Wednesday, October 10, 2012

We Hid In Our Coats

The Winter came down from the higher hills, that much was certain. At times it seemed to scream into the valley, at others it rolled, or fell, or even casually strolled. Christopher sat by the window, staring numbly at the grey sky and imagined the season as a sauntering, pompous Jack Frost. The previous night they'd discussed the cold and Andrea had said the Winter was a howling, reckless child, running and destroying the calm. He turned to watch her sleep on that bottom bunk and remembered how much she'd loved the early autumn chill. You can't have it both ways, he thought, turning up his nose at all who like the fall, but hate the winter. He banged his head softly but repeatedly against the cold, foggy glass of the window. What am I doing here, he asked himself. In the South Georgia swamps where he'd grown up it was never as cold, so far as he could remember, as it was here in these West Virginia mountains.
   He'd been shaken, as he slept, by a terrible revelation: He hated college. As a high schooler, he yearned for this time, this freedom. He fantasized about stirring lecture-hall discussions, professors patting him on the back for his young brilliance, like-minded friends, avant-garde everything, and of course, the girls. Now that he was six hundred miles from home, his spirits were being slowly pressed by the weight of red solo cups, sororities, TA's, and an over-taxed dorm room radiator.
     He pulled the blanket tighter around him in his chair and turned again to watch his girlfriend in her softly snoring sleep. She was far from the petite, curly haired, sweater-wearing archetype he imagined that was a 'college girl'. with her amazon-like frame no one was surprised by her volley ball scholarship, despite the disparity of her low skill level. It was generally suspected she was on the team simply due to her size, as a scare tactic against rival teams. All the same, Andrea's penchant for dirty jokes and collection of comic books had proved enough to spark his desire, and signaled the end of the relationship he'd attempted to maintain with his high-school sweetheart who was now half a nation away the University of Texas.
     He looked again at the cell phone in his lap, and the text message displayed on its screen:

"See you 'round, kids"

Tyler had sent the text to many of his friends the day before, in the early evening after having been forcibly removed from campus. No charges were pressed, but an altercation with another student, a constant pest on the hall named Shane, had escalated to the point of improvised weapons being brandished (for Shane the nuisance a paring knife, and for Tyler his roommate's golf club). The campus police had been called by the same girl that sparked the conflict. Shane had been making his usual loudmouthed rounds, and was making everyone uncomfortable in his harassment of Laura. Tyler felt her honor needed defending, and things grew more and more heated until just before dinner when the dorm lobby was suddenly populated by four officers, and the two boys, knife and golf club brandished, were escorted from the premises and promptly expelled.
     The loss of Tyler, a pillar among Christopher's small coven of misfit friends, was bad enough. The night was given a heightened sense of urgency, however, as they'd all banded together to calm the fears of the drug-addled Thomas, who was convinced Tyler had not been removed, but had died. The girls soothed him, David insisted it was a desperate plea for attention, and Christopher drank in the corner, scowling.
     It was past four AM when Thomas had finally passed out and they had all sufficiently exhausted not only the whiskey but also the topic of their odd fellowship's having been broken. Christopher retired to his dorm with Andrea, the cranky and superior-feeling David to the room and bed of Thomas' girlfriend Shelby, and the groups resident teddy-bear Grant continued his now hours-old dirge for his absent friend as he sat on Tyler's bed, singing, drunk, and weeping softly.

*                    *                    *

Christopher sighed and sat the phone on the desk next to him, and crawled back into bed with Andrea, hoping for a few more hours of sleep.

     That afternoon, they all met in the dining hall, only David missing of the friends that remained. Grant sat silent, his hands on the table, knuckles crusted in the dried blood of wounds he'd inflicted upon himself by repeatedly punching the cinderblock walls. Shelby sniffled, fighting tears. While everyone knew she'd spent the night with David while her boyfriend was passed out in the lobby, they all pretended concern that she was coming down with a cold. For his part, her boyfriend, either still under some influence or another, or perhaps some new drug for the day, wrote furiously in his tiny journal, not so much ignoring all of them, but unconcerned by their presence. Laura was sharing with them a story of her visit to Japan over the summer before college, and seemed unnaturally cheery, all things considered. Christopher was unimpressed with her negligent coping mechanism, and idly stirred his spaghetti around as she talked and Andrea engaged her with questions about the trip.
     As those among them who had been eating finished their meals, and those who hadn't grew restless, the small group went outside and migrated, with out a word of planning, toward the Fowler dorm, with it's nine stories the tallest on campus. Once inside, their murmured conversation died down to silence as they made their way to the end of the East hallway, and the staircase there which would lead them to the buildings roof. At the foot of the stairs, a silent but significant look passed between Christopher, Grant, and Thomas. The boys nodded, as if by psychic agreement, and broke into a run up the stairs, Thomas leading, and Grant barreling in the rear, his size winding him quickly.
     A few moments later, Christopher and Thomas were  joined by Grant and the girls, and the silence among them continued as they peered out over the campus in the valley, and hills beyond. Thomas sat on the wall and dangled his legs over the edge, drawing a gasp from Shelby, but no movement to stop him. Either she was beyond caring, or she knew he was beyond stopping. He leaned forward, though, and then Christopher grabbed his jacket collar and yanked him back. Thomas stood, and there they huddled, hands shoved into coat pockets, scarves wound tight, hats pulled low. The wind up there was fierce, and Christopher knew that when they scattered for winter break in four days, many of them would not return in the spring.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

When We Made Love, You Used To Cry: Cigarettes, Mistakes, and Me.

     I'm going to try and tell a story. It's a true story, it's possibly my strangest. It's about two people, first young, then...a little less young. Mostly, the years are fewer than the trials for each of them. We'll call them Romeo and Juliet. Not for a play, but for a song. Drama is nice, but Rock & Roll is better.

Romeo, young; (and quite likely, stupid) met Juliet and almost immediately dismissed her as too cute for him. Romeo, in those days, was unsteady, unsure, and awkward. Gifted though he may have been with words, he was unsure of his physical attributes, and thus felt more akin to Cyrano than any other hero of merit. In one of life's charming turnabouts, gratifying and rare, it was discovered however that she was not, in fact too cute for him. They began a romance and it culminated in his passage for the first time through the only ceremony of adulthood our culture has left: sex. It was, as often is, an awkward exchange whose saving grace was it's unlikely location: in a small hut, 40 feet off of the ground, in the woods on a mountain. The hut's purpose was to give park rangers a view of the forrest allowing as much forewarning in the event of fire as possible. Romeo is still blind to that irony. The summer passed, though of course not before the adventure was repeated, as Juliet, less the novice than our hero, schooled him in the art, in cabins and bedrooms and pools and in cars- as youth exercised it's customary exuberance for itself. Through channels still uncertain to our hero, Lady Capulet caught wind of her daughter's summer storm.
     A word should be said here about the Capulet family, as our fair Juliet was herself adopted by her lord and lady scarcely two years prior. Juliet had grown up in foster homes around Verona and wider Italia, having landed in the uncertain warmth of the Capulet family along with one other orphan (we'll call her Iago) and two young natural Capulets. Upon hearing of Juliet's adventure (the younger adoptee forever suspect in this espionage) Lady Capulet ambushed our hero. He'd called up to Juliet's balcony (well, via pay phone) and was met with young Iago in answer. When our hero asked for the object of his affection, he was instead met with Lady Capulet, in oily, villainous and venomous tone asking: "How does it feel to have sex with all of those girls?" Our gallant hero, ever brave, promptly hung up and sank to his knees. A few moments later the pay phone began to ring, and our hero knew this was no deus ex machina to save him. He answered, finding somewhere in him the resolution to face an unarmed and middle-aged woman a hundred miles away. Her verbal accosting followed, with threats of court and moral condemnations. The ultimatum was made: Lord and Lady Montague could hear this news either from Romeo himself, or Lady Capulet would contact the Prince and they'd hear it from him.

     Romeo hung his head and marched back to the Montague home, and while his father took the news with some aplomb, his Lady mother was understandably vexed. The few days after, during which they did not speak, felt to Romeo certainly not unlike banishment in Mantua.
     Alas and alack yet at the same time huzzah and hooray: Lady Capulet's message never came. The Prince was never called. The incident passed. Some years later, Romeo, who'd moved on, did finally hear again from his former flame. Scant communication passed between the two, a letter every few months, until word came down she'd been diagnosed with a fatal illness. Romeo, being a hero, or at the very least fancying himself one, knew this was his cue to strengthen the correspondence, but such was not the case. He was stunned, and his heart hardened, when word finally came down from Verona that the poison had taken her. Juliet was gone. Romeo, being young, or at the very least, fancying Rock & Roll, knew this was his cue to drink heavily (and in a plot twist the purpose of which no one is sure of, smash his favorite tea kettle). More years passed, and Romeo, once again, moved on.

AND YET: At certain turns in his story, he'd be met with characters and dialogue concerning that 'first time'. The subject was rarely at all about Juliet herself, and he could often dodge the emotional cloud bank there conjured as people wanted answers about the hut, there off the ground. He wondered dimly if it stood there still, watching for fires, and why it couldn't see his, smoking and smoldering that summer in the hills.

The play ended. The streets of Verona he walked, and dodged the brawls. Trapped between the Romeo he'd become, and the Cyrano he once was, our hero grew into a man, and just as mothers for generations had warned, his face froze into the smirk he perpetually wore. The curtain fell.

He was nearing thirty when a question was put to him: 'Do you still keep up with the person to whom you lost your virginity?' 

With a rueful resolution he answered of course no, and a thoughtful "How could I?" echoed on the stage of his brain. Curious though, he sought an obituary for the absent object of his extinguished affections.
    The news shook him. The photos sank his heart. The deterioration unnerved him. There she stared back at him: her name, her birthday, her face. Her orange jumpsuit, her lined-beyond-its-years visage... her mugshot. Juliet had fallen on or into cruel stories, wrapped up in malicious plots or driving them herself. Whether Desdemona or Lady Macbeth our hero was unsure, but his former flame had taken to fighting it seemed, and also to fleeing justice. She'd been apprehended to the south. Juliet was not only alive, but was incarcerated.

Shakespeare himself could write no bigger shock for our hero, and Tybalt could land a hit no more surprising.
There was scant wisdom to be offered by either Lord Montague or by Benvolio, and Romeo determined that none could be given, and frankly, this made for a pretty terrible sequel.

After The Exodus

The search lights swept
Over the mess that we miss
As we hurried to huddle
Among the crumbled and cornered.
Hand-in-hand we both ran
Allies in the alleys
Of the streets in the city
That's emptied of echoes.
If the lights would let up
We would rest and relent
On our mad, manic march
Through these halls of my heart
The streets and the stress
Of a city once stocked
With stories and strangers
Now void of voice.
Alone we were watched
By the golems and ghosts
Of my past and your part
In the play of the plague
That I'd created and cast.
Now just you and I
To climb out of the clutter
From 'what could' to what clouds
Hovered over this hovel.

My Second-hand Year

This is the first entry of my new blog, which I invite you to follow here: My second-hand Year.

The goal I have set for myself will begin on my birthday, October 24th, 2012, and after one year, I'll see what I've learned, how I feel, and what's next.

I'm hoping to spend as little of my money as possible on new things. All of my clothes, shoes, books, movies, bedding, kitchen gadgets and utensils, housewares, and anything else possible will come from thrift stores, yard sales, estate sales, craigslist, freecycling, or any method available of obtaining used items. I want to eliminate from my life all packaging possible, all things produced through astoundingly wasteful means to serve only me. I want to minimize my reliance on disposable...anything.

What are my goals? I should admit I've never been among the top-tier of enviromentally conscience people, and this isn't really about that. I'm looking to be a better steward of not only my wallet, but the production that goes into what I own. It's about a broader kind of consuming, and an awareness of cost.  Sure, I stand to save some money, and I'm sure there's a green angle, but mainly I want a narrower footprint. It's a damn near moral issue for me, whatwith that blurry Puritan/Protestant background and all.

By trade & by lifestyle, I am a traveling nomad, so reducing my pile of goods is always on my mind. I don't know that limiting myself quantitatively is reasonable, expressed as an abstract, that project is unattainable for me, & coming up with a formula would only breed a list of exceptions (I've tried it).

While this blog claims to be a log of my adventures traveling around the country performing at Renaissance Festivals, it's really just a collection of my creative writing. Here's hoping the new one can stay more on-topic.

I'm planning to share my thoughts and feelings as I refine my purpose in all of this, and any fun things I find along the way- be they items I buy,  joys I experience, or frustrations along the way. I'll try and be upfront as I challenge my own (almost certainly shameful) materialism, and what I discover about myself and my habits. I'll pass along tips and tricks, as well, if I've any to share. You'll probably also hear me whining about new shoes and coats and hats I see and want but have maddeningly promised myself not to buy...

See you at the thrift store-