Saturday, August 10, 2013

That first winter (from Poems from a Garden Wall)

(Observation April 15, 1974)

“Who am I?” sayeth the prophet.
“Who am I?” sayeth the Lord.
I keep thinking I’m equal to everybody else, but everybody likes to think they’re better, and it annoys me, this parade of special people who cut in front in line, who want to get on the inside track, not because they can do anything better than I can, or even that they’re smarter, but because they can.
I stand by the waterside, waves washing up at my feet, staring at an early evening moon that somehow showed up before the sun has gone down, confusing me as to which I should pay more attention, too.
I’m so full of dreams I near bursting, and know that without dreams, the future doesn’t exist.
Who am I?
I don’t’ seem to have a place in this world, no more foothold that the loose sand the sea takes back when it waves retreat.
Is it too much to be expected that I have a dream to hold?
Some quit-witted people like to mock me, treating me like I’m stupid when I’m not.
I just like to think things out carefully before I make a move, to shape my dreams so that I don’t make a mistake and grab hold of the first dream that comes along and end up some place I might hate.
But who am I?
You tell me?

Oct. 12, 1980

It hardly snowed at all that first winter in the Montclair rooming house.
But it was cold during those months going from 1972 into 1973 and often the wind gushed through the halls of the house from outside as if it had a key to the front door. If found every possible crack, and roamed freely from room to room better than any ghost could.
The people did, too, often coming out of their rooms covered in blankets, even to go to the toilet, especially going to take a shower.
We all grew closer for having to endure it all together.
Ed was like a great dane, but instead of carrying a keg of rub around with him, he carried tequila. He sampled his own more often than any us, and so had to crawl up the steps from the first floor for fear of falling backwards if he stood, but managed to reach us and dose us with his offerings so that despite the steam that came out with each breath we breathed, we felt warm.
Often, we gathered in Meatball’s room on the third floor with the faulty theory that heat would rise – a very faulty theory since we did not know the how cheap Dave the landlord was and how he deliberately kept the heat down – and we huddled and hugged and passed the bottle until we were so drunk none of us dared chance the stairs and just stayed seated on the floor.
Meatball had his own strategies, and after the first few weeks of cold, figured out he could make the room warmer by hanging rugs on the walls, and he would sit on the edge of his bed, stoned out of his mind, and getting his kicks watching his pet kitten Penny, playing with the bed sheets.
He always told the same joke about this being good practice for us to go work on the Alaskan oil pipe line.
Meatball was only half joking, and really did want to, a man born in the wrong age, longing for a time of adventure, wishing he could be Lewis or Clark, or Daniel Boone or even Davy Crockett provided he could skip the bit about The Alamo.
Sometimes, he would sit on a wooden chair in the front gable of his room and stare out the small window that looked down on Valley Road, but more importantly up at the Orange Mountains where sunset reminded him of the far west.
He hated the traffic, and complained about the number of people – not just moving into the rooming house or the town, but onto the planet. He kept saying we were going to run out of room soon, and he feared most government intrusion, saying that we would soon be kept track of, watched 24 hours a day so as to keep us all in line.
He even suspected the TV and wouldn’t have one in his room, and hated when I bought a small black and white set to watch the Yankees on.
He tended to hate machines, and the changes machines brought, claiming each new invention made us just a little less human, and that sooner or later, we would not know where the humanity left off and humanity began.
He wanted to live in a log cabin, even after I told him cabins would even be colder than the rooming house was in winter.
“Not that much,” he laughed, then passed me a joint to suck on as he hunkered down with the quilt over his head like a tent.
He perked up when he heard Ellen downstairs talking to someone near the bathroom or perhaps on the public phone Dave had had installed on the landing.
Ed and Ellen had already made plans to go to California. Meatball said he would miss Ellen, but not Ed – who he claimed was a traitor to humanity, since Ed had some job in technology – and would get rich of it some day, he told us when drunk enough.
Meatball would more than miss Ellen and we all knew it, having heard the yells from the second floor behind Ellen’s closed door, Meatball saying “Go ahead. You don’t need my permission. See if I care.”
But when she was gone, he did, getting stoned more often, until eventually, he moved out, too, though I doubt he went to Alaska or ever found a log cabin to live in.

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