Gary is all over the map, but can still find his way home

I’ve noticed in the last couple of years that while writing I tend to skip over little words like ‘the’ and ‘and’ and the like. I also sometimes skip over letters. For example, the word ‘look’ turns into ‘lok.’

It gets worse. Now I’m occasionally missing entire words, a real problem for reading comprehension, as you can imagine.

What’s next? Perhaps I’ll write one opening sentence, then the final sentence and completely omit everything between the two. To wit, the following article:

First sentence: “We’re always walking by this spooky old house,” my wife said.

Last sentence: Just understand that you are competing with ghosts for my attention.

The thought amuses me. It’s like one of those ‘choose your own adventure’ books. Anyway, here’s the adventure I chose.

Train of Thought

“We’re always walking by this spooky old house,” my wife said.

We sure are. The two of us go for a constitutional that takes us through the same neighborhoods with routes only slightly different from day to day. Sometimes that means travelling north along Dartford Street to the intersection of Lorne Avenue. The house is one of those old three story jobs with a full basement. It has those narrow, rectangular windows at ground level that let light into the basement and, if you are in the basement, allow you to see people’s feet walking by.

This made me remember when I was about five years old. I was with my big brother, Bob, as he went to visit one of his friends, Pete Salvail. Pete was one of about 18 kids and he slept in a little room with some of his brothers, the window right alongside a sidewalk; not a basement window, but my memory makes the connection all the same.

My brother raps on the window, waking Pete up…

I remember that a few years later Pete died of cancer, maybe 20 years old. Years later Bob told me of going to visit Pete in the hospital and saying to him, sadly, “You’re going to die, aren’t you?” Pete nodded and there were tears, both of them. A nurse came in and angrily told Bob to get out, and he did, and that’s the last time he saw Pete.

Bob remembered his friend could be a crazy fucker sometimes. Bob told me that one time they got in Pete’s car and the windshield was all fogged up. Pete starts up the car and then presses his two thumbs  up against the windshield, clearing up two spots like eye holes to look through and puts it in gear and goes driving off into the night.

I remember now that Pete had married maybe a year before he died. His wife’s name was Wendy. She was nice enough, petite, and also had a reputation of being a little crazy. Years later (15 or 16 years later) my brother moved in with me (enroute from the breakup of his marriage) and we ran into her. She was either helping out or perhaps registered with some kind of rehab program, which was located in a kind of meeting room with a billiard table in it.

So now I remember that Bob and I went there to visit her but Bob met up with a couple of crazy old drunks there and one thing led to another and he ended up giving these guys a ride home after they got too pissed up and could barely move.

One of them was crippled up, too, and the next thing you know he’s calling my brother to bum a ride all the time. So Bob’s doing this, but charity is a pain in the ass sometimes and it was getting pretty annoying. So this reminds me of another thing.

The old guy calls and Bob answers, but tells him, “No, this isn’t Bob. I’m his brother, Gary.”

He says, “Oh, sorry, could I speak to Bob?”

“No. Uh, he died.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” Pause. “Say, do you think you could give me a ride to the pub some time?”

…and Bob answered, “No, I don’t think so,” and hung up the phone.

 

The memories are rolling in and I’m walking inside of them. I see other sidewalks, driveways, old furniture in front yards. It’s cold and grey and not raining. A homeless man rests at the base of a lamppost.

I keep moving. Stores are closed. Railroad tracks, not humming. Sawmill, parking lot empty and the saws are not singing. Blackberries, ripe, but they taste like creosote. Finally there’s a diner open and I come in for a cup of coffee. It smells funny in there and the linoleum is worn and filthy. My hands are cold but the cup is burning in my hands, somehow welcoming.

I remember a time when I didn’t put up with bullshit for very long. I wouldn’t get angry, I’d just get out. Somehow. I mean I can either get up and get out or retreat inside my own head and get out. But you don’t get to have me anymore.

I feel like when Ratso died and Joe Buck looks around at all those people on the bus. And I’m thinking, I just don’t want anything to do with these goddamn people, you know?

One of the times I died was during a freak snowstorm. This was about 20 years ago. We were visiting my mother-in-law in Mission. Now it’s about 9 or 10 o’clock, dark, winter, driving west on that long, straight stretch of road before you get to Silvermere, where they have three gas stations and nothing much else.

And it starts snowing. A few flakes and then suddenly it’s like pillows of snow, clumped together, and the road is covered in seconds. I can’t see more than about a foot past the front of the hood. I’m driving blind and I barely know which side of the highway I’m on, afraid I might rear end somebody, afraid to stop in case I get rear ended, afraid I might meet up with a semi-trailer. All I can do is keep plodding along.

My daughter is about 4 years old, in the back seat, in a car seat, and she’s not worried about anything. My wife beside me and she’s not saying anything, and I’m not saying anything. There’s nothing to say.

I’m thinking, man, this could be the end.

Finally the lights of the gas stations in Silvermere loom up in the sort-of phosphorescent white-darkness of the evening and the snow and I’m able to find the access and slip off the highway to safety.

Or did I? Twenty years ago and I’m a bit hazy on the details. I’m not even sure what happened anymore, there are blank spaces. Twilight zone.

Some version of me made it, I guess.

Another memory, maybe 60 years ago. I was about 3 or 4 years old and I slept with my brother, who is about 8 years older than me. I remember pressing up against his back for the warmth.

I had this dream, a nightmare. I guess you might call this the night of the living axe. I saw it hovering in the air, the handle and blade covered with scales and malevolent eyes on either side of the blade. It attacked my brother, relentlessly chopping at him, he tries to cover up but collapses in the corner. It doesn’t stop and I wake up screaming.

If you could see what I have in my memory you’d probably think it’s just kind of dumb, Hanna-Barbera artwork dumb. But if you could see it and feel it, you’d understand that my recollection still carries the same power over me today that it had on my childish self. And I love my brother, and I’m sorry for a lot of things, and grateful for him, too.

Sometimes I compose verse while walking, let’s try that:

There are bad smells in your house,

Bugs crawling through bread crumbs,

You pick your way along the path

Through the clutter,

From the kitchen

To the couch.

I move old books

From the armchair so I can sit

And eat Kentucky Fried Chicken with you,

We smoke weed and listen to records

And laugh at old black and white movies.

I suppose from outside it seems grim

I suppose many are disgusted at the squalor

But we were laughing, we were laughing

Without a care for the future or the past.

 

How about another one?

 

You know I’ve been depressed

Since about 1963

It’s really not so bad

I even sort of enjoy it

Would even celebrate it

Like an anniversary

Pick a date

Buy myself a gift

Make myself a gift

Of depression

Wear it like a shield

Wield it like a boast or a weapon,

Defense against understanding

Defense against intimacy

Defense against intrusions

Yeah, it’s not so bad

It’s often sweet

Comforting, Controlled

 

You know, only the people and things you love have any power to really hurt you.

 

Did I say I am not religious? But have a spiritual side? Okay, so how about this, if you believe there is an answer out there.

I think that human beings are insufficiently evolved to see and recognize that answer. We are like chimpanzees, or like the great apes, mountain gorillas, seeing the works of humanity, but simply incapable of gaining access to it.

We are maybe 3 or 4 steps along the way of a journey that has a billion steps. Well, let’s say a gazillion steps, some term that is meaningful but not specifically measurable. We want access to heaven, we want it so bad, and we are truly, acutely and emotionally aware of how ridiculously large the gap is. We want it so bad, we obviously can’t have it, and so it is that we will do anything to somehow jump the queue and achieve an exalted state. We will kill ourselves, kill others, engage in the most reprehensible or stupid conduct, pretend and lie, anything.

But it won’t work. No wonder we cry sometimes.

Oh, yeah, the answer. The answer will be attained and understood and joyfully accepted by something down the road that isn’t remotely recognized in any way as human.

 

One day not so very long ago, the two of us were walking in the sunshine. We pass through a small park on our regular route and, having rained that morning, the pathway had a few puddles. I saw a Dad struggling along the path with a crutch, accompanied by his little daughter, probably about 3 or 4 years old.

He got around one puddle. His little girl paused at the side and deliberately dipped one shoe into the water, then followed her father. He bypassed the next paddle, and she followed him walking directly through the middle this time to catch up with him, taking his hand and turning her head to look back and see her wet footprints on the path.

I was thinking of how goal oriented we all become. Not just about our careers or our responsibilities, but about what we intend to do next. This fellow had things to do, no doubt, at home. The day at the park was done and now it was time to get back to the house and do his other chores, including the chores of recreation.

But for his little girl, goals were extremely short range. She was in the moment, observant, curious, intent, fascinated. She was learning. Not because she thought it was a good idea for later, or perhaps for a career someday, or for any reason at all. It was because it was the world, this park, these trees, these puddles, these bugs…everything is just fascinating, interesting, fun.

I don’t really know what schools are like today. I like to think they are not quite so deliberately soul crushing as they were in the past. But I do believe that schools…organized, group learning…inevitably and relentlessly destroy a child’s natural love of learning.

Well, we are tribal. We are social. We are organizations. And all of these things have their goals and roles and functions. We have children and we have a need to use them, not merely enjoy them, but to use them to fill our tribal requirements. Their individual happiness or fulfillment is irrelevant to the needs of the group. These things are considerations, but not ultimately compelling ones.

I think we are a long, long way from any kind of truly satisfactory destiny, as a species. Individual desire or even fulfillment of potential is a distant consideration in the grand scheme of societies or governments or cultures.

As we build a technologically self-sufficient world, jobs will mean less and less. In the end I really don’t care if some people want to just lay down, watch television, eat and sleep. I don’t care if all these people have to offer are opinions and ideas and relationships, or even nothing at all. But I think of that little girl and I think of myself and I think that in some or perhaps many or even most ways, our societies are the natural enemies of childhood.

 

Now I slowly become aware that my wife is speaking to me. I’ve been thinking, not listening. We’re walking through Hammond Park now. I reconstruct my train of thought. Somehow I retrieve something of what she was saying and come up with a reasonable response.

It’s sunny and blue skies and white clouds and green leaves and I’m pretty content to be in this moment, right now, right here, with her. Still, I carry my share of the past with me, too, and I cannot ever unburden myself. If you ever meet me, well, I don’t mean to ignore you. Just understand that you are competing with ghosts for my attention.

 

Gary Fletcher – May 22 2018