Daytime TV

So I’m watchin’ a program and the guy goes into a church and goes into the confessional, tells the priest  that he hasn’t been to church in three years and  ain’t that a sin? and the priest says yeah.Then he tells the priest he committed adultery.  Ain’t that a big sin? he says? Yeah, the priest says.”Wait a second, you just got in here and you’ve  already confessed to two sins. Aren’t you being a little hard on yourself?   The guy shakes his head as if to clear away an annoying bug, jabs his arm froward,  grabs his leg with one shaking hand, sits absolutely still, until his pant leg starts flapping like a loosened sail caught in sudden breeze. He let’s go, get’s up, walks out without a backward glance. detail-Leadville edit_bw-2667

Photograph: Michael Lebowitz © 2013

Note to my Editor

I am swimming upstream in a river of fog, I am wrecked on shoals carved by indifferent time. The meds are having a fiesta with my sanity and my clarity. Possibly too, my vocabulary. Hopefully the re-write is useful and on target. The other draft read as if it had been written by a crew of  monkeys in search of Hamlet in the original English.20130622.ml.baldpeak1281

Photograph by Michael Lebowitz ©2013

Summer died today.

There is a chill inside the sunrise today, the air seems quieter  as if beginning a long exhale which will end with the first snow. I bend to gather up small windfall branches. An unfamiliar ache seems to whisper, “Too soon. Be patient, old man, there is no need to hurry.”

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Photograph: Michael Lebowitz  ©2013

A begining or two…

 

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Slammin’ started here. Well, not exactly. Dennis Ahern, a Boise ultra runner and his good friend, Ryan C Lund, both got into Western States this year. I spoke with them briefly about their good fortune only find out that they were planning on doing the GrandSlam of Ultras. Like any Grand Slam, in golf or tennis for example, you have to win or at least be entered in the first event. I thought for a moment about their good fortune and the idiocy of the idea when it occurred to me that they were living by the old adage, in for a penny, in for a pound. And I realized that I wanted to be there with them.

I pitched the idea to both Marathon and Beyond and iRunFar. At this point I should tell you that I am a race photographer who loves to shoot ultras and a writer who like to write about shooting images, photography and running, that is, when I am not wandering around in a dream state about the Great American Novel. Back to the story:  to my delight both entities thought I had a good idea-following these two non elite, middle of pack folks and telling their story.

Ian Sharman is not a middle of the pack runner. Hell no, he is a fast 100 miler, a sponsored athlete, a coach and a pretty humble guy who arrives at race the night before, sleeps in the back of his car, wins the race, hangs out for awhile and then does it all over again. He gets faster the longer the distance. It turns that he is doing the Grand Slam with his eye on the record set by Neal Gorman 74:54:16 in 2010. This is some record by the way. Western States, Vermont, Leadville and Wasatch comprise the modern Slam. Gorman was 20 hours in the first three and 21 hours at Wasatch. Ian will certainly have his work cut out for him.

So there it was. Commissioned article and photo stories and the year wasn’t two weeks old. That was too easy, way too easy. Ask any freelancer and they will agree. The catch? No travel expenses, no sponsorships for the pieces, nothing that might compromise the journalistic integrity of the work. Oh my. Sad face. But wait!

It didn’t take but a minute to realize that the stories for the magazines were the necessary motivation to look at the bigger picture. Just as many books are generated from magazine articles as way of expanding the scope of the story, a book could be built on the story of the 2013 Ultra Grand Slam that would feature all of the 24 entrants and their journey together to the common goal of finishing and getting a very rare buckle in recognition of their achievement. Without knowing each other they were already a band of brothers/sisters in pursuit of something magical. A Facebook page emerged and the participants showed up one by one.

My little idea had suddenly become big enough to encompass writing a book. Back to Kickstarter. Photographs and books are great rewards for people who support the efforts of writers and photographers. It all made sense now. Raise the money to travel, research, photograph and produce a coffee table book and Bob’s your uncle. I don’t know who Bob is by the way but I take it to mean that all the pieces were in place.

Remember the image at the head of this piece? These are runners in the Javelina Jundred 2012. I caught them in the very early morning. A line of individuals, not talking to one another for the most part, concentrated fully on the task at hand. The back lighting darkens their faces and in so doing raises them above their individual personalities, creating archetypes, meta runners, representations of every who ever laced up and set out for something “over yonder” someplace down the road, a further peak, a dream in hand. I kept looking at this image and recognized that it is a journey for the runners captured in the lens, and equally for the photographer behind the lens. Our lives have brought us to here and where we go from here will be,in part,the result of what happens this day and night. I bear witness, tell the story, paint their images on the walls of metaphorical caves(this generation’s social media)in much the same way as the cave painter of early humanity told the stories of the hunt and their glorious adventures scratched on the walls of real caves.

Let your own dream factories go to work. Keep your eye the Grand Slam this year. There are some wonderful stories out there just waiting for all of us. I can’t wait. It’s gonna be a time for all of us to celebrate the most precious gift we have been given, our lives in this particular time.

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Dreams

Bob Dylan once said that if  “my thought dreams could be seen, they would probably put my head in a guillotine.” I know people who put their dreams on Facebook or better yet in group email lists meant for other purposes. Makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. If you see what I mean.

I read a poem the other day by a famous American poet. Didn’t understand damn near anything in it but for this: “If you cook like the way you walk, Chiquita, I will eat it down to the husk.” He said that right after he said that the substance of lack was the prime substance of desire. And then he mentioned that a child beggar in a South American village was looking up at him, pointing to his own mouth.

I remember my dreams. I still have them. To remind me, I suppose, of distances “which are not near,” places to which I drove myself until, for no good reason(as if there ever are “good” reasons) I was left with no choice but to leave. I now wake from my night dreams in fear of earlier guillotines and death dealing husks  choked down in doorways of imagined Mexican chapels somewhere along the way. The substance of loss is the prime substance of salvation. Providing, of course, that you can keep it down.

Salt Flats 100 2012

Photograph by Michael Lebowitz ©2012

Tip On A Dead Junkie

I  drove across town last night for the first time in weeks. I had been doing that a lot, going to the bar before I scored as if trying to prove that I’m really all right, a bar guy not a fuckin’ addict. Just, you know, maybe a little sad.

Lately I’ve had some ready cash, so I have been staying in. Having it delivered. Junkie takeout. I was waiting for Teemu, top of my supplier A list, when I decided to head over to the bar. I used to read my work over there in the old days, when there was work, before all the hours of every day went away in the smoke. I still had the car so I left. I called Teemu as I drove and told him I would be back in a couple of hours. He said it was all good; he was just getting it together anyway.

I meant to go along Broadway but without thinking too much about it, I hooked a left on First and stopped in MacDonald’s for a coffee to go. I used to score in the parking lot in the old days but times had changed even if the clown face in the window was still the same man in the moon gargoyle he had always been. Scared me every time. I couldn’t imagine what it did to kids but then again I had eaten there so I figure old Clownie boy had just eaten his first Happy Meal.

It was raining like it always does and the whole place was soft around the edges. The coffee was lousy like always and I was scanning the lot for old friends. I saw a familiar Malibu pulling out just as I went over that way so I was stuck with the original plan. I pulled out, spinning the tires on the slick pavement, irritated that I missed the hit, irritated that I wanted to score, irritated that I was down and generally pissed at the whole thing. I crossed Main in a foul mood and it didn’t get any better when I saw where I was.

When you cross Main you hit Terminal, named for the railway terminal that stands at the head of the street. Once the terminus for a breathtaking cross continental journey it stands nearly empty, hunkered down, waiting for renewal like the faded city works sign says. It’s been saying that for ten years, maybe more. Once it was a sign of better times but the truth was the whole neighborhood was long gone and had been for almost fifty years. Life had never been easy down here and it had only gotten worse as the factories and warehouses emptied out and moved out of town. Down here along the tracks the factories are closed, the greenchain is shut down, the windows are broken; it is thsize of things down, a grand scale of ruin that remains to remind us of the smokestack fundamentals that once made this town one of the busiest resource ports in the world.

The buildings may be closed but they are alive with the walking dead and the wanna be hipsters who are looking to score. Every junkie in the city knows that the doors are never closed, that anyone can check in but like the song said, very few ever leave. A twenty-four-a-day pharmacy and hotel, a warehouse filled with liquidators selling the remnants of lost dreams, auctioning off innocence at ten bucks a rock. You can crash here and stay dry and you can stay as long as your money or your stash holds out. The police come here under protest and nobody is keeping score unless you owe them cash or dope and then it’s a race between your dealer and the coroner. In the end they both win.

I figured I would find Teemu in here since I knew he sometimes scored here. I pulled into the lot behind the building. The air was filled with the smell of the harbor and the fishing docks, of oil tankers and lumber barges and piss was every where. The rain came down in straight sheets out of a black metal sky. It was going to be a bad night. I saw Frenchy coming out and asked him if he had seen Teemu. He shook his head as he went past.

I used to deal with Frenchy all the time but his stuff was shit and his prices were lousy. We argued about it and he told me “dat if you don like it, you fuck off.”; which I did. Teemu probably wasn’t there though; Frenchy was afraid of him and he wouldn’t lie about it if it meant that Teemu would lose business. A guy needed to have ethics, right? The truth was Frenchy and I were heading toward a showdown since one of his girls was living in my house and wasn’t tricking anymore. Frenchy wasn’t her pimp but he was her main supplier and he made a lot of money from sales to her clients. If she wasn’t working that was a dent in the cash flow and what made it worse was that he liked her, as much as any dealer likes a hooker, and thought I was “no good” for her.

It was true of course but not for the reasons he thought. Now wasn’t the time but we both knew some kind of junkies OK Corral thing was coming. My problem was that he was a killer or so it was rumored and I was a junkie with a fast pipe and no moves to speak of. If it came down to real I was going to need to figure something out in a hurry.

 

#

It was getting on and I was getting wet. I decided that I was going to the bar and would wait on Teemu. It wasn’t on me real bad for the moment and besides a draft with a Jack back would ease the edge. I went over the trestle bridge that hides a world of its own but not for me. At least not yet. I made the bar in five minutes, hit the rail and was into the second Jack when I hear Teemu saying,      “Hey bro’, we got to talk.”

I grab my drink and we head off to the hallway. He tells me that he wants me to do him a favor. I look at him like he’s nuts. I’m a customer not a player I tell him. He says yeah that’s true but that’s why he needs me.

I say, “Hey I am barely out of harms way as it is.”

He says,” Look it’s just a ride.”

“What do you mean a ride?”

“There’s this guy I know who needs a ride.”

“Not for me Tee.” I say.

“Look he’s clean, no drugs. It’s a political thing. He’s not from here.”

“Oh fuck Teemu what are you talking about? Where’s he from, fuckin’ Columbia?”

“No that ain’t it. Look we got to get out of here. I’ll meet you at the bridge in 30.”

And with that, he’s gone.

I’m back at the bar with another drink and thinking about what just happened. Teemu is not a bad guy if you over look the fact he is a crack cocaine dealer. He doesn’t use, keeps fair count, doesn’t get heavy and has a brain. How he got to the street and why he does what he does is probably a penetrating look into American capitalism in the nineties but he didn’t appear to be crazy. We used to talk about what I was doing there but that will have to wait for another time.

I had to admit I was curious as to what he wanted. And it didn’t take but a minute for to figure out that if I could work it out then maybe Teemu would help me solve my Frenchy problem.

I left the bar and headed towards the “Bridge”. It sits astride the railyards. If the last gaspers don’t make the pharmacy on factory row, the bridge is the next stop. And more likely than not, the last stop. I’ve been down there when there was nowhere else to score. I figured it was safer in the open. Dopers have an amazing calculus when they’re out of dope, when the sickness is on them, knowing that they need something now. I always believed the romance that junkies were fallen angels, had danced the Nutcracker, were just down on their luck,  a day or two away from getting their “shit” together.

Mostly though,  they stole my wallet and my drugs and then they helped me look for them. That’s what angels do. I went back more than twice. Tonight I just kept driving. Of course, it was still pretty early.

#

 

At the top of the hill there is a hotel called The Royal Arms. It is an  old four story brick structure that sits solid on the corner even though it has seen better days. It could use paint, some light bulbs in the sign and maybe a whole new clientele. I was sitting at the light when I noticed two figures in a third story window. One of them bent down to open the window while the other came up behind her and embraced her from behind.

I couldn’t really tell if they were both women or a man and a woman. Not that it mattered. As the light changed they spun off in dance, heads thrown back. I could almost hear them laughing. The wind caught the curtains and they billowed out into the night air, mixing with the mist, clouds rolling across childhood’s sky, a moment, expectant, a held breath. The corner is a harsh place, unforgiving of the innocent and fallen alike but even so the picture felt like love beginning, like refuge. Like time out.

It struck me as the light changed that tonight I might get home tonight without making the calls, that tonight the beast would sleep and I might get a free pass. It didn’t happen often these days.
I said to hell with it and drove home by the Southside route. Didn’t meet up with Teemu. When I pulled up to my house I noticed that the tree in the yard had little green buds. I don’t suppose that it means anything but as I went into the house and past the telephone on the desk I remembered the dancers in the window. I passed the phone by, got into bed and went to sleep for awhile.

Later, the phone rang. It was 6:30 and the rain seemed to be leaking from the usual iron gray morning sky. I was happy to hear from him. I hadn’t met up with him but he didn’t seem pissed. Hell , I was his first sale of the day. You know what they say, ain’t no free lunch, ain’t no free pass. Last night was gone and it was all beginning again.

I didn’t know then that by the time it was over I would find a world of hurt unlike any I had ever known; a frozen hell where angels weep and saints are a ten dollar rock away. The place where the lucky ones die while the rest of us live with the sure and certain knowledge that death is waiting impatiently, working steady, leaving no trace of what came before; a modern Inferno, one broken body, one lost innocent at a time.

Talking Tree Blues

Strange days. That’s what it is. Got a note from my first wife, a woman who deserved to build a life with some one who liked her more than I did. Of course at the time I did not know that was the case. Either part. We began falling apart early in what turned out to be an eighteen year marriage, less a testament to hard work and commitment and more an example of lethargy and expectations as we, like most of the folks around us, put the obvious aside in the name of the immediate, be it a mortgage or daycare or a vacation or just plain what the hell did you expect. Back to the note. She congratulated me on our anniversary. Thirty-eight years ago we got married. Fourteen years later we got divorced. Eighteen years all in when you count the living together beginning one night in May as we talked about the streets of Paris filled with revolution and made love under the watchful eye of a Che Guevar; a poster placed high enough on the wall at the end of the mattress on the floor to be a part of of every  instance of my engaging in an act of revolution in the name of love, free sex( there ain’t none ) and power to the people.

It didn’t work out. Neither did the next one, marriage that is, 13 years later. Thought she could save my life, keep me from the mean streets of my own making, away from the drugs and the hookers and the broken mornings of a self styled dreamer in search of paradise.  She lived on a island in the Gulf, I lived in town, we met up on the weekends, had great sex for awhile, bookended by an evening ferry on Friday and a ferry home on Monday mornings. Monday, Monday…I knew very early on, maybe the morning after the wedding, no honeymoon that, that she had made a bad decision, one that terrified her and one which, more poignantly, she had no idea of how to change. It didn’t last nine months. And it didn’t end without a full measure of mean laced with with a generous helping of frustrated rage.

I left the island one day in May and went home to the horror of my city life. I thought to handle my unhappiness in my time honored fashion of single malt, cocaine, women with cheerleader names like Tiffi, and Tori, Terri and Natasha, none of the names real, the hard distance of their days written in their cash register eyes. Not surprisingly my personal program of recovery had mixed results. None at all if one takes the narrow view that getting loaded and checking out is no real therapy at all. A more salient understanding is that it made everything so horrible that eventually I began to look for other ways to salve the pain. Oh, I didn’t stop using but I thought that between the last toke and the next one I could get some Eastern wisdom, some Buddhist  centering, a peaceful loving kindness way of being. This search took the form of breathing workshops, often made more difficult by blocked nasal passages and scarred lungs, dance workshops, chanting, cross legged therapy on Persian carpets and long walks with spiritual teachers, all women, all tall, all blonde, none named Tiffi, and often ending with  “what the hell, let’s have a glass of the cheap red with the lamb, just this once” , followed by the usual recriminations. Salvation and grace were not easy to find in the red  wine, lamb chop  world I was living in. I didn’t see it that way until years later.

One night after an intense session of multiple short breaths preceded by rhythmical long breaths and counter balanced by something akin to panting and snorting at the same time I noticed an astonishing woman across the room. Astonishing for a quiet sense of place that seemed rooted to forces deep beneath the surface of the earth and hence all things. She seemed almost sacred. She was also staring directly at me. I made no attempt to ignore her.

We began to talk and it emerged quickly that I had lost yet another marriage and that she was a Reike healer who worked with broken hearts. This is a perfect fit I’m thinking.  “Would I like to come to her farm outside of Bellingham and “work” with her?” Of course I would.

Early the next morning I headed south, found the road she had described, made the turn at the gnarled tree and parked in front of a surprisingly modern suburban home, replete with tricycles in the driveway and a creek behind the house. The sunlight shafting through the evergreens was as if in fairytale, yellow and green sparkling, misty, enchanted. Fog rose from the river. I went to the creek saw a rope attached to an overhead branch grabbed hold it with my inner child (or inner trespasser as it turned out), described several touch the sky arcs and came back to shore. That she wasn’t there didn’t strike me until then. I waited, I knocked on the door, I paced serenely about the gravel parking area. It was the wrong house.

I discovered this as I left after an hour, waiting is, and drove up the gnarled tree, where upon the house with the green roof revealed itself on the other side of the road. Ahh, left turn at gnarled tree, not right. Got it.

Erica, please call me Willow, met me at the door of her splendid 100 year old farm house. Weathered clapboard, newer windows, wood smoke curling from a recently repaired brick chimney, the place was serene , perfect in the morning light. So was was her husband who stood behind her and welcomed me by asking if I wanted organic egg whites and home made bacon mixed with his freshly pulled scallions. Oh yeah and the home fries with onions and-you see where this is going. The next surprise was  that the kitchen was warm and homey, unlike the rest of the place which was a construction zone of partially reconstruction framed walls, plaster fixings and hanging wires. Erica pointed to the “mess” said something about building organically to reflect their new way of life. I noted that her husband, whose name I never got, but I imagine it should have be Sven or maybe, was not a day less than seventy-five and a new way of life was most likely built in to marrying his thirty eight year, blonde haired, well built, unblemished Reike master and seeker of wisdom.

 #

We ate breakfast, after which Willow took me on a tour of the construction site. We found our way to the healing space. It was complete in the sense that it was not in process of being rebuilt, it had unbroken walls, save the ancient and apparently meditation ready, plaster crackling, along full window sashes, blinds , electrics and furnishings. In the middle of the room stood a long table treatment table and above it a subdued tie dyed umbrella lamp shade which threw  a perfectly normal 60watt light.

Willow explained that Reiki (ray-key) is a form of energy therapy, that when translated means “spiritually guided life-force energy”. It is a laying-on-of-hands form of energy healing that is believed to have existed for thousands of years. During a Reiki session, the energy is channeled through the practitioner into the client on all levels, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual to provide stress reduction and relaxation which in turn, leads to wellness. It seemed darned magical to my skeptical and drug addled mind but what the hell.

We began by talking, mostly my answering questions about what had happened in my marriage. After what seemed a very long time, I lay down on the table, on my back, fully clothed and prepared myself to accept “my wellness.” I also did my best to keep the embarrassed giggle that was stalking my throat at bay. I noticed that the light had dimmed and there was the peculiar if remarkably musical sound of whales chatting to the accompaniment of a flute. Oh well, I thought, in for a penny, in for a pound.

The time went by. I could not tell you what transpired save that apparently I fell sound asleep and I know that I awoke refreshed and disoriented. I was familiar with the disorientation as you might imagine but the feeling of peaceful placement was unusual and very welcome. The whales had headed south I gues since they were no longer chatting in the room. Willow told me that it was unusual for the practitioner to give the client a summary of what thoughts and feelings emerged but she thought it would be useful to me. I said some like “well, okay” but I dreaded it.

Willow told me that rather than stay in the room we would talk a walk to the woods and when we arrived at the special place she would tell me of her thoughts and the session would wrap up. Despite my re-emerging skepticism, read total unwillingness, dismissal prior to investigation, I went along to find the “special place.

We walked under the now blazing sun, oppressive and blinding, across the hardscrabble abandoned fields, ( in truth a perfectly normal field under a normal late spring sun) and found our way the the tree line and Willow’s special place, the Talking Tree,  I have no clear idea what kind of a tree it was, Oak maybe, because I dreading what I knew had to come next. Laying on of hands, whale music, chakra’s and organic home fries were plenty to take in at one time. Talking to the tree. Oh boy. It occurred to me that I was a long way from anywhere, a long way from home.

Willow: “You have had a very complicated time with loving.”

Me: “Hmmm.”

Willow: “You believe in romantic love, in the holiness of women, in the sacred act of kindness to others.”

Me: “Hmmmmmmmm.”

Willow: ” Your marriage was wrong for you because she was not on the same enlightened journey that you are on.”

Me:  “Makes sense to me.”

Willow: “Your mother would have been proud to stand with you that day, as she would, if she were here, to stand with you now at the Talking Tree.”

Me: “Oh my.”

Willow: “Through the tree, our words, thoughts and feelings are blended with the life force of the universe. We  are connected to a plane of existence where all things are one, where all matter is energy and the force that is created by that energy is love. Speak of your love to the tree and be free of what has troubled you.”

Me: “Time to go, past time.”

Willow: “It is daunting the first time.”

Me: “I get that. Thank you for everything.”

I turned back towards the house and started walking. I felt that if there was any fairness in the universe I could get out of there without another word being spoken.

Willow caught up with me, put her arm through mine and said very quietly, “I am going back to the tree, please leave the money on the kitchen table.”

No mistakes this time. Got down the road, found the gnarled tree, turned right and headed back to civilization. And none too slowly either. The feeling of being chased by something sweetly horrible that would eat me and spit my masticated remains outside the gates of hell was pushing my foot to the floor. At about a hundred and ten I realized that no monster was necessary if I kept driving this way. I brought it down and kept driving. That is I kept driving until I realized I was completely lost, that I recognized nothing around me as familiar. That I was numb, empty, exhuasted, that I was there in body but long gone. I pulled over to the side of the two lane country blacktop and shut down. Completely.

I noticed the knocking on the window and opened my eyes. A state trooper was tapping the window. I lowered the glass and looked at him. “Are you alright Sir?” “Yes.” said I , “of course.” He looked back at me and said again, “You look very troubled and you’re parked to close to the road. ” ” I guess I was tired and stopped to take a nap.” “You haven’t been drinking have you?” “Oh no, not at all.” He paused with attitude as cops do and finally decided that I was simply a bad parker but not a true hazard to the community. He turned away slowly as he said “Pull it over next time. For now there is a lay by a quarter mile up the road. It’s Mother’s Day and the traffic is going to pick up any minute.” I got his drift.

I sat up, turned the engine back on and turned to check the road behind me. Without any warning, as if the universe had shifted gears, I became aware that someone was sobbing, gasping for air, keening. It was the sound of a funeral, of the completely inappropriate wailing that disturbs and unsettles the other mourners but is the beginning of healing, of acceptance even if it is filled with rage and helplessness. I looked around until I realized that it was me.

It made no sense. And because it made no sense, it seemed absolutely right, if utterly incomprehensible. What the hell? What brought that on? That crazy shit with the tree? C’mon Buddy, you ain;’t that way. And yet, here I was, Fifty years old, broke down by the side of the road, out of drugs, out of a another marriage, running out of time, running out of dreams, just plain running out. And crying. What had she said? “Your mother would have been proud to stand with you…” That was was nuts. What the fuck was she talking about. My mother would have thought I was a lunatic to marry this woman. It was a good thing she had died thirteen years before and not….”  My throat closed and my tears came harder this time, silently again, unstopping as if held back for years and years and finally being let go to seek the light of day, to begin at last to accept that she was gone, that I had never for a moment grieved as proper people do, there had been no tears, sadness yes, but no tears, no sense of true loss, nothing as long as the drugs flowed and the whiskey poured, the grief stayed buried, hidden away in the darkness of addiction, in the terror of the light, in the slow breaking of a heart with no hope of repair.

After a while everything calmed down. I headed back up the road. The days that followed became years and still the cocaine smoke rose to my ceilings, the whiskey glasses stacked up empty in the sink.  And yet, whenever I think aback to that day, I can still see the light and damned if I can’t conjure up an image of the fuckin’ tree. And I remember that on Mother’s Day in the year 1998 I gave my mother the gift of remembering and she gave me in return some thing far more valuable, the gift of grief and the possibility of redemption.

Happy Birthday, Traci

According to Sean the whole island is going to be there. It will be the last chance for the locals to party together before the summer tourist weekend crowd gets there. Traci, the birthday girl will be putting on her usual show. She can be surprisingly graceful and sexy. I have the sense that Traci recognizes a certain loss, a settling for something less, a poignant recognition that her dreams had never included slinging draft on the late shift at the Island Do Drop Inn.

I say as much to Sean. She nods slowly, as if to say, “Yeah Charlie, the line forms to the right on that one”, but what she says is that for years Traci’s party has been a coming out, much more important than just a birthday or so it seems to her. “Watch and see” she says.

As the last ferry to the island pulls out of Depot Bay Terminal the winter sun slips behind the western mountains, streaking the sky with purple fire and leaving the water awash in gasoline rainbows.

I tell Sean that the first night I saw the place it seemed to me to be a time lapse, a wrong way mirror, a reminder of  my desperate search for another life, a need to escape, a need to fit in. It always felt romantic, utterly compelling to me, to believe that the reward for winning the big one was a place where nobody knew my name, where everybody had a story, where the rum was cold and the beaches deserted.

I flash back to my first trip here, to the odd tingling sense of anticipation of going to watch the band. I saw her and everything changed. Make me laugh Melissa said.

It was not quite two years ago.

The island now seems to be like any other small hardscrabble working town, with little local industry and tourism as it’s basic source of revenue. The locals have chosen the apparent simplicity of island life and its inherent poverty over the complexities of the mainland. There is a mixture of defiance and resignation in the choice. When I meet them in the bar, and I do that nearly every night that I am on the island, I have a sense of untold stories, of lives that used to be. There is a far off look in their eyes, a drift into lost opportunity, unused talents, long ago victories.

I know that one from the inside out.

I take a break from the conversation and go out to the car deck to stand in the wind. I need to take a minute, to let the night wind blow scrape everything clean.   I remember, for no good reason, the nineteen year old Charlie Granger, that’s me, all hair and anger, storming down the wet November streets in my hometown, staring fixedly ahead, trying desperately to ignore the lights in the windows of the people who were already home. I was sick with a loneliness that no amount of cocaine, no quantity of Jack Daniels could ever touch.

Standing there in the wind, the rain slicked dock glowing in the lights of the ferry, I think  this must be it, the home I have been looking for since those long ago days when the war was everywhere and my heart was  full of rage.

A barren, potholed, asphalt parking lot ends in float dock bordered by massive wooden pilings made of trees that were last seen in this part of the world fifty years ago. Jeri, Sean’s partner, picks us up at the ferry. We drive up island to the Hall. I get out, say thanks and walk up the short flight of wooden steps outside. The door bangs open and in I go.

Big tree branches line the walls, balloons float above the marshmallow jello trifle, a disco ball hangs from the ceiling.  The party is  clearly in progress. People are sitting with food on paper plates in front of them, beer bottles, drinks to the side in paper cups, an indoor nighttime picnic. It feels like a Fourth of July in Somewhere America, a small town get together, been that way for years. All that’s missing is political speeches and a baseball game. Kids are running everywhere.  There is the faint smell of marijuana in the air.

I follow her voice and see her near the bar that doubles as a sound and light room for the community theater. She’s dressed in drag, kd lang in lotus land.

“You look great. “

“Do you like it?”  she asks, “I had a great time figuring it out, trying stuff on.” she tells me, spinning for effect, as if to say, “This is how I look when I go to an island bash.”

“Yeah, you did a great job. You look… edible.”

“My turn to bartend for a while.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

Not long after we go to the bar, I realize that the older folks, the parents with young kids, have all gone home. The hard-core party is finally under way.

The local photographer, Larissa, with her riding crop and velvet covered jumper’s helmet poses pictures of the birthday girl. Something implied, flaunted, ownership maybe, something possessive in the way she handles Traci.

The gay /straight thing, the who is and who ain’t and mostly, who ought to be, has devolved into outright lust. It must be that time of night. I have seen this before on the island, a moment in every bash when it goes from drunken desperation to a kind of hunting party where mostly everyone does something that leaves them both embarrassed and strangely eager to do it again.

It always makes me uncomfortable, less the sexuality of it I think and more the need to put on a show. I have come to realize that my own travels through the intricacies of my own desires have left me more private, more closed, more damaged, than I had imagined.

Melissa dances with everyone. I watch as she dances with Traci. She seems vulnerable, shy, available, defiant, and she knows everyone is watching.

I have kidded her about this before.  Told her that she uses it as seduction. She laughed, saying that’s how it is here. “Men and women, men and men, women and women, whatever.”

She has always said that she likes the way I am with her at parties, that I leave her be.  I want to feel more connected to her, to all of it, but watching her now, it’s just not happening.

It gets late.

“Let’s go home.”

A look says no.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Later for you.” I say, with a tired smile.

She heads off in the direction of the bar.

Melissa gets a drink and sits down with her friends on the edge of the stage. Frozen in the disco lights, they scan the dance floor, eternally expectant, like aspirants waiting for a sign.

I drive the little red station wagon I bought for her up the rise, past the empty bar. She has left one of my Art Pepper tapes on the deck. It has become one of her favorites. Art blows his junkie sweetness into the et night air. I can see the empty LA jazz club, the needles in the stinking alley behind it. I can smell cheap whiskey, stale perfume, fried food. I am aware of a magnetic pull towards another crash and burn night on the outskirts of paradise. Oh yeah, says Pepper’s horn, I’m going get up and make this one shine. Oh yeah.

I stumble up the path to the empty house, past the open gate. I fall into an unmade bed. When I look at the clock a little later, it reads, 4:30. It can’t be that late, can it?  I am awake and waiting; aware suddenly that this is the first time I have waited for someone to come home, someone who isn’t my child.

Others have waited up for me.

“I may be busy.” I remember her saying.

Goddam. She has had other priorities here.  Tonight has been full of signs and I think that they may have been there for a long time. I have missed them, or ignored them. Doesn’t matter.

I am angry with it, helpless, like an abandoned child.

I am aware of car noise and voices in the driveway.  I stay in bed. Melissa comes into the house. She leans heavily against the bedroom wall. She sighs.  She’s tired and more than a little drunk. I watch her undress and turn on to my back so she can snuggle in. She’s asleep before she hits my shoulder.

Lying next to her, it is apparent to me there is no place in this place for me; that I have always been an outsider, even here, in my own house; it is obvious that I don’t understand the local ordinances, that I have no alibi for my heart’s whereabouts. Love is always a gambler’s chance and we always play for table stakes I guess. As I stare at the relentless minutes ticking over on the clock, it occurs to me that someone may have just folded their hand.

The house is winter cold when I go up the stairs. The fire is out in the woodstove.  I lie down on the living room couch to wait for sunrise and the ferry ride home.

Outside, the night wind slams shut the gates to the garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facing Up To It

“Endurance? You’ve only got to get out there and do it. Face up to it: Man was meant to run.” –Percy Cerutty. I am swimming upstream. Come the end of Summer, cool air, touch of Fall, the beginning of the end of things in this cycle, time to take stock, stock up, buy school supplies, bring on the next chapter. With age, my age, comes nostalgia and excitement sometimes in equal doses. Once I was sailing on Lake Superior when the mast broke a long way from shore.  We drifted for hours, panicked a little, got it back together, caught a break with a shift in the wind and finally got back to shore the help of neighbor who had seen us drifting away. It had been Summer, lazy, easy and sweet when we set out and Fall, chill, gray and foreboding, the few hours later when we returned to shore. Yeah, we were meant to run, we are also meant to ‘get out there and do it” by whatever means available, every single day, age and weight and troubles notwithstanding, on account of the river waits for no salmon and time waits for no man.

 WIFMER/WIHMER 2011

Photograph by Michael Lebowitz ©2011

Waddayagonnado

“There is nothing quite so gentle, deep, and irrational as our running—and nothing quite so savage, and so wild.” –Bernd Heinrich. It is no longer a matter of how fast or how far or how fast over how far for me. It used to be that way. It had to be that way. Now the “gentle deep and irrational” along with the “so savage and so wild” is mostly to be found in the writing, in the shooting, in getting to the high places, the hard places, the dark ledges on the trail and seeing “beyond the shadows”, in wrasslin’ to be free of yesterday and tomorrow… Hello Mr. Day, I’m comin’ for ya and I can tell you this, I need a goddam break from another day of shrug, what the hell, wadddayagonnado. You get my drift?

Photograph by Michael Lebowitz ©2012