Ricketts Glen in Ice

Ricketts Glen in Ice

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Okkervil River - John Allyn Smith Sails

Originally, I was going with the working title of T.S. Eliot Was a Plagiarist for this. It seemed to reflect my desire to accumulate all of the music, movies, literature, TV, art, and whatever that I had experienced and combine them together into some literary name check, which would allow me to be cool and artistic AND to justify my over-priced liberal arts degree in some written form, which could express the last 30 odd years of being a devoted slave / complete-ist to the words of others. Mostly, it's just a work up for The American Book of the Dead, which I have been kicking around ideas for.
Let’s be honest…. Charles Bukowski was a drunken typist more than a poet. That said, I’m sure that if Truman Capote felt that Jack Kerouac was more of a typist than a writer, it’s not a far stretch of the imagination to apply the same tag to a person who managed to set new standards for the Smashing Pumpkins when it came to releasing everything he and they did for the masses to plunk down hard-earned cash for.
And exploiting a person’s own individual talent to get to a point where it doesn’t matter how rough it is around the edges – especially if it’s still saleable - really is the crux of it all. This is true whether it’s the person banking on the artist’s talent or the artist himself. The truth is that to be viable, an artist needs to become a recognized creator, either of tunes, free verse, sketches, or some other creative medium. He or she needs to be accepted by the critics as being great. This person can do this while alive or dead. It doesn’t matter. Then, whether it’s the greatest songs of all time or something slightly diluted compared to that real deal greatness, there’s always an avenue for adoration in the form of praise and / or cash.
The Smashing Pumpkins and Bukowski both really got this concept. Give the audience something that is carved and chiseled from granite over time, a masterpiece to be perfected, and release it into the universe with enough of a price tag to guarantee that the built-in audience consumes it all. Then, when they are done with the original version, they can get the expanded editions that include all of those chiseled effects that can recoup some of the funding that went into making them (bonus tracks, live tracks, acoustic tracks, B-sides, drawings on napkins, poems stuffed into a drawer somewhere, letters from friends and hangers on, you name it).
Give the fans the option and they’ll be paying the mostest for even the leastest of what can be obtained because to be a collector of art and artists means that you need to take in everything if you want to get the full effect of what’s out there.
Anything that was ever experienced should be given back in some other way.

To illustrate the truth of this concept of being an accumulator (a hoarder of artistic mediums), I once had a friend who told me that I would have been willing to pay money for a CD of the Cocteau Twins making fart noises on the basis that I plunked down cash for their Christmas CD with “Winter Wonderland” and “Frosty the Snowman.” While he had no respect for the Cocteau Twins, it’s fair to say that he too had his fair share of complete back catalogs and side projects that he would have paid money for. The difference is that he would have been more willing to pay for the Sisters of Mercy’s digestive track noises on CD than to wonder what Elizabeth Fraser was or wasn’t trying to say.
As a teenager, I can remember joking with friends about who was the most obscure record collecting fan, who got what on yellow vinyl from Portugal or some other color from some other forgotten corner of the world. There were extra points if nobody ever heard of the band said person was listening to because said band was only available overseas. Death in June is a perfect example of this. Another case of having bonus points awarded is having a cover that was banned in America, such as Christian Death’s Sex, Drugs, and Jesus Christ, which really was a lousy album despite the fact that Irandaru, a local band at the time, covered “This is Heresy” quite nicely. That song still represents a period of time, but with the lineup shakeups in the band at the time, it wasn’t quite Only Theater of Pain.
A few years later, I would stumble into one of their concerts in London after my Air Force roommate and I were unable to procure tickets to see The Beastie Boys with Henry Rollins. The show was God awful. I can’t say I remember most of it, but I do remember the closeted lead singer mumbling something about wanting to stick his “dick in a penis… err vagina.” Years later, he would hang himself. It really wasn’t a surprise to anyone. These things just seem to happen in the gothic rock world.
It would appear that heartbreak and alcohol don’t mix well with confusion and angst.

I gravitated to people who loved music and would do anything for their complete-ist tendencies. I had blue and orange vinyl Smiths bootlegs from Germany. I had Minor Threat’s Live at Buff Hall on seven-inch marble vinyl, and I had many other things I never listened to, but I had them all the same. It was necessary to have them. I was in competition with my fellow collectors. For this reason alone, I plunked down $30 for the Smiths’ “This Charming Man:” single.
Why? Because I could.
As for the Sisters of Mercy guy, I had him beat by a landslide when it came to assembling full collections. If I got into bands, it was necessary to get more and more songs to know everything. Besides, someday, I might be at a concert and need to know the song name or sing along to the words. If I wasn’t prepared, I’d be up the creek. Now, I still like the obscure songs that are harder to find, but with Amazon and E-music, it’s not that hard to find songs that once were elusive (and still pay the artists something for their time).
Nevertheless, some songs are still elusive, but you really have to try to find some kind of obscure B-sides for this to be a problem.
At this age of my life, there are still many bands that I would give money to on the notion of having a song flash back in my head and remind me of the time that….
Even if I wouldn’t give $1 for any full Cocteau Twins CD.
Not that there’s anything wrong with you if you would give money to them. I completely understand the tendency to be the biggest fan of said group or singer. I’m just a little more choosey on some, not all, of who I give my hard-earned cash to. Right now, the Cocteau Twins aren’t the ones who get my disposable income.

Going back to the Smashing Pumpkins, it’s important to have that background to why someone would release all that stuff and why someone would buy all of that stuff because let’s be honest; sometimes, it really is all about releasing all 28 additional b-sides to go with the full double album of 28 songs that was already at least one disc too long. Because, you know, when you’ve already proven that you can release 13 songs and can then turn around and milk a 2nd disc out with 14 more songs that weren’t good enough for the first disc AND that one becomes a best seller, then you really have to go all the way, even if it’s a few years later, because you know, the stakes are raised, and you really do want to prove that you can make it a super-deluxe collector’s effort with 17 more songs on top of that because you have fans that expect you to give them more, more, more… be it in the midnight hour or on a new release Tuesday.
But yeah… that’s what it’s about… either for the tortured artists who are sonically verbose or the drunken poets scribbling out the remnants of nights of substances abused and overused through his skin.
The message is the same: Strike while the iron is hot because “making teenagers depressed is like shooting fish in a barrel.”
And what’s more, they’ll pay through their pierced noses to feel your emotions.

Apparently, the cult of rock music thought enough of Bukowski as his name seemed to appear associated with everything from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to U2 via the Verve and the Boo Radleys. Many of his books have ended up as movies, and like many of his fellow writers from the other side of the tracks, he seemed to end up in quite a few documentaries as well. For an extended period of time, I wore his life’s tribute shirt. At the time, I wasn’t a drunk. In fact, by that point in my life, I had given up a lot of the binge drinking of early Air Force days to focus on being likeable.
There is a lesson to be learned in that.
Drinking large quantities of vodka + Coke or Yukon Jack straight out of the bottle to absorb "a taste born of hoary nights, when lonely men struggled to keep their fires lit and cabins warm," was an invitation to have my friends intervene on my behalf before someone kicked my 150 pound ass for making remarks that were bigger than the rest of me, so I just chose to be me with the occasional casual drinking at the bar, sometimes more excessively than others. In all honesty, it was a much better choice than continuing on drinking regularly in the dorms since I soon discovered that, in the words of Hank Jr., “hangovers hurt more than they used to” and that despite the military dorm life encouraging the partying while not working atmosphere, nobody liked a loudmouth asshole that needed his “arse” kicked across Suffolk.
Besides, there were only so many opportunities for people to actually talk down an angry person who was hell bent on putting foot to ass before foot got put to ass. These people might have wanted that, but it seemed like my friends didn’t want that, and I definitely didn’t want that.
Bukowski never discovered this as a viable reason for not drinking, and he died as everyone eventually does, but he didn’t die after getting a little aggressive on quite a few nights. In his case, death by leukemia was the official reason for not being able to write anything new. Somehow, despite years of abuse and mistreatment, he went on and on like an Energizer Bunny where other bodies were infected and destroyed at much earlier ages. In the end, death collects everyone as it did with other seasoned users and abusers like William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. Their words remain, but the flesh decays and vanishes into dust.
As Kurt Vonnegut would say 113 times, “So it goes.”
Nevertheless, not every tortured artist vanishes from this mortal coil as quickly as other artists or creatively-inclined abusers do. Some get to stick around and create a museum’s worth of memories to be anthologized / displayed / sold. Others go fast and have their artifacts shipped to the Death Museum in Hollywood in the hopes that someone will pay cash to see them.
Apparently, people do pay  $15 for the privilege to see grisly death images. As Yakov Smirnoff used to say, “What a country!”

I discovered Charles Bukowski in the same way I discovered Henry Miller and Nietzsche: An interview / article I was reading about Henry Rollins discussed his favorite authors. I also remember Flannery O’ Connor being on the list as well (though I didn’t read her at the time since her name was Flannery), but seeing as this was the first hardcore / punk magazine I ever discovered (written in the latter half of the 1980s), it was like a series of fireworks going off in my cultural conscience. Without looking at the actual article, I can say that I have no offhand memory for who else was on the list. All I knew at the time was that if someone cool was saying what he read, then I should be reading these authors, as well.
In this, it’s fair to say that Bukowski is the last generation’s John Berryman, another self-destructive cult poet who was immortalized by Nick Cave, The Hold Steady, and Okkervil River’s song “John Allyn Smith Sales,” which intertwines his suicide with the lyrics to The Beach Boys “Sloop John B.” For my money, Okkervil River has created one of the best songs ever written by doing this, and it is my honest hope that they release this song on a seven inch purple album that can be imported from Cambodia on 180grain vinyl at a cost that at least doubles most serious collector’s salaries per hour.
Because when they do release it, all the true hipster collectors, you know, the people like I once was, will have to have it, and for this, they will see how great the song really is, and maybe, just maybe, it will get a chance at true love in typical artistic a decade or two later affection.
But John Berryman, John Berryman… if you are the voice of this newest community of overgrown teenagers transformed into adults who are now on a mission to go in search of their version of some lost American (or in the case of Nick Cave, Australian) dreams only to lose the meaning of everything else that once seemed so certain in that way that is the avenue of existentialism and nihilism and all that endless time spent searching for something, anything, slightly real in this dead world kingdom that we live in, what would you have found if there were anything for you to find out there?
Couldn’t you have pretended to find Satan while drinking cheap whiskey straight out of the bottle and sexing up hoochies on the Sunset Strip like Motley Crue did? Couldn’t you have lifted weights and had the lyrics to a song by the Stooges tattooed to your back like Henry Rollins? Couldn’t you have at least found God in one of his varying incarnations that weren’t Christianity, or for that matter, couldn’t you have gotten born again to take control and make sense of your life while playing out some Christian thrash metal album?
Isn’t that what it’s all about?
But you didn’t, and you wrote profusely enough, and now that you’re over 40 years in the ground, there’s a pretty good collection of tributes to you. I know that people are collecting them and anthologizing them as we speak.
I, for one, have them several of them.
I sit and I often wonder what the truth as a registered trademark and copyrighted patent is myself, but for all of the truth in what that is and isn’t, I can still hear your voice, even though I’ve never heard you speak, John Berryman. So tell me, if I were to sit down next to you to hear you read from your book of dreams, what would you tell me? Do you have any words that you would like me to read as I peruse the library in search of your text in order to read these sacred words, these funerary rights?

“Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so. After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns, we ourselves flash and yearn, and moreover my mother told me as a boy (repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored means you have no Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no inner resources, because I am heavy bored. People bore me, literature bores me, especially great literature, Henry bores me, with his plights and gripes as bad as Achilles, who loves people and valiant art, which bores me. And the tranquil hills & gin, look like a drag and somehow a dog has taken itself & its tail considerably away into the mountains or sea or sky, leaving behind: me, wag.”

But Berryman is not my voice. Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins is not my voice, though I think “Mayonnaise” is one of the best songs I’ve heard. Bukowski is no longer my voice, if he ever was, despite the fact that I sit here, and I do hear him speak in a voice that I pretend to remember as his, despite the fact that I haven’t heard that voice in almost 2 decades, despite the fact that I’m only hearing his voice because I have come to understand how it’s just history repeating itself as I am a part of his poem.

Each man must realize that it can all disappear very quickly, the cat, the woman, the job, the front tire, the bed, the walls, the room; all our necessities including love, rest on foundations of sand - and any given cause, no matter how unrelated: the death of a boy in Hong Kong or a blizzard in Omaha… can serve as your undoing. All your chinaware crashing to the floor, your girl will enter and you’ll be standing, drunk, in the center of it and she’ll ask: my god, what’s the matter? And you’ll answer:
I don’t know, I don’t know…

Reading Bukowski excessively and intently occurred during a time period before I read anything else, so having a list of some sort like the one that Henry Rollins gave me worked. It was like first discovering punk bands off of a list that a fellow 10th grader put together back in 1986. Many of the SST, Alternative Tentacles, and Dischord bands graced the pages as did other bands that would end up being part of a little book called Our Band Could Be Your Life. And it’s true; you were my life before literature took over and defined me as a person. I collected you in the same way that said kid collected bands, and I memorized your lines so that if I were ever asked, I could show proof that I had made you my own.
Heaven forbid that there was no proof. This would make the person a poseur.

Nevertheless, I had to get rid of so many bands from the list before I found the ones that would be me. Take the Exploited for example. I was lent their crappy, unproduced Punk’s Not Dead tape by my cousin, and somehow, I lost the cover to it. I had to search high and low to find another copy of the tape to give back to her in an “as I found it” condition. Since said tape was distributed by some fly by night, basement-run company, this wasn’t just a go to the mall thing to do. I eventually found it at the cool strip mall in a store called Record Revolution, and when it was all said and done, it cost me $10 to replace and prevented me from buying something that would equally and just as quickly have been labeled as worthless and forgettable. What’s worse was that in the end, it turned out she didn’t even like the tape to begin with. Nevertheless, I had done the right thing and returned it to her in the same condition I found it.
I guess that’s what happens when you try to do the honest thing.
But strangely enough, for a few hours in 1987, it was a trend to own and listen to these British scumbags with their big mohawks and lack of musical talent – at least a few times through - before throwing the tape on the scrapheap. All things considered, it lasted longer than the period of time that I listened to the Cro Mags, but not nearly as long as Agnostic Front.

Years passed by from those formative years that Bob Mould would sing about being so damn important, and I began to read voraciously. Nevertheless, it took a while for reading to truly become the defining place that I would go to for knowledge and messages to be received as if they were secretly barked to me from the mouth of some conspiratorial canine – at least messages other than those that were found in some British weekly rock magazine format.
Some of the music and the books that I later picked up were good. Other stuff was whatever you would call Trout Fishing in America. Even my college English teacher who lent me the book had no clue what it was supposed to be about. He just thought I would like it because I read Beat Generation stuff. In hindsight, Richard Brautigan’s novels offered nothing to me, and I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks that they offered something to him or her – at least anyone who wasn’t taking mind-altering drugs in excessive quantities.
The same is true for the vast majority of books that I read for reports on things like the Theater of the Absurd. Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author… great ideas. Edward Albee’s plays… enjoyable. Some of Beckett… a little bit of Ionesco… it works, but it’s very repetitive and definitely not beach reading, so for what can be gained by immersing oneself in dramatic readings by said sad sack Europeans, I’ll take it reduced to quotes and summaries and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

Along the way, there were enough reputable voices to inspire me with their lists of great works that were actually great and not just a moment in time. The gal who inspired me to read e.e. Cummings showed me an artist of words who expressed the positivity and potential for all things while at the same time she had the ability to express positive things about me – at least for the short period of time that I was saying copious amounts of nice things about her.
This is how it works, you know.
At the same time, said gal spoke to me of Camus before I knew what a secular humanist was, and she railed against Robert Frost before I realized that I was going to be taking every slightly poetic soul’s “road less traveled” with the good New Englander. The next gal down the line assured me of that, even if I wasn’t ready for the literature that she gave me.
When I found Gatsby all those years later, it was drunken Daisy in the bathtub with a string of pearls and a drenched letter, crying over the man who wasn’t ever allowed to stay that hit me the hardest. The rest of the story was much better than some younger me wanted to stick around to figure out.
Nevertheless, I eventually did stick it out, and coincidentally, I came to realize that the true message that Roaring Twenties expressed, the one that most people is expressed so well through the poetic voice of Fitzgerald, was quite clearly the message of gangsta rap:
Capitalism was a wonderful thing when you could find the status symbols of women and wealth and power, but in the end, you were never anything more than what you were before you got started – no matter how expensive your suit or how big your vocabulary had grown. You could do the girls and the parties and the hedonistic pursuits to be played out however you wanted them, but in the end, there was very little truth. You could accept your cash for product placement, but in the end, the product was you.

So yeah, fortunately, I was able to store the need to read The Great Gatsby  in the back of my mind long enough to eventually go back to it so that I could determine that Jay Gatz was just Shawn Carter 70-80 years before his time.
In Jay-Z’s words that he, “Used to tell my friends I was ugly and wouldn’t touch me and then I showed up in that dubbed out buggy and then they got fussy and they don’t remember that and I don’t remember you,” it seems so completely plausible to find him now hanging with Beyonce and Blue Ivy and Justin Timberlake and running the Brooklyn Nets and signing Robinson Cano, buying an island for the wife’s birthday, but still smarting over his wounds that he felt throughout his life back in the days when he was hanging with Biggie. The scene of now quickly intersperses with images of then as Daisy and Gatsby, lost in love, spending stolen moments of time apart from Tom, everything so perfect until the climactic fight sequence and all that happens after it. It was all coming to this. There was only one way it could end.
There’s only one way that anything can end, but in this, it is what it is, which is a chunk of the American dream lost in the reality of time, and holding onto the moments of specialness and promise and hope and love and loss all expressed through some poetic medium of being crazy in love, “how your love’s got me looking so crazy right now,” but it’s all just a fleeting moment, a sensation lost, but preserved in the amber of literature, song, art, poetry, film, interpretive dance, or television.
And if that’s the case, then there’s someone waiting to collect it. That’s where I and those people like me come in. Here it is. Breathe me in and consume me. I’m yours as long as you want me to be.

Looking back, I can clearly say that many of these authors have meaning in my life, but they aren’t me in the same way that Walt Whitman’s ideas were and are me.
I’m an American. I may have lived a long period of my life in England, but unlike T.S. Eliot, I wasn’t ready to take an oath to King and Queen and Country. Nevertheless, I appreciated and loved England, it’s just that I never was British, so instead, I would need to abandon the British influences in favor of something uniquely American if I were ever to write a book, something that could be my “Rip Van Winkle,” my Washington Irving or Irving Washington, which I could use to help me formulate my voice as some mystic poet who no longer writes poetry, let alone a person who kept any of his poetry, which was shredded + buried in a garbage dump or ashes in the waters of Blue Marsh Lake. Thus, I took to Mr. Whitman, slowly at first, as I realized what he could offer me that Thoreau and Emerson couldn’t or didn’t go far enough in doing to convert me to this literary person that I was to become.
And the literary gospel of Dan be expressed, I really like what Whitman says and inspires with his poems, all of the ones that I’ve read and remember, and I really like how they help me to overcome my own inadequacies by envisioning the glorious American destiny of expansion and change and becoming, in the words of Kid President, more awesome. In that, Whitman’s poems are more inspirational than thinking about what is and isn’t, which is what it seems that Berryman and Bukowski really choose to do with their typed out missives to fellow depressives and angst-ridden slackers who have had one too many to drink. I say that fully acknowledging that I can be all of the above, but frankly, I’d rather not be either of these guys. I can’t say I want to be Robert Frost either, but I do agree that I don’t want some people in my yard either. My wife agrees, and for this, she wants to build a really big hedgerow.
In the end, she’ll get what she wants, and if we stay in the house, someday, we probably will have that giant barrier of bushes to keep the neighbors out.
For those times when we don’t have neighbors and big barking dogs or unruly stray cats that we need to keep out, there is Whitman and his words that express what we do want to let in.

“I think heroic deeds were all conceiv'd in the open air, and all free poems also, I think I could stop here myself and do miracles, I think whatever I shall meet on the road I shall like, and whoever beholds me shall like me, I think whoever I see must be happy. From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, Going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me. I inhale great draughts of space, The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.  I am larger, better than I thought, I did not know I held so much goodness. All seems beautiful to me…”

And yes, there are a million other variations of Whitman, black + white, old + young, dead + alive, gay + straight, male + female, and every other variation of such, but I don’t really connect to them like I do to him. For instance, nobody I ever met gave me Dylan Thomas’ spirited poems to see me raging “against the dying of the light,” but if I think back to early experiences, I would know that Rodney Dangerfield tried to while he brought me Kurt Vonnegut a decade before I was lent Slaughterhouse Five. I never did read that book at the time that my friend gave it to me, but a year later or so, I picked it up for the first time and read it just as quickly as I read Mother Night. Since that time, I’ve read it more than a dozen times, which is more than I’ve ever read any book cover to cover except maybe Stranger than Science by Frank Edwards. I never did keep track of how many times I read that book, but as it was my favorite book as a kid, I assume it to be quite a few.
The only other book that’s even close is how many times that I’ve read Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild… and watched it and read its shorter version entitled “Death of an Innocent”.
All the same, I was given books like The Great Gatsby and The Scarlet Letter before I “got” them. In that same way, I learned, as a former high school English teacher, all too slowly that we kill literature for kids by making them read it before they get it. We do even more damage if we love it and want them to love it like we do, too, but that’s a whole other story.
At the time, I loved it so much, and as I type these words, I remember how much I loved it, but now, now I seem to have left it behind. What happened?

I remember the people who gave me these words. I remember their friendships, teachings, mannerisms, loves acknowledged and unrequited, and I remember how much it all meant at the time, and then, it didn’t mean anything. The long walks talking about the precious artistic stuff, and then it just vanished with the people I talked to about these things. However, if it was not for these people, would I have even been a teacher? What path would my life have walked down if I never met these people, learned their lessons, felt their presence? Is it even possible that this is all just a dream, played out in slow motion as if it were some variation of “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” a vision experienced while sitting beside a lake in 1994, reading Henry Miller’s Sexus and hearing what I should be doing with my life, but too afraid to be it, yet all the while, ready to throw myself headfirst into the future with the next beautiful woman who can offer it to me.

The words just fell out of me, like hot shot. I told him where I stood, how messy things were, how things were happening nevertheless, what grand hopes I had, what a life lay before me if I could only take hold of it, squeeze it, marshal it, conquer it. I lied a bit. It was impossible to admit to him, this stranger who had come to my rescue out of a clear sky, that I was a total failure. What had I written thus far?

I had written poems, prose, letters, and other nonsense scribblings that did little more than to teach me how to express my mind without fear of consequence. Sometimes, they would be repetitive and empty. Other times, they would be long-winded and powerful, going on for pages and pages.

In the middle of the book I would explode. Why not? There were plenty of writers who could drag a thing out to the end without letting go of the reins; what we needed was a man, like myself for instance, who didn’t give a fuck what happened. Dostoevski hadn’t gone quite far enough. I was for straight gibberish. One should go cuckoo! People have had enough of plot and character. Plot and character don’t make life. Life isn’t in the upper storey:  life is here now, any time you say the word, any time you let rip. Life is four hundred and forty horsepower in a two-cylinder engine.”

I had never read Dostoevsky at the time. I had heard of him, but it would be years before I would read him… Notes from the UndergroundThe Brothers KaramazovWhite Nights… the words of the narrator, told in the same belief that Dos Passos’ character John Andrews had while he was trying to escape the Army to write music for the woman who would complete him, but who never did, leaving his pages to flutter in the air as they took him away from his dreams in a more thorough way than her love ever did. In that same way, Dostoevsky’s affirmation to the truth of lost, unrequited, and fleeting love says it all:

"But that I should feel any resentment against you, Nastenka! That I should cast a dark shadow over your bright, serene happiness! ...That I should crush a single one of those delicate blooms which you will wear in your dark hair when you walk up the aisle to the altar with him! Oh no — never, never! May your sky be always clear, may your dear smile be always bright and happy, and may you be forever blessed for that moment of bliss and happiness which you gave to another lonely and grateful heart ... Good Lord, only a moment of bliss? Isn't such a moment sufficient for the whole of a man's life?"

Was this similar expression of love not completed the place that I was always destined to end up at? Was Henry Miller the literary dynamite that was always going to lead me to the here and there that I found as a result of his words? As his seductress came close and whispered words in his ears, so too did my own temptress whisper words in my ears. Was it always going to be the feeling that she was falling in love with me, but that it was up to me not to let anything happen because I was the stronger of the two of us, and I was the one who could be blamed if that fateful kiss ever happened, sitting in the stairway with two eyes staring up at us?
Was all of this necessary so that I could find more blissful and painful moments after she went back to the university world of the time she knew before we were together? Was her time meant to do something because of our brief overlapping of shared experiences?
In short, why was any of this?

She came close and put out her two hands for me to grasp. ‘I am sure you must be a very good writer,’ she said. ‘You have suffered. I can see that.’

And while it was wrong to do everything for literature, for art, for a story to tell, something to ruin large chunks of my life with as I lived in fear of ever having to tell the secret truths and hidden pains, it was a more powerful jolt toward an expression of all things that would be. I regret none of it, and I regret every single moment of it despite the fact that without it, there would be no words on any of these pages.
I would have never found the road through Nevada without you. The Loneliest Highway in America would never have brought me to St. Louis for a home run to seal the deal. In all of this, I would never have become a teacher. I would have been some other me, and I’d like to think that he would have been a good person, but the truth is that this person needed to be destroyed and thoroughly incinerated to make room for someone better, someone who could offer something to the rest of the world.
I think of all of these things, and I realize that I’m not in Owl Creek. I’m in Lancaster County. It is now 20 years later. All of this is real. What’s left is the figuring out.  And it is true that “we have said the necessary things, and getting out is next, only I’d like to say no matter what they’ve said, I’ve never been mad at anything.” All that’s left is the answers, the next destinations, the truths, the loves, the fingers on the flesh, and the hope that all things could be what they need to be, headed in that direction that everything went before the promises of the satori incinerated before me. I want to be and do something that is as meaningful as any of this seemed, but I don’t know what that thing is – at least in the way that it would pay the mortgage.

My head was spinning as she raised the glass to her lips. I knew that this was the preliminary to some strange adventure. I had a strong intuition that he would presently find some excuse to leave us alone for a while and that without a word being said, she would pass into my arms. I felt too that I would never see either of them again.”

And I never did see you again. I never wanted to after it all went away.
I think of that moment that I was driving an Austin Maestro down the A45, steadily motoring into Cambridge. The Maestro isn’t anything to speak of; rather, it’s just a small-motored car that was boxlike and ugly, red and bruised from several lifetimes of use and lack of care. The stereo played, and the music filled my head as I passed the first houses and entered into the city. I drove through the roundabouts and past the car dealerships to park my car in one of the many inner city parking lots on that cool February afternoon. When I was there, I passed the record and book stores that I once religiously frequented and walked down the alleys that a hopeful and romantic, sadomasochistic and cowardly version of me once frequented and thought about the gal that I was with on those times and all the things that happened between us.
It could have been so much if…
I then shifted into what seemed to be a haze of movement, the kind of passage that fate ordains, but this was an action that was deliberate in all of its ways and means before I ever entered the celebrated collegiate world of southeastern Britain. I wandered into that back alley and gazed across to the tree-lined riverside. Nobody noticed me as I drifted against a railing and held out my hand.
This was exactly how I wanted it.
The world became a singular image of motion as my hand reached into my jacket’s pocket, and then it came out clasped for a second until it quickly unclenched. With palm facing downward, the water gently splashed, and if someone was to look closely enough, he or she could see a weight lift off my body, as the pent up ghosts danced on the streets. I was free.
Or so I would have liked to have thought.
I thought of her one last time and how she was gone forever. I thought of all the things that I had done to remove her and what I was doing to create a new truth where she didn’t exist. I was so confident that she was gone, but as I walked unburdened, the ghosts followed me and smiled as they got into the car with me.
When I returned home, I admitted to the deed and my triumph over adversity and all that I had done to destroy my life in the name of love, art and appeasement of the anxieties and neuroses that were my life. Being acknowledged and made a spectacle of are the things that the ghosts like. They have been let back in, and while she is rarely mentioned in the time between her final appearances, the burning of her image, and the moment on the bridge, the failure of her lifetime presence in my life as a major character will always be there until the kiss of a beautiful woman comes with the understanding that I have been forgiven for my transgressions and for my worth as a lover to her.
I think of the kiss that I can’t remember from this next her. I remember it was very powerful and affectionate, and I remember that in certain instances, it shattered reality. In an English park, I can remember the rains coming down as we rushed to get into the car, and there we were, the two of us engaged in this kiss, and it was all good and powerful and real and it was filled with love, the love that the woman I wanted it to be from couldn’t bring but the love that this new she did bring, and it was great and wonderful, and as I slipped into it, I slipped out of any feelings that I once had for her, and with that, the two of us in this car were now a permanent (temporary) we.
And in that moment, that was even better.

“‘The trouble with you,’ she said slowly and deliberately, ‘is that you’ve never set yourself a task worthy of your powers. You need bigger problems, bigger difficulties. You don’t function properly until you’re hard pressed. I don’t know what you’re doing but I’m certain that your present life is not suited to you. You were meant to lead a dangerous life; you can take greater risks than others because… well, you probably know it yourself… because you are protected.’ Protected? ‘I don’t understand,’ I blurted out. ‘Oh yes you do,’ she answered quietly. ‘All your life you’ve been protected. Just think a moment…  Haven’t you been near death several times… haven’t you always found someone to help you, some stranger usually, just when you thought all was lost? Haven’t you committed several crimes already, crimes which nobody would suspect you of? Aren’t you right now in the midst of a very dangerous passion, an affair which if you weren’t born under a lucky star, might lead you to ruin?’”

And I have been. I made it out of England. I made it through to teaching as a career. I taught for ten years in a college despite multiple moments of wondering how I ever made it through student teaching or the first year or the third year or the first semester when there were no classes to teach. I wonder how I made it to a graduate assistantship in between being called onto the carpet for someone’s lies about my advisings and the immediate moments before leaving to get married. It all worked out so very perfectly. It always kept me moving toward this moment in time where I would still be teaching, doing what I was called to do, as if this moment was always supposed to happen.
None of this is too different from how that moment with her, the mistake of mistakes, which I look at now as being preordained by fate, played out in a way that showed it was something that was meant to happen.
And as I look back on everything, it’s not too dissimilar from the dance of John Wilkes Booth and Abe Lincoln. Everything came down to fate. How could it not be meant to happen if the most angry force of Southern retribution was going to host the President of the United States at his theater in the heart of Washington D.C.? How was that not meant to end in “sic semper tyrannis?” How could there have been anything other than Ford’s Theater, the Peterson House, the Surratt Tavern, Dr. Mudd, and the barn being burned down in the woods before shots were fired and other conspirators were rounded up for their infractions?
And how could I not be intertwined to her forever even though we haven’t seen one another since February of 1995?
And equally so, how was it not meant to be if the universe had opened it up so that it was possible to be there with her and offer up the future in a loving act of suicide / suicidal act of love, when having one thing out of this perfect disorder would have meant that none of it would have ever possibly been?
Without this, there is no Eureka, Nevada. There is no Mesa Verde or Wounded Knee. There is no Toledo, Ohio, or Ephrata, Pennsylvania. There is no Pacific Ocean. There is no Gulf Coast. There is no roadside siesta in Big Bend National Park. I never make it to the Wave because the Wave never exists for me. I never arrive at Walden Pond, the Great Serpent Mound, or Roswell, New Mexico. I never see Arches, Zion, Bryce, the Muir Woods, Devil’s Tower, or Yellowstone National Parks. I am never transformed by Fenway, Wrigley, Camden Yards, the Ballpark, Yankee Stadium, Veterans Stadium, Commerica, Busch Stadium, or Citizen’s Bank Ballpark. If not for my time with her, I never answer George Hackenburg’s question of why I was taking his English class let alone get to sit in all of Ron Borkert’s English classes. I would never have been to Mardis Gras or Sturgis Bike Week. I never would have driven coast to coast twice, and I never would have made 2 trips that were just short of coast to coast. I would have never made any of those great American road trips of several thousand miles.
I wouldn’t have been influenced by all of the people that I am now. In fact, none of my heroes were the people that they are now. If not for these mistakes in 1994, I would have been enamored by a whole host of other people, still existing as I did at 18, only now I am an older version of that with no learning or life experience, probably delivering pizza or buried under the weight of a life that never fulfilled any of its promise.
If not for her, I would still be me, but I don’t see that I would have been a good me.

“‘It isn’t a woman you need – it is an instrument to liberate yourself. You crave a more adventurous life, you want to break your chains. Whoever the woman is you love I pity her. To you she will appear to be the stronger, but that is only because you doubt yourself. You are the stronger. You will always be stronger – because you can think only of yourself, of your destiny, if you were just a little stronger I would fear for you. You might make a dangerous fanatic. But that is not your fate. You’re too sane, too healthy. You love life even more than your own self. You are confused, because whomsoever or whatever you give yourself to is never enough for you – isn’t that true? Nobody can hold you for too long: you are always looking beyond the object of your love, looking for something you will never find. You will have to look inside yourself if you ever hope to free yourself of your torment. You make friends easily, I’m sure. And yet there is no one whom you can really call your friend. You are alone. You will always be alone. You want too much, more than life can offer…’”

And I sit here now and think of what it’s going to take for one more of these moments to happen. What is that great life affirming moment? What great American literary moment will happen and make me its character in the same way that it made Henry Miller the main character of his own fictional works. Must I look through the rest of the old books to figure out what I have missed? What clue has been laid in the text of my schooling of me to bring me to the conclusion of what I needed to be taught or what I need to do in this great adventure that now leaves me wondering what the hell it was all for. I can’t understand unless it’s the fact that I never realized that the most obvious answer is to think about who needed to undergo the stages of this Monomyth to come to the place that he needed to be…
Or is it all just a case of rejecting the fated conclusion with some burst of free will or clouded apathy?

So yes, it’s true that I’ve read these authors and books that I was meant to learn from other times as well. Sometimes, I really liked them. Sometimes, they were OK. I get their point. I’ve felt their characters and how they reflect America in what they are and aren’t. The same can be said for my introductions to Tom Joad and Joe Christmas, Captain Ahab and Hester Prynne, John Yossarian and Jake Barnes, and let us not forget, Holden Caulfield and Buck the Dog. America is a very complex place. Our identities aren’t simple.
Like Bill Clinton, we’re all complicated men with a few difficult women thrown in for good measure. It’s how we roll. If you understand that you can’t understand us without digging underneath the iceberg’s surface, you know why that teacher made you read all of those really short Hemingway stories (like “A Very Short Story”). Susan Hartman was right… Faulkner gets easier with examination. Hemingway gets more and more confusing.
But America, America is a place of beauty and diversity and extremes. It’s a place where people can get lost and found and drift off into the corners where forgotten images adorn cliffs or they can abandon everything American altogether and take a ferry / airplane  to England so that they can borrow as many literary references as they can squeeze into a 432-line poem as they possibly can. It was a sign of the times or as Prince would say, a “sign o’ the times.”
Henry Miller could relate to this, too, and he would agree with Alabama Whitman that “it goes the other way, too.

“Suddenly it occurred to me that if I wanted I could go back to America myself. It was the first time the opportunity had ever presented itself. I asked myself- “do you want to go?” There was no answer. My thoughts drifted out toward the sea, toward the other side where, taking a last look back, I had seen the skyscrapers fading out in a flurry of snowflakes. I saw them looming up again, in that same ghostly way as when I left. Saw the lights creeping through their ribs. I saw the whole city spread out from Harlem to the Battery, the streets choked with ants, the elevated rushing by, the theaters emptying. I wondered in a vague way what had happened to my wife. After everything had quietly sifted through my head, a great peace came over me...
The sun is setting. I feel the river flowing through me- its past, its ancient soil, the changing climate. The hills gently girdle it about: its course is fixed.”

            If we think about it simply, the key is being where we need to be for as long as we need to be there and learning from all of the opportunities that are placed before them.

And people can theoretically do most of what they need to do with the things that they are given. They can take these old lines, and they can write stories about Benji, Cassie, and Quentin, and they can borrow lines from Shakespeare to name the whole story, but don’t steal their biggest one liners from their works or the descendants will pitch a fit. And what’s more, as they pull their undies out of their collective cracks, they will sue for damages if you’re a big famous director and / or movie studio with money to spare because it’s true that the copyright’s not even dead, in fact it’s not even past when it comes to extorting living expenses out of you, oh creative artist, for daring to take from me, more recognized creative artist.
            Unless you’re some obscure Ben Folds Five song on Whatever and Ever Amen. Then, you’re relatively safe with your past references unless the Faulkner family is reading this.

            And in the end, wasn’t that what Faulkner was, a creative artist toiling through the hard times all the way through everything that he learned to obtain the Nobel Prize for literature?
                Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
            And in the end, hasn’t the bard of Mississippi found as much audience as he can from college professors name-checking him with mandatory assignments, much like the one that I once gave to high school students as I “forced” them to sit through As I Lay Dying in much the same way that Oprah forced her readers to endure a Summer of Faulkner with As I Lay Dying, Light in August, and The Sound and the Fury? Hasn’t Faulkner reached full potential for who he is going to be in the libraries and bookstores in America?
            Or are we led to believe that the cult of literature majors are just jonesing for another version of the book to get released so that they can make it go straight back on the book charts once again. Ask John Darnielle… there’s no chance for the Canterbury Tales to make it happen, so there’s no chance for Faulkner or loving you again or the “Cubs in Five.”
            And yes, isn’t that much the same as Eliot’s Wasteland? For to look at it as anything other than an experiment in creativity / fair use is to see Eliot as a plagiarist (and given the opportunity, there were lots of great name-checkers and translators back then). In this, is there or was there ever an idea that was brand new under the sun, except maybe something that was told about the Annunaki in the ancient Sumerian classic Gilgamesh, which appears to be gaining new life in its ties to Ancient Alien Theory? What can be said about the lost works of Aeschylus or Euripides or Sophocles, all vying for the best way to tell the same story for the audience in question? Is there a difference in how the Electra Myth is told and in how the destruction and salvation of the White House plays out in multiple but way too similar ways in Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down? Some are a little more violent, but not that violent that we would ever stray from the rules that Aristotle laid down for tragedy as they would never show the spectacle of a child being killed, even if they toy with the idea that the bad guys might go after the kid with ransom or death in mind.
            Suspense is one thing, but box office take is a more important thing. Even the ancient Greeks got this concept.

            And so it is that we have nothing new left to say, so let us be crabs at the bottom of the ocean, lost and meaningless, like the feelings of all of the great existentialists, nihilists, and poets who spent too long exposed to harsh cold and rainy weather with coffee spoons at the butt end of days.
`That is not what I meant at all. That is not it, at all.''
And after everything, it could be anything that brings the moment to where it is. Anything could be the final lynchpin to fall and leave everything collapsing until it falls as far as it will because there is no set in stone bottom. It is possible to keep falling. Bukowski was right with his examples. One thing and then another and then the whole house of cards collapses under its own weight. Knowing that it was always heading to here is something. That this mining town was going to catch fire seems to have been preordained. Where once it was strong and solid, now, it was left to be burning. It has been doing this for a baker’s dozen years. Now, its undersides are incinerating. There isn’t much left to go. There is nothing left to chance in any of this. It was always going to be.
The celluloid image of Mel Gibson speaks to Joaquin Phoenix:
“People break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign, evidence, that there is someone up there, watching out for them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck. Just a happy turn of chance. I'm sure the people in group number two are looking at those fourteen lights in a very suspicious way. For them, the situation is a fifty-fifty. Could be bad, could be good. But deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they're on their own. And that fills them with fear. Yeah, there are those people. But there's a whole lot of people in group number one. When they see those fourteen lights, they're looking at a miracle. And deep down, they feel that whatever's going to happen, there will be someone there to help them. And that fills them with hope. See what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, that sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way: Is it possible that there are no coincidences?” 

Until this moment, everything has been lining up to be what it is going to be in the here and now. Every song listened to, every book read, every movie watched, and every television show that played across the room. They combined with long since forgotten conversations and once all-so important bodies that haven’t been thought of in decades. They are the images and spoken words that made up my life. They are the friends that I made and the people that I left behind, as well as the people that left me behind. As a collector, I brought them all to bear, and I carry them up with me as I climb this mountain, the only place that I feel in control, as I process the memories together into a book that shall come to be The American Book of the Dead.
For years and years, this path that I was on traveled through Lake Almanor and into the Toiyabe Mountains and on to a baseball game in Missouri. Years later, it went through to cliff dwellings of the Southwest. It took a wild turn up through spectral images of the Ghost Dance before redemption allowed it to head on through to a botanical garden in northern Ohio and finally allowed it to settle into Pennsylvania’s Amish Country. Somewhere out there is the lost cities of gold or shit, whatever they may be that made up that form the town of Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania. It was all so long ago. And now that this is all gone, thrust years into the future is somewhere else, a place that is waiting to be discovered… a place to sit down and talk to Scott Wolter about as we knock back some Yuenglings and reflect on archaeo-astronomy and the ancient peoples that laid down the foundations of this last while staring through perfectly placed rocks at lunar formations. Somewhere out there, lost in all of the stars and the heavens, is a destination that we are all headed to.
The stars that will guide us are all burning brightly in the sky. The relics and monuments that we are creating reflect our worship of the things that will bring us there. The visionaries that we will follow will guide us to be on that path.  It is all moving there as we speak.
But is it ever moving quickly enough?

When we get there, will its meaning be any less overstated, overdramatized, and incorrectly interpreted as those words were that I felt coursing through my brain as I traveled down Highway 50 on the Loneliest Highway and believed that there was a place out there in the academic halls of this universe for me because I had traveled through this place here and seen a million stars while listening to the music of Uncle Tupelo after wiping the shells and bodily fluids of tens of thousands of Mormon crickets off of my car? Was there to be some semblance of meaning in all of those times that kept me going along this path I was on when everything could have fallen apart?
I was miraculously saved. There was no time left on the clock, but the ball was in the air, and then, there I was, and now, here I am.
Did I make it through all of that to fail at this moment, with this incident, at the hands of these people, or is there something else?
Am I to wait around and be finished off by some other person who is yet to come?
Was the person that I was supposed to teach me, or was I supposed to be here for someone else?
If John the Baptist was meant to teach the Savior, what equivalent of purpose was I to be if I was always meant to meet all of these people and interact with their futures? Was it “all just a brick in the wall,” mine or someone else’s, or was I really meant to guide someone to greatness or learning or ?
Or was it all some misinterpreted moment that signified nothing?
Was this just me learning how I can have all of the power that other people used against me, and I can be forced to decide what the answer to each e-mail and request will be as I am forced to decide if “they were always exposed to destruction; as one that stands or walks in slippery places is always exposed to fall? That they were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction… that they are liable to fall of themselves… that the reason why they are not fallen already and do not fall now is only that God’s appointed time is not come. For it is said, that when that due time, or appointed time comes, their foot shall slide. Then they shall be left to fall as they are inclined by their own weight.
Am I really this all great and powerful one who has a choice between 5 basic keystrokes and 2 additional ones to say if said accomplishment is on the high side or the low side of said keystroke? How did I get to become the arbiter of deciding when fairness is giving a chance or not giving a chance? Is my ability to discern really as good as I would have once liked to believe that it was?
And if I am truly capable and worthy of giving this decision out, how can I not give other, better though similar leadership directives / professional decisions instead and leave this whole life behind once and for all so that I can abandon any future consequences of that moment of “clarity” in favor of a moment of fame, fortune, and respectability?

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worthwhile,
After the
sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the
novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor--
And this, and so much more?--
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a
magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worthwhile
If one, settling a pillow, or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
        ``That is not it at all,
        That is not what I meant, at all.''
No! I am not
Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress,
start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous--
Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old . . . I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and
walk upon the beach.

Once again, I stop and wonder what really brought me here. How did I manage to get to this place when there are so many other things that I wanted to do, but I never could stay focused and motivated to do, but somehow, this one… this one out of all the ones… I’m here, and it’s real, and it’s not Owl Creek, so I’m here, and you’re here with me. You’re listening, and even though it feels like all I say is my confusion and frustration, it’s not – it’s love and meaning and affection and philosophy and a point of view, but while I was striving to find that, I ended up here, but the good thing is that even though this decision has caused me so much pain, the good thing is that it’s left me with you, and so for that, for better or for worse, you are here with me… even though you couldn’t sign a phone contract, you signed a marriage license, and you said, “I do,” and you gave me some of the best years of your life while I tried to give you the best years of mine, and yeah, somehow, we ended up here at this Place of Dead Roads, and I’m ready to throw all of those things that once defined me away… even though they gave me a life to find you, and of course I don’t want to say goodbye to you… I want to love you forever in a way that if I can say goodbye to this other identity that I no longer identify with, will allow me to be there for both you and I far more clearly, but I’m scared, and I’m trapped inside of me, and I don’t know what’s what anymore. I feel paralyzed by my own futility and inability and life. I could be the man Henry Miller was destined to be in the words of that woman.  
I just need you to help me do it, and with that, I just know you, and I want to keep knowing you and loving you and making memories, but the waves are crashing, and I want to believe that I am ebbing with the ocean of life, but the tide is rough, and I feel all alone and lost.

“I too Paumanok. I too have bubbled up, floated the measureless float, and been wash’d on your shores. I too am but a trail of drift and debris, I too leave little wrecks upon you, you fish shaped island.”

These are the places, the lives we live, and the culmination of these places, the intersection of these literary avenues is the product of so many things and so many voices that I have heard. Why did I hear them? Why did I voraciously absorb any of this? Was I really just to regale someone with obscure music, classic American literature, forgotten television shows, and pop culture moments?
Or was there something more?
What can you show me that I am missing in this? I have to know before I get too all alone and lost to ever make something of these words?

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

            The moment is here, and it is now, and it is forever, though it is only momentary, but it feels so confusing and has left me trapped and wondering.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us,
and we drown.

This is the best and the worst trip I’ve ever been on…

Or is there something else I haven’t considered? Please, show me. I don’t know how much longer I can wait.

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