Older Stuff from the Barn; 1998-2000 (part 3)
“...builders, explorers, developers, all of us- all we wanted was for our lives to make a little more basic sense- I don’t think there’s anything wrong with admitting that- but when that basic sense was not forthcoming, even after a great many years- well, I suppose that was when we first started talking seriously about the wilderness outpost. we finally set those discussions in motion, and I think it’s a good thing that we did- what about you, reader or listener? do you have any opinions regarding this delicate matter? jot them down on scrap paper and we’ll introduce them to the entire group in a minute- the outpost, or at least the idea of it, had become quite important or relevant to our conception of a viable future. we enjoyed nature, yes we did, no question about that whatsoever! we enjoyed “spending time out in nature.” if the others wanted to fool us or talk mean about us behind our backs when we couldn’t respond- if they wanted to fool us or talk mean about us in ways that were scarcely civilized or defensible- it’s a country life we aspired to; I don’t know how many times I’ll have to explain that. more of a rural existence, you could call it, living closer to the rhythms of nature and wilderness- yes, indeed, as human beings it was important to take a few of our cues from the animal kingdom. when the situation was appropriate, we enjoyed calling certain birds by their official ornithological names and we fought to protect their remaining semi-natural habitat. it was becoming increasingly clear, I’m afraid- the thing about the serious psycho/ecological problems. going out into the public, venturing out into the overall public, alerting the public, coaxing the public over to our somewhat bizarre point of view; wasn’t working so well. the water. the land. the population. the ether. the animals.
we developed these ideas over many many hours of conversation, debate, discussion, and role-playing- why, even during our neighborhood walks we continued the spirited dialogue, seldom pausing or taking time out for even a few moment’s reflection- yes, as you can see, it was more or less full-steam-ahead style conversation! if someone happened to coin an interesting phrase or idea, I jotted it down in my notebook, and dr. hodges gave a slow, appreciative nod. thank holy christ. the medicine seems to be working. does that sound the least bit familiar? I know that the answer is probably “no,” but that doesn’t necessarily get in the way of me maintaining that we have at least a few thing in common! if it helps, just think of me as the sort of person who is always jotting things down on scraps of paper or cardboard. I looked around for full employment, looked around for what might be called “better opportunities” for the “imminent future”- I would be a rickety old man one of these days, staring down the barrel of my imminent demise and oblivion- I would almost certainly be forgotten by the population within a matter of months- thankfully, the entire physical as well as symbolic expanse of my being would be neatly expunged from people’s memories. if as a society we are still keeping record books at that time- well then, fine- a mere name; a few numbers- at the very most, a photograph buried somewhere in the archives, covered with dust and eventually mildew, and then most likely eaten by termites- perhaps that’s why I’m always harping on about nature, good will, and wilderness- trying to picture for myself and anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity what the future, if there still is one, might conceivably look like- it’s a sandlot sort of existence that I’m prefiguring here, by the way. asking people to make contributions; asking them to accept some form of full-time employment- we absolutely have to get america working again...”
coming upon what some people have termed the “end of the road”- coming upon what might be termed a roadhouse or farmstead; working as what might be termed a gardener/groundskeeper; tending to the grounds and the gardens; overlooking, hand held to brow, the expanse of the grounds and the scraggly gardens. wooden tools, wooden idols- woolen clothes in the late autumn and winter- living alone in the hayloft- being granted at least that much by peaceful jim, my employer. explaining to him at a certain point that it would be better for me to live alone, far away from other people. peaceful jim shook his head slowly and thoughtfully, in an attempt to signify concern and confusion.
“but you’re a gardener/groundskeeper, tony- what could you possibly know about city life?”
“I drove a taxi for several weeks-”
“yeah, and remind me how that turned out?”
“I crashed and was relieved of my services-”
“and yet you want to live up in the hayloft-”
“yes, I think it would be better if I could live alone for awhile.”
“you’ve talked this over with your family?”
“yes I have, peaceful jim. a long time ago. I’ve been thinking about it for a very long time.”
“well tony, I suppose we’ve always been the sort of people who go in for verbal communication when it appears to be an option-”
“and it almost always does appear to be an option-”
“yes, young feller- you’re right. it most certainly does. I’ve always thought to myself that we needed a few more young fellers like you in the area.”
“why? just because I want to live alone in the hayloft?”
“well, yes- that’s part of it, son- and not the most insignificant part...tell you what, tony- why don’t you go ahead and try it out for awhile- my guess is that you probably just need to get something out of your system- you’re a gardener/groundskeeper- nobody can gainsay you on that one- maybe all this time out in the wilderness has gone a little bit to your head. I know what that can be like- I was a young man like yourself once- I was more of a mechanic, you know- fixing the various machines when they broke down, which was often, let me tell ya. fucking a lot, to be honest. but I watched guys like you from a distance, tending to the grounds and the gardens. me, covered with grease, iron filings, saw dust- you, covered with dirt, grass, clay, leaves, insects, whatever. as you know, it requires all types to keep this place running. if you really want to live alone in the hayloft, I’ll let you- but first, imagine me for a moment- ok? think about my position. moving up thru the ranks- a simple greeter at first, then eventually moving up to the position of bell-boy, then lookout, then desk clerk, then errand boy, until I’d learned enough to sign on as full-time mechanic...”
at this point peaceful jim paused and walked over to the soda machine. he purchased a welch’s grape and gulped it all down in one go. he took out his hankie, mopped his brow, and continued.
“...I was only 17 years old and yet I had already made a number of pretty serious errors. during an important school presentation I made fun of nature and wilderness. I mocked it, more or less. mocked it while I was supposed to be presenting it as a serious issue. the swamplands, the wetlands, the woodlands, the riverlands. these are or were all considered relatively important- they wanted us to venture out into nature. first venture out into public, then take the next logical step and venture out into the “overall wilderness.” I was a pretty timid person back then, tony, and wasn’t always willing to communicate verbally. this was seen as a serious handicap and I had to go to some workshops at what they called the communication issues outpatient clinic. people were jazzed up, excited. they had also made some serious errors. but they had discovered a way to atone for it- that was the critical difference, young feller. I still spent most of my time wandering aimlessly alone thru the neighborhood. I bought candy and soda and didn’t feel the need to apologize for it. our neighbor, lloyd rifflin, was a milkman, believe it or not. I was pretty sure that this was what I wanted to do for a living. but as you know, the industry changed. milk distribution policies shifted. lloyd went back to school and started working for NASA. when my folks initially suggested that I consider “heading out into uncharted wilderness with only a knife, a bit of twine, and some band-aids” I don’t think this is what they had in mind, but, in their defense, they didn’t try dissuading me either. wandering around aimlessly thru the neighborhoods is still better than holing up for days at a time in one’s room, they must have thought- so they backed off, and we all just moved on as if the issue had never come up. they also thought that I would benefit from having a few more basic interests or hobbies, and that’s when the idea of being a gardener/groundskeeper came in. it was meant to be therapeutic, but when they discovered I was actually good at it- well, I took over for larry, the head guy, when he decided to move to minnesota. there was a woman there who was apparently promising him more or less unlimited sexual intercourse for however long it took him to build her a modest-sized house out in the countryside. it probably goes without saying that this woman had pretty serious psychological issues, and if you’d like, we could get into that later, because I kept in touch with larry during those difficult months. every now and then I’d have a garden or groundskeeping question, and he told me when he left that I was always welcome to call him- it didn’t even have to be work-related! we could just talk about our lives, if we wanted. yes, he was one of those types who happen to genuinely enjoy conversation. well, over the next few months I took him up on his offer quite a bit, and learned about how the house building was coming along, as well as the corresponding sexual intercourse. it’s true that he did seem to be taking her up on the unlimited amount guaranteed, but he assured me that she was enjoying it every bit as much as he was, if not more. it might sound strange, but he still took an interest in the mundane details regarding the garden and grounds- he encouraged me when I was despondent and then reined me in when I became too excited...”
peaceful jim was a good boss and we still keep in loose touch, even after all of these years.