28 11 2008
the greatest comeback of all times
I didn’t know where I was going or how I thought I could find it, but I ended up in Seattle anyway. I’d had an epiphany. It sounded like my own voice, which I hadn’t heard in years. I once was lost, yeah, but that part about being found had really been confusing me. I mean, I was always here, yet, I wasn’t. I festered under the surface, like those things people get on their mouths because once their mouths were somewhere they weren’t supposed to be. And knowing that, I often wondered where I was supposed to be, what color scarf should I cover myself with?
Most days I slunk around like a beaten dog, pissing on myself, hating my own brutal hand, wondering when the lessons would start taking effect.
“It’s all for the better,” I told myself, because it wasn’t the truth. I was lying and I was scared. I prayed for the ability to see past what I’d become, before it was too late, before I grew too strong. And at my darkest moment my vision cleared, shattering everything surrounding me and I was finally free. I was whisked into a cab by some angels and they sang that U2 song from the album that was named after me.
On the plane, I sat next to a girl about my age. She looked Nordic, but claimed to be from Bellevue. I must have had an aura about me, some glowing rosy-ness in my cheeks that said I was alive and very happy with it. Chicks dig guys like that and we hit it off right away. We talked like two people who, at that moment at least, were real and genuine and interesting. We played cards and she told a joke about a Jew on a bicycle.
“I can tell it,” she said flipping her hair back and leaning in close like she was about to tell me something naughty. “You know, I’m a half-breed.”
I smiled and said, “Well, I can listen. I know how to ride.”
I was going to ask her to lunch, I’ve been told that’s the way to go on a first date, but as soon as we disembarked the plane I lost her. Oh, woe! There would be no reuniting with her at baggage claim, I hadn’t packed anything but a book on Gogol, my credit card and a clean pair of socks.
A woman who mistook indifference for professionalism slid a single key on a chain across the counter top to me. Stepping outside into the Seattle gloom, I wandered around a lot of weary cars until I found a door the key fit into. I checked the ride over for dents, popped Method Man and Redman into the CD player and drove straight to the waterfront. I was in the mood for something. I wanted to see the guys that throw the fish.
Later, I found myself at the Space Needle, standing out on the observation deck looking over everything. It was a decent view, in spite of the foggy weather. I mean, I wasn’t inspired by anything, however, I was glad that I had come. I was alone. I was together. That was something. For fifteen seconds out of every minute I felt awkward about it, I felt myself wanting to take hold of someone, affirm my self worth, but there was no one there for me. I often did that, wandered the streets of my own town, alone, looking for someone who might be totally disentangled from the rest of us hoping to once again become part of our great big ball of yarn. I’m that dangling piece, trailing society like a tail does a comet.
Families and lovers wandered around the observation deck with me. I was glad that they were having a good time, except for the little redhead girl who was afraid of heights, and that I could be there with them peripherally sharing the experience. I knew how the girl felt. I was afraid of the falling part. Not to worry, we were encompassed by fences because I wasn’t the only one who sometimes felt that way.
The girl wore pig tails and thick, black framed glasses popular forty years ago. Speaking with maturity most adults can’t comprehend she said,
“Uh, yes… Mother? I don’t like this.” She crouched down placing her hands on the floor. “I don’t feel safe at all. I understand that this structure was fabricated by a talented architect, and has withstood a six point two earthquake. However, I think I’m just going to crawl back inside.”
“The hell you are!” her mother said. “I paid six bucks to get you up here and if I hafta drag you out here you’re gonna enjoy the view! Bobby! Don’t climb the goddamned fence!”
Binoculars cost a quarter. Through them I looked down on the city and tried to find the girl from the plane. Maybe she was just as lost as I was. It was she that told me about the fish tossing men. In my dreams I wanted to meet her there. The damp stench of guts and roe making even the most inane conversation I could come up with seem interesting.
“So, you come here often?”
“Only when I want to buy some fish.”
“So, you eat a lot of fish?”
“No, I’m a vegetarian.”
There are always girls like that. Girls that come and go and never realize the sudden and short affliction they infect me with. Maybe it’s their perfume, or something chemical, pheromones and shit, but I am instantly hooked. In a second I am swallowed by the vanity in their eyes, entranced by the curvature of their hips. When this happens, the future opens up in front of me and I see everything that is waiting for the two of us as soon as I make my move- love eternal and unconditional, great heapings of success and conquest, children and large Cadillac’s- but never age, never death. I’m always left longing at the end, so I let them walk away in the present.
Yeah, I am incapable. I do love, but I want it to be over soon. I want to sit alone in my room and daydream about it and then get up and do my laundry or go down to the bar and have a beer.
Love is the other side of the fence. Which makes it so difficult for me to engage in an affair with someone who is comfortable inside it. I don’t mean that we’re all stupid cattle or something, just that we all have to have fences, boundaries to define ourselves by. I just happen to define myself by what I’m not- and that’s my fault. I’m just too lazy to erect my own fences, so I live outside of other’s and use them for my own purpose.
I took the elevator back down to the ground floor where there was a large, circular gift shop. I wandered around, my first impulse was to go for the t-shirts. I hate gift shop t-shirts. I’ve only found two wearable shirts at gift shops, one was at the Rock Hall of Fame. Most are cool until you get back to where you’re from, sober up, then realize that it’s a hideous thing and pack it away for the Salvation Army. I usually buy shot glasses, which are just as cheesy, sure, but you have to buy something.
I also bought some postcards, one of which I planned to send to a girl I used to know. Before I left, I had heard that she had a baby. I’d been meaning to send some form of congratulations, this would have to be it.
Her name is Jennifer, she was my sister’s best friend, and by default, also a friend of mine. I remember her mostly as a young girl with an amazing talent. She is the only one I’ve ever met that could fall asleep in the grandstand during a super modified car race.
On the weekends my father used to take the whole family, and oftentimes, many of our friends, to either the speedway, or the dirt track to see some races. It was good times for us kids. We ran about under the bleachers, drinking the remains of tossed away beer cans and smoking butt-ends of cigarettes. When we tired of that, we’d beg dad for five bucks to buy hotdogs and cokes and had a fifty-fifty chance of getting it. If we were denied, that meant dad had had enough of our shit for one night. He would make us all sit in the bleachers where he could see us and we’d be forced to watch the races.
If you’ve ever been to a super modified car race then you already know how loud they are. Loud doesn’t even break the sound barrier as far as describing noise that you feel through your anus. You could plug your ears, but it wouldn’t do any good, because your whole body could hear it.
I would sit motionless on the splintered planks in a opened mouthed stupor, watching the Sam’s Speedie Shack number fourteen dueling it out with Don’s Auto parts double zero and Nifty’s Break Repair thirty-two, bumping and grinding and spitting up so much dirt that you could taste it on your tongue. And as the race charged on into cyclical delirium, I would feel less and less alive. I wanted to flee, but there were only left hand turns and I would end up right back where I started. The whole world seemed to crumble and fall away from the battering blitzkrieg. I was numb, helpless- I screamed dirty words at the top of my lungs and no one heard me. The bleachers were filled with statues of folks craning their necks for one last look at Gomorrah.
And then I would see Jennifer, dark black hair cradling her peaceable face. Leaning against my sister, cuddled in a quilted blanket, she would be sound asleep. It was as if it was the only thing she could do to protect herself.
I hoped that she was doing ok now.
I got a hotel room that I would most likely not sleep in, even though I was cold, and wanted to snuggle in a warm bed with lots of blankets. This whole town was a wet burlap sack of Kennebeck potatoes that, in gifted hands, would make fine, crispy French fries.
It was night now, and I walked the wet, empty streets with my hands jammed into my pockets. In them were receipts and quarters and potato peels. I was thinking about what had taken me here, because I didn’t understand it. All I knew was that I was still alive, and if you’d talked to me earlier in the day, you might well be surprised.
It was fear and Gogol knew about fear. That was why I had brought him with me from San Francisco. Tell me something sir- were you accusing yourself in ‘The Portrait’? Please answer me- was it easier to starve to death then it was to seek absolution? Pray tell, is it something you’d recommend?
Well, fuck him and his advice. This morning, when I was still in San Francisco, I was at that point where it was either one thing or another, both meaning certain destruction. How I had gotten there was easily traceable, but nearly impossible to explain or undo. It might have been a woman, a problem I couldn’t solve with so much Paxil. But that was just surface shit. The truth was, I’d gone deaf. I mistook the cacophony of the world for the aching in my own soul. I was tired, flat-on-my-back defeated. It seemed like the right time. Openly plotting against myself, I flaunted my convictions with the certainty of someone who had just purchased a gun.
It was then, while I was at work doing something totally meaningless, measuring my courage with cups and teaspoons, that a light bulb blew up over my head and the angels started singing.
“What the fuck am I thinking?” I cried, letting the things I was holding scream for mercy as they crashed to the floor. “I ain’t goin’ out like no punk-ass bitch.”
That was how I had gotten here. It wasn’t on an airplane. It was on purpose. I wasn’t escaping a misplaced feeling or years of bad decisions; I hadn’t abandoned my principles or my dog. I had simply arrived alive. The street I was walking was still cold, still wet, but it was also alive. There were people crawling out of every crevice, laughing, shouting, milling about a lively cobble stone square protected by a statue with a musket and a limestone gaze. There were bars and clubs, bookstores and cafes, each brimming with people in fellowship with one another.
A tear came to my eye.
“I’ve held hands with the devil, it was warm in the night and I was as cold as a stone,” I said walking into the first bar I came to.
So maybe in life everything is just a journey from one woman to the next. Maybe that’s just a convenient way to document all the places I’ve run from. But when I look back over years passed I see women like road signs reigning over places I no longer am, uneasy in their foundations, twisting a bit in a hollow, lonely wind. I mean, that’s what I was thinking as I sat down at the bar- that I was headed somewhere new and there must be one of those state-green colored placards with the reflective paint welcoming me to wherever I was. Obviously, I hadn’t flown all the way up here to get a date. Even though it now seemed it, and the bike messenger I was talking to was quite convinced of it. He offered to introduce me to a girl, who I had been admiring, sitting a little ways down from us.
We were at the oldest, continually operational restaurant and saloon west of Chicago.
“They brought this bar around Cape Horn in 1893, during the Yukon boom, on the clipper ‘Pride of Mizzoula’,” the bartender had told me. “Yessir, genuine dark stained cherry wood, hand carved by artisans in Baltimore. A one of a kind masterpiece. You’re sitting on a stool that’s been shared by miners and lumber jacks, sailors and whores. Quite a lot of history here in this old brick building. Yessir.”
“I just want a beer,” I said.
“Huh? How can you expect anything when most of those people have died in empty fields?”
She was reading something, a book, I wasn’t sure of what. That didn’t matter. A chick who reads is sexy. More than a thong and a pair of those low, low riding jeans.
“Yeah, she’s totally cool. She’s a good friend of mine, Gina. Let’s just walk over there and I’ll introduce you,” he said standing up, making it official.
I waved my hand. “I’m not sure if I’m ready for that.”
He looked at me from the back of his skull. “Let’s just go over there and talk to her.”
“No, really. Please, sit down.”
He did and picked up his beer. He took a short sip of it, like as he was bringing it to his lips he remembered he had to do something else instead.
“Where did you say you were from?”
I looked at him and sneered. “That has nothing to do with it.”
“Well, man, I’ve heard stories.”
“You mean you’ve succumbed to the easiest possible solution.”
“Like I said.”
My friend reached over and grabbed my hand. Holding it steady, he began wrapping it tightly with cotton tape. He was speaking in a low voice, talking strategy, but I wasn’t listening.
“Jab, jab, duck left. Straight right. She’s a sucker for film noir and Air Supply.”
I just looked at myself through the damn mirror that had traveled around the Cape a hundred and eleven years ago.
“Keep your feet under you. Work the body. She isn’t seeing anyone right now.”
All I saw were ghosts in that mirror. For a hundred plus years, people living in worlds broken like dreams had been searching for some redemption, for some contact beyond a bottle. Yet, it was all right there in front of us. I recognized the crumpled figure looking back at me. I had found what I was looking for and I wanted to stare at it forever. It was me. I was me. There was no reason to go to Alaska and strike it rich. Slave over a saw in a seething forest. Ride the seas to anywhere. Oh shit, there was no escape. No matter how many times I hurt myself over and over again, I would have to forgive. I would have to.
I stood up. It seemed like the only sane thing to do. I was going to make the greatest comeback of all times! My bike messenger friend pumped encouragement through a ram’s horn sticking in my ear. I walked down a tunnel into a vast, smoke filled arena. Wearing a silk bathrobe, I jabbed at the night, bobbed my head to an unheard beat. My style was impetuous, my defense was impregnable and I was just plain ferocious! A hundred years worth of lumberjacks, miners and merchant marines screamed their approval from graves marked by liquor bottles and dusty packages of Slim Jim’s.
This one was for the hometown fans. This one was for me.
I walked right up to her, the lights shining down upon me, introduced myself and began laying down the real heavy shit.
My voice quavered at first. I felt stupid, but she smiled and put down her book. It was ‘Dead Souls’ by Gogol.
“I used to know how he felt,” I said.
“Mmmm, tell me,” she said sliding her legs around to face me.
She had on black spandex that ended at the knee, and a pleated mini skirt I guessed reminded her of something she often forgot.
And what could I say about her face? That it was open, receptive, a thousand flash bulbs recording my imminent victory?
And nonetheless, her face wasn’t a mirror. While I was talking to her, I realized that she wasn’t understanding me. I’ve been through some shit, sure, baby. But, it’s what’s come out on the other side that’s special. I am a person who is completely different from any other person you’ve ever met in her life. How difficult is it to see that?
There she goes, nodding her head, I was saying how cold I was and she musta thought I was talking about the