09 October 2015

A Thousand Channels, 24/7

On bright mornings, the traveler was caught off-guard by ghosts. Memories of the past washing ashore on the beach of his mind. It was the driving, really, that did it. The road stretched out before him full of promise. He would smile and choke down a few tears. The piquancy of his brother's ghost, the never-heard cries of his first born children, all gone except for that irreducible block of memory. Searing pain and ecstasy make a curious couple intertwined in the mind and heart. It was the road. The one that started a thousand miles away and led him into a sea of grass and remembrance.

"Did you see that?" (laughter)
"See what?" (Momentary befuddlement)
"That sign back there."
"Just now? No. What did it say?"
"Say whaaat?" (Giggling fit)
" I know, man! Who knew that he liked to get his drink on here?" (More laughter)
"Seriously, man, look how far he fell from the Sistine Chapel."
(Pensive silence)

Once more on the road, I have to do it, it's part of the job. I'm used to it now. Except for the run-down parts of town. Or towns, I should clarify. No, towns and cities. There is a lot of them out here and there are quite a few where it seems like the inhabitants have been ground down by life. Or the landlords were ground down. Or maybe everyone just stopped caring. Too many buildings possessed of gray dinginess, decrepitude and crappy signage. There is still cause for amusement, though. Passing through one such area, driving past Legs Party Bar ("Open 'til 2 AM!") I saw that the Knobtown Strip Center has added a new tenant. It's a "spa" offering"massage". I had to laugh. What, "Cheap Smokes and Liquor" from the joint next door aren't good enough?

Dine In  9/23/2015  12:33:28 PM
Order # 132156  Cashier: Destiny M.
1 LG Steamer $8.49
 Mayo NO
1 Reg Combo  $2.59
 Medium Drink*
 Chip For Combo
Sub. Total:    $11.08
Tax:                 $1.04
Total:             $12.12
   Visa:            $12.12
   Change:       $0.00

The Kansas City Royals baseball team won their division this year. They will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Their first opponent is the scrappy Houston Astros, who made the playoffs for the first time since 2005. The inhabitants are looking forward to a great series, hopefully the Boys in Blue will get to go to the World Series again like they did last year. Everyone is talking about them and tuning in. One thing is for certain: the Royals seem easy to like, even if one is a fan of another team.

No matter how many times I have seen it in the course of my job, I still find it annoying that most people seem to think that tissue boxes with shiny colors or "art" on them are true interior decoration. They aren't, and never will be. The amount of time I waste in the course of a typical day hiding those boxes, so I can shoot a better picture, may not be huge on an individual basis, but it adds up. Every time I move one I think of French author Honoré de Balzac, who after a night of sex, allegedly lamented "There goes another novel!"

Did You Know? Collared lizards can run on their hind legs with a stride that reaches more than 3 times the length of their bodies.

Excerpt from the National Park Service's Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve webpage:
     Tallgrass prairie once covered 170 million acres of North America. Within a generation
     the vast majority was developed and plowed under. Today less than 4% remains, mostly
     here in the Kansas Flint Hills. The preserve protects a nationally significant remnant of           
     the once vast tallgrass prairie and its cultural resources. Here the tallgrass prairie takes     
     its last stand.

A Typical Day of Carnage -
 Raccoons: 5
 Opossums: 1
 Birds (species unknown): 3
 Squirrels: 8?
 Deer: 1
 Mouse: 1
It was the mouse that really threw me. To date I had never seen one in all my rounds. I nearly trampled it on my way back to  the car.

I-70 gets it start back east, and not very auspiciously. It begins in a Park-And-Ride in Baltimore, Maryland. It runs 2,151 miles to the west, passing though St. Louis, Kansas City and Denver until it peters out in an interchange with I-15 just outside Cove Fort, Utah. The distance from Cove Fort to Kansas City is 1,106 miles. The distance from Kansas City to Baltimore is 1,060 miles. It is a new life in the center.

I am home now. It was a busy day, lots of photos to be shot, lots of pavement to be traversed. I was able to drive with the windows down all day. No A/C. The rush of air through the cabin of my small SUV provides a white noise that allows me to follow my Zen. I think a lot while driving. Sometimes I talk to myself. Other times, especially on long drives away from the urban clutter, I stop and listen to the insects in the grass.

If anyone is perplexed by the passages above, you should know they are a tribute of sorts, my offering to a literary form previously unknown to me. The form is called biji, and it is of Chinese origin dating back to 220 AD, surviving up until about 1912 AD. I came across it in a fascinating book published by McSweeney's, titled "Vikings, Monks, Philosophers, Whores: Old Forms, Unearthed"*. I bought the book at a book store specializing in overstocks, trade-ins and other forms of second-hand volumes. Great buy, wonderful stuff. According to McSweeny's, biji can be translated as "notebook" and is characterized by "Musings, anecdotes, quotations, 'believe-it-or-not' fiction and social anthropology". They go on further to say that biji also can contain legends, scientific notes, and bits of local wisdom. Lists of interesting objects and travel narratives are also quite common. After reading the examples in the book (and being somewhat disturbed by the 'modern' take on it by Douglas Coupland) I was immediately smitten by the form and the idea. Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time can probably see why this is so. I think it is because biji finally, after all these years, puts a name to the things in my head.

*Vikings, Monks, Philosophers, Whores: Old Forms, Unearthed, as curated by Darren Franich and Graham Weatherly, 2009 by McSweeney's Quarterly Concern.

30 September 2015

Kickboxing Was Not The Sport of My Future

I am at home now. Ostensibly at peace, sitting by an open window with the sounds of the night drifting in on soothing whispers. Home for me being the mythical cottage by the ever-restless Mare Metaphoris of my own imagining. It was but two short weeks ago that I was on the shore of the very real Atlantic Ocean, in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware with my not-quite-so-Wee-anymore Lass. A fine day trip to that seaside town, with waves curling in under a sky of hazy blue. She was laughing. My heart was growing. Then the waves broke and carried me away.

I was squatting at the high edge of surf when the mirror broke. Staring out to sea, I had dipped two fingers of my right hand in the water, brought them to my lips for a taste of home. The salt and iron tang was a hammer shattering the glass of the illusion I had maintained until then: That I am for this contemporary world, there is a place for me here. That was the nutshell: for too long I had struggled with the notion that I can fit in, make my way in a culture and society with which I feel so out of sync.

It was no surprise, in hindsight, that my ocean side revelations happened so close to my impending half-century birthday, swiftly bearing down on me in roughly two months. Truly it is a source of wonderment and incredulity that I have made it this far, considering how much time I have frittered away on trying to figure out life in lieu of truly living it. A root cause of my simmering discontentment, awakened by the taste of seawater on my tongue.

For a few moments I teetered on the brink of a soured mood, flailing and trying to avoid falling into a human-shaped chasm of discontent. The day trip would have been ruined. The gravity of it tugged at my emotions. Familiar turf, it would have been, and its own cold comfort. A flash of sunlight coruscated off the waves, temporarily blinding me. In that second or so of non-vision, the old man in the back of my head spoke.
"You didn't realize until now you're Lloyd Dobler, that guy from the movie Say Anything. You liked him a lot so many years ago, but you didn't think you were him. You know what really bothers you now? You are Lloyd Dobler, and he is turning fifty."
Then he laughed, a big wave sprinted up the shingle, and my cargo shorts were soaked for a good three inches. My daughter squealed in glee as she ran up the beach fleeing the waves. She laughed, too. I snapped out of my funk. The tang of salt air filled my lungs, and I grinned. Maybe the old man was right. Even if he was, I am Lloyd but I am me, and we will make sense of the world even if it is not quite for me.

"I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that."  

---Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) in 1989's "Say Anything"

30 August 2015

Sunday Meditation #43: By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Restive Sea

Out on the headland a turn in the weather has brought coolth to the cottage. So much so the windows were opened for a few brief interludes. The susurrus of the waves fills the interior, bringing with it the ticking of insects in the beach grass. The peculiar combination of the two is one of my favorite sounds on this mortal coil. No matter where I am in the world it always grounds me, comforts me, ties me to the earth.

To be fastened to the earth in such a manner is good. Necessary, one might say. The summer has been unusually busy this year. By turns generating exhilaration and anxiety in near equal measures, the resulting stresses have been efficient at cutting the tethers that keep a soul from floating away. The whoosh of the waves and the gentle rasp of the stalks combine in voices that I fancy to be of my ancestors, or perhaps of gods faded from mortal view. They call, they coax, and I feel stronger against the wind.

The sky out there is a mottled silver-gray. It is interesting in its texture, not as monotonous as one infer from the description. It pleases me as it dapples the undulating sea with a subtle, ever-changing surface. It is a hypnotic mirror of my mind that provides its own ballast. This is important, this matters. It is nature herself speaking with an ancient voice to tell me "You are here, you have roots, you will not be swept away."

I am grateful for this tie of ancient blood. It keeps me here, on earth, where I need to be. I will not be swept away.

27 July 2015

Verdant Empire Chronicles: Herbiwarriors

In the of weeding flower beds, there arrives a point at which any praetorian worth his salt knows that "Kill them all, and may the gods sort them out" becomes his battle cry and modus operandi. Thus it has been in our campaign against the rebels in the Western Beds and Northern Reach. Summer has been hot, our bodies watering the soil with the sweat of our brows. The weeds trembled before our might.

The dawn broke, the day began with our scouts testing the positions of the barbarians. They sat placidly, perhaps unaware that by days' end they were destined to be corpses on the shores of Lake Avernus, to be cast upon the waters amidst the mephitic fumes seeping from the ground. Perhaps they had not taken to heart the fate of their compatriots during our campaign along the Eastern Beds, earlier in the year where we visited our imperial fury upon the intruders to till them into the earth. To return them to the black dirt from which they sprang.

The day was hot. The very air felt as if we were immersed in the caldariums of the capitol, the memories of which brought a brief smile to our troubled mien. There would be no bathing here, no bracing splashes of chilled water to refresh and revive us after our martial labors in the name of Mars. No, there would be sweat and death.

Our gaze turned to the sky. It was full of clouds the color of worn denarii, but as yet there had been no rain. The earth steamed before us. We gave the signal, a hundred trumpets lifting their brazen voices to the sky. Our army fell upon the weeds and unwelcome grasses amidst shouts and groans. The first rank of soldiers fell hard upon the prickly boxwood and juniper. Blood was drawn but we held fast, tearing the enemy out by their pale roots. A surprise attack by a thorny little bramble, secreted amid the bushes, caught us off guard. Our heroic effort beat it back. It roots twitched and curled in the wan sunlight as we tossed it upon the burgeoning pile of the dead.

Sweat and heat threatened to put us off our objectives. Terrible thirst and a near swoon, and we had to retreat momentarily before advancing headlong into the valley of the Northern Reach. It was there that the shriveled stalks of the tiger lilies that had bloomed weeks before fell to us easily. It had the air of a trap about out, perhaps they conspired with the low-lying creeping Charlies that entwined themselves amongst the roots of the taller plants. But we could see them. Their amateurish attempts at camouflage were given away by the brazen display of their blooms, which we easily spotted and used to great advantage in finding the roots to rip them out.

The piles grew. The air filled with the noxious reek of their dying lifeblood oozing out onto the mossy sward. Bindweed surged forth and mounted a feeble counterattack towards the middle of the day. The sun, what little we could see of it, limned the foe in pale white light. They shrank back, discipline gave way as our forces clearly gained the advantage. The green shaggy invaders we crushed beneath our imperial sneakers, holding fistfuls of the vanquished above our heads as we growled in triumph. Soon, the Western Beds and Northern Reach fell quiet save for the labored rasp of our breath.

The barbarians, what pathetic examples of them that remained, made no sound as we gathered them up and into the sacks we drew from our supply train. We stood stiffly in the zephyrs wafting through the valley. The campaign was complete. We had won.

The night still steams. The sounds of camp life drift softly up the hill to our tent, where these words spill themselves out into our journal. Through the gap in the tent flaps, I see the lights of the camp stretch out before me to the north and east. This day is won, the weeds and trash trees on their way to Hell. The campaign will continue, this we know. The provinces of the Eastern Faciem Saxo are reported to be under attack. Reports lay on the camp desk, of bindweed, rampant hostas and unsettling rumors of a weed heretofore unseen.

A goblet of mountain snow sets near to hand. It is flavored with certain berries and herbs that promote calmness of mind. Tonight we rest. Soon, we conquer. The weeds know this, and tremble.

Written by our hand on this day, 26 July 2015,
Kevinus Aurelius