21 minutes ago
Friday, February 5, 2010
Where I'm from, way up near the Canadian border in New York, there are all these old towns --hamlets and villages, they tend to call themselves, nothing if not insecure-- where a two-lane highway rips right through the guts of the place, obliterates the possibility of sidewalks or even front yards, so that you've got neighborhoods [sic] huddled right there on the lip of the asphalt, trucks rumbling by all night long.
You can always find a fucking statue or two in such towns, or at least historical markers overgrown with weeds and blistered green, indicating that something of modest interest happened here once upon a time, before history consigned the place to it sub-contractors in the moldering business. Generally at some point the people of these towns would have carved out a bit of space for a pathetic excuse for a town square, usually just a handful of benches facing a gazebo that's peeling, falling apart, and scrawled over with every sort of profane inspiration the local kids can muster in their terminal boredom and chemically-induced stupor.
I realize that it's a stereotype or at least a gross generalization, but people up here tend to be hardwired with the lawn statuary gene, one of the truly inexplicable mutant genes. My own little town, for example, population 214: on my daily walk with the dog I'll encounter at least a dozen different displays of concrete deer, usually a pair, but sometimes a forlorn, faded solitary. Why? Why the fuck does anybody put a concrete deer in their front yard? What is it supposed to signify? Is it supposed to be some kind of deterrent? All I think when I see these deer --not to mention the trolls, collies with impeccable posture, and hayseed children hunched with fishing poles next to plastic pools empty or filled with sludge-- is that they must be a bitch to mow around. You'd pretty much need a Weed Whacker.
You also tend to see a lot of flags up here --interesting how the basest, laziest sort of patriotism seems to thrive in the places that are most invisible to the people in power-- and all manner of signs, generally protesting one thing or another. My fellow citizens, I long ago noticed, are pretty much against everything other than meat, procreation, firearms, and motorized vehicles.
I also think, of course, "Jesus H. Christ, what the hell am I still doing here?"
So much about my life doesn't make sense to me, yet I've never been able to make my escape. I don't have the slightest idea what the hell else is out there, beyond the horseshit I see on the television. I guess I stuck around because my older brother and sister left, or fled, at the first opportunity and I felt like I owed it to my father to keep him company after my mom died.
I took care of the local graveyard for almost eight years, until the damn thing somehow caught fire and I got the blame. There were gravestones in there that got damaged that were more than 200 years old. Right before the fire some hopped-up local kid had driven his ATV into a stone angel and got his brains bashed in, and I still believe some of his tweaker buddies set the fire as some sort of revenge.
There's not much else to do up here in terms of work, but one of the few virtues of the place is that you can live on almost nothing. Our family home was paid off in the last century, and my old man does little fix-it jobs here and there, and gets a military pension and other government money for having gutted it out so long, so we get by well enough to afford the satellite dish, which is all that really seems to matter.
Five or so years ago the last library in the county went out of business and I went over there to the sale and bought up boxes of books. I'll read pretty much anything, and that, folks around here would have you believe, is what gives me all my crazy ideas. I'm pretty sure people would tell you that I've been the odd man out all my life. Not so much a troublemaker as a guy who just doesn't know how to play along. It's hard to play along when you don't have the slightest idea what the game is you're playing and lack even a basic understanding of the rules.
My father, who smokes and drinks too much, is the kind of homespun character this part of the country seems to specialize in. I live in a veritable Jerkwater Academy for stoic bullshit artists, or at least drunks with the gift of regularly spouting pronouncements that somehow sound both inscrutable and profound. Some of these old boys --men who spend their days up to their knees in mud or their elbows in motor oil, men who were damn near deaf from the roar of machinery-- could still drop quotes from Emerson or the Bible into one of their rambling monologues.
"There ain't no rulebook, numbnuts," my father has said to me. "There are just days, and the things a man has to do to drag his sorry ass through those days. Once you get used to the smell of shit, it's all uphill from there." Other times he would contend that once you got used to the smell of shit it was all downhill from there. I guess it depended on his mood and how much he'd had to drink. At any rate, I couldn't see a difference either way.
We actually get along just fine, and he's clearly grateful that I haven't strayed. I love him, I've concluded, and that seems like a decent enough reason to stay.
"Boy," he'll say. "You need to learn to consider it a decent day if the weather don't bedevil you but a little bit and nobody tries to tear you a new asshole. And always count on some weird shit to come along and make things interesting for a time."
I thought of those words a couple weeks ago when this Indian motel owner from a couple towns over stopped by to purchase a used chainsaw my father had advertised in the local rag.
"Now what the hell is it you think you're going to do with this damn thing?" my father asked.
"I wish to learn to use it," the motel owner said.
My father laughed about that for days, and then, out of the blue (he'd clearly been mulling the incident over), he concluded that the man was somehow in possession of some essential wisdom, perhaps even the secret of life. He came into my room one night and asked, "So what sort of a book would a guy like that read to come up with his ideas?" I fished around and found a paperback copy of the Bhagavad Gita (just a guess on my part) that I gave to him, and he sat out in the living room plowing through it and muttering to himself for several nights afterwards.
Then, this morning as we sat at the kitchen table eating cereal and listening to the crackpot local radio station, my father said, "You know, that fella don't have a single tree on his property. I'm curious as hell about what he might be up to. I think I might drive over there this afternoon and see if he wants to have a cup of coffee."