Saturday, August 20, 2016

The trip to the Hamptons, collecting my mom in Penn Station after her long early morning drive over changing roads to the Syracuse train station and then the long ride along the Mohawk and down the Hudson, arriving an hour late, the taxi stand on northbound 8th Avenue hot and slow, to the Jitney with a revised reservation for the 6 PM, through that city where I would have wanted to live, where people of odd talents might find a place, a cubbyhole.

The pleasant visit, a two night stay before going back.  Asked to, while clams are grilled, I bring in two pieces of the swimsuit improvised for mom, and when I place them in the guest room and then the upstairs laundry chute, there's a tiny wolf spider looking up at me from the hairs of my tanned left forearm, a hopping spider, considerate of direction, rotating to get a better sense of its place, to escort back outside, fine where it is for this brief moment of wild animal (insect) handling, in which I am, I know, in no danger, and nor is anyone else.  Possums eat ticks and mosquitoes, and spiders such as this have their own place, benevolently, not like they play with poisons or matches outside your backdoor intent on violation and siege, nor are they dumbly aggressive out of self-protection.

So I walk back the stairs in through the big living room, talking, or thinking of it, quietly to the spider, an old friend from a winter kitchen not that long ago.  How many eyes do you have, actually, my friend.  Well, I guess we'd better go back outside the way things are such in here.

What's that you've got on your arm ?  A tick?

No.  Just a little spider.  Harmless.

Just   Kill   the spider.

I'm on my way out the door, though the spider attempts a quick strand to parachute away, though I regather, moving forward, spider pulling in back to the golden hairs on my hairy arm, a forest of bent-over bamboo or natural wicker.

The spider is not a problem at all.  In the cold season a spider exactly alike has stood on a wall by the refrigerator of an apartment, at eye level, raising his/her front legs, and eyes up, to look up in a salute to conversation, and the conversation was close, mutually interesting, I would imagine, perfectly peaceful, my house is yours, neither afraid in the slightest.  No thoughts of flattening a living being into a squashed state of death.

I come back in.

Where's the spider?

He agreed to go on his own way, no problem, friendly arrangement.  Off he went.  Off'a, one of those lounge chairs...

And then getting up early, back to New York, to get mom to her train, and myself back to DC for a quiet Sunday night shift.

But this is all just to pose a thought, a sort of questioning one, a what if.  And what if, in town, a really kind person showed up.  Not asking anybody for anything, doing his or her work, and just, as might be impossible in certain places, just being kind, in a kind, quiet, unobtrusive way, as if a fellow human being could appear kind of as a bird, a sighting that instinctively and automatically reminds us, brings us, of and to nature, the glimpse of an originality, an unexpected thing that is one of the trademarks of a species, like the call of an own or a mourning dove, or the flap of a crow pulling up like a fast descending helicopter of war upon a robin's perch with nest.  (Crows are magnificent as well, friends almost.)

What if there were that kind person, a fellow or a gal who'd come in from a long ways away, a unique place with its own character, not just another big city in the world or a popular mall, ambitious, visited.  Far away.  Maybe even from somewhere a good portion of it made up in his own mind, his own thoughts to what reality is.

That person who steers the bike wide to let a young lady come up the parked cars on a  quiet street below Oak Hill Cemetery.  I turn my lamp down to the ground, and she smiles at me, and one sees another, the great phenomenon, the treasure of another human being.  She's pretty and elegant in her black dress set for a lovely evening, and I got to get back and unload the groceries in my courier bag, things to do, before heading back into work tomorrow.
'Crazy to bring flowers to a beautiful girl,' I said, and it wasn't a bad line, and decently delivered.  That made it the second time I'd brought her flowers at the end of a school year, and the second time she'd rejected them.  "Hide them," she'd said the first time, and then "you're crazy," the second time.  And each time I left.

We all want to move on.  Most definitely.  But there's a literary quality to the things we say, and consciously or not, to varying extents, we enter in a literary game with other people to the extent that we and they are in some way literary.  Literary people tickle us, whether they know us to be literary or not ourselves, a lot of this being necessarily masked and below the surface, as real truths often are, what can you do.

But once you've seen it, real and true, in another person, thereby an attractive person, is there any reality greater?  Other friendships hold, and save us from the loneliness of night and other hazard times, but it those literary relationships that hold sway over our imaginations, that light our brains and body's senses, our memories of worded chess games when both were on the same side and somehow then lost each other in the non-literary world's symbolic darkness.

I put it in a book, towards the end.  I'd be stuck for years rendering the same line to myself, just occurring as it would, naturally, beyond my control, vain to try not to.  Absorb.  Take in nature, let years pass, and then more years, then more, and try to be, more than you'd have wanted to, a better person, though being 'a better person' is fraught with perils of living in unrealities.

You're left with your sketchbook.  You're left remembering that there is this literary quality of life, and like nature, a melting arctic, dying trees, you would want to protect that.  They've always done so in the past, what with all those writer peoples, Chekhovs and Joyces, so many examples I can not even expound nor name, Keats, Wordsworth, Twain, and all those I've not personally read, or gotten past the first try.  There is, though, the defense of the literary mode of the ape human mind, that mode of Shakespeare, anthropologist through his own prism that he was, the ear the natural vetting ground for any thought that might take to words and imaginative flight.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Leaving the Hamptons on the Jitney, heading to Manhattan to connect at Penn Station to the Northeast Regional, back to DC.  "Life has passed me by," the thought in my mind to be meditated over, as I slump low in my seat on the shaded side of a full train, having lost the pretty girl in white with a low cut dress and tattoo hidden on her inner ankle in her low boot-like shoe in the scrum of getting to the right gate piled up like fish trying to get through,  The Bhagavad Gita doing me no good.

Back to the bar, to work a Saturday night, I calmly patiently wait on everyone, put on my little act of French service, it's a quiet night, I'm left to close, and when the bar clears out, I run next door to the Chinese to order a late dinner before they close too.  Empty quiet night, hardly a passer by on the street, but for cars that go by, going somewhere, some speeding, some not.  And when I come back, there's a guy from the kitchen sitting at the bar, his long arms spread out, waiting for me.    The young pastry chef joins him.  He starts talking non-stop, sounding troubled.  He talks about the fights with his wife and his year and a half old son, other problems that came about when he didn't exercise when he was a kid and they moved to Paris from the countryside.  He is not unobservant to psychological aspects of people's lives.

Ah, New York, the style, the people, the energy, the clear air, the literary quality, its very presence...  College funnels you in that direction, and you make a mistake if you don't go there, and now, at my age, and income level, far too late.  I walk past the multitude of ghosts of actor friends and publishing worlds, editors, writers I could help, friends to make, interesting people, women I'd love to have dated, places where I could have fit in, stories to tell, ones that don't grow in the angry hierarchy of DC where one is left to martyr it out.  The Empire State building towers above, and there are tour guides everywhere as well as people who want their services and I wonder why it is that I cannot stop too.

Doctor, there I am again, by the sidelines of the football game, homecoming, and she's sitting there, and one of her roommates passes on through one of my friends that I was her boyfriend the previous year, except she was rather harsh and abrupt when I called her the night before.  My friends Jeffrey and Randy, I follow them as they go to smoke some weed and I reluctantly half-heartedly take a hit, and then I go back and stand by the cinder running track, and now I feel pretty stupid.  She stands up, but I don't look up, what a fucking idiot.  And there's a Times article I just read, about addiction, how it's a learning disability, a bad connection in the brain...  Even if I'm not, reading things like that make you wonder, 'maybe I am...'

A kind young woman, an educated person, and I'm the jerk times a million.  Not that I want to think about it anymore, just happens, try as I might, to forget it all.

Add that on top of my normal social anxieties...  That kind of double duty thing.
That year, my mistake original, choosing to live my senior year not with my friends down on the campus, five minutes walking distance to the dining hall, the library and all the buildings where there were classrooms, but up on the hill above the Dickinson houses, overlooking the town and the spire of the town hall.  It was a mistake made out of a romantic impulse, the vision of a poet's privacy, detachment.  The old DKE frat house, the parlor to the left, perhaps once a dining room with Sir Isaac Newtown's fireplace, by the time I came back from summer, had been renovated anyway, losing its old fixtures, its quirky lines of charm, the open staircases, glassed in with safety glass crisscrossed with its fibers, and there I was, isolated, in the back of the buildings, and I see now how that isolation effected a lot of things.  Without the feedback, the encouragement, the physical proximity of my buddies, Randy, Jon, Jeffrey, Spike, Steve, a fair hike between me and them, without one's friends, shut-down mode is a lot easier to slip into.  Even the poet, as much as anyone, maybe more, needs friends and social interactions, and even if one fancies he might be good at that time alone to write, that alone time quickly sours, and this is just simply human nature.

That choice became a radiant jewel of mistakes, that extra step of isolation, of removal, up to the end after I brought her flowers the second year in a row at the end of classes, and after her initial rejection stayed up on my hill rather than go down for dinner that Saturday night in the dining hall, when she had warmed to me again, but my bitterness had taken over like the wish for a long nap.

For city people, that general underestimation of social need, is less common than it is for a kid who grew up in the country, on country roads, with distance sports and long landscapes.  But I fell into it, and such a shyness toward groups and crowds, is not good for the starting of careers.  After going back home, sad, I finally went off on my own, down to the city, not her city, but Washington, DC, and ended up in the restaurant business, attempting to correct my propensity for isolation.  Always a group, friends to talk to.  I was a barman, on good terms with a good array of people, which was more a reflection of who I was, gifted at gab and smiles and kind ear, than that conceit of being the writer in command of the Shakespearean panoply of the human condition.  I came home at the end of the night alone, without a personal life to speak of, unachieved.  For all that talk and exchange, washing up on the shore of One AM, with a few hours left to calm the blood and unwind toward sleep, to wake looking back at that spot where I did not continue to grow as I should have, with lots of possible jobs to think of without having the energy to have ever tried.

The artistic temperament is best put to use harnessed in social activity, actors meeting writers and producers over the activity of a stage, the thing that fired Shakespeare's great effort, the players, people to socialize with in order to bring out one's truer agendas.

And yet, some are born observers, fond of, like Joseph Mitchell was, walking the streets of the city day and night, collecting stories and senses and observations made of watching people.  Going to a Mass without knowing exactly why or with proper understanding of the customs and words and actions of a Mass.  (See his "Street Life," in The New Yorker, an excerpt from his unpublished memoir, November 11&18, 2013 issue.)  The courtly writer who mixes well with odd people, but, being so original a swath of humanity that he is an odd duck, neither this nor that, not a banker, not even a reporter anymore, but a slow burning teller of humanity's story.  Able to do so out of a strange coincidence, that he too is finally human, longing for the same gentle conversations of smiling engagement and chuckles of laughter and common purpose that the Hispanic wait staff and busboys have with each other in Spanish, leaving the writer barman excluded as he sets up for a night.

Each step is hard in life, the security blanket being that tradition of a wandering writer telling an amorphous story of disparate detail.  There is, certainly, that pull, for a country boy at least, to spend that time with the deeper mind, with words, with the facets of the natural world such as birds and trees and the shining of the moon and the pull of rivers, that are, to the poetic mind, a relative of the deeper mind in the context of the globe we all live upon, as some see it, a great connected system which is itself a being, a living thing, of mind and response, of health and illness too.

A writer's mother feels that loneliness and isolation too, and knew she needed to do something to get out of it.  She took out a lot of student loans, got a Ph.D., and became a writer, one with that good base of the classroom and of the community a university a campus allows.  A good transition to make.

And she will be happy when I tell her, how with the rest of my day, I found a view of the river I'd not appreciated before.  And I had a sense of great relief, being relieved of that thought of the necessity of an urban social life such as always eats at us, turning back to nature and that older story of the city and the river that gave life to it as an infant town, the river still there, on its own terms, with herons by its muddy banks where its waters run slower than the rapids above and the currents below.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Six straight nights up at the wine bar, four of them by myself.  Friday, all by myself, busboy.  Saturday, same thing.  Sunday night, no busboy.  Monday, some help.  Tuesday, alone, no busboy.  Wednesday, some help.  Jazz night complicates things intensely.   I'm the last to leave.

Two days off.  Unable to get moving in the afternoon.

As he lay there, tired, adjusting to the medicine, not having to go into work, he had the sensation as if below his breastbone in that energy center of intersections there was something like a box, a small cubicle chest, and that in it there were the physical memories of a particular person, a young woman from some time ago, that each and everyone of his dealings with had somehow tickled him, entering him.  The times, the circumstances, the words that happen, the events that can happen, they might not quite reflect the gut physical reaction.  Human, one might even act logically contrary to the wishes of the inner body and nervous system.  But that small chest full of the sensations that built upon each other had gave meaning, that was always there too, and required of him a reaction, such as would come out involuntarily, a voice cracking, the sound of the voice as it reacts to her action, a tonal musical quality which is uncontrolled, like the octave of a vessel being filled with water.  There was not anything he could do about this, about that center, like a chakra, of gut reaction to her person.  It had all happened at a vulnerable time anyway.  One of the last times after being where she was, he had vomited.

That was the thing within, that he had no power over, even as he tried to turn from it, escape from that which resided under his breastplate in a small central chamber.  There was not anything he could do about it now, but live with it, under some form of Buddhist philosophy, passive, accepting, the wiser for knowing a physical truth.

Working at the bar had been an effort along such lines.  A way of trying to distract himself.

Shakespeare.  Shakespeare.  He understood that people needed to talk, and that, also, and very importantly, people could be geniuses at it, and do great and almost infinitely--taking in dark matter and dark energy--gifted highly intelligent things of great compass.  Such that when a political convention comes along--I mean, just to use the example, because that example is now highly present--one could each, within his own his or her self, come up with good and vital things to say, things worth listening to, things built on the shoulders of a million disparate dreams that happen to us in our sleep, and that come out, meaning something, unknown to us, but a process.  I could speaking at that convention.  This is what I would add.

Thus, now, the possibility and popularity of certain mediums.  And one can take the event of a political convention and understand it in terms of meaning, maybe symbolic meaning, well, of course.

The leanness, the lack of anything superfluous, observed by Amherst College President, host to JFK's October, 1963 visit, Calvin Plimpton...  And he, JFK, was one of the great speakers here and now in our knowledge of the political world.

Words at a convention can be taken anywhere.  Many models there are, looking at the offspring.  Many things can be said, many things can be spoken, many people can speak, and it's a choice, a rehearsed thing, but that you know when you are hearing someone whose speech you trust, words you trust, thoughts you trust.  And all that can be up for grabs, when the dreaming person who is a potential voter listened, to the extent that they can listen.    What to take away, what to take seriously?  Where is the meat, where the gristle, where the healthy vegetable and the fiber, and where the bread?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Sometimes, after tending bar for a number of nights in a row, I wake up very tired, and I sleep and sleep.  My mood could be described as depressed, but it's a matter of processing.  And this is what the long sleep, the laying about, the doing of very little, accomplishes, perhaps like the process of molting, getting rid of the skin one had to wear to get through a few things.  It happens seasonally.  Sometimes when great bouts of rain fall, cold, darkness falling early, the simple need to curl up and sleep and sleep, and not move, to let the fibers of the body and the mind reweave themselves out of the tangles and broken strands, the electric disruptions, the noise, the aches that make you think of other aches not as physical, but still physical as the loads of work, literal cases of wine and and heavy plates to clear.

The day off, the words of Jefferson, often quoted, on the back of many a good bottle of wine, imported by Kermit Lynch, "I find good wine a necessity of life."  And this too is, the glass of wine, at the right time, is part of processing, of reaching back to the Gospels, the applicable truths of life deeply understood.  A glass of Ventoux refreshes the perspective.  It raises the psyche out of darker places, encouraging forward motion.

The challenge, how would I describe the personal experience of being a barman for twenty five years longer than I might like to admit.  I've had more wine than I might like to admit over those years, too, but hey, maybe I'm not totally alone in that.  There is after all, the Christian mention of wine, in the Gospels, in a central parable, and on into the legacy of interpretation, notably, the scene of The Wedding at Cana, a central chapter in the reading of The Brothers Karamazov, Alyosha, the youngest of three imagining in dream the truth of the departed elder, the remarkable Father Zossima.  Dostoevsky himself turned to such people, when he was hurting, having lost a son, in the course of his own difficult now almost unimaginable life.

But where, impossibly, would I start, with this, without being a fake?  How would I bring out my street cred, such as many a waited-on party might seem to have missed, not asking too often of my wisdom, only the occasional embarrassing reference to 'the book I wrote,' or the songs I recorded of Irish music and put up, embarrassingly on Youtube.  The Kennedys and the Fitzgeralds started out as pub and bar owners, with their own two hands, and there is a Catholic vibe, a Christian opening-up in such a line of work that might be absent in offices of the sort we all must now live by, but still craving that little moment of freedom, sometimes glimpsed at ten PM, the beauty of a glass of wine at a favorite bar as it winds down into the night.

Reference the darkness one personally overcomes, on a daily basis.  I don't want to be light about it, I don't want to be, certainly, heavy about it.  It's all garden variety stuff.  But stuff from which we might take away meaning, even if meanings are obscured, and we have to look in impossibly high places for them, places seemingly reserved for better people than ourselves.

Getting ready for work, that's the hard part.  Friday, 4:30 PM, is your own workweek's Monday morning, and you went out to dinner the night before, a celebration.  It takes a lot of prep, green tea, the searing of lamb sausages and then into the oven, shower, folding a shirt, loading the courier bag with the essentials of work and modern identity and modern tools, the Parker steel ball point pen a thrown back, a charged iPhone, wallet.  Oh, man, you know you'll be by yourself up the wine bar.  Get out the door, on the bike, up the grand avenue, and into the woods, where, in the shade, in the quiet, I call my mom.  And at this point, I'm still, today at least, in a sort of gloom.  One invitation meant canceling another, and when I talk to my mom, I reveal my sense of how, as if habitually, again, I have bolluxed things up again, the disappointing of a particular sort of person one should and does not ever want to disappoint.

And I'm hinting at my thought of how I have irrevocably, again, messed things up, I don't know, out of loyalty to steady friend, out of nervousness, shyness, social anxieties, a lack of dating...  It takes a great mom to give the lesson such gloom deserves.  "If you're going to think like that, you're never going to get out of that hole, and by thinking that way, you bring everybody down."  Ouch, it's true.  But, I suppose, it's a thought I've wanted to get off of my chest for a long time now.  "I'm sorry, mom, you're my sounding board.  That's why we write, to get all that bad stuff out you know."  I feel bad.  I've made her blood pressure go up.

I don't know where the nerves come from, but they come from somewhere.

Stand up comedy points the way to writing.  Writing points the way back to the dramas of old that let playwright and poet have a toehold of established profession.  But there were only ever a few of them, a very few, a very very very very few.  And then consider all the people who spout of with things to say.  No wonder Shakespeare took to the game of classification, as if drawing out species of birds.  Falstaff, the archetype.  Hamlet, Romeo, Juliet, Caesar, Prospero, Puck, Lear, all taken from the templates of humanity that you and will see if we with open eye venture out, wary of the kaleidoscope of human integer and feathered disguises, tropes, a mirrored surface of many confusions as Liberace's piano and suit.  I am no better, nor no worse.  I've, like we all do, as professionals, fallen into that archetype of what one should be, without really ever knowing why, or how we came to be who we are.  I know.  I play a role.  It makes less and less to me every day, this character, lonely figure who does his job and does it well to go home to a vacuum after dealing with a lot of junk, graceful processing of junk good tidings, waited on people, conversations that are not real, the lackey's flourish of good will no one really gives too much weight to.  Even though it goes back and back a long way and some people thankfully see that.     At this point the writer is now generalizing, and that is poor writing, sweeping statements, a waste of mental space...

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Song of the Mountains, on MPT, between 4 and 5 AM, "Jessie McReynolds & the Virginia Boys," from 2009--here's a venerable man from Grand Ol' Opry, with grandchildren playing good music.  It is fuller entertainment than just music.  Bluegrass, it is called.  But one subliminally remembers Hamlet, awake, troubled, his enthusiasm for the players, for they will catch the conscience of the king, get to the kernel of the issue.  Here it is, calming entertainment for the insomniac, from The Lincoln Theater in Marion, Virginia, and a pretty granddaughter Amanda's voice to grace the band.  "These people are born able to sing," because it's not that easy, I would know.

Compelling material, heartbreak, dreams, 'it's you I'm thinking of my heart echoes the love words you've spoken, .... won't you answer a heart that is broken, and make my wishful thinking come true, my wishful thinkin' come true.'

The old guy is in good shape.  Black Muddy River, a Robert Hunter-words/Jerry Garcia-the music song.  Good head of hair, dark, a Lincolnesque face, though not a tall fellow.  Harmonies.  Strong jaw and cheekbone, a hawk nose, inherited by charming granddaughter, a kindly face, a kindly way, a man comfortable being himself on a stage, nothing more, nothing less than what he is.

Three chord songs, more or less, with the alternation, one to four, to one, to five, to one, and so on.  A ribbon of paper clipped to the tuning peg of the mandolin.

"Let's get back to the bluegrass," he says, and it's Shenandoah Valley Breakdown, an instrumental.  Fiddle, now banjo, claw hammer style, then the feverish mandolin, the earliest of rock'n'roll strumming style, and the ballgame continues.  Shave and a haircut, six pence.  Grey Grand Ol' Opry style Western jacket, grey.  The grandson, a hefty guy in a black suit plays the standard D-28 with that good thump.

People from coal mining towns.  The crowd, elderly, a happy audience.   A final song, grandfather
and granddaughter singing in harmony in the same microphone, That Air Mail Special of Mine, and the crowd stands, applauding.

Song of the Mountains dot org.