A City in the Air

Eleven thirty.

I let Aesop out of his little prison down the hall after my zoom meeting was done and he barked at me to tell me he wanted his milk bones. The white light of day makes the room appear green, a greenness that reminds me of the cover to a book of Robert Frost I once had when I was a student. If it weren’t so cold out, I’d say it was kind of like the springtime with all the blooms and bird activity, and it stays lighter now for longer. The greens also are souvenirs of a serotonin buzz many years ago from taking Prozac. The drug made me feel impulsive and sociable, but also sleepless and finally suicidal, so I had to stop it. 1991 was very long ago and I can sense how much I’ve aged. It isn’t like Goethe anymore, a creed of seize the day. Rather, it’s a time for quiet reflection and study. Still, the green outdoors is a distraction from cerebral things. It is entirely possible to get too comfortable; security can be a trap that keeps you from pursuing happiness.

And then you ponder the difference between green pastures and ash gray pavements littered with cigarette butts. Where do we go from here?

Quarter of one.

It’s doable to be young at heart. Not to spit in the wind and give up your dream of paradise. They say poverty sucks, but poetry will never desert the pauper. It is there if you look for it, like the kingdom of God. It dwells within you.

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Israel Potter

Noon.

I wish I could remember more of the Melville I’ve read. After I finished Pierre I also read Israel Potter a long time ago: very dark and depressing but so true from a certain point of view. I don’t recall how it begins, but Potter is shanghaied and forced into service aboard ship, during which he meets the original John Paul Jones who was an American buccaneer. Generally the book is a tale of woe that only gets worse until he dies homeless, penniless, and friendless somewhere in England. Melville is great if you agree with his fatalism. I relate to it because from the time I was in high school I was mostly invisible, an anonymous wallflower, suffering blow after blow to my health and later my sanity. So it’s tempting to believe that the stars rule our destinies, or that life is a game of probabilities, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. At the end of the rainbow is there a pot of gold, or a piece of cheese for the mouse in the maze? It’s always possible to end up like Israel Potter, a sober reminder from Herman Melville, while the beat of old Duran Duran music in my head goes on indifferently: the grotesque and the glamorous seem to coexist. Beauty and the beast. I’d rather go where there is substance than with shallow appearance. 

Graced

Nine thirty AM.

I ran into a few people on my trip to market, or rather one significant one I don’t see every day. Lisa, formerly of Karen’s salon, walked in and said hi as she got a couple of items. I wished her a belated Merry Christmas and she said, “Oh you know, Christmas was Christmas, now it’s over, time to move on.” She sounded tired or bored with the whole thing, like a cynical person or someone very smart. Either way she was superior to the holidays, which was fine with me. Kathy also was there, doing something like inventory work plus the usual cashiering, but it was Thomas who helped me at checkout. I got my stuff together and headed out the door. By the time I reached N Park I saw Lisa in her little navy blue Chevy cruising past me toward River Road and probably from there to the highway. As she went by I uttered softly, “There she goes.”

Persistence

Quarter after nine at night.

I see again that I am screwed by my poverty, which precludes me from playing in a rock band. It’s not feasible without a car of my own. So, I’m not going to drown my sorrows, but just work with my circumstances and do what I can.

The ceramic Christmas tree’s delivery is delayed due to severe weather on the way. There’s a possibility that it’ll never make it here. I think I’ll try buying one from Bi Mart tomorrow, when I have Gloria for transportation. But the world won’t crash and burn if I don’t have a Christmas tree.

It may seem like cause and effect the way life turns sour after staying sober, though I think it’s really just becoming aware of the world around me and my situation within it. A phrase from “The Dove Descending,” words by Eliot, occurs to me for some obscure reason: “the intolerable shirt of flame.” 

The Horseshoe Nail

I figured out that I feel quite stuck in my economic situation, with no car and a debt that’s growing. There’s a thing called house rich, cash poor that describes me pretty well. I don’t know how many people are in the same boat with me. But I reflected that it’s very difficult to be “free” when you live in dire poverty. It can be a double bind as well. Getting yourself out of poverty requires freedom, but being free takes some money to start with… I began to notice that this was a problem when I could no longer tithe to the church. And having no car precludes any shot at playing music in a band. It also means no transportation to a worksite if I had a job. It’s beginning to look like the nursery rhyme of the want of a horseshoe nail. The kingdom is lost ultimately because of this lack. There are even more complications in addition, like the fact that we’re moving to electric cars that nobody can afford, so it makes no sense to invest in a gas powered car now.
I suppose it’s kind of a joke to say I could live by my writing, and convert words to cash. Writers like Faulkner can attest that writing for money is not freedom of expression.
If prayers had power, I could use a miracle. I bet that we all could.

Toward Turkey Day

Two ten PM.

An interruption in my cocktail of meds has thrown off my ability to think very clearly. The state I’m in brings back old memories of therapy from four to five years ago. Life wasn’t very happy then, I admit. It was hard to tell who my friends really were and I wound up being abused on several fronts. Afterwards I perpetuated the grief by flogging myself with the same stuff. It was awful to be so vulnerable and weak, so now my sympathy goes out to others in a similar situation today— especially as the holidays approach and I know so many people will be alone for them, or among strangers for a public dinner or some other function. The most wonderful time of the year can actually be the most depressing for the ones dispossessed and disowned by their families. Some families are just plain dysfunctional and fail to come through for the members. It is not the individuals that fail the family but just the reverse.

These are my thoughts at this juncture. I hope other people are mindful and have an open heart and an open hand as we near the holiday season. 

Did We Forget?

Eight forty.

I just thought of Prof Wickes and almost cried. He was in his nineties when I met with him a few years ago at the Cafe Roma on campus… The main factor in my separation from the university is money. It’s probably a fluke that I ever went to college at all. So now I’m an educated lunatic, always looking over shoulder to better times, or hoping against hope for some opportunity to shine in the future. What can a pauper do with his time besides mark the shapes of the clouds outside his front window? And be happy he has a roof over his head.

Everything can change in an eye-blink. The line between housed and homeless is as easy as drug addiction. The life of comfort and security is underrated. “I have my books and my poetry to protect me.” So what? Who would rather live on the streets? There is poverty, and then there’s homelessness. “With diamonds and gold in hand / Will barter as the homeless burn / Someday will it be our turn?” It can happen to anybody and everybody. We complain when we see them organize with a car and raid the recycle bins around town, scrounging for change to support their habits. But every human being is our sister or brother, though I feel like a hypocrite saying it. This is the kind of message I used to hear in church. Somewhere along the way, it got lost or at least garbled with society as it currently is: greedy and materialistic. “What happened to this song we once knew so well?”

A guest preacher asked us, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer is of course everyone.

The Sugar Pill

Quarter of nine.

In my journal I’ve been working out the problem of horror versus beauty in the corpus of Edgar Allan Poe, though I barely know where I’m going with it or why it’s on my mind. I’m a little shy about sharing my discoveries because I’m not a professional critic, just an amateur with a Bachelor’s degree. But the twin themes of grotesque and exquisite do go hand in hand for Poe, perhaps as flip sides of the same coin. Somewhere I got the idea that beauty is the savior of humanity, especially for the very poor like me and like Edgar Poe himself. And I was thinking that beauty is the good, and the ethic is aesthetics alone, the sugar coating without the pill. Ugliness is very easy to come by; it’s everywhere you look. It is misery and suffering, the stuff of poverty and hunger. Naturally the pauper’s delight will be the sight or sound of something gorgeous and ideal, however ephemeral and elusive the vision. Beauty may be a tantalizing mirage, but is it any the less true? Or maybe the most beautiful things are invisible, like the intellect and rational love. We know and refer to these things without sensing them.

For a Rainy Day

Quarter of six.

I spent a restless night. I slept a little here and there and had a bad dream about my parents: they wanted me to sell my basses to compensate for some other expenses. Perhaps they wanted me to go to school. It was a bad dream because I was subordinate to them again, riding in the backseat of their car and being told what to do. But without autonomy, a person never knows who he is; thus independence is vital to your growth and wellbeing. I’d rather be my authentic self and make dumb mistakes than a servant to anyone else and be perfect. And who’s the judge of whether you do right or wrong? If grownups save their children from error, then who will save the grownups from the same thing? It’s silly to be an overprotective parent. Eventually we all have to stand on our own two feet, for good or bad. Just now, a police car siren goes off, but I only shrug and mind my own business. So my dream was a bad one; the return of my parents was like prison for me. People deserve to live with dignity, freedom, and power over their own future.

Quarter after seven.

I hardly ever go to Bi Mart anymore, even less on foot. I used to walk a mile anywhere I wanted to go. A few times I went as far as Santa Clara Square for physical therapy on foot. What’s up with the difference today? I don’t want to spend more money than I have to; but there’s something more. Dunno. Maybe money is mobility and poverty is staying put. Still, selling my guitars is out of the question. You got it, keep it.

On a Banner

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.