty.
• Run fingers along the spines of books. Try to recall the contents. Argue with David Foster Wallace out loud. Sorely lose. Make sure no one’s looking.
• Eat eight pickles. Stare at empty pickle jar.
• Pace through the house. Pace through all the practical plans that got left off the list. Check the level of the fire extinguisher. Forget everything else.
• Pull my sweet Sleipnir out of the driveway like a creaky viking ship. A late-light captain sporting a Mets hat, in a bespeckled white van and some sick sonar presets on the green-lit radio. Slightly swerve the high seas of Broadway as the sun fades over the Hudson. Plunk down at Kingston Point. Watch another day cut and run.
• Go home. Do the dishes. Read Denis Johnson. Turn off the bedside horse lamp and listen to the fan, the cars peeling out deep into the night. The same restlessness and desire is everywhere.
• Fall asleep at the bottom of the bed with a dumb smile and just enough of a sense of belonging to do it all again.
Shuffling awkwardly across a hot, uneven seashore, I overhear three young women on an oversized Ariel towel. “You are both my maids of honor! There is no way I could’ve gotten through, like, life without, like, the both you!” There is squealing, there is hugging. The ever-present teenage version of myself might’ve once leaned on derision, conjuring images of party buses and black lights, sinking down into deep, dark thoughts. Yet these unpretentious noblewomen are happy. Their future is unfolding, holding tangible prospects, a lifetime of swelling, undulating, escalating possibilities.
Suddenly, the ocean.
Pebbles and sand shift and slip upon approach. The legs become unsure. I severely disappoint my brains by mouthing the words, “Don’t be a beach.”
All around, up and down the shore is the white noise of water and people shrieking and laughing, as if none of them had ever attended the elite seminar on faking it: Livin’ And Lovin’ for Likes!™ The figures in the distance disappear in the golden sea mist. Brilliantly beautiful ghosts believing in the moment.
Water up the nose from a miniature rogue breaker, the hair becomes an impromptu pompadour. I’m in!
Submerge, cold, blind, dying, surface, sweet! Treading water. Crawling up waves. Diving into the crest. There is no thought except for exact instantaneousness. Then I ruin it by thinking about how I’m thinking about thinking about it. (I love small talk at parties, ostentatious bows on gifts and conversations with cats.)
Still, it’s radically thanatical. Treading water triumphs over all the overachieving, uninvited monsters that live in my milquetoast mind. It. Is. Perfect. Perfectly imperfect and mysterious. Gritty green water. Swooping seagulls. Unseen fins and fans swirl from below. The massive ocean, the limitlessness and limits of our human life. Clumsy mortals harmonize and shout with the relentless natural world, a summertime chorus of existential splendor. Laughter, legitimate laughter.
As I lean forward to reconnect with land and make my stand, the tide pulls back against shore. A rushing rock squarely strikes a slowly healing sprained toe. A shock of pain lights up my flashing, flickering eyelids. I feel the skin break. Terrestrial reality sets in.
Hands and knees, clawing against the surf, through once-magnificent fortresses and up and onto an ugly orange beach towel. Sprawling, strange, stone-wrecked. (I fall asleep imagining the four-wheeling lifeguard patrol might see fit to mercifully roll me back from whence I came, back to the abyss.)
And then there’s that unmistakable rubbery stop-start rhythm. Quickly shifting, a springing rap introduction rises out of the earth. From a temporary campsite a few dunes down, someone is playing Chaka Kahn’s cover of I Feel For You on a distorting jambox. The foot throbs in time to the synth bass, Stevie Wonder’s harmonica soars — a good groove is greater than any magic, farandaway superior to the coolest cure.
Sandy. Sundrenched. Hobbling. I go back out and in. After the music dies, there’s nothing on dry land that makes as much sense as the immediate, upright call of the loyal, roiling wild. A proud stumble into the churning foam. Treading water on the apex of every wave. After wave. After wave.
I never meant to bring you down. I love you and your watery palace. Though I may not be the strongest swimmer, I always took a small medal home (whenever everyone was awarded a small medal).
I’m sorry about my flipper-less kind and the way they shake their heads to sullenly declare that they’re “treading water.”
It’s been negatively appropriated. It’s been scrambled and stolen to infer the abjection of going nowhere. When it plainly, unassumingly and awesomely means existing to exist.
We do exist to exist. We do party to party. We are going nowhere (until we get to Mars). And within that simplicity we’re supposed to amplify every damn heartening thought and deed as loud and far as our hopeful arms and ideas can flap and majestically flounder. Broken bones and all.
Next summer, I promise to make it right with my silent protest in the middle of the Pacific. You’ll see. Someday when I’m good and gone, my picture will stand high and proud in the sooty hall of fame of pointless splashing. You’ll see.
Two blurs appear at the edge of the woods, untended pastures of tall, tan grass make the indistinct shapes flicker in the fading sun like an old zoetrope. One gray, the other white-striped rust.
A mutual declaration — a gentle promise, a solid pact — had been made to not take the summer seriously and to do so as a duo.
The two beasts nodded from a safe distance. They didn’t get too close to one another: They knew the nature of themselves and other feral forest friends enough to avoid the sudden snarls and gnarls of wild teeth and tongue.
In the early morning hours, Fox and Wolf would lazily hunt mice and squirrels. But they mostly found themselves digging through the refuse of the permanent weekenders who seemed to intentionally set out lavish meals, day after day after day. Fine wilderness catering, with plates of food stacked high, uneaten potato salad and cheeseburgers perfectly perched beneath a trash can’s loosely fitting lid.
They slept on opposite sides of a cool mountain meadow, guzzling fermented berries, sleeping in the spotted shade and haze of pollen.
“You good, Wolf?” yelped the red tail.
“Fuck you, Fox.”
“Perfect. I could take that as another example of your coarse and mentally deficient comportment. But I would prefer to think of it as a fellow soldier’s unsentimental way of articulating small truths. Perhaps even a scrap of love to be shared between us, as we are soon to be swallowed by this mellifluous and magnificent eventide.”
“Fuck you, Fox.”
“And a million blessings to you, Wolf.” And Fox dozed off again, while the night sky snuck in and took its rightful place over his pointed head.
Their fur grew thin on their hides, they were scrawny and light. Blonde streaks sprouted along their spines, and as they poked their paws at the night sky, their simple wonder made them appear to smile upwards in the blue light.
There was no mythology, just the principle powers. The sun, the moon, the seasons, the weather and bears. Stars were irrelevant, distracting yet brilliant bits of pointless light. Fox and Wolf oriented themselves on scent and softly worn paths they pawed through under- and overgrowth. They were rippling with instinct.
They didn’t need poetry to understand reality; reality was already poetic. (A cardinal is bright red because it has to be. The beaver paddles quietly, building lumpy dams. Everyone mates. Newborns wrestle and roll. The wind speaks, the animals listen. Some die old, some are eaten. In eternal rest, all the same.)
Wolf growled softly through the corner of his mouth. As if the beauty of the night was worth trusting from his side of the meadow. Fireflies mimicking stars, the cicadas eternally commissioned to make their magical racket. “There are inescapable truths. Traps of the mind that’ll tear you apart before you’ve woken up.”
“What do I know? I have not understood a she-wolf enough to know truths beyond our grove of birch and pine. There seems to be a softness that is always beyond leg’s reach.” He stopped himself when his throat choked, a reflexive emergency escape from an endless thought.
The next day was incredibly hot. Too hot to hunt, too hot to scavenge. They rested their bellies in the shallow waters of the clear creek until cool evening air started to flow down the sides of the mountain. Wolf’s throat relaxed and opened again.
“So I guess now is all that matters. This night, these breaths, this breeze. You and me and our modest little meadow. You, you stupid, pretentious fox.”
Caught off guard, Fox sneered and then gave himself away by smiling broadly, unselfconsciously. Contentment coursed through his animal veins. Then fast and deep asleep.
Still, summer would someday end. Hunger was another truth. If it came down to it, they would try to rip each other apart. Wolf, with power. Fox, with guile. Wolf would win, but not without bloodied ankles and painful nips to the necks.
And he would lose his friend.
Ice cream dripped down past the waffle cone, a peppermint chocolate chip battle wound spreading out onto my hand, soggily spiderwebbing along forearm veins to the elbow’s tip, falling and splattering on the rubber toe box of my white Converse hightops. Pastel green gore all over the floor.
“I like another Matt. A different Matt. An older Matt who doesn’t complain about tennis skirts and Indiana Jones. Goodbye.”
Sugar honey iced tea.
My mom was in the midst of her second divorce. We were retreating, moving south in the morning. There would be no drawn-out, long-distance innocence. The girl with transparent eyebrows and reptile blood suppressed a smile and vanished into the humid summer dusk.
The ice cream continued to liquefy while I remained frozen in front of that final sunset, the end of the world. There was no way to live or love again. Twelve years old and ruined. Ragnarok!
As I look back on the heartaches, the Elizabeths, the inspirational St. Augustines and harebrained Oaklands, I see that I have soared upon a lifetime of mediocre melodrama. Badly acted gasps of the everlasting last breath. Candlelit vigils under sheet tents, beached and lolling in my own bed. Scroll, scroll, scrolling the first page of Moby Dick ’til it becomes a memorized manifesto. A year-six Johnny Marr, soloing sadly sung onomatopoeias. Shouting every single syllable of Dire Straits’ Romeo and Juliet with absolute sincerity. “You and me babe, how about it?”
But it isn’t blood that covers the curtain legs. It’s probably just ketchup.
Tragedy isn’t awful once the ice cream is eaten. Tragedy gives us another shot. Ragnarok is our enduring rebirth. Crimson and clover, over and over.
Years later, the girl is now a woman with soft sunmade wrinkles. She comes to a show, clutching the incredible ability to laugh at her life, to laugh at my life. Unhappily married, happily loving top-notch tequila. She smiles at me in way that finally feels real. After all these years we are finally real people. Finally, to feel.
The front lawn is crisp and beige from sporadic rain and bad soil. Dead clover and crabgrass crunch underfoot. (This is where I tilt my homesteading head back, look up to the sky in anguish and ask the castles of clouds, “Why?” Why do the blotches of blue above deny me the simple pleasure of a humble patch of green? My modest suburban dreams have turned into a caramel-colored nightmare. Looking down from Valhalla, an aspiring clown appears to stand amidst the world’s tiniest wasteland.)
A break! I split in two and outpace the picket-fence blemishes of my distracted soul, jumping in the van to drive! Down to the river, down to Kingston Point to recollect the constant sense of summers past!
Stomach down, sandy arms folded across the face. A towel underneath, stretching out, from elbows to shin. A thin border between the brutally hot sand and brutally hot sunlight. The eyes lazily peer through the limbs. Lips taste salt on the wrist. As if the mouth were poignantly practicing for someone else. As if there were more.
In an earlier consciousness, I dwelled in the slow-motion longing of television commercials. To feel the phony mirth to the fullest, to laugh and lovingly push someone on a swing. Or to paddle down winding creeks, through overhanging weeping willows, playfully splashing pure, oar-flung water on the hippie maiden at the bow. My breath would tingle with peppermint freshness! My new and improved hair, winged and floating around my head!
After the dreamy advertisements, my sisters’ convoluted stories took over once again. I would fill my unfulfilled fantasies with imagined tragic endings. Pouring mourning on my pre-teen sorrow.
Closing my eyes, the frolicking fake lover fell, choking out a few last breaths of Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton. Other days, our canoe capsized and we slept forever, embracing underwater. A warming smile would spread as we felt the soil simultaneously falling over our gentle heads.
I was a fun kid.
The crushes began in summer. Hampton Beach, Echo Lake. Through the arms, glimpsing from my manmade lookout. The tan lines that suggested clothes could move or, further, be removed. Names that were repeated in breezeless heat. Kara, Elizabeth, Paige, Stacy and Stacey. These names were junior high mantras, titles to the best tortures under the intransigent sun.
Unselfconscious eyes and an honest grin. That was all I was ever sought. That the was the key. Then I could begin whittling away, spouting my senseless stories of pointless discoveries and frog facts.
If it worked, we would stay there and dig into the beach with our fingers and talk. The soft sound of waves perfectly filling in all the awkward silences.
The crush is the undercurrent of all desire. It is the beginning and end of innocence. An unspoken ache of the unattainable. The lonely beachfront look between folded arms.
A little heartache never hurt anyone. In fact, I don’t think anything would’ve ever been created without it.
To nobly live in vain is as godlike as we can get. Even Freya still searches for her oft missing husband. Casting magnificent spells and crying red gold. In a chariot pulled by two cats, Pickles and Ginger.
Here, in the grinding gears of summer.
This is when the cracks start showing. Weeds come up through patched pavement beneath skies of sheer, unsaturated clouds. After the 4th, heaving semis show up to unpack mechanical skeletons, setting up a carnival in the Hannaford parking lot. Simulated death machines for the savage youth! Globs of dirty oil hang from spinning shafts. The maintenance men don’t look convinced by the grinding gears of summer and don’t care about the cotton candy cardboard stuck to their unlaced work books.
My mother was too cautious to let us run loose at carnivals. She had a fear of stoves and strangers that kept us strapped in the papoose for many moons. We weren’t allowed to ride bikes on proper roads until I was twelve and Anna was thirteen.
A yardsale find! My first greenlit vehicle was a brittle, red ten-speed Schwinn. Every moving part had rust, rattling and ca-CHUNK-ing with each shift. The handlebar tape looked like it was trying to escape its clunky, cheap life. Brakes were for babies!
I don’t know why this bike seemed suitable. The parental controls were somehow scrambled by a few blasts of WD-40 (which existed in the semi-scientific kingdom of band-aids, hydrogen peroxide and castor oil).
The first and last trip was to the ski resort, to the lost river. Five short yet endless miles, round trip. To hell and back.
These tires were tired rubber flaps, deflated and bald. Split by sun and time. These were streets of frost-heaved asphalt, shoulder-less gravel canyons on either side. Ditches of perilous rock and glass. Winding country roads run by Trans Am and Ford, neck-reddened skippers compelled to throw half-full cans of Busch and Bud at all motorless wayfarers — “Damn those innocent sorcerers and their motor-less, two-wheeled contraptions. Damn their strange, supernatural freedom!” These were the terrifyingly true grinding gears of summer.
But we made it. One day, all the way to the river without my mom. I immediately slipped in the current and dropped the backpack boombox into the water. There would be no Kinks or Cars on the hot summer rocks. My generally disappointed “girlfriend” was additionally disappointed with me. And I did not care — I was on my own.
These days, I head to the small county airports and wait for the last flights to land at dusk. Cessnas do a flimsy taxi, turn and silent stop. Wood blocks render them motionless in the open field breeze. The enlightenment fades as I wait for Huginn and Muninn to return, to tell me about what’s really happening in the rest of the world. Something beyond heartbeats. Beyond the sparklers and the slow boil of summer anxiety.
While I don’t mind falling asleep on the hood of my car, I can’t help but wonder what’s really going to ensue. Later, in the light of a noble, distinctive drive-in that has since yielded to a handheld screen.
Half-heard in a semi-slumber — the fan underneath makes random pleas for coolness while crickets seem to get lazier and lazier as each day gets hotter and hotter. All slowly consumed by the grinding gears of summer.
The question is always why.
Why is there toothpaste in my hair?
Why do these squirrels insist on digging holes in my dying lawn?
Why did I work with the wrong people to release our last album?
To give my brain a break and/or to be as impartial as my feisty mind will allow: I didn’t know these were the wrong people. In voice and in person, they seemed like genuine slices of pineapple pizza. In reality and as time traveled, they exposed themselves as pool-hall grifters, just trying to claw out a percentage of tour income, of royalties. All without lifting one chalky finger.
It is depressing to join forces with lazy, evil meatballs. From a whisper to a shout, all the basic objectives and requests were argued, delayed, ignored, and eventually exterminated. Leading to a year-long, low-budget battle with these minor-league demons.
We fought back with switchblade combs and howling melodies, shifting to a different name for a nearly-simultaneous release: The Lowlifes, Still Summer.
The Lowlifes. If anyone is reading this, while I tap the imaginary microphone to make sure it’s on — I wanted to claim personal responsibility for our troubles by insulting ourselves first. Basically, I was throwing the first stone. At my very own glass house. Because I am ultimately accountable for what goes down in my garden.
But it was more than a musical middle finger. It was an assertion of love. (If you gagged at the last sentence, I get it. I gag whenever my sisters eat cottage cheese.)
Despite all unpleasantries that gurgle up from the depths of the music business — the serpentine journalists, the lecherous lawyers, the ego-driven agents, the overlords of publishing — I love what I do.
I don’t know where I belong in this world, but I love music and I love writing it.
The point isn’t to fit into an easy, empty acceptance. The point is to do everything I can to be myself and then start turning, spinning, revolving outward. Toward anyone else who weaves their fingers through a chain link fence, contemplating the cars from an overpass on a hazy summer afternoon.
Studios and stages become downright awkward and embarrassing when it all falls apart. But this damn trajectory has never been painless. I was just trying to score the simple connections. I still am.
I guess that’s what happens with satan impersonators and lousy contracts. Worthless and money-driven. A bad contract can really ruin a decent lifetime.
In the future, there will be none of that. From here on out, there will be silvery, linen trousers and full-sailed ocean dreams. There will be mountain rivers, picnic tables, oak trees. Welcome heat waves, all-consuming blizzards. Sipping on the realisms, while still wrestling with hope. And mostly, trusting the people who know what it means to love.
Deep, deep, deeper into the empty summer mind at midnight. Til it’s just an imaginary clickety clack of the queen of hearts stuck in the broken spokes of my metaphysical BMX bike.
Sometimes at dusk, these song birds sound like they know everything. The louder I sing, the more they majestically send their notes to heaven. Mine proceed to sluggishly bounce like deflated birthday balloons across the living room floor. Wandering tumbleweeds of misshapen thoughts.
As the executive editor of my pocket-sized universe, I spasmodically modify the scenery in an attempt to vanquish inertia.
Dammit! A shaky wheelbarrow-life should always scramble forward, fighting, clawing, striving to place my crooked right hand on the unreachable horizon. (The left is busy with a sandwich.)
Pack and crash out the door, the roller-bag flopping to its side, staggering behind like an injured comrade, across the cracks and weeded copses of bluestone sidewalks. Follow the cigarette-butt trails, the shattered-glass galaxies, eyes up and down and all around, a wild/wide-eyed escape to monolithic living. All the way down to the city on the the most expansive earthbound chariot conceived by modern-day mortals!
I type these, the first few words from my shrunken, smudged seat on a Trailways bus. I make my escape from the lush, calm countryside and into the vertices — the ocular explosion, unmistakably electric, shuddering with a fever pitch thrum. Summoning a shock to my circuitry at the fulcrum of civilization!!!
NYC. The unparalleled silver radiance, refracted, reflected shards of skyscraping sunlight. The choreography of a million floating souls, all inapposite and angular and spastically sparkling. Tripping and falling out the hydraulic bus door into the maelstrom. Golly and gosh.
A Short Conversation With The Everyday Amnesiac Inside My Mind.
(It hits quick and hard as I bow to the chaos and dance into the fire.)
Do you remember why you pulled up stakes and headed for the hills? Those subway platform anxiety attacks, the insurmountable price of everything, the commoditization of each word? Whiskey for the nerves, the constant depths of the deepest breaths. Neighbors grouse about the slightness of one acoustic strum while subwoofers emote floor-shaking, Shakespearian moans.
The midtown meetings decked to the gills with sushi and superlatives. Small talk lassoes, handshakes, hat tips, high fives. A deceivingly free lunch attached to every single specie of self-proclaimed expertise: publicist, manager, agent, lawyer, sea serpent. (Good afternoon Mr. Lake, Mr. Jörmungandr is ready to see you now.)
In the end, the answer is to slip the headphones on and score the city-world the way it works best. From lightning bolt cacophony to quiet valleys down low between the tracks, complete control suddenly and unsarcastically makes a surprise appearance from within.
Despite every sparked blitz of external information, the true transformation remains internal. From the inner crimson seas of slogging organs, to the outermost heavens, far above and beyond the realms of sin-prone skin — alternate realities of perception are as quick as a blink and as prompt as pressing PLAY.
Deep, deep, deeper into the empty summer mind at midnight.
The Desert Island has become nearly impossible to reach.
An imaginary hobo ship of inappropriately appropriated styrofoam and broken beer coolers sails upon listless seas with no sign of the unpopulated haven. Sure, there are cupholders. And it’s not so bad to just float.
Flippers flippering. As a palm slaps the water, the juvenile splash explodes for no one.
Sunburned and squinting. The touristic oceanic dot drifts further and further, sketching the edges of oblivion to sweet, soft ukulele music. Pure scurvied delusions of lonely, droning feedback.
Herein is the problem and solution: The island cannot be reached with only one set of eyes and ideas. There has to be an alternative view, a reciprocating entity, a bear-trap prototype traced with four connecting pupils. The only part of the equation that demands any thought or action is the identity of the accompanist. Who is your equal, your other half, your best, first and last mate?
You can choose anyone to go with you to your earthly Valhalla. In the Mad Lib Universal Work Book of your Mind, etch that name onto the smoky tablet of the blue above. Because you’ve arrived at the everlasting scorpion bowl. And to whom you hand the extra straw might only be one cresting wave away.
Who matters most?
Hold on. I don’t know if I’m selling my soul enough: This isn’t your ordinary desert island.
Tropical trees overflow with assorted salted nuts and always-ripe berries. Like Freya to Freyr, a naturally formed hot tub lies in perfect contrast to the cool, deep pools of fresh drinking water. Dolphins obviously speak in a British accents and are ridiculously polite, if not a little pretentious. The weather never gets angry, the beach is always the bed.
Sure, the luaus can become tedious. Cliches materialize quickly when you’re drinking from a fractured coconut in a dirty grass skirt. But every sunrise and nightfall is breathtaking, an expanding purple and red bruise, the rolling wrestling match between heaven and earth.
To all the summer school teachers who wish to understand the subtext in order to army crawl through class time:
I/we didn’t show up into this existence to merely/meekly see a movie — I/we came to wrestle. I/we came to connect.
Dear Skeptics, please believe me. I am not writing these words to betray our dreamy garden of doubtful visions. The small-minded throngs and disingenuous forces will continue to be the target of our sarcasm and gutsy sighs. The official eye-roll faithfully remains in the repertoire.
But when I tell you there was not a cloud in the sky, you must trust that it was a sincerely clean slate. (A deafening silence arose in the complaint department.)
North-South Lake’s escarpment trail isn’t any kind of grueling spirit quest; there are no claims to greatness or valiant conquests. Rather, it’s a place to drop cell service and get lost in complete, unmarketable contemplation.
Out of the car and into the woods, a sudden shimmering cathedral, flashing green glassed light, popping visions of wildflowers, purple and white. The wind against the branches making the floor of forest sparkle like limpid Mediterranean water. Billowing ferns — it is one huge undulating world out there! All manner of tree and brush, birch mingling with oak under the white pine towers. Birds and swaying trees speaking back and forth between song and creak. The whispered roar of breeze-blown leaves, a constant chorus open to every single interpretation.
Close-up on the lichen, the striations, the parallel grooves in the massive boulders. Zoom out to the surrounding mountains, appearing to be glacial waves cresting on a turbulent moment, yet frozen in time.
Focus in on the fly in the mouth of a dead bird, caterpillars descending from canopy on their incandescent silk. The shot widens upon cliffs of cloven boulders. At some point they tumultuously fractured into mammoth puzzle pieces. Somber statues of ancient action. Guardian lions, arboreal and wild. Eternal seniors to my endless freshman-isms.
In the very real reverence of our intricate coexistence, the interconnected complexities of our natural world, I’m silent.
Virescence, a humble hue transcending perception. The vividness, just as bright without sight. Fallen pine needles, ripped fronds, turned earth band together into the deep, undeniable scent: Green!
A shared thread between our senses becomes a shared thread among humankind. The cynics, disillusioned with their doubt, disperse into a sleepy June dusk. Sorry, Skeptics, but it appears as if the mythological simplicity of truth and beauty is the only real reality.
Every stupid thing I’ve ever said, done and sung eats crow in the humbling grandeur of the organic gears — in the light speed of a split second, I understand. Life, sex, death, repeat! Our mighty, thriving Midgard engendered by Ymir’s slain body!
Every time I string words together and leave their knotted vines exposed in the arms of a towering maple, I wonder.
What happens if this is the last time we speak? (This goes all the way out to the Time Warner customer service representatives who’ve been the centrifuge of so much pain.)
Will you see me getting smaller in your rearview, waving my broadsword in the air, stomping my feet and shouting at the sky? The less and less becoming more and more, slowly evaporating in the watery air, down and out into an impressionistic naught.
I would prefer to be appropriately adorned in my mausoleum, regarded rightly in the afterlife. The narrative requires at least one scene where I’m proudly marching down the middle of the sun-showered street in my finest trousers. The virtual tombstone should have no fewer than one exclamation point, one expletive, one engraved image of a heroic parking space victory.
¡Because every moment on earth is perilous!
Sharks! Jets! Behind the wheel, driving my van like an undercover cop, on the trail of some seriously suspicious thin air! My wide-eyed brother used tell me that you could drown in a spoonful of water! (He also ate ants.)
I seek thrills in the most mundane moments of the night and day. I prefer running after dark in only black attire. I can fit inside a modest-sized industrial clothes dryer. How does it really feel to be whacked with the weed whacker? And what does gasoline actually taste like?
Yesterday the rain became cold and thick, thunderbolts cracked over the mountains. I sprinted through the weighted water feeling extreme and electric!
These innocuous highs could turn into some kind of suburban folklore. The hurdling yodeler who lost his life somewhere between Lucas and Linderman. If you listen to the wind, you can still make out the strained gravelly refrains.
From here to eternity, goodness is the goal. Unfortunately my words and actions don’t always reflect the best I’ve got to give. I am a stumbler, I am a mis-speaker, a dry-land flounderer, a caustic cosmonaut, the patron saint of forgotten birthdays, loose change and lingering fluffs of lint. But for the rest of the day, I’d like to dwell in the valley of graceful, blameless, historic nobility. Powdered wig and all.
In the early summers after my parents split up, I would visit my dad by myself. Piper, Peter and Anna were all still angry and defiantly attending soccer camp. So it was just me and him.
My father lived by himself in the big yellow house we grew up in, on a mountainside in Jefferson, New Hampshire. The bright clapboards and blue shutters faced due west over a stonewall, out onto breathtaking snowcapped peaks in winter and the lush explosion of green in the warm seasons. I was prone to excessive bouts of spreading out across the grass and listening to the world murmur at dusk.
On the earlier side of one spectacularly stunning sunset, my father put the dining room table and chairs in the middle of the field above the house as if we were on a makeshift New England safari.
He cooked up a mock-Thai meal: garden vegetables in curried coconut milk. His humanitarian visits to Southeast Asia provided him an inside track to some of the hotter chiles. When he asked me how hot, I raised my chin and told him that I was not afraid.
Two small, bygone figures in a faraway meadow appear. They sit and eat as the sun slowly sinks over the highlands, the deepening red color wheel of light matching their contorted faces.
It was the hottest food I’ve ever devoured. And neither of us would back down. We were pretending to be the men of westerns, the soldiers in World War II movies. We laughed and perspired all the way to the last bite.
When I close my eyes, I’m still there.
My father was a great and terrible person. If I mull over the entirety of his existence and try to make sense of our intertwined lives, I invariably fail to understand.
The imprint of that night is how I want to remember him. Charming, ridiculous and full of real love. He could convince anyone of anything by making simple shapes in the air with his hands. And I wholly believed in that evening. That’s enough.
* Lie prostrate, head pressed against the wooden galley floor, for seven hours. Believe that the impression ingrained upon the cheek is a buried treasure map, leading to a minute of fleeting happiness.
* Sit crosslegged in the living room to kill time in a condescending spiritual position.
* Pretend to be a family of four and order the proportionate volume of Chinese food. Navigate the chariot to the most remote corner of a parking lot, under a street lamp, wolfing dumplings and blasting Styx. (Hand in the air, spinning fake drumstick, is optional.)
* Eyes closed, play the lottery. Wearing a powdered wig.
* Sleep on the couch because the bedroom is too far. Sleep on the stairs because the bedroom is still too far. Sleep across the bed because it feels like a trip abroad.
* Imaginarily catch the gravest infection, pardoning the ghost parade of remorseful allies for their innumerable social disappointments. (Followed by the supernatural musical scribes, apologizing for their unwarranted harshnesses, admitting their envy.) (So many powdered wigs, so little time.)
* Make fun of the three sisters, their husbandry, careers and their casseroles.
* Replay every syllable and every glass from the night before. Using a red mental pen, cross out all participation in conversation. (See also: Using an eraser to erase the mirrored face, raising a running chainsaw overhead to elicit a response. Listening to Billy Idol. What demon has possessed the presets?)
* Boiling water touch test. Hammer thumb test. Blowtorch hair test. Redneck gas station free speech test.
* Beer and songs for Sunday breakfast! Nap for lunch! (There are guitars in bed here. Within the sound hole, they hold some kind of secret. All the dark forces sit on the edge and let their legs dangle down. They wait for the rain to fix our fortunes. Nothing happens.)
(Dear Editor: I tried to reach beyond these walls to get to greater truths. My agenda was noble, my mission clear. I was to soar on the winds that Njord brought forth, uncovering clumsy veracity and awkward splendor. On my knees to the manmade gods, experiencing the immediacy of a clamoring world. And then I turned on my Google Images to gain a personal perspective — Google Images has begun rewriting my history, editing my pictures according to algorithms of perceived happiness and success. Reality and self-realized meaning have begun to escape my fingertips. The underlying effort of all our modern socialization is to draw a veil over heartache, disease and death, jettisoning real and beautiful organs out of existence. And so I retreat and continue to make my navel gazing manifestos. Maybe someone else will hear me. Maybe my nonviolent whiskey militia of one will matter to some other one.)