Sunday, February 5, 2012
Three forty-five p.m. Having just walked inside, I loosened my belt and dropped my wrist watch on the kitchen table beside my roughed-up, but as of late, untouched laptop.
The space I live in was hot and smelled like middle-age, nine-hour old coffee and unforgiving lassitude.
I live in a box, perhaps not so remote from the trailer Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart lived in with his wife in the Mojave Desert, circa 1980, his 12th album rolling out of warehouses and into the poetic hands of the few and faithful.
Cell phone was lying upside down by the laptop where I had left it that morning and the morning before, battery wearing down. I robotically checked my text messages. Something from my reporter friend Jackson in Wyoming. A text from Jackson is always surreptitious and shadowy, but when you talk to him, you feel it -- life’s always sunshine and Saturdays in Jackson’s world.
“Where’s vintage J.Guy?” the text read. “Where’s the dope? The writing, man? Missing it.”
“Still writer’s block,” I texted back. “Just lamenting my fucked up, misspent life. ”
I changed into my ripped jeans and T-shirt, then returned to the kitchen and the sound of my phone vibrating from the counter where I’d set it. The icon of an envelope like a cruel reminder of the past, signaled a quick text back from Jackson.
Fine, fine. I told him I’d throw some shit together and post it “you know where.”
The last contact I had with Jackson was when he texted me a couple of weeks earlier.
“Deleted my fb.”
Neither of us could stand to call this media-plex wet dream by its Christian name. Somehow, we’d both just fell into it – Jackson like aimless elements in the wind and me with the initial élan our sports and photography editors felt when they laughed at the obscene imagery and screwed with depraved souls on the swinging chat rooms, circa 1996.
That was in a more wonder-eyed, white space and virginal time when saying “I surfed the net today” was a novelty. But isn’t it more than obvious now that facebook, Zuckerberg and the whole damn internet of Gates -- which bred into it some brave new world , a clonish death star spawn of satan – is, like television before it, a 24-hour reminder of the glut, excess and emotional obesity that stands in for the vacuum of life today?
To say so is to commit a modern-day blasphemy – and for a writer –career suicide. I should ride this highway all the way into the Twitterverse and beyond because every writer is telling you where she bought latte’s and shoes and everyone is into three-line“blogging,” writing advertorials and marketing their images across some impersonal expanse where a thousand faces stare at you from fakebook like your surrogate family.
As I sit at my sectional writing – my daughter beside me, wearing a “princess” dress with Disney-Pixar’s Rapunzel image sealed to it, watching some stupid panda on the flat screen – stories abound on NPR about fb going public, as did Google and Wal-Mart. Corporate personhood, of course, is the next logical transition for a vehicle predicated on the commercialization of friendship.
It would have behooved me, I guess, to attend the recent meeting of that writer’s group I belong to, my ass warming a folded chair as I sip coffee in the banquet room of a suburban neighborhood library. There would be speakers there, I read on the net – self-marketing gurus extolling the virtues of making love with the social media.
My fatal obstinacy and lingering Weltschmerz leaves me resistant to the world as it is.
Unlike Jackson, however, I haven’t de-activated my lamebook account. I will post this column there and tell my friends in fakebookland that they’re crazy and brain-damaged if they don’t read it. Yes, I will use that social media purlieu like a southside whore straddling her man, exclaiming “I’m gonna ride you like a horse.”
No long hours cruising the social media universe, sucking at the glass teat, though. No collecting virtual jewels or pretending to pioneer some artificial farmland where the crops always flourish bountifully under a never ending sun. I’ll leave it to sit like unread books on a shelf – something like a ghost site or zombie bank.
No Jackson in the social media universe.
Off the map
Jackson was a benevolent sadist.
When possessed by loving good vibrations in his soul, he might send me out to interview models – perfect innocence gleaming like youth and activity from their expensively shampooed blond manes and soul-stealing cleavage.
If he were cruel and spiteful, Jackson might compel me to drive to the shitty part of town and interview the 700-pound man asking the community for donations to support a much-needed life-saving gastric bypass surgery.
I forgave him, though, as he forgave my youthful narcissism and intransigency. All was cool on the weekend nights, sipping Pabst Blue Ribbons in the darkness covering his back porch like a shroud, the alleyway and Sunset Motel laying out before us. Jackson lived on South A Street where his neighbors included an African-American couple living catty-corner to a man who hung a Confederate flag in his window.
We smoked cigarettes and we barked at the moon
The worn tape would play as it had so many times before from the scuffed box Jackson had been lugging around since the ‘70s. If one were to codify a cannon to encapsulate Jackson’s life, Tom Petty would be as integral to the religion as human train wreck stories, Sir Walter Raleigh cigarettes and ESPN. A loyal fan since circa 1978, Jackson had – at that time – seen Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in concert three times.
Jackson graduated from a liberal arts college where his old man was an English Lit professor. His people had migrated from West Virginia to Michigan and possibly a few other places before setting up in the northern Oklahoma/southern Kansas area.
“My grandma was a preacher,” he said. “Back in the ‘40s when women didn’t do that.”
She tried to bring a message of hope and salvation to coal miners. Their daily bread was rock dust and danger. A sense of fatalism entrenched itself inside their lives.
“Someone should tell all their stories,” I’d say.
We’d talk like that, about other stories in other lives and places and other rooms. About cool places…like…
California. California. CALIFORNIA.
A place we had both seen. Narrow streets aligned with bauble shops, bungalows and palm trees. Sudden waviness in the road would wind down to the sands and sidewalks of CarlsBad where the waters built themselves into waves, onrushing and descending over the shores like a cleansing. That same Pacific ocean, infinite looking and stretched endlessly like the arms of God, was a connection between us and, perhaps, someone in Asia of Buddhist persuasion.
“There’s so many stories in the naked world out there,” I said. “Somehow I just don’t see how I’m gonna get past this town and -- you know, the bosses and office politics and constrictions that make you feel uncomfortable. It’s like some prick teasing. You feel like something cool is in your grasp, but you can’t reach past the clusterfuck to get it.”
“The information superhighway,” he said, “that place is gonna get as crowded as the path to destruction. I guess all you can do is accept, get what you can and keep writing your ass off. “
“It’s gonna be the end of the world as we knew it,” I said, taking a drag from a cigarette.
“Always has been," he said, the screen door slamming behind him as he walked inside to get a couple of more beers.
“I don’t wanna be left out,” I said after he came out and handed me another beer. “This writing’s the only goddamn thing I know how to do and sometimes I’m not so sure of that. Fuck, I’m 25-years-old and already, this life ain’t what I planned.”
“So, just write your ass off,” he said. “You live in complicated shadows, Dude. You’re like all the beer and energy of life, but you get it messed up and torture yourself into a state of lethargy.”
Sensing the dark pensiveness coming over my face, he slapped his palm on my left shoulder and said, “It’s all cool man. Fuck all the other voices in the wilderness. There’s still only one J. Guy rockin’ out, right? Shit’s all gonna pay off, man.”
Baby, even the losers have a little bit of pride. Yeah, they get lucky sometimes.
It’s fitting today -- that Jackson lives in Wyoming. I’ve been there and it’s ascetic. You can see the stars at night.
People won’t see the vivid prose he wrote for our small-town paper years ago, but he couldn’t give a shit. He’s still around even if he did drop off the map. Jackson exists somewhere in the spaces between the clogged lines that stand in for – and complicate – our lives.
In the margins.