It’s Only Funny When You Don’t Die

I once drove 7,500 miles in a circle.

Technically, it was only a circle if you’re two-years-old, have a box of crayons and a whole lotta wall awaiting your art. So, maybe it was more circle-esque, in that the start and end both coincided and it offered some sense of a looping line in between.

I had a number of wild ideas in my twenties. Most of them resulted in generous face-plants into walls inconveniently placed where doors should have been. Or it could have just been I had no directional awareness of where doors where supposed to be and a strange affinity for pain. On occasion, however, my wild ideas bore fruit. Bananas, mostly. A lemon or two. Nothing as exotic as a kiwi. Of course, I don’t really like kiwi. My associations with kiwi coincide with a time in which I thought dating a not so sane ex-stripper a fancy idea. That’s another kind of fruit altogether, however, but a decent explanation of both my dislike for kiwi and for running into metaphorical walls.

Where was I?

Oh, bad ideas. Right. So, I had this idea once that I should drive around the country in thirty days. Ambitious writer-type stuff. See what I see, live the life, draw words from the nectar of experience, write bold provocative words for the world to behold, stand proudly in fists-to-hips superhero pose. Not quite Jack Kerouac, at its core. More like Clark Griswold with a video camera instead of a family, and more ambition than actual plan. I didn’t so much as work on the logistics of the trip as dig my hands in the Lego box, toss things around, and scream OH MY GOD LEGOS YOU GUYS!

So, with the help of my Uncle Charles, I converted my pickup into a mobile hotel–complete with shelves, bed, topper that resembled the top of a square igloo, road atlas, all the sci-fi soundtracks any good sci-fi geek should own (yes, shut up), and left. I may have bought food. I can’t be certain. I don’t recall starving, so somewhere in there rest assured that Pringles, peanuts, or Combos made an appearance. Quality nutrition to fuel the soul of any spirited traveler. I figured I could find my way to various campsites along the unmarked, unplanned, who-the-hell-knows path and save a good bit of money avoiding hotels. REAL WRITER STUFF!

See, the thing is … the thing about “planning” that makes so much sense is you take the time to work out logistics, so that when you head out on the road for a month long trip around the country, you do so knowing whether or not you’re driving into the path of an oncoming hurricane on the first day of your journey. Small detail kind of stuff. What’s that? Oh, nothing. Just your average Category 4 nightmare bearing down on you. Hey, I made it six hours into my trip before needing a hotel. That has to count for something. All that prep and money invested on Hotel Truck really paid off! At least my vehicle had some height. Owners of the cars I passed, floating in their lagoons on side streets as they were, seemed terribly displeased with the situation. I probably would have been too, but I was too white-knuckled and desperate for a hill to pay much mind. Fortunately, not too far off I-10 I found a hotel, conveniently located at a higher point of elevation–for Florida this would be measured as ten to fifteen feet above People Level, since Sea Level is nothing short of a hopeless dream–where I watched the water level rise from the safe confines of a second-floor room.

By the way, have you ever seen a river flow from the sky? I have. It’s really fun.

Despite it all, and the odd dreams that night of being a fish trying to swim its way to Heaven, my truck did not float away. By a few inches, it managed to not get flooded, which is more than I can say for the guy in the Audi parked next to me. He was a sweet guy, for a man whose face flared with the focused rage of an insolent beet. I felt bad driving away as he tried to encourage his Insurance company that he didn’t drive into the pool this time.

The trip held it’s share of memories, not the least of which involved me, a couple of hours, a pig pen on the side of the road in the middle of Kansas, and a very one-sided conversation. Pigs really don’t have much to say, as it turns out. Fortunately, they fry up well.

Around Day 20, I found myself in Montana. At the time, my meta-dimensional secondary brother Jim lived in Livingston with his family. It was a long way from their previous home in Georgia, but with one look at the mountainous landscape, open sky, and brilliant Fall foliage I understood why they did it. Actually, that’s not true at all. I just wanted to talk about how beautiful it was. I’ve still never seen anything as majestic and breathtaking. But their reasons for moving were completely removed from the serenity of nature and more centrally fixated on the complete and utter lack of people. It was hoped that less people equaled less stupidity. Unfortunately, the equation doesn’t work that way. Though it would seem more people equals more stupidity, the truth is the percentage of stupidity in any group is always a constant. Spread fewer people out over a larger area, and they’re simply harder to find. They just account for a greater percentage of the required Stupid in the equation, and are therefore increasingly more stupid. Something like that. I don’t know. Jim’s father can explain it better. He rants on Stupid like know you’ve ever met.

Anyhow you rant it, I was there. Wanting to make the most of it on my behalf, Jim suggested we go hiking. Nothing extreme (that 10,000-foot peak came on the next trip). Just a small climb to the top of a waterfall. Didn’t matter that it was snowing. All the better even. More picturesque. Good for the trip’s documentary. So we headed out of town, camera recording the drive and the subsequent climb. Actually, it was great fun. Particularly the holy-hell-we’re-still-alive journey back down. After all, Jim did almost die at the top of the waterfall.

Funny thing about holding a video camera from the 90’s. They were big, heavy, and difficult to balance on your shoulder. Like holding a 24-pack of water bottles on its side. With one hand in the grip, and the other bouncing around in a vain attempt to offer support it could never manage, you were pretty much at its mercy. Sure, nostalgia is great, but the risk we took to record it was kind of, well, dumb. Especially when you’re trying to balance on an icy rock surface at the top of a waterfall. I give Jim credit. Both for offering to put my stubbly face on my trip documentary–of which it had not yet been–and also for maintaining a perfect cradle on my expensive equipment as his feet slipped out from underneath him and his body was suddenly no longer a part of the solid part of Earth. The recording went beautifully. After all, it was a really nice camera. One moment I was there, being the absurd and awkward fool I am in front of a camera, the next there’s a wonderful shot of the moon in daylight as Jim gives a subtle “oop” as he went airborne and a less subtle “oof” as he collided again with Mother Earth.

Here’s the kicker. What you should hear at this point is absolute panic. Screaming, calling Jim’s name, rushing to his side. Me, in frame, concerned for my best friend and meta-dimensional secondary brother. What you hear, instead, is me laughing. Hard. Jim, despite the ordeal, didn’t quit recording. A real trooper. Pure dedication. It’s just life after all. Better record it while you have it. He managed to sit up, find me, and then recount the harrowing tale of something that just happened as if I had not been there to witness it. To which, through my continued laughter, I offered in defense, “It’s only funny because you didn’t die.”

What still disturbs me to this day is how genuine my words were. I didn’t think about it, I didn’t sugarcoat it. I just said what I knew as a truth at that moment. Because Jim didn’t propel himself off the waterfall, instead falling flat on his back and in notable pain, I could laugh. Because his choice to protect my camera over an effort to brace himself during a fall didn’t result in horrible splatter death … funny. And I wonder what that means about me. About my perspective. Life is only funny until you die? A joke is only funny until it’s over? A hurricane is only funny unless it’s carrying you away kicking and screaming? Does this indicate derangement? Have I been on some type of lifelong psychotic bender?

Or was it just really funny?

It’s a fair question. I mean, America’s Funniest Home Videos made a living off poor schmucks whose kids accidentally whacked them in the nuts and people laughed at that. On some level, isn’t possible that children who might have been born will no longer? It’s not death per se, but a lack of opportunity at life. In fact, the Christian Coalition should look into whether or not it’s some type of pre-meditated sex-free abortion.  Not so funny anymore is it? If these poor schmoes died of testicular raculation it wouldn’t be funny either. Why? Because they died. See? It’s only funny when you don’t die.

The Silent Note of the Running Boy

In the words of the reality firestorm that is renowned chef, entrepreneur, cheeky Brit and Tantrum King of the World, Gordon Ramsay, “Here’s the thing.”

I know I’m not dumb. I am, I will acknowledge, a few sprinkles shy of a full spread of shredded cheese on the taco of common sense, but I’m not dumb. Hey, I made all A’s in fifth grade. Not exactly A Brilliant Mind level accomplishment there, but it’s notable. Sure, I misspelled parsley in the school spelling bee, denied the notably visible crush I had on a girl who liked me quite a lot—to her face no less—and chartered my socially awkwardness bus of one onward to middle school with no sign of let up, but I made excellent grades. What did you do?

Point is, I rather like the mad festival of characters that comprise the committee of my brain. I would prefer they come to some consensus on what they ultimately want of me, but they do entertain me so. That has to count for something.

The problem is—the thing that has made my journey through this life so frustrating—I chastise my brain regularly as if it operates individual of the Me that is me, while moving through each moment like a spastic terrier in a thunderstorm. Can’t really blame the brain if I’ve soundproofed its walls, right? I’ve developed this utopian idea of what the world around me should look like and, ignoring my brain’s insistence I step clear of the cabin and move to the back of the plane please sir, I’ve gone ahead and bypassed the computer in order to pilot from the toilet.

In no aspect of my life has this whimsical spontaneity of questionable choice (see? not dumb … questionable … whimsical spontaneity) been more apparent than in my desperate quest to find the perfect woman. I want to say love here, rather than woman but it doesn’t fit the mold. Because, like any good writer, I’ve embodied this woman with a character, a persona, a name by which I might better define her. I call her Aphrodite. I know. Clever, right? Real original. She’s been at the forefront of every decision I’ve ever made, deeply ingrained in every story I’ve ever written. Moreover, she’s become a beacon to the greater dreams of life, thus rendering the name Aphrodite to a branding effort of all things I desire. Primarily, I seek her companionship. Tragically, every aspect of my life has fallen miserably short. Allow me to demonstrate. This tidbit is the into to my current work-in-progress, tentatively titled On the Market:

     When night comes she falls asleep on my couch, hand tucked between face and pillow, crumpled folds of cheek powdered and soft in the moon glow, and I see Aphrodite. There’s a peaceful chaos to her hair, a darkness that betrays the night, finds refuge across a pale canvas of forehead and slips unnoticed behind an ear. She smiles, not much, a simple turn now and again, just a glance behind the curtain. Not enough to comprehend what is seen, but enough to know that whatever it is beats whatever dream I may conjure behind closed doors. 

      She’s a queen of beauty and magnificence when she sleeps, this Aphrodite before me. Time can only grant me a glimpse, I know, until sleep has abandoned her, until her body goes rigid, arms outstretched, fingers flexing, uncoiling, reaching for a heart that is not my own. Then she’ll flash that smile, say my name and never realize how much she makes me quiver. I’ll go weak in the knees, and know that I will love her forever.

Though I understand now how this image has trickled down into every nook and cranny of my desire, I channeled it all for years into this hopelessly romantic ideal of a perfect mate. I simply had to find her. I had to be complete. I put it all on the unwitting shoulders of every woman in my life in order to make it so.

From pretty, shirt-signing, Lori in third grade onward, every female I’ve fallen for has been unwittingly and unfairly compared to this image.

Hey, did you know my relationships haven’t gone well? I wonder if there’s a link? Probably not. Just life stickin’ it the man.

man-around-wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The great irony is that, as a child, I went about pursuing every girl I liked as if things would work out fine, as long as I just never ever talked to her ever ever. I mean, I made no secret about liking a girl. If my repeated stares didn’t cover it, my insistence on giving said girl a note to define said liking then sprinting off as if I had just dropped a ticking time bomb in her hands spelled it out without question. Granted, in the few instances in which I spilled my soul to a girl who actually liked me, the resulting connection was one of her trying to talk to some paralyzed, non-responsive, version of myself. I swear ladies, I thought you all were a different species. I feared any measure of contact, verbal or heaven-forbid physical, would result in complete annihilation of self and soul. This lasted all the way through high school. It got mildly better as an adult.

To deal with this, I began subconsciously (I’m leaning on hope here, otherwise I have to admit it was by choice) sabotaging my efforts to find a girlfriend by fixating on girls who clearly had no interest in me (if they even knew my name in the first place, which most didn’t), while simultaneously ignoring any girl I truly liked. I wrote notes to girls I knew would never respond. I wrote one to a girl who—I was told by a friend sitting near her on the bus—laughed her way through it with friends. Yay me! I actually spoke to girls with whom I clearly had nothing in common, fishing for any kind of attention, blinders set to the rest of the school’s female population in order to maintain my focus. I was thirty-five before I learned most of these girls actually liked me. You know … liked me liked me.

In tenth grade, I moved in with my father. The shift from small town Florida to small town Georgia wasn’t much of a transition. Leaving the one friend I had behind hardly registered. In fact, I don’t even remember being at all fazed by the move initially, other than missing my mother terribly. My brain might have had issues with it all, but I wasn’t listening.

My first day at school I made my way to First Period, drifting down the hall of a foreign land like a fading cloud against blue skies, ducked into class and found a seat in the second to last row, three seats from the front. I would have tucked all the way into the corner had other students not beaten me to it. About two minutes after I sat, a girl walked in the room. The second Lori life offered for me to crush on. Dark curly hair, incredible smile, piercing eyes, absolutely beautiful. To this day, I still think she’s one of the prettiest women I’ve ever seen. She sat in the last row, two seats further up. First bell hadn’t even rung and there she was. Aphrodite.

Any normal kid might have thought about talking to her, introducing himself, finding some way to at least say hello. After all, we were going to be in class together for a few months. Plenty of opportunity to get to know one another, right? Nope. I sat there through that class learning everything I could about her without ever saying a word. I mean, I didn’t say a word. To anyone. I managed to channel my inner-chameleon just to ensure the teacher never called on me. What a crushing blow to the universe it would have been had she actually heard what my voice sounded like.

Though I carried this quiet crush through the whole of the next three years—we managed to be paired in exactly zero classes going forward—I never spoke to her. Sure, I watched for her, put myself in positions where I could see her from afar (ahem, yes I will cover the football and basketball teams for the paper, conveniently watching from seats near the cheerleaders, ahem), but I didn’t do that whole Hello, my name is Awkward how can I make you run away? thing I feared so much. Instead, I actively pursued all the girls whose primary talent or hobby seemed to be syphoning my soul into a tin can and crushing it whole. There really were a lot of them. I got quite adept at it, in fact. Practice does indeed make perfect.

Now, this isn’t meant as a lament. I don’t regret not talking to this one girl. Well, I do, but for different reasons. I don’t fear I may have lost my singular chance with Aphrodite. Rather, I want it to serve as the foundation for the stories that follow. Though I’ve made my life into a continual barrage of “whimsical spontaneity of questionable choice”, they’ve all been tied to this quest for Aphrodite, how that became a greater symbol of all that I desired, and every single one is relevant to this moment. This one instance in which I didn’t talk to a girl I liked, while actively talking to and pursuing girls I liked far less (and who all bested my less than like with none at all). Or, as an adult, choosing women unavailable, be that emotionally, physically, or romantically and attempting to force them into the wedge that defined Aphrodite no matter how much they subconsciously protested.

As I said, I’m not a dumb guy. I just want a designed perfection in life that defies true definition and requires only one possible truly glorious and dream-worthy outcome in order to pacify my need to be happy.

That’s normal, right?