Monday, June 17, 2013
A Song for Everything
The neighbor is trimming something. I can’t see her, but I can hear the steady click of the gardening shears. *click*click* It sounds like someone is standing on the other side of the fence rhythmically snapping their fingers. For a moment or two I snapped back, hoping to produce a dueling banjos sort of effect, but nothing happened, the shearing neither sped up nor slowed down. Along with the clipping there is a pronounced scent of jasmine in this room. Yesterday, while biking between Oakland and Berkeley, my girlfriend, her brother and I stopped to get some coffee. There was a large jasmine bush near the café. I picked a sprig of it and gave it to my girlfriend. She put it in her hat band. That hat is sitting before me on the table. The jasmine is somehow more redolent a day after it has been picked. So it is. There is a click and a breath of jasmine in every second. That’s where I’m writing from. ... We were in Oakland yesterday for my friend Mikey’s going away party. He’s had about thirty going away parties this week (one at work, one for work, one with people from work, but not at work, etc) but this was to be the last. After spending a few hours at the Oakland skate park for what my friend Jason calls geriatric skate club, we bought a few beers at a liquor store named Shareef’s in West Oakland. Outside Shareef’s there was a pious-looking old man sitting on a folding chair and blinking into the sun. ‘Salaam,’ I said as we leaned our bikes against the wall. He made no effort to look or respond, but continued holding his face toward the sky, like he was trying to will himself to be somewhere else. We got to Mikey’s and fell upon the food he had prepared like three eagles all seeing the same rabbit at once. The room got quiet as we went back to our seats with heaping plates of tofu and pancakes. But due to the early hour and the physical exertion of biking and skating, we found that our ravenousness was a quickly passing feeling and soon we were standing in the sunlight outside, holding beers and laughing. … I moved out to San Francisco with Mikey something like seven years ago. I had gone through the lumpy ad verdant peninsula on a road trip and spent the one afternoon I was there frantically writing letters about the town that had captivated my interest, misspelling every street name. One of these letters made its way back to Mikey in Michigan. Misspellings notwithstanding, I had managed to captivate his interest. Although he had never even seen the place, he convinced me in the end that moving there would be the right thing to do, particularly because neither of us had any other prospects. We arrived something like 7 months later in a Volvo station wagon brimming with our useless stuff and roadtrip effluvia such as empty water jugs, taco bell wrappers and about 100 paper coffee cups, some smashed into the floor mats, others ¼ full of some Sumatra, old sock and kerosene concoction that had been sloshing around in there since Santa Fe. There was no one to help us and nowhere to park. We unloaded everything through the haze of a Sunday morning at the corner of Hyde and Turk. Each of us alternately staying with the car or carrying an armload of garbage bags up the stairs. After everything was unloaded and the car was parked we decided to celebrate by going out to eat. On the way, we practically stumbled on some guy shooting up on the sidewalk. … That’s the story that everyone knows already. I’m not the only one who had told it. Almost everyone else my age has their own version of it. These versions, along with mine, are now assigned to moldering corners of the internet where the years-old comments go unread, speaking with the echoing flashback timbre of high school yearbook signatures: Sounds like you guys are having a good time. Be safe. I can’t wait to visit!! -Trish I can believe you lost those shoes! See you in December! -Ernie I’m glad you moved away, jerk! JK! I got my job bac at the shoe store. It’s OK. At least it’s a job. Maybe I can sav up some money and come out and see you… -Aaron aka ‘Snake’ Within the first few weeks the stories were updated a few times and new stories were added, the stories of adjustment and discovery. Inevitably, it tapered off. The site traffic lessoned and the stories came less frequently. More people moved to other places and told their own stories, others stayed in one place. Mikey had different reasons for moving to San Francisco that I had. He wanted to live there. I wanted to go everywhere, but I had to start somewhere. I only lived in San Francisco for a year before I was off to the next thing, writing the next moving story. Mikey helped me move, but I unpacked alone on a grey Sunday afternoon, realizing that I owned nothing of value. There is no feeling as disheartening as unpacking alone and over the years and the subsequent moves, I continued to write to comprehend the feeling, so that I could hold it up and examine it. Since I moved to San Francisco, I have moved almost every year that followed. Ten times in all. I wrote about most of them, perhaps you read some. I know that Mikey read about a lot of them. Perhaps they were more interesting to him, since up until I met my girlfriend, he had been the only person to ever share the experience with me. While Mikey read about the places I went, I thought of him as a stable and therefore supportive figure. The few desperate phone calls I have had to make have all been answered by Mikey. I have received his letters on three different continents and I always looked to him and thought “I’m glad one of us seems to have figured this thing out, or at least seems comfortable with not being able to figure it out.” An idea that always comforted me when I couldn’t sleep and chainsmoked by the window watching the stars intently, waiting for them to give something up, just a hint about what it was all for. When we moved to San Francisco, I didn’t think I’d move again, at least not right away. After Armenia I told myself I wouldn’t move again and after Argentina, I just stopped thinking about it at all. All the while, letters and phone calls went back and forth between Mikey and I. Perhaps we still felt indebted in each other, not quite realizing that by moving across the country together years before we had tacitly agreed to some kind of mutual aid and protection pact. When I left Argentina, I decided to go back to San Francisco. I thought that maybe returning would exercise the restlessness that developed while I was there. And I knew that Mikey would be there, too. My girlfriend had already heard all about Mikey and they had met a few times, but I was constantly talking to her about how great it would be to live in the same place with him again. How great it would be to move to a city and already have a friend there. I began to feel comfortable with the idea of moving back; I began to feel like maybe this time I would stay. Maybe all I needed was to go back to what I had started. After the going away party, we rode off to Bekeley. As we pedaled listlessly down Adeline, I wondered if in Mikey’s absence, I was going to have to stay here for the next seven years and wait for him to come back, if he ever decided to. After all, that’s what he did for me. His stability in this place had made it exemplary in my mind. If I still felt connected to it, it was thanks to him. In a few days we’re going to change positions. Mikey’s going to go drift out into the world and I’m going to be here. I like to think I’ll stay, but I know I still don’t have that kind of patience. There’s still too much out there. The ability to establish myself in a different country is also one of the only things I have really learned over the past five years and like any special skill, it feels good to exercise it. It feels good to remind myself that I something more than a minimum wage worker. This story doesn’t end with Mikey leaving and me staying here and contemplating my 11th move. Our scenario is analogous to an entire generation that seems to have foundered in its attempts to reach a validating adulthood. Maybe somewhere else the plight had been met by more success, but for the people like Mikey and me, it seems life will continue being something so rare and obfuscated as to constantly elude us from reaching a navigable point within it. … *Click* click*my neighbor is still cutting away out there, snipping in the garden. The smell of jasmine is slightly washed out by the open window, but remains at the end of every deep breath. Some bird sings like a nightingale outside: that occasional whirring chirp. The sun makes one side of the leaves look wet, the other ashen. Maybe when I get the first letter from Mikey on the road, I can write these things to him. Maybe they’ll make him want to come back, or maybe they’ll make me want to leave. Either way.