Monday, March 4, 2013

A Little Lighter, A Little Darker...

By now, I should be used to this, but it still surprises me -- all day, I think of things I want to write about, when it's time to do my daily post.  And then, when I sit down at the keyboard, my mind goes completely blank, as though I had just woken up from a year-long coma, and didn't even know what day it was.

Well, I do know that today's Monday, but beyond that...

So, I'll start at the beginning, as I usually do, and perhaps one of those important notions will jog itself loose from whatever cranial storage area in which it's being kept, and I can do more than recount how many times I've breathed, and what color t-shirt I decided to wear when I got up...

Monday.  Monday, during the choir season, means that, generally, I take John to Newark Penn Station, so he can take the train to New Brunswick, and then I drive down, later in the day, for choir rehearsal, and then we drive home in one car.  So sensible. 

If, that is, you can somehow avoid driving through Newark, to get to Newark Penn Station.  I've found a wriggling little route, through parts of Newark many of my neighbors have probably never seen, but which ends right where everyone meets, in that dread four-block center-city tangle, which has been made worse recently by a spate of construction and below-street-level utility repairs.  Which always seem to be in high gear at about 8:45 am.  And me with a desired drop-off time of 9:00 am.  It's a battle of nerves out there. 

But, I feel supremely confident in my awareness of just how much space the car I'm driving requires, and I aim to be what I like to think of as a 'declarative driver' -- not someone who holds back while everyone tries to decide what the bozo in the van is doing, setting his vehicle on fire while straddling five lanes of the road.  No, I prefer to zip around everything and leave the puzzlements behind me.  It's kind of a treat, really.  If I weren't so tall and bulky, I think I would have loved being a race car driver.  Faster, please.

In any event, this morning's inbound commute was no more or less harrowing than usual.  The trip home was a trial, as I ran smack into lots of aforementioned above- and below-ground utility work, but I managed to weasel my way along, and into downtown South Orange, to pick up some cash for the junk man I was expecting later in the day, and to buy some apples.  During which transaction, I managed to leave my van keys with the cashier.  Because I was driving John's Prius, this oversight didn't register until I got back home, and decided to move both vehicles out of the driveway, to make things as easy as possible for the junk man.  And had to drive back downtown again...

But in spite of these first-world travails (oh no, I can only drive one car at a time today!  Wait.  I can only drive one car at a time, anyway...), I was able to get back home, and have the time to tackle even more of the accumulated horrors that have been sitting in front of the garage for lo these many months.  Even unto years, alas.

I was actually rather good, about not keeping more than I tossed aside.  Of course, given that much of the detritus was in the form of rotting pink wall-to-wall carpet, the loss wasn't quite as poignant as might have been the case, if I were confronted with a pile of copper tubing.  The heap of discardables doubled in size, and I worked up a good sweat, so in about an hour, I had things looking as though only a mid-sized tornado had struck the back yard recently.  I congratulated myself and came inside to do something or other.  Probably a crossword puzzle.

Anthony the junk man was so clever and quiet that I didn't even notice that he had backed (backed!) his truck and attached trailer up the driveway, until he began tossing things around.  Clunk, clunk.  I went out to talk with him, and he said it was clear what I wanted to go, and what should stay.  He went back to work, and I did something else, I forget what.  Nothing productive, I'm sure.

In about another hour, he was more or less done.  We settled up, and then he spotted a few other items I might be interested in losing, at no extra cost.  Big, rusted-out former possible art making things -- a big industrial-grade motor for driving a drain snake.  Some old tool boxes, and such.  Mostly rust, I thought, but if he can make a few extra bucks, selling them as scrap, well God bless him.  Of course there's still more work to be done, but it feels as though I've woken up one morning, having lost fifteen ugly pounds, by magic, overnight.  I might even like to try this again, sometime soon.  Thinking about all that previously-frozen, useless latex paint, shelved in the garage, and serving no useful purpose...

For some reason, this minor victory over stuff gave me the necessary boost, to change into my work clothes (the rattiest things I own, generally.  The selection is vast), go down into the basement/torture pit, and resume work on the new sculpture that needs to be finished by Wednesday afternoon, for transport to Millville NJ on Thursday.  I had my usual screaming and cursing bouts, when I couldn't find -- oh, you name it, I couldn't find it, whether I'd just had it in my hand, or had put it someplace 'special' months ago.  I cut my thumb, into the nail, the other day, and with bandaids swathed over that sensitive area, I felt like I had shoes on my left hand.  My reading glasses kept falling off my head, because I sometimes have to work upside down, and enjoy seeing what I'm trying to do.  And things that fit in one place didn't fit someplace else, even though all parts involved were exactly the same size...   Art making is such fun.

But I did make progress.  So much so, that I think I may actually be able to pull this conglomeration together, and it won't look too alien to the rest of the work I usually do, to critical acclaim and acquisitive indifference.  The fact that, as sometimes happens, I've assigned a family meaning to this motley collection of blown glass and industrial materials, only seems to smooth the process for me, in some respects.  It doesn't help my glasses stay on my head, but it does help me make decisions that are informed, instead of arbitrary.  Whether or not anyone else knows what the piece 'is about' is of supreme indifference to me.  I just need something to use as a conceptual base line, and then I kind of wing it from there.

And, having just thrown another layer of thinned-down paint on the chassis, and looking at it from across the room, I think I may actually like this thing.  I find that odd and unlikely, and a little frustrating.  For all the sloppiness I feel I've allowed myself, in slapping this thing into existence, I'm surprised that it looks as solid and ominous as it does.  I wonder if I know what I'm doing?

Now.  About the other things, that invariably crop up, in and around all this trivia.

While I was driving down the Garden State, hoping to get from South Orange to New Brunswick in enough time to grab a cup of coffee before rehearsal, I had another of those odd shifts of perspective, I think I'll have to call it.  To the casual observer, I was just an older man with deep naso-labial folds above a teensy mouth, driving a silver hybrid vehicle at the usual 20+ mph over the posted speed limit.  To me, I was a painted egg shell, a thin, brittle, vulnerable skin pulled taut over that emptiness I talk about so frequently.  I found myself thinking that, if the whole world were to crack into a billion pieces and spin off into space, without so much as a pre-tremblor, I wouldn't be all that surprised.  Maybe it's because there have been so many of those annoying Facebook posts recently, of dreamy photographs of famous physicists and their quotes about how insubstantial we all are, and how much space there is in and around us -- how, to a life-form with a different capacity to see, I might just look like a column of smoke.  These are the sorts of things I think about, when I'm not cursing some slow-poke in the express lane, or trying to merge left, so I don't miss the Turnpike entrance...

Later, on the drive home from choir rehearsal, John was talking with me about attending a memorial service, in Manhattan this afternoon, for our friend Doug Frew, who died recently and suddenly, of an aneurysm.  Doug had recently converted to Catholicism, and the priest who was saying today's requiem mass was the man who'd been instrumental in Doug's shift away from his former Protestant faith, and had attended an earlier memorial service, down in Ocean City NJ.  I wasn't able to get into town in time for the service (the junk man!  The junk man!), but John took a train into New York, from New Brunswick, arriving just a few minutes after the service had begun.  As it happened, only the priest, John, and another friend of Doug's, were in attendance.  And, at the moment when Communion was being celebrated, the priest asked John if John was Catholic.  Discovering that John, like the other worshiper, was not, the priest blessed his congregation of two, and then turned away, ate the consecrated host, and proceeded to the end of the service. 

John said that he found this behavior odd.  I remarked that it struck me as singularly ungenerous.  I mean, it's just a little wafer, after all.  Who's going to know?  John observed that this was like being invited to dinner and then, when the table is all set and others are pulling out their chairs to sit down, I'm asked to go sit in another room.  But given a pat on the head as I exit.

And as we discussed original sin, and redemption, and the other sorts of things one talks about while careening through Garden State traffic, looking for the Union exit, I said that, it seemed to me, we have two choices: (1) to sidestep our intellects, and choose to believe in a received set of beliefs, in order to cushion ourselves from the grim realities of finite, time-bound, ultimately failed existence, or (2) to choose the profound unease of facing the basic, yet terrible uncertainties of day-to-day life, knowing all the while that even these uncertainties will fail at some point, at which moment... who knows what happens?  Neither option sounding particularly enticing.  (It came out better in the car)    

Once again, I'm brought back to what seems to be my personal Gordian knot: caught as I am, in an ultimately treacherous physical pocket, what to do with this time through which I plunge, seemingly without rhyme or reason?  I choose, as I said yesterday, to aim for giddiness and laughter, as a kind of rude gesture to a universe that, knowingly or not, can tolerate such an arrangement, for billions of unique individual minds and souls.  I try, as often as possible, to exercise kindness to others, thinking of the suggestion I read (probably on Facebook, with Robin Hood's picture in sepia tones): treat others more kindly than strictly necessary; no one knows what hardships another of us may be bearing.  Or something like that.  It probably sounded better on Facebook.

Now, it's time for me to take my night-time dosages of anti-depressants (can you imagine?  If I didn't have them?), and lie down, waiting for sleep.  I dread going to bed -- I always feel so strange at that moment.  It seems to be another place in an average day where the divide between mundane reality and the yawning void seems particularly thin and transparent.

I will probably be a very unpleasant dying man.  But I don't care, really, as long as I look terrific in the casket.

©   2013             Walter Zimmerman  

No comments:

Post a Comment