The Other End of Sunset

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Long Day's Journey into Night

Welcome to the machine.
-Pink Floyd

It’s that time again, yes, it’s post time. No bugles, no horses, just prose. Rattling around, like Mr. Bones, as it passes from my hands to your eyes to your memory.

Well, I doubt you waste much time encoding this stuff into your memory, but who knows. I could talk about autobiographical memory here, and how it’s easier to remember this stuff if you can tell a life story about it (See Reiser and Schank, 1980-something, I mean, really, when WAS the last time you ordered something at a restaurant and didn’t get what you asked for). But that would be long, and dull, and somewhat boll weevil like.

Instead, let’s do something different.

I was listening to the radio on the way to pick up my friend-and-commute-buddy the other day. The radio was talking about the latest E. Coli twist. It’s possible that the outbreak began with bovine fecal contamination of a set of fields. In fact, the reporter indicated that they had found a set of animals that have active E. Coli infections, in the right place to contaminate the field. It’s quite likely that these cows defecated on the field, leaving E. Coli behind, as it were. But the reporter said it better.

She said that investigators had found the smoking cow.

I stood in line in the coffee shop this weekend, a long line threading its way through the narrow shop, the tea on one side, and the ubiquitous flyer wall on the other with ads for guitarists wanting gigs and cats wanting homes. And a book on Buddha. But none on motorcycle maintenance. Nonetheless, there lay a line, waiting for enlightenment. Or at least caffeine, a reasonable proxy for enlightenment. A woman wormed her way past, between the Mango tea and me, to ask the shopkeeper if there were any chocolate covered espresso beans left. She ducked her head and looked down as she asked, supplicant, prostrate before the master, before she-who-brings-the-answers. But the supplicant didn’t take her shoes off. The answer was, as you might have guessed, no. The rejection was delivered in a manner akin to the request, with head bowed and ducked, ashamed of the truth, the truth that we are all naked in front of the Beans, biding our time before we, too, are ground into Ground. This existential drama, all played out in some simian way, with physical motions and verbal politeness, to show that we are all unworthy to interact with the other. Evolution, indeed.

When you fill your car up with gas, you wash your windshield, right? Seems like a normal part of the routine. So, then, why do gas stations put out buckets of dirty water, rather than including some soap in the buckets? Really, can it cost that much to add a little soap-like-stuff to the buckets? It’s not as if the little bit of customer kindness would eat SO much into the profit margin of the station. However, I guess that I continue to frequent a station that can’t be bothered to put soap in the windshield tubs, so perhaps it’s just not worth the time or money to the owner. But the streaks on my windshield cry out for justice, and alkali assistance.

Lying awake at night, awake because of a nightmare, a night terror, or an incessant buzzing, is among the loneliest of times. Dark, empty, quiet. Will the sun ever rise? Will the darkness last forever, ruling for all times over the good land? Can Good push aside Evil? The time between your breaths is eternal, your heartbeat palpable in your throat. Sprites alight amongst your fears and the cells floating in your eyes. The past is present and the future, impervious. Or imperious. The clock slows down, to a stop, balanced there, midway between agony and ecstasy. Where, oh where, are the Angel’s bright wings? The universe is very big. And I? I am just little me. Raging against the living of the dark, praying for the light. It is truly better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. And a light bulb works just as well. And a cup of tea, and a scrap of paper, and hope for the waters in the wilderness.

I spent some time looking at houses this last weekend. Nobody stages houses in LA, apparently, so many of the houses were essentially empty. A few snips of wire, a few hangers. Nothing to indicate anyone will return. That phase is over. That life is ended. What do you think led to the final act? A new job? A sick parent? And so many questions for those who are gone. Why didn’t you notice that you left that print? Do you care about those bobby pins in the bathroom drawer? What made that odd stain on the rug? How does an entire life end up packed into a few boxes? It is all so transient, but is ALL so transient, and the rest illusory? Is it sad – the end of a phase – or happy – the beginning of another? Are the house spirits tired and annoyed, or do they wait breathlessly for the new, different energy of the new, different denizens?

The echoes of sounds in a home after it has become merely a house linger. Longer than the life that made it a home, sometimes.

Do you remember the final time you made love with your last lover? There is a moment, when a relationship ends. Sometimes it ends with a bang, sometimes with a whimper. Sometimes you are the windshield, and others the bug. Regardless, would you be different if you knew this was the last time you would ever touch that person that way? Never again will you know them, except in your memory. Would you pay more attention? Worry less about the dogs, and more about the sounds? Less about the bills, and more about the brushes? Would you be more present, and less prescient?

But really, what if you didn’t know; after all, you don’t know now. Is this the last time? The next? Sometimes Death comes and takes your love, and sometimes your love leaves. Regardless, sometimes, there is a last time.

I would give almost anything to have stronger, clearer memories of the last time. Many lives are defined by the visceral fear of the coming of another last time. Would that we could beat back the coming of the last.

Last night I went to a celebration of education beating back the darkness. One of the speakers was a charismatic young man, who talked about his favorite quote. “The true purpose of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not intend to sit.” This is variously attributed to a greek proverb, to specific people, and to a general ethos. Whatever its source, it feels right.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your patronage. I hope that these trees have shaded you, kept you cool, and shown you the path forward.

Do be careful until you visit again.