Sunday, March 8, 2009

Shells From The Beach - Chapter 5


“Sailing round the world in a dirty gondola

oh, to be back in the land of Coca-Cola!”

-Bob Dylan

So the days turned into weeks and the and one day I woke up and it was June 2nd. I was scheduled to go on another tour starting June 3rd in Boston and then continuing on out west until Portland Oregon. The goal was to just have a fun summer out on the road by myself and hopefully make enough money to be able to afford a plane ticket back east at the end of it all. But with my half eaten wife buried in the ground the tour was looking doubtful. I had been obsessing about it in the weeks since the funeral, begging my parents to take Addie for the summer, but they insisted that she needed her dad right now. I knew they were right, but damn it, it took me three weeks of pleading phone calls to book these shows. I knew she needed her dad. I just didn’t know how.

It was a warm, wet Friday as I loaded up the old Chevy conversion van with the essentials I would need for the tour. It wasn’t quite raining but a mist hung silently in the air, tiny drops of moisture stubbornly refusing to fall to the ground. I placed the guitars and amps in first followed by the enormous amount of snack foods we would be living off for the next two months in next. These were procured the night before at the wholesale market where you could buy things like 100 individually wrapped bags of chips and a five gallon drum of ketchup. Finally the luggage went in. It was fine Italian luggage we had received as a wedding gift and looked out of place in the back of that old rusty van, but it was the one present we received that day that I had always cherished. It spoke of world travel and of endless journeys together. It was easily the nicest thing we owned.

Addie had given me no opinion on the tour. Over the past month since her mother’s death she had sat back quietly watching my reaction to gauge what her reaction should be. I had no reaction, so the two of us went on toward the warmth of impending summer like not much had happened. We operated like two robots whose human master goes out for milk one day and never comes back, mechanically going through the preprogrammed routines of our existence. If she was happy about me dismissing her from school two weeks early to join me on tour she never let on. Conversely, if she was upset about leaving her friends for the summer she never hinted toward that either. I had just told her two nights before that we were going and that she should pack her clothes and she obliged without comment.

I closed the front door to my house and left without bothering to lock it. Let the wolves have at it, I thought, and Addie and I climbed into the van. I started the engine and we both stared straight ahead into the mist. We were both somewhere else far, far away. I wondered if where our emotional selves were, where ever that was, if we were as far apart from each as we were in this tiny van. I didn’t really want to go on this tour. I didn’t want to get on stage and sing for lousy college kids or middle aged hipsters at coffee shops. I didn’t want to be famous, not anymore. I didn’t want any of it. I just wanted to get away from this house, this city, this life, as fast as I could.

Shells From The Beach - Chapter 4


“In the Federal City you been blown and shown pity
For secret, for pieces of change
The empress attracts you but oppression distracts you
And it makes you feel violent and strange.”

-Bob Dylan

In all the movies I’ve watched about all sorts of people living in all sorts of places I have never quite seen a city quite like New Bedford, MA. A once quaint fishing village with roots that traced back to Melville and the great whale. Growing up in New Bedford in the late seventies and eighties was like being orphaned and forced to live with your sickly grandmother. You just hope she stays alive until you are old enough to take care of yourself. That’s the way I felt about New Bedford. I spent my childhood hoping it would just survive long enough for me to escape it.

New Bedford made many odd choices throughout its history to bring it to its sorry state. There was the giant hurricane barrier which protected it from violent tides, but also left the harbor dead with stagnant water. The vast amount of waterfront property on the inner harbor, which should have been extremely desirable, would just assure its resident a constant stale smell. The inner harbor weaved its way down to what is known as the Acushnet River. At one point this small river was one of the most polluted water ways in America. This was in large part to the booming textile industry of the 1800’s. The giant brick mills still litter the landscape near the river. Crumbling relics that represent all of what America is. The brilliant brick facades showcase the brilliant, booming face of commerce and capitalism. Then the market and the world change and the jobs move away and the beautiful brick buildings are left to ruin. No one can tear these buildings down because like the river the land beneath the mills are filled with PCP.

And just ensure that New Bedford would have the most useless historic working waterfront in the country, the city went ahead and built picturesque Route 18. A fully fledged freeway connecting the North and South ends of the city, and completely cutting off the waterfront from the residents. So let’s say you happen to be visiting our historic downtown, perhaps our Whaling Museum, and decided you would like to see the waterfront where the brave men depicted in the museum launched from. Perhaps you wanted to see the scores of brave men who still depart from those same docks to live and battle at sea for weeks at a time. That wouldn’t be a problem except for the super highway separating downtown from the docks.

If I’m hard on the city it’s only because it could have been great. It could have been Newport or Provincetown. It could have been a post card. Instead it’s the same decaying three deckers of South Boston, just with a longer commute to the city.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Shells From The Beach - Interlude

The sun tumbled down behind the last great mountain in the world, and his heart melted away along with it. He knew that right now, as he stood at the base of that mountain, wars were raging all around this little shoebox of a universe. Not the kind of wars you would see on television. There were literally billions of wars raging right now just on the mothball of a planet called Earth. Each of these billions of wars was being fought by billions of electrical impulses in the gray matter of each and every sad organism on the planet unlucky enough to have evolved into walking upright. With all this chaos and confusion and madness happening behind pretty smiles and shiny new car ads something terrible was bound to happen. It was like the entire human race was collectively standing in a large puddle wearing iron boots holding an umbrella up high while storm clouds gathered over the horizon. The Lightning was coming.

He had been stuck at the bottom of the mountain for what seemed like an eternity. It had been so long that he couldn't remember what had brought him here in the first place. Was he supposed to climb up it? He bent his neck and tried follow the massive slope of rock to its peak, but it was lost in the clouds. He just was just waiting, as he had been for a long, long time now, paralyzed by indecision. Without warning or provocation a small black rabbit bolted out from behind a nearby bush. It certainly would not do the animal justice to say it hopped over to him. It was so fast it was constantly out of focus, even when sitting still at his feet.

“Of course,” he thought, “the rabbit dream.”

He had begun to be able to recognize his dreams even while they were still going on. The fact that he knew he was dreaming somehow never made him feel any better, any less terrified.

“The tools that you seek. Reach the mountain top to find. The gift inside waits.”

The rabbit told him this every time he appeared. The man knew the rabbit’s name was Hector from previous dreams. He also knew what to expect next. Without another word the rabbit turned and rushed up a narrow path, climbing high and out of sight in the blink of an eye.

He stood there watching the spot on the mountain path where the rabbit had disappeared. He wanted to follow the rabbit, but it was just so fast. He so desperately wanted to reach the top of the mountain and find the tools necessary to remove the gift safely from his chest, but it was just so far to the top. He knew with certainty that by the time he reached the top the coal would have indeed turned to diamond, but that seemed like such a long time away. He heard the first clap of Thunder off in the distance. The storm had begun.

Shells From The Beach - Chapter 3

Everybody's in despair,

Every girl and boy,

But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here,

Everybody's gonna jump for joy.”

-Bob Dylan

It was the night before Christmas and I was sleeping on the couch again. I slept on the couch a lot, but on Christmas Eve the act of being exiled to the couch brought about a bit more shame than usual. My wife and daughter had gone to bed and my job was to put all the presents under the tree and eat the chocolate chip cookies left for Santa. It hadn’t been a particularly good year. In order to have money for presents I had to put my winter tour of coffee houses and State Colleges on hold and pick up a seasonal job working the graveyard shift in a mail processing plant. The heavy influx of parcels and Christmas cards forced the Post Office to hire some temporary help each year. It was easy work and it paid well for a temp job so I guess that wasn’t so bad.

It was through that third shift my wife and I had gotten used to not sleeping in the same bed, at least at the same times. My daughter who was four at the time took this opportunity to crawl into bed with my wife each night, and my wife always enjoyed the closeness of the mother-daughter relationship. When the job finally ended the day before Christmas I was sort of the odd man out in the bed department and took refuge on the couch. These sorts of things were never really discussed or argued about. It was just that everybody knew their place.

I was faced with my usual sleeplessness compounded by my body’s biorhythms being all sorts of out of whack from the overnighters. These were the times when I wondered the most. I wondered about time travel and lost chances. I wondered about what my life would be like if my wife hadn’t gotten pregnant on our fifth date, and I wondered how long it would take before I screwed that poor little girl up. When the world quieted down the most, and there was nothing left to drown out the old tapes playing in my head is when the regrets disguised as nostalgia came tumbling out of me.

The presents were under the tree and I had finally fallen asleep. It must have been about three in the morning when Addie came slumbering out into the living room. Her eyes were still a sleep filled mess and she came right to the couch and lay down beside me. I was panicked that she was going to notice the presents and want to start the Christmas festivities in the cold darkness, but she just wanted her daddy. I was always amazed at Addie’s love for me. How she simply refused to not love me no matter how much I hated myself.

It was exactly 6:30am when I got up to pee. Addie and I were awake most of the night. It’s hard to sleep 2 on a sofa, even when one of them is just a peanut of a girl. I was still surprised that she hadn’t noticed the presents sitting under the tree no more than six feet from where we lay. I had a wonderful idea as I got up to go to the bathroom. I pretended to trip over one of the presents. This simple act had the most profound effect on my daughter. I acted shocked to see the gifts, hopping around on one foot as if I had seriously injured my big toe on one of the wrapped presents. Addie was stumped. She was positive there were no gifts when she stumbled into the living room a few hours ago, and she lay restless on the couch ever since.

In the many years since she never hesitated to tell her friends about how she could prove Santa Clause really existed. How he magically snuck in the house and put presents under the tree as she lay, mostly awake, no more than six feet away. That kind of magical belief has been with her ever since, in all different areas of her life. Now at eleven years old she is the last kid in her class who still believes in things like Santa Clause and Faeries. I clung to this innocence of hers for so many years now. I was never able to tell her the truth about that night. Every Christmas since I thought about telling her, but I felt if I could just keep up that illusion a little longer I would be able to maintain my hold on her childhood. It was like her belief in Santa was some tangible evidence that she was, indeed, still just a child. She was still my little girl.