Saturday, August 27, 2005

Of Random Thoughts, Clowns, and Rain

Have you ever felt so stripped of your soul you weren’t quite sure how to put one foot in front of the other and move forward; or even backstep into the ease of regression? Have you ever been so whittled down to nothing the only thing less possible than moving at all is standing still? A pure emotional adrenaline shock to the system that leaves you a mere shell of the shell you once were?

Yeah, me neither.

It is late and I have now eased onto the porch with a fresh Evil Williams (with a splash) and a newly clipped and fired CAO Gold Double Corona. It is some cooler tonight but muggy as fuck and my ratty old blue polo clings to my back and pits. It is not an entirely uncomfortable feeling.

I’ve slipped below the radar of late, unable to bring pen to pad or fingers to keys. My thinker is a fucking mess lately and I’m not sure how to remedy that. Often, my elixir for that which ails me is a snoot full of whiskey, a fine cigar, and… well, pens and pads, fingers and keys. My therapy don’t seem to therapize these days. I am an optimistic Randle Patrick McMurphy, convinced I’ll charm my way to freedom. When, actually, my biggest fear is the likelihood that Nurse Ratched is plugging in her thought-fixer and concurrently labeling my forehead “Next.” Not to worry. I don’t need the pillow yet, Chief. Not yet. But you may want to keep it handy just the same. (Christ. I’m a sucker for Allusion). I will cliché up a cliché until it is no longer a cliché, but instead new and clever—if only to me.

The me that is me has to laugh when I get so maudlin. I mean sad clowns are still clowns, right? I always liked the sad ones the best. Those sad, silent clowns. They wore their sadness like a hair shirt. But, because they didn’t speak, we (the audience) were forced to intuit or assume. What heavy burdens they seemed to bear. Beat down by life. Betrayed, somehow. But they took in stride the shit dealt them and persevered. I often imagined those guys after a performance, removing their clown paint, ultimately revealing an identical expression, only less pale. They had simply painted over what was already there. I never laughed at the sad clowns, but I felt they wouldn’t have minded if I had. The one scribbling this would rather be the source of a laugh than just about anything else. It is the thing that makes life seem just about ok.

So to digress from my digression, I have slipped below the radar. Fuck, I am off the chart actually. I’ve needed a respite and will likely take a longer one. Need a little time to duct tape my head into place. It may not be attractive, but duct tape can fix anything…

It is nearing 1 a.m. Because I am a foolish man, I just put fire to another cigar. A lovely La Flor Dominicana Ligero—hefty ring size. I am tired enough to sleep a week. But my shirt is no longer sticking to me and I need to talk.

My perfect Boy sleeps the unencumbered sleep of childhood, stretched carefree and motionless in his large bed. I break away from the porch ever so often to watch him. I need the smile his person affords. He told me the other evening, “I just love you all da time, Daddy.” That is why I am not ready for the pillow; why I will rise with only a vestige of my own sleep, and start a new day. He is a marvel, that Boy. Sometimes watching him sleep is rest enough for me.

I found the following blurb in my notebook from our recent trip to DC. I must have intended to put it here and it just never finished itself:

I am on the roof of an apartment building on 11th in DC. Near Mass. Avenue, between L & M (?). I don’t know what that means actually. I assume it is simply parlance to give folks in the know a satellite-like sense of just where in DC one is. Apparently location is everything—and then some. I have with me a full rocks glass of Makers and a splash, an evenly burning CAO Brazilia, a waterproof Eddie Bauer bag of ice, one 20 ounce Coke, and one half full bottle of Makers. I also brought a sheet of aluminum foil for a makeshift ashtray. I think it was the sight of the foil that ran off the three people who were here first. Fuck ‘em. I instantly disliked them anyway.

From here I see the top of the Capitol Building and a hint of the Washington Monument. It is a superbly mild, breezy night for August. Comfortable. But I would rather be in Boston, drinking beer and listening to accents. The bravado of Boston appeals to me. If you knew me that might surprise you. It sure as shit surprises me. There is something comical about the arrogance of Bostonians. As such the arrogance is endearing instead of off-putting. I like the fuckers. I wouldn’t want to fight one, but I sure like drinking and talking with them…

That’s it.

DC was fine, but full of the other clowns. Not the sad clowns that make me introspective and sadhappy. But a cornucopia of foreignness and activity. The people there are at once perfect and wealthy (it seems) and perfect and poor (it seems) and arrogant and decent and utterly self-absorbed. It is a fascinating place (it also seems) that is acutely aware of its vulnerability. I can respect that. I will go back, dance a slow arrangement with historical perspective. I’ve long been drawn to the inexplicable.

I think it is supposed to rain tomorrow. As a child, there were few things more special to me than walking in the rain. Maybe I’ll do that tomorrow. Walk in the rain with the Boy as far and back as our legs will take us. Taste and wear the rain as it falls. Cover ourselves in those wet sheets. Or maybe I’ll sit on the porch with him and point to it. Tell him how cleansing a good rainwalk can be. Tell him how peaceful he looked as he slept tonight. Tell him that not all clowns are scary. That the sad ones are sometimes wise. Tell him that sometimes in the crevice of night, beneath the blue hue of cigar smoke and humidity, some daddies are clowns to. And I’ll remove my face paint for him only, revealing not the sadness beneath, but the joy his company brings. And I will watch him watch the rain. And later, I will watch him sleep once more, secure and safe and ignorant of self-doubt and the havoc it wreaks.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

What a Man Needs

I am on the verge of something… Is it the precipice, the perch from which to freefall? Is it something grand, a man-sized sky rocket of sorts, a pure ascent to enlightenment? I don’t know. But verges are exciting. All potential potential…

Emerson was upset tonight to notice the flowers he and L. planted out front had died. He was easily consoled; but I was touched that he took exception to their unnecessary demise. A man needs flowers, the impermanent, cyclical beauty they afford. And he needs to appreciate that some things fragile are to be cared for. These flowers were planted with love and effort and then immediately neglected. And they died. Through no fault of Em’s, or course. What would a three-year-old know of caring for flowers? While I regret the lesson of nurturing did not proceed with care and attention and that he did not get to see his flowers thrive well into the early days of autumn, I am pleased a lesson was presented at all. A man needs lessons.

At the daycare of dubious merit—late today—Em hit a girl. Apparently, because “she would not clean up.” Our recited rule each morning prior to lugging all of our shit to the ever-wounded Jeep is as follows: No picking. No teasing. No hitting. And no aggravating. What happens if you do? “No tele-bision and no stories!” The Boy’d had an excellent and incident-free day to that point. When confronted by the teacher, he immediately fessed up and explained his actions. I got this from his daily report card and from the teacher herself. Today, I was prepared to bend our rules. Television and stories would be allowed. But once in the Jeep, I asked why he’d hit the little girl. With barely a pause, the little fucker lied his ass off. “I didn’t…I promise!”

Now I will fuck with a person mercilessly if given an opening. M. says I am like a Goddamn terrier. I will tease and aggravate and annoy. But under no circumstances will I lie to you. I abhor lying. It is probably the only thing in life that I find truly offensive. I try to impart this to the Boy in as healthy and light a manner as possible. I gave him three chances to fix his lie. He caved only when he found out his teacher had sold him out. To great upset and many tears, television restriction was reinstated. A man needs lessons. And so do little boys. We compensated with conversation, playing “dinosaurs,” and an extra long dinner.

And I still read him The Digging-est Dog

A man has many needs, I suppose. Lessons can be tedious and, if over-emphasized, can zap the joy right out of life.

If the man is me, he needs Esquire, the New Yorker, and Playboy in that order.

He needs the simple pleasure reaped from a fine cigar and nothing less than a mediocre whiskey—fine whiskey is preferred. [Note the distinction: He does not need the whiskey. He needs the pleasure that comes from preparing it, handling it, and ultimately tasting of it. The day he needs it is the day he moves on to a new pleasure.]

A man needs movies. If he is feeling a bit pompous, he needs film. He needs that delightful flip that occurs deep inside, that slight tightening of his throat when the perfect movie ends, fades or cuts to black, and segues to the credits. City Lights comes to mind. As does Lost in Translation and Being There.

A man most decidedly needs books and stories. He needs the feel of the cover (preferably hardback) and the slow turning of the page. He needs the magic of a passage so touching he must pause, compose himself, and reread it. Sometimes after such a passage, he will clear his throat as if to congratulate the words. He needs that reassurance that there are men and women with wonderful or painful things to say and the ever so rare ability to say them.

A man needs sunsets that strip the heart of all its refuse and doubt. He needs the knowledge that Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, and a handful of other places offer such grandeur on a regular basis. He needs the coupling and resulting offspring of his own insignificance and superiority brought about by this beauty.

A man needs the open road at twilight. And the rolling hills of Tennessee. The rush of wind that lifts his hair into and again out of his eyes.

A man needs laughter. If for no other reason, to remind himself he is capable of it. Worthy of it. He needs the lightening of soul, the lessening of burden that laughter affords him.

A man needs a prolonged thunderstorm. He needs its violence and grace. The cleansing power it provides. He needs it to remind him of all that is greater than he will ever be.

A man needs an audience. He occasionally needs to be considered hilarious, or clever, or intelligent, or wise, or even mundane. Sometimes he simply needs to be considered.

A man needs the aesthetic beauty of a woman. Whether strange or familiar. He needs to appreciate her breasts—perfect or imperfect, full or flaccid, bountiful or nonexistent. Her hips, whether too large or too narrow for there is no such thing as either. Her stomach, whether tight and flat or loose and plentiful like his own. The curve of her neck where many treasures reside. Her mouth. Her collarbone. The spots just below her ears.

A man needs friendship, camaraderie. He needs the telephone call of a best friend from two thousand miles away. He needs to know that call will always come—even when he is too self-absorbed or self-involved to acquiesce. He needs the familiarity of that voice to remind him he is sane and loved.

A man needs the occasional visit home to reconnect. To frequent bars where people no longer know him by name nor actually recognize him at all. To walk the streets of his youth. To stand at the railroad tracks and throw rocks at the relic of a train that rumbles through his old neighborhood. Yeah, a man needs Home.

A man needs to see dead flowers through the eyes of his child.

A man needs to be on the verge of something, always—whether grand or horrific.

And, as I say, I am on the verge of something.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

My Dinner with Todd

I am having dinner with Todd Snider in East Nashville. Or maybe we are in the Village at the Sunset or the Trace—one of the good tables for a change. For all I know, we are at Antonio’s in Bellevue. He is wearing a tee shirt and jeans. No shoes. I am wearing my God-awful cargo shorts that are falling apart, a 10-year old Gap polo, and K Cole slides. I am treating because I feel guilty for burning a copy of his latest—East Nashville Skyline. I will burn a CD in a heartbeat and then tend to feel shitty about it. With a mischievous smile and darting, unsure yes, he tells me “It’s all good…Don’t worry about it.” But I don’t know if he means it.

I am drinking too much, it seems, but am cold sober. Todd drinks water. I want to tell him that he seemed happier before. Not so serious. But I don’t. In part, because I don’t know if that is accurate. In part, because it seems rude. I don’t know him. Perhaps he has spent a lifetime looking for Happy. Contentment. Maybe that is the unspoken, fictional bond we share. Looking without looking for fear of what we may find.

He has a tattered file folder of lyrics with him. I wait for him to reach into it and (like a surreal magician pulling a skinned rabbit from a top hat) extract John Prine to sit with us, share some appetizers. He doesn’t. So I force the conversation and tell him how I’ve listened to John for nearly 30 years and how I saw Kris Kristofferson six years ago at Café Milano. And how I was giddy like a child and pretended not to be devastated when he forgot the words to Me and Bobby McGee. “Todd, my Man, you know these guys—you rank with these guys… That makes you royalty lite. How does that feel?” I don’t know if I say these last things or not. I think I do. But it wouldn’t be like me. Instead, I ask him if he can believe they lowered the speed limit on I-440 to 55 mph. “Blasphemy,” I declare! If he senses my awkwardness he ignores it.

“How’s Emerson?” he asks. He knows intuitively how to put me at ease.

“Em’s good,” I say. “When I put you on in the Jeep, he pauses and smiles and says, ‘I sure like dat Todd Snider.’” The kid’s got taste.

Todd Excuses himself and fades with his folder of songs into the crowd.

I order another Woodford and draught. I bring flame to a CAO Double Corona which is unlike me as I don’t smoke cigars in public. I motion the waiter over to take away the untried calamari. I tell him Thank You, but he doesn’t hear me.

The new girl from Finance appears and sits where Todd just was. She seems shy as she lights her own CAO. “I thought you were funny today,” she says.

“Thank you,” I reply. “I thought so too.”

She is lean and tall. Her face is a little flat and insecure. She is lovely. She tells me that Todd had to leave but that he enjoyed meeting me. We share a comfortable silence and she sips from my Woodford. No grimace. Her sudden confidence is false but I find it endearing. If not strange. We sit there not speaking. Still, it is nice. She asks me to quote ee cummings. I hesitate and suggest Sandburg or Whitman. We don’t know one another well enough to talk of Death and Blue-eyed Boys. I tell her something of Fog and little cat feet. She smiles and politely excuses herself. On her way by, she brushes the hair out of my eyes with the back of her hand. I catch a wisp of lavender. “You seem to do better alone,” she says. There is no hint of malice in her tone. “Solitude suits you.” Her eyes tell me that my danger is not dangerous enough. My return look emphasizes her miscalculation, but does not implore her to stay.

I draw deeply on the CAO. The blue smoke hangs over my head like a dialogue balloon. I am a comic strip, I think. A Calvin with no Hobbes.

Later, at Dalton’s, another draught and Woodford in front of me, Vince Gill finds the bar stool to my left. He orders the house red. He is dressed almost exactly as I am. Except for the lively dance of his eyes, we might be mistaken for brothers. He glances at me sideways. The hint of recognition furrows his brow.

“Ryan?” he asks.

“It is,” I say smiling.

“Good to see you,” he offers.

I say something akin to “Likewise…likewise.”

We talk summarily about the families. We comment absently on nothing of consequence.

A take-out order appears before him. I smell wings. He pays with cash, stands, shakes my hand. And then he is gone into the fading light of day.

I order another round. Compose a verse in my head. It is good but I will forget it before my drinks arrive. I am trying to remember a joke my Dad once told me. I come up empty.

A familiar song plays softly in my head. I hear myself hum along with it. Even in hum I am off key.

I look up as Todd Snider walks in. He takes Vince’s seat.

“I thought you might be here,” he says with his old smile.

“Well,” I reply. “I am.”

We sit quiet. Content. The sound of the bar the only buzz we hear.

The night fades. I hold onto it as long it lets me.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Sitting with Lincoln

I am off my game tonight. Antsy and ill-prepared for travel. I think I have most of our stuff packed—or at least at the ready. Though this means, of course, I will forget our toothbrushes, my contact case and solution, or both. So be it. DC may sell such things for all I know. I know they sell cigars and Makers Mark there. I’ll bet the tax alone on tobacco and booze is the original price plus half. I would Google it if that didn’t mean getting my lazy ass off the porch. The issue is not heady enough for me to put down the La Flor Dominicana Ligero and Evil Williams (with a splash). I’d hate for my vices to feel neglected.

There was a time when I enjoyed air travel. I am thrilled that Emerson still does. He is innocent enough yet to not get pissed at the rudeness and inconsideration of others. His is still a state of Perplexity and a grand ability to move on. Mine, for some reason, is still one of incredulity and an inability to not stew over it. My “to each his own” philosophy falters during these times. But I am usually able to absorb Em’s enjoyment and all is well with the world. I asked him tonight if he was going to have a couple drinks on the plane. “Yeah, I’m drinking on the plane,” he said. The little boozehound.

I often wonder how I made it so many years without him. He is the most challenging and wonderful person I’ve met. And he does a fantastic meerkat impression.

While ill-prepared and ill-funded, I am looking forward to the trip. If for no other reason, to be somewhere else. Not necessarily away from Nashville, for I adore this city. But away from the obligation of Nashville—even for a couple days. And I am actually excited about the ballgame Saturday night. Though never a Redskins fan, I will be at RFK Stadium for the first time. There is an implicit respect there. I appreciate that. I care nothing for the Washington Nationals, but I like the fact that they are competing in their first year. New franchises are not supposed to be competitive for the first five years, but these guys are just behind my beloved Braves. I recognize the Nationals’ concept of new is hardly new at al. They are comprised of veteran players—some of them ex-Braves. But this is the club’s first year and they are doing a hell of a job. It will be an honor to watch them. I can already taste that wonderful electricity that exists only among large crowds. It is a delicacy like no other and a rare treat on which I indulge. I will cheer them out of respect for the game. But lucky for them they are not playing Atlanta or else they would have to contend with the most obnoxious fucker from the South. As it is, I may still quote some ee cummings and shake my ass a little. Baseball brings out the best and worst in me. But the worst is still pretty good.

As previously noted, seeing Nana and putting faces to the dinosaurs at the Smithsonian will make Em’s trip. He will also get to the Washington zoo which I understand to be exceptional. I don’t know that they have a meerkat exhibit, but it should still be ok. To be sure, he will enjoy.

For me, how I would love to place him on Lincoln’s lap and take a picture. Then join him and take another picture. We may not be able to pull that off though. But then again…

After DC, I need to make arrangements for a visit home. I need it again. I need something familiar. And I need for Emerson to see me smile at something other than him. It is healthy and necessary for him to question himself as the center of his father’s universe. About this I am quite certain. For while he is my Islamorada, my Sydney Harbour Bridge, my Barcelona, he must not bear that burden at such a young age. Being the single source of his father’s happiness could be crippling to his development as an individual. I will not do that to him. With due respect to those who disagree, it is one of the few things in my belief system that is non-debatable.

And so it is. I finish this exquisite cigar. Sip my Evil Williams as delicately as foreplay. Survey the haphazardness of my suitcase. Comfort the two cats. Worry myself over things left undone. Eventually, I will doze—or something like it. I will hear Em call out around three a.m. and move him to my bed where I will watch him sleep in the safety of my crook. It is a monumental thing on nights like this.

And I will look forward to that thing my stomach does at the exact moment the plane leaves the ground. And I will say to Emerson, Look, Son! Look at all that world down there.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Mid-Week Ramble

Emerson is back in the land of the Broke-Eared Boys. I saw it coming. Knew three days beforehand. I suppose a parent does. He is a good sport about it and is particularly fond of the game Make Daddy Kiss My Ass without Losing his Temper While I Pretend to Hate My Medicine. Thus far he is three doses to the good. I knew the Boy was a winner. The antibiotic has to stay cold, so I shudder to think what boarding the plane for DC on Friday will entail:

Airline Guy: What’s this cold chalky stuff?
Ryan: Antibiotics. The Boy has a broken ear.
AG: Anti what?
R: Biotics, Sir. They fix broken ears.
AG: Is this a bomb, Mr. Ryan?
R: I don’t think so…Shall I taste it to be sure?
AG: I think that would be appropriate (motions other AGs to stand back).
R: (Tipping back the bottle, taking a hefty sip, sputtering, making a face like I just kissed a dick) Oh, Jesus Christ, That’s horrible!!! (Looking at Emerson) Ugggh!!!
Emerson: (Calm) I tole you so.
AG: You may board, Mr. Ryan

The stuff tastes bad enough that it is sure to cure Em’s ears.

Note to Self: Remember sunscreen for DC. Anitbiotics + Sun = Blistered Boy.

Work has been a bear this week. New responsibilities coupled with multiple systems failures and glitches and recoupled with an innate lack of organizational skills that would stagger the average witness. But today, M. pretended to be a Pekinese with allergies and my workload seemed somehow lessened. It is the little things, I guess.

On a serious note: It is a difficult thing for a man of some years to not know what he wants to be when he grows up. I have allowed myself to become far too attuned to my limitations. I believe it is an absolute necessity for a man to be aware of his limitations. It staves off arrogance and can lead to an open-mindedness of sorts that requests all manner of new knowledge. But I think I have managed to cultivate this “noble attribute” into little more than an excuse to be static (and then to whine about it). I do not teach school because I am not a big enough man to adapt to a system of organized failure that I loathe. I do not teach college because I cannot abide the required arrogance—and because I am not quite sharp enough (see recognition of limitations). See, I know a little bit about a great many things, but not a great amount about any one thing. My opinions are well-formed/considered and I am a decent conversationalist. Conversation is great for a barfly, but useless for one uninterested in punditry. In short—it don’t pay the bills. I do think I would be a good bar owner and bartender. I ponder that from time to time. But, man there is a lot involved in getting there (see limitations = excuses = stasis).

I wonder if my lack of focus (or better, my penchant for multiple focus) has anything to do with my… well, my lack of focus. I think maybe. On any given day, I can be picking at the scab of a career choice and consciously watch my energy shift to song lyrics, a book passage, or my favorite movie endings. Sometimes, bemoaning that I did not go into Entertainment Law, I slow-blink and see Chance the Gardner walking on water in Being There, or Charlie Chaplin’s beautiful, heart-wrenching smile at the end of City Lights, or a throat-tightening film montage in Cinema Paradiso, or two paths simultaneously chosen in Jim Jarmusch’s Down By Law, or Dustin Hoffman’s terrified emptiness in The Graduate, or the Chief running into the night of Cuckoo’s Nest… My world invariably morphs into the wonder of escapism. And, as such, I am free from the worry of non-decision. I exist in the form of fiction.

Methinks the man has unresolved issues.

But unlike the earlier days, these non-worries, these decisive indecisions do not occupy my labeled folders of dated self-pity as they once did. They’ve become more of a hybrid curiosity. Still tinged with self-pity, of course, but tempered now with age. What I lack in perspective, I now approach with a hint, a suggestion of perspective.

Since a recent Saturday visit to the zoo, Emerson does a dead-on imitation of a meerkat. “Look at me,” he says. “I’m dat little guy!” And try as I might, I am unable to strip myself of the smile his imitation brings. But later, dwelling on what to do next, I think how I cannot wait to watch The Natural with him. “Oh, Baby, I’ll say. “Is this not the hokiest, most wonderful ending?”

I wonder if he will see me as sentimental or melodramatic.

For I am both.