I walked out the back door, knees knocking and legs wobbling, fresh off a strenous quickie and rocket-fueled with my first beer-buzz in a real long while. Cold for late March, even in upstate New York, but it felt alright, after all, around here, a guy gets used to doing simple chores like changing tires and oil and headlights out in sub-freezing temps. Yeah, it should be warmer than this, but it felt real good out there anyway.
"There's gonna come a time
Where the true scene leaders
Will forget where they differ
And get big picture
'Cause the kids at the shows
They'll have kids of their own
And the sing-along songs will be our scriptures"
The Hold Steady "Stay Positive"
Just knocked off a big, long, stressful work project today, and if I don't say so myself, I nailed that shit but good; got my praises sung, which is nice, but what's nicer is I don't have to worry about it anymore. I'm not a guy who gets off on the work tip, ya know? Career-wise, all I ever really wanted was to pitch for the Yankees or write books, but I had neither the talent nor desire to make those dreams come true, so it's the desk jockey life for me.
It's gotta be done, and there are far worse fates, this ain't no complaint session I'm holding here. It pays the rent, keeps the lights and heat on, and puts food and antibiotics in the mouths of the babes, and these days, those once-taken-for-granted accoutrements of middle-class life are luxuries. And they get their money's worth outta me, I do a good job; not out of loyalty, shit, like any place else they'd replace me with a monkey or foreign prison labor in a heartbeat if they could, no, I do it well because it's the path of least resistance. Keeps the higher-ups off your back and makes it easier for me to sleep at night.
So anyway, I walked, or doddered, out that back door, snuck in a quick bowl, looked up at the moon, lit up a cig, and started walking around my dirty old town.
It was quiet, and if the hometown I moved back to seven years ago for three supposed months doesn't have all that much to offer, still, I thought of how lucky I am to live in a place where I can peacably walk the streets at close to midnight.
I walked up and down Broadway and Fourth and Fifth and then around the park, down Third and then South Street and then north on Main. I approached the parking lot of the bank that sits on the corner of Park and Main and saw two young women standing there smoking and talking.
"You gotta take the leap of faith," one said to the other. "You just gotta take the leap of faith eventually, ya know? I mean, yeah, I was a mess for awhile, but look at me now, ya know?"
Lord, the amateur writer in me was dying to know what she was talking about, but I kept on moving, not wanting to intrude on their conversation. Without even looking at either of them long enough to know what they looked like, I knew they wanted me to keep going. I figured they were talking about either rehab or Jesus, two things people looking for answers seem to lean on in these parts, but I don't know for sure.
Seems like she was trying to, well, stay positive, and who am I to doubt what she had grabbed on to. When you tell someone to look at you now, usually you mean, look at me now compared to the hot fucking mess I was a few weeks or months or even years ago.
Which I can relate to.
I been down in the ditches myself, after all.
A few days ago, in the midst of all the madness at work, a young co-worker turned to me and said, how can you stay so positive in the middle of this?
I lived through worse, I told her.
And I have.
One morning a few weeks ago on my way in to work, in the midst of tough times at the office, I thought back to where I was five years ago to the day.
Not that far removed from the death of my thirty-eight year old wife. Laying on the living room couch, sick as the proverbial dog, staring at dingy, cracked walls, with two sick babies, the oldest one in school, and my mother, my life-line to sanity in those dark days, laid up for more than two weeks with pneumonia.
That was bad. Really, really bad. When I'd hear the whistles on the freight trains blow, announcing their imminent arrival into town, I used to utter silent prayers that they'd derail, causing the chemical cars to derail and explode, taking me and the kids out together.
The trains never derailed and we all survived and the kids are doing well and so am I, fat, drunk, and happy, money in the bank and a woman I adore snoring the night away a couple of rooms away. A little shit at work doesn't really seem like much to deal with when compared to days spent hoping train derailments blew me and my kids to smithereens.
On the other hand, through all the recent craziness at home and at the office, I managed to look in 'round here and noticed the news of the day still looks awfully grim.
The blue and red teams, rosters set and paid for by the oligarchs, argue not about how to help the rest of us out but only of how many pounds of poor and middle-class flesh to extract. Our nation just "celebrated" the tenth anniversary of an illegal, immoral war that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, mission accomplished, indeed. The seas and the temperatures rise and we keep on spewing carbon into the air like there's no tomorrow. The guys with the funny looking red hats elected a new boss, and while I haven't had time to figure out if he was a member in good standing of the Hitler Youth like the last guy, as a gambling man, I'd bet big that he has the same disdain for the Catholic Worker types who kept me involved in the Church way deeper into my teen years than I would have been otherwise. Apparently, according to the "Attorney General" of the United States, banks are above the law, and apparently, at least according to "news" stations like CNN, women are still at fault when they get raped. And on and on and on.
It's occurred to me that maybe I'm the problem, or symptomatic of it at the least. That I'm one of too many with belly too full and hide too warm to raise enough of a stink about the literal and figurative murder the powers that be are getting away with. Maybe enough of a stink won't be raised until a critical mass of us wind up huddled around barrel fires burning inside our living rooms, with the easy food and beer and music and television and electricity distant, pleasant memories; with prayers and herbal remedies and old wive's tales the new antidotes to the infections running roughshod over our children.
I'd like to think we can turn it around before we get to that point. Like that woman in the bank parking lot tonight, I'm gonna take that leap of faith, and believe that we will rise up and fight our way out of this mess.
I'm trying to stay positive.