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I watched the movie ďSynecdoche New YorkĒ last night with a friend. Appropriately, it was April Foolís day. Philip Seymour Hoffman may eventually define his own genre of movies. Blockbuster will have to give him his own section. ďSynecdocheĒ is a weird and twisted attempt at intellectual dark comedy that fails on both counts. It may also fail at being weird. We laughed when it was over only because we had been tricked into watching and wondering about the thing in the first place. It is on a par with a tour of a Ripleyís museum. I recommend it highly.
I wrote a short note this morning to the occupant inquiring about my transition date to the house. I own the house now. The last I heard, the move date was changed to the 12th of this month. Occupant replied that her work visa had been delayed two weeks and her move date was now the 21st. Did I want her to make my April House payment? No, that would not be necessary at this point. Just keep me posted and let me know if I get any mail there. I think the bank is sending papers to that address.
I woke this morning to the sound of a chain saw invading a dream. I was kneeling at an old double-sash window with no curtain. There was a woman outside with her back turned to me. I tapped on the window and said something, but she didnít hear me. I couldnít hear me. I tapped harder and shouted, but my voice was still muffled. I smacked the window with my palm and the glass broke letting all hell loose, sucking things out of the room, but slamming me against the back wall and then came sound of the chain saw.
Mud, water, a root, slippery yellow root sticking from a wall of wet mud. Dark. Rain. Daylight. The earth upside down. Rocks, mud, and clay baking in the sun. Garbage thrown over the hill of mud and clay, down into the woods. I know this place. It is my grandmotherís house in Chillicothe; the pond behind the house. It doesnít mean anything. I was almost shot there once. An uncle shooting bullfrogs for dinner accidentally tripped off a round parting my hairópieces of red hair drifting in the breeze, settling down in the sunshine on either side of me.
I went through two years of graduate school and I don't remember a bit of it. There was a great big blue coffee cup. Papers to grade, papers to write. How could two years get lost so quickly? I have nearly two hundred credit hours of education behind me and I can't remember any of it. This is a malfunctioning brain. I am thirty-two years old. What do I know? I know how to bake bread, shoot a rifle, ride a motorcycle, and I can write. Sometimes, when I am not baking bread or riding the motorcycle, I can read.
Today I baked bread and rode the motorcycle. Now I write. This is the only way I can keep from losing the next thirty-two years. I must write everything down. Even brittle paper lasts longer than my brain.
My hands are hairy, battered, scraped, dirty, and blistered. The left hand holds down the paper. The left hand is colored from the spray of paint - two coats of brown primer and three coats gloss black. I have been repainting an old bicycle for my father. Bicycle parts hang on the tree in the back yard. It is a bicycle tree.
In this memory, a patch of skin covering a knuckle on my left hand missing, scraped away by the rough canvas of a punching bag. The pads of two fingers on that hand are blistered from a burn. I fried them on a seized Honda brake disk. Greasy fingernails adorn that hand, and of course the gold band is present in this memory. It is gone now, along with the burns and scrapes. I remember the moment the canvas took the knuckle skin. I remember the sizzle that burned the fingertips. Those were specific events that made sense to me.
My parents called this morning, first my mother, and then my father, and then my mother again. I couldnít take the calls, but returned them when I was able. I assumed it was about my planned visit this week. ďYour father has a cold,Ē my mother said. ďI donít know if you want to come or not.Ē
I donít want to come, Iím thinking. Iím scared to death to come.
ďIs he too sick to receive visitors?Ē I ask. ďNo, we were worried about you getting sick. You always get sick.Ē
ďIíll be fine.Ē I said. ďIíll see you Tuesday.Ē
On that day, my daughter drove herself to school, picking up a friend along the way. Daughter had been having difficulties driving son to school. I liked driving son to school, and their conflict was a good excuse for me to do that. On our way, we discussed routes, since this was our first day. We knew one route through a nearby apartment complex was the shortest, but today would not be normal. Today there would be thousands of high school students clogging the road, all going the same place. ďOnce you get past the roundabout youíre OK,Ē said Michael.
In this memory, back home I got my dog-walking paraphernalia; the leash; hat, plastic bags, and pepper spray, and took Dallas for a 40- minute walk. I showered when I got home, dressed, put in a load of laundry, and sat down to answer my email. After that I would write for three hours. At noon, I would start the other part of my day, cleaning, bookkeeping, grocery shopping, and inventorying closets and other storage places for things to throw out. This was one of my favorite chores as a househusband, Mr. Mom, father, or domestic engineer and part-time writer.
I look at that memory wondering about this person was who had already written three hours by noon, had already done a 40-minute dog walk, showered, done a load of laundry and his email. Who was this person who was enjoying the rest of his day? This was someone I once knew. This is a skin hanging in one of the closets of the house I am about to move into, a skin I could theoretically crawl into. I am just not sure what happened to that person in the intervening ten years. This is a mystery to be unraveled.
A problem with using things I have written down for memory is that the notes are not very accessible, even to me. I donít aways remember these things even after reading them. Some of them just donít make sense. Also, at the time I often didnít feel comfortable telling the truth in them, so I would leave out or code things in obscure messages to myself. In the end they are lies, as most things are. But the lies here are not misfeasance, but malfeasance. To add to the problem, Iíll probably lie to you here too. Itís my nature.
I have been told that the 21st is the day I will move in to the house now. This is the for-sure date. They will be leaving early and will leave the keys on the table for me. This gives me nine days to prepare. Well, I donít require much preparation. I have this apartment for another six months, so I can take my time moving. The whole thing feels a little surreal. A lot of things are feeling surreal these days. I cannot put my finger on it. It feels as if something important were being hidden behind smoke.
My son is looking at me in the twilight. He has stopped walking. He has gotten to the point of the conversation now, to the end point of the three miles of this particular question and he is about to frame it. It is a brutal question, one I had hoped he would not have to deal with. I give him the long answer and then let him give the short answer himself. Neither is the right answer. I know the right answer. Why donít I just tell him? It depends on who you are, on how strong you are.
I remember feeling everyone owned a piece of what I wrote and everyone complaining when I came too close to their truth or even to my own. ďIs that how you want to be seen?Ē
I cannot prepare delicious platters of tender vice. I cannot tell about the faulty steps and falls down the basement steps; the morning pukes. I'm not allowed to do those things. My hands are tied. Only my fingers wiggle. Obviously, itís the drugs. The doctors push them at me with the passion of a teenage lover. And like the teenager it's never the same one.
In 1989 my father says he is proud of me. He says the stress is killing me. He says this several times every time we meet. He is trying to tell me something, but I cannot stroke it. I canít remember it as the fat tires of my car carry me beyond the city limits of the tiny town where I grew up.
We are spiraling down the tare of forty years. We are moving so fast that we have marvelous patterns of road rash. It is a great time for reflection, taking inventory, selling stock, and buying sports cars.
I donít remember moving being such an ordeal the last time, and I have not yet touched a stick of furniture. I am just trying to sort out utilities now. Maybe it seemed simpler before because I was less conscious. Oddly, my driverís license still bears the address of the house I am moving to, although the number of changes I have to make elsewhere seem to be inordinately large. Each one is uniquely difficult. The phone company had no record of the house. ďWe are sorry, Mr. Cheeseman, if this house does exist, we will have to destroy it.Ē
Nearly twenty years ago I wrote that I was a furious old man trying to learn to relate to what he saw in the mirror. I was thinking I could get used to 40, to the anti-seizure drugs, and even to the Sisters of Relentless Mercy. Irony is the juxtaposition of a limited perspective against a less limited perspective. I felt then the only real question left was whether people could learn to live with themselves. I find that is probably the most interesting questing still facing me twenty years later, and in all honesty, I have not done this.
I was at the apartment when the storm cut loose. The windows were open and the air currents were lifting flower vases off shelves and pitching them into the walls. Remembering I had left the house open, I ran for the car and headed there. It was like driving through a carwash and I was driving over and around limbs and broken trees. Halfway around the lake, a horizontal tree was blocking the entire road. I would have to go the other way. Six more downed trees later I was stopped cold again, this time by a down power line.
I finally made it back to the house by taking my original route. A team of workers had split the tree into two roadblocks, or two trees had fallen close together. I still had to drive off the road to get by, but I was able to pass through the screen of screaming chain saws and the belch of 2-cycle fuel. When I got home, I found Michael Jr. was already there. He had closed the windows, and had cleaned up the water in the areas where it was important. We swapped stories about downed trees and split a steak.
Iím slowly migrating to the house. It was overwhelming at first. It was too much. There were too many things to be done and too many problems. There was too much stuff to sort through at the house and I had too much stuff at the apartment to move. The house was too big. I didnít have an internet connection at the house. How was I supposed to live without an internet connection? I still donít have an internet connection, but Iím sleeping at the house now, and I actually just cooked and ate my first meal here. Itís progress.
After the rain, the smell begins to drift in. It is from the ashes of the trash fire the previous occupants had the day before they left, burning several yearsí worth of records in the back yard. I watched him with his rake and energy drink. The little metal hangers from the folders blew across the lawn the next day, and now the damp odor rises from the ashes reminding me of the fires at the city dump in the small town where I grew up. Smells are personal things. They are sometimes the hardest things to get used to.
It was characteristic of Bill, the son-in-law, that he pulled the guns from the ashes of the fire after Fredís house burned. He took maybe half a dozen, tossing them into a corner of his own house. It was characteristic of my father that he retrieved the guns from Billís house, checked the bores, and finding them clean, re-built them, grinding and polishing the rust off the metal and making new stocks for them. Fred didnít want them, so he gave them to Charlie, the son, warning him they needed bluing. Charlie preferred the naked metal; this characteristic of Charlie.
I started shopping the Shirt Woot about a year ago. I was low on t-shirts at the time and I liked some of the designs. It didnít take me long to find that I had too many shirts. Soon my kids were getting weird t-shirts for birthdays, and while they seemed to appreciate the thought, and there were many a ďWhere did you find that?Ē I donít think the time dad was in his t-shirt collecting phase was one of their favorites. The names of some of these shirts are interesting though, and I canít resist playing with them.
It is still cool outside even though the sun shines and it is not the day it says it is. When is it ever the day it says it is? Things are frequently not what they say they are and, well, they just arenít and if you go around thinking they are you are liable to swallow some very bad stuff before it is over and it will make you very sick. I donít know if this is something I have learned or if I just have gotten the shakes so badly from it all that I cannot think straight.
There is a piece of quarter-inch recording tape caught dangling in a pine tree outside the window here and I recall it was there when I lived in this place five years ago. I could get this piece of tape and play it and recover some moment possibly from five years ago and possibly understand the nature of this sense of loss that stalks me. No, I might have a springboard for understanding the nature of this place, but there is little likelihood that I will uncover a key to the grief, unless one story would lead into the other.
My son comes up the stairs to show me a camera he has. The camera needs a particular USB cable, one with a smallish end and not the standard smallish end. I look at it and agree it is a weird fitting telling him I am still unpacking and I will let him know if I come across such a cord. He then asks to borrow my camera. I dodge this question. He pretty much breaks everything he borrows. I realize I should just say this to him and then evaluate how badly I want to keep my current camera.
I wonder if you think I am angry sometimes. I donít get angry often. Iím not sure what I am. I am something. I would say Iím hurt but it is not like an ďouch that hurtĒ and keep on going thing. It is more of a cut off your leg kind of thing that goes forward with you from that point and changes who you are at the root of things. Itís the kind of thing you carry around inside you like a smoldering artillery round. You go to the doctor. He shakes his head and sends you away.
After the first hour up, I eat a banana. It is lying on the counter by itself, having climbed out of the bowl in the night, an escape attempt gone horribly wrong. I start the coffee in the coffee maker and I begin writing, listening to the water drip, gurgle, and wrestle its way through the grounds. What I can see of the morning through the blinds looks promising. It is green, with a hum of bright. I wonder whether I will have any cream for my coffee, but I suppose some things are meant to be surprises in life.
Actually made it to the land of internet connectivity at the house today. That was a big milestone for me. It is hard to keep up the 100 words when you cannot get to the internet. It is raining. It has rained nearly every day I have been moving here, and I have been moving here for about a week now. The original plan was to hire someone with a truck at some point to just finish the job for me, but I still have not done that and I now have moved over half the stuff from my apartment.
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