I did something radical today. Namely, visit a friend who lives nearby. Who has time for crap like this when every burning issue—name one that’s not on fire—has to be decided right now, I ask you? But anyway, I went, and I’m glad I did. On good days any visit out there is a jolt. It’s not just the beauty of the place. I fall into a different space.
I know this space. It’s where I was in Arkansas in ’71. It was “back to the land” time then for thousands of us. Without cell phones or Twitter, either, yet something shared and from the heart. Now that’s a movement. You had no idea who else was dropping out but all the time, you’d meet these others. My friend was doing it for real in northern California in a place where it’s still going on. I lasted seven months and tumbled back to Austin. He and I, we’d understand, but those of you who weren’t around then or didn’t hook into the culture might not realize it is a culture, even if one drives to Santa Fe now to buy cheap wine at Trader Joe’s.
There’s a spiritual dimension to all this that I tap into instantly. The way I felt when I first tasted water from the hand-dug well in Arkansas right outside my door, for instance. It wasn’t the water but where it came from, straight out of the Earth and into my bucket with a hand pump. Pure and free! Like the mood at the kitchen table in the old hippie house in Austin on a Sunday morning when the windows are open and it isn’t hot yet. And now, much like the way the words roll right out of my mouth when I sit down in front of the flowing pond back in the hills, surrounded by a garden in the wicker love seat in front of the handmade house, watching dragonflies flit among the reeds. In New Mexico. Close enough to walk to. Underneath my nose.
These people are no fakes. Older than I am, though not by much. My friend and his lady partner both have strong personalities and I’ve tangled with each of them in turn. All my fault, of course. But real people give you Get-Out-of-Crazy-Free cards you can use any time. So today I rollicked away and cracked menacing jokes about all the bullshit meandering nonsense I’d wrecked the last week with. The John Show went on for quite some time and covered all the issues. Familiar ground for both of us, actually—and then he let me have it.
I wish I’d had an audio recorder. I wish I hadn’t kept interrupting so I’d be able to remember more. But it was the most magnificent rant, the kind where a single inspired sentence just rolls on and on, dipping for commas then rising again, gaining in pitch and volume as it grows until the ground trembles and leaves shake and the gods await the grande finale when the jabbing finger pokes the sun out and we die!
I mean, it was good.
It started out with each of us yelling that we were the best at worrying. But he soon had the floor. Calling me a “young whippersnapper” devoid of any comprehension, with every gasp of breath and rising shout he recited evidence of all his suffering, stupidity, and worry–“and I’M JEWISH!!!”—thereby taking on the crown. But then he shifted to issues I had raised. His voice got even louder. Our beers rattled on the table. He was glowing hot. I knew what was coming and slumped lower in my chair. With a final fulmination, he rammed the logic home —ka-boom!—and declared that I was champion, after all. Oy vey.
“Just go for it!” was in there somewhere, but I still had to take my licks, which I did enjoy. On my way out soon after, he reminded me of his oxygen tank and hip replacement. That was different but I understood. (In the annals of Too Stupid to Live, my name is not engraved. After I am gone, you may say it killed me, but not before.) The lady—who is 80—took my arm and showed me her milkweed flowers. She’d had an herbalist to dinner who told her milkweeds were from another planet.
“Don’t they look like they came from outer space?” she asked.
The little dark globules, the curving spikes. My God, of course they do! (The leaves are obviously fake, a green disguise, protective coloration.)
She held the clothesline up so I could back the car out. My friend put the dog in the back of their Subaru to keep him from running away and opened the gate. I drove back down the bumpy gravel road as mountains ringed the view and I could see for 90 miles at least.
(Miles and miles and miles…)
Great column JHF, I saw a lot of me in it. Back around 1972 things were a lot like that for me and my buddies David, Beaver and Bongo Bob. And the young hippie girls who hung around all the time. Now David and I are still alive, we survived and most thought we wouldn’t. He lives 20 miles away and I hear from him about twice a year. Beaver and Bongo Bob are long gone, dead too young.
And instead of pretty hippie girls I have cats. Cats sure are a lot simpler.
Saw yourself, eh? “…it is a culture…” Here’s to Beaver and Bongo Bob. Yes, cats are simpler. Walk around nekkid too but don’t attract kibbitzing rednecks. (Thank you.)
Wow. I am right there with y’all. Wonder what we will do with it. I dare not even fall for a cat, so as not to be dictated to anymore. Aging does seem to help with cutting through the crap. I am still startled to see myself in the mirror, though, so I got rid of them, and a lot of other stuff. That helped a bunch.
Damn mirrors. But how else can I see which tooth just broke? Aging is strange. My wife is so far out on the “not to be dictated to” (or manipulated) limb these days I have to be careful not to load stuff on and break it, or she’ll fly away. No real danger, though. I get cut off at the pass.
I have a reminder that pops up on my email every morning that says, “Be stronger than your excuses.” I used to tell myself that when I was in training as a competitive fighter. Now it’s just to get through the day.
[Writing that down…]
You’re wise Rita. I get attached to the cats and wish they could live as long as me, soon one will. “Aging,” I like that. It sounds a lot better than getting old. Sometimes I look in the mirror and see it all in the lines, all the good and bad through the years. A lot of both.
I once asked an old lady what her life had been like and she said it was always getting through one situation so another could start. I always figured by now, by this time I would have finally settled into something stable but it hasn’t happened. I’m just as restless now as I was at 18. I still wonder what I’ll be when I grow up.
“I’m just as restless now as I was at 18.”
And here I thought I was the only one. Glad to hear this.