“Exactly what is America?” K said to me in the warm June haze as I gazed on the image of 4 legs dangling off of the pedestrian bridge. There we were, seated on a concrete walking platform that stretched itself across the A14 motorway, and floatingly, my intoxicated mind turned to survey the distance between Bury St. Edmunds and Ipswich. The distance between 2 worlds and 3 years of my life was a greater stretch than the 30 miles that a person would know to be the geographical answer. To the front, we saw the smokestacks of Bury’s sugar factory as they gently turned smoke into the twisting fingers of dirty clouds, which reached up into the peaceful July sky.
Over time, the images that I saw from that bridge in the summer days of 1996 have changed immensely. The thoughts that once seemed to fill my mind have become nothing more than words in a story. Where they once reflected the culmination of the journey to leave England and to move on to the grand satori, the decision to become an English teacher, this original paragraph now reflects something else than the dissipating smoke of England since these words now reflect what made me who I am as an American. Of course, that was part of that story, too, but when the words were written there, it was the stepping off point; here, it is a memory of ghosts as seen by myself and a ghost, and if our Counting Crows collection has taught us anything, it is that “memories are films about ghosts.”
That creates a whole new perspective on all things.
Like lying on my back in a grassy field and watching the clouds go by, I name the white fluffy balloons that are drifting to places that I want to go. I provide them with the monikers of whatI perceive them to be. The man gave names to all the cattle, allthe birds of heaven and all the wild animals. But no helper suitable for theman was found for him.
Since that day, it has been 16 and a half years since that defining moment where I spent the last few minutes of my time in the ghost land kingdom. This was the place where all my dead roads traveled back to the burned down buildings and fallen monuments of my all-too real youth. Like William Burroughs’ Kim Carsons, I return back to the beginning with all of my previous lives played out to a reverse where they no longer matter in a continuing sense of the influential future other than that they made me who I am, was, and will be. Instead, these were the lives that touched me and cannot be erased. Throughout my life, their energy has floated around me and haunted me on a daily basis. Whether it’s the remnants and artifacts that they left or the souvenirs that I have kept from our interactions, they are still here today. They are my Mesa Verde waiting to be discovered and catalogued by some Richard Wetherhill.
But what exactly is this spectral America that they have come to embody?
America is a place that traces its roots back to the ports that its primogenitors originally landed at and left from. Should you take the conventional wisdom of a European for your source, you will find that we Americans don’t have much history at all. If you listen to them, you can picture European ship ports in the days of Columbus possibly using his rugged man-hood to convince Isabella to let him take those three ships west to Asia instead of going the long way east while getting a little something something on the side – because he can, which is the American way, or so it seems. If you think like this, you can picture the conquistadors of the first couple hundred years of this country destroying dynasties in Mexico, South America, and in the heartland of America, and that’s about it. According to some revisionist texts, that’s all that we are.
Amazingly, many people will acknowledge this legacy of violence, but few will think about the effort it took to travel to these kingdoms so that they could eventually be destroyed by greed and ignorance, like destroying an ant hill in Africa. And exactly “how guilty would we feel if we went and destroyed a few microbes on an ant hill in Africa?”
Apparently, not much unless we’re made to feel guilty for it.
Nevertheless, those Europeans tending to sway Americans with these views of historical inferiority tend to be pretentious assholes, who despite being fairly correct, are still pretentious assholes, and frankly, for as nice as their architecture and art work can be, being an American means that there is a DNA relic inside of us, perhaps left from the ancient aliens who had sex with our ancestors, which allows us to know, not think, that they can fucketh themselves and their holier than thou attitude.
It’s a fact; “you could look it up.”
Thus, if you really want to upset France, Britain, and Germany, you can Carbon 14 date the real deal history of this country as if you were Scott Wolter. This will allow you the chance to go further back to other beginnings and discover what it really means to be an American is a tougher, gnarlier attitude of self-sufficiency, preservation, and explorative adventure, which our ancestors Quinn and Nanook gained from their time in heartier places than the royalty / fops / serfs of Europe could ever begin to understand until they were robbed from their drunken perches and prisons to be sent to this brand new colony for other purposes.
In the early days of this country, it has been said that man first came over the Bering Strait because he was motivated by a need to fill his stomach with food. This, as Daniel Pink would explain in Drive, is a perfect definition of Motivation 1.0. Because our ancient ancestors had killed the wooly mammoths of Siberia in the same way that the Once-ler took to chopping down truffula trees, they were forced to look elsewhere for their needs to get bigger and bigger (in the belly), so they kept chasing the remaining mastodons east toward Alaska’s shores. It has been noted by some (incorrectly) that on a good day, Sarah Palin can still see that same Russia that our American grandmothers and grandfathers traveled from while standing at her home in Wasilla. Never mind how far her domicile is from said frozen lands, I’m sure that if anyone can perform this feat, then the people who believe she can know that she truly can.
However, back in those days, people weren’t concerned with Tea Party politics and preserving the Bushadministration’s tax cuts while screaming out that they were going to reduce a $16 trillion debt without adding any new money to the political coffers; rather, they were concerned with the need to eat to survive until tomorrow. The only debt that mattered was how long the supply of food would last as measured against the amount of snow, ice, and cold that would keep other food options from being available.
During this time, breeding was a good thing as soon as it was possible, even if the male half of the equation who provided half of the birthing materials was the equivalent of LeviJohnston. This is also true even if the female half of said connection was the equivalent of some easily-led, recently sexually-activated princess of the north; it’s all good. The species must survive! Besides, according to the peer-reviewed journals of scholar Michael Judge, it seems like the people who should be breeding the least are the people who are breeding the most anyway. It’s inevitable that their DNA fills the bodies that make up this country. Nevertheless, no matter who was achieving ancient orgasms or who was getting to celebrate or bemoan the birth of a brand new bouncing bundle of joy, the species needed to survive, and people had to be made who could outlast the winter, the carnivores, and all of the other antagonists of the day. As a result, eat, defecate, sleep, and breed, these grungy, wooly men and women did. Sometimes, they made more tools out of the bones of something that used to be ferocious, but that was quickly broken down into steaming brown piles on the Arctic snow. I’m sure that if this was an anthropology class, the salt and pepper haired rail of a teacher would be discussing how making tools out of something’s bones allows one to assume cultural and species-related superiority over something. For me, I just think it’s a bad ass way to get life’s necessities out of the available materials.
Nevertheless, when these primitive ancestors of ours weren’t on the offensive, they were bragging about their exploits. Thus, they left other primitive artistic records of their days on the walls of mountains and caves. Even back then, man had a way of reducing life to 140 characters or less – with or without hash tags. Perhaps, the first viewings of these types of pictographs and petroglyphs were the genesis of MarkZuckerburg’s ideas for communications in modern society.
Then again, there was very little downtime to do this because all too often man was on the defensive. Thus, sometimes, our great to the 450th power grandparents needed to be the Usain Bolt of their days as they ran like hell from something with huge ass teeth that wanted to eat them. In these trying times, their bodies also got turned into popsicles when they got too careless. This is what happens when a population that isn’t advanced enough to make Gortex, Columbia Sportswear, and Nike athletic gear stands too close to the water. The first bit of fatherly advice for young children was 98.6° was a good thing. Records show that failure to adhere to this rule was the origin of the Darwin Awards, but at the time, it was attributed to a caveman name Oolak.
Primitive American man had to be resourceful and tough. There was no camera crew to help out the beginnings of Bear Grylls’ family tree when they got into trouble. Death was a very real possibility for someone who thought more than he was able to actually do, which begs the question of where were the Crash Davises for these prehistoric Nuke Lalooshes? “Don’t think. It can only hurt the ball club” could have been modified very easily for ancient Alaskan man by replacing ball club with tribe and a lengthy discussion of how not taking care of reindeer skin shoes doesn’t make you colorful – it gets you diseased, which gets you dead.
Thus, as a whole, 15,000 Before Present was a very grueling time of hard work. There was nothing other than kill or be killed, find a warm body to breed little helpers with, don’t hike on the ice during warm days, and stay in motion on cold days. Remember, an object in motion remains in motion. An object that is slower than all other objects is the first object to get turned into the building blocks of energy that makes something else’s cycle of eat, defecate, sleep, breed possible. The law of matter will apply to the fact that they will still exist, but they will exist as parts of big brown piles on the Arctic floor instead of grunting and spear-chucking warriors of the frozen earth.
If there was down time from these activities for our relatives, there was no mega-plex theater. There wasn’t any nightly entertainment, bars, or clubs either. Thus, everything seemed to be a lot of “Ugh,” “Ooh,” and “Aah” type noises to convince others to join in the hunt or to procreate in the hopes that somehow, there would be additional bodies to join in the hunt later on. Waitingfor Godot could just as easily have been written about the days of waiting for a wife, a mastodon, or a savior / enemy on the ice as it was written for the viewers of the post-World War Two Theater of the Absurd.
Still, even then, there was a noble debate and purpose to the hierarchy of life as defined by age in helping to decide whether or not the youth of the day had a positive duty to their elders or whether Jack London was right that the only positive duty in such a fragile community is to give the old timers a handful of wood to burn while they waited for the nice little doggies to come and play with them when the lights go down.
However, since ethics are the privilege of the rich, the message was decided in this all important adage: If worse came to worse, it was important to have slower members of the tribe around to get eaten before something came to eat you. If there’s enough food for 10, but there are 11 people, you better hope someone else has a worse infirmity than you.
All in all, it was a tough time to be an illegal immigrant. The ancient Eskimos and rednecks would have laughed at modern immigration problems of border walls, unscrupulous smugglers, guards with machine guns who aren’t supposed to shoot, and a lack of supplies for a long walk north. Sure, shit happens, but some shit is worse than other shit. Bullets kill quicker than teeth. It’s a fact. Not that those aforementioned things are good, but they just aren’t as bad as some other things.
Nevertheless, if conventional wisdom is to be believed, Americans came across the land bridge after the last serious ice age. Granted, there have been cold times for Americans since then, but other than some chilly nights for Tom Jefferson’s days and nights and Newsweek’s botched claim that we would be plunged into The Day After Tomorrow in the 1970s (though this year might be showing us up on that), it’s been pretty toasty and comfortable compared to those days of Ray Romano, Queen Latifah, Dennis Leary, and John Leguizamo.
Thus, if our first brush with being an American is to come out of the ice and to rise with the spring, this is a pretty good story, but that said, not all stories are necessarily true and even the parts that are true aren’t absolutely true.
I hope you’re making sense of that. Understanding of these thoughts will presuppose where we’re going from here.
Time shifts and conventional American ancestry says that the next stop on the trip is to Clovis, New Mexico. Not much is there. I’ve been to this dot on the map, and really, were it not for Blackwater Draw, I would have skipped it altogether. It really was out of the way. Like Roswell, which is it is separated from by 100 or so miles of Highway 70 and a little bit of 285, it is in the southeast corner of New Mexico down by Carlsbad and the border with the western arm of Texas. Had I known about it in 1998, I might have went there when I went to Roswell, but I didn’t, so I made two trips out into the middle of nowhere to see where some of the first respective illegal immigrants from two different universes come into this country.
They wouldn’t be the last.
While much of southeastern New Mexico is a relatively green desert, it’s pretty dried out and empty. I seem to remember it being a lot of point and steer with a lead foot to the gas pedal to go where I needed to get as quickly as possible. It’s not as bad as Nevada, but few states are that empty and drained of all life. Thus, the question of what is at Blackwater Draw is answered with the fact that when you finally arrive there, you see a no frills building that contains a lot of artifacts of animals and tools and a big museum where you can see the excavation in action.
However, if you’re going to see excavation, good luck. The digging time each year is rather short. In fact, it’s about 1/12 of the time that they operate there. The rest of the time is separating bones, tools, coprolites, and other artifacts from dirt and rock. Then, these guys catalogue what they found using sensitive digging techniques, and then they list how they found it to show that they are trying to be as close to 100% accurate as they possibly can to make the soft science of archaeology appear as solid as possible.
The American Archaeological Association is for real, man.
In short, Indiana Jones doesn’t work at Blackwater Draw, but instead, someone who looks like his lame-ass of a son Shia Labeouf might. Nevertheless, that person would still have infinitely more appeal to the world due to his intelligence and ability to solve complex problems instead of annoying actresses that are just trying to get a paycheck while working beside his sorry ass of a Hollyweird flavor of the month.
When you leave the digging zone and the “real” archaeologists, you will see that there are some bones, which used to make up the frames of a lot of dead buffalos that have long since become extinct. There are some arrow points as well. All in all, these pre-industrial ancestors of Easton, Bear, and Allen, represent the finest ability to create archery supplies at the time. However, since that time, which began 11,500 years ago, quality was measured solely on the ability to feed one’s belly before roasting to death in the desert and / or dying of starvation and / or being eaten by that which you were trying to kill.
In case you are keeping score, this is still Motivation 1.0, and this is still seriously hardcore stuff when it comes to the deadly nature of day to day life. Bad stuff could happen at any minute, and as I said, when it did, it paid to be a little faster than at least one member of the tribe. They call this need to be competitive the “Connie MackRule of Being.” First place in the race doesn’t really matter. It just pays not to be last.
If you were to look at the larger picture, which you truly can do on GoogleMaps, you will find that by modern road, it is 3,400 odd miles from the Bering Strait to the marker for Blackwater Draw. Assuming that people moved a little more than one mile a year, that’s a remote possibility. However, assuming that people constantly traveled in that straight line without being able to go to the local Cabela’s for gear and assuming that they wanted to keep moving east and south (instead of east and east) and that they kept moving without any desire to stop until they crossed all of the Rocky Mountains and all of the icy wastelands of northern Canada, which are a pretty big series of up and up and then down and ups, and that they did so without regard for anything other than just moving south, it seems a little much to take in and believe on sheer taking someone else’s word for it.
That’s not even stopping to smell the roses in the proper alpine lake / fourteener Rockies of western America. I’ve heard they’re beautiful, and from what I’ve seen of Yellowstone and Colorado, I’m likely to agree. Methinks that the beer, dear, elk, buffalo, and other game in these regions, not to mention the fish and the plants, would be quite tasty for my relatives of 12,000 years ago. However, that’s still a far walk from the primitive porcupine caribou herds of the time, and those things are good eating, too, so it’s important to be able to take advantage of a close and tasty food supply before their frozen wasteland of a habitat becomes home to something else. It’s far more important than walking 500 miles and 500 more miles “just to be the man who walks 500 miles.”
But if you aren’t listening to what my stomach is crying out to eat in this time not far from lunch, you can listen to the academics speak instead. These scholars will debate as to how much land was open from the glaciers melting or how long it would take to disseminate all of the languages that exist in America today, and of course, there are other things as well. If you’re interested in that, I’ll let you check out JMAdovasio’s The First Americans. It does a much better job than I could because he’s actually credentialed in primogenitors, but if you want to take my word for it, I’ll vouch for his pedigree by saying that, in short, the whole Bering Strait theory is nice, and it’s possible that the 53-mile journey actually happened, but it’s not the original origin of the American species.
Then again, neither is Columbus. As the great scholar Christopher Rock once lectured, “First of all, Columbus discovered the West Indies. Second of all, the land he discovered had occupants on it. That’s like discovering someone’s back yard. All Columbus did was discover a West Indian back yard. He got his little flag and said I claim this land for Spain. And the West Indians are like, “Hey, Mon, get your darn flag off me lawn now. Move it now!” We’re not even getting into the journey from Columbus through genocide to Bartolome de las Casas and the idea of saving the remnants of the Lost Tribes of Israel so that someday, we could be told not to “worryabout a thing cuz every little thing is gonna be all right.”
I have to admit, that’s true knowledge in the same vein as Lao Tzu, Confucious, Socrates, and Thomas Jefferson.
So if for nothing other than that and the not finding of a new group to exterminate truffula tree style, then I think that all non-Arawak Indians got a fair solution from the misguided notion of one well-intentioned Dominican Priest looking to ensure that the Rapture was still a distinct possibility for all of the ages or at least until Tim Lahaye could make sure that he, Jerry Jenkins, Kirk Cameron, and Louis Gosset Jr. could make serious bank from it.
But that may just be me, and frankly, I’m all about making serious bank however I can possibly do it. It’s a well-known fact that I’m a whore. I used to donate blood for money repeatedly, and I would still do anything for a quick buck. Capitalism rules (really).
Somewhere in the 3-400 years before this ritual 150-year killing spree is Mesa Verde. Archaeology tells us that from 1,600 to 700 years ago, people were trying to subsist in the area that now bears the Spanish name for “green table.” Nevertheless, dendrochronology tells us that it was a pretty crappy place to be trying to eke out a living. There was a serious drought in an area that is pretty much always exhibiting conditions that could always be referred to as a serious drought. But people still tried to live there. Such is the hearty nature of American man. Unlike British man, he is "bothered" by the conditions around him, and he gets all angsty to make his world better if it isn’t perfect, but he never gives up on it. Methinks that he probably drove the fellow cliff dwellers around him nuts with the huge edge he always seemed to wear like a crown.
However, for as much as he made people deal with his shitty situation, he was an excellent architect. Thus, when Frank Lloyd Wright’s primitive ancestors first decided to blend nature to the aesthetic of the homes, they did a damn good job and made all of the Better Homes and Gardens types of the day drool in appreciation. Hell, I’m not even a Martha Stewart Living guy, and I salivate for the chance to get to southwestern Colorado to see the sights. Keep in mind, like any great “artist,” this doesn’t mean he was a joy to live with; it simply means that he was all that and a bag of potato chips in his respective artistic endeavor, too.
And most of all, he knew it.
As I said, at MesaVerde, most of the artifacts that are truly “picturesque” are about 900 to 700 years old. These are the cliff dwellings that dot the walls of the valley. Some of them are pretty small. Others are very gigantic. In fact, Cliff House had 150 rooms and 23 kivas to live in and worship the Gods of the day. We can estimate the number of people who lived in there from the garbage that they threw out into the wooded area in front of their homes. Hopefully, future generations who are not inclined to sit on the walls and create havoc for the park rangers will still be able to venture down beneath the mesa top to feel the presence of America’s ancestors and to experience what it is that they felt when they mysteriously moved into their locales with an idea for style and space that would clearly make them that generation’s winner of Design Star.
For all that is left of the ancient culture of the United States, Mesa Verde is the heart of ancient America. Whether you feel compelled to call them Pre-Columbia cultures, Puebloan cultures, or if you still go with the Navjao term Anasazi, which is often taken as a slur, it doesn’t matter. They are the original architects of this country, and we owe them a debt simply for exploring and creating the pockets of this country.
And the neat thing is that the work is actually art and not this modern crap that any 3-year old kid with a can of spray paint can splatter onto a blank canvas. As their teacher with the grading pen, I would give them an A. Really.
Pablo Neruda seemed to feel this same way for his Peruvian ancestors when he once wrote:
“Yo vengo a hablar por vuesta boca meurta.”
(“I have come to speak for your dead mouths.”)
Like the ghosts of his South American world at Macchu Picchu, Mesa Verde is the American representation of all that we were and all that we were meant to be. The Canadian Neil Young, who may as well be American, sang that “what they built up with their bare hands what we still can’t do today” as he too was mesmerized by the works of the Mayans before Hernan Cortez became the killer of civilizations that now threaten to pay us back with the supposed prophecies of an incomplete calendar.
All in all, the arrival of the boats from the east was a bad time to be the inspiration for Slayer’s “Altar ofSacrifice” and Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto. But that said, it should be noted that historic instant karma might have bitch been smacking their asses for ripping people’s hearts out on the pyramids above the city, but there still is a modern sense that these dark brooding men had the right to do it because they were here and doing it first. Essentially, they were just a bunch of tortured artists who probably got that way from having deadbeat dads. I think they call that freedom of religion or maybe it’s just political correctness / rooting for the underdog / modern society’s take that nobody is bad – even people who engage in blood sport.
There is no cultural right of superiority to judge them for their religious and social practices. Stay objective and don’t describe what is normal with regard to anything.
I have been to Mesa Verde many times, and I can only hope that I haven’t been there for the last time. From the first time I descended into Spruce Treehouse’s confines, I was mesmerized. I have seen Square Tower House, Balcony House, Cliff Palace, Long House, and some of the other smaller houses along the way. Like the people who lived there, I have experienced much to get to these places in my life, and I will experience more history that fades into the dust of my days as I find my new place in life. In these travels, I will have lost so many things that once meant so much.
And I will feel all of it. This is the romanticist in me. This is the genealogist in me. This is the historian in me. This is the storyteller in me. This is the introspective voice in my head that still retains some poetic tendency despite witnessing half of its owner’s poetic offerings burned into ashes, which now lay at the bottom of Blue Marsh. This doesn’t even include the shredded remains of the other half of them, which were left for the trash men to carry away to their incinerators and landfills. Poetry is fleeting, but thoughts and history are forever. Nothing can erase their truth. Do not try. Come to understand life through dwelling on its larger purpose until you can make peace with it forever.
Like Neil Young, “I still can’t remember how or when I lost my way,” but I know that I will find it again. I know that even if I can’t find it again, someone else might be able to figure it out for me if I can just preserve the artifacts well enough. I know that there are times where I lost it, but I gained it back again. This is the process of being. Man is an existential creature. He is defined and undefined. He searches meaning and purpose. He can either do this through himself or someone can do it for him.
Who will do this for me?
Don’t worry; this story itself ends with me finding my place. The story is filled with me finding my places. Sure, there is a loss of place and a need to re-establish who I am that permeates the transitions of this work, but at the end of the day, there is a happy ending. I will give away the main thrust of it to you: I meet a woman, we fall in love, we get married and form the basis of a family, and we buy a house where we can make our days possible. In the end, we journey through life together in a way that stands as true love – the real kind where people truly care about one another and seek to do one things for one another. There are happy days and sad days. At the end, there is always us. In between, we pass a lot of gas, but we always love one another. It’s the love that doesn’t seem to mind how much gas there is because there is always a sense of team and forever. In the end, that’s what matters (not clenching one’s sphincter tight enough to pretend that their colon doesn’t stink).
And that is why this isn’t only the story of my America, but it is the story of the America that I found by finding others who helped me understand what America truly is. They are not always this person who I married and I came to journey with to places in America that I never thought I would go to when I was learning about them in elementary school and high school. It is the America I found when I stopped caring about not being an American, but rather learning from my world travels to become a better American. For this, I’m never going back to the Europe of my ancestors, at least not with a sense of expatriation.
Granted, I’m only 42, but I can say this with absolute certainty.
Instead, England is my time of temptation in the desert. It is all of the beautiful things that I once dreamed about as being possible, but in the end, the fulfillment of their roads told me that I had to move on to something else (whether I wanted to or not - though I would always get to keep it's wonderful memories in spite of leaving): “ Then the devil left him. And behold, Angels approached and ministered to him.”
Thus, I can tell you with absolute certainty that to me, America is a girl from the Great Lakes region of the country. She comes from the land of the Walleye Festival and migrant workers from Mexico working in the fields of the Midwest and buckeyes and Buckeyes and a complete lack of mountains and cold winter winds that cover a lighthouse at Marblehead with ice, which makes it look pretty cool. She comes from the land that Lebron James did forsake to make serious bank in Miami. I know it’s a nasty thing to do to your first ball club, but wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you pull your football team out and come to the land of Edgar Allan Poe? Wouldn’t you cheer your native son to the all-time hit record and then abandon him to the wolves when he’s caught gambling on baseball from the dugout while he manages his formerly glorious team to mediocrity?
She came from a part of America that was the birthplace of aviation and the origin of light bulbs. She came from the land of Rutherford and Taft and Harding and Harrison and Harrison (even if she didn’t know that she came from the land of Benjamin) and McKinley and Garfield and Grant, so “tell me about Ohio,” will you? She’s from the same place as the first man on the moon, “if you believe they put a man onthe moon.” I for one do, and she’s from the same place as his mentor who orbited the earth in a flaming capsule as he remarked about the beauty of the sparks around him until it became time to hum the Marine Corps hymn for the ride back home.
Her home is the land of AmbroseBierce and his Civil War visions of a river gone hazy as it provides for an escape until the snapping sound is heard. In the same way, her home is the land of Hart Crane, whose fittingly poetic ending came when he folded his jacket over a chair and threw his broken and bleeding shell of a body to the sea. “Goodbye cruel world, I’m leaving you today. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.”
For all that you don’t understand of these loves, dear grandmother, and the love letters that I would have to walk you through, I’m leaving your world and the affections that I can’t get and that I don’t want for I was forced to walk this earth some 75 years too soon. My body is now in the waves and I am lost at sea.
But the Ohio of her birth isn’t all a tragedy, but there is sadness to it as there is to most places. In this, it’s also the comparative pitching excellence of baseball’s Cy and Addie. Where one man lost more games than most modern pitchers will ever have a chance to win (316), he won more games (511) than any other rubber-armed man in history and became an award given out for excellence that will never measure up to what his totals were. The other man made it through a little over 8 years in the majors with potential for excellence and all-time greatness, but the fever and the chills, the nausea that racked his body as he threw a no-hitter to go with his perfect game, and the headaches just took him to the grave by age 30. Both men played to win, and both men are remembered by those who care about the game, but the true realities of their lives are lost to an age of black and white.
So Ohio is also the ghost land of Paul Newman, Lilian Gish, George Custer, Clark Gable, Doris Day, and Zane Gray. Sure, there is still the living history of Jack Nicklaus, Toni Morrison, Gloria Steinem, Ted Turner, and Steven Spielberg, so there is a series of faces that represent the state in success and accomplishment. But where is the other less famous living history that comes from the life’s blood that is pumped through highways and byways of this state?
So let us ask, if we look at what America is, “What is the whole of this country, past, present and future?”
America is the sum of all of its people and its ghosts, so America is Kennewick Man and Spirit Cave Man. It is 14,300 year old fecal remains in Paisley Caves in Oregon and the 16,000 year old “cultural remains” on the floor of Meadowcroft Rock Shelter inPennsylvania. There are others, too. The theories of all of the people who were there first: the Solutreans, the Vikings, the Chinese, and the various European and African nations who sent people across. There are also the many South Pacific treks envisioned by Thor Heyerdahl, which ended up with people living on Easter Island, atop the mountains of Peru, where they created Macchu Picchu, and there are other places that dot the spine of two continents all the way south to Chile where these ancient and nameless explorers founded Monte Verde. Nevertheless, whether a volleyball with a face went along on any of these journeys is still subject to the finding of more research, which will help determine a true conclusion.
In this, America is the sum of 9,678 miles from the top to the bottom of the two continents that make up this hemisphere and not just land that sits beneath Canada and above Mexico, save for the Freak States, as Homer Simpson referred to Alaska and Hawaii, and all of the territories that do and don’t want to be a part of America the beautiful until it comes time to travel out of them to live somewhere less poverty-stricken.
I’ve been in a different place than the England of my past for a long time now. I walked out the final door in England, and I got into a taxi and transferred onto a bus and then eventually got onto a plane after I went on a train. When it was done, I came back to America to get myself together to go back to where I needed to be.
When I got off that British path, I can’t say for sure. One day, I believed that I was going back to England and leaving the time between in West Lawn, and the next day, I wasn’t. It was magic thinking, but it was my thinking at the time. So it goes. Thus, after apathy kicked in and decisions needed to be made about what to be now that I was going to permanently be a part of America, I started moving. An object in motion remains in motion. I wandered the paths that I knew, and I went to other places as well.
In a last hurrah of going back to the places that I knew in England, I drove through the frosty, white remains of a snowstorm to go to Richmond, Virginia, in January of 1997 in order to see a friend from Air Force days. During the summer of 1992, we hung out a lot as we went to see concerts and cultural areas in London. It was a good time to be miserable together (which was something that actually was happiness). Cider has a way of making things not so miserable. Together with my roommate A, we figured out life through Brit pop, indie rock, cider, and the spoken word performances of Henry Rollins as we spent way too much time doing stupid drunken things while listening to Alice Donut. I'm not sure how we made it past that without more of a talking to.
We also spent the opening minutes of my 21st birthday on a train after trying unsuccessfully to get last minute tickets to see Babes in Toyland and being stuck seeing the noise rock of Medicine instead. Well, at least we saw the first two songs. They were the worst concert that I ever saw other than the band Gan Green, who were just some drunken hardcore band from Boston that played the Silo. They truly sucked even if they were more melodic than Medicine. Fortunately, the Loft was open upstairs so we only had to pay a few more bucks to be at a club where they were playing.
The next night, my 21st birthday, we saw L7, the band she got us tickets to see instead of Babes in Toyland because she liked them better. I didn’t care that much; it was still a concert and the music scene of the day was everything. Besides, I saw Babes inToyland at the Reading Festival in 1991. Seeing them this time would only allow me to hear them play “Handsome and Gretel.” As for L7, their angry wall of sound and the thrashing mentality of the bouncers at the London Marquee on that night wasn’t very friendly, but it didn’t matter. We were in the presence of live music and L7’s gender change cover of Guns ‘N Roses’ “I Used to Love Him” and their own “Shit List” were pretty rockin’ for 90s riot grrl grunge.
At age 20 and 21, it made sense – somehow.
During my time back in America, I needed to somehow reconnect to the past. I didn’t care how I did it. On April 12, 1990, I left West Lawn to join the Air Force. On December 27, 1990, I left America after a crappy month of leave that didn’t live up to the dreams that I had for it over the 7 months that I was away. As a result, I headed off to England. After struggling with identity and place and maturity during my time in the Air Force, on November 17, 1995, I signed the papers that effectively removed me from the Air Force forever. On December 17, 1995, I left the airport at Newark, New Jersey, to fly back to England to make a relationship work. It was one of a handful of times that I ever saw my dad cry. I can still remember sitting on the airplane as Willie Nelson’s “You Were Always on My Mind” filled my head and I too cried for what had become of my life and the wondering of what I was going back to. Then, not even eight months later, I came back to America for good on July 8, 1996. Somehow, which wasn’t really a somehow, my dad knew it was going to end horribly; however, he knew that I was an adult and that if I wanted to take a chance, I would, and so it came to be that I went back to England.
In 6 years and almost 3 months, I had changed a lot, but in coming back to America to re-establish myself, I could feel a lot of bad changes being made. Of course, there were good changes being made, too, but we don’t often understand these things when they’re happening. It takes time to understand them, so with that, I needed a little bit of normalcy, at least what I thought normalcy was.
When the weekend in Richmond was over, I returned home seeing how much different I had become than I was the last time that I seen my friend in October of 1994. On this most recent trip, I met her new girlfriend and her new friends. We talked a little bit about my life, my new friends, and we went to some ultra-conservative bookstore and laughed at the contents because that’s what people in their early twenties do. Had I not been around some of her new friends, the names and lives would have meant less to me than lives in a book. The only real difference is that lives in a book would be assumed to be fictional. In reality, they just were something, somewhere that didn’t even seem real.
In between, I saw and spoke to ghosts that were very real to me despite the fact that the lives that they reminded me of were no longer real. Somehow, everywhere I went, I saw ghosts of people who affected my life in the past. On that weekend, I saw a British ghost in America, in the same way I had seen American ghosts in Britain. Everyone I met seemed to resemble someone else. It’s like there was nothing new under the sun. Oh, I wanted there to be brand new realities, but there weren’t. And so in a bar in Virginia, I spoke to a recently gal who told me the tale of how she came to be with her lover. Her new found lover wasn’t there, and this brunette wanted to dance, and none of her friends were willing to, so I willingly agreed to hit the dance floor, and how the faces did look at us for daring to break the rules of what is and what should be.
And somehow, in the eyes of a former ballroom dancer, I looked and saw the face of another gal, a gal that I met at a club in England one night. And we too danced, and that dance fell into a kiss that was all too easy, and I wondered about everything in the confusion of where my life had taken me and what brought me to this place of where should I be and why should I be there and how should I get there. And while I never finished that dance as I just drifted away into the club and that spring night in mid-1996, I was acknowledging what I knew all along: England offered me things, but they weren’t the right things.
And that was the same message of that ghost in Virginia in 1997: Find yourself beautiful eyes and connect to them forever, but know which eyes can truly be beautiful for you. The wrong eyes can do damage.
There was another message as well. Someday, the body will get old and wrinkly, and it won’t always be young and spry. Looking like the gal from the Wonderbra ads is not where true beauty exists. Oh, don’t get me wrong; the woman from the Wonderbra ads was smoking, but she doesn’t really exist, and if she did, what would we say to it? Could it actually be human and hold conversations let alone go to the bathroom or have a commonplace though. As for a truly gorgeous real woman, the beautiful part is in holding her close and pulling up to her in a way that will always be there because the connection to the eyes is there, and it's there for you. And you will both smile, and you will look at one another as the best thing ever, and you will see beauty because you will feel love, and everything you see will be completely true because what you are feeling is something real.
And so there is fear in how we finally say that “I think I’m falling in love with you,” but there is no think, and for this, a chilly February night eleven years later will have no ghosts, but rather it will leave a permanent imprint on all that is the meaning of my America.
But as I said, that is ten years later. At the time, the only reality that really was real in that Virginia night and the breakfast the morning after was the fact that I needed to start over and burn down the past once and for all. As time went by and people that I knew appeared out of the woodwork, I carefully excised them from my new reality because as real as the past was to my transitioning person, it wasn’t the reality I wanted.
It was mostly a lonely time, but it was a necessary time. As time went by, it became lonelier and darker, but the light spots were the important thing. Like Rocky sent to Krasnogourbinsk to train against Drago, I spent a fair bit of my time going back to the basics that I needed to acknowledge such as the need for college. For months and years, I worked to be the brand new me. Missives from the exile document this in full. When I finished, I was a new man with a new understanding of what it all meant.
I had found a new America, but it was not the complete America. To find that, I needed more time in this training period, and I would need to go inside of myself to find this new me who could express this new place for the man that he wanted to be. Now that it is complete, the visions of it look sort of like The Beatles Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover with a mix of headlines, lyrics, quotes, poems, and movie parts thrown into a blender.
In between, there were still the visions of ghosts. While the visions of these ghosts always seem to freak me out in my immediate reality, I am usually able to separate myself from this reality in time and the harsh truth of the now.
“And now it is I, standing in the shadowof the viaduct, who reaches out for her, who clings to her desperately and there is that same inexplicable smile on my lips, the mask that I have clamped down over my grief. I can stand here and smile vacantly, and no matter how fervid my prayers, no matter how desperate my longing, there is an ocean between us; there she will stay and starve, and here I shall walk from one street to the next, the hot tears scalding my face.”
Time heals all things, and I am able to move on. With that, I come to the beginning of the Choose Your Own Adventure. I arrive at a Mos Eisley of sorts. I am facing the decision to trust my fate to Han Solo and Chewbacca.
When I made my decision to stay or go, I have no clue. Like Robert Frost choosing between paths, I went down the one that was right for me. I didn’t do it because it wanted wear. I did it because it was the world in front of me, and I made sense of the deer paths that seemed to be pressed down along the way. I came to the conclusion that they were going to lead me to a good place, and so I went with them.
And what I found was like the wordsof John Dos Passos. Just as they were the news and the pop culture of his post-World War One day, these words are the images of my post England times. Thus, it is that “U.S.A. is the slice of a continent. U.S.A. is a group of holding companies, some aggregations of trade unions, a set of laws bound in calf, a radio network, a chain of moving picture theatres, a column of stock quotations rubbed out and written in by a Western Union boy on a blackboard, a public library full of old newspapers and dog-eared history books with protests scrawled on the margins in pencil. U.S.A. is the world's greatest river valley fringed with mountains and hills, U.S.A. is a set of bigmouthed officials with too many bank accounts. U.S.A. is a lot of men buried in their uniforms in Arlington Cemetery. U.S.A. is the letters at the end of an address when you are away from home. But mostly U.S.A. is the speech of the people.”
What is my America?
The beginning is as simple as a classic rock song from the year that was the bicentennial celebration of America’s origin. For me, it is the soaring guitars and the vocals. Being free and alive in this country is like the license plate of New Hampshire and the lyrics of Son Volt’s Live Free, which both state that we should “live free or die” as this is who we are as Americans. Like the Old Man of the Mountain pictured on these metal slabs, we will find a way to be for as long as we can. People will see things in us and we will represent the fabric of this country. When we start to fall down, we will be propped up. Eventually, we will crumble into dust, but the memory will remain.
And for that, I will return to that highway outside Wichita Falls, Texas, home of the Marlboro Man, or so it seems, and summer home of the Dallas Cowboys football team as they practice in the heat of the Oklahoma border to get ready for another celebrated season in the NFL. I will be receiving a can of warm beer, and I will be abandoning my straight edge pride to fit in with the Air Force world around me. The bed of the pickup truck will be open and the dust and wind will whip through my world as it muffles the sound of Boston’s rock anthem and the voices of a lot of people around me who I no longer remember.
Such is life. Such is beautiful life.
But this is America, and I am on my way to understand it all as I “tell this with a sigh somewhere ages andages hence, two roads diverged in a wood. And I – I took the road less traveledby and that has made all the difference.” It hasn’t all been good, but it has been, and it has been me. I am the battles and the journeys I have made for my name and my history. A fond middle finger to anyone who tries to make me be someone else. I’ve become far more than your miserable lives ever amounted to anyway.
Let the story be told as I turn on some music to start my day and I too will lose myself in a familiar song as I close my eyes and I slip away…