Monday, July 7, 2014

Sixty pages into Rob Delaney’s book and he’s made me belly laugh about as many times. I tweeted him a picture of my copy of the book with a homemade bookmark sticking out, the top part of which reads “Rob’s Wife’s Phone Number.” I made him laugh once. The ratio is off.
My recent two-week vacation was an anomaly; I have programmed myself to see an afternoon trip to ANYWHERE as a chance to have a memorable experience and maybe leave with a photo that I’ll keep for the rest of my life. Like life is a scavenger hunt. Why not? I worked in offices at various points between high school and the first years after college and this is why I jump on the chance to do pretty much any job that allows me to be active and outside. “Do Anything To Avoid Offices” is printed a classroom-style motivational poster in my brain.
One of the office jobs involved selling regional newspapers to the locals. I initially did this with a gaggle of my high school friends. At some point, we began to adopt each region’s accent during the calls. I can’t hear a reference to Fayetteville or Ottumwa without recalling Bill Raymond’s or my rough attempt at their accent. I have a recording of twenty or thirty minutes of these calls. (‘Cause I’m me.) It’s on cassette tape. (‘Cause I’m old.)
I wasn’t supposed to be home right now. I booked a last-minute job in Maryland because the pay was really good, but it happened to coincide with the 4th Of July holiday and hotel rooms in the Upper Eastern Shore (far from Baltimore) were hard to come by. As I type this, firecrackers muted by my walls and windows are popping off all around me like a recording of popcorn popping played at half speed. I just noticed I can see them through the window in front of my desk, too. This is disproportionately exciting to me because I grew up in a bedroom without windows. (Did you hear that, psychiatrists?)
As I look toward Walt Disney Elementary School, I can see a pretty professional-looking fireworks display. As far as I know, Walt’s head is not buried in a capsule under that school. Maybe you were about to ask.
This morning, I wrote on the Internet, “sitting on a curb watching a parade in a small town in Maryland reflecting on how much strangeness remains in my life. (It was a choice.)” I was making $23/hr. at the time. I am happy being anywhere I’ve never been. Even the gas station/restaurant/terrible arcade/convenience store I found in Delaware. I got that explorer bug. Restless Greg Syndrome. The Jimmy Legs. William Levitt’s Disease. I’ve gone out of my way to keep myself out of a grid. Some people think I have The Life. I know a multi-millionaire who wants to be me. I guess I look free. But freedom’s expensive. So I’m not always free. But on a day like this? Sure.
I’m on a dock on the Chesapeake Bay, walking back toward town. A li’l babe with big black sunglasses says, “hiiiii.” I say, “hiiii there” and keep walking. Two seconds pass, and I turn around, big, golden aviators glued to my face, and I say, “…nice shades.”
I say “babe” ‘cause she was about two.
The moment. I’ve been taking notice of how many parts of life are aided by a commitment to stay in the moment.
At work today: the first thought about checking the time and determining how much time was left before I’m free. Why? What was I to gain by going through that process? Why am I not free because I’m at work? This is not a habit I picked up from high-minded people. I switched my focus to the present and enjoyed the people at work AND the Post-Work High (PWH). I love days when I’m my own boss, playing music or selling art, but I can only get a big hit of PWH when I’m on somebody else’s time and then I’m not.
Improvising music yesterday: as soon as I let my thoughts go somewhere other than the feel of my Fender in my hands and the joy of directly expressing emotions through tones, I was gone. I can always sound “good,” but that’s not what I’m going for. Remember, you can’t spell “bullshit artist” without “artist.” I want the soul connection. You have to do enough practicing to know where the chords and the notes are, but it only has a chance of being transcendent when you can bypass your brain and broadcast live from your imagination.
I always wanted to have a device that could record my dreams and play them back the next morning. As a songwriter, my goal is to create pieces that feel like what those little dream movies would feel like.
During the four months since the diagnosis, the peace that I’ve found has been in the moments of making her feel loved or otherwise lighter through humor or good conversation. There isn’t peace in trying to project into the unknown future and trying to organize it; there’s only peace in being present.
I can remember being without a girlfriend or close friends - being closed-down - for extended periods of time. It was safe, but it wasn’t life. I gave all of myself to a yellow, Johnson brand Telecaster clone with a picture of a disappointed David Seville taped to it (think: seven seconds before shouting “AAAAALVIIIIN!!!”), and nothing to anyone else. I don’t regret it, but I don’t want to go back, either. I use it as a reference point. Maybe it’s good to know it’s an option. But I didn’t have anything to write about. These days, I seem to have nothing but intense, poignant moments. Remind me that I wrote that the next time I’m watching Conan in my underwear with sweet potato chip remnants drowning in my chest hair, OK?
I am sitting in front of a place called Play It Again Sam in Chestertown, Maryland. I slept about five hours last night and immediately drove here for an 8 AM shift. Caffeine saves the day, as usual, but not without that weird, fidgety edge that reminds you you’re operating on artificial energy. My morning was so compressed that I shaved on Route 301 while singing along to the Everly Brothers. I was proud to multi-task in a brand new way. I’m an old, worldly soul, but I am also an American and a millennial.
Millennial. 9/11 happened after the summer during which I graduated high school. Dad used to take Pam and I to the top of the Watchung Mountains to look at the World Trade Center. My mom used to ride her bike down that hill. It looked dangerous. After the attacks, I was walking around the block for exercise and three Bristol Township police cars pulled up to me to question me. Why was I walking around without a shirt on? (“Sweat.”) How long have I been in town? (“1987.”) I had been reported to the police for taking a walk. I remember people put flags on their cars en masse and then, a few months later, removed them en masse. George had previously advised them to “think for yourself” but they didn’t all listen.
“All Things Must Pass” was one of my favorite albums when I was eighteen, along with Don Everly’s freewheeling eponymous album, and R.E.M.’s forgotten “Reveal.” Everything I loved when I was eighteen still feels like a holy relic. As a guy who saw The Everly Brothers in person every few years throughout his youth and constantly heard The Beatles both in utero and in Jersey, I have very good taste. Those Everly shows must be the best gift my dad gave me. As an Old Millennial (1983), I can remember when we were encouraged to focus on one thing at a time. I think the combination of emotional openness and forced focus is why I have such a depth of feeling for that music. These days, I have the same connection to albums that I listen to on long car rides. I’m not sure if I’ve ever listened to “Redneck Jazz Explosion” or “Propellor Time” while sitting still.
Another thing I want to tell you about being eighteen is that my first solo gig was for community service. I was playing piano and guitar at a now-defunct senior citizens’ home in Bristol, PA. To my ears, I didn’t become a singer until I was twenty-eight, so I gotta assume it wasn’t a very polished show. I played Neil Young’s “Like A Hurricane” and “Winterlong” as piano instrumentals, I sang “Kansas City” with a feisty older lady who joined me at the microphone, and I sang a version of “Sing Me Back Home” that made an old man cry. Not sure if it was the sentiment of the song or my early vocal technique.
Another thing I did for community service was help a local pastor around his church. He was a very kind man who could see that I was just a young guy who made a dumb move. I cleaned some of his windows. He asked why I didn’t attend services and I told him that I didn’t feel comfortable being part of a club that doesn’t accept gay people. He got a little defensive but seemed to understand that I was a thoughtful man with a good heart. I sensed that he might’ve realized that I had a point. Later, he was kind enough to let me play his church’s piano. I played R.E.M.’s “At My Most Beautiful.” When my paternal grandmother (Gammy) died, I walked over to his church’s garden and felt some peace. Around the time that I was finishing up my work with him, he told me that his house burned down and his whole family died. I never saw him around after that and I always wondered if he survived the loss and what the nature of his life and faith were in the aftermath.
The God idea requires devotion to a character who either makes a lot of really sadistic moves or, at least, has a huge blind spot. A blind spot that’s very much at odds with the idea of being all-knowing and all-powerful. It is too much cognitive dissonance for me. Maybe that’s my problem and my loss. As I’ve seen so many loved ones (and their circles of friends and families) fight through so many battles I know they don’t deserve, I’m only reminded that I’ve fully lost the version of faith I was taught at school. Not just the institutions; I could smell the corruption even as a little kid and I still remember the weird way that the priest who was later convicted of molestation, Father Francis Trauger, looked at me. But even the underlying concept of Space Daddy watching us from the clouds and making sure things even out for us. Too much magical thinking for me. Science has more answers than religion does, but it requires us to be strong enough to accept news we don’t like.
I think what I believe in is the ongoing quest to have love and peace within oneself and spread it to as many people and animals as possible. The terrifying and/or liberating thought that THIS IS IT! This is not leading to something. I find it exciting and motivating to contemplate that this is one of the moments between birth and death and that we’re responsible to make decisions that will make us feel self-actualized and peaceful at the end of the day/life. I like some things that Jesus said. I like some things that Tupac said. I liked when Pylon said, “there are no answers/only reasons to be strong.”
I’m sitting outside drinking an Italian soda I bought from a pretty, endearingly high-strung girl with a nose ring that I didn’t like but respected in concept. I’m a level of tired that enhances the bags under my eyes but also simplifies my thought processes in an enjoyable way. I can’t overthink, can’t hesitate to communicate with a stranger. I’m moving through this town I’ve never seen before like I’m in a dream. Of course, if this tiredness causes me to crash my car on the way home, the ease with which I spoke to shopkeepers will no longer be the big story of my day.
I asked for “pork roll” and the whole world seemed to pause around me for about five seconds while I struggled to recall the alternate regional names of pork roll. I failed. I ordered sausage. Either way, I’m not doing my best to spread love to animals.
I’m working at an event for kids that’s been running all around the country. Various festivals and street fairs. The tour managers are a very attractive, recently married couple from the midwest. Imagine if Ken and Barbie were real people but you liked them way more than you’d think you would. They are kind, patient, and personable and it makes the job a pleasure. As Ricky Gervais’s Derek says, “just be nice.”
I love these perfect little American towns. In Philadelphia, the old sign that just says “SHOES” might have something other than a shoe store under it. Here, it has a shoe store under it. The Democratic headquarters has a big banner including the word “FORWARD” and the Republicans have a big sign with the word “BACK.” The church bells are loud and in-tune.. Older couples are sitting on benches, calmly observing the afternoon and trying to read my t-shirt. Everything is as it should be. I feel a little bit like an invader species here, but then again, I’m sharing smiles and money so I suppose I’m playing my role.