Dodgeball / Mary Shelley

Wee hours Wednesday.

I have a rather stupid song playing in my head, called “Jenny,” a cheap imitation of “Message in a Bottle” by The Police that got airplay in 1981. Forty years ago is a very long time. I guess I was feeling sort of bitter all day yesterday because of how my doctor appointment went: just strange and awkward for some reason. And then I began to personalize the whole pandemic, saying it was all my fault that it was happening. Like I was the ultimate jinx on humanity. Also I felt guilty for doing pretty well in these times while many others are less fortunate. So yes of course I felt bitter and resentful for the way I was treated at the cancer institute. It was as if they blamed me for doing okay. My crime was simply to be a survivor, I guess. I feel the way I used to in grade school when we played dodgeball. I was good at avoiding being hit, but otherwise I was a lousy player. At least once I was the last one on my team still alive in the game, and the ones who were out shouted at me to forfeit so they could play again. I was just a useless piece of slack to them. So maybe that’s what I am in this pandemic as well, but hopefully my analogy isn’t true… In fall of 2008 I bought a copy of The Last Man by Mary Shelley because I had left my job and I felt lonely and alone in the world. I didn’t realize that my choice was prescient of a real pandemic that would hit us in another 12 years. It’s very odd the way things play out. And someday maybe one of us will indeed be the sole survivor and the true last man. 

The Little Things

Five thirty.

I was duped by an email scam yesterday. The person pretended to be a friend from church, so I didn’t suspect anything until the evening when I could think about it more clearly. Okay, so I’m an idiot. Should I blame myself for being gullible or these unscrupulous fraudsters? Anyway, that was yesterday. I look forward to a better day ahead. The predawn is gray over the treetops across the street from me. I was just dreaming about The Gray Notebook for some reason. Its contents are sort of a mystery to me. Being so objective and non psychological would be very difficult for a lot of people, an art that requires practice and discipline. Most of us are geared to self pity and the question of why me. We take ourselves too seriously, as if the world turned around us. And we focus on the big things rather than on the minutiae, the everyday. Is Thornton Wilder a little bit like Josep Pla? My cattle dog is getting a drink of water, perhaps wondering when I’ll go to the store; or maybe he’s not thinking anything at all.

Quarter after seven. Nothing was unusual on my daily trip. The Arizona teas had been moved to a higher shelf in the cooler. They go for only 99 cents apiece. I might try one of them someday. I felt kind of sad and fatigued on the sidewalk. My heart and my steps were heavy, my brain still sleepy and blunted. Usually I take note of the sky and my other surroundings, but this morning I didn’t know the color of the dawn. Stephen Crane: “None of them knew the color of the sky… and all of them knew the color of the sea.” I am indebted to my 11th grade English teacher for making us read “The Open Boat.” Mrs Taylor passed away some time ago, before I could look her up and make contact again. She always believed in me. 

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. 

Domains

Nine fifty.

I don’t feel very good today. I suspect the cholesterol medication makes me dizzy and unbalanced, plus I have back pain. Just the wages of getting older. I hope I can make it to church tomorrow morning… But mentally I’m doing pretty well. The raspberry tea must’ve helped me. It is definitely cloudy and overcast today, and I kind of like it. Maybe it won’t get so hot this time. My mind dwells on school during the fall of 1990 for some reason. It was the only time I ever went to a Halloween party— and felt like a complete social klutz. It was also a time when I had to choose between music and academics, ultimately picking school. A difficult decision. But I think I was in the wrong place with my musical friends, though I didn’t realize it right away. I dunno; it’s hard to be a divided person with diverse abilities.

Quarter after eleven. Feeling lonely again. Roger has some project going in his garage, something noisy. Since his retirement it’s been hard for him to keep busy. What is a retired cop supposed to do? His job was to bust the scumbags, as he called them. He didn’t care how the bad guys came to be that way. Didn’t think about criminal justice or whatever. If they broke the law, they broke the law: period. That was the training he received… Roger has been my neighbor for many years. He’s an old conservative like two other houses on this street. The most outrageous conservatives used to live next door to me. They laughed at homeless people and didn’t own a single book. I was actually sandwiched between two ultra conservative homes. Those people all moved away by June 2015, to my immense relief. They hated me and didn’t try to hide it. Those were very difficult years.

Noon hour. When you can’t find a niche where you fit in, you have to carve your own niche. That’s what having a domain is all about. 

Wednesday Words

Four fifty five. As I was playing my bass guitar, I fell into doing some passages from “The Gates of Delirium” by Yes, one of the most impressive songs by a progressive rock band ever recorded… It put me in a sort of dreamy mood, reminiscing again on my high school years with so much great music. At my school, not many kids listened to art rock, but the old Yes albums of the seventies happened to get reissued on vinyl in the early eighties. So, like a person with good taste I bought every Yes record I could get my hands on, and my plastic brain memorized all the music like a tape recorder… But now I’m getting older and not as dynamic as I used to be. The good news is that I’m not so paranoid or delusional anymore, which frees me up to do more things with my life. 

I left a voicemail for my sister today but she hasn’t returned my call yet. I thought of her just now because she is a pious Christian. My faith in a literal God, Jesus Christ, and all the other supernatural beings is total toast. I don’t see any way to recover my credence. It isn’t that I don’t believe in being kind to each other, or that love is the greatest thing a person can experience. It’s just the metaphysical nuts and bolts of religion that I can’t accept anymore. There’s no evidence at all for the superstitions that most people take for granted. 

I wonder why Lord of the Flies was such a staple of the old literary canon? We students were brainwashed with this book at the age of fifteen, and the precept of it was that human beings are naturally evil, a contemporary version of Hobbesian philosophy. But why sow this seed of learning in young minds? Forever it would rule our fates as we graduated from school and sought our fortune in the secular world. A few kids rebelled against the curriculum; they were the smart ones, dropping out of advanced English and finding an alternative way. They were the ones who disappeared from my sight in the high school halls, while the rest of us took the full dose of the indoctrination and headed off for college— perhaps to end up many years later writing blog posts for a lucky few followers to puzzle their heads about. 

Eldorado

Six twenty.

Cloudy morning again, and the sprinklers were just on. Music: “Teen Town.” Since yesterday afternoon I’ve been in a Jaco state of mind. I played his lines from Hejira by Joni Mitchell yesterday on the jazz bass I put together from a kit. That was fun, while outside my window the wind whipped the rhododendrons and the maple tree, as though nature had an answer to the thunder I was making.

Quarter of eight. I only spent about ten bucks on my food today. I didn’t encounter much on my trip. I could hear some bird twitters but saw nothing: no birds, squirrels, or cats anywhere. The world seems to be sleeping in, and it’s an early Saturday. The temperature is very warm: 57 degrees outside. I feel inclined to dig out my Wallace Stevens and study “The Man with the Blue Guitar.” I first read it when I was a junior in college, and barely grasped the concepts. Winter term that year was like a dream to me, gazing out the window on the third floor of Gilbert Hall, observing the rain on the pavements and the people who appeared like mindless automatons. I had no idea where life was taking me, so I sat back and enjoyed this Eldorado known as college… On the Maxwell sidewalk I reflected that my second grade teacher mocked me for swinging my arms when I walked. And then it struck me that the old Silver Lea school is now a heap of dust. Nothing remains of it except in my memory.

Quarter of nine. Aesop just had his beef vegetable stew and now we’re sort of in limbo for a while. Roger’s garage door is open while he tinkers with a project. In my head I hear “Singing All Day” by Jethro Tull, a very old song collected on Living in the Past. But sometimes the old songs are the very best ones. 

Books versus Candy

Midnight hour.

The world really is a lapsed place of blasphemy, so tomorrow morning I guess I’ll go to church, just like old times, to search for my lost innocence… At around noon yesterday, Damien and his friend came and did some important yard work for me. I felt terrible all day from the threat to my sobriety I perceive in the band. I think music is not a very safe profession if you want to stay sober. Now I’m looking for a way to transcend the fallen society that surrounds me. Last night I thought of Boethius and his Consolation of Philosophy, considering the things that are immutable, like rational love, as opposed to the things that pass transiently like the pleasures of the senses. I figured that wisdom was more important than a beer buzz, and longer lasting. 

When I was a kid, and my nephews and I were turned loose in the shopping mall known as the Valley River Center, they went off to buy candy, while my destination was always the bookstore for what was imperishable: Logos, the written word. I read trashy Edgar Rice Burroughs books, yet they were good for building vocabulary. My mother helped me write my first book report for seventh grade reading class, and the book was Tarzan of the Apes. It got a perfect score from the teacher, but Kelly, the girl who sat behind me, was quite outraged at my success. Once during this class I was reading The Moon Maid and David accused me for looking at a book with a naked lady on the cover. Mrs Cheleen passed it off because I was her pet student— and after all, she was right: there was nothing wrong with reading Edgar Rice Burroughs at the age of twelve. Funny but I had a full head of hair back then, and braces which came off the next semester. 

I didn’t hear my first Rush album until the summer after eighth grade, and that was where my true education really started, both mentally and emotionally. I heard someone say that their son had outgrown Rush, but of course they were talking nonsense. Rush is a band you never outgrow. 

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. 

Undrowned

Three o’clock. I don’t feel very poetic lately. My creative energy is invested in music with Mike and Ron, and otherwise there’s no reason to worry about the “sublime” anymore. The world is changing away from the supernatural, which is fine with me. The time is now for charting my course through the future, whether I have ten years left or twenty.

If it weren’t so far to walk, I’d go buy two jalapeño burgers from Carl’s Jr. and scarf them down at home. Been a very long time since I did anything like that. During my working years I ate fast food every day and really enjoyed it.

There are other things I’d like to do, too. I’d read some later Henry James if I thought I could share it with someone who cares. His writing is very Freudian, very Modern, and beautifully done. I never did read The Ambassadors, and I’ve always wanted to do that. Maybe I’ll do it anyway and keep it to myself, but it’s more fun when you can discuss it with others. I also feel that I might be in the wrong place on WordPress— not for the first time. How I long for a friend who also likes Henry James and can relate to what I learned in college, albeit 30 years ago, when education was much different from today. How nice if I could warp time back to the late ‘80s and do school all over again. In that case I’d be surrounded by people like myself with the same education. Learning is meant to be shared with friends, but I feel like a fish out of water flopping around on the dock. Nowhere for my message to go… 

In and out of Time

Noon hour. I just jammed on the bass guitar for an hour. This cloudy day makes me think of early summers in junior high school, or late spring. I can’t believe how bright everything is, how vital and resonant. Maybe it’s just me who is full of love of life recently, and of hope for better things in the future. Right now it’s super quiet in the room and everywhere else. It’s very strange when this happens; like I’m the only human being alive on earth. It will be a lonely afternoon again today, unless I decide to go to Bi Mart. I guess I’ll do some housework after a bit. While playing the bass, I copied the line for “Invisible Sun” by The Police, a song that always gives me goosebumps. It takes me back to my sophomore year in high school, when the future was unlimited, and yet my vocabulary was inadequate to compass my experience of life. Maybe it was this innocence that made life seem so boundless and infinite, like I could live forever. I bought Ghost in the Machine on vinyl a year after it was released. I still think it’s a better record than Synchronicity because it’s more groove oriented… I didn’t know how to think when I was 15 years old. It must’ve been an odd mode of existence, being so green and inexperienced, nonverbal and inarticulate. Language gives me a handle on things and events, a feeling of having control and power over situations. Otherwise I’d be just a passive leaf in the wind. Or maybe we’re all merely leaves in the wind anyway? Except for a few geniuses who move and shake the world. Sometimes it takes more than genius; it takes money to legislate what people do and think… I really hope the band I’m in can be a modest success here locally, and maybe get some radio airplay. Notoriety around town can be a good thing. The three of us are all around 50 years old, but not too old to have ambition. Whether we win or lose, we’ll still be having fun in the endeavor.