Thursday, April 1, 2010


It is sometimes difficult to be temperate. You look around at the waste, the dissatisfaction, the petty strivings of petty humans. You want to vent your anger. That fact that you number yourself among them doesn't help. Tut, tut -- such laziness and cupidity. Leaving the lights on, eating like pigs, savoring each other's bad behavior before passing judgement. Giving in to fatigue, mental and physical. Giving up the chase after truth. The truth is like beauty, it's an elusive bird, let it go. It's camouflaged by this artificial skin we call culture. The truth -- you probably wouldn't recognize it even if you did happen to get close enough to flush it out. But you're no hunter, you're just a schlub, another commuter sitting out on the highway, fist raised to the sky, cursing a god you don't even believe in. You have lived long enough to know that the truth is relative. You look at the gravestones in the little cemetery off Glenwood Road. The truth lies underground.

Let me ask the superficial hedonists who still love the creamy smell of a new car, those who get turned on by mass-produced machines, "What will it smell like when you're lying in your coffins, nestled in satin, the hairs in your nostrils still sprouting? Will it smell like a new car?" Effin formaldehyde. That's what I smell when I remember my Uncle John lying in a hospital bed at Beekman Downtown, almost at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, close by the Fulton Fish Market before they moved it to the Bronx, the signs in the corridors in three languages: English, Spanish, and Chinese. He lay there slurring his words. "What did the sawbones say? Am I gonna make it?" He pulled his gown aside and showed me where they had drawn those purple lines across his back and his chest. Showing the technicians where to shoot the radiation into him. He looked like one of those diagrams of a steer you used to see hanging in butcher shops, to point out where the different cuts of meat come from. He twisted his head from side to side. "They won't let me wear my teeth." This was a long time ago.

Within weeks of Uncle John's death, I was back to smoking again. He was safely buried in the ground and I was banging on the piano in the St. John's parish hall during the day. At night it was a different story. I got high and drove around Jersey aimlessly like someone out of a Springsteen song without the working class glamour. After a couple of hours, I'd get hungry, find a diner, and eat like a pig. The infamous cheeseburger deluxe, or a mushroom swiss omelette with bacon on the side, or maybe a meat loaf sandwich with extra gravy, and a slice of that tall Boston Creme pie they keep in those rotating glass cases. Shite on loneliness, I had food. Tell me, poot, has anyone figured out what to do with surplus anger? I know now that you can't eat it away, or pummel it out of yourself by pounding the twelve-bar blues. You can't hide it with dope or confess it to a journal and expect it to go away. It just sits there inside you like a radioactive pill, slowly killing you. I saw anger walking away from me down Hunnewell Avenue a hundred times, my old man bristling at the yoke, having to go to work and report to someone with an inferior mind. The effin truth was a joke. We had everything we needed but it didn't matter. We strove to be something other than what we were.

In church they preached that only love could staunch anger and heal its wounds. It sounded good but I rarely saw it work, and when I did I always saw the lover suffer. Quist didn't like to talk about church but he did say once, "That's what love is, poot -- suffering. They're telling the truth."

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