Rotted Wooden Stairs

rotten steps

Some things are just pretty. They may not have the majesty of ancient pyramids, nor the serpentine austerity of shadows tracing the downward stones of Chichén Itzá on the equinox. But they have a place as any daily time traveler knows. The lampost. The dented mailbox. The opened paper envelope. The broken stairway. The patio chair. They are the things that make up the outer world which, by words, are recreated. Sometimes these are cast again as pictures into the faraway stars. They could be hunters, shields, and snakes there. Mostly, though, they decay and fall apart to nothing on Earth. To see the rusted pan, the rusted pail, the snapped-handled barrow still overturned to keep the rain out is to witness the passing moment faded beyond perfection.

Time On Our Side

collapsing barn

He and his wife had been on their way to hear Bob Dylan. He was playing in a baseball field. He’d heard Lou Reed, B.B. King, and even David Byrne, too, before her. And if there was one thing in the world he had wanted, it was to hear Bob Dylan play, if only once in his life. Along the way, along the rolling grassy green backroad hills to get there, there were small strawberry stands or local honey booths, and posted metal traffic signs along the narrow paved roadside warning motorists to look out for slowly moving Amish wagons. Before getting to Cooperstown, which is known for its Baseball Hall of Fame, there was a gigantic, wooden farm or farmhouse, a country building of some kind, that had been caught in the middle of falling down. There are of course castles in England where from the multitudes of missing stones enough of the walls survive so that the mind recreates them instantly. The imagination’s masonry does it practically without thinking, building up together all the ‘negative’ spaces with the ‘positive’ ones—the sunlit gaps of light with the impenetrable rock solids—to remake these great, regal citadels of yore. They are truly magnificent, and I have dreamt of standing before them one day myself.

But America is a land of barns and fallen wooden things, and wooden things fall apart in different ways than stone ones. Time pulls them down little by little. They don’t get knocked, not by elves exactly. And along the way, they take on new shapes of completely new structures which only remind us of the old and original ones, but don’t quite harken exactly back to them the way true castles do in the moors. Back in 2006, when Bob Dylan was in the hey-day of his Never Ending Tour, it was already over forty years after upsetting the world at Newport by plugging in his electric guitar in ‘65. After almost a decade after that concert in Doubleday Field, after that couple’s marriage had been long shot, the message for them once traveling together still remains the same: things they are always a-changin’, the only thing permanent is impermanence, and for all things that come into being there is decay. As for the show . . . the one put on by music’s august and craggy elder statesman that night in a black cowboy hat had been rockin’ great.

Giving Up On Your Favorite Color

family

Having almost completely displaced the world now, we can look at it, almost like a discarded object at a yard sale for others perhaps to buy. It is like, as a past lover had sealed within an envelope for me to open later in Berlin, enfolded about a piece of her own dental floss, a handwritten note that read, “Like me, a little bit used, though still good!” She had wished me safe return. But the willingness we have to spill the most intimate, the most personal details of ourselves, like a solitary sailor, who spends the facts of his life like small change on strangers, his coins scattered on a bartop, is nevertheless alarming, or, at any rate, to note. For who can remember anymore stubbing her toe on the raised, wooden planks of Fire Island? And who can recall the sweetness of seeing the purple majesty of the Rocky Mountains jutting up immensely and suddenly on that flat road? Before even having felt really a thing at all, before having tasted salty or sour on one’s tongue, before having divided the difference between what is bitter and what is acrid, the possibility of these human moments is automatically transferred elsewhere. Really, little more than the joyful tap of ‘the ability to send this’ is experienced right now.

Perhaps an old, leftover expression itself such as ‘like a hot potato’—which stands for ‘the thing’ to be gotten rid of—does remain. But the chairs, the music, the people? All that delicious randomness, fun, and chaos? Everything that goes with, that went with, the hot potato . . . Gone. They are gone. Fled, like the gods fled to the woods, long ago, according to some. To dwell ever alone in grief? Gone. To live even a lost cotton candy moment by oneself in carnival bliss? Gone. To immerse oneself and to be burned alive in a Blakean fiery pit of anger? To feel these all too human things, things that are ours. They have very nearly, like a mathematical formula underlying it all, become objectified—either in the digitally silenced words we transmit on the fly, or the 2.4 MB pictographic scans of our next or more recent flat tire by the roadside, that tiny deflated cry that does not say, “Help me!” even, but: “Look at me in this position of distress!” Even the exclamation point itself has become just another way to announce the multitude of our many assertions, rather than as a human marker marking our plaintive, lonely cry for succor and much needed assistance, when truly or sorely needed.

Along with our distresses, our glories we have tossed into convenient, easy-to-predict categories to be ‘consumed’ by those we do not know, (and those we do!) We have created, too, the illusion of stumbled-upon, scattered breadcrumbs—digital clues—whose organization is actually very carefully organized and thought out. What had been important once—to feel the bee sting—that is become obsolete, if not soon to be unknown altogether. That unknown moment of terror, that moment of pain, that frightening lasting instance of running into the kitchen to have one’s mother pat down the stinger’s reddening inflamed spot with a poultice of her own homemade wet baking soda, and thus to feel soon better, and thus to be relieved, saved by her, this belonged to another world. I am not arguing that this is a ‘bad’ thing. I am only observing that the ‘human element’ has become nearly irrelevant, and that we have become the almost perfect, inhuman observers of the skies, heavens, and ourselves on this little blue marble, like players at a casino who play the exquisite game well, even perfectly, without caring about winning or losing.