Monday, November 15, 2010

How To Break The Law

*This poem is about two years old, and shows clear signs of shameless Leonard Cohen wannabe-ism. It's notable for me, personally, because it's a poem with no water or plant-life imagery, which I tend to use overmuch. I have been writing prose exclusively for a few months now, and thought maybe sharing this would help ease me back into the habit.

How To Break The Law

So I hitched a short ride with a tall police officer
She wrote on my hands with a black magic marker
One it said guilty the other palm readin' stoned
A public execution when i'd like to be alone
So the crowd gathered 'round old friends and strangers too
But no where to be found was the lady in blue
She'd wandered off haunted by her own cruisers lights
The bright blue and red, the sirens had got deep in her mind
So the stoning was canceled and we all got a torch
I went to her alone with the touch of a church
We finally found the girl she was crouched and alone
Her badge it was dirty and her skin it felt cold
She'd fallen asleep on a playground swing set
So I lifted her up and my back it was bent
I carried the load off out of those woods
And laid the girl to rest on the attics floor boards
We sat in that tower of wood and old clothes
And she finally woke up, and the girl didn't know
Where her badge and her gun had both flown off to
And I said, little girl, the law it left you.
You're broken and wrong, but kid that's ok
Cause you're in my attic now and here you can stay
Up here it is warm and we got grandmas old things
We'll put on a play- i can write if you'll sing
You don't need that rule, you don't need no force
It's just you and me now so we'll lock the stair's door
So we sat up in that room with the windows flung wide
And now without the law's cructh she learned how to smile.

*As always, I welcome comments and critique.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Met By The Queerest Little Fellow

I spent the past few weeks, before heading to Sarasota, back home with my parents. I had my grandfather's car, and nothing but free time. My allergies were giving me hell, and as the only really serious coffee drinker in the family, I headed one morning to the local big box bookstore, as it is, sadly, the only coffee shop in Gastonia. I walked in and found a few graphic novels to read and ordered my embarrassingly sweet little drink. The cafe section of the store was lightly populated, so finding an empty table was no problem, but one customer caught my eye. He was wiry, more so than myself, with chunky, spiked black hair and a faded denim jacket, he sat reading Utne. I stopped dead in my tracks to regard him, caught off guard. He looked up at me with a blank expression, before his features twitched into something that could only be both smile and frown. How he managed that, even I don't know. "Well, Hi." I said after a beat, surprised to be speaking first. He echoed my greeting as though it was a question, and I joined him at his table.
"Do you still read this?" he asked, holding up his magazine. The immediate launch into small talk, as though the meeting were perfectly natural, made it clear he was exactly as I'd remembered. "No, not at all, actually" I said.
"figures" he replied, screwing up his face into a grimace. "What are you reading?" he asked, with an emphasis that might have conveyed contempt. I made a note of it as he grabbed my stack of books. "Jesus, comics?" he asked, laughing. "Well, cool, I guess. I mean, why not, huh?"
"I read other stuff..." I offered meekly. He made another face as he tossed them on the floor beside his chair, before leaning in on the table. "No, I mean I don't want to be a dick or anything about it, you know, a snob or anything."
"But you're offended." I offered, leaning back, reminding myself he should NOT make me nervous. "Disappointed." He countered, grinning. I squinted at him, and said, "Good thing I know you're going to get more charming." He appreciated this, his body opening up as he leaned back, laughing. For the moment, our postures matched as we regarded each other. "Starting right into all that, are you? Well, why not." he was silent a moment, his gaze out the window. "So. What was the last song you heard, before coming in here?"
"It was actually Josh Ritter's new album." I told him, grinning slightly. It's  hard to fully convey how much we were both enjoying this little game.
"Aw, You're kidding! I thought for sure it'd be some crazy new band you could turn me on to, get me ahead of the curve..."
"Now you're just being cute again. This is kind of a rare opportunity, and you want to take it to just amuse yourself? I mean, I guess I'm amused too, to be fair..."
He got that look I recognized, the one when he feels a slap is deserved, but not worth the effort. "Now who's being cute?" he mumbled. That's right, I thought. That look is usually followed by petulance. "So. Amy?" he asked finally. My heart kind of fluttered. "No.", I answered simply.
"Figures. Recent? While back? How is she?" he asked, with his typical, transparently feigned nonchalance. I cleared my throat and leaned forward, taking a deep breath. "It's been a few years, actually. It's been over a year since I heard from her at all. She...well, she kind of hates me." He was silent for a long moment, his gaze seemingly locked on something out the window. "Well," he said finally. "so much for loving her to see us like this." He cleared his throat a few times. Not surprisingly, if one of us didn't know what to say, the other didn't, either. Still, I couldn't help but think I had a responsibility to keep the conversation moving when he could not. I decided to get creative before he asked more questions. "I live in New York, now, with Tony." I volunteered, which is mostly true. He seemed to brighten at this. "You're not serious! Well, that's good news, at least." he ran a hand up into his hair and brushed furiously at it, his neck bent and one eye closed. When he looked up, his eyes looked like he was about to cry. "Just...just out with it, man. Tell me." he folded his hands on the table before him like in prayer.
"I travel with the renaissance fair; I'm actually a Tortuga Twin. I don't really live in New York, because I don't really 'live' anywhere; I travel all the time. It's really amazing. I didn't finish college; I didn't even go to Angola like I'd planned. Before working for the festival, I worked for a few years as an actor. Like, honest-to-god paying bills by acting. It was great. I wrecked the Volvo a few years ago, that was terrible, it caught on fire and I almost died. I volunteered for a month in New Orleans, after the hurricane. It was...almost miserable, but wonderful at the same time. It went a long way to making me the way I am now, it was like a crucible. When I was in college...well, things just got real heavy. My brain kind of got out of control, and I pretty much fell apart. it was scary. But I moved home, had a few jobs, a few apartments. Oh, I was an assistant manager for the Gap, that was funny." I stopped myself, and a silence fell. "Go on." he said tersely. Of course. I thought. He's found something he doesn't approve of. "You know," I said, "I'm pretty sure I've already said more than you wanted to know."
He scoffed, "You know damn well that's not true."
"Well, more than I should say. But at the same time, you're possibly thinking the same thing I am about all this."
"I doubt I'll even remember any of it." he said solemnly.
"Right. About the time I left the Gap job, Mimi died. She was sick for a long time, Alzheimer's, basically, and it was really, really rough. For everyone. I didn't realize it at the time, but I'm pretty sure that's what lead me to try and join the Navy. They wouldn't take me, though, because of the Asthma. But, in some ways I guess that's the beginning of the road that led to the job I have now, so the whole Navy thing worked out pretty well..." I trailed off as T-Bone Burnette's 'After All These Years' played on the loudspeaker. Jesus, I thought.
"You didn't mention a girl." it was practically an accusation.
"Well, no," I said, "The travel makes that kind of hard..."
"I don't think I'd want to know anyway." he said, again, kind of petulantly.
"Much as even I hate to admit it, that's not the important part. A little advice- try not to worry about relationships so much. Just worry about you."
He bristled at this, saying, "Damn it, advice? You're not really giving me advice, are you? Screw that."
"You wanted to know about that kind of thing, and I don't really want to talk about it. How many details should I give you?"
At this he stood abruptly, and folded his arms over his chest.
"You know, I think I'm good."
"That's it?" I asked, a bit shocked at his sudden departure.
"You blew up the car. You quit school. You're alone. Glad you've put all those years to good use."
"Woah, Kid-"
"Really, you're gonna call me names now? Seriously?"
"OK, look, I'm not alone, you ass- you sentimental ass, at that- and technically, I don't think you should give me hell about college. And the car was just a mistake. I fell asleep."
"Alright. Lesson learned, man. Roll the credits, play a cute song, I get it." He said, throwing up his hands.
"OK, A-you're being trite, and B- I'm not some damn example of what not to be, ass wipe. I have an amazing job, great friends..." I stopped, and laughed. "And don't have to defend myself. You're being a prick,not surprisingly, and from where I'm standing, the lesson is for me because I can't tell if I'm any better or worse on the whole 'snot nosed punk' thing. So, thanks. You taught me a lot."
We both just stood, staring at each other, my face reading faint amusement, his defiance. I'm not sure which of us crumbled first, falling into laughter.
"Well, we're just silly little bastards, aren't we?" he asked. "traveling, huh? performing...damn. So much for being a professor. New York...well, that just seems cliche, but what the hell, I guess."
I laughed again, louder than before. "What the hell, indeed. You have no idea the sheer amount of "What The Hell' there was."
"You're not telling me everything." It wasn't a question.
"Well, no."
 "Just enough heavy shit to throw me off the trail."
"Guess trying to fool you wasn't really very well thought out. All the same, I'm pretty sure I'm doing you a favor."
"And I guess I should trust you. So do we hug?" He asked, squinting at me.
"You're not actually suggesting that. You just want to make fun of me when I say we should." We both grinned.
"No Investment advice?" He asked expectantly.
"Don't be a dick. I didn't have that advantage."
"Well, technically, you could..."
"The answers no." I told him, laughing again.
"You wouldn't even know what to suggest, would you?" he smirked at me, with his hands in his pockets. I didn't respond, and he seemed pleased. "Even better! That stupid button-up shirt had me worried from the minute I saw you." He sighed, and looked at me for a long moment. I shrugged, and finished my coffee. Finally, he said "Well, look. If you want, you can take the car and drive it around for a while. Like, half an hour or's perfect sunroof weather." I felt my eyes start to water, and smiled. "What's in the CD player?" I asked, feeling almost shy.
"Jump, Little Children. 'Buzz'."
I shook my head, and whistled low.
"God that made you seem old." He said, sounding almost awe-struck.
"Shut up, and take better care of your CD's. You'll end up with none. Look, I should just go. So, thanks, but no. Just...promise me you'll really, really enjoy your ride home. Here," I said, reaching into my wallet. "Here's a few bucks for gas- take a long drive. Through the country, or something." He took the money silently, and I thought, he's thinking this is like some kind of sacrament. And, sure enough, he then pulled one of the shiny beaded bracelets from his wrist, handing it to me. "I'll just lose it anyway, right? This feels kind of...fruity, but what the hell. Just take it." I smiled at the gaudy little thing, remembering. I put it on, and we each gave an identical little half wave salute and separated. He walked out the door as I threw out my empty cup. A quick exit, no goodbye. I should have told him to knock that off. I maybe should have warned him about getting arrested, too, but he'd probably just begrudge the loss of a good story.

I stood in front of the store long enough to watch myself drive by in my old car, young, hapless, and charmingly oblivious.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

When We Sang Along With Windows Down

16-17: They Might Be Giants
18-19: The Postal Service
20-21: The Mountain Goats
22-23: Casiotone For The Painfully Alone
24-25: Josh Ritter
26-...: The Avett Brothers

When I was in high school, I sat on my bed and hammered out the chords to simple songs by They Might Be Giants and felt like in a few years I'd be living out Ginsberg's Howl. I was an outsider, and looking back can see that for most of us who felt that way, it was internal. It was a constant view looking outward, and knowing you wern't quite where you're supposed to be. TMBG sang on a variety of topics and non-topics, so to speak, and for all their quirky, up-beat melodies, there was something sinister hovering just below the surface. This, to me, sums up the Geek experience in High School. The whole thing was just a big waiting game, until either you found your tribe (in college, natch) or the rest of the world caught up.
Defining Lyric: "Now it's over I'm dead, and I haven't done anything that I want, or I'm still alive, and there's nothing I want to do."

College blew down from the hills picking up the mess of my ruined plans. I looked around and found myself-thankfully, in retrospect- surrounded by similarly lost individuals. We wandered in the woods and parking lots; we spent too much time thinking about the timing of streetlights going out. We drank and stayed out all night and the one thing we all hated more than the Greek Organizations was ourselves. We were a gang, a tribe, a coven, a cult. We smoked so many cigarettes, some times all at once. We dreamed of sunning on Mexican Pyramids and for us, the future was a gaping void. There were burns. There were tears. I dare you to look any of us in the eye and claim you've laughed louder than we did in those terrible, Holy days. We were sexy and awful. Either you get it, or you don't. And remarkably, This duo of synth-pop hobbyists provided our dreamy, kinetic soundtrack. Defining lyric: "And I'm screaming at the top of my lungs, pretending the echoes belong to some one-some one I used to know."

You never land easy when things fall apart, and you're always sore the next day. For me, the "Next Day" of early adult hood lasted a few years. I washed dishes, I packed boxes, I sold clothes. I thought I could save the world by driving a fork lift and I slept with my boots on. I walked to work, I payed bills, I loved, I hated, I let go, I was let go of. I got by. I toiled, I changed, I waited, I bloomed. And through it all was a band I probably owe a debt to. The Mountain Goats sing of some landscape where the romances and drug deals gone sour are hard to tell apart. Where even love is something to accept with grim finality; because you can't escape it but can get through it if you try. The ghosts of the Old Testament might still haunt your everyday, and their being chased by Mayans and Romans Hungry for blood. Defining Lyric (god, this one's toughest...) "...And we're drunk all the time, and our lives are a mess; and the deathless love we swore to protect with our bodies is stumbling across it's bleak ending."

I found a life I did not like. I left it after three days shooting a student film, and shortly thereafter, my grandmother died. I tried to join the Navy, but was turned away for medical reasons. I got an actual, honest-to-god acting job. I moved in with a freak show. I fell into a tempest. These are the Twenties you write about. The house was nearly condemned, and I lived in the attic, stifling in summer, freezing in winter. There were concerts in my living room, and the next morning I'd either drive to a middle school to do a workshop, ride the train downtown, to rehearse or perform for students on field trips. She and I met in a show we performed at a bar, and she left her husband and eventually I'd leave that attic. Casiotone For The Painfully Alone sings loving of days like these, the loss, the misdirection, the false starts and  true stops. The crummy first dates and even worse second dates, the mistakes, the loyalties, the broken promises and debts never paid. Defining Lyric: "A job that made you crazy, in  town you won't miss, and the drunks you called friends are a means to an end. And this is the end"

The kitchen was too small for dancing, but the tub had claw feet. I acted and made coffee. She took photographs, painted and temped. We thought to plant roots. they did not hold. She moved downstairs, and I slept on couches and in my car. We continued making love, the song had a chorus that wouldn't end. I rode my bike, I drank too much, and again: I was waiting. More. False. Starts. In the Autumn, a circus came to town and I joined it. That winter found me in the desert, found me changed. My lungs were filled and my stride got longer. I think I became 'me'. The road opened up and rolled out before me; when every door is open, the hallway has no walls. What began with my brow furrowed in contemplation of potential,would close with a war-whoop. Along the way there were tears, shouts, doctors and blood. Josh Ritter narrated this growth and transition like Mark Twain humming, the great story of American dreams growing, dying, mutating, adapting keeping step with my own twists and jumps. Fits and angels, boats and trains, guns and blades, heroes and snake oil salesmen; all of them in my life and coming out of my speakers. Defining lyric: "Every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied"

Still rolling. I'm waving to the shore as I pass by; many by now have children while I have a Pirate ship. I've determined to no longer live my life like a terrier on fire. I've cleaned up the mess and poured my drink. I'm walking city streets and always some where else. This chapter is unwritten. The Avett Brothers, drunk and moody and grim and sentimental will walk me through this scene. Defining lyric: "I want to have friends in whom I can trust, that love me for the man I've become not the man that I was."

Now, I should point out, that none of these necessarily represent my favorite lyric or song by each artist, simply the line that best sums up what I feel, looking back. And that looking back is important, at the time I was living these (mis)adventures, I likely would have shouted a different line, possibly even quoted a different band...but probably not. I wanted to share these connections, because We all have a soundtrack to each Zeitgeist we've made it stumblingly through.

"The future is a stereo, that eats your favorite tapes, the soundtrack to your youth that can never be replaced"
-Josh Joplin