i know, i know, it’s been a long time...
but please please reach down into the four chambers, scrape away the plaque and fatty deposits from all the processed foods we eat, and find it in your heart to grant me pardon and allow me the excuse that an entire day’s budget for one hour of internet here in europa just ain’t worth it.
some things were ending and other things were beginning (they come in pairs) and i didn’t know what to do with myself (still don’t) and so, with a marker, i opened a map of the united states of america and placed a nice black dot where my favorite band was playing or where one of my favorite friends or family members was living and i planned to connect every one of them (from rhode island to utah and the many inbetweens) during that summer i said to hell with working and hit the open road in my beater buick with the backseat as my bed and god how i miss that wonderful car that knows all my secrets which are many.
a city of white, a city of purity, unfortunately defiled by my passing
all i knew for sure (the less sure things the better) was the first stop: chicago. and as soon as i hugged my mom and dad and made sure my rearview mirror no longer reflected anything familiar, i opened all the windows and yes how that air blew and i let out a scream and a hoot and a holler of freedom, of madness, of everything i keep within myself when there is more than myself around.
my dashboard full of mementos (including a chinese fortune: ”tomorrow will soon be a yesterday”) and that sad little plastic container where i kept my food (bread, peanut butter, granola (if on sale)) and almighty if i didn’t sleep at truck stops (kept the keys dangling in the ignition just in case) and how i mastered the art of a sink shower with that delicious liquid pink soap and i’d come out of those men’s rooms, if only slightly refreshed, and see those lonely old women cashiers finishing up their night shift with faces that told the stories of sad, sad lives nurtured along with nicotine and hard living, and i, my dripping wet beard a hue of pink, well i’d give them a smile and a good morning and maybe buy an orange juice but usually not.
that's a picture of me crossing a "puente" which is spanish for "bridge" and now you've learned something
and in my trunk, everything i needed: books, clothes, camping gear, music (all neatly arranged in milk crates) and out my windshield always an open road curling it’s finger at me saying, ”come on boy!” and that’s what i did.
my mind was pregnant with those questions we all have and forget to answer (or just don’t care to) but i can’t forget and i pledged to answer every one of them and to this very date every one of those questions is still a question and maybe that’s the answer anyway.
and how can the statue of liberty be closed on my virgin run to new york city (sitting in battery park was just fine until an hour later when i picked up my car and had to pay twenty five goldblessed dollars to this guy in a cheap suit (i told him that was outrageous and he said, ”you want yo car back, boy?”)) and i learned to water ski there on the clarion river of pennsylvania and i walked among those many strange fountains of kansas city with a girl i once loved and i put my tent down in the alleghenies for several nights (and watched a worm get eaten by ants and started trying to write poetry too (a disaster)) and lost a water bottle in wisconsin and a nice security guard let me in to the royals – cards game (a mad rivalry with an energy that fed and god how i watched and marveled at all those people) and minnesota was full of lakes and i cursed the police in iowa and i cooked noodles down by the mississippi river as it flowed and goed (wishing i was a bum and then realizing i kinda was) and atlanta felt like home (it once was) and my heart broke for salt lake city and i put my kayak in the chattooga river and had a go with some god buds and chased off a car thief who dared lay a hand on my jalopy and in birmingham i met eddie vedder himself and it’s a moment i’ll remember.
and then summer ended and i thought if everything ends, which it does, what’s the point in beginning anything and i’m telling you right now, so listen: that’s not a good way to think.
on the north side of the mountains you could feel the chill in the air and i knew autumn was on its way and i needed something to do with myself but i didn’t know what (still don’t) and i decided i needed to be in the mountains so i called up the forest service in north carolina and asked them if there was any work and they said no but when i told them i didn’t want to be paid – well, then there was some work. and a nice fellow by the name of lee told me to come to burnsville, carolina, the north one, and we’d figure it out.
and i was ready because i needed a change. i needed a break from all the rituals and routines and carved out paths with no apparent ends with everybody else, usually indirectly, making all the decisions for me. life was becoming a series of distractions. go here at this time, eat at that time, buy these things and a couple months later buy newer of the same things, watch this tv show, consume what the commercials let us know we need, and at any dreaded idle moment get out your cell phone and text or call someone and fill up the voids with banter. flat line the brain waves, never think, just keep doing. everything just seemed to be blended and blurry and god i couldn’t stand it any longer and i needed somewhere where my mind could be still. i wanted meditation to not just be a thirty minute ritual where i lit some incense and spun a tibetan monk cd. i wanted my waking life to be one where i could meditate at any moment, like with the flip of a switch, but i didn’t want the switch, i didn’t want the act to be conscious or unconscious but just #to be# and i knew i needed to get away, temporarily, from people for this to, hopefully, be able to happen and burnsville offered this potential. so, not knowing what i was getting myself into (often the best way to get into anything), i went.
i got back in that buick and headed east and i slept in a grocery store parking lot the night before the morning i sat down face to face with lee and he said now let me get this straight boy, you want to work for free?, and i told him he already had it straight. and he shook his head and told me he was an old man and thought he’d heard it all. but he took a liking to me and spoke of a volunteer program and how they had a place where i could live (though i’d planned on living in my tent) and he and i got in the car and drove about twenty miles to a place called busick, a small little village flanking the shoulders of the blue ridge mountains. and he showed me this huge warehouse where they kept tractors and fire trucks and things i never even knew what they did but there was a room off to one side full of junk and he said they could clear it out and they cleared it out and it was my room with a door and everything and even a table and chair and a pull out couch bed (sears 1966) with springs so rusted and squeaky i instantly fell in love with it.
me and mirrors (i was having a bad hair day so i left my helmet on)
and then they all left and lee told me to come see him early the next morning and i said ok and then there i was in this warehouse in the mountains, just me and the stars and my hallow stomach so i heated up some baked beans and put them on some nice wheat bread and sat at a picnic table and then i said this:
bee bop bop bee bo bop bee bop
just because i could say something like that and no one was there to bother me or give me strange looks about it and what a blessing that was and then i ran around and sat in those big trucks and i was as happy as i ever was in that little moment because somehow things had worked out and wouldn’t you know it here i was in the mountains of north carolina, just me and the stars and those leaves just dying to change colors (and me dying of other things, like those questions i never will answer and more than likely a hint of cancer metastasizing somewhere within me) and no autumn has ever looked as bright as that night when i went outside and listened to the leaves rustle and i looked at the moon and i said, ”look out god! i’m a comin’ for you!” and then i lay my head down on that mattress (squeak ping squawk boing!) and i looked at my feet hanging off the edge and i thought hell’s bells yes and wiggled my toes and laughed.
i told you, i'm a comin' for you!
i learned very early the next morning that the place was not my own because i heard a ruckus and opened my door and saw all sorts of swarming senior citizens and i thought maybe i’d made it to heaven but i hadn’t but i hope to. it was a work crew for older folks who, having retired, needed something to do and they were a motley bunch and as i got to know them i loved each one of them; the old woman with the cotton ball hair who occasionally brought me homemade biscuits and jelly and the one man who talked my gold blessed ear off (now boy, i’s used to walk to school barefoot boy, and it was so cold boy, that i’d kick them sleepin’ cows and when they’un walked off, why i’d stand right where they was a-layin’, just to warm me feet up boy!) and especially that old man who sat off by himself and never said a word to me or anyone and maybe never said a word at all and i knew he knew everything there was to be known and i’d steal glances at him and hope.
finally, i met poseidon
so what did i do what did i do because we are who-man-be-in’s and we all gotsta be doing something i know. well, i met lee that next morning and on the drive from busick (in my buick) back to burnsville i focused a tree on my retinas and it was the loneliest thing i ever saw (a mirror being the only exception) and i decided that every time i drove this drive i would say a prayer for that tree and i did and i watched it’s leaves change, slowly slowly now, and i watched those leaves fall and red to brown and all around and then it was just a naked stick standing in the ground waiting for thaw and spring and there’s a lump in my throat now just remembering that tree and someday i’ll go back to it (if the boys and their toys ain’t cut it down yet) and sit under it and eat a red bell pepper and tell it how it helped me when i needed help and i’ll thank it and feel it’s bark and then i’ll move on.
let's keep the tanks at a safe speed (which, of course, would be 0)
so yes, what’d i do be do bee do? i met lee and he rolled out a giant map of the whole pisgah national forest district full of mountains and creeks (cricks) and rivers and hills and he told me that i needed to walk each and every one of them trails and make maps using some fancy schmancy computer doo-dad and he looked me in the i and asked if eye could do it and i said yessir! even though i wasn’t sure but i knew i could and most of all i was glad to, and then he told me he’d ”found some money” and that they could give me ten bucks a day for food and ”what not” and i asked if he was sure and he smiled and said just to get all them trails walked boy and i said yessir! again. and i hate money because of its necessity and oh how i hate the stuff and what a world it would be without it but i concede to (and curse!) it and i’ll be honest and say i was happy for fifty bucks a week because i was short on this particular necessity and now i had me a little income coming in and that very night, to celebrate, i went to the one screen theater in town and watched me a movie and fell in love with the actress and enjoyed the thigh-melted chocolate i snuck in.
the next morning off lee and i went in his pale green jeep that always smelled like his aftershave and i miss that man so much and i close my eyes and see his smile and i wonder right now if maybe he’s not already dead. i hate it when i think like that but sometimes i can’t help it.
i'm a growing boy
the next day, lee and i went out to ”see the area” and i knew he was glad to be out of the office and i was glad to just be anywhere and there was just so much gladness, it was enough to make you sad because you knew it couldn’t last. we went here and there and over yonder too and we had a nice simple lunch at a picnic table where we talked when we talked and didn’t when we didn’t.
almighty holy lord of all what a climb it was
later, i passed (just barely) my forest service driving test and got my very own truck to drive around for the season and i met a man who gave me an antenna and some sort of contraption and a digital doo-hickey to hold in my hand and he showed me how to use the thing and i was told to drive to the trails and walk them all with that thing-a-ma-jig beeping away and for each beep was a point and for each point was a dot and when i got back i’d put all the dots in a computer and then the little magician inside would spin and twirl and flip and abracadabra presto! he’d connect all the dots and precisely place them on a topographical map and by golly jimmy, we’d have our trails mapped!
and so that is what i did for a season.
slumber party in switzerland
i got in my truck (a real lady killer) and was ready for the drive back to busick when i noticed something. a store called ”go.” and the g was for grocery and the o was for outlet and i went inside and if rainbows end, they must end here because what i found was a windfall of ”damaged” groceries being sold for up to 80% off and for all of you that must have eight 90 degree-angled corners on your cereal boxes, this place ain’t for you and for all of you that get all yippity-dippity about expiration dates, this place ain’t for you and for all of you that need a nice ”atmosphere” to shop in, this place ain’t for you and for all of you that would bat an eyelash at having to open a cardboard box yourself (god forbid!) to get what you want, this place ain’t for you. but for all of you that only care about things that need caring about and don’t mind the rest, then this me lad, is a pot a goldblessed gold! so i bought so much food you wouldn’t believe and i had a pilgrilm feast (minus a poor dead (and incidentally innocent) turkey) that night and tuned my little am radio and picked up a nice little religious (of the christian flavor) station and this guy played the trombone and said real nice things to make you feel really really good and then he played his trombone some more and he talked so gently and melodiously it could put you right to sleep which is exactly what it did to me and as it turned out, i listened to that station every night i was there (except when i had visitors, because, truth be told, i was embarrassed about it...).
not to toot my own horn, but i actually used to play the trombone myself
that next morning i had my trail all picked out and i thought i’d get up early and get to walking and i got up early but i always got caught up in conversation with them old folks and it was always interesting and it didn’t matter because nothing really does.
see the road?
now about those senior citizens, there was this one lady and she cleaned the two toilets in the warehouse and there were two bathrooms you see, one for the men and one for the women. well, the thing was, the women’s toilet was closest to my room and that’s the one i’d use when no one was around but when folks were around, and this is the thing about being around other people, well, i did my duties in the men’s bathroom just like a good little boy. now, mind you, when i did my business in the women’s bathroom i aimed and held it steady and kept everything real clean. but that lady, i was never certain but i always had a hunch that she had a hunch that i was androgynous when it came to toilets. but we never spoke of it and it was better that way, each with our own little secret never to be told.
a french revolution?
so it was a season of walking and map making and looking for god and i found, if you will allow me such a boast, that i was quite proficient at the first two. with the third, it was like hide and seek and i was "it" and one of three things was happening:
1)i had my eyes closed and just kept counting to infinity
2) i counted to 100 and was seeking but wasn’t really seeking
3) god was just a really good hider.
not sure which of the three it was but it was one of them for sure and though my failure at tagging god should have frustrated me, it didn’t, in fact, it just keeps making me more determined.
maybe the answer is blowing in the wind?
one day i read in the paper about a meteor shower that was supposed to happen that very night and i decided to have a look and i remembered an old fire tower i’d come across in the mountains and i knew it was way up there above the trees and what could be better than to have a look from up there? so with a sleeping bag and some food and water i headed out and it was a perfect night and i sat up there eating my supper waiting for the show, which ended up having two curious preludes to it. there i was just a-crunching on some pretzels and i heard a whack! on the fire tower and i looked and a goldblessed bird had flown right smack dab into the window and it briefly made a sad and pitiful last attempt at flight but immediately took a spectacular fall to the ground below and i looked at the thing for five solid moments and there wasn’t a movement and i said a prayer for that little bird and got back to my pretzels. some time later, i saw a plane off in the distance and watched it for a bit and, though i know speed and altitude are often distorted, said to myself - bloody hell that thing is coming right at me. a few minutes later, despite distortions, i was sure the thing was coming right at me and hell’s bells if i didn’t scream all hands (and hips and heads and haunches too!) on deck and i hunkered down and that plane came so gawdawful close i could read the numbers on its belly and that fire tower rocked and rolled and shook and swung and i said half a hail mary and before i could get to the part of me being a sinner about to die, that plane was gone and a sudden stillness fell upon me and there was nothing to do but immediately pee which i joyfully did right off the side of the tower, proud of the stream length and glad i held on to it all during the excitement, but then i realized i was urinating right on that little bird not yet cold with death and so the hail mary is right - we are all sinners. then it was time for the show. and what a show it was, witnessed from the cocoon of my sleeping bag with me on my back and jiminy crickets those things were shooting every which way and i was just laughing at the whole thing wondering if it was science or god or both or neither. and then i started eating my pretzels again.
this was right before i started following the route of the tour de france...
this was at the top of part of the route of the tour de france.
and belive you me, shorts and sandals in the snow is not too warm.
at some point a certain day came that we choose for some strange reason to acknowledge and we certify this peculiar day with things like balloons and sweets and small little flames that we light and immediately blow out. far be it for me to question such foolishness. i found an expired though laced with preservatives sweet cake, put a lit match in it, blew the lit match out, and i said – well, however many years ago i, through no choice of my own, exited my mother’s womb. and then i got on with my day.
time to refuel
but this was also an interesting moment in my life because as the little puff of smoke rose into and agitated the hairs in my nostrils, i made a pact with myself from that day forth never to recognize that wombly exit again. sure, sure others would, i couldn’t stop that, but for myself, i no longer believed. and it was that easy. an instant fountain of youth. it was also then i realized that what you believe in exists and what you don’t doesn’t. because, when you think about it (and doing so proves my point), all living is really done inside the cranium.
without a cranium, it is hard to think. a tragedy indeed.
now during this whole time in the warehouse amongst tractors and fire trucks and a guy lulling me to sleep with his melodious trombone and trance-inspiring voice, i decided i was going to give painting a go. but everything i produced was trite and palsied and disappointing so i gave painting a stop.
it was at this moment that, sadly, i realized i do not have a beard.
a real solid friend, the kind of friend who knows your past and won’t let you escape it and the kind of friend you don’t just talk about doing cool stuff with but you actually do it, paid me a visit and we walked in the woods for a couple of days. without going into details, some things had happened in my life that i needed to tell him about but they were of the unhappy variety so i had a decision to make: tell him as soon as i saw him and damper the entire trip, or wait until the very end of the trip as he was in his car with engine idling to drop the news and the latter is what i did and i did it because i thought it would maximize the good time that this friend of mine would have even though it was hard on me because while we were walking and talking i was always thinking that i was going to have to tell him this thing that i ultimately told him and this dampered me but i’d always prefer that to dampering someone else. but i’ll never forget the look on my friend’s face as i dropped the bomb on him the second he was about to leave and having seen that look and remembering that look right at this very moment, i’m not sure i made the right decision, but that’s the thing with real solid friends, they stand by you despite all your faults and fouls.
i never read a single book during that season because reading what someone else writes is corruption and influential and you will, whether wantonly or non-wantonly, latch on to certain aspects of what you read and once a sufficient amount of time has passed you will convince yourself that what you are thinking is original though your thoughts will be nothing but regurgitations of all that you have read and you will say something in a conversation and persuade yourself that whatever you say is original but it won’t be because if you read, nothing is. it’s all just vomit and nobody likes vomit especially when it’s not even your own in the first place. so i didn’t read any books and tried to empty my head of everything so i could speak or write without vomiting. but i’m still a vomiter because i never figured out how to empty my head. i later realized everything is influential, even colgate commercials and the bark of a tree, so i became comfortable with my vomit, even the non-projectile kind that stays in the back of your throat and that you must swallow it again. i’ve developed a taste for that. and now i read once again and everything i am writing, well, it’s not really me writing. it’s also hemingway and kerouac and rand and let us not forget the great john grisham too (ok ok and a couple of dime store romance novel authors, but what can i say? the road does get lonely....).
i do miss morocco
now there is a danger here that i recognize of remembering the past and not giving the whole picture so while it may be said that this season of walking in the woods was truly utopic, there were days when i cried my eyes out on the stump of a fallen tree with my elbows on my knees and my fingers interlaced around the back of my skull and i don’t need therapy or pills i just need a stump and no one.
so is it okay for me to?
and the snow started coming and i kept walking and making my maps and eating my beans and bread and using the lady’s toilet when i was the only one around. and i could tell lee was impressed with my work and he called me ”rabbit” because i was walking the trails so fast, and i liked that, ”rabbit.”
take a hard left.
now once i was walking and walking and trying to employ effortless effort (the effort of which was exhausting me) to empty my head of all desires and wants and distractions and find my buddha which is supposedly somewhere deep within me and i sat down on a log and i swear i was on the cusp of enlightenment, but as with all cusps in my life, it fizzled and there i was again, a physical being, and what a disappointment it was. but i must have emptied my head of something and maybe i was understanding all that dharma because when i looked around i, honest to manjusri bodhisattva, had no idea from where i had come or to where i was supposed to go and i was no longer even on the trail and i figured i’d been to nirvana and back again and hadn’t even realized it. but what i did realize was that the sun was sinking and i needed to get back to my warehouse and i needed to start moving but in which way i hadn’t a clue. so i tried to meditate but was too distracted and then i tried to stand on my head but was too uncomfortable and i finally put it in the heads or tails of a coppery abe lincoln and started walking and bushwhacking and cursing and watching the light fade and blindly continuing on and finally coming to a dirt road and getting a miracle lift with some hunters going home and after several wrong turns finally finding my truck and getting an entirely too late start on a road trip i was taking to go see a friend but i left anyhow and my buddy welcomed me with open arms and it was great to see him but he was so busy and hectic with school and that’s when i truly appreciated the art of being still, to just be still and not live through a series of frenzied madnesses that never truly let us enjoy the moment we are actually experiencing in the here and now, which will, of course, soon be gone.
my kind of store
and then the snow fell some more and then, having completed a trail guide detailing every trail in the district, i left. to go home for christmas. to be with and hug my family who puts up with my absences. and to figure out the next step. there must always be a next step.
and after two pages on a calendar were ripped off never to be again, in the rain, i gave my parka-covered mother a big hug and watched her car reach the vanishing point, cried for a bit, and then took my first step in the woods of northern georgia on my way to maine along the appalachian trail.