(continued from here)
“People are gonna tell you you’re no good. Don’t listen.” — Jack Kelson to Nick Kelson, American Heart (dir. Martin Bell)
I laughed off Basheer’s advice, politely took my institutional ass-reaming at the judicial, waited a day or two, then when summoned went to see the campus dean, Jacqueline Smethurst, to hear the verdict. She told me I was expelled. I stood up to leave.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Jacqueline Smethurst exclaimed incredulously. “I’m not done with you.
“Sit down,” she ordered.
I sat down.
I wish I didn’t but I did. I hesitated a little, I think, but basically when she said sit down I sat down. Bruce Springsteen’s “Growin’ Up” this isn’t.
Many years of sitting down when asked to sit down went by. In 1999, I moved into a cabin in the woods of northern Vermont. The cabin had no electricity, no running water, a small woodstove for heat, and a big plastic lime-coated barrel for my excrement. I’d found an ad for the cabin-for-rent in a laundromat just as I was realizing that the living situation that I’d recently arranged was going to entail sharing space in a very narrow house with a friendless, jobless man who believed a local health food restaurant was trying to poison him and who began to glare at me with the same vengeful resentment he reserved for his suspected poisoners after I declined his creepily doe-eyed offer to take me to a dowsing convention. In other words, I didn’t enter into My Year in the Woods with quite the same idealistic purposefulness as Thoreau.
But it did appeal to me. I was a fan of Thoreau, after all, and also I guess I hoped the move might stem the slow erosion of meaning in my life. I wanted to live within an adventure. I wanted to once and for all finally figure out The Answer, to have it crashingly bloom in my mind in a spectacular epiphany, and like all addicts of this illusion of future enlightenment I was drawn to the idea that if I could just get away from all the snares of the world I might be able to finally understand the sound of one hand clapping. Or, to switch koans, when that fucking tree falls in the forest and no one’s around to hear it, I’d be there to hear it. I’d be no one, nothing but light, and so I would know whether or not that falling tree makes a sound, and the answer would free me finally to a life of calm, clear-eyed bliss.
My friend Charles sent me off to my year of solitary purity with a gag gift of a battery-powered television about the size of two decks of cards. I ended up going through a lot of batteries that year, the television one of my links to the life I could not let go of. I’m not talking about not being able to let go of a connection to the news of the world or to pop culture, but rather not being able to let go of my vices, those little tics and repetitions and brain-numbings that allow me to cross the expanse of a day.
Another vice I cultivated had to do with a small orange plastic propeller toy, also a gift from Charles. You use both your hands to spin the stem of the propeller and it flies through the air for fifteen or twenty feet. It’s the type of thing that a normal person might try a couple times before moving on with their lives, but during my year in the woods I created a golf-like game that involved trying to hit a series of trees around the cabin with the flying propeller in the fewest “strokes” possible. Then, reverting to a practice that devoured huge tracts of empty time in my childhood, I populated the game with an ever-growing catalog of intricately conceived imaginary personalities revered by millions of imaginary fans for their prowess in the hallowed, physically taxing, mentally punishing, spiritually grueling sport of Twirly Propeller.
Instead of writing the novel that ulcerously festered inside me unsaid, or taking assiduous egoless note of the natural phenomena all around me, or resolving to pretzel my stiff, inflexible body into a straight-spined lotus position and chant sutras until the top of my head split open to guzzle nirvana, I enacted Twirly Propeller tournament after Twirly Propeller tournament, each a grueling marathon with several elimination rounds that gradually built to the breathless white-knuckle tension of the Championship Match. I kept in my head the entire history of the sport, all the single-match, yearly, and lifetime records, all the famous rises and falls, all the improbable limping heroic Comebacks from Complete Oblivion. It’s all gone now, of course, that world I Godded. I left that cabin a year after I’d arrived, packing out everything I’d packed in except a very full barrel of shit.
But anyway, finally, here is Bob Davis with a big wad of tobacco in his right cheek. My final time-wasting pursuit in the cabin was to occasionally randomly select and study a baseball card from the collection of mine that had been recently unearthed during the emptying of my family’s storage unit. This card was one of the first and for some reason among the most haunting of my random selections. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s because Bob Davis’s expression seems like that of a man who’s trying to remain cheerful in spite of the tiny constant ringing noise that’s made his sanity into a thin, fraying, tightly stretched rubber band. Or maybe it’s because of the clammy gray catacomb-like background, such a stark contrast to the overwhelmingly predominate baseball card backdrop of blue sky as to suggest something about Bob Davis’s extremely peripheral, ogre-like isolation on the far fringes of major league baseball. Or maybe it’s because of the discovery I made that Bob Davis shares my birthday.
The impact of that last discovery was initially jarring because of the implication that I was in some deep, psychic way connected to the man shown here clinging to the thin pleasure of his tobacco cyst as if the faint buzz it provides is a small fragment of a shipwreck on the wide sea. Such a connection made sense in a lot of ways, really, especially in light of the fact that I probably followed the discovery of Bob Davis’s birthday by clinging to one of my own jagged shards of driftwood, maybe authoring some third round Greater Omaha Open Twirly Propeller action, maybe watching insect-sized Jennifer Aniston and insect-sized David Schimmer cavort across my tiny TV screen until that horrible, inevitable moment when the batteries died.
But a secondary impact of the discovery has crept up on me in the following years. I wonder more and more why it took me until I was a thirty-two-old man shitting in a barrel in the woods to find out that there was a Cardboard God who shared my birthday. I’d always believed that as a child I’d spent hour upon hour scrutinizing every detail of every card. But this is obviously not so. Even my baseball cards are strangers. Even my childhood is expelling me.
Maybe life is just a series of expulsions. You get expelled, you start to rise and move onto the next thing, and then something like doubt starts in, a voice aiming to corrode, to diminish.
Where do you think you’re going?
I’m not done telling you all the things you don’t know, all the many ways you’re powerless.
For 38 years I’ve sat back down. From here on out I say Suck my fucking dick.
I’m standing up.