Saturday, January 21, 2012

(three portraits: middle-aged)

     The man was middle-aged.  Errors.  Additionally, he was filled with confusion.  Some might even venture to say that he was made up of confusion- that confusion had become his native element- confusion at all points of the compass- of course, he had other personal qualities that probably deserve to be mentioned here- qualities which, I feel confident, would cause you, the person, the reader, the stranger, the citizen- the patient and curious individual that you have surely become over the long, hard slog of years- to develop a genuine and perhaps even lasting interest in him.  Middle-aged or no, we are all in this thing together, I've heard.  Time is an arrow, they posit- it shoots out in all directions at once.  However, for reasons that I am unable to disclose at precisely this juncture, this particular and mercifully brief instance of portraiture focuses its and your attention squarely on the middle-aged man’s confusion.  It zeroes in on that, so to speak, at the expense of almost everything else.  The man in question would most likely object if he had any say in the matter; yes indeed; he would not be afraid to let his opinion be known.   I’m no expert on human psychology in general or on this man’s in particular, but my instinctive guess is that he would probably prefer what is often identified as a more “well-rounded” portrait.  Take for instance his visits to the supermarket.  That would serve as a perfect example.  Like it or not, our hero needed to procure food in some manner.  You know- foodstuffs; reliables.  There was no getting around that!  Try as he sometimes might, there was just never any real getting around that!  His body required fuel.  Plain and simple.  On an almost everyday basis.  He applied his mind to the conundrum,  and yet, as perverse as it sounds, there never did seem to be any viable mind-body relationship.  Each seemed to do the other’s bidding only when it was absolutely required and with a half-hearted and sometimes even spiteful reluctance.    
When he was discovered lying down in the aisle alongside the dried fruits and nuts, store management so-called was none too amused.  He was asked in a curt tone of voice to immediately get back up on his feet.  The middle-aged man’s explanation was that he had been avalanched by vivid and overpowering memories of a camping trip out in the wilderness during which dried fruits and nuts had been not merely the primary but the sole source of bodily nourishment-  and amazingly enough, the body apparently did not seem to object to this- in fact, the body seemed to distinctly enjoy the greatly narrowed-down range of options.  The mind, if there even was one, was just pleased to be off doing its own thing, as usual.  The middle aged man started to explain that this “mind” had some sort of what he called a “shadow agenda,” but store management demonstrated not the slightest bit of curiosity, concern, regard, understanding, caution, prudence, consideration, or patience on this point.  (In case you’re wondering, I make these sort of word lists up during my little pockets of free time so as to have them at the ready the moment the might become necessary.)
They told the middle-aged man, in effect, that if he wanted to go on indulging in this bizarre but utterly pointless wilderness/nature nostalgia inside the supermarket he was perfectly entitled to do so, but only from an upright and/or standing and/or moving position.  They were willing to be flexible about certain things but this was not one of them.  All personnel had attended several grueling weeks of paid customer-service training so as to deal quickly and efficiently with precisely these kinds of public interface matters.  
Our hero immediately conceded the good sense and decency of  management’s offer.  He raised himself back up to his feet and continued to saunter the aisles.  A security person kept a pretty close eye on him for the rest of his time in the supermarket, even going so far as to discreetly unholster her weapon, but the man understood that this officer was only doing her job.  There was no personal grudge whatsoever.  You probably doubt the truth of that statement so let me simply repeat it: there was no personal grudge whatsoever.  Chances are that this guard had a soft spot for the middle-aged man’s baroque visualizations and would like to be overpowered by such things herself-  if only she too had ever been granted the opportunity to be  been left alone with dried fruit and nuts in the wilderness!  It’s not necessarily an experience that every person stumbles into in this day and age. 
I realize with laser-like focus and deep, cellular level intuition or prescience that this particular supermarket conundrum does not necessarily scream out “confusion” to the attentive and/or discerning reader or stranger or citizen- after all, most of us are pretty bewildered by the array of food options presented these days!  And the fluorescent lighting at most of those places!  Holy fuck!  Who wouldn't collapse in the snack aisle eventually!  But our hero, so-called, lying inert on the squeaky clean parquet of the supermarket, entertaining visions of a vast, unspoiled, and presumably uncharted wilderness- well, you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say that it didn’t do a whole lot for him in the departments of mental precision and practical know-how.  He allowed his own life to drift right past him.  He allowed his own life to run empty.

He spent a lot of time in his small apartment seated at the kitchen card table stonily gazing out into the distance.  Some of his clothes had a cute checkered pattern but most of them adhered to solid and unadorned earth tones.   Doubtless this was a result of his little camping experience.  People sometimes asked him, when this "experience" inexplicably found its way into polite conversation, if he had gone with companions or was it rather a solitary excursion?  The man had a peculiar and disconcerting habit of declining to answer this particular question.  The result this had on his listeners usually took one of five general courses:  faint amusement, faint confusion, faint curiosity, faint disgust, faint indifference.  The result was always very mild and understated, as implied by the repeated use just now of the highly telling adjective “faint.”  People moved on with their lives.  They moved on to other activities.  The middle-aged man and his camping trip- frankly, it didn’t hold a whole lot of water. Whether or not he went with companions was information that most people could live without rather easily.  I suppose our hero was no longer quite as interlinked with the people and institutions around him.  He would go outside, some random evening, some random afternoon, some random morning, and even after having been in the neighborhood for a good seventeen or so years, he was still almost as anonymous as on the day he arrived there.  His correspondence, which was only just a few degrees less anonymous, was littered with cryptic references to a “vast seeming emptiness,” “a yawning abyss of perfect stillness and silence,” “the dark gods,” “the dark worlds,” “the dark woods,” “the dark fantasies.”   These correspondents of his, whether real or imagined, had realized pretty early on that these were almost pet phrases or fetishes used more or less interchangeably in the middle-aged man’s e-mails and telephone messages.  He would use them in situations in which they was not only irrelevant, but genuinely unwelcome, unappreciated, or positively counter-productive.  They would actively jar with the surrounding nest of human sentiments into which they were so gingerly dropped.  Most people were more concerned with the notions of filling, refining, updating, and celebrating.  A quote “vast seeming emptiness” was not always terribly interesting or relevant to them.
Assuming that he reached his personally estimated life span of 59 years, he was a goodly distance past the mid-point.  Much more of his life was behind him as remained still in front of him.  This wasn’t necessarily a good or bad thing.  It only meant that he was now squarely ensconced in the middle-age demographic or bracket.  Several of his friends and associates who were of a roughly equivalent age had pegged their personally estimated time on earth significantly higher.  Because of this, the term middle-age didn’t come as often into their consciousness, nor were they in the habit of looking back so often and reflecting upon the perverse and quite possibly barren course of their own individual lives.  Quite a bit had been left behind, in some cases.  Quite a bit had been compromised.  It would probably hurt to look too closely.  It would probably smart to be honest for even just a couple of minutes. The present moment sufficed, for the most part, with a heavy dose of entertainment and labor, coupled with nervous/giddy anticipation and concern for the future.  Many of these were persons who had at some juncture established fairly significant goals, and of this number, a few of them were well on their way to seeing some of those goals finally come to fruition.  The middle-aged man would hear their stories or read about them online or in magazines and marvel at the staggeringly diverse range of human  capacities.  The never ending sense of potential, fun, service, excitement, commitment, adventure, sublimity, mystery, hard work, progressive values, relationships, communion, etc.  Human beings so different from each other that it required of him an enormous imaginative and interpretive effort to regard them as what they apparently, in reality, were:  members of the exact same species, members of the same human family.
His own concerns were somewhat muddled.  His sense of purpose was laughable.  If you are laughing right now then I guess I'm doing my job in getting you to see things as they were and maybe still are with him.  To be quite blunt, the middle-aged man’s poor brain seemed to be a little bit addled.  There was way too much confusion- way too much self-doubt and questioning.  He’d had more than enough time now to establish a few workable goals- and if not workable goals, than at the very least token or superficial or semi-artificial reasons to at least go on living- random collections of words, feelings, and images that have absolutely no bearing on the matter at hand but drift around nonetheless somewhere deep inside the most private caverns of the fragmented self/subject/illusion/cartoon thought bubble/entity/spirit/bliss body/essence/divine spark/identity.
Sitting down at the kitchen card table, overlooking the parking lot, the man oftentimes couldn’t help but avoid the nagging sensation that he had indeed made a number of fairly serious errors- a number of potentially very significant miscalculations in the critical areas of judgment, planning, classifying, drafting, and follow-thru.  On one hand, it appeared as if he had done everything in his power to become relatively well-informed, well-adjusted, well-liked, productive, smart, delightful, successful, and humorous; but on the other hand, as might be predicted, the situation sometimes appeared as just the reverse: that he had deliberately refrained from doing the things that might have brought about those much-desired results.  Whichever the case might be, when one took a few cautious steps back and surveyed the entire context of his so-called existence, “success,” in any context, was not necessarily the first word that suggested itself.
The man was middle-aged and deeply, perhaps even absolutely, alone.  There was not even a domestic animal lurking about on the premises.  At dusk, when he randomly reached his hand out into space in the damn-near schizophrenic hope of touching something warm, soft, inviting, responsive, friendly, merry, soothing, or beautiful, why, the closest thing available was usually an old maroon, moth-eaten afghan.  The man wrapped himself up inside it.  He had allowed his life to run empty.  As a result of this he spent much of his time writing little haikus.  The experts inform us that haiku is an old Japanese form of poetry concerned with close observation of nature, silence, and transience.   When the man went out on strolls thru his almost-anonymous neighborhood very seldom was there any sense of a clear destination.  The activity of walking, crazily enough, usually sufficed for itself.  There didn’t have to be any larger perspectives or contexts.  One moment the man would find himself at Point A, for example, and then, all of a sudden, several hours later, he would notice that he was passing right thru or alongside Point B or C.   Didn’t necessarily want to go on living, didn’t necessarily want to go on imagining, didn’t necessarily want to go on reading or writing or imprisoning memories, yet he kept doing all of these things- did them on a damn-near daily basis.  He had arrived safe and sound into the middle-age category.
He assumed he would probably go on writing haiku for as long as he maintained anonymity, and that seemed as good a reason as any for maintaining the present state of affairs.  Poetry has to get written somehow.  Nobody ever said the process would be particularly attractive to casual onlookers.