Thursday, March 18, 2010

Puddles of Myself?

This should serve as a sort of mid-week update. My last day at work is April 2 and I am being slave-driven until that date so that every ounce of work can be extracted from my body.  I have been listening to Joanna Newsom's Have One On Me and have been mightily impressed.  My sensibilities would normally clash with music like Newsom's however, on this album at least, it is very soothing and also inspiring in places.  You will find no better song this year or maybe this decade than "Good Intentions Paving Company," which is equal parts Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Todd Rundgren, Grateful Dead and, yes, Paul McCartney.  The arrangements are tasteful overall and I am only beginning to pay attention to the nuances.  I have to delve into Newsom's backcatalogue in order to gain the full arc of her career so far.  Hopefully I can expound on what it is about "Good Intentions Paving Company" that I enjoy so much - it is certainly something elemental, I just can't put my finger exactly on it yet.

In other news, Alex Chilton, died this week.  There is too much to say about this guy.  One of the more influential and subliminal rock song writers and performers of all time.  Much has been made of Big Star and its looming presences over indie music and "critic" music, but Chilton was truly one of a kind.  He was gifted with songwriting ability and also a poignant self-destructive streak that made him so appealing to intelligent and creative people (read underdogs) everywhere.  He may have captured the essence of early rock and roll in "Thirteen" without ever using an actual rock n' roll trope or at least outright "rock" atmosphere. Instead, through the gentle, walking melody and razor sharp lyrics, he caught for a moment that earnest and nervous sensation that lives inside of us throughout our youth and, very likely, most of our lives in some capacity.  This is something that I could talk about for pages and pages. And, seeing as I have not been thinking explicitly about Big Star in a long time, I may very well do.  There is something absolutely true in much of the Big Star work, whether it is the Chilton/Bell "collaborations" on #1 Record, or the ragged pop on Radio City, or the total deconstruction of one's own catalogue and image on Third/Sister Lovers. Like I said, we can go on for hours about a man who even Paul Westerberg wrote a song about, claiming "I never travel far/without a little Big Star."

Winning Time on Sunday was everything it lived up to be.  I woke up and decided I would eat Chinese spare ribs and watch the documentary and I did and I loved it.  The interviews were terrific and it was fantastic to relive the atmosphere of that Indiana/New York rivalry in the mid-90's.  There isn't as great of an abundance of personalities in the NBA as there was at that time and that rivalry is only a snap shot.  Or rather perhaps what made it so great was that there were so many tremendous personalities focused in one rivalry.  However much I enjoyed the documentary, I couldn't help but feel as though part of the entire story was missing. The documentary ends with "The Finger-roll" in 1995 and the realization that the early 90's Knicks teams were basically finished.  However, there is no denouement to the arc of the movie.  I felt as though the director should have put the rivalry in perspective: it was merely two teams who filled a void left by Michael Jordan. Perhaps that sort of message belongs in a Chicago Bulls documentary, but to me, both the 90's Pacers and Knicks were defined by the presence and absence of Michael Jordan, which, again to me, completes the entire story of that time period of 1994-1995 (the absence of Jordan) as well as those two teams and their stars.  Reggie Miller was a terrfic player, but the absence of Jordan allowed him to fill a certain superstar, clutch void that was left open.  However, it is very fitting that both the great rivalries of the 1990's focused around the New York Knicks and a revitalized Madison Square Garden.  It sort of makes you think of what we are missing right now with a usually non-frenzied Garden.  It is an arena that is the last of its kind and is just waiting to wake up.

Tomorrow the tournament starts and I may keep a journal of the first day of games with some of my impressions.  I was very entertained this past weekend by the Conference Tournaments and I am very curious about the the NCAA Tournament this year.  After having attended tournament rounds the past two years, I am feeling kind of lonely without knowing I'll be at a game.  There is something about knowing that all of those games are going on at one time, all of those team colors, the mascots, the student fans, the 7,000 or so players involved, that is so inspiring and dizzying.  It strikes me as something great about humankind, but again, I can't put my finger on it.  Maybe I'm just too damn tired.

On a final note, tonight I am going to post up my initial sketching for my next story whether it end up being a novel or not.  The very idea of doing this got me thinking about the legacies of writers and artists and the current means we have of communicating and spreading art. It seems to me that in the past, artists would be more reluctant to share their works in progress until they are complete, whereas now we have album leaks, we have MySpace pages that allow us to showcase our demo tracks, and we have YouTube  videos embedded in our personal pages to show rough footage of our films and comedy shorts.  So, maybe, as "an artist," there is something wrong with thinking it is a good idea to share the newest material and ideas that you have come up with immediately.   But, one has to think, as "an artist," that it is a perfect way to judge one's audience.  For instance, what I am about to post strikes very much of Fitzgerald and I am wondering what effect that will have on those who read it. If it lures them in for the narrative experiments I will cast on them later or if it turns them away as too artificial and owing to a writer who very well may have been better than  I am.  In any event, you are getting a priveleged look into the story that is developing within my skull at this very moment and perhaps I will not get to retain any mystery I may have; I lose all credibility as a J.D. Salinger figure or a godhead like Tolstoy or Joyce and become a shameless self-promoter.  However, something about me will sleep easy because I believe that all my gods all took shits and were self-promoters themselves, which is how they became gods in the first place.  They just had different languages and passages of communication to control and navigate.

See below.  You'll notice that the basketball references are anachronistic, but they will do for now, in the service of getting the story on the page.

Adam hadn’t met Claire when we first knew each other at school.  They only got together at the very end, right before we all graduated in that golden summer of 2007.  The summer of 2007 -when the sun shone brighter than any other summer in the history of the eastern seaboard; when employment and love were ripe fruits to be plucked at will and with Edenic ease.

No, I’d first known Adam in the late fall of a depressing first semester of sophomore year, when Virginia didn’t seem like the place for me.  I literally collided with him while I was jogging across campus. I was quitting cigarettes – I had been a smoker since fourteen and have since started again after ten years off – and he was running from the library back to his house with books curled under his arm.  We each landed on our asses on the red brick that all the campus walkways were made of.  His books scattered over the worn brickwork in the orange walkway light.  There was a navy blue bound version of You Can’t Go Home Again, a beaten paperback copy of The Red Badge of Courage, and a book called Celtics Pride: The Rebuilding of Boston’s World Championship Basketball Team by Bob Ryan, a sports writer I knew only because of my passion for basketball.

I deftly picked up the books and got to my feet as Adam slowly rose to his wearing a ripped grey sweatshirt that bore the name of our college’s rugby team.

“I’m sorry about that, buddy,” he said to me, slapping me on the shoulder and back. “I’m always in a rush these days.”

I waved my hand and handed him the books. “You from Boston?”

“No,” he said while simultaneously laughing a deep hearty laugh. “I just like this guy.”

“Me too.”

He gave another hearty laugh. “I’ve seen you around before haven’t I?”

“That’s quite possible,” I said.

He held out his hand. “Adam Sirch.”

I gave him my name and we shook on it.  He asked if it wouldn’t be too much of a bother if he could buy me a beer for knocking me down the way he did.  Never one to turn down a beer, I took him up on the offer and we rather strangely, at his insistence, jogged to a humble corner bar that conveniently separated the campus from the surrounding neighborhood.

Over what turned into several Budweisers, we found out that we had quite a bit in common: both of us were avid readers, though he admitted that he had not read as widely and as seriously as I seemed to have; we both wished to do something with the words we had collected, namely to write some of our own; while we both admired and hoped to be novelists, he wrote for the college newspaper, The Eagle, while I collected my terse and melancholy poems and short stories for future publication.  I told him I admired newspapers but didn’t think that I could ever write for one.

“Nonsense, man. You could.” He slapped me on the back.

However, what we both loved was basketball.  It turned out he loved it even more than I.  The bar had a television bracketed lazily in its front corner, right above its slim liquor selection.  That night happened to be a Thursday, so there was an NBA doubleheader on TNT.  During the first game – Celtics vs. Cavaliers – we each complimented Lebron James’ obvious athleticism and marveled at Rajon Rondo’s large palms and complete control of the ball at the point. “Not even Isaiah could do that,” Adam remarked. “He is like Nash with Michael Jordan’s hands.  He might be better than Chris Paul.”

As we each reached about a six-pack during the second game – Denver vs. Portland – we debated if Carmelo Anthony would ever win a title. 

“These Denver teams are good,” Adam opined, “and he does need a point guard who can make threes like Billups.  They need a center, though.”

“He has a unique skill set,” I added.

“Yes! He’s not Pippin or Gervin or Irving.  But he’s also not English or Chambers.  He has some kind of weird DNA.  He can handle and he can shoot threes.  Who is he?”

I shrugged.

As we walked out the door and into the still, mild night, we shook again.

“If only the Blazers could still throw outlet passes like in Walton’s day.”

I agreed and then thanked him for the beers.  I told him that I would have to get him back very soon.
“It’s nothing.  We’ll see each other around.”

We went our separate ways through the quiet southern suburban neighborhood.  A guy and a girl were leant up against a car and I bummed a cigarette from them.  I walked and smoked looking up at the clear night sky and thought that maybe things could get better in some way.  I finished the cigarette, started jogging and somewhere in the distance a dog barked.

Though the campus was small, Adam and I didn’t run into each other until the following semester.  I had just finished a mid-term on French novels.  Exhausted of Stendhal, I was looking forward to a beer.  As I was exiting campus, a biker screeched to a halt right by me.  It was Adam.

“Hey don’t I know you?” he said.

I laughed and nodded.

“That’s right. You’re the guy that owes me those drinks.”

“Guilty,” I said slapping his outstretched hand in greeting. “Let’s go.”

So, he wheeled his bike along as we walked to the same bar that we had first shared beers at. It was the first Thursday of the NCAA basketball tournament, so the bar had the games on its dusty TV.  We sipped our beers and watched the earnest tempo of the college game unfold.

Adam had been very busy.  Besides playing winter league for the rugby team, he had gotten a chance to write for the town’s newspaper covering sports. He pulled a folded copy of the day’s issue out of his back pocket and pointed to an article he had written recapping the season of the town’s high school basketball team – they were one of the most storied programs in the valley.

“It’s good work,” he said. “The people that work there are nice enough.  It might help me get a job writing in D.C or New York after all this is over.”

We both agreed that “all this” would soon be over and we each took a moment to think about that fact.

“What you been up to anyway?’ he asked.

I told him that I had a serious workload with my courses for the semester but that I had still been writing.  I had even submitted one of my less brooding stories in to the English Department writing contest.

“Fantastic,” he clapped the bar. “You’ll have to let me read it.  I have a good editorial eye these days.”
The maize afternoon light began to turn to the periwinkle of twilight and the last afternoon session game ended, bringing the local news on. We both decided we had had enough daytime beers and that it was time to move on.

“Seriously, though,” Adam said, getting on his bike, newspaper sticking up against his back, “let’s hang out soon.  Not let all this time pass.”

“You got it, man.”

We shook and he took off back up the hill towards the campus. The spring air was moist and through the pleasant haze of the beers I had drunken, everything seemed to be beginning.  Maybe it was just that annual feeling of spring – or quite possibly the right amount of beer – but as I looked at the overhanging branches in the neighborhood, their buds turning all different shades of purple and green, all objects seemed to fit right into place: the planters on the windowsills, the flags blowing above front door frames, the cleanly painted shutters and even the black and off white contrast of driveway and sidewalk.  It was a picture of promise or of the reminder that things could be good in some way. I tucked my books snugly under my arm and picked my stride up as evening fully set in.  I decided I would sleep well that night and nod off to the squeaking of sneakers on a college basketball court.
Adam and I did see each other more frequently after that.  In fact, we soon became fast friends.  That semester ended in a rush and we did our fair share of partying.  He introduced me to his friends on the rugby team and I introduced him to my motley assembly of sports obsessed friends.  That summer, instead of returning to our respective homes, we stayed in town and got jobs.  He worked at the paper and at a running shoe store while I worked at the school library and did shifts at the town brewery, which yielded a stead supply of ales and lagers that we drank in great quantity throughout the heat of the summer.  There were quite a few of our friends around and we had a great time riding our bikes to each other’s houses, jumping in the river and staying up to all hours of the night to get at least a taste of cool air.  One night, an acquaintance of ours threw herself a birthday party.  Adam and I proceeded to entertain and annoy nearly all of the guests by leaving a series of absurd and comic notes in various places all over the house: the freezer, the utensil drawer, between beers in the fridge, the butter container, in bags and under dishes.  As people found the notes and either laughed or rolled their eyes at us, I finally felt comfortable at my life in Virginia.

Like most college experiences, the last two years flew by. Adam and I continued our antics at school.  He continued writing for the paper and I even joined the literary magazine.  We each took a semester abroad and only communicated through hand written letters.  He was an honest friend, and the enthusiasm and enjoyment for life he expressed in his letters encouraged me to look for the same in my own experiences. When we returned together, we lived together in a house with two of our other friends.  It was a stone house and the owners had kept a terrific garden with vegetables that we tried to maintain, even though it usually filled with bottles and other beer debris.  People often joked about how we were inseparable and in many ways we were, but it wasn’t until the very end of college that he met Claire.

Claire had light brown hair and lived in an apartment above a separated garage at one of the suburban homes near the school – that house happened to be very near to ours.  Claire woke up early on weekends and during the week and babysat for the family that lived in the main house.  She jogged by the river in the middle of the town and bought bread from the bakery.  You could see her running with a bag of bread on some mornings if you chose to get up that early. Claire also had dark brown sloping eyes and a controlled smile that always seemed to be on the verge of breaking loose and letting her white teeth shine out.  Her skin was tan and lightly freckled – she looked like she was born on a boat. However, she grew up with two older sisters on a farmhouse amid the hills of the eastern part of the valley. It was that house and the small creek that ran through its backyard and crop fields that won Adam over.

    We had been invited to a big party at Claire’s family home at the end of our senior year.  Claire’s sister played mandolin in a folk-rock group that was actually quite big in the stretch of cities and colleges from D.C. to Atlanta. Although we had seen Claire around and had even had short conversations with her, neither of us really knew her.  I had been seeing a girl named Emily who ran the magazine and it was starting to become serious, so there was no real reason to get to know that many other girls.  And Adam, he was too energetic, too strong, too interested in so many things and girls to ever fix his eye on one thing.  But that night, as we parked his Jeep and got out of the car amid the almost deafening echo of the crickets in the hills, we each looked up to Claire’s family farmhouse.  There was a feeling that was almost palpable, that almost walked out of the car with us, and that was the feeling that this night was to mark a new era in both of our lives.

    “Shit,” Adam had said. “Two more weeks.”

    “It won’t seem that short.”

    He laughed. “You’re probably right.”

    I grabbed a case of beer out of the back seat and we shuffled along the dirt road up towards the house, which was lit against the darkness of the surrounding woods.  I could almost make out the vague, ignorant shapes of the hills.

    “Claire told me that there is a place behind the farm, up on the hill, called Judgment Seat,” Adam said. “She told me you can get a whole view of this side of the valley.”

    “That must be nice in the fall.”

    “Must be nice in the mist.”

    “When were you two talking about that?” I asked.

    He tucked the case of beer further under his arm and leant forward into his steps as we walked up the slope to the front of the house. “Some time when we were walking from the neighborhood to school. Our schedules line up like that sometime.”

    I nodded and we both stepped up to the porch.  The front door was open but it was covered by a screen door.  We could hear faint fiddle coming through the house.  Adam banged his hand on the green chipped wood frame of the screen. I looked over at Adam as he messed his hair around with his free hand.

    “You son of a bitch,” I said. “You’ve got a thing for her.”

    He frowned at me as if in disgust, then he smiled and, finally, he shrugged.

    Claire answered the front door with a chocolate lab at her side. She was wearing her light brown hair down and her sloping eyes rose slightly when she saw us.

    “Boys,” she said in her high sweet voice, “ you made it.”

    “Of course,” Adam said.

    She swung open the door and let us in. She already had a yellow plastic cup in her hand.   The cup had faded blue lettering on it as well as the faded blue shape of a sun.  It looked like a cup from her childhood.  We both assumed that it was full of beer.  She drew each of us in and gave us a hug.  She felt more relaxed and open then I could remember.  As she and Adam embraced, I saw that she kissed him quickly on the lips.

    Small flies flitted throughout the house, which smelled like a freshly lit fire and the moist dirt of April.  The whole house was made of wood and as we walked through the front room of the house back to the dining room, two other chocolate labs joined us, gently clacking their nails ahead of our steps.  In the dining room, to the right, there was a small room lit up by a blue light and there were carcasses of musical instruments and other accessories lain about: wooden husks of violins and guitars, wires from speakers and bass strings twisting like bare tree branches in the dim hazel. Adam and I followed behind Claire, but I had to laugh, because it was evident that Adam was slowing his pace from walking up beside Claire.  The fiddle music grew louder when we passed through the kitchen and out to the raised back porch.  Outside, the backyard was lit up by large white Christmas lights that stretched in a misshapen tee-pee from against the house and out to trees in the yard – creating a vague point at the center of it all, under which the grass appeared like the center of a town square from some warm southern village I had romanticized while studying outside one day.  Down below, we saw Claire’s two like haired sisters sitting with two guys.  One of the girls was playing the fiddle, while another played mandolin.  One of the guys had a bass that was plugged into a small amplifier, while the other tapped on a three piece silver drum set that fit right at home as close as it was to the row of kegs that were set up.

    “This is what you came here for, boys,” Claire looked back at us, leaning against the rainworn railing of the deck. “Lucky you got here early.”

    Adam stepped up to the railing next to her.  She turned sideways looking at him.  Adam faced out to the peak of light and the darkness where the hills rose up and the Judgement Seat rested. “We are,” he said.  I could only see the back of his head.

    The party grew as any party where there is plenty of beer will.  However, the air was perfectly mild and there was plenty of space to move around, which made this a particularly enjoyable party.  The music grew louder as more and more people I had come to know over the past four years circled past me under the white light.  There were no complaints from any neighbors and it seemed at times that Claire’s family home was the only home in the entire valley.  I wandered around the house, partly thinking of Emily, who was having her own farewell dinner with some of her closest friends, but mainly thinking of what I would do next.  I fumbled my way into a bathroom. The walls were covered with family photos.  There were pictures of Claire’s sisters playing field hockey when they were in high school and a picture of Claire on a horse with her father. Claire was wearing a cowboy hat.  Adam told me that both of her parents had died right before she started at school and that the house was willed to her oldest sister.  There was a picture of the three sisters and their mother dressed up for Halloween: Claire was a little girl dressed up as a cat, one of her sisters was Carmen Sandiago, and the other was a hippy. Their mother wore an old aviator’s hat and I imagined that she was Amelia Earhardt.  There were pictures covering every inch of the bathroom.  I nearly felt guilty relieving myself. Once I had, I took one more amazed look at the intimate wallpaper and wondered what it would be like to have a family – I imagined that it must be a good feeling.  I took my beer off the back of the toilet and walked back into the house.

I next found myself down in the vegetable garden admiring the clumped dirt of a growing onion.  Behind me, the creek murmured as it passed from one unknown point to another.  In front of me, my classmates danced in the light. The whole night – the trees, the grass, the air – was damp, like a late night and early morning in May usually are.  I grabbed a lawn chair and positioned it next to the garden, close to the light, but close enough to still hear the creek.  I cursed myself for feeling so melancholy and took slow pulls of my beer. There was a small square of pavement in the yard and a foursome were kicking around a rubber playground ball.  Each team of two were trying to knock the ball of the pavement by using their feet, but the receiving team could return or defend by using their hands or feet – it was an extremely modified tennis.  One errant kick sent the ball rolling down towards my direction, flicking up moisture as it went.  I stood and leant to pick up the slick maroon sphere.

“Well, look who’s feeling lonely.”

It was Claire.

I laughed. “Senioritis,” I said and flicked her the ball.

“That’s bullshit.”

“I’m kidding.”

Claire turned and threw the ball back over. “Let someone else play.”  She stepped closer to me.  I pulled a can of beer out of my jeans pocket.  I cracked the the aluminum and let it drip off before handing it to her

“Now, that’s the gentleman I heard about.”

“My pleasure,” I said.

We stood and looked at the creek together.  She pointed out a spot in the dark where there was an old stone bridge that led across the water towards the Judgement Seat.  The bridge wasn’t in any danger of falling apart, she explained, the white paint that one of the old farmers painted had painted was just terribly cracked, which gave it a look of crumbling and falling.  It was as sturdy as it had ever been.  I told her that I would have to admire it in the light.

“You can see it tomorrow,” she said.

“What time is it?”

“You two should just spend the night.”

“You’ve got a thing for him.”

She pushed me.  We were both feeling loose and playful from the pleasant air of the night and the drinks that we had.  A playful moment between a boy and a girl when they are drunk and have no interest in each other sexually can often bring about one of life’s closest intimacies. I put my arm around her. The creek bubbled and splashed, barely seen.

“I’ll tell you a secret,” I said.

“What’s that?”

“He likes you too.”

She put her arm around my shoulder and squeezed.  Then, we walked back up to the party, our arms hooked together.  Adam was stationed by her sisters, watching them play and kicking his legs in delight.  Claire detached from me. She gave me one joyfully restrained smile and then turned her light brown hair away from me and walked over to him.

“You need one of these?” a classmate of mine handed me a cup of keg beer.

    “Of course.”

    I took the cup and walked up the staircase of the wooden deck.  Since we were staying all night, I decided I would find a quiet place to call Emily.


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