My cat can be self-centered, supercilious and willful, but more often than not he’s a charming little dude and I sure do like him a whole lot. And really, have you seen a more handsome domesticated quadruped in your life? If he still had his testicles . . . shit, we’d all be in trouble. (Man, that’s kind of a weird thing to say but whatever.)
Is there anything more heartbreaking than seeing an adult sitting alone in a park after midnight, pondering some secret thing in their terrible head? Shit, you see these people stumbling around in the darkest parts of the night trying to feel something again . . . totally unable to connect to the world around them. . . .
And then you become one of them. It’s sad but it’s comfortable. I have enjoyed it, in some strange, unhealthy way, these past few months.
Last week I got roaring drunk in a park near my house. No one bothered me as I drank my six beers and listened to the frogs and crickets by the water. At one point I put on my headphones and, because I was horribly twisted and spaced-out, I heard almost nothing but noise. It was good noise—good chaos. But you know how it goes: the brain hears what it wants to hear—it is actively scanning the world with its invisible feelers to find things it likes. So while the nice young man with the guitar was talking and strumming along, I was able to block most of it because I was more focused on the electricity going round and round up there. I would lift my arm or close my eyes or stretch my leg and marvel at my body’s obedience. So neat!
Later I sat there appreciating gravity—just throwing things around to see where they would fall. (Neat as well!)
An hour later I was crumpled up on my lawn—the skeletal reindeer aglow, the clouds above whipping by at a thousand miles an hour—and I wondered how long I could realistically stay there before someone noticed and called the police or made me go inside.
I woke up this morning and wrote down a fragment of a dream:
“How many times did you have to pray to Satan to get that job?” I said.
“Twelve times,” she said. “I prayed twelve times.”
Shark put his hands on his hips and looked at his old friend with amusement. “Look at us,” he said. “Just like old times. Hell, I never thought we’d be doin’ this shit again. If Turgett and Zilker and Woofboy and all the rest of them boys were still alive, shit—we’d really give them Junkyard Ghouls hell. Think they’re lookin’ down on us right now, Gritt?”
With his boot on the wall of sandbags surrounding the machine gun turret, Gritt again looked up at the moon wistfully. Instead of a lonesome ball of grey dust, he saw his son’s face.
“Gritt?” said Shark. “You OK?”
“Yeah. Just thinkin’ about . . . well, nothin’. Forget it.”
Shark lowered his voice: “You’re thinkin’ ‘bout Andy, aren’t ya?”
“No point in hidin’ it, I guess.”
“Shit, Gritt. I’m sorry, man. I know them scars ain’t never gonna heal. How long’s it been now, anyway?”
“Ten years today. But don’t you worry ‘bout me. Thinkin’ about Andy keeps me balanced when shit hits the fan. And shit’s gonna hit the fan any minute now.”
What the fuck am I doing with my life
I used to care a lot, and now I don’t care at all. There’s probably a causal relationship to be found. The simplest explanation is this: I cared so much that I probably fried some sort of receptor in my brain and now I am unable to feel anything at all. Yes, that’s probably it.
Last night, in an effort to care again—to poke at the world to see if anything happened—I rented a convertible Mini Cooper and drove up and down empty Texas highways at breakneck speeds while listening to delicious psychedelic rock music. I pointed that bastard toward San Antonio and really worked the engine. It seemed to do something to me: At first there was an aha! moment followed by the sensation of something resembling comfort. It melted into me like warm petroleum jelly. The circuits in my brain lit up, my eyes hummed with electricity, and everything inside of me screamed upward in a way that wasn’t horrifying. Maybe I’m not doomed after all! I thought as I swerved to get out of the way of a tractor trailer that was barreling up the on-ramp. . . .
This feeling—this fantastic elation—was followed by four hours of stone-sober darkness. Four hours—that’s about as long as I can sleep these days. And when I woke from the void—and I call it the void because I have stopped dreaming altogether (my waking life is the dream, and in my sleep I am dead)—I felt that same nasty dread creep up my spine and then plummet into the deepest parts my poor brain. Every unquestionably good part of me was charred once again . . . the part of me that isn’t spent rocketing down hundreds of miles of nowhere in little European cars in the dead of night as the summer breeze rolls by, which is to say most of me.
On my way to work this morning I sat in silence, listening to the blood inside my head. It’s all I can stomach these days. No more news for me; no more sickness oozing from the radio. Without thinking, I screamed “FUCK” ten or twelve times, I don’t know. I did it until my vocal chords burned, telling me, “Hold up there, boy.” And then I screamed again. It was all very primal, coming from some place I don’t fully understand.
Eight hours later, I’m wondering how much longer I can live in a world to which I am totally indifferent. It’s on fire, it’s sick.
Jesus, someone should really just put it out of its misery already. Race it toward oblivion with the top down and some of that good music playing real loud. . . .
At a party where I knew virtually no one, I walked around in a fog and touched other people’s hands when they wanted to touch mine. “I’m so-and-so,” someone would say, and their name would burn up in the atmosphere on its way into my brain—instantly forgotten. There was dancing. I watched people dance. A big guy with glasses and a soft voice gently pulled me forward until I was in the middle of the whole writhing mass of bodies. I felt OK as I studied the human vibrations, thinking, “It’s all a smeared flash of neon and perfume, anyway. What’s the difference between 5-second pass at life or 90 years of it. . . . ?” If my life had been nothing but that sliver of space and time, smack dab in the middle of those wonderful people in the year 2013, then I could safely say my life had been a good one and spent wisely.
But the night ended with a friendly police officer reminiscing on my front lawn about his “wilder days.” His little thoughtful gaze at the moon, the organ between his ears washed in distant memories that were sparking someplace dark. . . .
“I would love her if she let me,” is all I could think about. We were both standing there now, cold as glaciers.
I would love her if she let me.
What happened next was a “Thank you and good-night”—and then a rapid heartbeat and a search for comfort. Inside I drank a half gallon of water and shuffled over to unplug the skeletal reindeer out front. From the black hole of my living room I saw a girl smoking on the porch next door and for a moment I considered talking to her. I knew her face and her name. She’d seen the reindeer go dead. Maybe that upset her. The night is over, the night is over. . . .
“God damn hell of a party, if you ask me,” is probably all I could have mustered. The little glow at the end of her cigarette was dying and I could tell that she was barely alive anyway. Better leave her to it. Nothing new to offer this poor girl.
I went into my room and closed the door behind me. Peeled my clothes off a pale wiry frame and sat down on the bed. The blackness shifted and swirled into terrible imaginary storms. The sun would soon come up and I didn’t want to be around to see it. I flattened myself out and lay there still. Eyes open, mind empty. Dante appeared from the gloom and curled up next to me, resting his little cat head on my thigh. We were both gone by the time the new day awakened.
“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.