The author & poetic company on his 20th birthday July 6th 1997, from left-to right, David "I've always been there for you, man" Hale; Brooke "I forget yer' last name now that yer' married" Ferraro; Matt; Margot Wllard; Patrick "The Great" Mullowney, the copper-headed author; Misty Gardens; Goth Dan; Precocious Stephanie. Bottom row Alexis (now dr.) Jordan...Summer of 1997 and everything is new and exciting and your whole life is ahead of you boy.... Pure Joy...
Just 120 whisked calendar months ago I spent the sweltering heat of July1997 stationed in front of the jutting metallic tongue of the cash register at B. Dalton Booksellers, inside the rattling central air conditioning of the mall, routinely scanning the bar codes for mass market and paper back bestsellers, fueling up on caffeine and cigarettes, staring at the lazy heliotrope of a summer sun at dusk wildly contemplating how it must feel at the end of the day to write fiction for a living, to crack into the white dry-wall of the page every morning splattering the bulk of each page with continents and splotches of lettered shadows the way dawn breaks into planet, with peach-hued blinks and splashes of nectarine from the pink-eyed east and then vision and then sight.
It was ten years ago to the day. Bill Clinton was seven months into his second term as president, nocturnally drooling over a young intern by the name of Monica. The Bulls had just won their fifth NBA championship in seven years. Logging on to the static sunrise of cyberspace entailed ten minutes of rickety white noise followed by a gulping modem tittering warble followed by more pauses and frustration and password changes and verbal "fuck-it's." It was possible ten years ago to walk fifty meters across any random populated area in the United States and not find yourself being surrounded by a swarm of human beings each with their neck tilted into their collar bones droning mantras of materialism across a dimension of wirelessness.
Ten years ago a pack of cigarettes and a gallon of gas were under two dollars each respectively.
The dual steel tendrils of the World Trade Center stood tall as an intractable testament to consumerism and culture--on early mornings if viewed from cross-town resembled a two fingered sign heralding the promise of peace.
Ten years ago Princess Di was traveling the world, squeezing the hands of victims with HIV, visiting land-mine amputees in third world countries finalizing a romantic weekend in Paris come the end of the following month.
It was the summer I dyed my hair blonde with a little help from my best friend David Hale's sister Becky, who read the directions off the side of the box in her garish high-pitched nasal din as I genuflected both knees in front of the bath tub as if in prayer bowing my neck and head into the linoleum basin as if grieving over something lost. It was the summer we drove around lost without an atlas listening to monorail techno elevator muzak of Moby and the sweet gruff guitar chords of Ani Difranco, driving through country roads, fast, smoking cigarettes not knowing where we were going but succumbing to the overall golden often Kerouac-inflicted feeling inside that we there already--that our destination and overall purpose in life had something to do the fact that we were pulsating, that we were thriving, that we were driving down the gold sprinkled dust of country roads flanked on both sides by thick emerald staffs of corn.
That we are here.
The summer of hemp necklaces and cigarette ashes. the summer I saw CHASING AMY
six times in the theatre (cackling aloud during the lesbian make out scene when two elderly crones walked out, seemingly appalled) . The summer of multifarious late night viewings of Pulp fiction and Linklater's finest and Dead Poets Society The summer of clove cigarettes and french kisses when your eyes wisp open in medias embrace only to espy her forehead and eyes hushed like petals, the bulbs of her eyes backstroking behind the pink cave of their lids, as if part of her body is wadding in a pool of emotion and that somehow your lips keeping her balanced...keeping her afloat.... the elongated interim between 19 and 21 when the bars are elusive and you find yourself loafing in coffee houses bent over a splattered corpse of opened notebooks fraught with inky veins and metaphorical arteries--the battered french fry poems of youth, trying to make sense of your life by laying tracks of words together and then reading them aloud--certain of your genius, certain of your place in life.
The summer of Walt Whitman and Hesse and Jack Kerouac, always reading, always seeking, always staring into the alphabetical pond of the page and hoping to see my reflection peeking up towards me. The summer I lugged the technicolor bound travel-luggage sized INFINITE JEST with me every where I went--as if it were a concordance for postmodern scripture. And James Joyce. And Nabokov. Writers I was sure would teach me. Writers I was sure would help me grow.
Ten years ago today was a Sunday. I arrived at the bookstore and hour and a half earlier to open up, balancing the cash registers with the papery green shingles that somehow sadly dictates our existence and place in life. I wore a tie to work and sweated in the July heat, even though the mall where my bookshop was located was heavily air conditioned. Although my profession was books, it was still basic retail--still bartering over priced commodities, still catering to the financially endowed caprices of the consumer. Still toadying up to strangers to coerce them to purchase something that don't really need so that our store could reach its corporate quota and that I would still be employed.
Memory is like a long elongated red carpet kicked from the side from a celebrity limousine like a tongue. So when I reminiscence ten years into the stream of yesterday I can see myself on that day, coming home from work, stopping off for coffee at Starbucks, arriving home, thumbing loose the constrictive pentagon from beneath my chin into two uneven jet streams of silk.
I see myself now, a decade past expired, arriving home in the Buick that would be stolen two months later, standing behind the shoulders and occiput of the brassy headed lad who ten years ago arrived at the cement lip of the house where he was conceived to celebrate twenty years on this planet with family and friends and with people he loves. The oxygen and residue of memory illuminate those whose bodies have failed them like a spotlight. When I enter the sylvan french doors of my old living room (the house where Swissy-Missy ironically lives in now) and if I squint past the back of my own twenty year old head I visually discern the acrylic wig of my grandmother is sporting, her sweet breath and cigarette paper white skin, oblivious that the cancer will reel her from all of us in a little over a year. I can see my mom, her hair darker and spumed into a gelled perm. I can smell and hear the scent of our family schnauzer Lady (deceased) snapping her grainy goatee when my friends enter the living room.
I can see my father. His beard and bespectacled scent humbly nodding at my bohemian friends bartering witticisms and artistic anarchy and small talk. The beautiful beard of my father--the twenty year old wannabe writer, completely oblivious that the he will spend the bulk of the preceding decade of his life with the bone architecture of his father underground, decaying--his spirit and humility and generosity still resonating. Still singing.
This is life ten years ago. Patrick Mullowney, my playwright friend from NYU is telling anyone who will listen about the play he is composing. David Hale is romping around the living room laughing with heavily accented yawps. Sprite sized Aleixis is playing with my dog. There is Goth Dan who is sitting in the corner, nodding, trying to put on a Sisters of Mercy Cd. There is Misty Gardens who studies philosophy and ebullient lilly-eyed Stephanie who is a sophomore at IMSA.
They have all come to celebrate.
Misty clanks shut the bathroom door to change out of her work clothes. Two weekends ago Misty and I watched the dip of the June sunset lower itself into the manhole of the western sky together. We had driven in the country after work chain smoking and talking about part time jobs and life. We kissed and held each other in our underwear as thick barges of drizzling ionized light slowly dwindled into copper and then into tint and then into crickets and stars. Misty is leaving for Campaign in a month and has made it very clear that dating seriously is out of the question. For our own good.
Hale, being the jovial best friend he is, has made it lucidly clear that since things with myself and Misty are moot for the remainder of the summer he plans on stepping in and showing Misty what a real David tastes like. Laughing afterwards in his thumping guffaw, asking myself if impotency has set in on the genesis of my new year. When I mention to Hale that Misty isn't into having anything serious, she is just looking to have a good time Hale flashes a smile, echoes out his signature whew-hoo and tells me straight up that he thinks he has just met the woman of his dreams.
More friends continue to wend their way into the living room where I took my first steps. There is Matt and Brooke whose face is so white and gorgeous that is looks like a tear fallen from the socket of a china doll. And then there is Margot, the women I have been pursuing since Misty Gardens, entering the door, smiling.
Later that night in celebration we smash tables together at the coffee shop we congregate on a daily basis. There is a freight train full of Bohemians and witt. patrick Mullowney's laughter is ricocheting around the restaurant. Hale is smoking a pipe, leaning perilously close to Misty's shoulder watching her face blush in laughter after every retort.
There are clove cigarette and there are endless carafes of coffee. When my friends inquire about my birthday I blather off puddles of poetic dross. I quote Milton's How soon hath time, the subtle thief of youth. I plagiarize Charles Highway, the uppity smart-ass protagonist in Martin Amis' THE RACHEL PAPERS, quoting how 20 may not be the beginning of adulthood but it irreparably constitutes the end of youth.
Looking back now, ten years, I see a sea of joy, the laughing heads of those I love all stationed around smashed together at a table at our favorite coffeehouse that was torn down six years ago. I think about the potential and the love and the yearning and the future each individual seated around me, swathed in a plume of smoke, thought that he or she might inherit.
I think about the people I have lost in the last ten years. I think about holding my fathers hands on his death bed, singing Lutheran hymns to my grandmother in her last hours.
I think about love and the women I have loved. The ones that have hurt me and the ones I live with every day and the ones who fill me and complete some part of me.
Looking back at the congregation of young hedonists and artists, I turn my head now and think about the next ten years. There will be loss and hurt and pain.
There will be death and seperation and arguements that seem so fucking signficant at the time that will later transition into pettiness....
But there will also be laughter. and growth.... and Love....
and plenty of wished for joy in the narrative song.