Roadside Litter

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Soundtrack “In My Own Way” by Ray LaMontagne

We headed up highway 1, through the rugged northern California redwoods. The Pacific Ocean lingers to the West, reminding me that there are no new lands to discover.  We continue north into Oregon. The long drive gives us time to talk about “all things” and the “nothings” that come with idly watching the miles and moments tick by. Our mission is to take my best-friends daughter Taylor to Eugene to start her first year of college. The ritual of watching ones child head out into the world for the first time is worrisome. Our long drive up the coast will draw out the emotional baggage that comes with slow goodbyes. There is no word for that feeling that comes with knowing this indifferent world is waiting to test the character of someone you love.

I sat in the backseat listening to my iPod, arranging my song-list to play like a soundtrack to the blur of scenery outside my window. I’ve always liked the soothing hum of the road under the wheels, it made me sleepy. I doze and daydream. There is a comfort in knowing that in spite of myself, I’m getting somewhere——anywhere. I listen to the rain falling on the roof and against the windshield, the wipers fall in and out of rhythm with the music. I want to stay in this state of mind for as long as possible. I imagine myself to be a sailer aboard a square-rigger beating its way around the treacherous Cape Horn——-struggling against opposing currents and head winds.

I unplug one of my earphones and listen in to the conversation in the front seat. “Why did you invite your weird friend to come with us?” “What do you mean weird? He’s my best-friend and we’ve logged more miles together than Lewis and Clark.” I can feel Pat’s eyes in the rear view mirror checking to see that I’m asleep. Taylor sighs, “This was suppose to be our road trip. I swear, his breath smells like a stale bar rag and he’s always laughing at his own cheesy jokes.” “I know his jokes are corny, but it’s his coping mechanism. Besides, you use to love goofy jokes. When you were a little girl you’d constantly check out joke books from the library.” “Yeah, but that’s when I was eight years old——not old and——old and obnoxious. He’s socially incontinent, he blabs on and on about whatever shit comes out of his mind.” Pat retorts,“Socially incontinent, is that the type of metaphor they teach in AP english? He’s a guy. He’s direct.” “No, he’s rude and you’re sexist. I hate when you say things like “He’s a guy”, as if being a guy excuses men of being mature.” Pat sternly replies, “I don’t appreciate being called sexist.   Everyone is so PC these days.  If I don’t substitute every gender specific pronoun with the term ‘person’ I’m accused of being sexist—–‘Garbage-person’, ‘Mail-person’, that’s stupid. If a guy holds a door open for a woman she thinks he’s being demeaning. ” I could hear his tone becoming frustrated and agitated. I figured it’s time for me to compensate with some of my “so called” obnoxious-chessey humor.

I pop up and put my head between the two of them. “So, whatta-ya-all-bitches talking about-all-up-in-here?” Pat breaks into a snide snicker as Taylor roles her eyes. She addresses me, “I see that the misogynist has awoken. Have you ever heard the word misogynist?” “I think so, I had mine removed along with my appendix. Or, is misogynist someone who massages the places a masseuse misses. Get it?” Pat offers up a cursory chuckle. I decide to stir it up, “I’m sorry if I offended anyone by calling broads bitches. Did you see what I did there? That’s called sarcasm.” Taylor flips me off, “You’re not funny asshole”.

Pat gracefully changes the topic, “It’s getting to be dinner time. Why don’t we stop for a bite to eat and after dinner Vic can take over the driving duties.” I stretch and yawn, “Sounds good to me, but lets have Taylor drive. A man doesn’t always have to be in the drivers seat.” Taylor responds, “Wow, we can drive and even vote these days. Some day we may even get equal pay.” I interject, “I’ll second that motion.  Testosterone and masculine bravado has been the ruin of all civilizations.  I offer up my deference to the female gender.  And that’s truth, not sarcasm.”

We pull into the parking lot in front of the old cabin looking restaurant. Taylor puts on her coat and gives us instructions, “Guys, please don’t embarrass me in front of the waitress. You both always try and be so clever and flirty when there’s a cute young waitress. Old guys trying to hit on young women is creepy.” I feel a need to provide a little push back. “For one we’re not old, we’re seasoned. And two, we’re not creepy, we’re provocateurs. Old is a number, youth’s an attitude. Besides, chicks dig older guys. In France men with a few years behind them often have young mistresses. We’ve got experience on our side. We know our way around a woman’s anatomy. And the only thing trickier than a woman’s mind, is her body. Women want men who appreciate romance.  Ya see, fellas’ like us, we’ve got old-school class.” Taylor raises her voice, “Stop. Yeah right, you’re both so classy———that’s why you go straight to the senior section of the menu and shamelessly pull out your AARP senior discount card when it comes time to pay. Your wink and a ten percent gratuity doesn’t pay the bills.” Pat interrupts, “Okay queen of the PC police, I’ll buy dinner and you can leave an extravagant tip.”

We finish our dinner and pile back into the car. Taylor sets the cruise control allowing her to sit cross legged indian style. I shake my head, “Are you going to drive or meditate?” “Driving is a meditation. Everything I do is a meditation. What you think about or meditate on is what you’ll attract. I stay mindful of my thoughts. If I don’t feel like smiling, I smile anyway. Take your body and the mind will follow.” “Damn girl, you’re a hell of a lot more insightful about life then I was at your age. You’re a smart cookie.” “No that’s not true. I’ve never been a natural at anything. I’ve had to work harder than the average person to achieve any measure of success. My dad says I have tenacity, and that’s more important than talent. My credo is, ‘I’m willing to do the things today others won’t, so that tomorrow I’ll have the things others don’t.”  I nod in appreciation, “I like your style kid.”

Taylor pushes her hair back “How long have you known my dad?” “I’ve known your dad over fifty years, we’e brothers, we’re a rare breed, we’re lifelong friends.” “What makes someone a lifelong friend?”

I pause to gather my thoughts “You’ll make a lot of friends at different stages of your life. Childhood friends, high school friends, college friends, social network friends, work friends, but lifelong friends stand the test of time. They’re like the ocean, even when you can’t see them, you know they’re still there. The older I get the more I realize how remarkable these friendship are. My sisters and I shared the same parents, the same up bringing, but we’ve always lived in different worlds. To remain connected to somebody across a lifetime is a beautiful thing. A lifelong friend is someone you can go months or even years without seeing, but once you come together its as if time stood still and you can pick up right from where you left off. It’s sharing the good times and helping each other survive the bad times. This life will tests everyones fortitude and can leave you lost and confused. But if you’re lucky, you’ll have someone who’ll stick up for you, listen to you, restore your faith and give you hope when you feel you can’t hold on for one more day. They’ll forgive you and love you in spite of your flaws and fucked up ways. Not that I have any fucked up ways.” I allow myself a cocky snicker. “That kind of friendship is all that matters in the end. Lifelong friends will be there till the end. They understand you, and to be understood is to be loved.”

“It’s to bad you guys don’t live closer to each other.” “Maybe not. We respect one another, but we have had our share of disagreements. Seeing each other to often might ruin things. Your dad is stubborn and I can be a son of bitch. I guess were best friends because no one else will have us.”

“Your dad has been there when I needed him and I don’t forget things like that. When my Mom got sick he took time off work and flew out to help me. When she got up in the middle of the night and needed to use the bathroom he’d get up with me. He’d say, ‘Vic, is everything alright’. We’d get on each side of her and walk her down the hall to the toilet. In the morning he’d make his silly ass jokes, just to take the edge off the dire situation. No, I don’t forget shit like that. We carried on pretending things were gonna get better. But they didn’t, they got worse. Long nights, bad pain and that goddamn morphine giving her hallucinations. He had a way of making Mom laugh. She called him her Patty. She’d say, ‘Patty, can I fix you some eggs and bacon.’ She couldn’t get out of her chair but if she could, she’d of made us a Sunday morning breakfast with eggs, bacon toast and pancakes. Patty could aways light up a room, turn a dark moment around. Lifelong friends will do things like that for you.”

“And by the way, my breath doesn’t smell like an old bar rag.” Taylor’s mouth droppes open, “I thought your were asleep.” Taylor laughs and shakes her head. I feel her letting her guard down. She smiles, “I’m glad dad invited you to tag along. Do you want a tic tac?” We drove on through the moonless night in a comfortable silence.

A couple of hours later I asked Taylor to pull off the highway into a gravel parking lot adjacent to a country store. “I gotta take a piss and get myself a tall boy. Patty, get your ass up. It’s your time to take the helm.” I grab an empty coffee cup from its holder and throw it at his head. He responds in a sleepy voice. “What the fuck are you doing?” “I’m waking your lazy ass up.” I feel the paper cup bounce off the back of my head. “Now that wasn’t very nice.”

The cashier is east indian. The little store reeks of curly and musky incense. There’s the fracas of timbales and the wobbly atonal sound of a sitar coming from a blown out speaker. The restroom has that good ole American smell of Lysol veiling stale urine. Americans are good at hiding things beneath a thin veneer of flimsey civility. At the checkout stand I ask the cashier where he’s from. In a thick indian accent he responds “Pittsburgh”. I detect a sense of indignation in his response. In this day and age those from different cultures feel a need to be as American and patriotic as possible. “A Steelers fan?” He shakes his turban clad head, “No; I’m a soccer fan. Go Delhi Dynamos”. I smile, he smiles, humor has bridged the distance between us.

The car’s headlights guide us on our way through the narrow windy mountain roads. It occurs to me that the headlights only reveal fifty feet of our trip at a time, and such is the nature of life unwinding. God only knows what tomorrow may bring. From my cracked window comes the smell of damp earth and fresh rain. I open my beer and stretch out in the backseat.

I eavesdrop as Pat launches into a fatherly lecture. “Now be careful and watch yourself. Don’t take rides from strangers. Everyday in the news I hear a story about some poor girl getting murdered and dumped in a ditch. If you go to a college party don’t over drink. There’s guys out there who’ll take advantage of a girl who’s not in charge of her faculties.. And I’ve heard stories of guy’s slipping drugs in a girls drink. Don’t let anyone make you do anything you don’t want to do. I know that you know wrong from right, but the world these days can be dangerous.” In a stern voice Taylor interrupts, “Stop”. I’m not a naive little girl.” Pat snaps back, “Sometimes I think you are a bit naive and it makes me worry about you. Your sisters isn’t like that, she’s grounded.” Taylor turns her head towards the window, her reflection revealing a tear. “Why do you always have to do that. Why do you have to compare me to my sister. I’m the older sister. What do I got to do to make you believe in me? I’m smart, I’m talented too.”

Taylor opens her window creating a hurricane force wind throughout the car. It’s freezing cold but I don’t say a word. “You might be my father, but you don’t know shit about me. You don’t understand me. Don’t you see that people are scarred by the stupid things people put on them. A coach tells a kid they’re to slow to be first string, a minister condemns someone for being gay, an english teacher writes ‘fail’ at the top of their paper in large red letters. Or, you telling me that my sister has talent for singing and acting but I’ll have to work hard and have tenacity. You don’t know anything about me.” It was suddenly quiet. It was one of those unexpected painful moments when someone says something they’ve concealed and held in for a long time. The silence augmented the sound of the rain. Pat nervously breaks the silence “I never said that.” Taylor’s voice quivers, “You did. You were driving me to high school and I was telling you that I didn’t get a call back for Brigadoon. Maybe you were trying to be nice, but those thing you said hurt me.”

I could feel the pain in her voice. I didn’t dare say a word or try to lighten the moment with humor. For a moment, in that darkened backseat, I could feel the absolute sadness of all those who’ve been hurt by the words of others. Words that cause the fragile cloth of self worth to fray and come undone. We all carry these disembodied voices from our past that do battle with our better angels. It’s unfathomable how we carelessly hurt one another. Ironically, the ones who have the power to hurt us, also have the power to save us. I suppose the painful words spoken are as damaging as the kind things that go unspoken. We’re all waiting for someone to recognize are uniqueness, to make us feel important, valued———understood———loved.  Why do we withhold these basic tenant’s of compassion and love?

Does anyone ever really know anyone?  We trace one another’s shadow with our fingertips, we unknowingly project little pieces of ourselves on to them.  Everyone carrying their own wounds of broken friendships and incomplete love.  Companionship isn’t an idea or a mental construct, it’s an emotion that we wait for others to fulfill within us——it’s what we all came here for.

I watch as Pat puts his arm around his daughter. I’m a father too, so I know how it feels to unintentionally hurt your child’s feelings. Even after daughters grow into adulthood, at some level fathers still seek to protect them. “Honey, I’m sorry. You’re not your sister, you’re a brilliant and beautiful individual. Maybe those words I said to you were really things I felt about myself. I’ve always had to work harder than the average guy to achieve success. It was a poor attempt on my part to try and protect you from the struggles and pains I’ve suffered. But life doesn’t work that way.  I know that you must find your own way. I have complete faith in you. I’m your biggest supporter. I don’t know why I’ve never told you this before——-I see greatest in you.”

Just like the final scene from a melodramatic B movie, suddenly the winds shift filling our sails, the currents turn in our favor.  We’ve crossed an invisible lattitude. Just over the horizon I see the lights of Eugene.

 

 

 

 

 

To Be Alive

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Soundtrack “Whatever It Is” Zach Brown

 

 

Whatever your age is
It doesn’t matter

You think you’ve grown up
but there’s still an eight year old inside you
still a 14 year old, an eighteen year old
A twenty something, thirty something
and so on and so forth

All these remnants are still
pieces buried within
ones personhood

Even after surviving all these life milestones
of age and time
The specter of these past characters
still rumble about
within you, they inhabit your
subconscious, slipping out
when least expected

Reach back and find
the little pieces of yourself
that live behind
the mirror, beneath the veneer of adulthood

Cry like a baby
stomp your feet
Scream “no” to everyone who
wants you to obey their rules
Play like its the last day of summer

Make love as if it’s the first time you’ve
ever felt the breath or skin of another

Lie, call in sick, sleep in
and then go to the beach

Take the long way home
because the radio is
playing a string of songs that
fit like a perfect soundtrack
to the swirling scenery passing
by your window
And it’s good to be alive
and you know it, as it’s
happening

Keep on driving, miss your turn off
go to the woods and build a bonfire
sing songs, Skinny dip
hike unmarked trails

Call someone you miss
and will always miss
call and let them know
you’re thinking of them

Shove her up against the wall
and watch her look of surprise turn to desire
all that uncontrolled passion
that ache to be touched
melting between thighs and sighs
and muffled screams

Skip dinner and eat
chocolate cake with your hands

foster your imagination
All of life is a fantasy
make it up
as you go along

Never surrender your incurable curiosity
want everything, at once
all the time
be impetuous
uninhibited
authentic
Ah, yes—-to be alive

what an experience

what an adventure

Suicide 101—-Waiting On The Sun To Rise

Many years ago I did my college internship at a Suicide Prevention Hot Line. I went through a basic orientation and a training session prior to beginning my first all night solo shift. I was young, confident and fresh out of the gate—-Talking someone out of suicide ought to be a breeze. I quickly learned (after my first 3:00 am phone call) that I was in over my head. I immediately realized that the voice on the other end of the line belonged to a living breathing person who was suffering. Their pain was beyond my life experience. To this day, I’m not sure if I really helped anyone. I tried my best to be an empathetic and patient listener. I bore witness to unrestrained sobbing and screams of horror cried out into the phone’s receiver. There were stories of godless depression and anxiety beyond ones ability to remain fortified.

I had no rehearsed script, no prescription pad or the luxury of providing a client with a series of on going counseling sessions. I had just that moment to “try and reach” the person on the other end of the line. I did my best to listen attentively and to interject support. When appropriate, I’d provide input or referrals to community services. In spite of my lack of training and limited life experience, there we were, in the middle of the night fumbling with ideas of why it’s worth holding on for one more moment or for one more day.

And sometimes, by holding on for one moment longer than you’d think is possible, the suffering would pass——at least for a while or until the sun would rise once again.

A Child’s Rain

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Soundtrack “Bird On A Wire” by Joe Bonamassa.

I run my hand along the rough red brick wall. If you could touch truth, this is what it would feel like, if you could wear yesterday, it would fit like this. Brick buildings never age, unlike most things, they never grow old, they are the silent sentinels keeping watch at eternities gate. Time is in the raindrop that erodes away the mightiest of mountains one patient drop at a time—-We never seem to notice the passage of time until one day the mountain is gone.

Brick and mortar merges man’s creative life-force with natures unfaltering power to endure. ——Such walls keep some things out and other things in——-it all depends on what side of the wall you find yourself falling or standing——

I envision all of those perfect rust colored bricks meticulously hand laid, so even, so artfully composed——-the craftsman’s sweat droplets mixed in the slurry and forever embedded within the cured cement—–blood, sweat and tears, like long lost fossils hidden between the layers of time.

Long after another generation’s life-story has been told and then consigned to oblivion, these edifices remain as statues to a forgotten past—— bricks like memories, one stacked upon the other—— one timeless moment entombed within a dying eternity.————-Tell me this?  Why the brevity of life, we’re here then gone, everything and everyone just passing through, my grip on the ephemeral is slipping, the impermanence of it all has me chasing tomorrows horizon on this lonely highway.

Skyscrapers are impressive because of their hight. But there is no romance in their architecture. Their birth pushed out into loveless cement forms and fitted together with the support of I-beams. The spaces we live in define our culture. Our cities are gray, cold and crowded with despair, boxes within boxes, where men while away their lives in cubicles, sucking recirculated air, no songbirds cooing outside the tinted windows, only the ever present monotonous hum of air conditioners—–there’s no place to hide from those harsh florissant lights, the computer screen is our window to the world, the feel of cool damp grass no longer beneath our feet——it’s a landscape of migraines, mind-games and lost virtues. All the symmetrical lines make the few remaining trees and plants seem out of place.

All the old buildings in my hometown are constructed of stubborn bricks. There is grandeur in those old buildings, the church with its pious stained-glass windows, the honorable courthouse and contemplative library. These buildings of stone reminds us of our need for safety, shelter and community.  I feel holy when standing in the ancient brick church with it’s towering steeple—-it pierces the heavens like a hypodermic needle, injecting god’s blue sky with silent prayers.

The first time I saw rain, I asked my mother what it was, this water falling from the sky. And she said it’s rain. I thought a child’s thought, how wondrous, this thing called rain, water falling from the sky cleansing the streets and sweetly scenting the world. Who’d of thought up such a phenomenal thing?

The rain made all the old red bricks appear new again. Everyone was in a hurry to escape the rain, but I stayed outside to enjoy this spectacle of water falling from the sky. I stood there with hands outstretched, head tilted back, mouth open, tasting rain, feeling rain.

I once asked my mother about the tiny specks of light twinkling in the night sky.  She said they are stars and that there are billions and billions of them—- they are like our sun, but millions of light years away.  She said some of these stars have already burned themselves out and we are looking at light from their past. I thought a child’s thought, these things called stars are even more mysterious than rain. I sat on the porch staring up at the Milky Way galaxy—–Rain and stars, how unbelievable yet beautiful.

Maybe this is what Buddha contemplated while meditating under his Bodie Tree. At peace with oneself and the universe, walking the middle path of love between the yen and the yang——intertwined with everything yet separate…….Insignificant and small, yet omnipotent and omniscient———wandering between the birth and death of each moment———Nirvana——-

The Gravity Of Lust

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You’d have to be a man to misunderstand woman the way men do. Women are complex and mysterious. We’re stymied by their anatomy, confounded by their emotions, frightened by their will to love or to hate within the span of a nano second.

We fumble and fondle them like a Rubik’s Cube in the hands of a chimpanzee. Their legs, their breasts—— the way they disturb space and time, dishing out their gravity with our lust. But like their physiology, much is hidden, out of sight and enigmatic. Men are like their genitals, what you see is what you get.

Victor

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Soundtrack “If I Go, I’m Going” by Gregory Alan Isakov.

 

raindrops falling and disturbing still water
she smelled like fresh laundry and the newness of a morning sun
this ole heart is wearing worn and cracked work-boots
It’s the miles not the years

You fell in love with me

like a frozen statue

like a fallen hero
Mistaking love for things that never change

even our sun
will someday die
put on a sun dress
and I’ll wear flip flops
and we’ll get sunburns
while drinking beer at the beach

Internal wallpaper is how we decorate our lives
You were my star in this darkened theater

There is no poetry in Los Angeles, it’s got chicken scratch graffiti on concrete, where tattoos are mistaken for art, its train like cities that have no beginning or ending, just endless strip malls, fast-food joints—-with its smog hallowed sun. How can there be so much loneliness in these crowded places, we have become citizens of cloned hometowns, we’re generation X, or Y, or millennials,—–held together with Facebook velcro.

Nobody really knows what’s going on or what it’s all about. We’re all just running around trying to figure out what we should do, where we should go next, whom do we dare pretend to be. The clock is always ticking, all is uncertain. Before it’s all over we are desperate to discover our part in it all. Occasionally you’ll touch something and it will shock you, like the unforeseen bite of static electricity, or glimpsing a dead falling star. And for that instance your puny life takes on a speck of meaning—–one random piece of the puzzle falls into place.

Her love was like wisteria. At first it brought a subtle beauty to everything it attached itself to. But in time its clinging nature enveloped and entangled what had once been a free-swinging garden gate. Over time there was no way to gracefully enter or exist, the overgrown gate was forever intwined and frozen. It clawed over, across and on top of what once gave the garden its structure and form. In time its need to control and twist all it touched would cause the lattice to sag, to crack under the weight and finally give way. Such beauty strangles the life out all it once embellished. She was my weed strewn garden, she was everything I wanted, but the last thing I needed.

I’ve heard it said that writing is the loneliest of pursuits. It’s just you, a blank piece of paper and your thoughts. I don’t know how writers of pulp fiction feel about their craft, but I suspect that the poet is much more of a desperate soul. His ankle is tied to a huge rusty anchor and it is plunging him to the bottom of the sea. He’s headed to a place where there is no light, no sound, an inhospitable cold region. Poets aren’t depressed—-—no—they’re truth scavengers trapped in a world of forgers. If they were afflicted by depression they might find relief in a drug or in a support group. There is no clinical diagnoses or magic cure for being a poet. Please don’t be afraid, its not contagious.

My father and I share a common name—“Victor”. My dad was called Vic by his friends but I prefer Victor. As I’ve grown older I’ve seen parts of him rise to the surface in me. I was his only son and we tried to reach one another, but we were separate boats being pushed by opposing winds.

I went through a period when I was an adolescent where I’d have night terrors—-I was a sleepwalker pacing the floor in sheer terror, crying and screaming out at things no one could see but me. My dad would shake me, pat my cheek in an attempt to wake me, but I’d carry on in my neither world of monsters, demons and madness. This would go on for hours. He would ask me at breakfast if I remembered these fits. I never remembered these night events. But I’d have a faint memory of something that filled me with terror.

My dad use to say “You’ll find out someday”. And what he meant by that was, someday I’ll learn that life is cruel and bitter and hard and full of frustration and let downs. He would almost say it with a sense of glee. Like he couldn’t wait until this life beat every ounce of idealism and romanticism out of me. He’d just look at me after making this repetitive proclamation, shaking his head and giving me a snide little snicker.

I don’t know how, why or where, but somewhere along the way he surrendered his personal power. It’s always easier to give in, give up and throw your hands up and concede, but that just isn’t me. I take my name seriously, I’m a Victor, I’m born to take on all comers—bring it on—–I’ll go down swinging.

Don’t fear the inevitable, such as death. But rather, fear not taking action on the things you have the power to change, such is your life.

Be a Victor———–Do something!