No longer Kerouac’s America…

He’d been riding freight trains. From Florida, originally, but just in New Orleans. Coming west to look for work. That’s how he said it, “look for work,” as if an apparition from the Great Depression, from years gone by. “There’s no work in the eastern South.”

Today, he and friends were coming up from California, headed to Seattle. The train they were on had sided–stopped, so another could pass by on the opposing track. They’d gotten off to pee, he, friends, and the 4-month-old pup I’d found him standing with alongside the road. He thought one of the friends had grabbed the pup, so he jumped back aboard. Down the tracks he realized the pup wasn’t sleeping amongst the packs or in someone’s lap. He was gone, left off the train, and they’d sped ahead a good thirty miles by now. He began to cry when he thought of his pup sitting there lost and alone.

He jumped off the train as soon as it slowed enough, and hitched his way back, not really knowing where he was going. He says he got lucky, because they guy who picked him up told him the only places the tracks ran through. He got there, to the spot the train sided. The pup was sitting, waiting, barking. For him.

I picked them up just outside of Tenino, Washington. On my way home from work. I don’t ever pick up hitch-hikers here, but something told me to stay slow, to slow more, as I pulled out of the little town onto the 50 mph highway. I looked at the kid and saw the pup, and pulled over, not even thinking otherwise. Something in me felt it right, sensed the kid’s spirit. And he had a pup. Brindle brown little thing, pit and chow mix, sweet as could be.

I pulled over and told him I could take him into Olympia. He got in, and the pup jumped into the back seat. I did a quick once over, looking for any signs of alarm, signs I shouldn’t do this, signs I was in danger. I’m highly trained in self-defense, but still, one shouldn’t put oneself at risk. He was a twenty-something, on the new end of that decade, fresh in his enthusiasm and the raw experience he was having. Kind–I saw it in his eyes. Polite–I felt it in his manners and mannerisms.

A little unsettled by his morning, I could tell. In love with that pup.

He was a bit dirty from the rails and road, but not unkempt. I was in a white jacket, expensive jeans and shoes, and on my way home from my professional day of teaching.

He told me of his ordeal, and that he was really going to California (land of milk and honey?) to work as a trimmer, but had decided to check out Seattle before settling into the job. Our conversation meandered around places familiar, those places we’d both been. Meandered around legalization and the economic and cultural impacts it might bring. He told me that, to someone from the east, Oregon and Washington are still wild.

Then he popped the line, “Someone said to me the other day that it’s not Kerouac’s America anymore.” I replied with my theory that there are many Americas, like in the Whitman poem, “I Hear America Singing.” He said that’s why he’s so influenced by the Beat Poets. I asked him if he wrote. He does. Asked if he could read me the poem he’d written just that morning. It was lovely. That was the only word I could find to describe it. He smiled and said thank you. I meant it. He meant it.

I’ve begun On The Road twice. I’ve never finished it. I used to live that roadtrip lifestyle, minus the Beat infatuation with drugs. The first time I stopped reading the novel because it felt familiar. The second time, I just stopped, even though I love Kerouac’s prose, his insight, his wisdom.

I dropped the kid and his pup in the Taco Bell parking lot, just at the on-ramp to I-5 so he could get to Seattle and rejoin his friends.

Sing your story

“…and we sail into the mystic…”

I’m sitting in the winery at Edgefield, listening to Raina Rose sing. I’m here with Kate, Kate’s parents, and Raina’s dad.

I am trying to define what I am sensing and observing. The generation of parents, now dressed in button-downs and Docker khakis, members of that special generation in American history–the one that tore down the walls of the Establishment, of the “big snowed American public” as Steve MacGarrett of Hawaii 5-0 called it, of racism, of rigid lock-step allegiance to the war machine. The generation that broke open contemporary art and creative culture. The generation of drug culture, the generation that taught us all that we are free to be you and me.

These three proud parents here tonight are of the generation who taught their children to sing, you know, to give voice to their experiences big and small.

As I sit here and sink into the sounds and the thoughts as they amplify in my mind, I realize that the singer in front of me and my yogi friend sitting next to me are gifts, beings given into a time when the “big snowed American public” needs a reminder of what should be at the heart of every day: peace in one’s heart, family, community, gathering. A song. This is the generation who still believes that we not only can, albeit we should, let our souls and spirits fly.

My generation seems to have forgotten all of this. Or, quite possibly, the true midlife crisis is something akin to finding oneself, on a random Wednesday night, sandwiched between cultural shamen older and younger than oneself and realizing that you, too, have a gypsy soul, that you once believed in the truths, that you once upon a time were not snow-blind. And then you realize you can still step outside the air-conditioned nightmare as Henry Miller called it. You realize that age and generations are all one, and you, too, are younger than the sun.

Moving through Nostalgia

I do the same thing with my blog that I do with all my other creative endeavors–I let it live in my head, awaiting the time that I have “time” to do it completely and with quality assurance. I call bullshit on this…

I want to blog. I have shit to say.

Today what’s on my mind is all the people I love and have loved who have touched my life. For some reason, I always get nostalgic at this time of year–I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the changing of the light. As I sit here, I think of all those I’ve left behind in Redmond/Bend–even though I felt so lonely and isolated there so often, I loved the people I did meet there. Maybe it just takes more time when one is one’s 40s, and alcohol and a band are not the only things to have in common. I just called one of my friends there, Hilda. It’s her daughter’s 16th birthday, and they were just getting ready to have cake. What a great family; I could see them in my mind’s eye in their awesome house that they build on the banks of the Deschutes. A place I’ve gone many times in friendship, and it’s always bustling and warm and comfortable. Then I did a facebook search to find two of my best friends from middle/high school, Jim and Gail. Jimmy and I have been friends forever. We lived out on this long road and he’d pick me up every morning from the bus stop when he first learned to drive. That’s how we became friends. The boy with the big hair from school would stop to give me a ride. And then he started dating Gail, who was a friend of my little sisters. The rest is history. But I haven’t seen them for years. Decades, now, I guess. How did that happen? So I sent a facebook message to Dave; he was my boyfriend in HS, the boy in the puffy jacket with the locker next to mine who, all of Freshman year would say “Neva Knott” while we were at our lockers. I didn’t know who he was until we were Sophomores. Then he was my boyfriend. He was my boyfriend during the time my dad died. His dad had died too, and it was kinda weird for us. Even though we broke up–he’s actually married to the woman he broke up with me to go out with–we’ve been tight friends for life. He is always there for me–has pulled me out of a couple of the biggest jambs I’ve ever been in–even though I don’t see him much either. The price I pay for moving away.

There’s a hot topic. Me moving away, for some reason–to live some aspect of my destiny, to live out some dream, to get away. But every time there is a cost. When I moved to Portland in 1980, I left behind so many people that really mattered, and still matter, to me. And for about four or five years we made it work. Then, when I went to college, ironically in Olympia, we lost touch. I finally was on my way and I lost some people along the way. I wasn’t just always available for fun anymore. And that’s what our group in high school was about–fun. In college, I met some great people, and have good relationships with most of them, still. None of us live close. Judy, Pete, and Panacea are in New Orleans, a place I’ve gone a few times to hang with them. And when they do get up this way, they always find me. Predicated on a long phone conversation with Pete and then a very short breakfast with Judy, both last month, I’ve booked a flight there for Thanksgiving. These are the people I ate every meal with, spent every day with, and every evening with–sometimes sleeping in my clothes on a couch or in beds with together, every day for two of the most important years in my life; how do years go by now? And the song playing as I write this is Blues Traveler’s “The Heart Brings You Back.”

Before middle school, high school, I lived abroad for awhile (with my parents, of course). I think this is the time when I really began to know what friendship means. As a 6-year-old, 7-year-old, 8-year-old while living on Saipan I know I had a best friend. I can’t remember her name. I also know that some of the neighborhood kids were sometimes mean, and I’m pretty sensitive to that–even now. I don’t think my parents did much to help me out with any such thing. When I lived in Thailand, age 11, seventh grade, I had Jessie. She and I were inseparable, and as she says it, we were friends during that time when young girls become young women. She made indelible marks on my life. She taught me who The Beatles were, how to wear make-up, and bit about self-esteem, something I didn’t have on my own at that time. Jesse lives in NYC now. I’ve been there twice, and have not made connection with her. The first time, I went at Christmas to congregate with college friends; Jess and I spoke on the phone, but we couldn’t match up schedules. The last time, I didn’t try; I don’t know why. It was a rough time for me, and I need things to be safe.

Now Dave Matthews’s “My Grace is Gone” is playing. That song gets me every time. Mostly because of Adam, but also because of some other loves that have come and gone; the boy from Albuquerque in particular. Yeah, so without getting going on a tangent, I have to say, some really amazing people have come into my life. Some have stayed, some have gone, some I’ve booted. When Adam was in the hospital, those long couple of nights, my aunt stayed at my house. Every night, people would come by to feed me, to bring wine, to sit with me until I could fall asleep. My aunt told me how impressed she was with how many great friends I have; she said anyone is lucky to have one or two good friends, and that every night, I had a table full, and more who called to check in. She said, Neva, people really care about you.

It’s not about me; all of those people amaze me as they come into my life and populate it.

Losing Adam as I did has affected how I let people into my life; the ones who were already close I hold incredibly dear. New people, well, it’s sort of hit and miss. My veneer for getting close is a little thin. I’ve always been an if you’re in, you are IN type of person, and if you are out, well, that’s that. I’m discerning, and some would say a little too trusting, or even naive. That trust and naivete has been tarnished a bit…

And then there are students. So even though now I openly admit that teaching was hell for me, start to finish, and that I was a desperate fool to stay with it as long as I did, I have my collection of student-persons I love, and who seemingly love me. They are such amazing people to me. I love to see how they have blossomed and grown. Each one of them holds a special place in my heart, as cliche as that sounds. And from each of them, I gained or learned something. Bus stop angels, each.

Bus stop angels. A concept I got from a college room mate. She was one I eventually had to break away from. Always over-relying on me. At first interesting and fun. Then she started stealing my stuff, became clingy and whoa. That is a pattern, I have to admit. The female friend who is high maintenance and just plain creepy, eventually. One of them, Tami, I actually miss. We were each other’s side-kick in the early 90’s, back in the Hung Far Low/Satyricon days. The drugs eventually broke us apart. Seeing her high on heroin and lying to me about it was more than I could take.

Anyway, a Bus Stop Angel is a person who is in your life for a moment–at the bus stop, literally or metaphorically, who imparts upon you some wisdom–changes your life in some way.

Today, one such person contacted me. His name is Chris. I met him on Baldwin Beach on Maui. Adam and I had gone down for a swim on the way to the grocery. Adam had gone to the bathroom, and I was sitting on a log. Chris walked up and asked if I knew a place to say, that he’d just gotten off the plane and had spent all day driving around. He hadn’t booked a hotel, had just gotten on the plane. We invited him back to stay at our house, and to have dinner with us. He stayed for four days. We kept in touch with him, and he has kept in touch with me off and on since Adam died.

So yeah, there have been some who have gone by the wayside–Jodie, who taught me how to see Portland as a vibrant creative place. Lynn, who taught me how to make tofu pumpkin pie and smoke cigarettes. Various work friends who changed with the job. A couple who decided I just wasn’t cool enough to hang with them. Whatever–partying like that in our 40s isn’t glamorous, really.

And there are some I can’t track down–Jim and Gail, whose wedding I was in, and who I thought I’d know forever. People on Maui I feel I’m losing my grasp on. Adam. A couple of ex’s I’d like to know as people, and a couple of their friends I’d like to still see–mostly, just Roger, who was Jason’s best friend.

And the people in Portland who constantly say they value me as a friend, but whom I never see. And people in Redmond/Bend who I know will fade with time.

And there are the people who’ve always been around. I know I’ll see them as I move through my day in Portland. One of them, this woman Amy, came into the pub a couple of Saturday afternoons ago. She and I have known each other for probably 20 years–never have we done anything one-on-one. It was really good to see her, and she remarked (sincerely) the same.

And then there is solid–the people who I know I know. I have dinner with them regularly, or shoot the shit with them in the yard every day, or communicate with them via phone/facebook/email.

My friend Matt Love told me recently that what I do is connect people. I hope I do, cuz that’s the shit that matters. Taking dinner to a friend and his new wife because they just had a baby. Going over because my best friends’ in-laws are in town. Thinking to call Hilda and finding out it’s her daughter’s birthday. Showing up and being there. That’s what makes life good. From every endeavor in my life I’ve collected persons who matter–from 7th grade in Thailand; from North Thurston HS; from college; from working at Nordstrom, at McMenamins, Jefferson HS; Lincoln HS, King Kekaulike HS, International School of the Cascades, Alameda Brewhouse; paddling for Hawaiian Canoe Club; training martial arts; studying photography; founding Plazm magazine; being out and about in the art/music scene in Portland; living in the places I’ve lived; through friends of friends…

If you are my friend, you rock my world.