31 October 2012 § Leave a comment
Am I the only one who notices the porn-shop grunginess of used and pay-as-you-go cell phone shops? The employees always seem distracted, though ironically not with their phones, and are just shady enough for me to think that if I asked for a cricket plan with a side of meth, they would happily fill my order, and slip all my twenties into the same drawer.
Samsungs and iPhones, Andriods and Blackberries alike, lined up in sad rows in glass counters, objects of our obsessions, like toys that beep when we smile at them. These places are pawn shops without the chainsaws or class rings, where young men go to profit from their latest find, or to facilitate secret keeping.
And then I realize, what am I doing standing here? I am not wearing a shiny football jersey or Nikes, my car has no 22 inch dubs, and the only plastic bags in my pockets are those earplugs come wrapped in.
Yet – like them – I wish to stay off-grid, whatever that means; I wish to keep my ugly credit file in the dark and out of use, to keep my name off contracts. Obligation and commitment are to me rejected family members, twice removed. But is it worth the grime?
A month ago in Albuquerque, Heather asked me to turn around. You need a phone for the trip, she told me. I didn’t particularly want to be reachable – I wanted to take the great western hitchhiking trip with as little caution as possible. Even the idea of having a destination curdled the Kerouac romanticism in me, but I accepted it. And, I’d learned to not argue with her, especially on points of irresponsibility. Somehow, she always wins.
Heavy drops of desert rain pelted us as we ran from a fenced church parking lot to the Cricket shop next door. In ten seconds our clothes stuck to us like panicked cats trying to keep out of the bathtub. I covered my head with my wet t-shirt, saw the futility in it, pulled it down again, and made peace with the weather. I sucked in the scent of rainsoaked sage and thought of the childhood I spent feeling indifferent about where I was.
The man inside asked for my ID. I hadn’t committed to the sale, and frankly could have mistaken the place for the apartment of a narcissist thief. He outlined the month-to-month plans with a soft Juarez accent with all the enthusiasm of a skipping stone after it’s sunk. Like many questionable characters before me, I perused the cheapest plans and cheapest phones, and felt distinctly that I was choosing from a stockpile of dead children. Phones that had once gathered all of their owner’s attention – eyes at screen for hours, emotions roiling at received text messages, fumbling with in pockets anxious, or, to be among the luckiest – and now saddest – having been slipped into a bra while bodies danced. It was a cellphone hospital whereby the doctor sold off his former patients. It disgusted me.
“Fifty. You like that one, I can do fifty on that one.” He pointed at the phone that caught my eye, a heavy Samsung with the face that moved to reveal a keyboard.
I considered the history of the phone – where had it been, what conversations had developed over it, how many times had it been lost, or cried into? It was well-used, a charcoal blue and silver brick of advanced technology circa 2007.
“I’ll take it. What’s the coverage like?”
He showed me a map so inaccurate that had I known how rarely I’d have service over the six days and two thousand miles of the trip, I would have communicated with Heather via messenger pigeon instead. Green splotches covered the beige map in a shape curiously similar to the interstate system, with major cities fat around their bellies. The phone worked until Santa Fe where, promptly, the screen blinked buscando SVC for much of the next six days.
In Portland, a lazy day in the rain. Another Cricket shop. Used desktop computers, dusty and old, sat overpriced in the window. The man behind the counter wore a shiny football jersey and mumbled in baritone to a man trying to sell him his phone. They spoke no common language but Cell Phone.
“Fifteen. I can do fifteen on that one.” The customer searched the room for a translation. He looked at me.
“Quince,” I said quietly.
I wondered if I wanted to be a part of this. My fellow customer was not someone I wanted to see angry, and the man behind the counter, likely a linebacker in high school, seemed to want him out of the store.
“He’s wondering if you’ll do twenty.”
“Can’t do it. I’ve got six of this model already.”
The customer picked up the phone, stared at it, then at the footballer, stuck it in his jacket pocket, and left.
“Can I help you?”
Just then I heard laughing in the back of the store. He went around the corner, took my phone number and cash, gave them to a guy with slick hair who sat at a computer, and said I was good to go. Simple as that. I asked for a receipt. “You’ll get a text,” he said, already having dismissed me.
On my way out, I noticed the security bars on the windows and door. They fondly reminded me of Costa Rica, where I understood no one’s intentions, always stood in the back of the crowd, but somehow got involved with whatever grit came with the breeze. Some places I just don’t need to be.
30 October 2012 § Leave a comment
It took Seattle to get me to like Portland more. I wonder how often that happens. One moves here, and it wasn’t quite what they expect, so they drive to Seattle, get a taste of the real big city by the sea, with its smelly streets and dirty cops, and then suddenly realize why they moved to Portland as opposed to any other place in the States: peaceful neighborhoods managed by a culture of smart lushes, artists and magicians. Its transience mirrors my soul, and the fact that finding living space and work here is bloody difficult speaks to one truth: we’re all trying to get somewhere else.
Movement, however, is not always physical. It takes place quietly within us while we look for other things, like answers. In the meantime we find communes of like spirits – hostels in far-off countries, organic farms in the jungle, Portland – to conspire with, to plan the next adventure. Our feet will take us far if we let them, but we must give them reason and energy to walk.
The City by the Sea welcomed me into its overcast, and I walked the twenty blocks to downtown from the one neighborhood I know my way around. A friend and her posse of college bros had $97 tickets to a Halloween rave, and intended to sleep 15 of them in a small but elegant room at the Hilton. As night set in, the guy with the Elmo mask jumped up and down occasionally. I assumed this was out of excitement. (I’ve seldom spent time around the College Bro breed, but from what I gathered that night, I’d say there’s potential.) We walked to the stadium, myself naturally the least costumed, and met a line six blocks long.
We continued to its head, passed a thousand figures clad in body paint and irony. I saw no less than fourteen Mario and Luigi pairs, thirteen giant bananas, and more push-up bras than I’d ever taken off put together. More empathogens and hallucinogens flowed through that line than the single city cop parked at the front of it could have done paperwork on in a year. So he left the party monsters alone. I said goodbye at the door, and on the way back I saw amongst mediocre costumes one Hunter S. Thompson, in the form of a cute latina.
While they danced I walked the piers alone in the spitting rain. To escape it I paid fifteen dollars to ride a ferris wheel. The round glass gondolas reminded me mightily of Willy Wonka’s elevator. I faced off with the orange, black and white skyline, noted that the Halloween theme colors show up every night in the city, and, hyper-aware of the high wind and my manufactured height, laughed at myself for being scared. I sat with myself for five revolutions of the pod around the great circle, one moment diving into the sea and the next rising up to meet the city of man. We got to know each other better.
By the weekend was over I’d spent time with good friends, myself, and the road. Ready to settle again: the grind is a whirlwind of emails to potential roommates and landlords, driving around the city, and exploring neighborhoods. Asking politely about available jobs, taking in every. single. rejection. and letting them go. Hope is an obnoxious counterpart; we fuel each other toward perfection, even as we fall by the wayside and pick the other up again to endure another lap.
29 October 2012 § Leave a comment
“I like your heart,” he said as I walked away. “And that, too.”
I looked down at my chest, to see whether he could see my heart. An Om symbol decorated my new hoodie, the likes of which I hadn’t worn since high school. “Thanks,” I said, then turned away and smiled. As I walked, I leaned over the breakfast-table sized painting of Ganesh to protect it from the rain. Given the dirt and ash that covered the cartoonish elephant god, I could have let the pindrop Portland rain soak him through only to benefit.
The two men had hollered at me after I passed their resident bar on Hawthorne. I’d just left writing class, and carried scribbled notes and Ganesh down the sidewalk. I hid the painting from view of the customers in glass-walled yogurt shops and others smoking outside. I imagined them wondering what my painting depicted, why I carried it in the rain, where it came from.
These two picked up the bait.
When I revealed the giant canvas god, their beer-sloshed eyes lit up. “It came from a fire,” I said.
“Did you buy it?”
“From the fire?”
“We saw a van on fire earlier, in the middle of the street. Cops, and everything.”
“That must have been the one, then.”
Ganesh – who at once is Ganesha, Ganapati, Dvaimātura (one who has two mothers), Vighnesha Lord of Obstacles, the thousand-named elephant-headed god of wisdom, knowledge, obstacles and letters – sits on a lotus flower, half-cross-legged, as if deciding whether to meditate, or run away. For once he is concerted to his audience, his devotees, who invoke his name before all other Hindu gods. On the ash-dusted canvas he is focused, painted in shades of grey, holds in one of his right hands an ax; in his lefts a flower and a bowl of fruit. He is not playful, but holds secrets and answers to begging questions:
Why only one tusk? What happened to the other? You are not symmetrical; one left hand, bearing fruit, bears also six fingers. Where do you come from, and what peace do you offer me?
I feel the childish nature in my questions; I was raised by western deities whose cares are broad and selfish, who do not bother with stories of elephant heads but of levitation and cannibalism. Gods have eluded me all my life, hiding in book spines and under great boulders, just out of my reach. Ganesha, or whatever he goes by, emerged from a pile of burned art as I walked by the embers. His artist’s name is half-erased, ends with “-rdeh.” The man who gifted me this god said it was meant for me, and only me. No evangelist has said that. He said, please think of me at Christmas time.
On the street, I turned Ganesha’s image away from everyone else because I did not know him either, and could not make introductions properly. I hope that he looks over me, that we get to know each other well, for his purpose serves mine. And If I find peace in the sun behind his head as well as in the ax, then perhaps above my writing desk is where he belongs for now.
25 October 2012 § 4 Comments
How easy it is for me to fall. The extensive support system that Heather provides is a wonderful illusion of reality. Her radical acceptance of me eclipses that which I have for myself.
I indulge in the solitude resulting from each of her departures. My life zaps into a paused video – operable by remote control, waiting for something to happen. It smiles from the shelf, reflecting a version of me that laughs often and loudly, dances with abandon, and never hesitates to talk to women.
Up there it is safe – between bookends, with context and stories refined to tellable takes and anecdotes tailored to hang jaws and show off my humility. It is highly developed, my shelf-life, and communicates well. Its voice is confident, excited. Has looked itself up in the dictionary many times, and memorized what it found. Shares it often.
24 hours into her absence, I am entirely in my own world again. Every semblance of routine I had yesterday has vanished. If I need not be considerate of others, it is the first tear from the book – the dishes are a mess, and my clothes, instruments, and papers have crawled across most surfaces in her basement suite.
When I am there, I procrastinate, and little else. Every task is a reason to not do something more productive. Instead of cooking I watch a movie. Instead of writing I snack. Instead of trolling craigslist I smoke a bowl, content that the right house, job, bike, and future will fall into my lap, regardless of my active search, as soon as I get my energies in order.
I took three hours from the morning for internet minutiae before deciding to begin the day. On my way out the door, I played guitar, scrubbed mud and mold from a painting of Ganesh with a toothbrush, took a shower, and wrote a note to an old friend. By the time I tied my shoes the sun had crossed the driveway and out of sight form the door, and any chance I still wanted to drive to Seattle today went with it.
I forced myself out the door, said ‘Go’ aloud, and walked to the sidewalk.
When my feet start moving, it is difficult to stop them. So when, a half-mile away, I felt the Marsee Bakery and Coffeeshop calling me, I was surprised and naturally resistant.
The dirty blond kid in a tie-dye shirt made eye contact with me immediately. His eyes had a peculiar and calculating twitch, as if he were recalling a memory.
“Can I help you?” he asked in a casual and professional barista tone.
“Um, what do you recommend?”
“You look really familiar to me.”
“I’ll go with that. Wait. Do I?” I gave the door a sidelong glance.
“Where are you from?” he continued his interrogation.
“The road,” I answered with my new favorite reply.
“I’m from North Carolina,” he said matter-of-factly, determined but still smiling. It was a verbal battle with a predictable end.
“Spent some time in Asheville. I worked in music mostly, at Echo Mountain.” The most prestigious job I’d ever had was emptying the ashtrays of relatively famous musicians, and the first one I told people about.
He pointed his right index to the light bulb above his head: “So did I!”
I searched my brain. I didn’t know his face, but his voice I’d heard before. He worked at my favorite job in North Carolina, perhaps of my life, and I couldn’t place him. Had I blocked out that much? Did the stress I put myself through kill memory cells?
There he was – in my mind, in the studio: a scrawny college student with locks waving like a bridal train. Back then I rarely remembered his name; in the middle of conversations I would lose it like a store receipt in a hurricane.
His hair was shorter, and curlier. His grayish eyes, sharp like holly leaves, did not waver. He wanted to connect me with his friend who toured with YOB, did their sound. “I’ll ask if he knows where maybe you can get a job – wait, do you want to get back into sound?”
I smiled, wrote my info on an order check, and said we should hang out sometime. He took it, said my tea and bagel were on the house, and seemed to have assumed already that we would.
I’d been telling myself that I knew no one in Portland outside the tribe I’d gotten to know since meeting Heather. That I’d find no one here whom I knew and she didn’t. There was the exception of Emily, an ex-girlfriend who every six months wrote me a note prompted by an old memory. Maybe I’d run into her sometime. (Emily I thought about often, fantasized about passing her on the street, and what I’d say if I did, and had seen ‘her’ no less than a dozen times last summer.)
That Reverdy recognized me after the biggest three and a half years of my life said that time hadn’t changed everything, that the contempt I had for myself for disregarding everyone while my life collapsed was probably born of illusion, that Asheville wasn’t as bad as I liked to remember it, and that other good people leave places, too.
It is no art to know where you don’t belong. The beauty is in the search for the place that will know a like spirit as it passes through, and how to welcome them in a way that makes it seems as if it were their idea to land there.
Portland feels my resistance to here, and acts accordingly. She hears that I’d rather be somewhere else, and sees that I stay. She knows like I do that I’ll come around, that I’ll welcome myself into being here, and rewards my small triumphs.
I’m taking it slow. Traveling slow. Flying less, loving more. I want to be present. The least I can gift is that – to Portland, to Heather, to myself.
For you, citylife, I’ve got me. What have you got in store? How will living here change my life? Will I write; will I trump distraction? Will I buy that bicycle, will I thrive in my space instead of trash someone else’s? Shall I pay the bills with a job I love, or one that will simply do for now? Does it matter? My passion is here somewhere. I’m going to go find it.
24 October 2012 § Leave a comment
A year has passed since the Costa Rica rainy season twelve umbrellas died in my hands. I hadn’t been careful since I’d arrived, bouncing over waves in the Caribbean, and tripping over girls’ feet in salsa class. My balance was off. I climbed trees anyway, to penetrate the jungle, to understand its abundance, to ask why it chose me.
Of course the rainforest doesn’t provide nearly as many answers as reflections. Sometimes I can hear the quetzal singing its cello voice up in the trees, Elieser my co-worker pointing through a thousand vines and tenfold leaves, lush and wild, to the neon green comma of resplendent feathers perched in the canopy. Viste? he would ask me, careful to not mumble too many words at one time. Of my many Spanish teachers in Central America he was the most patient, and asked the least of me. What learning I gained from working the waterfalls trail in Bajo Mono I sought myself, for days could be spent there in silence, admiring. Life surrounded us up there; insects which looked like Indy cars, or Christmas lights, accompanied our awe until we reached the hard smack of water falling from boulders just smaller than office buildings. Only machetes and smiles were useful those days.
The few times I needed my compass in Central America, it was tucked in the side pocket of my bag with a first aid kit, a thumb-sized Buddha, and a poem by William Blake. The memento collection survived to serve my nostalgia, and lives now in the trunk of my car, where I preserve most stuff labeled SEAN in disheveled, bags-unzipped chaos.
I wonder how much of my travelself is novelty. From that unique position I enjoy the new and shiny things in life, like mirrors, as I speed past, content with how I show up in them, and convinced that my velocity is known and loved by stiller beings. Sometimes too well known, and loved too much. Momentum, like loudness, is often mistaken for quality: Yes, Mr. Salesman, I can hear the speakers filling the room, but I wonder – can they fill the room with good sound?
Is it possible that those we meet while traveling are in their best-dressed selves, that the comedown post-return can be a reformation in itself, rather than a shift back to the character we played before taking off? And if so, what benefits does the world see from our adventuring? Do those magical lapses of time while climbing the edge of a tectonic plate, or hugging the sea, really change the world?
Mismanaged relationships, which are sometimes the result of a reckless heart with a plane ticket, if we let them, can cause devastation in our carefully assembled lives back home. And for the poor souls whose recrudescence goes misunderstood or ignored, may they learn how to integrate their insights, or expand themselves once again to find their tribe.
The matter is this: travel has taught me a lot more about me than it has about the rest of the world. I’ve learned how to show up as me, or as the best me I can in a given moment, how to tell the truth regardless of the apparent benefit of omission, and to sit in the fire when something burns. I have some problems to solve, and I’ve made a few mistakes, some of them irreparable. Worse, however, would only be if I never first had the chance to make them.
Thank you for reflecting what I’ve been about, and for showing me where I’ve moved. Sometimes I get lost – like when I leave the compass alone. But it’s nice to know someone is paying attention. And nicer still at times to learn they’re not.
19 October 2012 § Leave a comment
I thought I had a place in Portland. I did. It was a lovely old boat on the Columbia river; I had ducks and Canada geese as neighbors, could sit on the back deck and watch the tide move slowly back to the ocean. No traffic noise, no bulldozers. In the houseboat next to me, where lived my gracious landlord, I had an open space to jam and read from the old mariner’s library while the sun departed its candleflame from the water.
It felt special, it really did – I had defied all odds and found a place in a city where, supposedly, searching for a perfect living situation is akin to Charlie’s chance at getting the golden ticket. I wanted to stay there, despite the relentless spiders and the mold which grew on every hard surface available. And the cushions. And the curtains. I put a few hours of work into it, an attempt to salvage the place at least to Livable. By the end of the priming stage, on a rainy day, when I had found copious leaks in the fo’c’sle, my gut said ‘to hell with it.’ Likely due to the toxic paint fumes.
The carpenter arrived in good spirits. He was prepared to assist me, and had up to then joyfully facilitated my wishes to improve the boat’s condition. My experience with living situations has been disordered – many ended in tears or rage. I wished not to put him in a hard place, and needed to take care of myself. I told him that it wasn’t going to work, and within minutes had removed my guitar, leopard print deck chair, and bottle of vodka – all I had moved in with. His grace outshone his anger, and I apologized from my heart.
I understand that many people don’t mind, or aren’t affected, by mold. Awesome. I would love that immunity. For now, that sensitivity has me kickin’ it with Heather in her awesome Sellwood basement, amidst the irony that it was my request to live consciously separate. This week I’ve seen four houses, all roommate situations (which I don’t necessarily want, but can afford), and perhaps soon I’ll have a place to practice not stumbling over poems during my inaugural performances in Portland.
Boy, did that sound pretentious and self-deprecating. I’ll be a hipster in no time. Watch out.
drink tea, make friends, eat food and spin fire staff on five-mile walks in the middle of the night. a day in the life.
Maybe they’ll call.
Maybe I can manage life here.
Funny, our passports stand from the table and lean on the wall behind it, at the base of the loveliest lamp in the house, like framed art not yet hung, transitory and ready to move at any moment, to a pocket, to another place.
16 October 2012 § Leave a comment
wordstock, last weekend’s Portland literary festival during which I was introduced to the poetry scene in my new town, filled me with equal parts inspiration and dread at my current exploit: learning to write professionally. I would love to be paid to write what I love. So would everyone who writes, and if they can earn paychecks too, awesome. I want to be one of them.
Once upon a time, I said that I wanted to be a world traveler. Now I can say that I’ve needed my passport regularly for a while. Yay. Check. Time to do something new and difficult.
I saw the festival as opportunity – to spend money on books, attend workshops, and meet other socially awkward writers in hide-and-seek games in which we were both happy to have tables and context between us, for why talk? We’d rather have our noses in books anyway, coming up for air only look at cute bookworms (and even then, perhaps air isn’t that important anyway). A chance also to redeem myself for skipping out on the Evergreen College program, and to forgive myself for failing to impress the reader with my Hawthorne Fellowship application.
It turns out writing is a popular activity in Portland, up there with collecting records and asking for spare change. It didn’t occur to me that many of these writers teach also – in fact, there were no less than six(!) creative non-fiction classes this autumn. So, for two and a half tanks of gas and an ice cream cone from Salt & Straw, I signed up for one that began three weeks ago.
Who knows where it will take me – toward the tree story I thought of half an hour ago, or toward the NaNoWriMo challenge I’m about to undertake. Perhaps I’ll take the slam poetry scene here more seriously, and put my energy there. None of which will earn me money, but that’s not really the point, is it?
Idea: can we have a happiness tax, with which people who are not happy pay into a pool that is dispersed to those who do what they love? This would be a great loophole tax to the 1%, the sad republicans, nihilists, and salespeople. Support the happiness tax, and pay starving artists in kale salads and goat cheese.
Anyway. I wanted to write something before my first class, and now I have. I’m to report to class in 38 minutes, and I still have to figure out where to go.