(while editing some past pieces in my prose portfolio, I came across this one, which suits the purpose of this blog quite well, as well as taking us residents of the desert in the sweltering summer back to a colder and more comfortable place for a moment. In Phoenix this summer, apparently we've had more days above 110 than any other year in recorded history. I'm ready for it to be through.)
My eyes open and I see brick. Wet brick, coated in faded leaves, a smudgy decoupage of New England fall. As my ears awaken I hear the flow of water; the splash, the gurgle, the bubbling life. Oh, that’s it. I’m in a port city, sitting on a bench (as I feel the metal beneath me and notice my equilibrium tainted due to my eyesight facing the ground). I’m back in Portsmouth, listening to the wake, hearing the waves of the cove crash gently into rock. Say that this was all a dream, god, say it was all a dream.
I lift my head, and my delusion is shattered. The vision of each eye is bisected from each other by a fountain, so straight, so white (rather than clear), so perfectly consistent, pulsing flat white surging water from an even whiter far too real PVC pipe, jutting up from the far too perfectly shaped little rock-lined puddle in an island between a break in the walkways. This is all far too real. The stucco around and behind comes into focus, yet I still hear the flow of the water. Seeing the fountain, I still can’t seem to make the connection between the two. This used to be a sound that relaxed me, a sound that put me in my place (I’m smaller and less lastingly important than what traditionally makes this sound, yet now the sound is being made by something that I myself could have constructed). This can’t be the same sound. Yet, audibly, it is still the sound of the flow of water.
I look down again. Brick, laid around the abused public barbecue and the bench on which I sit. Merely four feet of it surround me, but it happens to be laid just below the bench. Leaves from a fig tree, standing nearby, struggling to survive feebly for years (long enough to make this place old enough to be ugly, but not antique enough to gain charm) had cast themselves, dead and fallen, out of season, beneath the bench. Oh, make this be a dream. Oh god, say that this is a dream.
Cold air spiraling through my lungs inspires me. I can feel it move more acutely, I can trace its path; mouth, throat, lungs, swirl around, return, and heat the insides of my lips. A draw from my cigar gives me a point of comparison, warming my mouth so that I can further feel the next clean breath forcing through.
Stars are far more beautiful when the mental imagery of “cold” has rendered them a faint shade of blue. They share my chill; warmly, understandingly, peacefully. A track from Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” slides gently, swankly, onto my stereo. As I stare out from my patio at the void between the blue glow of the swimming pool (artifice) and the knowing points of blue in the sky (oh so very real), I can see right now one of the thousands of tiny reasons that this record’s title is so wonderfully aptly well fitted to it.
Once, near my last apartment, on the east side of town, I drove past a fountain from which water sprang four feet from the ground in the color of the blue plastic linings to suburban above-ground pools. Are we so deluded here, so far from reality, that we think that, because the old analogy tells us so, that water is always blue? That particular shade has never, to the best of my knowledge, existed in nature. We dye water a different color to make it look more like… water? I glided my car into the next parking lot and hastily scribbled my thoughts down in verse.
I’ve spent the evening sitting, in a brown tweed dress jacket and a green felt fedora, on my patio, inhaling the chilled air, drinking scotch and smoking cigars, or smoking scotch and drinking cigars, listening to good music, spinning and turning over thoughts and scribbling illegibly in a notebook… and I realize that this is how I want to spend the rest of my life. The vague sound of water behind me, flowing from fountains around the apartment complex that during the day I dislike, compliments well the jazz and down-tempo, classical European metal and Irish folk that pours, a liquid adhesive to hold the pieces together to recreate an inspirational mood, from my speakers. Cool air, the clear sky, my vices, soothing sounds… envelope me and I’m lost in the “self” that I feel more sincerely, the “self” that doesn’t care what else is going on as long as I have these moments and the thoughts, ideas, and artistic output that may spring from them more readily than at most other times. I can see myself sitting the same, spinning similar thoughts, when my age is far advanced.
I’m recreating something, but this is something new, all the same. As I recall, everything that I strive to recreate was, in its time, originally an attempted recreation of something else. Most fell short, and, in doing, found something more memorable. I know that, regardless, this will continue, and, understanding this idea, I’m closer to being content.
I remember fires popping and hissing, stinging in contrast to the cold. We sat with our guitars and our storytellers, passing pipes and tossing around our best and our newest material in quiet comfort, in the stark air to which it was fitted. Our voices and melodies would stop on the cue of a stray and piercing sound, and our host would explain about the pack of wild dogs that he would hear, and on rare occasion see, yipping and howling, through the woods, in hot pursuit of a doe who’d wandered from her stag. We listened intensely (this was among the definite strengths of all those gathered) as the pack passed in their yipping frenzy out of earshot, leaving us, sitting in silence with the creak of the sway of the pines that we all knew had lived longer than science would ever be able to prolong a human life. A log would loudly pop and fall in the fire, raising a spray of sparks into the sky, jarring us from our dazes, reminding us of our circle of companions around the fire, and the song and tale would gently rouse once again.
The flame bounces much the same from a candle. Without the pop and hiss, the light dances, the gypsy spins her secrets around the room. This is something I again recreate, that leaves a reminiscence, yet conjures something new entirely. The bounce of the candle directs my vision, channels and tunnels my thoughts to only those that feel appropriate in its light. I test my words by this; I calculate my moods by candlelight.
Thanksgiving morning, I found myself with nowhere to be. My family three-thousand miles away and my girlfriend at work, I was left, for what seemed like the first time in a hectic set of months, completely to my own devices. After sleeping in a bit, but not as much as I had thought that I would, I prepared my coffee and bagel and carried my breakfast, my acoustic guitar, and my notebook onto the porch, where I had resolved to spend the remainder of the day until a late dinner that evening. There I sat, listening to the creaks of the oddly-placed scattered pines in the breeze, lost in reminiscence somewhere between wishing that I was somewhere else and coming to terms with where I was. From my guitar poured a constant stream of lilting yet somber folk elegies. I wish that I had run a recorder, as my best material is prone to escape and waft unheard into the air at times like these. I took occasional breaks to call and leave messages for friends and family back home who didn’t pick up their phones. I called the house where my father’s family had gathered, to have the phone passed around the room to small-talk and chatter and background noise, to hear my grandmother shout into the receiver “I-can’t-hear-you-but-I-love-you-and-I-miss-you-Goodbye” in a single breath. I switched from coffee to some of the decent red wine that I had splurged on knowing that I would be alone, and the strain of my songs grew sadder, as I tried to drown out the din of the children around the complex at post-dinner play by concentrating on the breeze in the bows of the trees.
My first Christmas away from New England, I found myself spending the day alone. I was living with my father and his wife at the time, during their short-lived attempt at not hating living in the desert that a career opportunity (which later proved less important than their happiness and peace of mind) had landed them in. The three of us had celebrated a quiet dinner on the eve of the holiday, and then they had flown out early in the morning to spend a week with the families back home. I woke up somber, craving a feeling of warmth. I was thus determined to create that elusive feeling for myself.
I pressed the button that ignited the artificial gas fireplace, lit pillar candles around the house, and climbed the stairs to the loft on which the stereo was housed with speakers facing downward to inundate the lower level, and selected some records of Celtic Christmas songs. Something about the strange contradiction between the melodies of the Christian holiday and the instrumentation of one of its pagan sources was comforting to me, making the holiday seem far less plastic and “Hallmark”; more authentic, warm, and realistically convoluted. I like to be reminded that nothing is as simple and cut-and-dry as our modern culture urges us to believe. The sounds of fiddles and mandolins danced with the flicker of the candles and the fireplace around the white walls and twenty-foot vaulted ceilings of the house. For some reason, this house felt far too large when its three residents were all inside, but at this time, knowing that I was alone within it, it felt sufficiently cozy and small. Similarly, the architecture style of the interior of this particular house had always bothered me; the angles were wrong, the ceilings were too high to the point of being tacky, it wasn’t at all comfortable… yet on that Christmas day, with the light flickering and the space filled with soothing sound and the seductive smell of simmer, the house bore a cathedral-esque beauty that I reveled in.
I cooked, and ate, and drank wine, and drank wine, and cooked, and ate… I found enormous amounts of comfort in mixing many things together in a giant pot, seasoning, eating it all with some good toast… I mixed noodles, beans, steak tips, hamburg, chicken, random leftovers in the fridge… creating bowl after bowl of soupy goulash comfort food…
I called my friend Nat, back in New Hampshire, at some point in the evening, after a couple bottles of wine and unknown amounts of pots of various kinds of stews.
“Sir Nathaniel… I’ve got an idea. We need to start a restaurant. We’ll mix anything together in a giant pot on request…. What do you think, gourmet goulash, fine wine…. I bet Liz’ll run the bar for us… We’ll specialize in high-end comfort food… We’ll set up in some place where it’s cold all the time… What do you think, are you in?”
“I think you’re a weird guy, you’ve had a bit to drink, and I miss you,” Nat laughed back at me, “How’s your Christmas been?”
It’s been almost two years since then, and I now look back on that Christmas fondly. The feeling of warmth and comfort that I found, in retrospect, surpassed whatever I was trying to recreate at the time, regardless of the depression that had to prove its side-effect and provoking agent. I realize that this was the feeling that I was attempting to recapture this Thanksgiving on my porch, and notice that everything has and will build on everything that has come before it. Perhaps I’ll look back in the future and remember a passage of the folk music that I played on the porch this last lonely holiday and smile.
Cold air, the stars, the sparkle of flame, the sounds of the trees in the wind… will always prove the same, link themselves in a chain of eternal contemplation, or reflection, and I will build my own significance, I will forge my own traditions, on the links between these, and the things that, in time, they might mean.
And, for this, I will keep on re-creating, knowing that, in doing so, I am creating something new.