(Note to those who think that, because I didn't post anything yesterday, I've broken my pledge of posting every day in Lent: I've been informed, by the most authoritative of sources, that Sundays don't count)
Which was a terrific relief, because I was exhausted yesterday. John and I went to Rochester on Friday, with our friend Doug Frue, to attend the funeral of David Craighead, with whom both John and Doug had studied while at The Eastman School of Music. After the reception following the Mass, we piled back into the car and came back here. Doug stayed the night (he plays for a Presbyterian church here in South Orange -- why go all the way back to the Bronx, and then...?); Sunday morning, John left at something like 6 am, to prepare himself for the Palm Sunday 'stravaganza. And just before he got his coat and bag, to drive off, I told him about...
I got a Facebook message from David Keefe, of Combat Paper, on Friday, telling me that PBS would be coming to do some taping, at about 10 am on... April 1st. Could I be there too, he asked. On Palm Sunday. When I was committed to be singing an anthem in New Brunswick. I felt torn. John offered to make an excuse for me, but after thinking about this late-breaking conflict, I chose to do the least harm possible. I so love the group of singers in Canticum Novum, and not only did I feel that I would be letting them down, but I would also miss singing with them.
So I constructed a compromise, thanks to the sage advice of a my friend Rhoda Fairman. She always says that, when faced with a choice between two seemingly conflicting options, see if you can't do both. I decided to get to church for rehearsal, sing the anthem (a real old war-horse of a song, that made me feel as though all the men should be in frock coats, and the women wearing bustles), and then, at the earliest polite moment, I would absent myself, and head off to North Branch, to find out what the PBS people had done. I was certain they would have long since gone by the time I arrived.
John had given me directions -- just go up Easton Road, and get on 287. Which sounded simple, until I realized that I wasn't sure which direction I should be going on 287. I know North Branch is, well, north of New Brunswick, so... But of course, where I met the highway, the designations were 287 East and West. (Why don't they just make it 287 Giraffe and Scallop, as it gives me about the same amount of helpful information?) I guessed that I needed to go toward Morristown, and then tortured myself with doubt until I actually connected with Rt. 78, just where John had said I would. I didn't even stop for Starbucks -- just drove directly to the Print Center. A couple of cars in the parking lot. I'd obviously missed everything.
Except -- I hadn't. When I got in, there were only a couple of the usual Combat Paper crew on hand -- David, one of the founders, wasn't even there yet, as he was giving a fundraising talk at a local church. There was a cameraman and a man with a microphone in the main work room, and they were hovering in the background, waiting for something to happen. I was still in my dress shirt and tie from church -- I went upstairs to change into something I could get dirty, and came back down, to start taking uniforms apart.
I guess watching fabric being cut into strips is slightly better than nothing, so the TV guys drifted over to where I was working, and then we drifted into a conversation -- why was I doing things just this way, how long had I been involved with Combat Paper, what did it mean to me, to be taking military uniforms apart and turning them into paper? I had to tell them that, for me, the uniforms, per se, were just garments to be deconstructed. It didn't occur to me until later that the garments we'd been working with were either Army or Marine issue -- my ancient Air Force garb was either a set of green work fatigues, a light tan chino shirt and trousers, or the dressier blue uniform I usually wore --so of course I would be less impacted by the sight of the modern pixilated version of desert camouflage. I told them that my own military service was relatively benign -- forgetting, conveniently, the whole issue of discovering, at 18, the true direction of my sexual orientation within an organization that forbade men like me from serving.
I did bring up, as I often do, the terrible thing that has happened to a friend's only son, while he was on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan two years ago. I described watching, as what is left of this barely conscious young man was lifted from his hospital bed, and strapped into a chair-like device, commonly used in treating burn victims. The burnt human body wants to curl in on itself; the special chair pulls against this unthinking reaction, forcing the arms and legs back, stretching the chest and groin. My friend's son looked crucified. And, as I cut strips of cloth into smaller bits, I mentioned realizing that, as the stretching took place, I was witnessing the agony in a single room, in one hospital filled with rooms in which similar events were taking place. And across the country, how many rooms in how many hospitals are filled with shattered service men and women? And this is why I cut uniforms into little pieces.
Then I got a bagel.
More folks showed up, including a few I'd never met, and soon the room was more alive than I've ever seen it -- lots of cutting and talking and laughing, and sometimes not so much laughing. David and Sarah -- a military nurse who served in Somalia, an action that even the Veterans' Administration has trouble admitting was an actual war zone -- were being interviewed, with bright lights and clip-on microphones. Another veteran from Teaneck had some things to say. I kept undoing seams in a pair of camouflage trousers, while a relatively new member of the group told me a stream of things about his life, pretty much non-stop. Pizza arrived, but I hadn't finished my bagel. Among the lot of us, we created a heap of cloth scraps for the pulping mill. More paper is on its way.
Then, at least an hour later than usual, I left for home. As I passed the farm with the longhorn cattle, I noticed that not only do they have at least one llama, but there was also an emu on the premises. But in spite of this novelty, for some reason as I drove, I was haunted by an old feeling of inauthenticity -- the best description I can manage, of this unpleasant sensation, is this: think of a cold knife running around the inside of a small loaf of bread that's just cool enough to remove from its pan. What I experience is a cold, slithering loss of contact, a separation that's not immediately visible. I may be in the same room with all these people, but I feel a distance intensely real and unbridgeable. It is a grievous feeling, and I don't know what, if anything, I can do about it.
So, it was something of a comfort, yesterday, to be able to take a little break from all this introspection, and simply to lie about on the couch like a pig, watching trashy movies on TV and doing old crossword puzzles.
This morning, I decided that, because I had no choir rehearsal today, I would change my schedule even further, and instead of waiting until Tuesday, take myself to the gym. Unwisely though, I looked through my email before leaving the house, and discovered another note from my sister Barbara, about her plans to contact some County Courthouse, in Oregon, having jurisdiction over my brother's weird case. Which led me to reexamine the public record that Barbara uncovered, retailing the nature of George's illnesses, his recent delusions, and some vague description of the temporary guardian who either is or isn't doing what the court requires. Which led me to begin obsessing about virtually anything and everything even vaguely connected with this distant nightmare.
Should I be concerned that, in this public document, my family is described as 'distant' and 'estranged'? How do we construct a meaningful and productive working relationship with the woman George has said is the only person in the world that he trusts. Can we, from the distances separating us from Oregon, find a reputable legal representative for George? Would he make use of this counsel? Is it wise for the Glenn, Barbara and I to go all the way out there, to see this wreck of our brother? I did call the Court House, to see what we can possible arrange, only to discover that, because of budget cuts, the family services department is only open part-time. I'll have to call back tomorrow, to begin wrestling. long distance, with state bureaucracy. I can't wait.
Meanwhile, I've made a list of the things I want to try, with my paper project, so I'll have some work to contribute to a Combat Paper exhibit in Teaneck later this month. I bought some expandable foam today, and want to make some more tests, to see if this stuff can give me results even remotely similar to those I get with glass. It's a little strange, really, to find that I have to schedule 'playing', but that's actually how I work best. I generate questionable ideas; I have, often, lucky accidents.
John says it's possible to add pictures to this blogue thing. If I can figure out how to do this, maybe I'll include some images of... whatever I manage to produce. I'm actually kind of excited about what I'm imagining. We'll see how long that lasts.
And life goes on. Until it doesn't.
© 2012 Walter Zimmerman