“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. 

Very Fitzgerald

Seven thirty.

The cloud formation I can see from here is very pretty, more natural than during the wildfires. When I go out the front door, the writing in the sky might say, “Surrender, Robert!” Vapor trails left by a Wicked Witch. This idea made me laugh. No clue what it pertains to or what it means. I only got up an hour ago. Guess it’s time to go to the store. So far I feel good today.

Quarter of nine. I met with a couple of surprises on my outing this morning. The first was seeing Lisa, who used to work at Karen’s salon, in the parking lot of the market. She greeted me by name and with a deft movement stripped off her mask while I fumbled to remember who she was. Then she told me she had a new job at a salon that fit her better. I’m happy for her on one hand, but the happiness is superficial when you begin to think about it. I also think to myself that cream rises to the top, but it’s always at the expense of somebody else. Maybe I’m being too Charlie Brown about an otherwise good thing… The other surprise was the sight of schoolchildren on their way to the middle school. I was a bit worried for them crossing Maxwell Road, but apparently they knew how to do that… The more I think about Lisa, the more I dislike her supercilious attitude. There’s something very Scott Fitzgerald in this scenario: an oligarchy of the beautiful people, whereas those without beauty are the losers. It makes me self conscious. I tramp around the neighborhood in soiled clothes, the epitome of penury; and yet I have something that Lisa seems to lack. Give me a few minutes and I might recall what it is… Does she know who Fitzgerald is? And what is an oligarchy? 

Promises, Promises

Seven forty.

I got up at four o’clock this morning for a bit and was so sedated that my vision was double. Dunno how I feel right now, but at least I can focus my eyes. Maybe it was more than the sedation; maybe I was under a lot of stress from the salon people. But after this morning I can go back to being myself again… I just fed Aesop. The air outside looks smoky. Can we ever predict how a day will go? Some things we can infer from day to day, for instance that there will be a tomorrow. But really, nothing is a given, and nothing is promised. Sometimes the memories of my childhood are quite clear, but others they only tease the edge of my mind. When I was three years old, my parents used to take me to the Barbecue Pit in Salem for roast beef sandwiches and a side of spaghetti. Then one day during the summer of 1997, my dad and I took a trip up to Portland, stopping for lunch at the same place. It seemed that nothing had changed since 1970. I think Dad was feeding his nostalgia for a time when he had a big shot job at the State Capitol.

Nine twenty five. He was probably dreaming of what might have been had his job continued, or just regretting that it didn’t… “Gaze into your omphalos.” Dad seems like a stranger to me now, just another person who used to be in the world. Or maybe I’ve switched off my feelings towards him? I know there’s a reason why I think of him whenever September comes around. It’s also going to be Labor Day this weekend, which was once fatal for my sobriety. There are so many people from the past that I miss today. Chemistry is an odd thing, pushing and pulling us together and apart. Even the strongest ties can become frail and eventually break.

Eleven ten.

I got my haircut done. I didn’t hear any very interesting conversation; just cliches about So and So being selfish and unchristian, when the accusers hadn’t read the Bible at all nor understood the sermons in church. The only hint of selflessness by Jesus is his sacrifice of his own life to redeem all of humankind for our sins. He never said to be unselfish; he only commanded us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves… At the market I stood behind a Black guy who compulsively checked his card balance but then didn’t buy anything from Michelle. She told me later that he always does that. I fell in behind him on the sidewalk going home, and he was still obsessing about his card. He probably had OCD or something close to it. There are a million of us like that. And all the street can offer you is a lesson out of the New Testament, sprouting up the Word from the ashy gray landscape as a forlorn hope, not to say a promise. 

Angel Wings

Ten thirty.

My trip to Country Club Road went pretty painlessly and it’s a beautiful morning, sunny and cool. After eleven today I want to play my turquoise Fender bass. I’ve left it bagged up ever since the crappy practice I had with the band last month…

Noon hour. Now I don’t have a reason to write about poetic transcendence of the kind in Keats’s work. What do I really believe, then? I think I’m just a realist. Even psychology turns me off sometimes for being implausible and unscientific. I don’t need anything for getting my landing gear off the ground and I don’t want to live in a dream. Maybe I should quit blogging, or change my focus to something different. My options are wide open for new things and ideas. 

I remember something from the fall of 2013. My life was going downhill. In September my furnace crashed and I started using space heaters for warmth. I got energy assistance through my local utility company in October and took a few quizzes for additional credit to my bills. I attended two classes in energy efficiency, held in a church downtown. The instructor didn’t like me because I was an alcoholic and a bit of a jerk at the time. But throughout that autumn I only wanted to drink beer and listen to the Herb Alpert CD I’d ripped to my computer; plus I wanted to keep emailing with my friend in Scotland every night. I think the fall of 2013 was when the wheels began to drop off my apple cart. Funny I should remember that now; so maybe I actually do need a little boost from poetry and spiritual stuff? To be lifted on angels’ wings from the prosaic? 

Innocence

Quarter after eight.

I had planned on going to church this morning, but I feel tired and probably won’t make it. From my house to the church is a mile trip and I just don’t have the energy to hoof it. I was at the store a half hour ago and spoke a little with Heather, and I also saw Kat and Corey as I passed their house and said hi. There was some activity in front of the dog rescue place beside Valley Restaurant Equipment. I don’t know what was going on. I observed to myself that Maxwell Road is sort of a slum compared to other places in town. For economic reasons, it has become run down and relatively unattractive. It hasn’t looked good since the early eighties, when I was in junior high school… But on second thought, Maxwell was always a little poor and ramshackle. I love it, though. It reminds me of my mother, when we’d have lunch at Luigi’s on spring and summer days. The hot garbage grinders were awesome, toasted in big ovens and packed with veggies, long before Subway came to Eugene. Ninth grade was a great year for me, being a big fish in a small pond. It was the last K12 school year I really enjoyed. We had a very tough vice principal, but I think he was basically a good man. He was the one who got things done, while the principal was rather a reclusive coward.

Nine twenty five. I must’ve read 17 Tarzan novels that year. I still have dreams of those beautiful paperback books occasionally, with the Neal Adams and Boris Vallejo covers. But by the time I was 16 years old, the innocence had worn away and Tarzan appeared corny to me. I was growing up. 

An Old Gideon

Eleven twenty five. My friend’s favorite dog passed away last night, and this changed my mind about social media. Coming home from the market, I stopped by the salon and Karen gave me a double chocolate donut, kind of like old times. Jessica doesn’t work on Monday. Karen was going to make a house call to do a haircut today. Her work is pretty much her life, and she tries to help people out. She hires people with problems who need a break. Her activity is very principled, even religious. She keeps plodding on with her life regardless of the world. And this brings me to think on duty and how people feel about it. Where does the sense of duty come from? Kant believed that it comes from the faculty of reason, which participates in the divine. But this highbrow philosophy doesn’t really explain how people behave. Most people get a moral education from Sunday school, and this is the doctrine of flesh and bone, of the real world of poverty and hard knocks. They don’t teach Kant at the Eugene Mission; they preach the gospel. 

One autumn day, up on the campus, a kind old man stood on the corner by the student union handing out Gideons pocket New Testaments from a box. I accepted one because it was reading material, then continued on to my class in Renaissance Thought in Fenton Hall. But I didn’t ponder it much after that. I didn’t suspect that in the blink of an eye, your whole world can be inverted, leaving you dispossessed and friendless. So today I do sort of wonder about that old Gideon on the street corner. 

Poverty Sucks: a Letter

My appointment with Heidi didn’t happen today; she called in sick this morning. So then I had the afternoon to myself and I wrote more in my blank book. I came close to a minor discovery regarding the way my mother brought me up to be the person I have become. Above all, she demanded honesty from me. Also I was raised to despise money and the moiling and grubbing people do to acquire it— which may have been unfortunate because I learned that money is valueless. I guess sometime this morning I’ll be getting my stimulus payment. I should hold onto it to put towards some new gear for the band, perhaps better recording equipment or a PA system, etc. I have all the bass guitars I need. This morning I set up my old white SX bass with a view to giving it away to the guys in the band if they’re interested. It’s an old knockabout axe I bought myself ten years ago for only one hundred dollars. Today, the same product new goes for three hundred dollars. Maybe I’ll just take it to practice next time and then leave it at Mike’s house when we’re done.

Again today the weather was very beautiful. Another thought I had deals with my recovery from alcoholism: whether or not it happened by the grace of a higher power, such as a God or maybe even Jesus Christ. Perhaps it wouldn’t be ludicrous to think so. I also look at the face of nature in these days since the election of Biden and regret that it has lost its divine luster. Maybe it’s just my imagination? What do you think of that? I’m looking forward to going back to church this weekend to see all my old friends. My new shoes arrived this noon hour: extremely lightweight and possibly rather flimsy, but very comfortable. I doubt if they’ll last very long…

Still another idea of mine regards my life of dire poverty. Usually I don’t consider it very much. How did Baudelaire put it? The old paupers nourishing their vermin? There’s also a poem by Yeats where a beggar scratches for a flea. But as I always say, there are better ways of being wealthy than with money. I look around me and the other guys in the band don’t have a lot of money either. Mike plays a drum kit he bought in 1988. And two of Ron’s keyboards came from thrift stores, also his amplifiers. Our studio is a glorified toolshed, though comfortable enough. It seems to me that some of the best artists have been poor, like James Joyce, Edgar Allan Poe, and Baudelaire was rather indigent as well. Wealthy people such as my brother look down on us with contempt and call us names. But in the end, the truth is that you can’t take your money with you. This reminds me of the Grimm’s fairytale in which a rich man is admitted into heaven, and what a celebration there is in his honor! I’m pretty sure my brother never read that one. It is very difficult for the wealthy to go to heaven from the point of view of a peasant. I guess the truth is relative after all.

Impecunious

After eleven o’clock this morning I headed out on foot to Bi Mart to pick up my cholesterol medication. On the way I passed the plot of land where my old elementary school had been torn down. Not one stick of it remains standing, and a sign says the new high school will be built by 2023, thanks to Eugene voters. It’s a little ironic that I voted for the new school, but I didn’t know that they’d be demolishing Silver Lea Elementary, where I attended during the 1970s. Also, doing this forced the resident Japanese immersion school out and into the building for Colin Kelly middle school over on Howard Avenue, a distance of a mile or two from Silver Lea. So I walked by the field of dirt enclosed by a chain link fence and thought of how the world was running down. People set their minds on the future without considering that nature may not be able to sustain human life someday soon. My grandnephew’s wife is pregnant with their second baby, and I ask myself why on earth would anybody want to bear children at a time like this. Even Polly thought the same thing. Travis and Riley must not be very smart, but I’m not surprised at that. Another sign that bothers me is just the quality of the sunlight in our atmosphere that has definitely changed since I can remember. The sun shouldn’t be as bright as it now is, and especially not at the end of March. Things are not the same anymore, not at all promising for our future. And then there is Pastor’s selfish concern for his church on more than one level. I don’t really understand the politics of the synod and the larger Lutheran church, but there’s a lot of money involved.

Then I continued on to the Bi Mart on River Road and observed the people wearing their silly masks. My prescription cost me nothing, and then I sat down on the bench outside the walk up window to gather my strength for the walk back home. Life all around me seemed like such a desert, everybody so scared and also so sterile and isolated from each other. After resting up, I went home the same way I came. The lyric to “Nights in White Satin” came to me:

Gazing at people, some hand in hand
Just what I’m going through they can’t understand
Some try to tell me thoughts they cannot defend
Just what you want to be you will be in the end

The Moody Blues. When I got home I crashed out for an hour from fatigue. Later I did some writing in my blank book, but no reading today. I discovered that I’d like to drink beer in order to feel more human again. But I’m strong and brave enough to gut it out every day and stay sober. Close to five o’clock I took another nap until about nine.

And I guess that was my day. Please pardon my pessimism today regarding the future of human life on earth. But there’s no way to flip back the calendar and turn back the clock. This is the world we created, so now we’re stuck with it. And the cause of our demise has been short sighted self interest, our greed for more and more for ourselves and the ones we care about.

The New Renaissance

Six forty.

Gloaming of early morning outside my window. I feel rather good. Yesterday afternoon was a success for me, in that I got my point across to the other guys. I played my bass quite well, too. It probably sounded better to them than it did to me. The solo I took on “Bubble House” sucked. It was in G7, which is harder for me to solo over. But I really burned on “The Mincer,” in A7. If anything, I played too many notes… Aesop needs wet food again, and the store has just opened. At around eight o’clock I’ll go run my errand… I remember nearly crying (for the right reasons) when “Tom Sawyer” came on the PA in a certain waiting room. Rush did their songs with so much more intelligence than garden variety bands; with quality and taste, finesse and beauty. The other guys in my band aren’t very familiar with Rush, so I think I’ll make converts of them.

Seven thirty. I hear a birdsong outside my back door. The weather yesterday was insanely beautiful. Everybody got out of the house to do various activities.

Eight thirty. Melissa had a cold, but she sounds better today than yesterday morning. Camped across Maxwell Road from the store I saw a homeless man who kept himself company by talking to himself. It really annoys me when people say that homeless people choose to live that way, out of laziness or whatever. It’s the system that failed them, not the other way around. My park ranger nephew has some backward opinions, but luckily I don’t have to be around him… Some people are born without an aptitude that fits neatly into the job market. I’m one of them. There are no gainful jobs that allow for creativity and self expression in music or writing. People like me have to figure out another way or else fall through the cracks. Ayn Rand believed that the capitalist system could be manipulated to serve anyone who worked hard enough. I have serious doubts about that. Robert Pirsig said it doesn’t matter what work you do as long as you do it with quality. Again, I beg to disagree. And once again, in a perfect world… I envision a New Renaissance, a time when people can be what they want to be. Why is it that so many of us have a similar dream, yet the dream gets trampled by those with no imagination? 

Lap of Luxury

Six fifty.

I’m just up from having dreams about Faust. So far the play is about living life to the fullest, particularly regarding romantic love and the things that make us happy. It seems to me that people are more often persecuted for their joys and pleasures. Obviously there’s something wrong with this. People are never free in a world where they are condemned. We’re never free anyway. When am I going to finally break with the church? All I get from it is oppression and grief. Too many people will tell you what you can and can’t do, say, and even think. Even more absurd when we pay them for their opinion. I will absentee myself from church this Sunday because there’s no percentage for me anymore.

Nine fifty. I was treated very well at the store and when I stopped at the salon. Even DHS showed kindness by bumping up my food stamps. Melissa said a lot of people experience the same thing. It appears to me that many of us are just scraping by to eke out an existence, so it’s really a Charles Dickens kind of world. I wish I liked his writing better, else I would read it. Goethe is relatively highbrow stuff, quite aristocratic and not very relevant to the lives of most of us… We might have freezing rain by tomorrow morning, what everyone dreads. I just hope our power stays on in this event. I learned yesterday that my sister is feeling better, luckily. I am second thinking on church this Sunday. Attendance could pay off later on. I think it’s good to participate in the community as we can.

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”