(continued from Ron Schueler (3))
I first started writing about my baseball cards years ago, as my time as an adjunct was coming to a close. My teaching in those last few months had dwindled from a couple classes per semester to a single one-on-one tutorial with a pale, sunken-eyed Vietnam War veteran suffering from acute insomnia stemming from post-traumatic stress disorder. By then I’d run out of money and had begun racking up credit card debt to pay for essentials. I’d been spending the year living in a drafty cabin in the woods with no electricity and no running water and a small leaky woodstove that combined with my pile of green wood to give off about as much heat as a toaster oven. In the middle of the winter I’d almost burned the cabin down with a chimney fire, and soon after that had given away my cat Alice, who I loved deeply, because I decided she deserved better than to spend her golden years shivering or on fire beside a penniless idiot. I wrote something every day, one way or another, even if it was so cold in the cabin I had to wear my fire-damaged gloves. Most of the writing was an ongoing attempt at a novel that never found a heartbeat. As the useless pages piled up I began to sort of lose it. By “it” I mean hope, sanity, what have you. So just for something to do to keep from going crazy or to pass the time I started picking cards at random and writing about them in my journal by the dim light of a propane lantern. Over this past weekend I tried to find those descriptions, but wading through the dense thicket of failure in the journals from those years proved impossible. It took about two minutes of searching through one page after another of airless desperation before I shut down like a fried computer. But I know that one of the first cards I wrote about was this Ron Schueler card. I’m pretty sure I noted his big White Sox collar, and maybe I noted the partially hidden billboard behind him seeming to advertise Brut cologne. I do know I interpreted his gaze as a reflection of my own souring expectations, that existential dyspepsia that seems to say I thought things were going to turn out differently somehow.
Now it’s been long enough since then that I see that things, at least for me (I can’t speak for Ron Schueler) turned out exactly as they should have. And not only that, they weren’t half bad. There were stories. There were songs. There were even plenty of times when I really liked teaching. (I hope I can do it again someday.) I remember a lot of nervous sweat and stammering coming from me, and a lot of blank stares coming from my students, but I also remember some days when it actually felt like I had a job that wasn’t just dumb labor for once in my life. I talked about Jack Kerouac and Denis Johnson and Blade Runner and D. Boon and Muhammad Ali and whatever else came to mind, every subject somehow relating, or intended to relate, to how much I loved writing, even how much I loved life, how much I wanted the students to get excited about something, anything, and try to put it into words. Sometimes I think some of it even came across.
As for the rest of it, the cabin and the loss of Alice and the stillborn novel and the (eventual champion) fantasy team Desolation Angels, plus a lot of other things I guess I’ll get around to mentioning some other time (such as the brief interval when I shared a house with a guy who was convinced the local health food restaurant was trying to poison him, or the brief doomed fling I had, or the deer I killed, or how spring felt at that cabin when the long cold winter finally ended): I guess I’ll just say it was all a web of songs. I imagine Ron Schueler as the silent center of those songs. Even now, so many years later, new songs bloom from that Schuelerian silence. Yesterday I woke up with lyrics for the opening number of the Broadway musical Adjunct! in my head, the introduction to the main character song. Actually all I had is one line, the first line below, but I stumbled to my notebook (where else in this life is there to go?) and jotted down a bunch of possible accompanying lines:
I’m just a margin on a page
I’m just an extra at the back of the stage
I’m too demoralized to fly into a rage
I don’t act young but I don’t act my age
My empty apartment sometimes feels like a cage
Something like that. The curtain rises, the song begins. Off-key, ridiculous. Then, as it is in life, song gives way to song. Here’s to all of it, the web of song, the silence beneath, the whole bleating indispensable mess. May the curtain never come down.
(continued, sort of, in Adjunct!: Wrap Party)