Memoriam

“There are women and women and, some hold you tight; while some keep you counting, stars in the night”  – Come Down in Time – Bernie Taupin

There’s a girl who lives in the north country of California; an eco-village of recyclers, compost turners and organic lifestylers, who united with me for a time back in the day. She was the only one of the élite women that affixed her heart to mine over this lifetime, and even though we shared the most intimate of hours, with whom I could never find purchase. Even in our most intimate hours there sat between us a kind of violence even in our ardent love-making. She remains to this day an impregnable force, like a freight train, whose gears I could not convince to yield, whose machinery chewed me up every time I tried. I was left to simply buy the ticket and take the ride. When she left I did not chase after her.

Today at 4pm, Friday, September 21, 2012, my first love, who I promised to love and honor till death do us part, in front of god’s emissary and those closest to us, delivered me from that oath by doing what has finally done us apart. She’ll be merely ashes sometime soon and I will miss knowing she is in the world more for what she did for me than what she did to me; more for the grace and dignity she carried through our passion play than for the knowledge that one less supreme connection exists. When she ran off I let her go too.

There were two other as well. So, if I’m ever interviewed by Pierce Morgan, and he asked me his iconic perennial question; “How many times have you been properly in love” I’ll say four. The two others won’t be mentioned here but were nonetheless loved equally. I probably won’t be called when they spin-off their mortal coil since, when they also left, they or I went so far away we couldn’t find each other if we wanted to. When they left I didn’t chase them down either.

My Muse counsels me to “Be Love”; and so, though I was vaporized emotionally for a time by each one, sometimes traveling half-way around this blue globe to forget them, their memories linger in places deep, not dark and foreboding, but represent the pinnacle of joy I have experienced on this gypsy journey, each one an oasis; equal parts pleasure and pain, yet on a diverse dimension, just another town along the road. It was Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam that comes to mind this starry night that soothes the savage beast in my heart and reminds; “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”.

I do wonder in that same deep place if this remembrance, both solemn and joyous, is mutual, a serendipitous occurrence, or rather a singular phenomenon, peculiar only to me. That’s an answer I’d have chased all of them down in order to discover. Perhaps there is an ephemeral plane, some other side, where all our memories live and wait for us. If so, I’ll have to be patient until I give up the ghost to find out. But if there is, I know, despite the stormy nature of each romance, enough love passed between us to overpower any residual angst; and our reunions will be as passionate and transformational for each of us as our meetings ever were. Anyway, one can hope.

Friends

“United we stand-divided we fall” — The Liberty Song, John Dickinson

The test of a true friend is their willingness, upon your request, to offer a hand to one of your friends; someone they may not even know.

As I read Michael Moore’s autobiography “Here Comes Trouble” I was stunned by the avalanche of hate that descended upon him as a result of his acceptance speech at the Oscars after he won the famed prize for his first film “Bowling for Columbine”.  While a few luminaries like Meryl Streep and Martin Scorsese clapped wildly in approval, others like Robert Duvall went on the attack. Upon returning to his hometown in Michigan he and his wife were bared from their own property by three truckloads of horse manure piled waist high in their driveway and signs reading COMMIE and TRAITOR tacked on their trees.

As threats of murder came from Glen Beck and other Fox News acolytes, the crazies, feeling empowered, came a callin’ via mail, phone and Internet. Soon after it would take a team of nine X-Navy Seals to give protection 24/7 for several years from the Fatwa the violent Orwellian reaction produced including many real attempts on his life.

It was Kurt Vonnegut, Billy Pilgrim himself, who phoned to extend a comforting hand to Michael that brought him out of a two-year funk and back in the open to produce and direct the war criminal indictment documentary of G.W. Bush; Fahrenheit 911. It was during one of their dinners at Kurt’s home that the master of letters told Michael that he had stopped contemplating the meaning of life since his son Mark had finally figured it out for him.

I used to be fond of surmising that life had no meaning; that it was simply a random evolutionary series of events. Yet I’ve always been interested to know what other thought about this penultimate existential question. The more I admired a particular person the more I wanted to know their take, though I have found despite one’s station in life, everyone has an answer and some are very compelling.

The Dali Lama will say kindness is his religion and that sits well with me. My good friend Peter told me that “Life has only the meaning that we give it” and I adopted that gem for my own as soon as I heard it, knowing instantly it was better and truer than mine. Now from the mouth of babes comes the one answer even greater than the one I’ve carried around now these many decades.

“We’re here to help each other get through this thing; whatever it is” said Mark Vonnegut. I think we have a winner; the proclamation that we are all in this together. It is a sentiment that gives me courage and makes of life a beautiful and radiant thing.

Kurt will fade into history as we all do but no civilization worth anything will forget Slaughterhouse Five. That work of brilliance and dreams helped me get through this thing whatever it is. And as I reflect on my legacy, I can conjure that no greater praise from those I leave behind, hopefully some many years from now, could surpass their acknowledgement that simply; “he helped me get through this thing”.

Homeward Bound

“Riding on this rolling bus; beneath a stony sky, pale moon rising; smokestacks drifting by. In the hour when the heart is weakest, the memory is strong; time has stopped, the bus just rolls along. Roll on, roll on” — Ace in the HolePaul Simon

The first crude sign I saw while crossing into Washburn County en-route to Spooner, Wisconsin shouted the following pitch: Beer – Bait – Guns – Liquor. Moments later a much larger and more dignified and meticulously wood-cut sign announced “Welcome to Vacationland”. After seven days, six nights and 2,300 miles, mostly on two roads all the way, I pulled into the driveway to greet the heart warming smiles of my Mom and Sis. I was home.

I used to spend two week vacations here with my family every summer in a rented rustic cabin with outhouse; on a lake fishing and swatting mosquitoes mostly, when I was Little Nick; just my fathers son and nobody special in my little town; a full four hundred mile eight hour drive away and the farthest I’d ever been from home. It was another world. My mom would have my sister and I count the cows along the way, telling us they were our “friends”, when I was a tyke some decades ago and seeing it again; the place hadn’t changed a bit.

I’m in a place as far from Cally as Mars. One week ago I walked just a single block from my front door to hear ten different dialects from all over the world being spoken. Today I have to get in my car to retrieve the mail; also a city block away. Last week I read signs telling me the cost of a cappuccino; today, in a dreamscape narrative, it’s “The World’s Largest Museum of Wood Carving” and Pappy’s Deer Processing” signs that dot the landscape.

Some people stay in the place they were born and raised for their entire lives and some never stops their gypsy wandering. Either way, one place is just like another on some level and we can travel 10,000 miles and still be in the same place in our heads. Like Albert said: “It’s all relative”.

“I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin’ about half past dead. I just need some place where I can lay my head. “Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?” He just grinned and shook my hand, “no” was all he said.” – The Weight — The Band

The Movers bundled up the artifacts and detritus of my three decades plus in the Bay Area and were nearly finished when the phone rang moment before I unplugged it for good. A voice summoned me for a job interview. After 40 months of waiting for that call it finally came at the last minute, testing my resolve with an event only describable as irony. I shined it on. It’d been two week now since I’d made the turn in my heart. I was gone; no more Oakland. I was on a magical mystery tour headed straight for OZ.  

I had one more person to visit with before I left but she was playing wait for me and I was in the mood to jet so I shined her on too, another ironic event that seemed to be karmic justice with an added degree of perfect symmetry. So, leaving the dust and grime of the past years of apathy for my no-class landlord, I headed for the mountains.

Dateline: I-80

The sweet young girl behind the counter gave me a $98.00 room for $36.00 and that made me think it was her knocking at my door round midnight but I’ll never know. Sex without love is as empty as love without sex and besides I was in the mood to be solitary so I shined her on as well.

Leaving the ocean in my rear view I backed away slowly from the edge of the continent, encountering traffic bumper to bumper, a metaphor for the density of lives lived in the fast lane, where souls on the west coast (the sunny side) travel bout’ half as fast of those clear cross America; on the east coast (the dirty side); those designations coined by the gallants of the highway, the over the road trucker, the frazzled, worn and grizzled chicken fried steak crystal meth outlaws. They chaperoned me all the way as they headed for places in between. I was speeding towards a place a bit a’ kilter of dead center of the American mainland, a 1950’s Andy Griffith Mayberry where life putts along at three miles an hour.

A smile derived from the pleasure of once again moving into another adventure crept across my face and with the exception of the traffic ticket a Nazi State Trooper in Wyoming bestowed upon me for an arcane rule of the road, which bummed me out for ½ a day, it never once left me. My pleasure grin remained my traveling companion clear through my very own Kerouac odyssey.

I started out even before the Movers left, telling them to shut the door behind them and with nothing I needed left there behind me, powered up my fully packed space ship and leaving at 4pm drove into the night; the only time I would drive when the sun wasn’t up. It hadn’t even been three weeks since I made the decision to bounce and now I was packed and bound Woody Guthrie style, for glory.        

Dateline: Reno, Nevada

Nevada opens up like an endless Howard Hawks western, John Wayne cowboy raw and dusty, where boot and horse saddle leather conjure visions of Hole in the Wall, the redoubt where Butch and Sundance plotted their infamous train and bank robberies, impregnable and awash in majestic mountains majesty. Out here we are all fugitives, freelance desperados and though we never touch, there exists an unwritten etiquette, laws of the road both seen and felt in this nether world, one more ancient and profound than the more common one found in permanent places; a knowing that we are all unsafe, vulnerable to the same idiosyncratic and fickle occurrences; dangers that can reach out and end any of us at any moment; and it’s why, since everyone knows everyone will eventually die, we treat each other as good as we do; where we ask how ya doing cause it easier than letting on how little we can care.

In our permanent places we treat even those closest to us like guests; we have our space and it belongs to us so when the party is over we return to our private and safe panic rooms; our boxed and bolted suicide machines. Yet here in no mans land we share camaraderie, closeness, a knowing that we are, all of us, in this together.

Dateline: Bonneville Salt Flats Utah

I negotiated the treacherous mountain passes and stopped for the night near the famous spot where world records are made and broken. The cheap motel sported craggy speed freaks with decaled winning turbo-charged buggies and stories to match dripping freely from their smiling lips; a community of drag racers, vagabonds, quad heads, wrench turners and grease monkeys with a need for speed.

Utah, save Redford’s Sundance film festival enclave, contains a picturesque serenity that one feels when hiking in Yosemite, where even our most worrisome problems shrink to insignificance in the serenity of its blaring silence; a place so magnificent that all the gods together using all their super powers could not have created. The chattering classes of politicians, droning on endlessly about the greatness of America, ten to one odds, have never crossed her grand expanses.

Worry if you must about this thing or that, but rest assured, my report from the motherland confirms, one thing you need not worry about for the next couple of hundred years at the least is this: There’s no chance, none, we’ll be running out of space anytime soon.

Half way between the Great Salt Lake and Cheyenne Wyoming I encounter a town duded Little America. Intrigued by the moniker I contemplate a visit but conjuring a Mormon enclave I think better of it and motor past.

Dateline: Cheyenne, Wyoming

There’s nothing in Wyoming save the plethora of State troopers preying on us and I spy one with red lights a’ flashing, hugging my bumper at 70mph. It seems I’ve broken some law and the Jack booted hick, dressed like he’s prepared to storm Poland, lays a $115.00 ticket on me. It might be my trip; but it sure as hell is his highway.

“A man who will say anything will do anything” – Napoleon Bonaparte

Talk Radio is rife with redneck noise from Romney and Ryan who seem to know there’s no chance in hell they’ll get the nod; no clue as well that its the big idea we’re all waiting to hear, one as big as Ike’s ribbon of Interstate Highways I’m on or Jack’s Moon Shot or Franklin’s Hoover Dam. They seem to think there are enough old pasty white guys left, pigs with their snouts in the trough looking for a greater fool to buy their promise they’ll keep the swill buckets full and vaporize 75 years of social engineering; a fat cats wet dream that takes us from “I am my brothers’ keeper” citizenship to “you’re on-your –own-ership society”. My bet is America will shout a collective gestalt primal scream of no. I’ll say it again; it won’t be close.

Dateline; Ogallala, Nebraska

Religion blares from my radio mostly here. From where I’ve just come coffee is a religion. Here I can find none that doesn’t look and taste like dirty water but then I’m in Nebraska and one must make allowances. It is flat and grey and desolate and my guess is it didn’t look any less shitty before the drought. It is a place to be avoided.

Dateline: Omaha/Iowa Border

The barren expanses that threatened to never end give way to rolling green hills and trees and more giant Quixotic windmills than I’ve ever seen in one place. I’m in Soto, Iowa, and besides the plaque informing me that it was the birthplace of John Wayne, it signifies nothing save the beauty of Davey Crocket country and I swear I can see ol’ Geronimo on the crest of the looming hill astride his painted pony; a rifle thrust towards the gods.

Epilogue

I drove clear across Iowa in a day headed north with a landscape sporting a thousands trees for every human being and the closer I got to Canada the more rugged and untamed and picturesque the terrain became. I’m in God’s country now to be sure and it’s where I’ve come to stay.

As I write this tome from my writers desk replete with my Tibetan scroll and Burmese statuettes I gaze out a large bay window onto a pristine lake so big I can not see the other side with the naked eye. It is a shimmering green apple sea held down by a sky as blue as Robin’s eggs. My dinner was proffered by local farmers; tomatoes that taste like they were grown in heaven and corn so sweet it hurts your teeth and well water as clear as the air is clean. It’s round midnight now and I am surrounded by calm and silence and complete darkness; an absence of light. Ducks quack me a hello that echo’s from a mile away.