Saturday, March 22, 2014

Withdrawal

Slipping away becomes easier with age.

Having put away old jobs and odd careers, much like Paul put away his childish things, it becomes easier not to answer the ringing telephone or the buzzing doorbell. Easier to avoid events where one will be exposed to others who neither know, nor care to discover, things about you.

Not difficult, at all. Effortless. Like easing back into warm bathwater.

One strives to leave a mark when one is strong and vital. One fails. And fails again. And yet again. But has achievements, too. Those now-and-then accomplishments that serve as names to mark you. Names, like bygone olive wreaths, you wear as though they had some meaning and they mattered.

They don’t. Or sometimes—on some rare occasions—now and then, they might, to someone. For a time. A short time. Until those few who hold some partial strands of recollections of who you might have been discard them before they can have passed them on to others.

And the undertaker burns the threads.

I wonder, can one ever love enough to assure one’s being loved in turn? The one does not guarantee the other. Love is not a cause and effect, an equation complete for all time.

No. One never loves enough. Can never. Must always fail.

Until one day one finds that one has gone away—some other where, not having lived and not yet dead; and the space where one once stood is filled again as though one never was.

Then sleep. Then sleep.
I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth...this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
Hamlet, II, 2


Friday, March 7, 2014

Yellow Rubber Duckies

A young person I know recently expressed his sorrow at a friend’s passing by saying, “Loss for the most part, I believe, is a change in energy.”

Bless his heart, he’s still—unseasoned.

What the hell is “a change in energy,” anyway?

Maybe I’m making too much of the disparity between his youth and my dotage. I tend to become cranky and critical when the young grapple with Ideas of Importance, ignoring my own recollections of having done exactly the same in my own distant past.

I do prefer to think of eternal loss in a grander way. As a cold, cold emptiness. A loss of the soul’s bone density that leaves its skeletal structure brittle.

Still, the callous will say that life goes on, and so it does, and death is with us every moment. For what is each passing moment but a hint of death, a practice for the final showdown between me—and you—and the reaper?

Leaving home is a death. Changing jobs, apologizing for having done something hurtful, losing touch with an old friend, falling out of love. They’re all deaths in their way.

And we go on, haunted by memories and regrets, while the past recedes, indifferent as stone to our acts of contrition.

When I was a small boy in a small Louisiana town, every October we had a harvest fair. For three whole days, main street would dress itself up in garish colors, loud jangly music would blast from makeshift megaphones on poles, and barkers who lived on highways would erect makeshift tents where for a quarter you could win a prize.

The one I always went to, because you couldn’t lose, was the one with the man who had the long tin tub filled with water and with so many little yellow rubber duckies that you couldn’t count them, bobbing along the surface.

You gave him a quarter or a dime (I can’t remember which), and you picked a duck up out of the water. On it’s bottom was written a number, and that number coincided with a prize. See, you never left empty-handed. The prize you won certainly cost him less than a quarter or a dime, but you got a return on your investment and a small-boy thrill.

That’s what I remember, the big picture, and it’s a good memory and a right one to have. But looking back from here, I can see something I never noticed when I was that young and green little boy.

It’s that when you picked your duck up out of the water, the water immediately filled the empty space where the duck had been as though it had never existed in that place before.

A change in energy?

Life goes on.


Friday, February 28, 2014

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

I needed a pound of coffee. That was the only reason I stepped out. By the time I reached the alleyway to the gate, I could hear the voice. Drunken. Off-pitch and off-tempo. Full-throated, raw, and loud. Very loud.

I didn’t know the song he was singing. I probably wouldn’t have recognized it if he’d been singing it properly.

When I opened the gate, I saw him coming toward me, walking in the downtown direction. His hair was matted. His face dirty. His clothes were tattered like some medieval natural tumbling down a wooded path.

It’s carnival time in New Orleans, and the rail-riding gutter kids are down in force.

They band together to block sidewalks, forcing us servants of conformity to pass their group by stepping out into the street. They ask for anything we might have on our persons, cigarettes, loose-change, that paperback book in your back pocket. They exhibit a sense of nihilism in their dress and behavior.

When did our young lose hope and stop believing in a better world only they could create? Now it seems they band together just for warmth and a semblance of family and to hell with rest of us with our laundered clothes and properties, downcast eyes and resistance to being touched by dirty strangers.

As I returned home with my coffee in a plastic bag, the singer had reversed course and was heading back uptown, following me until I’d reached my gate, then moving on, roaring that unknown song.




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