Ricketts Glen in Ice

Ricketts Glen in Ice

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Jimi Hendrix "Voodoo Child"

                In life, there is a need for a sense of control in things. This is evident in anything from the job to personal relations to impersonal relations and the future. In this, nobody wants to be blindsided by unforeseen tragedies that can’t be cured by modern health science. People don’t relish the idea of waking up to collapsed walls that need thousands of dollars thrown at them in order to fix them. We also have this aspiration that the people who are in our lives will do what we want them to do, not in some way that we manipulate their strings, but more in the sense that they continue to be the people who we hope that they are rather than to bury us in their negativity.

            When these things don’t happen, we feel a sense of angst and frustration in our lives. When these things continue to go wrong, we lose our sense of control in our lives, and for this, we stop being who we are because we have become the always on duty fireman. In the beginning, taking the hose to extinguish the flames becomes a singular purpose, but as the flames continue to build and spread, it’s not so easy to keep standing before the heat in the hopes that there is an ability to remove the danger. Nevertheless, it’s easy to quit trying. People literally have to do nothing when they quit. That’s the definition of quit. People literally get to stop doing what it was that they were doing and move on to something else, consequences be damned.

            As a result, sometimes, when we’re playing our meaningless games, the easiest thing in the world to do is to tip the Monopoly board and to concede defeat. However, in real life, when things feel out of control, there’s no Monopoly board to tip. Instead, there’s a final bell to ring, but that’s not a good choice for people to make, so we don’t consider that an option (except for some people who do). As a result, people have to find constructive ways to deal with their negative stuff. These survival skills need to focus on the body, the mind, and the spiritual. Being out of control in any one or multiple ones of these things is a recipe for disaster, so it’s important that whatever the controlling method is, we need to find a way to utilize it often and effectively to efficiently limit the problems that we will have in our day to day lives.

            For me, I have found that there are many things in life that I have no control of, no matter how good Laurence Gonzales’ Deep Survival and Surviving Survival are. I have a wife who loves me, but that doesn’t mean that either of us are 100% on each other’s smooth and easy functioning preferences all of the time. We are there way more than we aren’t, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t hiccups and frustrations. In that same way, jobs are never easy either. If I am facing customers or co-workers, I can be on my game, but that doesn’t mean that they are always on theirs (and vice versa). As a result and without going into specific examples, it’s fair to say that these personal and professional interactions are challenging to our sense of purpose and successful output.

Different more difficult environments make them even more challenging.

            I’ve never been particularly good, let alone spot on, with finding a way to permanently eliminate my life’s concerns and frustrations. Allowing the freedom of choice to reign free doesn’t work for a structured environment, and apparently, rigid control doesn’t work well either. I believe that I know what I’m doing, but see the thing is that sometimes, I don’t. I’m not always on my game. I don’t always have the information, the learning, the experience, or even the assistance to get through, and I’m in Fugazi’s “Waiting Room” or Dr. Seuss’ “Streets that aren’t marked” way more than I need to be.

            I don’t like those places; they aren’t my favorite.

            But through it all, I persevere on and go to places where I have control when I sense that the rest of my life is out of control. That place is usually the mountain. It doesn’t matter if it’s spring, summer, winter, or fall. I’m there. The mountains provide meaning and answers in my life that some of my work no longer does. It gives me a sense of what Tom Petty said when he sang the words, “you don’t know how it feels to be me,” which if truth be told, is a very guy thing to say. As my dad did before me, I understand it completely.

But the mountains, the mountains… oh, to be in the mountains, for they are a good place, and being here in the center of relatively flat Lancaster County… I’m so far away, but you, the memories of you mountains… you are the answer.

I say this, and I know this, and yes, I am aware of Jon Krakauer’s quote from Into the Wild that:

“I thought climbing the Devil's Thumb would fix all that was wrong with my life. In the end, of course, it changed almost nothing. But I came to appreciate that mountains make poor receptacles for dreams.”

            Nevertheless, for me, there is a mountain chain that I have a particular infatuation with, a mountain crush if you will, and those mountains are the huge Central Pennsylvania behemoths that make up the Standing Stone Trail. Whether in real life or in dreams, I see them and they stretch 70ish miles up and down the middle of Pennsylvania from Greenwood Furnace in the north to Cowan’s Gap in the south. If I access them from the middle, I see the painted on sign at the barn, which says, “At the end of the road, I will meet God.”

            I look at it and I feel that it was written for me and me alone, even if I know that the Mennonites who have commissioned these Biblical billboards throughout the area are saving many souls – not just mine.

And there are other images and places from above and beside this road, too. Be they the Juniata River or towns and business that spring up and vanish just as quickly along the way, they are everywhere. These places also include more scenic lookouts like the Throne Room and Sausser’s Stone Pile. They’re quite big, and they offer a serious challenge to people who want to follow Jimi Hendrix’s advice to “stand up next to a mountain… chop it down with the edge of my hand.” In this, there is a pride in success at defeating obstacles that kick back. If it were easy, anyone could do it.

            But the thing is that it’s not.

            And for all that is up, down, in the middle, and all around, there is one place that stands out. In the center of this trail, about 2 miles outside of the town of Mount Union is the main feature of the trail that most people who have hiked the trail are familiar with. That landmark is a 1,000+ step staircase of sorts that rises from Route 22 to look out above Mapleton and the aforementioned Juniata River as it ascends some 800 feet above the valley floor. Nevertheless, it takes some doing to climb these stairs. Oh, there are people who do it all the time. I once met a older dude who does it every day, rain or shine. I’ve met marathon runners who do it in 11-15 minutes. I’ve met a trail runner who can do it in 30 while I lag about 10 minutes behind on my own pace in the cold of December. I’ve met plenty of people who hold up trees while pausing and stopping to begin redoing it. I’ve met a woman who claims she could run 6 miles, but she couldn’t do more than a couple hundred steps of it.

            Perhaps, it was all her fashionable designer sneaker company running wear that held her back – that or the makeup she was wearing perfectly that day.

Nevertheless, I’ve also met a woman who never hiked before who pushed herself up to the top of the steps to celebrate her child turning 18. She had a few years on me, but damn… just being out there like that impressed me when I think about athletic kids who quit the hike because they’ve got some laziness going with their younger years.

All the same, back in the day, lots of people did this trail. They went up and worked at mining silica to turn into bricks. After all, Mount Union was Bricktown USA for a reason. The quarries closed, but their remains are still present. The dinkey house is still there, covered in graffiti and looking somewhat cool for high school kids and college age kids looking to drink a six pack of their favorite cheap beer while sitting around and doing whatever it is that they're going to do in remains of the building.

Hopefully, they can dodge the creepy crawlies that slither and squeak while doing it.

For the rest of the people who use the trail, whether they’re seasoned hikers, Amish families out for a walk, or other people who share an affinity with nature, the Thousand Steps is the central point for a challenging day out. To me, it’s the Great Equalizer. It offers no sympathy. Instead, it offers a challenge.

Climb me if you can. If you can’t, so be it. If you get to the top, sit on my bench and catch your breath. Take your pictures, but keep in mind that you’re only halfway up to the summit. If you push another 700 vertical feet, you can go see Clark’s View, which is a sweet little view of the surrounding mountains. If you ascend the rocky section of trail that comes after some additional switchbacks, you can do the windy and narrow relatively flat top through. If you don’t want that, you can go down the side and come back out to ground level in the valley again.

The choice is yours, not mine. If you want to do it, do it. If you don’t, make way for someone else who has the drive and determination.

But as you’re doing it, it all comes back to that element of control. You control your speed. You control your ascent. You call the breaks. Maybe being shamed by kids moving quicker than you will shame you, but in the end, it’s up to you and your heart, both the one pumping blood and that sports metaphor of how much drive that you have.

I like that in myself. I may do things right or wrong at work. I may want to be a better husband or to regain more control at the things I do. Many of them have a lot of what ifs. Oh, there are things that I may manage to make happen or not, but as to whether they happen, things can get in the way of that. I can get in the way of that, and I don’t like that about me. I really don’t like when all of the external locus of control stuff gets in my way. I can’t control that the same way. I want to be my own responsibility sometimes, but I’m a citizen of a community, so it’s not like I always can.

Nevertheless, when I’m on the trail, I can (for the most part). If I want to push up the trail, and go hard through the painted orange blazes to get up above Greenwood Furnace or Cowans Gap, if I want to see Monument Rock, or some of the views of Big Valley, that’s my call. I either can do it or I can’t.

It’s simple and mathematical. Either I’m in enough shape to make it or I can’t. I felt the same when I used to go to the gym and push weights. I could or I couldn’t. There was no subjective opinion. I didn’t have to be graceful; I just had to do it.

The mountains are like that too. I can hike the miles or I can’t. Very rarely is there an opportunity to hitchhike back to safety. That being said, when I attempted the whole 72 miles of the trail in the summer and I went out after 20 miles with blisters, it took me over 5 miles to get to a section where my wife could drive up to “rescue” me. Even then, it was an unmarked dirt road, and I had cruddy cell reception so arranging an extraction wasn’t easy, but it was a welcome sight when I saw her Mini Cooper in front of me.

But that’s the thing about hikes, and it’s the same whether they are a couple miles or a couple days. It’s about the repetitive nature of the journey and being able to stay in it for the game. Just like with NASCAR, most drivers and cars are fairly similar in what they can do, but can they do it consistently without going down? Hmm… now that’s the real question. In the woods, this control is also tested. Have I made the right choices for boots, backpack, poles, food, water, and tents as well as other odds and ends? Have I prepared enough? Do I believe in me? The trail answers all of those questions.

It even answers how long can I look at mountains and trees and rocks without getting bored out of my gourd. How long can I listen to birds give their chirpings? Are squirrels scampering enough excitement for me today? How will I do with the choking humidity of summer? If it rains, will I be stanky and miserable for the rest of the hike? Was that sound that I just heard a bear, and if it was, can I use my bear spray to have a fighting chance to get to the road before he chooses to maul me to death?

            Oh, and there are other questions, too. Is there anyone else out here on the trail or am I the lone whackadoo crashing through spider webs that have been growing all summer? Am I lost? Is this map completely wrong because I have to be further along than it seems like I am? What the hell made me give up a perfectly good bed to sleep in the woods as things that I can’t see are happening out there all around me? Isn’t there someone that I can be hiking with so that I don’t have to say that I’m afraid of the dark?

            But at the end of the day, that is the Standing Stone Trail. It is those types of trails that go on forever and ever, those views that stretch out for miles and miles and miles, those boulders that shake and shimmy when they’re stepped upon, the bounding deer that get spooked from their hiding places, the soaring vultures that wait to see if you or I will be their meal, and the lakes in the state parks that seem to wait for hikers to bathe in the glory of their victory while washing off the stench of the trail – provided that the hikers didn’t die of rattlesnake bites, dehydration, rockslides, and bear attacks, or just sit in the woods refusing to move.

            Nevertheless, as Edward Abbey would say, “It is the right and privilege of any free American.”

            To me, the what ifs don’t matter. I’ll take my chances because the rewards of the 2-3 hour drive are worth it. I can look back on the Thousand Steps from the Throne Room. I can see the farm land from tens of amazing views, named and un-named, up and down the mountain’s spine.

            And at the end of the day, I can push myself to be great for me up top of all of this because the control that I have in this environment and the reward I get while I am on top of the world makes up for all of those people and things that I don’t want to deal with at the base of the mountain or back at home.

            If I’m lucky, I don’t have to bring the conflicts with me. I can just focus on the good things. I can leave the stresses behind me as they drip out into my shirt as I sweat them out once and for all. Let the un-necessary remains seep into the forest floor in a Thanatopsis process of fertilizing next season’s growth. Let the things that don’t need to be vanish from existence like the leaves that once littered the forest floor.

            Soon, they will be just dust and memories.

            In the meantime, I will rise up as King of the Mountain and look out on all that I see, and I will know that it is good. While there, I will breathe it all in and hold it true until the next time I come back, which is never soon enough.

            Why? Because everything I feel here is a good thing. I like this trail. It is my favorite.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Flaming Lips "Do You Realize"

Excerpted from Toledo, Ohio.

The morning of August 15, 2009, is a blur. So many things are happening and have happened. There are still more things to do.
With the playing of The Fragile Army CD and the preliminary pictures taken, the countdown to 11 A.M. began, and with that, it was important that at 80 minutes out, the right mix CD was playing. And so it opened up with the ethereal synthesizer sounds of “Do You Realize” by Flaming Lips. In the hauntingly beautiful words, there seemed to be a premonition to every life that would ever be lived or characterized in song, book, poem, or movie that ever categorized the completeness of a relationship with regard to how it began and how it ends and how it represents the course of an entire life as the iceberg that lies beneath the surface, the private moments, the beautiful realizations, the frustrations, the hopes, the dreams, and the enormity of all that it is...
Wayne Coyne of Flaming Lips softly harmonizes the words into a beautiful love song, but there’s so much more to it if only a person listens to hear him sing, “Do You Realize that you have the most beautiful face? Do You Realize we're floating in space? Do You Realize that happiness makes you cry? Do You Realize that everyone you know someday will die?”
Here is the world of relationships. Here is Anakin Skywalker in torment when he should instead listen to Yoda’s words of non-commitment and move them into focus on the time that you have and being happy with that. If he did, he might hear the words of the Flaming Lips, and here, he could use these words to capture the montage of scenes from the life of Carl and Ellie in Disney’s Up.
Before I begin with what the music and words have come to mean, I should say it wasn’t intentional in how I sound-tracked H’s and my wedding at the time, but it does reflect where the choices of song will someday take us on our journey through life to the point that one person experiences the temporary time apart until the spirits are intertwined at a later time. I have promised that if I could control it, I would be the one to experience the time apart, but as I am not to control things, I should only hope that H never feels this pain. I should also state in the very same way, going to see the movie Up was never meant to reflect all of the things in H’s and my life, but in the scenes of how Carl and Ellie meet, fall in love, and live life until she gets older and passes away, there is an expression of the journey of loving as a mirror of the life that is and the life to come, of marriage as the right place to be with the time that we do have. And for this, we should only focus on the happiness of the time that we have as the rest can take care of itself when the later time comes, for otherwise, it becomes a heartbreaking image of the failure of being human as the earthly punctuation mark that exists until it doesn’t exist in the material now.
In the same way that Flaming Lips sing of this, Neutral Milk Hotel sings of much the same thing when Jeff Mangum expresses that “One day we will die And our ashes will fly from the aeroplane over the sea But for now we are young Let us lay in the sun And count every beautiful thing we can see Love to be In the arms of all I'm keeping here with me, me.” And while his love was for Anne Frank, a gal he never would have a chance to meet, the feeling is still the same. If there is a Heaven above, or at the very least a Heavenly type world, then you are there. If there is a place where souls go when it is all over, then you are there.
“I hope that someday, I am there with you.”
And just like that, our dusts are surely mingled and intertwined in a heavenly world where they can be like Pound’s kindred spirits holding hands into the eternity of the universe forever and ever.
“I will be your river merchant, if you will be my wife.”
Let me know when you get there. I will come to meet you as far as Cho-fu-Sa.
And Carl and Ellie never quite made it to the most beautiful waterfall of all, Paradise Falls, which they always said they would see together, but…
And there always is a but…
In real life, H and I have seen many great waterfalls together. We have felt the mists of Sullivan and Pike County whip at our faces. We have traversed the paths that cross above great gorges as the sides fall off into the infinite chasm that lies below. We have held onto roots as we crawled up and down steep cliffs to see if we could rediscover the mythical green spot that I once saw glowing through the trees and onto the pitch pool that lies below the cliff as it thrusts its water down on us as I saw it on that 37th birthday I first found it. And we have felt water on our feet and experienced the scratch of branches and sticker bushes as we cut across shortcuts in search of what may or may not be on the other side.
This is a path right?
And we have done this in order to get to the uppermost falls on the trail. H looked at the books, the pages that showed the next adventure, and from memory, I told her what was to come. It was all part of the grand plan, the experience, the togetherness, and the memories. And every one of these times has been beautiful. Even when the waters trickled down, we watched the skeletal waters drip drop at their simplest and most aesthetically mechanical moments. It was never meant to be everything. It just sort of became a symbol of what everything would become.
And Carl and Ellie did have a great life together. It was clear that they would have an even greater forever together. They did form a “duprass” in spite of Carl’s plight of being left in the world long after his significant other shuffled off this mortal coil. They may never have combined to form children, but that didn’t matter since they made each other whole, and this was love.
Nevertheless, instead of feeling all of the good things that they had, Carl instead felt consumed by the loss of the earthly presence of his lover… his appendage… his companion for life… and he is led to get old and lost and lonely until he reluctantly, but necessarily, starts the new adventure that she always wanted for him to have.
And how did we cast off the monkeys on our backs, discard our stale appendages, and throw away our things that no longer mattered to come to the point where we could just easily and openly fall in love forever and ever and ever? Isn’t that the greatest, but most wonderful mystery of all?!
For this, there is a power in how Carl and Ellie and all perfect couples grow old and intertwined in all that each other was, is, and will be. This, we see in the journey through all of the ties that she knots up for him in order to fulfill his working man’s destiny that will provide lift off for others who can be made happy by his very presence and purpose, which is to support and take care of her forever and ever.
And there are ties that hang around my neck, ties that are hanging in my closet, ties that are matched to a variety of colored shirts, and ties that are worn to impress those who sit before me as I enter the room. There are power ties for interviews, and there are ties that just coordinate to the colors of H’s dresses and other outfits that she will wear to weddings or special occasions. There are even bowties for Christmas and wedding rehearsals, bowties that are worn to resemble the great academic adventurer Indiana Jones, a bowtie that I can wear to be a part of a simpler, nostalgic time from a history that did and didn’t exist.
Billy Joel would understand. Perhaps, I too am an innocent man.
“I’m so inspired by you. This hasn’t happened for the longest time.”
Was I this kind of a man to you? Were you impressed when you saw me wear my ties when I came to be with you? Did I look handsome and worldly, filled with intelligence and charismatic leadership that would make you listen to my words and follow my actions into forever when I dressed up to go to the King of Prussia Mall and came to your apartment after work? Did you see the things in me that nobody else saw, the things that led you to love me forever and forever?
Or was it something else?
But Carl doesn’t see that. We are aware of what he is missing and must gain because the good folks at PIXAR have provided us the perfect sequence of falling in love. As for Carl, he sees only the empty future that goes on without Ellie.
And with that, now that the original adventure has ended, he thinks that there is only loss, and he forgets the good times other than that they were there and that they were callously and maliciously robbed from him and he decorates the world with his anger and sadness, rather than paying tribute to the beauty that was shared with him.
Even in motion, he sees only the past. Even when he eventually makes it to South America, and he finally gazes across the canyon to the waterfall, he can only comprehend that he isn’t at Paradise Falls yet. It’s still so far away. Even with Russell helping him to get there as the boy youthfully and playfully runs off to be where he himself needed to be in order to see the beauty of the world in much the same way that Carl felt as a child, Carl can no longer relate to what Paradise Falls was to two kids playing in an abandoned and decrepit building.
Every day that we spend together, every sight that we see, every dream that we dream, every time that we go out to dinner and talk about our lives, every walk that we take down the side-walked paths, every picture that helps us remember some inconsequential event, every change that is made to this home that we live in, every ornament that adorns a Christmas or a Halloween tree, every obstacle that we overcome, it is just a part of the Paradise Falls experience, and for this, I will never regret one single day of the journey that we have entered onto together.
Here, Carl is the curmudgeon instead of the brave and noble man. For all Ellie has taught him, it seems that she hasn’t taught him enough. The anger and resentment is so palpable that it is easy to send him off to the retirement home.
But before that can happen, there must be another teacher, and this learned colleague will be the boy who is now teaching the man to step up to the plate and be who he needs to be. For this, Disney has taken Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and played it out with balloons and giant birds and talking dogs. While the family nature of PIXAR removes the potential for vicious attacks that existed for the boy and his father, there is still a fear of the bad things that Charles Muntz, the former hero, is capable of committing in order to regain his good name. There is something about the all or nothing questing nature of man to find his white whale that will lead him to disregard all things for the completion of what needs to be done. The permanent questing nature makes people forget that there was ever anything else that was important out there, and for the consequences that it offers, the rewards offer very little other than to say, “I was there” or “this is who I was” – even if the formerly great “I” is now someone entirely different. And while Muntz is a real life Frederick Albert Mitchell-Hedges, a shameless promoter of himself and liar to the world, Carl is in an all or nothing quest of his own to get to the waterfall, where he forgets the lessons that he has learned regarding honor and meaning, and this is where Russell steps in to keep the man from ending up just like the fallen hero who now stands before them.
But our lives are different. There are no growling dogs here. We aren’t going to battle for survival in a giant dirigible that floats through the air with its cargo being transported back to civilization. Instead, our battle will be with the 21st century work and play world that we have come to live in. We will battle for purpose with the world around us in a way that sees us look to find better jobs and economic existences, but nevertheless, we will battle, and there will be tough days, but we will prevail and we will be better for the experience so that we can travel to the California Redwoods and the Caribbean and Tahitian beaches. Someday, we will walk along the raised pathways of the Italian coastline. We are assured that good things come to those who wait. Good things come to those who work to deserve them, and we are working to overcome our failures in order to deserve them. We are working hand in hand with a God that will show us what really matters and who will inspire us to be the kind of people that He wants us to be. In the meantime, we will be patient, introspective, and dedicated to the future that we want to have together. These are the things that really matter.
Like most stories that are written for young children, we learn from Up that a promise is a promise. We learn that we must be on the side of what is right. We must not be afraid as we go off to defend what is good from what is evil. Whether we are Wilderness Scouts, old men, aging women, or soldiers entering into battle, we must be brave. As office managers or teachers, we are still entering into a battle for our futures and those destinies of the people around us. Equally, even if Carl doesn’t seem to want to lock and load for war, Russell will be there for Kevin no matter what. Here, we must realize that we don’t always look eye to eye to find a hero, but we will never look down to find the greatness that is all around us.
I will always be there for you. I have my arms to put around your beautiful body. I can hold you through the roughest of tides. I can forget my own selfish pains, and I can make it all right. I can give you enough love to make you feel that a forever with me is the best place to be, and that here, you will always be safe and warm and snug and protected and loved and adored.
You are the bestest bestest, and I need you and love you more than you can possibly imagine.
But then Carl is jolted back to life by the sense of honor and paternal instinct that he possesses, that he was filled with while trying unsuccessfully to have a child with Ellie. He is led to do what is right, and he just does it and all is good with the universe again as he comes to Russell, Kevin, and Dug’s aid.
And in there, Carl realizes something more; he is not who he was when he fought the construction man to keep his house. He has literally flown off to something newer and more powerful, something that is and always will be intertwined with Ellie. That said, it doesn’t need to be bound to reality with earthly items in the way that it once was. The line of demarcation goes on throughout the story until Carl realizes that Ellie loved the trip through the adventures that they did have together in the way that life took them. The house was all just a place where they came back to and share their lives together. Their farfetched dreams were just that – hopeful ideas and distracting thoughts that kept them from focusing on things that wouldn’t matter past the hiccup that they caused. Flat tires are like that. All of the things that go wrong in the course of a day, be they the kind of things that take money to fix or just time and effort, they are just hiccups that need to be water off of a duck’s bad. All of us need to learn that in the same way that Carl learned that (myself especially). And in the end, Carl and Ellie’s real life was the thing that made perfect sense. For that… how good their lives together were BECAUSE OF the changes that happened to all of their dreams, which forced them to live life as it happened instead of by the easy plan. They didn’t buy the travel plan. They went on the adventure.
And someday, years and years and years from now, our ending will be the same. We will be the Robert Frost character who has become who he was meant to be by the path that was chosen, by the obstacles that were faced, the antagonists from all sides that were endured, the sacrifices made, the pleasures never experienced, and the weather that has carved lines in his face. We will be so many things, but we will be a fully-realized existence, and it will be a story of significance and purpose and love.
It will be our story, and it will be perfect to us, which is all that really matters. In the end of all of that, our story will be perfect, and this will be the first volume of it.
Carl and Ellie had each other, and she was beautiful to him, and he was beautiful to her. In the end, does anything other than enjoying the living time together really matter?
But to realize this, his stubborn ways that try to force him to resist the “Call to Adventure” must be abolished. He must move beyond his threats to throw in the towel on life and living and pathetic attempts that saw him want to just give up on Kevin, Russell, and Dug. He must move beyond only understanding the sadness of his own loss. He must live in the world that is going on around him. Nothing good can ever happen to him until he gets to the land of the living – no matter what he believes. He must come face to face with the permanence of now and still be able to make sense of the importance of the reality of his mental memories as opposed to burdening himself with the cumbersome physical things that we carry with us.
Yoda said it best: “train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”
The right things will always be there in the way that they need to be.
For Carl, he will always have Ellie – even if he no longer has their time together.
However, he is carrying around her heavy objects and a ghost-like a monkey on his back, which is stopping him from remembering all of the right things that she taught him and that he should be carrying with him. If he knew that and threw off the burdens of the final physical act of her passing, he would still have the lessons that she taught him from the first day when he entered the abandoned house. He would always have her beautiful red hair and her smile. He would be abandoning earthly attachments and preparing to meet her as she is and not as she was.
As I said before, for my wife, there was the fear of commitment to contracts. She wouldn’t sign a long-term phone contract, but she never hesitated to stick with me through the tough times and the troubles and the uncertainties that I offered throughout the toughest times of 2011 (the job search year). She continued to do whatever it took – even when she thought that she couldn’t give more – through all of the sweat and tears, she was always the strongest that she could be. I could never understand how anyone would be that for me, but she was. For her, I was everything, and I will never allow that thought to become a commonplace thought. I will work to deserve it every day.
It’s amazing how we learn what we’re capable of doing when our attitude is that we must do it, and that we spend our whole life wanting to do it. I wonder if I have enough of that attitude. For the fact that I’m still here when so many things came into my path along the way that would have made it easier to be somewhere else, somewhere not on this Earth, there must be something.
I look to H and remember a conversation that she had with her father about how tough it must have been for him to feed and clothe and house 12 different people other than himself for the years he raised his family. I remember thinking of how much she came to appreciate him for that, even if things were difficult growing up. There is a certain sense of pride that we have for ourselves and others when they do what’s right. I know that I have that pride and respect for H for all that she has done for the last year of our lives.
Before H, for me, it was so easy to be alone. It was so easy to be inside of my head and never open up to another person. There was the ideal of love being magical and easy, a romantic vision that bursts like an exploding balloon as two people come together and meet and it just doesn’t work, so it must not be true. Nevertheless, the romantic in me still believes that there is a place where 2 bodies intertwine with one another and every minute is more magical than the next. Sadly, I never realized how lost inside myself that I was (and how that contributed to many of my failures). I had to be found before I could prove that those visions are true, but the catch is that it takes two shy and protective people a little bit longer to open up to one another. However, when people stop that negative and lonely routine, all things are possible. I am glad that H and I kept coming together, that we kept growing to know one another, and I’m glad that I was able to open my mouth to say all of those words to her. She is the most beautiful woman in the world, and for as wonderful as those words are, I look to give her more and more and more of those and more beautiful and wonderful words to keep her close to me and filled with the knowledge that she is truly the most deserving and special woman alive.
She is my wife, and she is my everything. I wouldn’t have it any other way than the way that I share with her now. Forever is just that. This is why the gold rings are circular and never-ending. Is there any other way for it to be?

On the first day he encountered her, Carl was scared of Ellie, too, as he was a shy person compared to her loud and boisterous nature. She looked like a feral child in her braces and tomboy persona, but looks can be deceiving. What was important was her insistence that he brave danger in the attic of the abandoned house to get to his balloon, an act that would lead him away from that small chubby and shy presence that he exhibited in the great big world that towered over him. However, somewhere in that journey across the top floor of the abandoned house, he fell through the wooden plank and hurt himself as he crashed back down to Earth. But he got fixed and kept going. This kept being as it was in the beginning. Prior to going forward into this new life of death defying adventure, she was there for him with the bottle cap that made him her kind of person. After the fall, she was there for him in his room on that night when he lay in bed wondering what had happened to him that broke his bone and left him shattered.
He saw her there at the window, and she shattered his pain and alone with her friendship, and then he really fell for her.
Before I saw you there on the sofa, I saw you at the door, smiling with beautiful eyes and a body that wanted to see my arms around it. When the moment came that I saw you as someone I loved, everything just was. In that moment, I understood what love and beauty and the right place to be all were. I had fallen in love with you, and so I had to tell you this on that February 9, 2008 evening.
All things so big and important all come out so soft and timid.
“I think that I’m falling in love with you.”
There was no think. I was. I didn’t want to say it for the first time on Valentine’s Day. That was so cliché. I wanted to say it at the point that I felt it, which was right then as I lay in bed next to you. The streetlights reached into the apartment and illuminated our world together. What a big step it was. Not the “I love you” part. Anyone can say that. It’s only three words, and we all love lots of things. We love movies, places, music, and food. We love our parents and blue sunny days, but how often do we find the people who come in from the outside to change our lives with their simple presence in a way that can light up the darkness and give new meaning to life? How often do we take the big step to risk it all to make ourselves vulnerable when we say “I love you” for the first time and really and truly mean it in a way that still gives us butterflies and makes us feel so childlike and small and whole in the arms of the person who gives us the “I love you” return? So many times, we say it in our lives because there is a person on the other end who performs the immediate acts of love that go with adult relationships, and we feel obligated or moved through to the place where saying those words just happens. There’s no worry about the return of “I love you” because what’s happening is not love and whether it is said with full intent or knowledge of the meaning of what it should convey, it will come, and it will be ok, and mechanical love will continue to exist, but when it’s real... Yes, in those empty times, the return of words will happen, and things will go on as such for a while, but it’s not this perfect and true as what I felt at that moment when I looked into your eyes, afraid for some reason to look into your eyes, and just opened up and said the words:
I love you.
Bob Dylan once sang about love that was “easy” and “slow” when he reflected over what had happened throughout his life and the things that led him to write the CD Blood on the Tracks. Could Carl have sung that about what had happened when he realized that Ellie was this someone special for him? What made love go wrong and right for Bob Dylan and Sara Lownds? What made Bob Dylan write songs about the hope of reconciliation after they both had said and done all of the things that disintegrated their love? Did Dylan remember it all too late and too far into life after he had learned that he shouldn’t have strayed from the beaten path of what he had with a woman who completed him to the point where it was just a beautiful family scene?
And Carl had never wanted to be away from Ellie, but now he was.
And I never want to be away from my H, and I definitely never want her to know what it’s like to be away from me. So I have learned from Bob Dylan and all of the other lost men who think that they can find something that they had with the love of their life that is better with another person that they can’t. I have learned that despite the greatness of an album for showing its emotional frailty over personal failure and heartbreak, it’s better to live on by doing the right things and never having to say I’m sorry. And it’s about learning from having messed up before. Billy Joel knew that when he got cheesy and wrote a really bad album that still expressed all of his personal triumph and hope and love.
She's a trusting soul She's put her trust in you But a girl like that won't tell you
What you should do Tell her about it Tell her everything you feel Give her every reason To accept that you're for real Tell her about it Tell her all your crazy dreams Let her know you need her Let her know how much she means Tell her about it Tell her how you feel right now Tell her about it The girl don't want to wait too long You got to tell her about it Tell her now and you won't go wrong You got to tell her about it Before it gets too late You got to tell her about it You know the girl don't want To wait--you got to Tell her about it
And whether his words can be listened to or not is totally irrelevant. The fact is he learned from all of those love affairs that didn’t work. He learned from the marriage that didn’t work. Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks is more listenable, and songs like “Idiot Wind” play far better than anything Joel did at that time, but given the choice of hating all of the betrayals that Billy and Christie felt were done to each other and the anger and regret that these bad times caused, isn’t it better to live out the word of “Uptown Girl?”
Uptown girl You know I can't afford to buy her pearls But maybe someday when my ship comes in She'll understand what kind of guy I've been And then I'll win
And when she's walking She's looking so fine And when she's talking She'll say that she's mine She'll say I'm not so tough Just because I'm in love With and uptown girl She's been living in her white bread world As long as anyone with hot blood can And now she's looking for a downtown man That's what I am
And I think of that, and I wonder what your facial expression was when you saw the strawberry bead waiting there for you. I wonder if it was like the face you made when you were given the daisies at Christmas. I wish I could have been there to give it to you, but I hope the surprise of its presence was enough for you.
I’ve learned from Carl that I do appreciate the small things and that I will never lose sight of the great things that I can give and that I do get. I’ve learned from life to never say things that I can’t take back. I wish that I had more time to just be with H apart from the work and the writing, and all of the other things that life has to offer and demand from me. I’ve learned that I wish I had more money to make it all happen, but even if I don’t, the things that we can have when the opportunities are there are worth as much as trips to Paradise Falls.
In reality, they are Paradise Falls.
And if this book says all that it’s supposed to, then perhaps I have crafted a lasting monument to the love and sense of purpose that I have found in the former HJ who now is known to the world as HG.
I still can’t believe that my name is worn like jewelry.
It’s just unbelievably special.
And just as I had met a wonderful woman in the late days of 2007 and early days of 2008, Carl had met the love of his life while stumbling into the unknown nearly 70 years ago. He thought that he was climbing mountains and crossing canyons, but instead, he had been introduced to someone special. And one day, he would be smacked upside the face by love! He may not have known it at the time. We rarely know people who will change our lives that much when we meet them. Carl certainly didn’t.
Who was this crazy-haired young girl and her family of rambunctious hicks?
She was the bestest bestest.
And who was this wide-eyed and hopeful woman behind the apartment door at 77 Park Avenue in Ephrata on December 1st, 2007?
She is the bestest bestest.
But to find this out, we both needed to grasp the balloon and go up with our lives, just as Carl and Ellie had grasped their own balloons. Coincidentally, for Carl, even with not getting to the balloon on that walk across the plank, he still grasped at the feeling of adventure that makes life special. This gave him 70 odd years of happiness and meaning that would eventually lead him back to a time of alone. In that time, he thought that he lost everything he had with her, and so he moved into emptiness without her as he became sadder and more dismal and unrecognizable as the man he was as fate forced him into life and out of the house that had become his coffin. Still, he clung onto the negativity because the material nature of the house that they lived in together was all that he chose to have left of her. Instead of seeing that she was still with him in everything, he hung on to a world that didn’t exist anymore until one day tragedy struck and he was forced to act, taking the house with him to new and more exotic places in the jungles of South America that he had always dreamed of going to, but now, here those cliffs, trees, vistas, waterfalls, and animals were, more different and scary than they were when they dreamed of them from the sofa in their living room.
And on that journey, he went up with the balloon again. Where he once had made a living selling balloons and happiness to youngsters, he was now using the balloon to go back to happiness and to be alive again – reimagining himself as the child who was guiding him to knowledge. Now, he was filling himself full of lightness and lifting himself toward the future. It was a rough journey, but it was a symbolic journey to go ahead in life to go back in life.
All those things that we once were and we lost, we gained so much more by taking hold of the balloons and going up together instead of drifting through life alone and apart. You found meaning in why you came to Pennsylvania in the first place by finding me. I found purpose in the Pennsylvania world that I came back to by finding you.
But change doesn’t happen all at once. As the storm clouds raged, Carl fought to protect images of Ellie even then, keeping her picture from falling, and at the same time, he kept himself from losing her visage forever by holding onto that picture. And just as he took himself to the future, he took Russell there, too.
And that’s the catch in life. We can be our own units, but we can also make a big difference in the life of someone else with the things that we do and that we offer other people. Most of those things that we give to others were given to us. This is the eternal sharing that made Carl realize that Ellie was always with him. And in that way, she would be a surrogate grandmother for Russell, as well.
In a way, we learned how to love from all of those people that came before us. Some of these people are the wrong people. We say that we will never go back to the ones who never loved us, that loved us incorrectly, or the ones that never loved us at all, and yet we find their twins, their brothers, their sisters, and their darker selves in other places that seem to be identical to the places that we found them in the first place (maybe it's because it wasn't them that were wrong at the time, but actually it was ourselves).
We do this when we should remember the times that we were held in all of the right ways, and we should want to preserve that feeling or relocate a newer and better version of it with the right person. We should want to expand and amplify it in the way it does when the words “I love you” are stated and they’re just so easily stated. We should want to live out the images that we saw with other people in our lives, in our worlds, and those that inhabited the silver screen. We should want to learn by heroic and leadership example, even if we’ve never had a good example in our own lives.
In some way shape or form, H learned from the men who came to her door and took her out for the evening, the relationships that never connected, and the relationship that was lost to unfaithfulness. All of the hope and loss, happiness and sadness, lost time and desire. These are the faces that surrounded her as we went forward on that first date.
For me, I learned from the visions of women who never wanted to take the time to get to know me, the relationships that were plagued by the deep down troubles that can’t be solved with words or with time, and the experiences of being with the wrong women at the wrong times. I learned from the fact that I wasn’t the outward image of the kind of person that someone that I wanted to have a relationship would want to have a relationship with in return.
And as I drove across Route 222, I listened to the hopeful songs of a future together, and I wondered which face would you be when I knocked on your door? Would you be the face that joins the crowd and comes to the next door that I knock on or the face that I say goodnight to every night of my life for the rest of forever? Would you be another image of failure or a successful night together?
We spin around from the glaring losers that never added up to anything and just hurt us at worst or left us wondering why we ever went on the date in the first place, and we curse our pasts. Sometimes, these people call back and want to know what we’re up to. Fortunately, you’re in a committed relationship and the prospect of a night on the town is no longer appealing, and I don’t have to fear that there’s something better on the other side of that street. So I don’t.
Sometimes, they write back and want to say hello, just to check in and remind me that they’re still here, not so much for love, but to remind me of the permanent memories that they ingrained in my world for a period of time and that I should never, ever walk away from lest I be betraying what they did for me, even though they’ve moved on and are doing nothing for me now. Fortunately, I have learned about the ocean and the time and the differences between cultures enough to know why I flew on that airplane and I always knew that my future was here, even if I cried as I whimpered good bye to it. This was the other grand realization in the Toiyabe Mountains. There was something special that my America would bring to me; it was just a decade away. In this, you never have to worry that there will ever be a better version. You were always the one.
Don’t you remember that there was a vision that the fortune teller spoke of when she looked into the future for you? There was a reward for you and for all that you did for your mother and your family. Some people might think it was vague generalizations and pocketing your cash, but there was something in the transcendent mists of time that she saw, which was real. I still wonder how she saw what I could offer you when I couldn’t see myself in those days. What would she have said to me if I would have come in when I was so lost and consumed in my mind? Nevertheless, somehow, I made it out of the murk to find you in the fogs of where you had come to. And in that, I still find it hard to believe that I became that person, but in this house that I sit in, two blocks from where we began our life together, the place that we have made our own, this is the life that we wanted to live. And while times may get tough in this 21st century world, the best is yet to come and I am glad that we are together. And while some people might find going to psychics frivolous, if it kept you going through the dark times and led you to here, then it was the best money that you ever spent since I’d like to say that this adventure is working out quite well and I look forward to seeing where the next years will take us!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Peter Gabriel "Book of Love"

Excerpted from Toledo, Ohio. And yes, I do know Magnetic Fields did it first, but his voice isn't as good as Peter Gabriel's.

To be a good storyteller, a person has to believe that the things that he or she says are things that people want to hear. The best way to do this is gauge that the speaker / writer is saying things that he or she wants to hear emanating into the world. In this, if we don’t feel egotistically awesome about the things that we are saying, we must conclude that by definition, our readers have absolutely no interest in hearing what we say. Being egotistical is everything.
The best writers are people who find their voices in telling stories and captivating audiences. I think about the writers that I really love, those authors who write in the personal narrative story kind of way. For instance, Chuck Klosterman and Bill Simmons are fantastically comic and inspirational writers that helped me to find my own voice. In the same way, many of the things that Dave Eggars wrote about in A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius were equally compelling. I can’t say that I feel any more attachment to MTV’s The Real World for what he wrote about it, but I will say that I flew through the pages to see where it went.

Nevertheless, there is a drawback, and that is that authors who do this often try to make their lives a book or movie while it is happening. That’s not necessarily the healthiest thing in emotional, mental, or social ways, but it’s something that we cope with. Like a person who doesn’t have an arm, we compensate and work around things. If we’re truly finding a way to be healthy and to move beyond our neuroses, we learn to interact with others instead of thinking about our interactions, and yeah… that’s the point of everything.

Thus, without judging these men’s writing as truly products of functional lives, because I only know what I know about them by what they write, these men do write very well. If I wanted to add a female voice, I would say that Laurie Notaro does, too, but I don’t read her enough to think she has an influence on my life other than that I enjoyed her book The Idiot Girl’s Action Adventure Club. Nevertheless, this book isn’t try to rewrite that one or to give a shout out to her for showing me how to show that I’ve done some stupid things in my time… even if I have done some incredibly stupid things in my time.
In addition, I will say that the spoken word expression of Henry Rollins, a comic and extreme set of rants and stories from the early 1990s, which could captivate and engage listeners for hours on end, did more to help fuel my expression in both speaking and written ways than pretty  much anything else out there. And even if I once offended him after barging into his dressing room, I must say that without Rollins, I would be lost in life.
I was also influenced by the works of Nick Hornby, in particular High Fidelity, which has been described in the preface, and Songbook, which is pretty much a direct inspiration to what I am writing here except his collection was more direct and brief, with a few exceptions. Since there are already passages in here that go on forever and ever and ever, I can see my difference with someone who is writing with a word count limit. Also, I should say that Nick Hornby is less scattered and prone to the random side trips down neural pathways that I am. In this, I am way more in the same genre as Chuck Klosterman’s Killing Yourself to Live. Granted, Fargo Rock City and all of the essays books that he wrote were also good, but my voice is something that comes from those direct influences plus a healthy measure of Jon Krakauer and Kurt Vonnegut, though I wouldn’t expect to find them in here. The same could be said with poetic works like those of Walt Whitman, e.e. cummings, and Edgar Lee Masters. Great stuff that knocks my socks off, but that said, I’m not a poet and have no interest in trying to be so. You won’t find “Song of the Open Road” in here other than to say I was influenced by it tremendously. Then again, my travel writing could be the prose version of it. You never know.
But no matter what this is or it isn’t, what I am after is the expression of memories as an episode to the story as a whole. Here, there are stories that I tell that flow forth in the most simple and logical order of all. Individually, each one could stand alone, but together, they represent the entirety of something larger and more important. In this, they are just like the television show How I Met Your Mother.
From its creation in 2005, this show defines the quest for hopeless romantic Ted Moseby to find the love of his life by telling how every single woman or bump in the way helped to make him that person by not letting that person be his all consuming be all end all wife. In the pilot, he comes off annoying in that same way that Ross on Friends did, and this doesn’t seem to offer much hope for the show. However, unlike with the crapfest that The Big Bang Theory was in the time I watched it (about 5 minutes total), I didn’t shut How I Met Your Mother off after 5 minutes when I realized that I would have to endure Roseanne’s annoying son in law, Johnny Galecki, and his overly nerded out friends. Not that I have anything against the geek factor, since, hell, I am a knowledge junkie geek of sorts myself, but that show just sucked.
Nevertheless, after about 8 episodes of investment into the show, How I Met Your Mother started to move toward something, and my wife and I agreed to go for another disc. And so, this was the benefit of catching a show many years into its lifespan. You, or in this case we, can get the discs from Netflix or the library and watch them one after the other and take everything in to get up to the current state of the show, and we can also not have to worry about cliffhanger endings…
Because cliffhanger endings can suck the life out of the show.
That was what was so great about seeing episodes of 24 on disc. When I got into that show, it was Season 5, and I was able to watch the first couple of episodes back to back save the killing of President Palmer, since my dad had taped them except for the gunshot that killed my all time favorite president not named Jefferson or Lincoln. Nevertheless, after the first 8 hours or so, I would have to wait 7 days for a 1 or 2 hour installment, depending on what Fox needed to broadcast in the episodes that week, and yeah… it was a drawn out and mentally draining process to get to the end of the show. However, seasons 2, 3, and 4… the great ones, were available to take in the full 24 episodes, roughly 18 hours in a period of 36 hours that included sleep, shower, and bathroom breaks mixed with an occasional additional trip to the library to take back discs that had been watched so that I could get more discs. Such is the pain of a limit of discs that a person can take out at one time.
Years later, my wife and I would be on the Utah / Arizona border, in a hotel in Page, myself alternating watching of the show and being sick out both ends from some food poisoning incident that had happened earlier that day just so I could see what would become of Jack Bauer in the final episode ever of the show (author's note - the show has since been announced to be returning to prime time). How my wife put up with me in that moment, I’ll never know, but because of it, I’ll never begrudge her watching things that feature Kim Kardashian or the word “Real” in the title. I may make fun of them viciously, but I won't begrudge her!
But How I Met Your Mother never was a race of life and death, and it also never felt like we had to get to meeting the mother (author's note - until this season - it's just going on way too long now). Sure, her yellow umbrella was in there, but it wasn’t as omnipresent and necessary to the plot development as the interaction of the characters were, even if that’s the title, and even if we know that someday it was going to happen. Sure, we were teased that she was there, but it’s not like we were in a state of suspended animation until the 167 and a half hours between episodes of the show aired. With 24, that’s what it literally felt like. However, for fans of How I Met Your Mother, we knew next week that we wouldn’t get her, and we learned to live with it. It would come at the end of the show’s great run, but until then, we would just enjoy the characters. And even if my wife and I didn’t religiously watch the show in prime time every week, it was just nice to know that it was still there and that the episodes would be moved to syndication soon. And let’s be honest, when it did move to syndication, it was literally on multiple channels at a time for hours on end, to the point where having seen an episode twice meant that it was too soon to see it again for the third time, even though the viewings had spread out over the course of a year.
But for the most part, my wife and I did find a way to enjoy them all too frequently since they were a fair compromise between the porn network that is MLBTV, filled with money shots of classic home runs, excellent defensive plays, and witty banter about what is and isn’t and might be going on while the hot stove is trying to keep us all warm while Brian Kenney is explaining to us the beauty of numbers that is Sabermetrics AND the reality shows on Bravo and E about dysfunctional humans that I know she watches. I can’t say that I know what they really are about, but I know that my wife does and she loves them, so how can I make fun of her for watching reunion shows that feature angry women from Beverly Hills and Atlanta when I watch grown men relive screwing up pitches and defensive plays years and years ago? Thus, the compromise comes with sitcoms.
And How I Met Your Mother works perfectly in that because it could be us. Jason Segel’s Marshall could be playing the grown up version of the same goofy ass that he did in shows like Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, but we relate to him because he is real. He isn’t pretty. He isn’t brilliant, even if he plays a lawyer. He isn’t rocking a 6-pack like Ryan Gosling or an unreal 8-pack like Ryan Reynolds. He is just someone who could very much be any of the guys watching the show. He could be me, even if I would never let my bits hang out like he did in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It takes a “big” man to do that, or at least one who’s comfortable with what he has, and frankly, I don’t know what he has since I looked away, but I know that he was brave enough to do it.
The same could be said for Lily. For the show, she is still the band geek with the flute from American Pie, but she is a more mature and quirky adult version of said bandcamper, and we could see her being someone that we fell in love with, befriended, or associated with a lot easier than Megan Fox, a woman who may be attractive in that airbrushed and aerobicized way that Maxim has for making women think that they should be this gorgeous, this aerobicized, or at the very least, this promoted as some object of sexual desire and longing. But still, just seeing her or some unreal fashion model that Leonardo DiCaprio or George Clooney is sexing up until she gets too old to be arm candy doesn’t make us want to hang out with her or even be naked with her body beside it. Sure, men can be convinced to drool over anything, and yes, isn’t that the story of Mila Kunis, but what man really wants to be with someone who is this high maintenance and skinny and full of herself? Can the sex be that wondrous, life-changing, and acrobatic in that way that Jerry Seinfeld imagined it would be with the gymnast that he once dated on his self-titled television show? Probably not. And so what’s left is a 2-3 year shelf life of commercialized soft porn with bathing suits and lingerie hotness until nature takes over or the actress calls her current director a Nazi-esque tyrant. And for this, I thank the good Lord that there are people like Steven Spielberg out there who can still bring people like Megan Fox back down to Earth because in the end, she’s not near as real as Alyson Hanigan or Cobie Smuthers (author's note - this sexing up just never worked for Alyson or Cobie). She’s just… a disposable pair of eyes, lips, boobs and an orifice that doesn’t even seem real still waiting to find out that her flavor of the month is about to come and go.
Granted, Cobie comes from the fine tradition of Canadian women with weird names, see Avril and Alanis, but let’s just say that she still seems down to Earth and real in that she could actually be a part of your life or that she might be willing to leave the house without makeup. How we’re to believe that she’s really the 9th most attractive woman on the planet in the year 2011 is beyond me, but such is the nature of publicity. Nevertheless, does she seem like someone we’d steal a blue horn for? Probably. Just as Segel and Hannigan could be real people that we hang out with at the Appleby’s when we don’t want to eat alone, Cobie Smuthers could be someone that we would see at Thanksgiving dinner or at the office. 
The whole cast is to a degree real, even if it’s hard to take Neil Patrick Harris seriously in his role as a womanizer since we know that somewhere in the course of the series, he removed himself from the closet and “came out” in the real world. Nevertheless, it’s less impossible to see him in these acts of heterosexual man-whoring than seeing Jodie Foster lying in bed after a theoretical act of sex with Matthew McConaughey in Contact. Then again, part of this probably has to do with the fact that Mr. Naked Bongo Playing is supposed to be a religious guy who chose not to become a priest since it was too hard to give up doing the “wild thing.” So yeah, it’s a great movie with great actors, but... for all I love that movie, and I do, the fornication scene was more annoying than those of Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman in Star Wars Episodes 2+3, and that’s only because Christensen was deliberately trying to showcase the DNA annoyingness that would pour into Luke for the original Star Wars, which as we all know is actually Episode 4, but yeah… when you’re George Lucas you can do anything that you want and still be considered a genius.
Hell, this was the man who gave us Jar Jar Binks.
But Neil Patrick Harris, AKA Doogie Howser M.D., allows us to find a certain reality in his comic extremity. Like Mike Meyers, he doesn’t do a lot of scenes of affection with people he’s not in a relationship with. Where this culminated with the same accents over and over and over again to kill Mike Meyers’ comic genius, we don’t mind it here since anything else would kill off an element of this show that now seems absolutely necessary. But the years have changed Harris’ Barney to reflect something more than walking out of the bar with another nameless bimbo who we are to assume that he will get butt wild and crazy in the sack. In this, when he opens himself to love for Cobie’s Robin and finds his life changed by their interaction, he somehow becomes something more than just the guy who had a perfect week or who hooked up with Britney Spears during another episode. His maturity is something that we see in ourselves, for after all, aren’t we all just people who have done dumb things, pursued dumb and or meaningless relationships with people who looked that hot because we thought that was what was expected of us?  Haven’t we all loved and lost those people who meant something to us because of our boorish behavior? Haven’t we been lost on the tides for ages and ages, only to find ourselves in some barroom week after week, wondering when we would be with someone or at some place that would make us who we were going to be? Haven’t we all done things with other people just to not eat alone at the local Appleby’s?
Isn’t there a feeling of being Ted, falling in love with Stella and being willing to move to New Jersey to be with her and her daughter, leaving New York City and the old life behind once and for all? After all, isn’t this the maturity and growing up that goes with telling a long winded story to our children, somewhere ages and ages hence, and knowing that we’ve grown for our stupidities instead of sitting with our buddies and telling the same dumb stories from age 20 over and over and over again at age 50 and realizing that we should have listened to Muhammad Ali and changed over those 30 years to not waste our lives away to nothing?
And while I don’t like to think of myself as a wannabe hipster from the Big Apple like Ted, I do have things of my own that I know that I have left behind in my journey to find my wife. Given away, thrown away, sold to the world, moved away, and transitioned beyond… all of these things are in the story of my life, just as the same can be said for things that my wife has changed in her own life. Would we change any of this to end up somewhere else?
In a word, no.
While there has been compromise and a feeling of needing to arrive at these places through time and love and togetherness, in the end, I never want to look at a shelf and wonder where something is or think how I would like to have some part of myself from the past back. I never want to think that I want to be that same guy that I was in 2005. The 2012 version of myself (author's note - 2014 is the same) is a good person to be, even if he is still a work in progress.
The only thing I would ask for is more years of my younger life to know that I didn’t waste so much meaningful time that I could have to share with so that we will always be able to have youthful, non-white chin hair and balding head time together.
And for this, just as Ted lost Stella to Tony, there are people that we have all lost, people who seemed like they should be around forever since we thought that their run on our shows would last forever, but they were never truly the person that was for us (even if we know there were parts of them that were that good). The music played behind them and defined the show to the point that the story and the music were sold on the soundtrack and the photo memories filled our scrapbooks and defined who we were in those days, but that’s all it did. And when it was done, it became history. It’s over, gone, finished, living with the dinosaurs in tar pits beneath the surface of Los Angeles. It is no more, and for that, the relationships relegated to the past. Let it stay there. None of it defines us now in anything other than it was knowledge and events that made us ready to learn to be the person that we are now.
And if we ask ourselves honestly if Stella, AKA Sarah Chalke, AKA a Canadian woman with a normal name, a phenomenon that appears to be a rare occurrence, was ever really going to mesh well with Ted? She was equally the sometimes daughter of Roseanne, who was married to Mark, but she never really meshed well with him, so are we to really believe that she can just find love anywhere? In the end, there was only ever one place for her to be, and that was on Scrubs as the on again off again on again off again and finally on again girlfriend / wife of J.D., a character who was either the most annoying or most lovable character on television on those years when Scrubs was the best comedy on television. That said, the jury is still out on his worth in television history, and to be honest, for Zach Braff to have a fighting chance at being that lovable guy, he’ll have to make sure that he never does ANY acting in movies again since other than some of Garden State, his movie career was dreadful.
But Elliot… even on Scrubs, she was an emotional nightmare that went through her share of bad relationships to get to the good one. Then again, she probably should have married J.D. at the end of season 3, but there is something to be said for carrying potential situations and sexual tension on ad infinitum. In less than 10 episodes, she managed to do much of the same with How I Met Your Mother. How long can a person be the same unlovable person and stay on a show?
So was this her fault or her supporting actors?
Add this to her time in the Prep and Landing cartoons, and you have her worth as an actress, which is more than most, but still, it’s fairly limited except where it works best, and that takes her back to Scrubs playing off J.D. and Turk and being best friends with Carla and annoying Dr. Cox into constantly calling her Barbie over and over. And somehow, that and all of the other parts of the show worked together, and it just fit and it was good, and it was music to my ears… until it got overplayed in reruns and it died in the newer episodes, and even worse…
Then, it hit Scrubs Interns, and it truly sucked and for all of us who remembered the good times, it died a merciful death before it could destroy the fact that for the first 5 or so years, it was a great show. Sure, plot devices like Turk and JD being way too close as friends got old and over-used and seemingly politicized as some potential romantic interest, but the mix of interaction between Dr. Cox and the young doctors was incredible. The side characters were also brilliant and equally important, even in brief roles. We cared about the characters in life and love and death. In this, the death of Brendan Fraser and Laverne, the nurse who was befriended with Carla in a peripheral role for the first few years, were tragic moments. Even characters that came onto the show for a single episode or a short stint were meaningful to the story as a whole.
And when the show got absurd, we didn’t care. We loved it all the more. Tara Reid pretty much played herself for season 3 and ended up with the Soup Nazi and pretty much every other character along the way and at Turk and Carla’s sort of wedding, which made for comedic genius at its finest. Here, we just wanted to laugh and feel and imbibe on what was delivered to us as the closing of the season ended with Ted’s Band playing “Eight Days a Week.”
And it was delivered well along with music that came to us and helped define our own lives in much the way that it defined the characters. The first episode I ever watched of the show before I borrowed the first season from my friend Pete was the first episode of season 2. Here, Colin Hay of Men at Work did “Overkill” on an acoustic guitar as he walked along with J.D. as he worried “about the implications of diving in too deep” into all of the things that were said at the end of the first season by Jordan to the entire cast in a spiteful bit of revenge and vindictive pettiness. I didn’t know at the time what it connected to, but I thought it was brilliant, and I searched out that song. It became a staple of my musical playlist ever since, most notably on the mopey CD of 2002 that was entitled Burning Eureka.
There would be other songs that I would seek out as well, and I would find songs from my collection on there in new forms as well. As my songs were important to me, they also became important to the producers of Scrubs, who used them perfectly. In the first season alone, Everclear, the Shins, and Guided by Voices showed up while I added stuff I had already heard like Cheap Trick to my collection on their “recommendation.”
However, it wasn’t until the final season, a season that time and better taste had forgotten, that the most important and best song of all would be added. Originally sang by Magnetic Fields in that Crash Test Dummies kind of voice, “Book of Love” became an instant sensation for my life as it was sung beautifully and poignantly by Peter Gabriel. In the same way that the Beatles sound on “In My Life,” Gabriel gets right in there and is as good, if not better, than anything he has done since “In Your Eyes” when it comes to reflecting what life and love mean to a union of people. Be they family, lovers, friends, all things… the Beatles reach out for them, but for Magnetic Fields, it’s all about love, love, love… and surprise, surprise. This song is off of 69 Love Songs.
And just as that song by Peter Gabriel from Say Anything blended beautifully with the music behind it as John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler, a guy who once summed up his youthful enthusiasm and philosophy in the line, I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that,” so too does “Book of Love” when it moves out of J.D.’s long walk down the hallway, a journey where  he goes back and sees the friends and family and co-workers that he has known for 8 years of the show. There are loves that he has left behind or who didn’t work out. There is also Hooch, and he’s still crazy.
Everyone is there, and it moves to a movie screen where he sees images of a life spent married to Chalke’s Elliot. We can imagine that this is similar to how Ted Moseby might feel when he finally finds the woman who is right for him. It may not be Chalke’s Stella, but then again, J.D. isn’t having these feelings and future visions with Amy Smart’s Tasty Coma Wife character either. He never was going to be, but we found it fun while he was with her, just as we did when he was with Mandy Moore. Instead, he’s having these thoughts about a woman who makes him complete inside. We can imagine Billy Joel feeling this way about Elizabeth Weber Small, Christie Brinkley, and maybe even Katie Lee, though I tend to suspect that Katie Lee was more about feeling the same youthful body of a twenty-something woman repeatedly and meaningfully one last time before his 60th birthday.
I can imagine many things about this montage. From Christmases spent with loved ones and friends to children grown up and finding love themselves. The whole series of videos is a tear-jerking vision of life… the same as it is in many of the songs that Scrubs features: “This is life, and everything is all right.” These are the moments that make us complete.
And when it comes to the final lines of the song, the part about giving wedding rings, the summer of 2009 is where it needs to be going. H ought to give me a wedding ring, and I should give one to her. Of course, we are engaged by this time, and other songs will represent the soundtrack for that event when we do give each other wedding rings. And thus, while Scrubs stole prominently from me for that engagement song (author's note: Old 97s "Question), I can’t say as I fault them. The song was perfect, and so is this song that I am stealing from them for our wedding.
And maybe Ted’s story is long and boring. And maybe the book of Scrubs went on way too long, but just like with H’s and my lives, there are instructions for dancing. If we listen to Lee Ann Womack, they have to do with when we “get the chance to sit it out or dance,” she hopes we “dance.” We don’t often think of how simple or perfect some of the words for Hallmark cards turned to songs are, but after not hearing that song for a decade, I heard it again when H and I drove back from West Virginia in the summer of 2011. It coupled so nicely with all of the other music that we had heard that weekend. This was music for listening to when we drink iced tea out of mason jars. Be it King Harvest’s “Dancing in the Moonlight,” the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” or various other mellowed out hippie music that was played on the sound system of that dive restaurant outside of Douglas Falls, it was all good.
And so is “Book of Love.” Not because it’s some complicated orchestral arrangement that will be praised by critics as if it was one of the songs from Pet Sounds or Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but because it’s just beautiful and simple and it touches the soul. Sure, the deep booming voice of Magnetic Fields is either something that works for you or doesn’t, and I must say that I feel that they can have a lot of their songs back. In fact, you can cut it down to about 5 Love Songs. At least at this point in my life, I feel this way, but that said, I do like their version of that song and a few other songs that they do. As I said, I think it’s about 5, give or take.
Nevertheless, Peter Gabriel gets their songs and he improves it as he makes me understand what is important in life. And so I will read cheesy romance novels to H every Christmas. I will do all of the female voices the same. And my male characters will all have that feeling of, “hey babe… how would you like me to come over and visit?!!” And there will be talk about playing the ponies or tapping that ass or whatever unreal thing that I can sneak into the words of Harlequin’s most… “romantic” of adventures. And some will be housewife appropriate graphic tales of oral sex and deep penetration despite not leaving the characters or listener to be thrilled to the point of a wide ass grin and hands on cheeks for having won a gift basket of lubes, vibrators, and other sexual devices at the local adult entertainment super center (author's note - this is not a reference to 50 Shades of Gray, but rather to a billboard I used to pass on the way to work every day).
But they will be good and happy memories.
And I will sing my songs as we drive to all of the places that she and I long to go. And I will never stop dreaming my dreams for the places that I want us to go. Someday, we will make it to the Caribbean (author's note - we did), and we will make it to Europe, and we will go back to the Colorado Plateau, but only after we go to Yosemite and Crater Lake and the Cascades. Alaska and Hawaii sound really great, too, but then again, so too do a million flowery places. And if the political world of things south of the border was different, I could envision going to see some waterfalls in Venezuela. We will also need to get to Yellowstone before the 2012 Mayan Calendar debacle (author's note - we never did, but we do have time, apparently), but if we have to, we can call Lloyd Dobler and ask him to drive the bus to get us out of there, should that be necessary.
In this, dreams are everything and the future is everything because it has H in it. It might not have taken the better part of a decade to realize it like it did for J.D. and like it seems to be doing for Ted Moseby; hell, I knew that H was THE ONE by the 10-month point so I popped the question when it was ripe enough. Nevertheless, I had been watching that blossom by about 6-7 months. Nevertheless, I was looking for the right way to make it happen later in the year, Christmas perhaps… and then I realized that it was an alone thing, not a communal event, and the weekend to be just sort of happened, and I would trade any of it.
Because when it happened, that it happened, and that H and my love is still happening… that is all good. And I still love it when H gives me baseball cards to watch my eyes light up as I open the packs in the same way I love to bring H flowers home just because I get to see her eyes light up when she cuts off the stems and arrange them in the vase and gets to stare at them for a week or longer. I love it when I tell H that she is beautiful and she feels so warm inside because I said it and H knows that I’m telling her the gospel truth.
Most of all, I love it that H and I gave each other wedding rings.
Mine feels so powerful on my finger.
I love my wife.