Sunday, June 20, 2010

Old Friends

I'm no dick, but I am an American on a quest, lookin for the truth with a definite article in front of it. If I've gotta go diggin up the past to get at it, I will. I will recover my memories, tryin to glean from the routine senseless repetition of events something meaningful, the sledge at the end of the mind. This ain't some cinematic horror story, with the usual white American's guts spillin out. Nor is it reality TV. I'm eating fresh strawberries at my kitchen table up in the northwest corner of New Jersey. It's 2010. I'm as melancholy as the last monkey in the zoo. Tell me, darlin, why do I prefer the company of trees and birds to that of people? Perhaps they understand me better than I do myself.

I went to Germany where my mother was born and circled the family burial plot in Neckarhäuserhof upstream from Heidelberg and saw the stones that marked her uncles' graves, those who had been killed in the First World War. Thinkin to myself, what do I have in common with them? I was moved by the thought of her as a young girl playing in the woods above the town not far from the castle Hirschhorn, the woods that still seemed haunted. I rode the ferry that she would've ridden back in the 1920s across the swift and scenic river. An old lady with a horrible purple face stared at me. I tried hard to place these impressions
just so in my story-tellin repertoire, but the insights never came, these baubles weren't diamonds, they were merely cut glass -- they would never satisfy my quest. Germany was just another place where people went about their business. It looked like effin Pennsylvania.

The world is his scab and he picks at it, said the poet, now dead. I'm on a quest for the truth of the matter, this life I'm living, headstrong, fatal, mostly a comedy of errors. Before I croak I want somebody to tell me who the fuck I am. I'm no dick but I learnt the American vernacular from those who were. My old man and his brother-in-law comin out of Brooklyn, a railroad apartment on Dupont Street off Manhattan Avenue, talkin funny like the greenhorns who come off the boat in their fake leather jackets, drunk as skunks on Saturday night, sleepin it off at mass Sunday Morning. An unruly Pole, he read Schopenhauer and Conrad and kept a journal when he was stationed overseas. The universe is not a rational place. He was worried about his masculinity, that he could never be tough enough, that it was girlish to play Chopin and recite Emily Dickinson. Imagine that. He rued the day he declined a job at the university and spent much of his life staring at the road not taken. He bequeathed the quest to me, so now I'm lookin for something lost. Something essential and true. You gotta dedicate your days to something bigger'n yourself, poot, right?

Not sex, not glory, not god, not trophies, not money, not philosophy -- my friends will laugh: I've never gotten past the notion that all there is, is an exultation of the irrational, boys. I'm lookin at an anthill and thinkin about the future of ants. It looks bright. Me, not so sure of.

The other night, I met an old friend I hadn't seen in thirty-five years. The wonders of the web. We picked up the same threads of conversation, him with his bald spot, me with my gut, bemused at our own boyishness, the threads that had come undone back at the end of high school, the beginning of college. M. is a good man, a mensch, a sensible and sensitive father, as honest as the day is long, having come a long way to peacefulness, yet still on a quest himself, that rarest of birds, a modest American male. A mathematician, a software analyst, a simulator, a one-time workaholic who had top secret clearance -- "the end of the Cold War put us out of business" -- M. lives in Bayside and knows bad wine when he sniffs it: possessing a nose for truth even if it makes him feel uncomfortable. M. is a moral animal, and gentle enough for me to believe that a brotherhood of man is possible, if only we were all that smart. What does it mean that we found each other again? An affirmation of the circularity of existence? The dogged acceptance of the stark fact that we are who we were and so shall remain until the maggots have at us?

Ah! under starry skies we will speak to each other of the immensity of the universe and the mysteriousness of life -- you know, typical adolescent talk -- and drink new wine. And no one will ever take it away from me, the feeling that at least one other person knew what it was like to be me, even for just a few moments.

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