Jun 9 2014

Falling Away

I never would have guessed he was forty-two; maybe fifty-two, or sixty-two, but certainly not any younger than that.

He passed me an old canteen that’d been roughly handled and beaten for what must have been decades, and told me to take a swig. I obliged and took a pull–and immediately regretted it. He smiled wide, a big, mostly toothless grin, and his laugh crawled forward from his lungs, the sound not unlike sandpaper scratching over an old log, along with the sound of his heaving exhalation that was rasp and nearly hoarse from years of cigarettes and weed.

“JESUS CHRIST.” I gasped, still trying to catch my breath from the liquid fire I’d just ingested.

“Moonshine.” He said as he winked and then nudged me with his elbow, looking for me to pass the deviled drink back to him. I did, having no interest in taking another swig. I already felt drunk from the modest amount I’d had.

The scenery flew by at a decent speed, and I surmised that we’d left Cleveland some distance behind us.

If you’ve never ridden on a train in the middle of the night, I wholeheartedly suggest you try it at least once. And I’m not talking about Amtrak or a passenger line–go find yourself an old freight train, rusted to within an inch of its life, one that runs the old rail road lines that have existed since before cars tamed the countryside. At the head of the train, you’ll find an old engine that’ll run on diesel and chug along at a decent speed if given enough open country to do so. Toward the middle of the train–never near the front, nor the back–crawl into a boxcar that has just a single door open wide, similarly rusted and abused, and have yourself a seat against one cold and unforgiving wall.

Once the train starts moving, pull your knees to your chest, and quietly watch as the sky and the stars and the ground and the trees and the grass all become one big stretch of unending silhouetted horizon. If you’re lucky and the moon is shining, you’ll see its light reflect upon the metal roofs of shacks that were built decades before; hidden lakes nobody knew were still there will seem like glassy mirrors pointed back up at the sky, and forgotten roads will be visible, winding aimlessly and carelessly through mountains and backwoods, having been abandoned and lost to time.

We sat in silence a while, as the burning sensation in my throat and stomach slowly subsided and was eventually gone.

“Where are you headed?” He asked.

I shook my head.

“Nowhere in particular, eh?” He smiled.

“Not really.”

He nodded, smiled a sort of sad smile, and took another swig of the engine-cleaning moonshine. He offered another sip.

“… Eh, what the hell.” I said, and took a drink. I coughed and hacked as I tried to keep the alcohol down. Jesus. It must have been 180 proof.

“Don’t worry, it gets better after a while.” He said.

“I should hope so. That stuff couldn’t taste any worse.”

He shook his head, “Life, kid.” And then he took another long drink.

“Where’re you from?” He asked.

“Oregon. You?”

He shrugged and then spread his arms out wide, gesturing toward the landscape passing by in front of us.

“Oh c’mon. You must have come from somewhere.” I said.

“Nah. Ran away from home when I was fourteen. Father used to beat me, and my mom died when I was a baby…”

“Ever see your old man after you ran away?” I asked.

“No.”

“Ever want to go find him?”

“Nope. He’s probably dead. And if I ever found him, I’d make sure he was.” He laughed that same strained laugh, but it seemed like it was mostly there to hide behind.

“So–you’re not just homeless. You’re without a home.” I said.

He spread his arms wide again, as if he was taking in the landscape and the stars and the sky and everything around him.

“I’m pretty blessed.” He finally said.

We felt the train go up over a hill, and watched as an old home–built and abandoned before the start of the century–disappeared into a valley of trees.

“When are you headed back to Oregon?” He finally asked.

“Dunno. When I get bored or homesick, I guess.”

“That’s the nice thing about riding on trains.”

“What is?”

“They’re like old country roads. You never really know where they’ll take you, but they really only go two ways: closer to home…”

“…and farther away.”


Apr 9 2014

Elvis

She wasn’t anything to look at, and I assumed that that was why she’d stopped to pick me up. It’s an unspoken but commonly held misconception that a hitchhiker will fuck for a ride, but I wasn’t in the habit or the mood, least of all with such an unattractive woman.

I spilled into the passenger seat out of the rain and thanked her for stopping.

Without replying, she threw the car in gear and pulled the old Buick into traffic at brusque and alarming speed. I grabbed a hold of the colloquially named “Oh Shit” handle on the ceiling and braced for the rest of the ride as she weaved in and out of traffic like an addict on an ether binge.

“Where you headed?” She asked in a Southern drawl so thick that it could strip paint.

I shrugged. I had no idea. I didn’t even know the name of the nearest town. I was just going, just trying to keep moving. The destination didn’t matter.

“My place then?” She jokingly asked, and then cackled like a witch from an old Disney movie filled with magic and fairy tale endings that never exist in real life. Her voice sounded as if she’d smoked two packs a day for three decades.

“I’ll just go as far as you’re willing to drive.” I was imagining her being splashed by rain water and melting down to the floor of the car in a puff of acrid smoke.

We sat in silence for a while, save for the taxed and over-revved engine being pushed far beyond its limits. Even if it hadn’t been built thirty years prior, it probably would have been right on the verge of flying apart.

The headlights from the oncoming cars flew past in a dizzying frenzy of bright halos and angry looking red tail lights glinting in the rear view mirror. I sighed from my duct tape swaddled and haphazardly patched passenger seat, unsure if I was prepared to fall asleep in the car of a woman who was simultaneously driving at ninety miles per hour and ready to have sex with a stranger plucked from the side of the road.

“I hate drivin’ alone.” She drawled, and then glanced over at me for long enough that I panicked about whether or not we were going to die in a fiery crash. It was then that I noticed her fresh black eye, bruises, and missing tooth, complete with an angry splash of blood coming from the corner of her mouth.

“I hear that a lot.” I said, and it was true. I’d been picked up hundreds of times, and nearly half were people saying that they wanted company or someone to talk to and keep them awake for the rest of their drive. It’s a strangely innate human characteristic and fear of being alone.

The car splashed through a puddle, flinging water twenty feet over the guardrail like a jet stream and landing across the windshield of a passing car on the other side of the highway.

“Were you in a fight?” I finally asked. I normally had a personal policy to never ask such a potentially volatile question of a driver, but I was tired and hungry and wet from the rain, and basically just didn’t give a shit. Plus, my curiosity was getting the better of me.

“Naw, just on the receiving end of one.” She said.

The ashtray in the car was full to the point of overflowing, and there were two different brands of cigarettes stubbed out carelessly in the gaping maw of the dash. I assumed one of those brands belonged to Mr. Southern Drawl.

The wind slithered in from outside and made a high pitched whistle as we sped down the highway. Traffic was lightening up, and we were mostly staying in one lane instead of dodging other vehicles and missing them by mere inches.

“Your boyfriend?” I finally asked, assuming that the mere mention or allusion to the man that had more than likely hit her would have me dropped at the side of the road like a bag of garbage.

There was a long silence again, my question hung in the air like the smell of the old stale cigarettes that permeated throughout the vehicle and littered the floor. She seemed nearly vacant, listless, like she was no longer in the car; instead, I imagined she was stuck in the depths of her own personal hell and couldn’t seem to clamor back out.

Finally, she spoke.

“When I was a little girl,” She said, “I had the worst crush on Elvis. Do you like Elvis?”

“A little before my time.” I said, still listening.

She took a deep breath, almost as if just thinking about someone not knowing Elvis’ work was painful to her.

“Darlin’, be sure to listen to some of his stuff. He was just… amazin’.”

“Okay. I’ll do that.”

She smiled at me and nodded her approval.

“When I was nineteen, I met a man that had these long black curls in his hair, and he used to slick them back in just such a way.” She said, motioning to the top of her head.

“He was so tall and handsome. It was like meeting the next best thing to Elvis. He was my Elvis. And I just married him as soon as I could, I thought he was such a find…” She trailed off, the car still flying down the road at an alarming speed.

I didn’t need to hear the rest of the story. I’d seen her vacant expression, the worn face, the sunken eyes, the laundry list of injuries she’d received that would go unpunished. I knew.

We rode the rest of the way in silence; me staring out the window, and her seemingly trapped beneath the ice and unable to come up for air in the seat beside mine.

When we got to the next town over about an hour later, she pulled into a truck stop parking lot at my request and I got out of her car. As I stood there, holding the car door, I felt that I needed to say something. Anything. I couldn’t let her drive off, back into the arms of her abuser, without saying something. Something.

“You know–” I began.

“It’s okay.” She said, looking at me defeated. She’d already heard it. She’d heard it a dozen times from a dozen people.

“You’re welcome for the ride. Take care of yourself.”

I knew how this was all going to play out. I’d seen the beatings and the fighting and separations and reconciliations and the never ending cycle that only ends with violence and death and battered children and broken homes.

It wasn’t fair.

I again opened my mouth to speak, and again she shushed me and asked me to close the car door; I reluctantly nodded and obliged, feeling defeated and hopeless.

She immediately sped out of the parking lot, the tires of her old car squealing wildly as it jumped back onto the highway, engine screaming in agony, tail lights blazing bright and red just like the hand marks splashed angrily across her face.

I fucking hate Elvis.


May 20 2011

And I am just like an acrobat tumbling down from the wire, and I’m fragile but happily broken for what I desire

I took their money, but it wasn’t about the food or the booze or the drugs; it wasn’t about being able to afford one more luxury or one more item to survive one more night.

I played my guitar while leaning against the cracked and brittle building–a wall of brown and brick and heat in the rippling sun. Guitar case open and eyes cast downward in a hundred mile stare, patrons wandered about uninterested in me–they didn’t see a man or a poet or a musician. They saw garbage–a pile of shit that deserved neither their respect or their pity. They didn’t hear the music that I’d crafted and carefully worked during the long days and miserly nights that I’d been travelling alone and in the weather–they heard only the songs of a beggar and a fool.

It didn’t matter that I wasn’t just helplessly sitting there with a sign, and it didn’t matter that I was trying to do something to stay alive–I was still just an otherwise inconsequential bump in the road.

Occasionally, a good Samaritan would throw a couple quarters or a dollar into my guitar case. I would raise my head, meet their gaze, and smile in the blazing sunlight beating down on my face. Sometimes they’d stay and listen a while, but most often not. Sometimes they would stay and chat after the song, but most often they didn’t care.

It wasn’t about the money.

It wasn’t about the drugs or the booze or the food that would keep me alive for another night.

All I wanted was to look someone in the eyes and have them take a long look back–maybe they’d see that I was still there, even if I was irretrievably lost.


Aug 24 2009

I flew so high my wings turned to smoke; I’m a natural disaster.

It always surprises me the times that I’m listening to music and the lyrics fit my mood and the words that are swirling in my head. I have a tendency to throw them in to the subject line of my blog posts (see above), and this one is no different.

I’ve been writing a decent amount of poetry the last week or so. Most of it is in my head, and I can’t tell if any of it is good or if it’s just rubbish. I imagine it’s mainly the latter, as I don’t feel like I’ve produced anything with much merit in the last several years. Sad, but true.

My Uncle, who has been my writing mentor for many years, has always told me that as long as my writing means something to me, and I quote, “Fuck the rest of them.”

I love his advice and have always tried to follow it. There have been many times when I’ve stopped to consider what others would think of something that I’ve written, and I try to remind myself that it doesn’t matter. I should write for myself and nobody else, and if someone happens to like then, well, great. If not, fuck ‘em.

In that respect, here’s some new writing. I’ve intermingled it with some old stuff that I found in some old archives. Comments are always welcome.

Beyond Bell Jars

Finding in between,
you taste just like
-yourself
poetic comparisons
make it easy to be faithless
or hopeless
and easier to ignore

For words, once masked
can fail the heart
and this, too, should be good
to open the glass
breathe into believing
beyond bell jars, poetry
and love

You

Intellectual Intercourse

I want to engage in intellectual intercourse
To drink deeply of experience
Sip slowly from the cup of wisdom
I want to meditate on the rain slapping the windowpane
Speak quietly to one another
At three a.m. in the soft glow of your green eyes
I want to discuss the meaning of all that exists
To gaze at the moon that sails by
Contemplate the equations of life
I want to toy with the fingers of the soul that drives you
Taste of a passion we both possess
Share a common spirituality
I want to engage in intellectual intercourse

Advice for a Poet

if you graphed out the relationship
a history of women
in my life
would precisely match
the volume of my poetic output

note the first poem
or more precisely
the please-take-me poem
which convinces her
that out of all the men
who admire her breasts
and her body
I alone come with rose in hand

then, periodically,
apologies, notes
pained verses, odes
and lists of reasons
to leave

then the high point on the graph
when, having discovered my faults or themselves
they leave me to write
flat on my back, ceiling for a page
full of take-me-back poems
I-hate-you poems
and poems about reasons
to go hitchhiking

peaks valley and all things decline
I learn to sleep less
think less, shave every three days
until the new checkout girl
gives me a reason to buy a razor

as for the long term prospect
if you had graphed it out
all things, they come to endings


Aug 21 2009

The Grind: Confessions of a bass player, Part 1

The logo on the front of the kick drum stares back at me, blankly. It says “Gretsch”, but I can’t be bothered to think about the 100 or so years of history behind the brand name. Instead, I’m in a dark basement that smells like cat urine and stale beer. There are black lights illuminating most everything, revealing the various stains and blotches on the carpet and walls that I don’t really care to see.

My band is practicing and I, reluctantly, am playing bass in this disaster of a practice space. It’s hot outside, almost 100 degrees, and it’s even hotter downstairs where we’re playing. The humidity makes it difficult to breathe, and somehow makes the putrid detritus and animal leavings even more unbearable.

We’ve finished about half of our songs, and we’re considering taking a break soon. I’m anxious to get out of the room. I’m sweating like a white republican during a government investigation, and I swear that I’m beginning to see things. I must be hallucinating from the heat. Jesus Christ it’s hot down here.

My fingers are slipping along the strings of my bass and I’m having trouble keeping them within the correct frets. It’s like trying to play notes on a Slip’n'Slide. I keep reading the brand name on the drum set, “GretschGretschGretschGretsch”. It has become a mantra. A distraction. Anything to keep my mind off of the smell and the heat and the pain in my wrists and hands.

It seems like we’ve been playing forever. Eternity. I begin to wonder if maybe I’ve died and gone to hell. I could imagine hell being a lot like this. Maybe with a little less cat pee, but otherwise, the correlation is spot on.

We’re getting close to the end of one of our songs and I can tell that everyone is already wiped out. Barely half way through our practice and everyone is looking around with the same expression on their face: Do we really want to finish?

Of course we want to finish. We have gigs coming up, and this is the last practice we’ll be able to fit in until after two weeks of shows. We can’t afford not to practice.

The last note rings out from our song, “Part 1″, and I feel a small sense of elation knowing that I’ll be heading outside for a few minutes. I know that this is what it takes; these are the sacrifices it takes to become a successful band. But at the moment, I don’t care. I just want out of this god forsaken room.

I can feel sweat trickling down in to my eyes, and now they’re burning. I’m done. I’m getting out of here.

Before starting the next song, I tell the rest of the band that I’m going outside. I set down my bass and walk out before they have a chance to respond. I don’t care. I feel like I’m dying and my self-preservation mode has kicked in.

It’s only a little bit cooler outside, but a decent breeze and lack of olfactory assault goes a long way. I’m feeling a mild sense of relief to be standing out on the sidewalk away from the thrum of guitars, keyboards, and drum sets.

The other four members of the band file out one by one, as if they’re on their way to their own execution. As each person makes their way to the sidewalk in front of the house, they stand next to me and take out their cigarettes and tobacco pouches.

Every person in the band smokes except for me, and they all light up as soon as they’re situated. I’ve gone from a cat pee laden room, to tobacco smoke “fresh air”.

Oh well. I’m not that attached to my lungs.

We talk about nothing in particular: girl trouble, money problems, upcoming shows, cover song ideas, song changes, album sales, in-laws, death, and the requisite jokes about each others sexuality. Nothing overly official, but band ideas are almost always discussed during our breaks.

As we begin to contemplate the walk back to the basement, we’re all exchanging glances again. Do we really want to go back down there?

We can’t play outside. It’d be too noisy and we’d have the cops bringing the noise ordinance smackdown in no time. But the misery involved in finishing out the rest of our songs is insurmountable.

We have another twenty songs to practice and then we’ll be able to pack up and leave for the night. Even though it’s starting to get late, we decide that we might as well head back down to the basement, suck it up, and try to enjoy the music as much as possible.

Standing off to one side in the tiny basement room and I’m staring down at the drum set logo once again. I can hear it now each time our drummer hits the kick drum.

“Gretsch”…”Gretsch”…”GretschGretsch”…”Gretsch”

I can hear it pounding in the center of my brain, exacerbating an already profound headache that I’ve had since early this morning. I’m ready to die. I don’t see how hell could compare to this any longer.

I glance around at the other band members as we’re playing, and realize that they’re all smiling. No reason. Just smiling.

We’re all standing in just about the smallest room you can fit five people in to, surrounded by hot amps, hot lights, and no fans in 100 degree weather, and we’re all smiling like psychos.

To an outside person, I’m sure we all look nuts. I’m sure we look like the cheese had finally fallen off of our collective crackers.

And then it happens.

It starts out as a small giggle from one of the band members. Subtle. Barely even noticeable over the roar of the guitars and distortion, but it slowly climaxes in to a crescendo of laughter from not one but all members of the band.

We’re damn near delirious at this point, I’m having trouble standing, and we’re still trying to play through the song. The laughing becomes uncontrollable and we’re all missing notes like a seventh grade school band.

The lead singer can’t yell in to the microphone any longer. He’s too busy, hunched over, trying his hardest just to play the correct notes on the guitar. He’s laughing so hard that his sides hurt.

How ridiculous. How utterly absurd was our entire situation, that we were all laughing about it at the same time? We want to be a successful band so badly that we are willing to stand in an insanely hot room and exert ourselves for hours on end, just to play the exact same music a few nights later in front of a group of strangers.

We stop the song. We can’t keep playing any longer. The laughter is too much. In the absurdity and insanity of it all, there is a silver lining in the cat pee stained room: us.


Dec 30 2008

And the least they ever gave you, is the most you ever knew

I’m a man of quotes, lyrics, poetry, and things that I touch back on and find inspiration. I’m dedicating this blog entry to nothing but words that I wish I wrote.

So, without further ado, some of my most favorite inspirational, touching, or emotional lyrics and poetry. I chose some of these simply because I can relate to the story being told, as well. Your mileage may vary.

Counting Crows, “Round Here

She looks up at the building
and says, “I’m thinking of jumping.
I’m sick and tired of life.”
Well, she must be tired of something.

Good starter lyric, huh? I knew you’d approve. How about my most favorite line from any poem, ever? I get chills whenever I read this, and I completely blame my Uncle Mitch for getting me interested in Yeats.

William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Oh c’mon, that stanza is just amazing. If you’ve ever read much Yeats, you’ll find that he’s damn near impossible to try and critique. I hold him in great esteem.

We’ll go back to a song lyric now, for those with short attention spans.

Floater, “Weary”

And if you weary of the pain
the pain will weary of you too

and if you weary of the days
the days will weary of you too

and if you weary of me
I will weary of you too

I know, lyrics out of the context of the song mean very little. But this song has meant a great deal to me for the last 12 years. That’s right, 12. Next!

Floater, “Independence Day”

Now tell me…
Was he the one while I was gone
who kept you busy?
Did he come in my place?
Could he make you dizzy?

And I suppose that I’ve got a little boy inside,
And in every woman’s man
is a little boy that died.

I’m stone jumpin’, looking at the ocean
I’ve got no direction, but I’m still in motion

and I’ve got my mind, I’ve got my music
I’ve got my soul, until I lose it

Right on

I know, a little bit long, but worth it. I like that song for obvious reasons… the main one being that I’ve been cheated on in the past, and always came back to listen to this song. Why? Because this song describes the silverlining of having someone stomp the shit out of your heart: Freedom. My independence day.

Now for some “classic” lyrics. And by classic, I mean some Pink Floyd.

Pink Floyd, “Comfortably Numb”

There is no pain, you are receding.
A distant ships smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I cant hear what youre sayin.
When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse,
Out of the corner of my eye.
I turned to look but it was gone.
I cannot put my finger on it now.
The child is grown, the dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb.

Anyone who has had any experience with drugs in their past can relate with the above. My particular experience isn’t drug related, per se, so much as medically related. It’s an interesting if, unnerving story. If you’re interested, e-mail me about it.

And on to another favorite poem stanza:

T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

This next piece is just amazing, just amazing. I don’t believe in God, Heaven, or Hell, but this piece speaks to me and affirms a lot of my beliefs. I’ll let it speak for itself.


John Ciardi, “In Place of a Curse”

At the next vacancy for God, if I am elected,
I shall forgive last the delicately wounded who,
having been slugged no harder than anyone else,
never got up again, neither to fight back,
nor to finger their jaws in painful admiration.

They who are wholly broken, and they in whom mercy is understanding,
I shall embrace at once and lead to pillows in heaven.
But they who are the meek by trade, baiting the best of their betters with extortions of a mock-helplessness,
I shall take last to love, and never wholly.

Let them all in Heaven – I abolish Hell -
but let it be read over them as they enter:
Beware the calculations of the meek, who gambled nothing
gave nothing, and could never receive enough.

Ahhh yes, another one that just gives me chills. Pretty sweet, eh? Okay, this next stanza is something that I came across several years ago, shortly after my mom died, and it always lodged in the back of my mind. I always liked the principle.

Sir James George Frazer, “The Golden Bough”, 1922

From the chapter, “The Principles of Magic”

“The second principle of magic: things which have once been in contact with each other continue to act on each other at a distance after the physical contact has been severed.”

While I don’t believe in magic, voodoo, or anything similar… there’s something about the above quote that simply speaks to me. As I said, it has stayed lodged in my brain for years. In many ways, I hope and I wish that it were true.

Anyway, that’s probably enough for right now. I’ll add to this post, or maybe I’ll create a new one when I have an updated list of lyrics and poetry to add.


May 20 2008

Lost in a sea of yesterdays…

In the last two weeks I’ve been writing an autobiography. I don’t claim that my life is any more interesting than anyone else’s, or anything even remotely similar. I simply have a very unique perspective on life and believe that there are people in this would that could benefit from it.

I can’t really elaborate much beyond that, as it would give away the context of the book and the reasons that I’m writing it. I will say that I’m afflicted with a particular condition that does make for interesting reading. :-)

I’ve been lost in a sea of yesterdays, sifting carefully through my past and trying to find those trivial morsels and nuggets of truth that will make for a good book. I’ve found that I’ve lived a lot of life in my intervening twenty-six years, and that I have many more ahead of me. As I Read back through the rough draft that I’ve written, Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man” monologue seems even more poignant.

I feel that after each successive age of life, the old me has somehow died and only my essence has carried on to now. I suppose that’s the closest equivalent to a soul that I will ever believe in. I often wonder how many stages I’ve leaped past in order to get where I am today. I’ve been told many times that I’ve an ancient soul, and while I sometimes agree, I always seem to be stumbling and struggling on.

PS – Here’s a decent read on the monologue I mentioned above