Eleven twenty at night.
I dreamed I was playing the bass line to an old tune by The Knack that got airplay when I was a seventh grader, which would be 42 years ago. The place where I went to junior high school still stands over on Howard Avenue. I got a good look at it from the backseat of a taxi last Thursday at noon: a creme colored building with red brick, and fixed to the outdoor wall, the propeller to the plane flown by the school’s namesake, a local war hero no one seems to remember. We were known as the Kelly Bombers and our colors were green and white, as I recall from a book bag I bought at the school store. My high school experience wasn’t as good as the time I spent at Kelly. In Stage Band we did a song called “The Sponge” that was fun for me on drums, yet the trumpet players hated it for its difficulty, and our bass player also had a hard time with it. Some other titles we played were “Hurt So Bad” and the theme for Masterpiece Theater, as well as “Fame” and “Staying Alive.” I don’t remember what make of bass guitar our band had; it might have been a sunburst Yamaha. It was entrusted to Brian to play, and I recall how Mr Kuryluk would help him with his parts before class started. But I loved the green sparkle Ludwig drum kit we had, with a Paiste crash/ride cymbal that just rocked. Mr Diller joined us on his saxophone when he wasn’t too busy directing us, and Kuryluk worked the electric piano. A horn player named Dax used to call me “Animal” every day of class, after the drummer on The Muppet Show. Those days are gone but not forgotten by a few people. There are some memories that nothing can really erase; they are a part of you, just like an arm or a leg, and just as vital to your humanity.
Nine twenty five.
I walked through the foggy morning to the market where it surprised me to see Doug behind the counter. I have no idea what the situation is, and maybe it’s none of my business. I got in and out of there and didn’t say much to anyone. Again I observe how the store has become less personal and human than when Belinda owned it. Now it’s an economic enterprise, a game of numbers and quantities above all else. The customers themselves are numbers as well… On my way there and back along Maxwell Road and N. Park I went very carefully, keeping my eyes open to the traffic. I dunno anymore. Everything seems so desolate and lifeless— dead, like the Ireland of the James Joyce story. We need an infusion of humanity in our lives, but we stubbornly persist in error. We’ve made a desert of the places where we live, refusing to love each other, rendering ourselves robotic and heartless. I’ll be looking forward to Groundhog Day, which happens to be Joyce’s birthday, and the anniversary of the publication of Ulysses a hundred years ago. They say the pen is mightier than the sword. Perhaps the centennial is a test of this proverb.
Quarter of midnight.
It is best for me to take responsibility for my loss of faith rather than attribute it to the spirit of the age. I must pick up the pieces and go from there, reassembling them to a picture that pleases the eye and makes the most sense. Do we have to call it a fiction? But there’s a purpose for our imagination, an adaptive reason for being; perhaps it is the science of God, the fingers touching in the Sistine Chapel. Humankind has an instinct to reach for its creator and its own being, as I can remember hearing in an old song by Yes, about creating or recreating heaven by means of the heart’s dream. At the very end of the song, the dreamer is gently awakened to reality once again: like in a Keats poem, but made more powerful by the medium of music… It’s rather odd how we can forget the things that are the most important to human progress and perfection, such as music and Romantic poetry; and if it was only me, then my heart repents this thoughtless trespass. So now, it makes sense to take an hour and listen to Going for the One once again, a classic album of progressive rock, timeless and timely. You who have an ear, may you hear, and let the error of the times slide by.
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…
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.
I’m watching the gray and citrine sunrise out of my front window. I got a pretty good sleep this time because I was very tired from the exertion yesterday. I’m also waiting to get an email from my Texas friend. The convenience store doesn’t open on Sundays until seven o’clock, so I’m basically twiddling my thumbs in the meantime. Like the guy in The Stranger by Camus, I’ve never cared for Sundays. In the days when I used to work, I even loathed Sunday because of the prospect of Monday morning. I was in a strange limbo back then, not daring to dream or think of being anything like a qualitative person. I remember one day on a weekend wanting to read some Lewis Carroll for the idea of being transported to a different reality by falling down the rabbit hole or going through the looking glass. But I denied myself this luxury because I had to stay focused on the material world, which seemed so alien to me, and so unpleasant, like wearing a hair shirt or something else to mortify the flesh. And the bondage was never ending, since every weekend was inevitably followed by another Monday. So anyway, on that day, when I thought of flying over the rainbow, I don’t remember what I did with the Lewis Carroll book. Perhaps I took it off the shelf and indulged myself in a little humanness, even though it was dangerous to do so.
Six thirty. Now the light of the sun hits objects in the living room, and rather than being a galley slave chained to my seat, I’ve passed permanently to Wonderland.
Four thirty. There’s just a light rain or drizzle right now. I’m not having a great day, but it’s not bad either. It’s better when I have people to see; being alone sucks. I get tired of the Internet and social media; it isn’t quite real. You’re only being intimate with your computer or device if you look at it a certain way. Except for going to the store every morning, each entire day is spent alone. My pen pal is a person I’ve never met and likely never will. What kind of life is this, subsistence in cyberspace? It’s totally unnatural, but we do it because it’s easier than dealing with each other in the flesh. The world is already so depersonalized from the one I grew up with, back when people answered their phones, and phones were rotary dial. For a long time I didn’t trust where technology was taking us; I’d read a lot of Lawrence and taken his warning seriously. Evidently most people missed his novels and stories. Now his voice is lost in the crowd of voices, like a whisper in a hurricane, ineffectual and tragic. But this doesn’t change the fact that he was probably right about our future; indeed we’ve fulfilled his prophecy and continue to do so. Someday nothing will be left of our humanity or of the natural world— and least of all the unheeded words of D.H. Lawrence.
Eight thirty five.
I feel better this morning, even though my sleep was filled with nightmares. Generally they were about the clash of poetry and empiricism, and where do I stand, and what am I supposed to do? If we don’t take science seriously, then we will pollute ourselves to extinction. Poetry is good entertainment, but it won’t reverse things like climate change or develop a cure for schizophrenia. At some point people have to be responsible for the future and pull their heads out of the sand, or else suffer the same fate as the dinosaur and the dodo. Someday the trail of cheeseburgers and fries will come to an end. Human beings are mostly selfish and vain, thinking the world revolves around them. Does the sun go round the earth or the other way around? Is the moon made of cheese? If it doesn’t profit humans somehow, we’re not interested in it. What’s the Amazon Rain Forest to us if we can’t cut it down? Who cares how many African elephants are left when their ivory is so valuable? We perceive everything with dollar signs in our eyes. All the time I hear conservatives argue that there should be a “balance” between ecology and economics, but this is only a way of excluding the environment.
Nine thirty. Something made me think of a CD by Sonic Youth: Bad Moon Rising. I borrowed it from a friend long ago and listened to it only once. For me, the experience of hearing it was terrifying, even though in a way it was well done. The music went to dark spiritual places that triggered my psychosis. A quality of this morning, perhaps the fog and the cold, suggested to me autumn many years back. Bonnie Rose smiled and waved from her black truck as she was returning from the coffee shack. Suk, covering for Michelle, was very nice. I kind of enjoy this nostalgia for old friends and music, even Sonic Youth. The feeling of October in February gives me the urge to read “Sleepy Hollow” again and creep myself out a little. And by the way, I located the Joseph Campbell book I feared was lost.
Nine thirty five.
Polly called me an hour ago. She never got over the sickness of last week and had to go to the emergency room Saturday evening. A doctor at the hospital told her she had probably passed a kidney stone and the pain of this made her nauseous. All the tests they ran came out okay. She said her oldest son hadn’t been spending much time with her in this adversity. I urged her to call me during the week if she feels lonely or bored and maybe unwell still… Meanwhile I had what felt like a small stroke last night. I thought I was going to pass out or even die on the spot. Being honest, I haven’t felt good in the past couple of weeks, maybe for psychosomatic reasons. Life all around me has really sucked ever since the November election, when people behaved their worst under pressure. There’s no excuse for the BS we’ve allowed to thrive as if it were acceptable. If I had a rocket ship and a lifetime supply of oxygen I’d fly to the moon where I could be by myself. But no. “Every mistake we must surely be learning / While my guitar gently weeps.” We’ve forgotten our history, and we are paying for our stupidity. Is the pen really mightier than the sword? Are books stronger than rifles? Is knowledge power? Then we need to do something wise to save ourselves. There’s no one else who can do this for us: no invasion by extraterrestrials, no Second Coming of Christ— nobody. It’s like the ending to Lord of the Flies: who will save humanity from its own wickedness?
Aesop, my dog, stayed in bed while I got up to make a few notes. An email from Library of America tells me that the book of Sandburg has shipped. By waiting a few more days, I saved myself a couple of bucks. Patience is a virtue. I’ve never seen such hard times as those confronting us today. What is it about? Is it about “saving” a capitalist system that doesn’t work for us anyway? Is it about the White working class? Why is it preferable to some people for us to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world? I used to believe that my sister agreed with the right wing. I imagined all kinds of things about her beliefs that panned out to be only partly true. I think that what it comes down to is the fact that human beings live together on this planet, therefore we should learn to get along with each other. Why is this so hard for us to do?… It started to rain a few hours ago. The sound lulled me into a dreamless sleep. James Joyce conceived of the human species as a big family, one of the themes of Ulysses. We may not treat each other like family, yet this fact of biology remains true. If only we could feel the truth of this condition…
Sometimes I wish I’d taken Ancient Greek at the university, but that might have been over the top. As it was, I got to take Aristotle in the philosophy department with a good old Jewish professor. One of my favorite terms in school was winter 1989. I was 22 years old and taking, besides Aristotle, Literature of the Renaissance and a psychology survey course. The English class was great, although I skipped a lot of the reading assignments. We studied Sir Philip Sidney, and I still want to sit down with The Old Arcadia and absorb the whole thing. I wrote papers on Thomas More’s Utopia and Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella. Also we read John Lyly and Mary Wroth, and of course Shakespeare’s sonnet series.
The same winter we had a great dumping of snow in Eugene, but classes still were not canceled. My dad and I rode the bus up to the Campus on a day or two (he was the fiscal officer of the psychology department for twenty years) and on a Friday morning I remember being on the bus with other students. One of them was a music major girl who was busy sight reading a composition from a book. Her name was Dunia, and she’d been the girlfriend of a drummer I’d known. She didn’t recognize me. The afternoon of that day Dad and I waited at the bus stop a long time. My writing assignment was due Monday, on Thomas More, so I was rather preoccupied. On the bus again, we picked up two guys I remembered from grade school, Ron and David. They’d been playing in the snow together and asked each other if they were cold. I felt awkward because David probably knew me, but we said nothing. My education had divided us into different social classes, and even though we went to the same high school, I’d never seen them around. It happened with my nephews as well: we attended North Eugene together, but due to the differences in our coursework, our paths never crossed. I loosely belonged to the academic elite that took AP classes and tended to disregard those in a lower stratum of the school.
Thinking about that now, it was an awful circumstance to undergo for all of us. My nephews really resented me, and our families divided even more deeply as it was clear that I would go to college while they were stuck with manual labor. There’s a lesson in here somewhere, perhaps an epiphany for me: pride leads to a fall. And yet the school system is set up that way. I remember the insane amount of pressure that was applied to us students who supposedly had a promising future. I also recall a few students who objected to the whole situation, renouncing the opportunity to take AP English, and then sort of coasting out the year with less stress, but retaining their humanity and their sanity. And for that reason, I have to respect their decision. After all, look at what happened to me under all that pressure and stress. Was it really worth it even to graduate from college? And what is the quality that gives people dignity when all is said and done? Maybe with Sinatra we can sing that we did it our way.