Friday, April 24, 2009

The Ocean

I have, as years go by, found the idea of living too far from salt water increasingly abhorrent. And now, heading into a weekend with forecasts in the 80s and nothing but sun predicted, the ocean, with all it's mysteries, and immensity (and salt?) is calling. Two days of work are also in the forecast, but perhaps there will be a window of respite through which I can follow these others...

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth;
whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul;
whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet...
I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.
~Herman Melville from Moby Dick

My soul is full of longing
For the secret of the Sea,
And the heart of the great ocean
Sends a thrilling pulse through me.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Why is almost every robust, healthy boy with a robust, healthy soul in him, at some time or other, crazy to go to sea? Why, upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land?
~Herman Melville - Moby Dick

The sea speaks a language polite people never repeat. It is a colossal scavenger slang and has no respect.
~Carl Sandburg

This last quote from Sandburg is intriguing, maybe because it gives voice to unspoken thoughts in the others. There is something just a little bit frightening, but compelling and thrilling, about standing waist deep in the surf and staring out towards the horizon. I always feel the call to go farther, as the waves and undertow pull outwards. It tugs at some genetic memory, inviting me home.

Bury me at sea
Where no murdered ghost can haunt me
If I rock upon the waves
No corpse can lie upon me
-Shane MacGowan (no lesser a poet)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Space: The Final Frontier

I've been rather ambivalent about the news lately, or rather, taking it all in like usual, but feeling hammered by redundancy. It rarely seems worthy of comment anymore. I've just about talked myself out.

Every so often though a headline gives me pause, like this one:


We have, as a people, spent eternity looking up at the stars and wondering if there is any other "intelligent life" out there. The Church says no; this is it. Scientists have come to say, having somewhat come to a decision on the enormity of the universe, that odds are there is. The most talked about astronomy stories usually involve the "discovery" of planets similar to Earth and perhaps able to sustain an eco-system similar to our own. And hence, the possibility that we are not alone in the universe.

One can only hope that, similarly to us, there isn't a race of beings out there staring out at our little, blue orb, looking for ways to get here and claim it as their own... or fight bitterly over it.

We still haven't conquered our own worst nature--that inside us that drives colonialism and imperialism--and we're already looking for new places to fight over.

No offense to the astronomers, by the way. I'm sure that this isn't their intent, but let's face it. Behind every astronomer stands another salivating Napoleon.

Happy Earth Day, by the way. And Happy Earth-Like Day to our distant neighbors.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

One Way Ticket

I ain't goin' out like no punk bitch

How you gonna come?

Death or Glory

The concept of the noble death is as old as time itself and doesn't start with it, but the idea lives in every aspect of western culture... in legend, history, film and music. Even sports... Consider the "sacrifice fly."

I have, as a boy raised on western movies, war movies, and GI Joe (dolls for boys are cool as long as they are dolls who kill), spent what may in modern times be considered an inordinate amount of time considering how I want to "go out." Or maybe not so inordinate if our nation's current fascination with the idea of "heroic death" is taken into consideration. I do tend to think that sometimes the words victim and hero are seriously confused, but that's another story altogether.

What I'm saying is that I don't think it's all that odd, given the cultural obsession with immortality and mythology, that I've spent many an hour thinking about what I want to be known for when I go.

Backtrack, though. Everybody wants to be remembered fondly for eternity, but for the most part, nobody wants to go right now, despite the amount of time spent thinking about how it might happen when it happens. And how we'll behave in the face of the end. Funny how that works. Beyond thoughts of how we would prefer to go, peacefully in our sleep or during an act of heroism, nobody wants to talk about death at all.

It just might be the one thing that we should be discussing. It is, after all, the one thing we know is definitely going to happen, at some point. (please no "and taxes" jokes here. It's just not that original, ya know?) If you know it's coming at some point, and you don't want to go out like a punk, it is definitely an idea you might want to pay more attention to while you've got the chance.

Don Juan said to Carlos (if you're not a Castaneda-gnostic) that death is always stalking you and could come at any moment so you must remain constantly mindful of your words and needs. After all, you don't want your last words on earth and hence what you will be remembered by, to be petty or hurtful. Whether or not you believe The Teachings of Don Juan was a serious anthropological study is irrelevant. It's a good thing to think about. If you're serious that you care about such things, you'd best be careful.

I've accepted fully that I will probably not die one of those noble, heroic deaths anyway. I think I knew that at some point in late '77 or early '78 when the truth of Elvis Presley's passing came to light. It was at some point during those months that it struck me that there was a likelihood that any of us could leave this mortal coil, fat, bloated and straining another mortal coil into the porcelain.

I've accepted fully that there is a good chance that I will not live to 118 and move on peacefully in my sleep, having made peace with all creatures I've made contact with in any way. Hell, at the time Elvis strained himself into the hereafter I couldn't comprehend being 40 though, let alone 47. Yet here I am. A couple years ago, on a drunken lark I wandered into one of those palm reading places and a pretty, dark girl, with a trace of a mustache, looked at me with big, troubled eyes and told me that I would meet an untimely end but she couldn't say when. She said I would have a short life. (It nearly became shorter when I asked for my money back for getting a particularly shitty reading). Short is relative. I don't feel my life has been short. I remember reading at some point in the late 70s, about the same time that Elvis tried to pass a 700 lb. quaalude, that the average lifespan for a male in regions in Southeast Asia was 35. Weighed against that I think I've done okay.

Men I know who are roughly the same age have protested violently (or nearly so) when I've referred to myself as middle aged. I can only laugh at them. Really. The average lifespan of a white American male is still less than 80. Where does that leave me now? Changing the semantics doesn't change that. I'm not going to fall back on bullshit like "you are only as young as you feel" because if I believed that at 7 this morning my age would have been about 80. The three rings of darkness under each eye aren't exactly indicative of teen idol status.

People have said to me, "you look young for your age." That's nice of them but it's not true. I look 47 and maybe older, given that I know people older than myself that are less weathered and leathered. I'm okay with it.

I'll cut this short. Time=Age=Death. It is what it is. It's all good. We are born with a one-way ticket in hand. I'll defer to Conrad here. His words say it all for me. I don't find this depressing. Again, it is what it is. It's all good.

"I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable greyness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamour, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid scepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary. If such is the form of ultimate wisdom, then life is a greater riddle than some of us think it to be. I was within a hair's-breadth of the last opportunity for pronouncement, and I found with humiliation that probably I would have nothing to say."

For myself, in the end, no matter how I go, saving children from a burning orphanage, or sitting right here in my chair tapping out more digital vanity like this, or however... Just follow the instructions. Let the doctors harvest what's still usable. Burn the whole. Bollocks what's left out over the rail of the Staten Island Ferry. I have only one wish and that's to not take up any more space than I already have.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

And I think it's gonna be a long, long time...

A quiet, rainy, Saturday in Brooklyn, just the way I like them... When you speak for a living there is often no greater comfort than not speaking at all. There are weekends when I go so long without speaking that I don't recognize my voice when I finally venture forth into the world of the living. The sound is jarring, an alarm clock after a few hours of broken sleep.

At the bodega:

And five dollars quick picks for the lotto... that's it, thanks. Have a great day!

And back to silence until a neighbor intervenes:

Great, thanks. How are you? Good! Have a great day!

And slip back indoors like a ghost.

It's Easter weekend, or Resurrection Weekend, as a co-worker calls it. I admire her faith, and the joy with which she practices it, seven days a week. She is no slacker with anything in her life and less when it comes to Jesus. It's a joy and a faith that I don't share, but her joy is infectious and makes me happy. I've never heard her speak ill of anybody in any context. That's not a shared thing either. I am judgmental and sharp-tongued. It's not something I'm proud of but it comes as naturally as breathing. There is a lesson here. For the meanwhile, this is another holiday I don't observe. I don't feel it. It's been said though that you can't wait for God to come to you because that's not going to happen. You have to go to him with an open mind and an open heart. I'm not possessed with either of those, yet.

And wouldn't it require speaking?

A few items of note--recent events:

The invitation came earlier this week for a 30th High School Reunion. It has been that long! There are people I've not seen nor heard from or about since walking down off the dais by the old bell in late June of 1979. There is a reason for that--nothing against them really, but my escape was planned for years before that. Jettison the old life and lighten the load for speed. No real destination in mind. Simply distance. They were not good times and in all honesty and sincerity, there is little nostalgia. The question is often asked, what would you do differently if you could go back and do it again? These are not notions I entertain. Not even a bit. Life is good here in space. They'd have to drag me back kicking and screaming and if forced to repeat it, I'd lean in loaded and cocked and take one for the team.

The invitation comes on the heels of watching a flawed but watchable little film called BANG BANG, YOU'RE DEAD. The quote transcripts on the IMDB page spell it out better than I ever could. The short one speaks volumes, from the main character, Trevor:

"Jenny, I don't mean depressed like your dog died. I mean where you feel like you've got nothing to lose where you don't, you don't care if you live or die. That kinda of depressed. You ever been there?"

High school.

It was no surprise. I've been "reconnecting" with people, old schoolmates and family recently, through Facebook. My experience with this Facebook phenomenon is not unique from what other people have told me. You get these invites from people you've not had any contact with in years. You don't remember ever having been friends with them in school, or even speaking to them all that much about anything. Moreover, if you force yourself to recall the details, you may remember that you didn't even like some of them, and if the fierce punch-ups serve as evidence, they really didn't like you.

Just being honest here...

You have to wonder how they remember things. Do they even remember at all? What exactly are they doing? What are they up to? Is it about making peace? I'd like to think the motives are pure. Or perhaps it's just curiosity. I'm open to the idea that they've lived and grown, and that the whole thing is about making things right. In fairness, the woman organizing the event is someone I do remember fondly. She is someone, like my Christian co-worker, I don't recall ever having an ill word to or about anybody. I do admire this sort of person.

It's made me think about things though. It's made me wonder if my escape plan was at all successful. Life is mostly good though so I'd have to say yes. Perhaps it's time to face the past and get complete closure once and for all.

I've also, through Facebook, reconnected with some family members that I haven't seen nor spoken to in decades. Yes, for those of you who have never been estranged from family and can't comprehend that distance, it's been decades! The first step was a wonderful lunch with my cousin Doug and his family. It had been, if memory serves, 22 years since I'd last seen Doug and his wife Barbara. Their children are grown now, and successful, and about to have children of their own. They were in grade school when I last saw them. It's strange putting my head around that.

I don't know what events created the distance in my immediate and extended family. No specific events anyway. I'm not the only one that hit the ground running. My brother David disappeared off into the Southwest ether and only resurfaces now and again around holidays and birthdays. There have been others too. Yet now everybody seems to have landed on the same page, reading the signs that it's time. The motives here are good and pure, I believe. It's not like there are huge inheritances to be gained from any quarter. No money. No property. It just seems like everybody decided independently that it is overdue.

This again, is not without moments of sadness. Another cousin, Gordon MacKenna, whom I hadn't spoken to in an age, and had only recently found me on Facebook, was found earlier this week, dead in front of his computer at 53. I'm still processing this news. In one sense it was like reading an obituary for a stranger that I'd only met a couple times and didn't know. In other senses it strikes me as incredibly sad in the way that we might mourn relationships that never got off the ground. Gordon did appear to be making an awful lot of effort with everybody in the clan. He wasn't particularly well loved though and his actions in recent years, were to my understanding, pretty vile. I get squirrelly though speaking ill of the dead, so I'd prefer to think of him as an extremely misguided soul, and apparently desperately lonely. I understand lonely. I've been there too.

I'd be lying though if I said his death didn't resonate. It's not just that he was only 5 years my elder. Sitting dead in front of your computer, which he used a great deal to connect to the world (sound familiar?) just seems so sad. There is a good chance, being that I spend so much time pecking away on this little box, that's how I would be found. I only hope I'm not looking at something embarrassing! I'm a little embarrassed that this was one of the first thoughts that went through my addled brain when I got the news of Gordon. Clean your cache regularly, clowns!

So it's about words that begin with "re." Resurrection, reunion, and just maybe redemption. I can't help but believe these reunions are largely about redemption. I can't help but think they're about doing the right thing and coming clean.

I've been thinking a lot about this pending high school reunion. My first response upon hearing about it, having not given it much thought, was yeah sure. I'll do that. There has been some doubt since then, and the appearance of the invitation in my inbox gave me pause. I'm pretty certain I'll go through with it, but it is not without some trepidation that I plan my return trip. Fear and doubt though... I am not yet cleared for re-entry.