I’d placed my faith in the wisdom of famous nomads, taken flight from safe restraints. Gone were the dreams of childhood, the joy of birthdays, familial affection. Hunger for the sun-bleached highways and the beauty of unwalked streets; afternoons of careless horizons. The college dormitories, the dust of traditions, tuition and careers and the map of a future planned by a degree — oh how sweet the heat of lost hills when the dogwoods are in bloom. How at peace the heart can be when it wants nothing but the lonely road, and has it. If only for a moment. If only for a moment to wake in that Carolina field and feel the peach sun drying the dew in your hair: the new day pregnant and unknown, beckoning with sunshine on the backroads and strangers, fast talkers, heavy drinkers, kind souls who drive you fifteen miles and maybe stop for lunch. If only for a moment to have your heart swept by peace and the innocence of wanting nothing more. I was unfit for the halls of laws, unfit for the ivy’d desks of poets and philosophers, lost soul looking for a river to gently guide my years. A decade of drinking, a decade of dissolute evenings and yearnings for a sunset to capture my eyes. The long road led me to you. And now that we’ve wasted so much of our youth on a carousel of broken friends and crowded sidewalks, again to find ourselves hungry for hillsides and roadtrips and campsites overlooking eternity — to find our angry hearts hungry and struggling to pay bills, stuck on the economic conveyor belt of bills and jobs and deadlines. We’ve got no degrees, we’ve got no skills, we ain’t the motivation for MBAs and 401ks. We got dreams, honey, and a long muddy hillside even Sisyphus ain’t damned to climb.
If you’re going to do something extraordinary with your life, you need to start at it young. What you’re attempting is life outside the crowd which is where all the opportunities are, the money and the resources. Not just mansions and nice suits but even rental apartments and being able to buy enough food for your (eventual) family, you need to be in the crowd, or at least nibbling what they drop; even if you aren’t in an office and looking forward to casual Fridays, you’re making ends meet by serving those types of people, the crowd. So if you want out of the crowd you need to start at it early, because you need to learn how to eat + sleep + shower (if that’s your things) + fuck + survive in the shadows on the other side of the mountain range. If you want absolutely anything the crowd has — a cabin in the woods, a motorcycle, clothing, children, a stable life, a calm death — at any point in your life, you need to start early because the crowd has a monopoly on all of those decent things and so if you dream of finding them on the other side of the mountains, you need to start early. You’re attempting to do what few people have lately done. You’re starting from scratch, with no guidebook, few resources and few friends; no friends who can help.
But what you’re doing is worth it. Because at no time in history have basic human goals, a piece of property, food, clothing, an honest death, been so monopolized and guarded by the crowd, the mountain passes so completely avoided by highways and main streets and side roads, that to find them and understand what they offer is a feat worth its own weight.
And what I have to say here is something about college, the social pipeline from school to school, desk to desk, a new desk when you graduate from your college desk. It’s a pipeline. And I’ve run out steam to keep this rant going.
Suburbia plots boring Friday nights — verdant roads winding along little houses with front porch lights. A poor place to put a college campus. Which goes to the reason the twenty-something finds himself standing, quite stoned, in front of the “cat house”. For lack of better things to do. Small-town campus monotony, he would like to know if Nothing is real. The house is pushed back through a garden from the ‘80s: a trellis thick with ivy, flowerbeds wooly with towering dandies gone to seed. A rust-eaten wheelbarrow, and a rust-eaten screendoor, a watering-can overtaken by soil: the slow Earth it moves over remains. The house is damp, cool, and smells of piss. Pungent. In the darkness with his cellphone flashlight, a frighted cat scurries across the floor. The house might be an episode of Hoarders; a TV-special on the house hygiene of Alzheimer’s. The smell of piss! The meowing rises momentarily to a cacophony in the clutter of boxes overflowing with crafts, needlework, VHS tapes from 1980. 30 years alone in a slow collection of insulation from the outer world: disheveled bookshelves, damp-rotten boxes, hoary floorboards soft with decay. He makes his passage in a narrow line through the clutter. Perhaps her family had used the house for storage, forgotten. Or perhaps she is just insane. Festering creatures creep along in the corners of his eyes. Blossomed cobwebs in the cabinets higher-up. Needle-point, half-finished baby socks untouched by capable hands. The refrigerator is open, the light on in the kitchen. The people who do this! the people who fade behind sun-drowsy shades, achromatic faces, color leached by the rain that rattles the slimy rooftops. The soft hum that hides the fear of the withering years — to waste her years! To waste like this in a nothingness of self-developed lacking, disgusting. What a waste! The woman moves upstairs: gentle-creaking footsteps. But no one is there: but the stale taste of must, piss-stained wallpaper and the framed pictures of children smiling in yellowed memories on the stairway wall — thumb-scrubs where the dust covered their faces. The creaking creeps slowly, from down the hall, footsteps more like shuffles. The smell of piss grows. The withering develops into deposits in his follicles. He can fear the coming end. The poor woman in her bed-dress stained with piss and spilt food, creeping slowly across the room. He says nothing but a sound escapes his throat, and the woman doesn’t move, stopped at the end of her step, in the middle of her empty bedroom, facing the wall. The room turns. The window sash flings open. The curtains billow and the bedsheets fly overhead to the corners of the room — the stain peels up from the floorboards, picture-frames shoot from the walls and the featureless face standing hunched at the center of it all: a tight packet of hurt, and the light that still burns through her breast.
Originally published at SuddenDenouement.com
You told me to buy presentable clothes and I did, a whole new outfit from Target. Neat slacks and spiffy shirt, even found shoes to match. And now here I am dressed like a fish trying to understand what it means to breathe air. We’re toddlers on a see-saw, you and I, for the first time trying to find stability. But this gala is full of coroners. My first big affair for a serious career, and my editor escorts me to a corner booth to meet the district managers who pay us both. I laughed at the right jokes but I kept my mouth shut, and they never once saw the tattoos ‘round my gums. The molars I had pulled from eating rocks as a drop-out. Clean-shaven clean-cut and dressed like the guest of a judge who doesn’t recognize my face from four years before, I could maybe fit in if my conscience didn’t heave. The walls are turning purple. Faces start to swirl with open jaws of twisting laughter, vortices of features. The chandeliers are bleeding light. The hotel porters are cackling rapists out in the foyer looking for a fix and I don’t know what I’m into but I’m out in the rain. I am the news man who screamed out the window and tossed himself to pursue his echoes. There is a limo parked in the curbside puddles, seven porters to open the limo door. Out steps the Big Man himself, CEO of Gannet. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.” My editor masturbating through his pocket. I am pouring vodka into champagne so no one will notice the changes bringing back the alcoholic. Unemployment gets me paid about half as much but if I don’t need a car or to keep my appearance, well, that’s money well saved and spent at the bar. No – I should give you a call to keep my head grounded but our conversation cannot be heard by these howling de Sades. Their suits are worth more than the hearse they’ll wheel me out on. I am cackling at the bar. Am I the Marquis in the mirror? Behind me spins the eloquent calculations of Murdoch’s publications, wives and the mistresses of breaking war stories and the talking heads from GE that just won’t quit. I am performing Coyote Ugly on the bar, finally shouting all the things that should be said. I haven’t had a care in the world since Makers’ Mark let me forget the debts I owe and the kids we support and I may be the Marquis in the mirror but god damn these cruel fools, our see-saw will stay stable if we place a god damn trailer on it.
Originally published at SuddenDenouement.com
The rain had beaten holes in our backs and it was my idea to come here. 2,000 miles from home. You owned a Mazda and I owned a dream, and together we had $40 and no place to sleep. So we did what we always did best. We scrounged, rags and happiness up and down the sidewalk. New friends, old acquaintances, same familiar taste for bum wine. No mattress but a pile of blankets on an old neighbor’s floor but the walls were hard and hid our dirty fucking well. Drunk on rooftops, drunk in alleys, drunk in bars, drrrrrrunk in the library ‘cus it opened at 7 just after the sun and had couches in the stacks to hide our bum lovin’ selves. Towers shined downtown. Neons shined crosstown near the arena. Eyes shined tits shined cocks shined. Dreams hid behind clouds. Nose bled. Knuckles bled in drywall. Hunger struck well. Fever came to days flush red with sun baking without a drop on the promenade. Dry-out, please just dry-out. Uptown sprints to catch delivery trucks, clandestine missions lifting cases of cans. Rowdy downtown. Rowdy uptown. Rowdy ‘cross the college campus getting sex out of wild freshmen. You were talking ‘bout New Jersey and the hills you grew up in. You moved our blankets to the far side of the floor. Leave me stranded, will you, just lock the god damn door? Sail off in your pretty cloud ship, leave the wasteland far behind. You had the keys and the gas and the paycheck I couldn’t steal, a heart I couldn’t hear. I’ll guide you to the alley and watch you beg for bread. Hike up those legs and shut the god damn door. Shut the door and let me wander and close your eyes till I get back. Let me see it from a distance.
I’ll come back sane.
I kept a calendar at my desk, and I had binders of papers and a collection of pens, and a bobble-head that reminded me of saying Yes. I sat in the air-conditioning all summer, and got to stay home when it snowed. I had responsibilities and people who looked up to me for answers to their issues. I had a computer, two computers technically, and two computer screens, and I spent my days leaning back in a big comfy chair. I had a digital hub. Published articles and interviews and edited videos for the web. People ran around under me. I ran a website. I was the master of the fucking intraweb. For Poly Corp. I don’t understand what they did. But everyday when I walked in the squirrels would chirp hello from their nests tucked into corners of their gray cubicle walls. They’d tell me stories about their kids and their kids and what they did with their kids on the weekends. They played on the lawn. And I’d push past towards my office down the hall. Everyday for three years, the same eight-thousand square feet of office space on the fourth floor of a single wing in a single office building. Fourth floor — they couldn’t even give me a patch of ground. The window in the office offered such a little view, of a corner of the parking-lot and the office building across. That is what I had all day — the same drab gray patchwork of ultra-low-pile carpeting, and I’d piss the same urinal, and I’d walk back to my desk. And outside I’d see the sunlight I couldn’t feel through the window’s tint, and I’d know that that sunlight was the same solar beam that spread its gold across half the planet’s face. I’d pace in my office and I’d pace in the stalls and I’d scowl at the squirrels who passed me by in the halls. When man was the master race! When he had muscles in his legs and hair on his arms, an upright posture that saw the forests in the distance and the coyotes on the hills. What is this we were made for? To cower in our cubbies and strut the same lengths of floor? Moles that hide in burrows, sleepy weekends in suburban corners. Man-caves! Dust-motes in the stagnant sunbeams through the window; hide in our little corners of comfort oblivious to the gilded hills at dawn. Never to see the mountains purple with the distance, to feel the breadth of a continent pass beneath our feet. The city streets are there to be explored; the open passages of time and the highways that lie in the sun — they should be mine! To be conscious of the Redwood forests and the beauty of the Badlands, the cafes in San Francisco and the poetry of the pouring rain. We were meant to witness the way the Earth curves from the Carolines to the Blue Mountains to the red rocks in the desert, not to hide ourselves from this beautiful expansiveness of time. The faces we’ll never see! The millions of moments we all miss. The trees should weep for the people who no longer lay in their shade, and the poets should put down their pens: we have abandoned them. I will not disappear from the years by sitting at my desk. I am driving a rented Cadillac right through this building’s gate, blasting bluegrass and jumping in my seat, collecting my final paycheck. Give me the revolver, give me back my booze. I am taking back my liberty and with it to spread my virility ‘cross the face of this beautiful Earth. I won’t sit kindly in society’s pocket anymore. The Universe, it should know that I exist.
They took us out to green pastures when we were young. Gentle folds of fragrant earth open to us, long warm roads winding to focal points beneath the horizon; wheat fields expansive. Open. Blue skies and the right to die beneath a willow with no one’s name. The dark mysteries of night and the thousand specks that beckoned us to the vast possibilities of life, out here in the frontier land. Textbooks’ covered wagons and dreams imprinted on pupils. Let the pupae bloom their wings. Scythes in our left hands, pens in our right. Honesty: what the mighty fought and died for. Tunes of freedom on the nightly news, red white and blue over the colonies and the untamed West and the Cadillac coupes that flew the ‘50s birds from their nests and the conservative… They pointed at green pastures when we were young. Danced naked unabashed, told us it was in the social fabric. We must not have read the final chapters. We didn’t commit to rote memory the organization of the indexed dates and names and categorical procedures for dictating the proper enunciations of freedom in this valley. We must’ve skipped some pages. There are lights inset behind the fabric of the dome, glow blue day sky; relax and enjoy the childhood spent spa-soaking the suburban expense — the pastures carved in grid-wise greed, stare up at the midnight specks of the dimmed-down lights of the dome. Sweat-shop saunas: success by the width of a hand-held; virtue by the desk jockeys beneath your feet. Climb the tower stairs of gold. Dollars glow neodymium green in shadowed bank vaults on computer screens and this is your pasture — run free. Raised on textbook patriotic histories, speak your tongue free, but know they’ve done no wrong. Your desk in preschool is not your desk in grade school is not your desk in college is not your desk on the fifteenth floor of JP Morgan. Starve now your organs; hear the children dying: In the honest candlelight of shakeboard cabins, breathe more deeply the binding’s glue and forsake the god-damned questioning — What shit still holds this together?