Some days, you feel like you’re in hell. Some days you even feel like hell would be a welcome vacation from where you’re at. And as cliche as it might sound, you really only have two choices: You can stay there, getting your ass kicked from here to breakfast or you can stand up and fight. At least that way, even if you lose, you went down swinging.
I wish I could do it for you. Just like some of you have wished you could do it for me, but I’m too old and too broken and it just doesn’t work that way. I’m nobody’s picture of a role model. I’ve made just about every mistake that a man can make. I’ve pissed away almost every opportunity that’s ever been given to me. Anyone who’s ever tried to love me or help me I’ve chased off and although I’ve come a long way, there are still days I can’t stand the person looking back at me in the mirror.
You know you’ve been blessed with some wonderful things in life when you can look back and feel great pain over some of them that you’ve lost. And that’s just life. You win some and you lose some and if you’re really honest with yourself, you’ll admit that you won a few more times than you lost. Sometimes it’s your fault -the winning or the losing- and sometimes you just get dragged by your hair through it despite your damndest effort and deepest wishes.
When you get a little older you start to realize this. You look back at all of the chapters that comprise your life story and at some of them you cringe and some of them you smile. Some of them you just sit with for a while, quiet and alone with your eyes closed remembering the tastes and the smells and how the light hit her tan shoulders just right and regardless of how it turned out you wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. Not for a million dollars. Not for all the fame and fortune. Not even to erase all of the hurt and ugly you’ve ever known. The only thing you’d really change is that it lasted a little longer. That you’d said it then, instead of now. That you could just remember what she looked like when she turned to look at you from the middle seat of your dirty pickup truck.
And so we go on, sometimes smiling and sometimes crying, but I hope you can at least take solace in knowing that had you walked into that bar a minute later or never answered that Craigslist ad or quit after the first argument that your life would be irreparably changed. One second earlier or later and your whole life would be different. And now, though you’ve torn yourself apart and near drank yourself to death trying to get just one of those seconds back, I hope you’ve been as fortunate as me to at least have had a few moments so incredible that you’ll always be able to smile about them.
Some days, you feel like you’re in hell. Some days you even feel like hell would be a welcome vacation from where you’re at. And as cliche as it might sound, you really only have two choices: You can stay there, getting your ass kicked from here to breakfast or you can stand up a fight. At least that way, even if you lose, you went down swinging.
So if I do go down a bit before my time, I hope that my friends will be able to look my father in the eye and tell him, “All the bones in his hand were broken.” And if my father asks “Which hand?” I hope you can tell him “Both hands.” And that you’ll smile at each other as he throws a big arm around your neck and invites you inside.
When I was a kid in school, the teachers used to tell us not to say things like “worser” or “more perfect”; because if something is already perfect it is, by it’s very virtue, impossible for it to be any more so. However, I have seen enough ugliness in life and known someone so beautiful to make me wholeheartedly disagree on both counts. When I think back on myself in those days it is easy for me to understand what a great disappointment to my mother I must have become. By all accounts, that was the second best version of me. Innocent and curious. Unjilted and faithful and a thousand times less the cynic. I remember feeling myself change and not having the courage nor the wherewithal to do anything about it. Of course, by then it was already too late. When you are a young man your hope is that in dying you are able to do so with dignity and for a noble cause. As a grown man my hope is to live nobly, putting forth my most dignified efforts into all the moments that come before the final one. I’ve come to believe that you can live with dignity, but you certainly can’t die with it. True tragedy would be waiting until the curtains are drawing closed to make my amends and make certain those whom I have loved know it also. Love is not a bargaining chip. It is not always reciprocal, nor is it unconditional. It is not a matter of circumstance and it cannot be caged by matters of survival or social convention. It is….welll, what it is. Yes, true tragedy would be waiting until your last chance to take one. Living without something you would die for, but having tried, I can make my peace with that. Dying without something you have lived for because you gave up, that I cannot reconcile.
Often after a great tragedy we sit back and try to pinpoint the first sign of trouble; where we went wrong or when exactly the sky began to crumble. It was with this in mind that I often sat quietly in the early morning when the world was still sleeping. But so often in these moments as I sat alone, when the day was still luminous and the sun hadn’t quite decided to rise, that my mind wandered from the thing I was looking for to something that I hadn’t even noticed was there. Such is life. Searching intently for one thing, only to discover something else that you didn’t even know was there and in memory having found something that wasn’t even there at all. Most people spend their entire lives searching for something that isn’t there. It was in this regard that I was most confounded by some of those I have known most deeply. How we can spend years with someone, learning every intimate detail, but never truly knowing what they are looking for. As the late, great Norman MacLean once said, “lt is those we live with and should know, that elude us. Seldom can we help them because we don’t know what to give and more often, the part we have to give is not wanted. But we can love them- we can love them completely without complete understanding.”
I’m not a trucker, but I’ve made my share of midnight runs and I know that lonely sound a highway makes. The dull thump of shifting gears, the bitter taste of Copenhagen and Mountain Dew, the tragic dichotomy and nervous anxiousness of running away from something you know far too well and toward something you don’t quite yet understand. I’ve seen the sunrise over Cheyenne as US-80 stretches out in front of you for a million miles across the high desert and for a moment it looks like the whole world has been set on fire. Incredible reds and yellows blazing up out of thin air and lighting up all of existence. Then, just as fast as it all started, it melts back into the horizon leaving only a gentle breeze that whispers softly in your ear, pleading with you to keep its secret.
You close your eyes for a second and they burn with sleep and salt and by the time you open them again you’re in Colorado. The Rockies explode up before you and behind you lies only the swaying timber of the Pacific Northwest and all the things you left rotting in your wake. At exactly that moment you feel yourself being ripped right plum in half. The two sides tug at the little black piece of your heart that has been left in the middle, the only piece you have left.
There is nothing like the Northwest in the springtime. As the first steelhead of the year begin nosing their way up the same swollen creeks and rivers as their forebearers did a million years ago. Their sleek bodies all shoulders and guts. One solid muscle forged out of green chrome, all surging toward a final destination that they cannot possibly understand, yet it calls to them and resonates through every fiber of their being.
Likewise, nothing can compare to the crisp September evenings in the Quakie groves of Colorado as a herd bull bulges across a deep dark canyon making your bones involuntarily shiver in awe and anticipation. The two sides tearing at you and teasing you and batting those big beautiful blue eyes at you until you just want to explode.
Some days last longer than others, but those days spent wrapped up in long, lithe, tanned legs and smoldering skin smashed against your chest, those days always go too fast.
So now I spend my days searching for a woman I only know as perfect – or I should say, purpose- and if I ever cross her path again I hope she’ll stay. Sometimes it’s better not to say “I’m sorry”. Sometimes it’s just best not to say anything at all.
I’ve been a carpenter and I know the feel of calloused hands swinging a hammer all day long. I’ve been not a poet, but a thief, and I know what it’s like to be young and hungry and lost. I’ve been a fisherman and I know the silly disregard of a thousand conquests while brooding over the one that broke your line. I’ve been a gambler and I can tell you a hundred stories about hitting it big and a thousand more about losing it all.
I am not wise man, nor am I a soul what can be saved. I am simply a man with barely a soul. But I’ve seen the sunrise over the Rockies and the sunset over the Pacific and the prettiest pair of blue eyes as they first open in the morning and although that might not seem like much, I can’t imagine anyone has ever seen anything sweeter.
The threads of our existence are stitched meticulously, painstakingly, day by day. Like slow labored breaths drawn in and then exhaled. They are measured. They are definite. The colors may change, the direction veer, but as surely as you are reading this, a pattern is being followed. For most of us the lines have been drawn since we were five minutes old. We grow and we adapt and we mold, but when the chips are down we always revert to who we truly are. A man can sooner change the course of human history than he can change that of his own future. Realizing this I am overwhelmed by the sneaking suspicion that it isn’t the pooch who is screwed here. I’ll grant you that I’ve had my share of poignant moments and ephemeral conquests, ah but grand plans and fond memories.
One day you wake up and you can’t remember what she smells like anymore. One day you turn on the news and someone else made a million bucks off of your idea. One day you’re sitting across a desk from a doctor who tells you that there’s nothing else they can do. When that day comes, when it’s the last day of summer and you’re about to be shut out in the cold, wishing you’d told her you loved her more or had the guts to risk that failure or perhaps that you’d been a better person, it won’t mean a thing to anybody.
My biggest worry is not failure, it is not being alone nor is it even dying. It is that when the final tally is added up and the margin is called I’ll find I’ve spread more hurt than love, had more ambition than performance, spilled more tears and blood than joy and laughter, more time spent on the couch than I did with my line in the water.
One day the devil will come to collect my soul and my greatest fear is that after I’ve pleaded my case he will say, “I’m not here for what you’d hoped to do; I am here for what you did do.”
Such a curious thing, life. We spend most of it hustling and bustling about trying to get to from one place to the next; a calculated, headlong rush toward a pine box. When I think about that inevitable end, I cannot help the cynical smirk that creeps across my face. For years I expected death around the next corner, hoped for it even, and now…now I want to live forever, but the inescapable fact glares at me, laughing louder than ever.
The ironic, serene brutality of it all is almost too much to bear. Living in a place made almost entirely of water, yet we have no gills. The dubious madness of trying to change or conquer a world we’re so briefly in. Moments of egregious chaos buffered by fragments of intense calm. I am simultaneously enchanted and defeated by the bitter, throbbing, tragic dichotomy of life and living.
Is there pacification or simply delusion? Would you change it even if you could? I think perhaps it is not the innocence I wish to have back, the naivety, but simply the pleasure of losing it just one more time. Someday we will die, it is the one certain, unavoidable truth. Our ashes will be spread by people already beginning to forget our names and we’ll be reduced to gentle floating tendrils over the Pacific and then it doesn’t really matter what path you took to get there; and to very few does it matter that you made it at all. But for now we are young and still craving life, so for now I think it is simply enough to have enough money in my pocket for a slice of pizza and a few cheap beers. To know that I lived and moved and breathed in a time shared with you. A place where the words you once spoke still echo and although they diminish and fade, they will never truly be gone. And if nothing else, at least when I get to hell I know you won’t be there.
So we press on against the current towards strange coasts and isles of riches and so long as I can keep my powder dry and my pecker hard I’ll be alright. I’ll be alright. I was born in the darkness and came crawling out of the primordial sludge dragging my knuckles and breathing through my mouth. When I began to stand upright I was promptly beaten back down, when I learned to to see I quickly went deaf. As soon as I could see I was quickly stricken blind, but I endure nobly on hoping only for a slow crimson sunrise and a home port that remains always as I left it. I am at the mercy of the tides and the Gods, drifting ever farther out over the waves. Like paper boats and corked bottles….
Was I born with a piece missing or did it fall off somewhere along the way? Maybe the question is rather a simpler one: what the hell is wrong with everyone else? I sigh so loudly that the people sitting at the table next to me -apparently a study group of some kind- turn to glare at me. I want to tell them to fuck off, but I bite my tongue. Everybody is so nosy nowadays. Besides, this is a popular coffee shop and perhaps I’m drawing attention to myself. Since when does a monster deserve privacy anyway? So I unclench my fists and drop the hot coals burning inside them; returning to my own business and hoping they’ll do the same. It takes me a few seconds to flip through my expensive leather-bound notebook -a gift from my oldest friend – and another minute to regain my train of thought before touching pen to paper once again.
For me, writing has never been as simple as words scribbled on paper. It is how I survive. How I communicate, remember, forget, engage and retreat. It is purification and exorcism and nonsense and clarity all at once. Madness and gospel. A panacea for the torments of living that cures everything from the common cold to RLS, a broken heart, boredom, constipation. Even insomnia. Especially insomnia. But sleep is overrated and dreams are torture. The worst ones are painfully horrifying until you can finally escape back into consciousness and the sweet relief that it was only a dream. The best ones are horrifyingly painful once you get sucked back into a reality that rubs your face in the fact that it was only a dream. Then you’re just….awake. Now what? Despite your best efforts you can never fall back asleep into the good ones. And the cold bitch of real life will still be waiting for you even if you do. There’s very little you can actually change. It’s incurable. For most of us the lines have been drawn since inception and that, as they say, is that. You can’t just be whatever you want. What did you really think was going to happen? Maybe the tragic, heartbreaking dichotomy from one second to the next is punishment for wanting more. Things rarely change, loyalty is conditional, Bobby Cox ain’t coming back, love has an expiration date, most people just cannot spell. Perhaps all I’ll ever be is a pale, freckled, too-smart-for-my-own-good, sharp-tongued, dead-eyed dreamer in cynic’s clothing and maybe I just need to accept it . You can’t know what dreams may come, what the future holds, but still, it’s all you’ve got. The past is concrete and it is fact. The future is only hope. Like the last coin pulled from an pocket and dropped into a slot. I dream of 7’s knowing that just as easily I could come up snake eyes. Hope, that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. I’m stumbling around in the dark, barefoot and thirsty, but at least I’m moving. I’ve wept big stinging tears of anger and loss and betrayal and confusion because of a beautiful story that has drawn to a close. I must bid my farewell the actors whom I’ve shared my most poignant moments and wonderful adventures with. Those I’ve laughed with until we cried. The ones I loved, leaned upon, held up, admired. Shared all of my secrets and fears. Those without whom life seems hollow and scary and incomplete. You feel all of things, both good and bad. Though it would be easier not to have to feel at all because then I wouldn’t have to feel like this. Those who have not lived in their stories, who’ve merely read the lines on the page, they cannot fathom the frightening tragedy of blank space after the final chapter. They’ll never understand the pain of an exclamation point when all you really want is an ellipses. The white blank page glares at me through whiskey stains and the roiling smoke of a dozen Lucky Strikes. It is what I fear more than anything in the world and is the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. The sordid, rotting wake of my past and the delicate nubile hope for what lies ahead. Concrete still wet enough to write my name in.
I saw an ad once in the Classified section of the Steamboat Pilot “For Sale or Trade: one engagement ring, never worn. Make offer.” That’s all it said. 11 words that told a painful story of some sorry sod and his ephemeral happiness being hatcheted to death. Poor bastard. A cinder block, that’s what love is. You can build a massive, beautiful, sound structure with it or you can tie it around somebody’s feet and use it to sink their body, writhing and gulping, to the bottom of the East River. Most people drag it around tired and defeated and plotting the day the bust the chain and make a run for the border. I find it best to just accept a couple things from the get go; it makes the getting on with it a helluva lot easier. 1.) We’re all fucked from the start and 2.) It’s mostly gonna hurt like hell, life.
Life and love… And heroin and serial killers and I suspect Oprah…. Their only goal is to smile at you, get you drunk, then rape and kill you. Unfortunately, it never happens in reverse order. Still, there are some who don’t regret it anyway. The reformed addict still yearns inwardly for the high. The hostage gets Stockholm syndrome. The manliest of dudes stay to hear Oprah’s favorite things. The spurned, lovelorn jerk Florentino waits 50 years for Fermina. I suppose the point is, if you can’t die with dignity -and if it makes you happy- what the hell is the point of living with it? They say folks get what they deserve, in the end. Nah, I don’t know about that. People get what they get and you either fight like hell to change it or you wake up when your fifty and saggy and wretchedly unhappy, but by then it’s too late. Those that know me will disregard this as the nonsensical ramblings of a heartless cynic. Someone who just wants to be proven right. But you, you know that’s not true. You know I want more than anything to be proven wrong.
Perhaps I’ll never be proven wrong and that’s fine. That’s just fine. One day our bodies or our minds will betray us, maybe both. Maybe it happens when you’re 80 or maybe it happened before you were born. One day you look in the mirror and you don’t recognize yourself anymore, maybe it’s your body now old and frail or maybe it’s your memories are no longer there to be called upon when you need them. The best any of us can hope for is there’s one standing over your shoulder telling you that you’re OK as you look at yourself in terror and confusion. And that it’s the one face you could never forget, not in a million years, not for a million bucks, no matter what betrayals your body and mind offer up. I think going senile will be an easy transition, I’m not worried about. I just ask that you’ll smother me in my sleep if ever I can’t wipe my own ass and please, for the love of God, let me die first.
I guess Rule No. 3 is that there’s no shame in trying.
I think it a fair assumption that if you’re reading this, you’re alive. Nice work. Good for you. Mazzel. It’s a tough act, that’s for sure and if the simple fact of being alive, in and of itself, isn’t something to feel pretty damned good about I don’t know what is. Still, I am tortured by an insatiable lust for something else that spurs me onward in relentless pursuit of the unattainable. I thirst every second of the day to be around a campfire in the crisp elk woods of late September. To sleep out under a sky dripping with stars in a canyon known only to my bow, my dog and me. To sail forbidden seas and land on barbarous coasts. To once more find myself in the molten embrace of a blue eyed darlin’ who continues to hold out faith in this world, despite what it has done to her. To stand somewhere apart from myself and watch as I become part of something truly beautiful. To toe the blurred line between where Heaven stops and a river begins, counting off long shadow casts overhead. Who knows what is to become of any of us, but whatever it is I will go to it smiling; or, more likely, skidding in sideways in a cloud of dust, laughing my ass off. It’s been a long December, but maybe there’s reason to believe that this year will be better than the last.
Once I was from California and I can tell you all about how lonely the I-5 feels at 3 o’clock in the morning. I can tell you how the cotton fields look in September, dusty and dancing to George Strait blared from a pickup driving too fast down a dirt road. I can tell you how the clam chowder smells in Pismo on a cold afternoon as it wafts up into your hoody, lingering for a moment before being blown out to sea.
Once I worked construction and I can tell you all about what a compressor sounds like when it runs out of air. I can tell you what the sawdust feels like on the back of your neck when you stop for a cold beer, tired and accomplished, at the end of a long day. I can even recite to you a few of the dirty jokes I’ve read scribbled on a port-a-potty wall.
Once I was a gambler and I can tell you about rubberband wrapped wads of $100 bills. I can tell you all about wrapped up kings and suited connectors and getting outdrawn by a 90 year old Vietnamese woman. And I can still recognize a losing hand when I see one.
Some folks, they can tell you all about music and art and fine wine. Not me. Some know about junk bonds and municipal funds and variable growth rates. Nah, I don’t know anything about that. There’s lots who have a whole catalog of sexual conquests and satisfied fetishes and black leather riding crops, but it ain’t me, babe. No, it ain’t me.
Still, I’ll take the life that I’ve been given and when the Almighty calls my number I won’t shy away. I’ve sat at the edge of my bed singing off key and clumsily plucking out Simple Man on my guitar. I’ve pulled my last 5 bucks from my pocket and laid it out for 2 slices of greasy pizza, 2 PBR’s and an afternoon spent people watching with my best friend. I’ve woken up next to someone in the morning and not wanted to Houdini the fuck outta there. I’ve laid there, totally vulnerable, talking nonsense over bad breath and drool stains and had not the slightest idea what time it was. And I’ve been truly happy.
Those other folks, I pity them.
Once I spent my days in search of what they call purpose and can tell you what it’s like to walk barefoot in the desert, lost and looking for a drink.
Once I was a gravedigger and both my hands were calloused, shaking and dirty from the land.
And now my days are numbered, like the few coins in my pocket, but it’s enough for two beers and two slices and for me that’s always been enough.
They called it ‘idealism’ in a book I once read; I’d call it delusion. The belief that things always work out for the best or that what you don’t know won’t hurt you or that which does not kill you makes you stronger. The fact is, you don’t always find what you’re looking for. Long ago I found something I had sought and I’ve been holding onto it like 3 doses of the clap everyday since. In searching for something, though, whether it be love, some profound revelation or the channel changer, you must first come of the mind that there is something to be gained in finding it.
I cannot subscribe to the principle the darkest hours come before the dawn. We may think back reverently on those poignant moments of our past, those wonderful times that happened before now, but those great times of yesterday gave birth to these sad times that are today.
The path from those wonderful times of loves notes and lazy Sundays somehow lead to these dark times of her choking on her own apathy and him drinking himself to death, growing stranger and more reclusive by the day. The times are different, but the people, they are the same. For people do not change, they simply grow older and some of them learn how to adapt.
All of those times, they made me who I am today. And I owe my life to it. So while the romantic in me believes that you can make something different of a person who already is, that the darkness fades and the wine gets sweeter, the cynic in me thinks that, for me, what is in my glass right now is as good as it’s ever going to get.
If we only live….exist….by the terms of a definition, we are but prisoners in a cell. Too short to stand up in and too small to stretch out, merely a cage for the populus to walk by and inflict opinion in the guise of justice without fear of our lashing out in disagreement, in retribution. Yet we ourselves have set the guidelines of the definition and the only way to break free of it is not to change, but to make a new self entirely. How can one make a new self, though, when the only basis for rebirth and the only substance to draw from is that which we already are? Sometimes the only way is to die and remerge anew from your own ashes, not as somebody opposite of that which you hated before, but as somebody whom you can love in the first place.