Water on the Smoke

Quarter after one.

I played some Jaco and Mark Egan parts on my white Fender bass and it worked out pretty well, so I guess I’ll hang onto that axe rather than sell it. As I write this, the sun appears from behind the clouds and splashes the ground with pale yellow light. Two of the songs I played were from American Garage by Pat Metheny Group, way back in 1979. I never heard that music until ten years later, when I was a student at the university, reading a lot of British literature of the Renaissance and the twentieth century. But my taste in music was for American jazz at the time. I imitated Jaco on the electric bass and made quite a few home recordings, but I had no jazz musicians to play with while I was working on my degree. I guess there was no money in jazz for local players, or maybe my attitude was rather cocky, especially for a bass player. I wanted to play lots of notes like my heroes on the instrument, but Eugene was a Blues town and very slow and conservative. Also very hippie, like a throwback to the late sixties with some people. It’s weird to stand back and take a look around at the culture of Eugene: a friend of mine described it as a place of mostly rednecks and hippies. Almost all of the bands I played in used weed every day, as if it were their religion or something. The dividing line between hippie and conservative is often the drug of choice on each side… The more I think about it, the more I believe I should probably hang up the music ambition and just forget the whole thing. The music community in Eugene will never change, nor do I have the right to try to change it myself. 

Jungles

Seven thirty five.

I saw a few snowflakes on my way to the store just a bit ago, some stray spots of white. I formally met Kim, the person who is replacing Heather on weekends. Her hair is long and red and she seems like a nice woman. She addresses people as “sweetie” and “hon” whether she knows them or not. In general I noticed how rapidly things are changing for that little business and maybe for the world as well. Michelle is leaving pretty soon to go live in Wyoming with her family, and Heather has already gone. The store has switched distributors again, so that means different goods for sale. I know that the bottom line to every change is economics, making the most profit at the least expense. Every life is numbered and packaged in a compartment. It makes you want to live like a rustic or even a caveman sometimes. Grow your own crops and live off the land. Perhaps do a Thoreau: build yourself a log cabin in the woods. But doing this requires practicality and the ability to work with your hands. No city slicker would survive very long in the wilderness… My taxi is coming to pick me up after nine o’clock. I have a visit with Misty… Which is the more jungly, the country or the city? In either case, we have to survive. 

The Homeless for Mayor

Noon hour.

I’m sitting down by the fountain in Fifth Street Public Market. I’m alone, but it’s still nice and the weather is clear and sunny. Actually, there are other people around, shopping and just hanging out. I mind my own business just watching people and chilling out (quite literally; it’s rather chilly outside). I feel comfortable enough. At Smith Family I bought an old copy of Kierkegaard in hardcover for $20. The truth is that anything is better than staying home, being housebound all day. Some philosophers cloistered themselves in an attic and never saw anybody. Not that I’m a real philosopher. A wise person ought to be experienced in social stuff, and that’s not really me… It’s beginning to get too cold in this spot, so I’ll get up and wander around a little more. Life is very strange and alienating for a few people.

Quarter of two. Home again. On the ride back, we stopped at the big hospital to drop off two passengers. This meant a detour to Springfield before I could go home, but for $7 you can’t ask much more. What really struck me on my outing was how cold and impersonal most people were. At the bookstore, the women clerks were nicer than the guys, one of whom was almost rude to me. I browsed the shelves of the “modern classics” when a woman came in, boasting that she would be Mayor in a short time, and asked the manager for a donation. She also said she’d been homeless recently. And you know, that’s just how it is. Everybody’s invisible and fighting to be seen and heard; just to be acknowledged by others as human and alive and worthy of love. All of this goes on in broad daylight on a sunny day in Eugene Oregon. The sun, 93 million miles away from us, is friendlier than people are to each other. This is what I’ve seen. 

Country Mouse

Noon hour.

My therapist is concerned that I’ve been too withdrawn lately, so I think I’ll plan another trip to the bookstore, although I wouldn’t know what I was doing there. I could go to Smith Family for the sake of nostalgia, to remember my dad when we liked to knock about town in the mid nineties. I could go to Tsunami on Willamette to visit with Scott, if he even remembers me now. I used to sell him my books when I didn’t have any money. In those days I was more mobile than today, having my own vehicle and a different situation in life. It makes me feel nervous to consider going there because I’m a Highlander and Tsunami is in the rich south part of town where my psychiatrist still has his practice. I’m completely out of the habit of visiting the south hills of Eugene; it’s an intimidating prospect to me, plus it might trigger me to drink beer. The difference is like the Country Mouse and the City Mouse; like a person from Drain Oregon going to New York City and being totally outclassed and mortified by the culture shock. I’d be tempted to stay in North Eugene and embrace the place, even though it’s homely and plain, with values of meat and potatoes: basically, survivalism. But it’s where I live, judge it how you may. If Tsunami is a little too swanky then the happy medium is probably Smith Family on Fifth and Willamette, where Downtown Eugene starts. 

Unknown Citizens

Quarter of eight.

There is Todd today at ten o’clock and I have to be ready to go at nine. The clouds are salmon and ice blue in the east. I’m putting off my trip to the market until after this appointment. I grow tired of being treated like a child by the agency and the church, but I think everyone gets their share of condescension from society. And yet I think we deserve better than what we get for choices. Life ought to be more than a coloring book with the shapes all provided. The pages should be blank so you can draw the shapes yourself. Though if you reflect on it, the book of your life is really of your making anyway and not determined like the old poem by W.H. Auden, “The Unknown Citizen.” A person may even opt out of Christmas and create her own savior story. Supposedly we are dictated all these different options to live by. As if no room for creativity still remained. You could invent your own language, and from there, your own universe, and truly this is what every individual does anyway, seen theoretically… I just told my dog that I have to leave the house in twenty five minutes. Now he’s staring at me with some resentment. A text from Oregon Taxi confirms my ride this morning. Now I feel a little like the Unknown Citizen.

Nine twenty. I’m waiting in the lobby of the agency right now, feeling not quite awake. I miss my morning Snapple tea. The receptionist is not wearing a mask. No one asks questions. I don’t want to be here, and maybe in a way I’m really not.

Quarter after eleven. Well I got back home okay and then went to the convenience store like I do every morning. I could hear Aesop howling as I reached the curb. Roger was standing by his garage and told me the dog stops doing that momentarily and it doesn’t bother him, so I thanked him and moved on. At the market, Michelle had already left and Cathy helped me at the checkout counter. A strange thing happened on my way back: a woman in a red car hailed me and asked for directions to a certain “Hatton Avenue” which was supposedly near “the school.” I told her there were two schools on Howard Avenue and guided her to them, but I think she was hopelessly lost, and had incomplete information for her rendezvous. I had never heard of a place called Hatton Avenue. 

Earth to a Martian

I have to piece together my day today now. When I got home from my appointment with Misty I went right to bed and napped for a few hours, feeling as I did tired. I was thinking of how my hometown feels so alien to me these days, especially from the back of a taxi, cruising the streets with so many strangers. The cabbie for the return ride was listening to some weird music: old psychedelic jam band stuff that I didn’t care for very much. The agency closed at five o’clock and left me waiting at their doorstep for my taxi. It came before too long, and he took me onto I-105 briefly and then hopped on Sixth Street, which was pretty jungly with people and traffic. For some reason it seemed quite sordid and unfamiliar to me, the sole survivor of the family with my parents twenty years after their demise, riding ingloriously in the back of a cab; perhaps like Jesus riding in on a donkey, but hearing this bizarre psychedelic music. We hung a right on Chambers Street and drove north to the exit for the Expressway. It rained lightly for the whole trip. My thoughts all the way were diffuse and scattered, so I just held on and focused on getting back home. Even then I felt like a stranger in a strange land. I heated up a Hot Pocket and shared the last bite with Aesop, after which I noticed my fatigue and headed right for bed.

The rest of the day is sort of lost and forgotten. I know I wrote just a little in my journal in the morning, but the content has left me. Suddenly I remember an event that happened in September maybe five years ago, when I had just been trying to stay sober, but unsuccessfully. The mail came to my front porch, a huge Chambers Dictionary, a gift from my friend Kate, which had traveled here all the way from Sweden. It’s supposed to be the dictionary for word lovers, and is peculiarly British. At the time, I even believed I would’ve liked to work as a lexicographer, a writer of dictionary entries complete with etymological information for each word. It’s a beautiful book, and it survived the house fire two years ago. But it was sort of the last word I would ever hear from Europe, sadly. I wish there could be more commerce with the Old World.

Tuesday Morning

Eight o’clock.

I got an early start today due to my appointment at the agency. Michelle is familiar with the place, so we talked about it a little. At seven o’clock it was still pretty dark outside, and I noticed some fallen leaves on the street. Another pedestrian passed me on the sidewalk and said good morning. She carried a walking stick and wore a white jacket. The sun is only now just clearing the trees across the way. I came home loaded down with groceries and dog food, a burden in each hand. It amazes me how people tend to personify natural things, as if they could be human, or interested in human affairs. But there are no stepping stones out in the wilderness, no conveniences at all. I guess that’s why I’m more of a city person than a country person. The sun glares right in my face. My taxi is coming for me after nine o’clock. I hope I don’t get devoured in my interview… Now I wonder how I got painted into this corner where I feel like a defenseless rat. And a cornered rat will fight to save himself. No bones about it, I don’t like the agency’s heavy emphasis on religion. Life is not that simple. How can people just ignore the impact of Charles Darwin? 

“Agnostic”

Nine fifty five.

A rainy Saturday morning. I got off to a late start today. The store was very busy, or maybe everyone came in at the same time. I saw one woman with a pink hippo backpack and a lot of guys behind me in line. The rules of face masking seem quite lax at the market. Sometimes I consider going to a different store, especially on weekends; someplace a bit more professional and conscientious. I get tired of the Maxwell community, just a hole in the wall compared to the larger River Road vicinity. The whole of River Road is not particularly affluent, which has always been depressing, plus its paucity of imagination. The Whitaker neighborhood is also poor, but the politics there are more liberal and intelligent. In that place you’re more likely to find a good rock band jamming in somebody’s house. But of course I’m generalizing from a few examples that I’ve seen. About the coolest thing we have on River Road is the Black Rock Coffee Bar, in the same parking lot as Cal’s Donuts.

Ten fifty. I guess I’m feeling kind of down this morning. Yesterday at noon I played the bass really hard, doing some lines from the Chili Peppers. I was frustrated with my situation with music, and it affects a lot of other people too. In other areas, I get mad at people and programs that overemphasize the God stuff. I keep calling to mind my high school junior year, when I learned the word agnostic from our vocabulary book and made it mine. During the spring that year I read Twain’s Connecticut Yankee, and though his style doesn’t appeal to me, I might take another look at it. 

The Deep Shallows

Quarter of one.

I dug out my volume of John Dos Passos and decided I would read more of The Big Money. But right now I’m waiting for my taxi, expected here between one and one thirty…

Nine o’clock.

The cab came and got me at about ten minutes past the hour and dropped me off at G Street at one thirty seven. The driver’s route took us onto the Beltway, the Delta Highway, and I-105 to the Mohawk exit; then through Springfield and a lot of businesses to left and right, finally passing McKenzie-Willamette Hospital on the left side of the boulevard and taking the turn lane left to the clinic. The heavy clouds were big and gray and seemed to promise a little rain that never materialized. We crossed the river before the Delta intersection, which was very low from the drought. 

I got in to see the doctor finally at two twenty five. His nurse Brittany was very nice and genuine, but the med student he brought in with him, a tall blond bombshell in a red satin blouse and black slacks with dress shoes, immediately struck me as rather shallow. I was disappointed in the doctor for more than one reason. Somehow I sniffed something wrong with this arrangement, and also he didn’t remember my case very well. I was very glad to get out of there at three o’clock. 

Scott picked me up for the return ride in only a few minutes, and he drove us back to Coburg Road by taking a left on Centennial: this runs east and west and connects Springfield and Eugene. It was cool to see Autzen Stadium again on the south side of the street, a huge imposing place under the brooding clouds. Eventually we cruised through the Whitaker neighborhood, observing the number of businesses related to weed and alcohol. Scott took the Cornwall exit off the Northwest Expressway and showed me his own neighborhood along the way to my house… At last, I sat down at home and finished the ice cream. When it was four o’clock I crashed out until after night fell. I had a weird dream about someone from church; something about the elusiveness of the truth. 

More about the Green House

I rode with eCabs today and I liked the drivers going both ways. They had to double up on passengers but I didn’t mind sharing a taxi with someone else. This particular company has only eight drivers and does nothing but a Ridesource contract. The first guy is named Scott, with whom I’ve ridden a few times. I like him. Funny, he’s critical of Eugene for wanting to be like Portland, while preferring places like Springfield that are I guess more homey and down to earth; it has a personal vibe that Eugene is losing the more it grows. He said the Eugene City Council was “Communist,” and I understand what he means. It isn’t exactly that, but it’s definitely Marxist and Socialist, using a language that baffles people with its emptiness. I think it’s fair to say that Springfield is a time warp to a more romantic age, where people are franker with each other and not so deceptive or slippery; in a word, they’re honest… which is also like the people of Cottage Grove. So I can see why some people prefer the twin city to the sophistication of Eugene.

At one o’clock I walked to the pharmacy to pick up my stuff; but you know, afterwards I was pretty exhausted and felt rather lousy for a while. Two miles is kind of heavy duty walking for me. But on my way home I observed the same kind of thing as this morning, or maybe I was looking for it, and it provided a common theme for my day. You saw the post already, I know. It was that green house on Kourt Drive that defies the laws of time and space (to my mind), and takes you away in a magic Delorian to the Forties or Fifties, or rather transplants the past to the present day with a sprinkling of pixie dust. And this house just sits there, stark against the blue sky, an anachronism that doesn’t belong there and ought to be extinct, and yet there it stands like a shimmering vision out of an old yearbook, a page torn out of history…

So I imagine that my concern with anachronisms has to do with my own age, and maybe with everyone in my age category. Shoot: what was it I was saying the other day? It was on a topic very similar to this one. Oh yeah, it was about rewriting the history books to make people like us obsolete, and I made a post about it. But you know, it’s really true! And the older I get, the truer it becomes. The voices of seniors get lost in the shuffle and no one wants to hear us anymore. And it turns into a strange paradox of being and non being: just like the green house on Kourt Drive which ought not to be there, and yet, by God, it still stands like an ephemeral monument.