Keeping My Head Above

Just thought I’d write today. No theme, no depth of subject or consideration of how it might affect my life and life in general. Just write. So…

My life’s a mess, but so is human life overall. The length and breadth of it is a litany of sloppy, awkward, falling-down trial, error, failure and maybe the occasional tie. There don’t seem to be any wins. And if we think there are such Me-versus-the-Universe faux-comebacks, that’s just the House sucking you in with a blast of endorphin to keep you at the gaming table.

I guess the best times are the trials, those times where I’ve messed in the mess and have yet to fall on my face in the slop of it all. There are few times where the mess isn’t within and arm’s length of me (or you). I dance on the edge of it, splash in it, wade through it, throughout the Sphinx’s four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon and three at night quiz answer for Oedipus. His prize was the keys to “a NEW Thebes!”

And we all know how that turned out, right? 

Yes, life is messy, from its hormone-drenched origin, to its splatter-flick, camel-through-a-needle’s-eye (so I’m told and have observed) delivery, over its boot-sucking traverse of the day to day swamp, until its icky finale and ultimate disposal.

I am up to my chin in it all, with the once-distant solid ground of my evermore within sight, which sometimes feels more appealing than yet another swallow of life’s wallow. I’ve taken on a lot of its turbid wash over the past few years, sometimes nearly going under, occasionally dreaming of scuttling this leaky vessel altogether.

But here I am, taking the gamble one more day, reaching my foot into the stark paper-white unseen in hope there’s a there there to support me until tomorrow when I hold my nose and take another sodden step. That’s the risk I take. Maybe you do, as well. I’ve taken many a messy misstep, sunk into it over my head and somehow sputtered like flotsam to the surface. I’m an expert at treading, though I’m more exhausted every day.

Maybe you’ve been lucky enough (or made your own luck) to find a map to the stars’ homes, isles of dryland dreams to keep your feet unsullied at least for awhile. I applaud you, but won’t allow myself envy. That’s just more heavy ballast I don’t need. I carry enough of my own. 

So here on this page I have smeared the results of my latest fall in the marsh of human existence. I’ve wiped from my eyes the detritus I observed upon the silty bottom. Exhaled more of the miasma floating above the surface like a diaphanous warning of days to come. And I’ve spit out some of my latest gulps of failure. 

Another mess. Another chance to tread on. Another tie.

E Pluribus Unum


If I asked you the color of grass, you’d probably say green. And if I asked the same of the sky, you’d offer blue. But nowhere do you see all heaven or earth in just green or blue. Each is made of different hues, homogeneously stirred into something, that at a distance or a squint, we call one color or the other. Is the ocean off Cape Cod blue? Then what is it surrounding Tahiti? Do we call the sky over Raleigh a Carolina Blue? Then what of the firmament above Copenhagen, or looking down on Dresden? Is sand colored Sand? Then what of the landscape of the Kalahari, the Gobi, the Sonora, Sydney’s Bondi Beach? Look closely at all of these scoops of Earth, these swaths and swatches of land, sea and air. No, even closer. There is brown and yellow on the greens of Augusta and St. Andrew’s and Schenectady Muni. There are shades of gray, white and purple in the 360-degree frame of the sun. The agua off Málaga is aqua, but a French blue is more than just un bleu. And I celebrate this panoply mixed together into a single great spectrum. Each has its own way of reflecting the same sun under which we all exist. Together and apart. But the magic of turning primaries into secondaries into tertiaries into a prism’s wet dream makes this world so much better. Mere red, yellow and blue makes for as weak a brand of poetry as a world. The Spectrum makes us so much better. Makes for better writing, too.

E pluribus unum.

No Direction Home

Around the corner and down a way, just before the main road, two staples hold what’s left of a piece of paper to the power pole. I’d pass it in its fullness on my way to or from when snow still covered everything. It was hard to read then, weather having already faded it, the home printer’s ink running in tears down to the oiled wooden pole. But I knew it was a picture of someone’s white cat that had left the house and not returned. It could have run away, but I doubt it. It could have gone out and run afoul of a winter-hungered coyote, or maybe it got lost in the expanse of white upon which Home happened to be and a car or snowplow had sent it spinning like a snowflake to join the rest of the white on white landscape, maybe until Spring. And now all that’s left of someone’s plaintive posting for their loved one to come back are two staples and a tear of shredded hope. And I thought about the times I have been spun and hunted and lost. When I didn’t know which direction was Home, or if I even wanted to go there. When the dome of sky and the plate of earth are indiscernible from one another, and you look around you for help or escape and you know not which way is the N on the compass, let alone the road to redemption, you just have to find your way within. I once saw a litter of puppies tumbling down a hill toward the busy road upon which I sped by. There’s was nothing I could do for them, surrounded as I was by semis and fulls – the former, trucks and the latter, idiots. I filed that scene as a short loop that runs in my head and heart for thirty years. I have no idea if the little black bundles of bumptiousness hit road level and found a diverting chain link fence there (I pray so) or if a frightening inevitability ended their lives. I just know that they still live within the Home that is me, just as that cat might live in the lives of its family, or whoever saw its snowy invisibleness now indivisibly rendered in the home within them. Whether we know it or not, there will always be a Home for us, grim, gritty or glorious as it may be, in the memories of others, even strangers. Perhaps someday one of them will remember the shred of me when I passed through their day on the way Home. Theirs or mine, the direction doesn’t really matter. We’re Home.

On Day 27 of my Poem-a-Day quest, a “direction” poem. I saw the prompt and could only think of the line from Dylan…Bob, not Thomas. My taste in poets runs toward Minnesota, not Wales. Now, don’t nit-pick if this is a poem or not. It’s a first-draft expression of something within me. Let’s say it’s a prose poem, just for the sake of giving it an address in these last few days of April. A home on the way to May.

If I Recall, That’s the Spirit

 

I hope someday you reach that point in your life, as I have, when you recognize Christmas doesn’t march up to you like a balloon-festooned Fifth Avenue parade anymore, one whose colors, sounds and corporate sponsorships you can see from blocks away. Nor does it sneak up on you on little mouse feet in the snow. Christmas has become like old age to me now. One day I’m humming along to the rustle of life’s green leaves, all the while ignoring the gifts of my black hair, firm chin and memory like a 100-terabyte computer. The next blink, I’m shaving silver filings off the lower chin of some barely recognizable guy in the mirror. And suddenly I hear (and need to turn up the volume on) a song I think might be called “Silver Bells.” And that’s OK, because the tree downstairs today is always green, and somewhere inside me a little kid is coiled in bed — quiet as the whispers of angels’ wings — for that sunrise when I can charge into the living room in an explosion of torn paper and cardboard before we three brothers trek to church and back. These days, Christmas just IS. And, should you reach my tinsel-topped, Santa-in-training-bodied and memory-leaking station in life, you might recognize it doesn’t need to come at you but once a year. You can charge into it every sunrise, tearing open the gift of that new day and giving it to all you meet. If I recall, that’s the spirit!

A mid-December rambling. Now back to our regular programming.

Just A Few Appropriate Remarks

It was a sunny and breezy day, I’m told, in that place where the headliner gave a performance of Springsteenian length, full of bombast worthy of a king…or Freddie and Queen. Then that other speaker, who’d taken the train up from points south, rose with a folded piece of paper in his hand, bareheaded, mournful, haggard and humbled by the venue, the times, the occasion and its raison d’être. And while the crowd still buzzed from the performance by first name on the marquee’s performance, the tall man presented his 271—word “appropriate remarks” in his scratchy voice, its accent many of the intelligentsia derided, while it was perfectly understood by those from the Kentucky hills and the Illinois prairie. And when he finished, he did not hear the thunder of applause, for the sky was clear, even of 21-gun cannonades. Nor did he hear the brassy fanfare of approbation, the wind only enough to move a lady’s hair across her brow. Instead, came an awkward silence and then a pitter-patter of hands reminiscent of raindrops on a gravestone. But it was a day of remembrance and there were gravestones by the thousands, most with names now long-forgotten. Not many have forgotten the first few words those remarks, nor the gist of the final ones. They are why a child learns that a score is an old word for 20. And why, deep down inside, we believe that this grand experiment of ours, this “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” That is our hope. They define us. Amen.

Keep It Under Your Hat

I just placed my fingertips on the upper part of the back of my head and instead of the old lustrous black hair, which long ago turned steely, then silver, I felt that patch of soft skin again. I can pat it and it sounds like polite applause. 

There really was no escaping it, I guess. What started out as a postage stamp sized bit of “ground under repair” in golf parlance, is now the size of, oh, an old CD-ROM. Yeah, it’s now a sand trap. 

But that’s really the only calamity or four that can specifically affect men when they hit a certain age. I hit it long ago. For some, it’s a genetic thing. Dad and/or Grandpa was a chrome dome, so it often follows that you will be one, too. 

For others, it’s kismet, dumb luck. Their locks seem to hold on just fine, until one winter they pull off their wool hat and, fully charged by static cling, their hair stands up like a cane patch, something resembling the head of an old dolly. They’ll notice and pat it down, but then it looks flat and perforated like an old doily. 

It’s enough to give some men heartburn, but more than likely, any burn they’ll experience will be the red embarrassment that now extends up their cheeks to the visible areas beneath those fronds of once-was hirsute glory. 

I can attest that you’ll never see me with a hairpiece, though. I like to think I’m not vain enough.  Not after I recall all my so-equipped acquaintances and experiences I’ve noted with them. 

Also, you’ve really got to take care of them. A lot. They’re not something you just put on and forget about — like a replacement windshield wiper — until they start getting all schmutzy and unsightly. Heck, half the guys I knew with toupees looked like they’d found some roadkill and lifted it from the pavement with a spatula. Et voila, baldness conquered.  Um, no…

I remember going out with an old secretly (yeah, right) sports editor of mine, who got too deep into his cups and fell over the velvet rope at the laughingly defined “gentleman’s club” he dragged us to. While he’s draped over the rope, his hairpiece went flying and I was charged with picking it up and placing it back on his head, holding it there with my red scarf, like he had a head wound. We hustled him out of there and back to his apartment. 

I don’t wish to add insult to ego injury on the poor old guy, but upon getting to my own place, I felt like washing my hands with kerosene and drying them with a blowtorch.  

The next day, while we young reporters were frittering away at our usual humdrum, the sports guy sat at his desk typing away as usual, but on radio silence. As were we, never to mention it in his earshot again.

And what about, should my skin quotient exceed my hair quotient? What of hair replacement surgery? No thanks. I’m old and retired, so there’s not a lot of discretionary income, nor Medicare, that’ll pay for such frivolities. I’ll just own this badge of masculinity like Dad and Grandpa, a trophy that I made it this far. You know, stoically. 

Oh, this golf hat? I’ve never shown you my assortment of fitted ones? Oh yeah, I’ve got maybe fifteen. I’m kind of a collector since about ten years ago.

A little writer’s block exercise I needed today. It’s based on a word salad prompt containing all the following words: a red scarf, windshield wiper, chrome, doily, blowtorch, spatula, CD-ROM, postage stamp, frittering, static cling, radio silence, kismet, calamity, heartburn, and bandage. I think I hit them all. And I hope I made a nice diversion for you as I diverted myself from a deeper depression. Not writing is bad medicine for me.

Marching Back to The Twilight Age

Across these shadow-filled decades you probably wouldn’t remember how we’d sit there on our beds and submit our lives and times to all the oh-so-mature, badass examination that only eighteen-year-olds possessing a 2-S or 4-F Selective Service deferment or a Draft Lottery number higher than 200 could muster. Through the tawny, fuzzy-framed lens of five beers each or the gray-white haze of ultra-clarity that you’d acquire from that illicit psychoactive agent you harbored in your sock drawer, artistic, philosophic and geopolitical certainty would hang in the air like soon-to-incinerate paper lanterns strung from one side of the room to the other. Occasionally, the rocket’s red glare of your proselytizing the work of Salinger would send me scooting for safety behind the cover of my Shakespeare, Twain and Chekhov. Do you remember falling to sleep to Zeppelin, Dylan and The Dead? How about the phony bomb threat someone tried to pin on the Black Panthers that emptied the dorms on our first night on campus? Can you recall how we wandered around the quads and stared at easily a hundred of the first girls we’d ever seen wearing clothing — actually or, most likely, in our dreams — more easily removed than high school uniform jumpers, wide-belted low-hipped bell bottoms or even a tight-ass mini? Do you recollect any of those deliciously salacious silhouettes of their Promised Land projected through each of the nightgowns by the fire trucks’ lights? I only just thought of them, sitting here with this faded old photo of her. I wonder whatever happened, since we never did. Those will never be the good old days, though, since so much bad since then blocked the light of the good. But the faintly outlined memories I saw today through something like those old chemically induced dorm goggles make me happy. I guess I could call them memories of the Twilight Ages, since at this age I’m living in now sure as hell feels like a Dark one.

I don’t wish you could have been there, but you probably had to be to fully understand this. It was a time of great social and political upheaval faced by kids who had lived through a just-averted nuclear war touched off a relatively few nautical miles from Key West, by burning racial divisions and flaming American cities, and by many an American boy about to turn 18 who sweated out if his next birthday recognition would include a card that read: “Greetings.” Guys my age tend to talk about their youth as “the Dark Ages.” But they really should be called the Twilight Ages. Today scares me in a whole different way.