Quarter of two.
Roger vs the Hobo
I witnessed the most bizarre battle at ten this morning. A guy in an suv parked on my street and proceeded to steal stuff from our trash and recycle bins. When he got to Roger’s, Roger was on top of it and asked him not to take anything. I looked out the window and saw them tug of war with his green roll can. The hobo threatened to kick Roger’s ass but he let go his hold and went on his way, still stealing from other cans. Before this, however, he flipped the bird at Roger a couple of times.
People in general are acting very weird: they can be discourteous and even downright contemptuous, while the churches are dying: no sign of the Holy Spirit anywhere.
Quarter after four.
It’s funny, the much ado about ethics; but it’s really only me who cares for the subject. There’s still some confusion and controversy regarding the figure and philosophy of Epicurus. But the reason why he was smeared by his posterity was due to his denial of the immortality of the soul. The main thrust of his ethics was certainly not wanton hedonism, as is popularly believed. In fact, his life and attitudes were quite ascetic. He wanted to help people minimize pain in their lives. Two major sources of pain, he thought, were fear of the gods and fear of punishment after death. He answered that the gods take no interest in human affairs; and, there is no afterlife for us to dread. Death is nothing to us, so this should be a great relief. He did say that happiness is the highest good, but it is achieved by the removal of pain and not so much by the pursuit of pleasure.
The English word indolence originally meant “painlessness.” Thomas Jefferson used the word with reference to Epicurean ethics.
For some reason I get an image of my grandmother’s apartment many years ago. She probably would’ve mistrusted the philosophy of a pagan, but I didn’t know her very well and she passed away when I was eight. She could surprise you sometimes. During the summer, she and a friend took the bus to the Oregon Country Fair in Veneta, and in the Seventies, some of the hippies went around nude. Mimi and her two sisters were very eccentric and talented people. But I don’t think I would’ve brought up Epicurus with them. To reject the afterlife is a strange thing to consider, and of such historical consequence.
An ice cream vendor in a little white van just drove by to the tune of “The Entertainer.” Aesop finally woke up and let him know he wasn’t welcome. It’s just the way he is.
Quarter of seven.
Yesterday morning I walked past a roadkill squirrel on N Park and felt a pang of remorse. Squirrels are such happy creatures when you see them frolic around the neighborhood, chasing each other in twos and threes, taunting and scolding the dogs that try to catch them, and sometimes frying themselves on a power transformer… Later in the day I caught sight of a banner on the fence outside Randy’s car lot:
COMING SOON: WILL’S AUTO REPAIR… ON MAXWELL
I don’t know how I feel about that yet, though it seems like a weird time for someone to start a business anywhere, let alone on Maxwell Road. This place has always been poor and rather on the squalid side. The only business that gives it any respectability is Community Market— to say nothing bad about the salon. Everyone around here has had to struggle to stay alive financially, and it’s been the same way for forty years. Why doesn’t some rich person buy the community and spruce it up to make it prosperous again? But then it wouldn’t have the touch of personality and humanity that gives it the Maxwell vibe. According to Karen, Kelly Middle School will inherit the old North Eugene High School building on Silver Lane, and the Japanese immersion school gets the entire place on Howard Avenue. While everything changes, the general spirit of the neighborhood remains pretty much the same: kind of old fashioned, the way I remember it for all these years. Some kids are destined to fly this place and never come back. Others will stay and describe its history and speculate on its future.
Nine twenty AM.
Now I’m back from the dentist and from the store. I have to sort through my feelings about all of it. The medical center was where I also first saw a psychologist at twenty years old, so of course I thought of old times with my mother. You can be a grownup and still feel like an orphan upon losing your parents. I think now that the most careful plans we can ever devise will often backfire, and the future is never foreseeable. It was weird going back to the place where it all started, like revisiting your old school or something. The people may be gone but the places usually stay. My mind digresses to an attraction at the Enchanted Forest in Oregon: the House of the Crooked Man. What distinguishes it is an anomaly in magnetism, a natural phenomenon that just happened to occur in Oregon. I guess it’s called the Oregon Vortex. I thought of it because it’s an example of an unstable place. My second grade class took a field trip there and then I forgot about it until today. Probably the Crooked House and the Oregon Vortex are separate things… Anyway, my new dentist is very nice. It’ll be good to get myself back on track with my oral hygiene.
Ten thirty. Aesop and I just shared some baby carrots from a ziplock bag I bought at the market this morning… Again I think, things gone and things still here, just like the title of a story collection by Paul Bowles. And when every compass and landmark fails me I fall back on the zodiac and steer by the stars.
Karen did something very nice for me today. She gave me her green salad and some ranch dressing to take home, telling me she would have chili. She had observed that I’d lost weight because of the meager fare at the market and acted accordingly. Karen said that Kim’s divorce will probably go through okay despite her husband contesting it. He hasn’t been behaving well, not doing what he’s supposed to do. They’d been married for 16 years. I think she was being merciful to him… The sky appears like the mercury in a thermometer, silvery with great puffy clouds. Aesop has been very good ever since Gloria started working with me on housekeeping and personal care. Now the sun comes out a little. Yesterday evening I ordered a book of Adler, generally about his individual psychology, which may go well with what I know of Freud, though I’m not a fan of Jung anymore. Eugene is a big Jungian town everywhere you go, so they tend to shove it down your throat. Forcible indoctrination is never a good way to get along with people, but rather it’s a kind of violence. The more the pressure, the more others will rebel. Jung may be a mental giant and an institution, but then so is Shakespeare if I want something Romantic to read and talk about… Across the street, Roger potters and tinkers with a mad scientist project, not at all interested in such things.
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.
Quarter of five in the morning.
All day yesterday it rained quite steadily, a purifying kind of thing and very normal Oregon weather. As I agreed to do, I’ve been going with the flow a little better and it seems that good things are coming to me. I played my J Bass in the afternoon and it sounds incredible to my ears, especially considering the low cost for the kit. The only deviation from the stock hardware is the Omega bridge I put on it. Outfitted with stainless steel strings it sounds totally killer… I had a phone conversation with my sister yesterday that went very well. And on Monday morning I’ll be meeting with Tim for coffee at the Black Rock over on River Road. My new PCA starts her job Tuesday morning for five hours, and I believe that will be quite fun. Today I just have a few phone calls to make, plus my daily trip to the little market around the corner from my house. It sounds like the rain has stopped for the moment, or it may be coming down very lightly. I’m okay with either way. Nothing can ruffle me anymore.
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.
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.
Quarter of six.
High winds and it’s raining cats and dogs in the darkness before the dawn. My main anxiety is the puddle at the end of the street, where I know I’ll get my feet wet again when I go to the little store around the corner. Once bitten twice shy. Behaviorism in action. But is the dampness in the puddle or in my feet? Mind over matter. Something about rainy days promotes abstruse thinking because you tend to stay indoors; it’s a kind of solipsism, being cut off from the outside world and shut up in your head. It’s rather strange to go out and encounter the rain with no covering but for an umbrella, hoping the wind won’t turn it wrong side out. And then what happens? You get wet; but the damp is in your mind, as George Berkeley argued three centuries ago. Life is but a dream within the dream of Vishnu, for the Hindus had the same idea long before Berkeley. All the while, the rain pelts against the house, determined to get inside. I just sit here waiting for daylight to come. I infer from past experience that the sun will rise today, though nothing is a given— except the inevitability of the rain.