Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I still owe you for the hole in the floor

(This is a long post, one that I have tried to visually "break up" with the strategic placement of obtuse visuals. Assuming I'm not the recipient of multiple pleas to take this self-indulgent post down, it will remain here forever, affording you the chance to read it in pieces.)

I know I'm not the only one. The only one who changes. The only one who wonders, who half-regrets, who grasps, who clutches, who takes on too much, who succeeds and fails, trips and gets up. I know there are others. Like you and you and you. In other words, I'm not the only human being figuring it out, splitting towns and staying put.

Those purple flowers, the ones that grow on trees in May - they're growing on the tree outside my window. At the office. They're growing at home too. I keep forgetting the name of that flower.

Right now Bruce Springsteen is singing about "fire on the fingertips" and "feathers made of moonbeams." It's kind of poetic - he knows he doesn't know what the hell he's singing about. But he knows - beyond any doubt - that it means something to get the words out that way.

I'm nothing if not a problem solver. I make problems too. I'm both inventive and stubborn. I like tables and chairs, blankets, and clean spaces to sleepwalk through.

I woke up in a small panic two nights ago. That hasn't happened for months. Or, alternatively, it happens all the time inside my head - deeper, unnoticeable, subconscious - and I sleep/dream through it. But again - I know I'm not the only one. Happens to a lot of you.

Now Bruce is singing about "scatterbrain" and "bustin' off the altar" (the song is called Bishop Danced). He's totally going for broke in a crazed late-song early 70s rap. He still didn't have a record contract so you could hear the hunger if you listen close enough.

I've been listening a lot lately. To people. I hear the hope, the sadness, the joy and regret. I have empathy. I need empathy.

Each of you wonder about decisions you've made. It's not just one of you - two, three, four, five of you. I hear it all.

Someone wonders if it was a fair trade. And in the night haze, the lights look good in the hills. But things feel different on the inside.

Someone wonders if someone had just made an effort, a giant gesture, then it wouldn't have happened - the 3 verbs that start with vowels.

Someone else looks at you with those big eyes and implies that yes - the job will get done.

Someone else looks at area codes on incoming phone calls and hopes the news is bad this time.

It's strange. I listened to 4 songs from the Go-Go's 1984 post-career-peak album Talk Show recently. I hadn't heard those songs since 1989 and I knew every word, every non-word. They weren't a particularly great band. I didn't relate to them exactly. But I loved that album. And 3 of those 4 songs were brilliant, criminally underheard. And I ask myself - why do I remember those songs at the expense of others? Is it because I have a cherished memory of driving to the Jersey Shore (near where Springsteen grew up) to see the Go Go's play an outdoor show in the summer of '84, with INXS opening for them? Or is it because I bought the cassette of that album on the day my mother went to the hospital for treatment of cancer? And yes I buried that latter memory for 20+ years and stuck it inside the memory of an album that no one else really cares about. That was also the year the family left Pennsylvania. That was also the year - with my mother's health still in doubt - that my sister got engaged too young. That was also the year my sister broke off the engagement. It was the year we moved to Minnesota and I made 40% of the friends I have now.

I understand it. The need not to drive on that street, that far north into Chicago. Don't pass this line. Don't look that way. I'm like that. There are places I don't want to go. Places I do go to and want to leave and suddenly I'm in the Minneapolis airport drinking something strong, hoping to fall asleep later without snoring in the middle seat.

I understand it. The need to not make contact, not look eye to eye, to decline the reaching-out offers for lunch, to hold on to the bet, wait out the storm, the investment, the trade. I know it's hard.

I used to gamble too much. This was not too long ago (November 2003 - December 2006). I don't know why exactly it started. I'm not sure exactly why it ended. It's almost as if it didn't have to start, didn't have to end. But it did and it did.

The chemotherapy worked. My dad took that job in Minnesota and the hospital on the hill in Pennsylvania where two lives in my family were legendarily saved was nothing but a memory. My sister eventually moved to California two years later and, another year later, married the man she's still married to. I guess there's something to be said for getting hitched too young.

The gambling story probably started many years before that, I know. It always starts earlier than you think.

It's a gamble, I know. It's a choice, sure. A reasoned choice or an impatient one. Choices and decisions and gambles - they have a way of shaking out. And you find yourself in Hyde Park with 3 cats, or in Melrose Hill with 2. Or in Glendale with no cats or in Miracle Mile with wicker. Or in South Pasadena with 3 and a baby. Or in Williamsburg - or whatever Brooklyn neighborhood you live in now John - with a laptop. Or in south Minneapolis with modular cubes. Or in Venice with a half-decade-long art project or in an Eichler tract with the planning of the baby coming in 6 months. Or in dirty Brea with a turntable and a shopping cart and that fucking chair from Pier 1.

The gambling urge just took over. You see, I did it - on iTunes, I selected Big Friday by Bonnie Prince Billy. It's the song I heard 6 times in a row driving through an Orange, California neighborhood... killing time before my first date with Alex. I wanted to be three minutes late, rather than 12 minutes early. The song was like a lullaby. It relaxed me. It inspired me. It circled me and, when it had me in its sights, it ended. Because it's only 2 minutes and 43 seconds long. It lulled me. It focused me. It made me feel like a writer.

What's it doing to me now? It's filling me with indefinable joy.

The other day, on my way to Mount Prospect through Des Plaines from Chicago on the interstate, I passed the same highway oasis I passed in July of '84, when my family left the east coast for the midwest. On Friday, I passed it in the daytime. In '84, I passed it at night. We were on our final push, all the way to Eden Prairie, MN. Why didn't we stop in another hotel room? Why did we drive another 8 hours into the sunrise? Why did I have to get there at 6:00am instead of 3:00pm? Do I remember it correctly? Did we stop at a motel? Did we pull over, the 4 of us in our 3 cars?

The other day on the Illinois interstate, I wasn't going too far. I took the next exit, after Des Plaines. I didn't even remember 1984 until today when I was forcing myself to. I found a Starbucks. They didn't have Starbucks in '84. It was inside a grocery store. The latte woke me up good.

I just played Big Friday again. I like the way it ends... "to have such a woman... with me." He never really defines who "such a woman" is. He just sings it.

I'm taking another chance. I'm playing Table For One by Liz Phair, one of the saddest songs ever written. She mostly writes sad songs and sang them happy to even things out. Or unsexy songs that she dirties up for poetry. You see, this is sad:

"I want to die alone
with my sympathy beside me
I want to bring down all those demons
That drank with me
Feasting gleefully
On my desperation"

Wow. How do you even react to that?

"I promise I'll make some changes"

But then the guitar is so lamenting that she or whomever she's singing as might never change.

The next verse that starts out with "I want to..." is even sadder. I won't post it here because I can't figure it all out right now.

This is a long entry. Rambling, yes.

And then the Liz Phair song ends with devastation. A new one - Why I Lie - starts and maybe explains what came before it. Or maybe not. She could have just been playing tricks with that sequence. She's a genius.

I know other geniuses - ones I actually talk to and fly to and walk with in the aisles of Trader Joe's. I love them, those geniuses.

What's this all about? The end of something? The methodical fading out of songs? The silence in between the old and new? The year of brilliant mistakes? The months with a sense of purpose? Is it about yesterday, with 2 colleges and a free smoothie? Or about this weekend, when the truck is rented and I gamble again (with friends, for fun, at a party)? Are all of them really friends? Is it really all that fun? Well, if they play those cool songs again, yeah.

Yes, I dodged my own question.

On Saturday night, my cousin and I were sitting at a window seat at a bar on the south side of Chicago. Lake Michigan was a short windy walk away to the east, his apartment a shorter walk to the west. We talked, like we do twice a year, about our family. The stories we've been told and the stories we've lived. The holiday gatherings we've been invited to and the ones we weren't. The gatherings that don't exist anymore. And yes there was sadness. And pride in not giving in. And joy at getting it - that the stories we were told were sometimes not true, that fear is a motivator and love is difficult, that we tell our own stories and our narratives can get even stickier because we're pulling out what we think is the truth. I believe there is a truth, that truth isn't subjective. I may be in the minority on that one.

Some of these stories are hilarious. That's why our screenplay or teleplay promises to be a comedy.

Should I tell one of these stories here, today?

Or should I tell a newer one, one from last year? The story about me being slightly hit by a car. Did I exaggerate some elements? Did I move the scene of the incident to another location for no acceptable reason? Was I shellshocked because it was still soon? Did I hallucinate what happened later that night? Did I later walk into the door at the office and bloody myself because I was tired from sleeplessness? Did I get better? If I ever tell you the story, you'll know.

Now I'm listening to Sea Legs by The Shins. It has a perfect title. It feels like the sea. And legs. And when I hear these words...

"Of all the intersecting lines in the sand
I routed a labyrinth to your lap"

...I see lines. I see them in a grid. I don't see the actual shape of the labyrinth as clearly but I'm smart enough to know it's there, if not genius enough to picture it.

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