“You must be so tired.”
I just thought you should know
In case you didn’t already
That one of your sheep is sick;
So if you could do something soon
That would be terrific.
I flew to Providence, Rhode Island last December to hear some rock and roll. I had never been there before. I stayed for one night. On the morning of the second day, I took a train from Providence to Boston to follow the band to their next gig. I arrived on New Year’s Eve, and the whole city was full of happy people awaiting midnight. It was there I met, befriended and roomed with a Zen monk/Harvard doctoral student named Jon.
I intended to spend very little time at my hostel (which was Jon’s humble studio apartment), but my host was so erudite, so genuinely interesting, and so luminous and amazing that I ended up listening to him talk for two and a half hours. That was bad news for Tom Wolff, a friend I hadn’t yet met, who was waiting around so we could meet up at the Downtown Crossing station. But Jon’s eloquent and irreverent way of dissecting philosophy and religion and death and money and women and so on was so captivating that I completely forgot about everything else I was supposed to be doing.
For the next two nights, I would get in late and immediately take a hot shower to bring feeling back to my body. When I got out, Jon would take his headphones off, put down his pen, and talk with me into the early hours of the morning while our third roommate, a quiet, studious guy from Germany, slept soundly on the other side of the tiny room.
On my last day there, I left for the airport at 4 am. It was chillier than any morning I could remember. Jon woke when I did and walked me through the darkness so he could lock the deadbolt behind me. I had told him, the night before, about the cat-related errand I had in Baltimore that afternoon, and as I turned to leave he placed a hand on my shoulder and said, “I really do think it’s all going to work out for you.” I thanked him, hugged him as though we’d known each other for a decade, and stepped out into the winter gloom where a taxi was waiting to take me away.
And then, a few weeks ago while I was in California, two sociopaths with homemade bombs savagely murdered and maimed hundreds of perfectly innocent people in the great city of Boston. When I heard the news, I thought of Jon. I got in touch with him as soon as I could, and he told me he had been three blocks away when the first blast went off. People were screaming in the distance, he said, and no one around him really knew what to do or where to go. I guess when you have front row seats to pure evil, it’s hard to immediately process how something so senseless and nihilistic could possibly happen.
Jon told me he was safe, but a little rattled. He was mostly staying inside, waiting for the chaos to die down a little. He concluded his message to me with a quote by Rumi, the 13th-century Sufi mystic, and I don’t think he could have picked a better line:
The wound is the place where the Light enters you.
You’re a cool dude, Jon. You’re one of the few people I know who can find the good side in everything—even when it seems completely impossible. Please stay alive for a long time.
Lately I’ve been thinking about a U.S. government program to create dinosaurs to fight in foreign wars, Amazon selling heroin (and what the reviews would be like), a porno starring Mark Antony and Cleopatra, and a 70-hour film comprised of highlights from the memories of every bird that has existed since the world began.
Also I wrote this paragraph to describe how rock stars make sense of the world:
You’re crazy and suicidal and weirded out by the world and no one likes you. So you pick up a guitar and suddenly everything makes sense. Your destiny is written in stone. You might be dead in ten years, but it doesn’t matter—because right now you’ve got that God damn guitar, and right now you’re going to write a God damn song.
If powerful, mind-altering hallucinogens like psilocybin mushrooms and LSD were sold at 7-11, what catchy slogan would you find on the packaging? Don’t even think about it, because I already came up with it:
“Planet Earth—in a whole new way.”
(It was originally “Your neighborhood—in a whole new way,” but what if you’re not staying in your neighborhood? You’ve really got to consider these things from all angles. Also: this might not be immediately obvious, but that that em dash is critical to making the damn thing work. There is a beat there—a real, heavy pause. It makes sense to me, anyway.)
An idea dump:
Planet Texas. Bones found among the remains of squirrels, dogs, and a horse at the old fort. Celebrating equinoxes and solstices instead of imaginary human holidays. The cosmic hum. Vibrating inside of your own skeleton. A thin outline of a human being. Firefalls. Watching my sanity drip right down the drain. A heart attack gun. Domestic terrorism. An asteroid covered with a racetrack and a Budweiser factory. Purveyor of doom. Lonely old maid. A cat pondering its own mortality. The dreams of kings. The dreams of fascists. The King of Suicides. The Kingdom of Forgotten Stuffed Animals. A farewell transmission. A man with no ego. A man who doesn’t know what he looks like. Russian time travel. An immortal Joseph Stalin. An island full of sociopaths. A skyscraper full of serial killers. Torture devices endorsed by major corporations.
I am tired of truisms and platitudes and conventional wisdom, so I come up with new stuff instead. Ideas, ideas, ideas! Ideas forever.
Years ago, when I was a young man who still had hopes and dreams, I worked for a real estate lawyer north of Baltimore. It was my first job after graduating from college, and for the first day and a half I was pretty excited about it. The job paid well and I got to wear all the button-down shirts with pull-over V-neck sweaters I could handle. The actual work was terrible, though. I spent two hours a day on the phone being chewed out by courthouse clerks, and the printer/scanner/fax machine broke every time I turned it on. And of course my boss was a penny-pinching sociopath prick who genuinely believed that “hippies should be fed to the dogs” (whatever that means).
Anyway: I was miserable about 96% of the time (eating lunch at Whole Foods every day was my faint salvation), so I would amuse myself by reading through civil suits until I found something sad or hilarious. As you might imagine, there was often a great deal of both. Toward the end of my employment there, I began compiling the best lines into a document so that I could use them as the basis for stories at a later time. I just found my favorite one, and why the heck not, here it is (names changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty):
“Mr. Marbles chose not to comment or participate. Mr. Marbles seldom comes to the building, about once a month. He is usually belligerent and reeking of alcohol and quite convinced that he is the object of a great conspiracy led by Bobby O’Hare. He does not participate in the affairs of the LLC except to rage at any Members or tenants he might encounter in the hallways scaring some and offending many.”
“Scaring some and offending many” is great. I think about that line sometimes. I think that line is so good, in fact, that I’m almost glad I worked there. Almost!
I wonder how ol’ Mr. Marbles is doing. Maybe he’s dead. Who knows.
Instead of coming home to wives and children and family dogs, we, the twenty-somethings of the twenty-first century, come home to ourselves. And we’re obsessed with ourselves. And we’re bad people.
We’re obsessed with bad people.
And sitting there at 1 am in a fast food restaurant on a college campus where I do not attend, I see some kids gathered around talking and laughing. I want to tell those kids, with swirling purple eyes that show the future, about the life that is to come. I want to tell that there will be a lot of self-loathing, doubt, crying yourself to sleep, joyless masturbation, smoking marijuana, meaningless relationships with people you don’t like, and hating your job.
But instead I eat my vanilla ice cream out of a little plastic cup and wish I hadn’t picked the one seat in the restaurant that’s broken.
I have forgotten where I exist in time and the room is dark. I unplug the reindeer in the front yard and lie down on the bed. The sheets are cold and my head is a soup of swirling purple. I picture a cat with a human head—my head.
. . . is apparently all I managed to write last night.
Watching cars and people go by as the skeletal white reindeer illuminates my front yard. Smoking in the bathtub. Sharing a bed with a cat. Screaming at vacant parking lots at midnight. Crying over long gone friends.
I want to turn into vapor and slither through the keyhole. Maybe float out into space. But I’ll probably just stay where I am.
Sunset on Mars, taken in May 2005 by NASA’s Spirit rover. It’s crazy to think that the pale white orb sinking into the horizon is 141 million miles away.