October 2003

A Word On Redundancy…

I came home tonight and whilst carrying in my laundry through the back door of my apartment building, I noticed a box sitting on the inside of the door.

Plain cardboard box, nothing terribly exciting.

Curiosity has always been something of a flaw of mine. I have never been able to see something out of the ordinary and just say, "Well, look at that". If I have even the slightest suspicion that there might be a story behind whatever it is, I have to try and figure out what it is.

So I put down my two baskets of laundry and decided to take a peek.

Part of me was half expecting some sort of jury-rigged pipe bomb that would finally put me out of so many peoples misery. That would make a good news story for a Sunday. Usually Sundays are notoriously slow news days. Not really that different from any day of the week in these times in which we live, but for some reason, Sunday always seems to get the shaft when it comes to newsworthiness.

At the very least, save it for Monday when people might actually watch I suppose.

But, much to the dismay of news anchors city wide I’m sure, and illustrated by the fact that I’m sitting here at roughly 2 AM, there were no loud bangs followed by little pieces of me being spread across the concrete wall behind me.

Nope.

What I found was almost as interesting though.

The box was filled with clothes and various other memorabilia. Sweaters, a book or two, and sitting on top, very obviously deliberately placed there, was a postcard. The picture side was not face up, but rather the side where people usually write meaningless messages talking about what a good time they are having.

It was written by someone who obviously did not place a great deal of value in their written communication skills.

Rather than try and wade my way through poorly spaced words barely legible, I skipped to the end, and in doing so I found all the explanation for the box that I needed.

It was signed "Loving you like a mad woman". I didn’t read the name that it was signed as. Not really a relevant part of the story to me.

Instantly I crafted in my head the story that I needed to suit as an explanation for these abandoned belongings. A relationship had just ended. It was that simple. Someone had left these belongings at the door so that their ex might fetch them without the ugliness that comes with confrontation. Included in these belongings were the things that might end up bringing forth memories that might (for comfort’s sake) be best left sleeping.

And that got me to thinking…

We have this tendency of trying to get rid of the physical reminders of people that have touched us in one way or another. It’s part of some sort of built in denial mechanism. For some reason the things that gift us with the moments of absolute happiness have the ability to come back and bite us in the ass.

And usually, they take a chunk with them.

I have yet to figure out how that works. I did figure out that was the way it went a while ago, and it seems a little odd to me. About 8 years ago, I decided that this was, by and large, a silly way of doing things. To attempt the erasure of memories that will forever live in your head by getting rid of the physical is somewhat redundant to me.

Not to say I haven’t packed a couple of those boxes in my time. Not to say that a couple of those boxes haven’t been packed for me.

But a while back I started keeping little things. Minor mementos that I can pull out when I want to remember the good. I have quite a collection built up of happy memories built in my head, and to be able to pull out something that you can touch and have it remind you that those memories aren’t simply a figment of your imagination is a good thing.

So I keep these little things. A ripped jacket, a necklace, a fleece sweater, a chocolate bar that I will never eat, these are the things that I don’t run from.

In the end, I suppose that I simply realized that more than half of what I write about is people that have touched me. People that have given me those moments of happiness.

When you spend a good deal of time singing songs like that, you would be a fool to try and hide from what you thrive on. Memories are not something that are meant to be left behind. That would defeat their purpose.

And on that note…

 

 

Who Ya Gonna Call?

The past is never really the past. I used to think that you could leave things that had past behind you. I know better now.

We all have our ghosts.

I know that I am a ghost to many people. I am a memory, or an idea. The thing that I find amusing at this particular moment (and I’m not even going to try and pretend it has nothing to do with my current BAC), is the fact that I have a good number of ghosts of my own.

Lately they have been coming back to haunt me in spades.

On a completely separate note, never buy cheap socks, no matter how good the deal seems at the time. They always end up warping into these strange little things that twist up so much that your toes and your heel simply can’t get along. Things shift out of place and comfort becomes a concept not unlike unicorns and yeti. $7.99 for 12 might seem like a good deal at the time, but in the long run, you just end up buying a lot of fabric that is hell bent on making sure that you never know which one was supposed to go on the left foot, and which was supposed to go on the right. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, because somewhere, some dissatisfied sock sewer decided that they were going to sew a sock that would never be able to fit comfortably, if for no other reason than because if their job sucked, someone else was going to pay.

Those digression gods, I swear…

It can come so easy. So unexpected. An E-mail or a phone call. All it takes is a simple reminder of what once was. And in those brief moments of contact, all the ideas of what could be come crashing back down with the weight of everything there is.

And it always comes in waves. Always at the same time. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. One day, you have finally convinced yourself in some naive way that all the things that would be far more comfortable simply left as is (although really, we all long for that continuation…), will stay that way, and that’s when they come calling for you.

At some point you realize that it really doesn’t matter what you do, things are going to happen the way they will, and there’s not a whole hell of a lot you can do about it.

All actions lead to the next, and there’s only one way a domino falls.

Down. Dominos never fall up. Ever.

How do I know that?

Billy told me.

And who is Billy?

Well…

Let me tell you…

The Monkey At The End Of The Universe (and 4 black holes, but I never really got that part…)

Allow me to set the stage…

So I’m sitting in a bar (stories like this always start in a bar…).

So I’m sitting in a bar, drinking my way to a good nights (and in all likelihood day’s) sleep, when this older guy who looks like a fighter pilot from world war two saunters in and takes a seat next to me.

It’s not everyday you see someone in a vintage bomber jacket with flight goggles around his neck walk into a bar, so as you can imagine, I couldn’t help but take notice.

And of course, as people seem to do, he decided that the chair beside mine was the best chair for him. Never mind the other 6 empty ones at the bar. No, no, they weren’t the good ones.

Why is it when strangers sit next to you at a bar, they always sit waaaay too close? The person who invents a portable, personal electric fence is going to beat Bill Gates in money.

I swear it.

So anyways, as his type (and I mean no offense to anyone who makes a habit of walking into neighborhood watering holes dressed in vintage air force garb, I’m referring more to the drunk who wants everyone to be his buddy type here…) is wont to do, he starts in on me.

Always the same line, or variation of at least…

"So I’m not from here, I’m staying up the block, but I just needed a drink, just one, and this place looks so inviting, I thought I’d wander in for a few. God knows I can afford it…"

I know this type well. Let me explain the rules…

There is always someone who:

    1. Is normally not part of this crowd
    2. Seems a little eccentric
    3. Is wealthy beyond all rational means
    4. Suddenly forgot his wallet at home
    5. Has a story
    6. Never has a good recipe for banana cake (do you know how hard those are to come by? I do. A good recipe is like a needle in a haystack).

So as I sit there contemplating whether or not to chug the last of my beer and try to pretend to make a graceful exit before the night gets too late, or this guy decides to start seeing if it is physically possible to remove someone’s ear using only verbal skills, he goes and orders me another.

For the record, I haven’t even said "hello" at this point.

So Gary the bartender (because Gary is a good bartending name, his real name was Francis…), passes me a new pint, and I am now officially torn between my better judgement that tells me to get the hell out of Dodge before it starts up, because I know it will, and the fact that there is a fresh pint in front of me.

Anyone want to guess what my slightly inebriated judgement led me to do?

A pint is a pint my friends. And a pint that has been paid for (and by paid for I mean someone else’s responsibility) is better than one that hasn’t.

So I stay.

And it starts.

But not in the usual way.

Usually it starts up with some sort of extravagant statement that if one tried hard enough was moderately believable.

Were extravagant statements made?

Oh god yes.

Were they what I expected?

Hell no.

Here’s what the opening conversation…

"So you’ll never believe who I met back in the war".

"Probably not", I say.

He laughed a laugh that not only had a hard rasp to it, like a voice that should have known better than to put that much energy into any given laugh, but that had an enthusiasm well past the rehearsed laughs I have gotten used to from his type.

"Well let me tell you anyways, and if you want, you can dismiss me as an old nutter in a flight jacket, or you can believe me, but either way, I’ll make sure your beer isn’t empty until I’m done."

Because us Irish are so hard to ply with liqour…

"By the way, I’m Billy…"

I’m not sure if I mentioned this earlier, but he didn’t look all that old. Worn would be a better word. That’s the last thing I thought before he told me about the monkey….

So now you have met Billy.

"Before I start, for the sake of fun, I’m going to time how long it takes me to tell you this story".

He pulled a silver stopwatch out of the inside pocket of his jacket, placed it on the bar, and set it’s little gears in motion.

And he started his story…

So there’s this Monkey named Barnaby apparently…

Barnaby, as Billy the drunken WWII pilot tells it, lives in the south pacific. I mean really, if your going to have a monkey that has figured out the divine secrets of the universe, he better at least have the common sense to relocate to a tropical paradise at the very least.

As the story Billy told me goes, he was part of a squadron flying patrol over the south pacific when a little tiny rubber band in his engine decided that it had had enough of the war. It was time to call it quits.

Unfortunately, Billy’s plane largely relied on this little rubber band for it’s greater mobility (read: not stalling at altitudes above 200 feet), so his squadron leader sent him back to the aircraft carrier from which he came.

The bad news?

It turns out that particular rubber band was part of a union. And when that one rubber band decided that it had had enough of the war effort, almost every other rubber band followed suit shortly thereafter.

Unions and all…

So it came to pass that Billy had to crash land in a lagoon on a little island that the navy had decided wasn’t really worth mapping.

So there it was.

And there Billy was, swimming up on a beach out of a movie. Only there wasn’t a beautiful woman to greet him. There was only a monkey sitting on a log. And the monkey didn’t simply scurry away terrified at this new creature washing up on the shore.

The monkey looked Billy dead in the eyes, and simply said…

"Well shit."

And with that, Billy passed out.

Crashing into an ocean and being greeted by a talking monkey can have that effect on a person.

 

When Billy awoke, he was lying higher up on the beach, out of reach from the tides. He had been moved, that much was clear, but it was only when his eyes were able to squeeze out the salt from the sea that he had been left in his eyes, that he was able to really start to get his bearings.

And there was Barnaby

Barnaby sat in front of a fire that was quite obviously very fresh. It still had the cracklings of new wood, and there were hardly any coals. It was all wood.

A night in the tropics can be a beautiful thing to say, two lovers. A night in the tropics late in the season for a wounded fighter pilot can be a very dangerous thing. Billy was alive, and vaguely aware, but while the physical shock was just starting to reside, the psychological shock was only beginning to set in. They say shock can kill.

That’s largely because it can.

As such, this fire was quite important for someone like Billy. When he got his strength up, he might be able to survive a night on the island, but at this point, he would have been nothing more than compost had Barnaby decided not to step in.

So after crash landing in the ocean, the first thing Billy saw was a monkey with a bemused expression on his face, sitting on a log and alternately playing with what appeared to be a stopwatch and poking at the fire with a stick.

To anyone else it would have been obvious that the monkey was simply killing time waiting for Billy to wake up. Billy was somewhat not in the best of shape, so he tended to focus more on the fact that there was a talking monkey playing with a fire.

So he just sat there and stared.

Barnaby had known for a while that Billy was awake, but he knew the human psyche well enough to be sure that the best approach at this point was to try and ease Billy into his new situation.

Easier said than done when you are a talking monkey privy to the secrets of the universe. How do explain that to a white bread navy pilot from Oklahoma?

But Barnaby did his best.

"Feel better?", he asked.

Nothing from the Billy corner of the world.

"This has to be a little strange for you I imagine. I was hoping that your little nap might help you out a bit in regards to the whole coping with your present situation, but it’s a little out of left field, so I can understand your silence."

Again, nothing from Billy.

Barnaby sighed.

"Alright then, if you insist on sitting there all slack jawed just because a monkey is explaining your current situation to you in plain English, so be it. I can wait.

Roughly seven and a half-hours later, and well into the middle of the night, Billy finally decided two things.

First of all, this monkey was nothing if not patient. He had spent the entirety of the last seven and a half hours keeping the fire stoked enough so that Billy would stay warm, playing with a stopwatch, and glancing over on occasion to check on Billy (more out of courtesy than necessity Billy thought, he was pretty sure that this monkey had a firm grasp on the situation, certainly better than Billy’s. That thought alone bothered him to no end).

Second of all, Billy decided that if he was going to be stuck on an island with a talking monkey, he damn well deserved a back-story. So mustering up what little he felt was left of his sanity, he spoke the word that would change his life forever (as he told the story, he was after all a drunk middle aged fighter pilot in a neighborhood pub while telling this story, so bear that in mind. I still harbor suspicions that it was Barnaby who finally broke the ice).

"Ummm…".

"Ah, he finally wants a back-story", Barnaby said, eyes alight, "Well, lets start at the beginning then shall we?"

So Barnaby started his story…

Now here I will spare you. You have to realize that Barnaby had spent something like the last 600 years without anyone to talk to, so when he started to explain how a talking monkey privy to the divine secrets of the universe ended up on a small island in the south pacific, he told the story in detail.

Great detail.

It was four days before Barnaby got to the meat of the story, the really important parts. That’s where I will pick it up, and if you’ll forgive me, edit from there.

So one day, Barnaby (who was at that point without a "real" name, being a monkey and all), was playing in the Jungle he knew as home when he went and did something completely unintentional.

He evolved.

Not physically, that sort of thing simply isn’t possible. But his mind, his mind clicked. For whatever reason, a monkey in the midst of the jungle put it all together in less time than it takes a four-year-old to tie their shoes. In an instant, Barnaby understood the universe perfectly, all the laws of physics, all the theories, all the speculation that humans would spend forever ruminating over, Barnaby understood them all.

A piss off for Stephen Hawking, I’m sure.

This was, by the best of Barnaby’s estimation, at least 1500 years prior to his meeting with Billy.

Needless to say, Barnaby (in realizing all the truths that the universe had to offer), decided several things…

    1. He would never be understood by what were up until moments ago, his peers. These were, after all, creatures that thought that figuring out how to catch termites on a stick was the absolute pinnacle of rational thought.
    2. Humans were, by nature, an absolute pain in the ass.
    3. The tropics were always nice.

So Barnaby spent the next several hundred years working his way across two and a half continents, always pretending to be just a monkey.

Now at this point you may ask how Barnaby was able to live so long when the average life span of a monkey rarely exceeds 20 years…

Well when you are privy to all the secrets of the universe, you realize quite quickly that time is merely a matter of perception and that we are all simply the imagination of ourselves, and as such, if one chooses to imagine that they live forever, they bloody well can, thank you very much.

And then Barnaby told Billy how of all the wonders and toys and tricks he encountered, the most fascinating to him was the stopwatch. Humans spent their lives looking to a future that was, for all intents and purposes, already finished, but in certain aspects, they stopped looking ahead and looked at the now. And tried to capture it.

With a little metal watch no less.

For some reason this amused Barnaby to no end. He could click that silver stopwatch he had stolen from the captain of the ship who had brought him to this island (through orchestrations of Barnaby’s far too boring and complex to explain or really understand) for hours at end.

And at this point, Billy finally asked. "Why is the stopwatch so damn amusing?"

Barnaby laughed.

And then he explained.

"It’s all about inevitability. Everything that will happen has happened. Time is immaterial. You won’t get that, but rest assured, this has all been done. Your little war, the rubber band in your plane having a sudden fit of pacifism, you crashing here, it was all inevitable."

Billy said nothing.

Barnaby sighed, "Look, I know that you’re not going to get this, but everything is inevitable. That’s why I can sit here so relaxed. I know that everything has already happened. I can’t explain this to you in any way other than this, the universe has a plan. That plan is a great and complex thing. You coming here, it’s all part of it. It all ends with four black holes and a lounge mix of "Black Betty" being played across the globe, but that’s only to fuck up the people that think they have it figured out."

"And that’s exactly why I love stopwatches. You people try to measure and capture a moment that is going to play out in the only possible way that it could. The funny part is that you people have put so much effort into defining a moment (a completely fruitless task), and in doing so, you have forfeited how many moments? Look at this thing, somebody went to great lengths to craft this thing. It’s handmade for goodness sake!"

Billy sat still with a confused look on his face.

"it’s funny because it’s existence defeats its own purpose."

Even more dead air from radio Billy.

"Ok, let me put it this way, Barnaby said, "I already know that you’re going to stare at me like a deer caught in the headlights of a transport moving lumber across the Trans Canada highway right up until the point where the Navy traces you back to my little island. I’ll sit here and keep you company until then and then I’ll scurry off into the bush when they show up. You’ll write this whole thing off as a concussion right up until you’re in a strip club in Miami in about 15 years, where you’ll suddenly get kicked in the ass by the universe in the same way I was."

"And when that happens, you’ll suddenly realize all the things I have, you’ll go out and buy a stopwatch, and you’ll giggle about it for hours as well. That’s really all you need to know for right now."

And that was all that Barnaby had to say for the time. A few hours later, the navy did indeed rescue Billy. Barnaby did indeed scamper into the woods when they showed up. It was only an ensign who pointed out the fact that the species to which Barnaby belonged didn’t really belong on that particular island.

If it were a Star Trek episode, he would have been dead long before he had the chance to notice such a detail.

Sometimes life is better on TV…

And Billy went back to his aircraft carrier. And Billy was awarded his medal for crashing into a large body of water. And Billy went back to his high school sweetheart in Oklahoma. And Billy married her. And Billy got her pregnant. And his high school sweet heart slept with the mailman (seems that actually does happen…). And Billy divorced her. And Billy paid child support…

And Billy wound up in a bar in Miami. And sure as anything, the universe did indeed kick Billy in the back of the head. It kicked him in the back of the head exactly when he was about to throw his hard earned money at the genitalia of a stripper who on the street wouldn’t let him see a real smile, but for a couple of coins, he could see her naked.

It kicked him hard enough that he remembered a talking monkey who rambled on about stopwatches and inevitability.

And he opened his eyes as well.

Alcoholics call them "moments of clarity". They are the moments where things make sense all of a sudden, and once you hit that point of awareness, there is really no going back.

It was in that moment of clarity that Billy also realized the inevitability of all things, and rather than waste his life hacking away at something he knew to be utterly meaningless, he would simply wander all over the place, being entertained by all of the people who didn’t get it.

He knew full well that he would end up on a beach in the South Pacific with a monkey named Barnaby and a couple of other folks who shall, for the time being, remain nameless, listening to Ram Jam belt out a song from decades past while four black holes argued over who had rightful possession over most of the earth’s matter.

Quite and argument that would be I imagine. Religion and politics are one thing, but if any of what Billy told me is true, that’s the sort of debate that will completely fuck up any civil dinner.

But until then, he had some bars to visit.

So he did.

He traveled from town to town telling his story to people who would listen to a rambling drunk. He said he wore the bomber jacket and goggles for effect, just to really freak people out.

And then he put his stopwatch away. He never told me how long it took for him to tell the story, to the second that is, but he was sure smiling when he slipped it into the pocket of that old jacket.

And with that, he paid the tab that he and I had accumulated, dropped an extra fifty for the tip (which was more than the actual bill, go figure…), and sauntered out the door.

I’ve tried to figure out exactly what that was all about, why I met Billy and all that sort of a thing. I like to believe that everything happens for a reason, that there’s some sort of method to all this madness, but at the end of the day, I’m left with two choices in this particular situation…

    1. Billy was off his rocker, and my meeting him held no purpose whatsoever. The universe is a completely insane random place and the best you can do is hold on, enjoy the ramblings of the occasional stranger and wait for the end.
    2. What Billy said was true, and in a couple of decades, all of humanity is going to be laid to waste by 4 black holes (which I swear to god, I still don’t get…) to the soundtrack of "Black Betty".

Hell, Apocolypse Now at least had "Ride Of The Valkries"…

I’m not really sure which answer is better. The one thing I do know, is that one of these days, I’m gonna get me a stopwatch.

A silver one.

Handmade.

And if I ever get to the point where I figure out all the things that Barnaby figured out, I’m gonna move me to an island, and I will tell you this.

There’s gonna be a cabana girl.

Grass skirts, Mai Thais, and a good seat for the end of the show.

See ya there.

 

By the way, nice guys do finish last.

Always…

It’s a rule.

Get used to it.

You walk into it knowing.

You walk into it feeling the heat of the crosshairs on your neck.

You already know how this ends.

You already know that you are going to lose.

But you walk into it, because if that is the only way that you have, that’s the only way you can take.

But rest assured…

You walk into it knowing.