Just this sock. All I must do, Franklin thought, is slide my foot into just this sock and that is enough, for now, forever. It’s all that can be done. Franklin had just emerged into consciousness, a goofy facade of togetherness and continuity in sharp contrast to the soupy reach of sleep’s oblivion. This impossible transition never failed to infuse him with confusion, this finding himself a person in a bed in a bedroom in a sociocultural milieu that arose hand-in-hand with him, awakening. What the fuck? Bam! Kapow! And there he was, not all the myriad this thats or other things, but Franklin, this particular creature with a nose and elbows, getting out of bed, getting dressed, one thing at a time. Such was the linear nature of being Franklin. However, previously sleeping, he had just then so recently been “not Franklin,” dispersed, gone, everything else, that the shadow of everything else clung now to Franklin like a hidden secret, quietly informing who he was, what he was, his essence, his Franklinness. So much so that, now, his putting on this sock was not merely a man putting on a sock in isolation, but rather—held together by everything, arising with everything—it was, in actuality, a living expression of the entire galaxy of intimately interwoven everythings. Twelve crows cawed. An old woman, gnarled with wisdom, walked down the dusty road. A yellow flower, animated by the spark of ancient religions, smiled at the ominous spider. A big stone by the sea waited and waited. Stars burned. The butcher separated meat from bone. You ached with the same desire that drives the tides. There is kindness. There is crime. All of this is made of time. And Franklin, with his whole heart, in-the-world-with-everything, slid his foot into just this sock on a wave of presence that broke across the empty ocean and, there, where wave is water, he glimpsed the grand vacancy from whence everything emerges and everything vanishes, where nothing might be anything, maybe, possibly, is, or—and he laughed, laughed, laughed, and said “There is no landlord; the rent is always paid ha ha ha!” How was your morning?
The path to treatment was long and meandering.
The driveway, with a 10 mph speed limit, wound lazily through a bunch of lush landscaping and statues of various religious figures. Treatment centers have it all wrong. The road to recovery does not roll through Eden. We had barely entered the triumphant iron gate to begin the long sober journey when Skip yelled Stop! Shit. Bryan winced. Here was the true path to treatment, a maze that often ended before it started. Bryan and I froze in the front seat, speechless, angry. We didn’t turn around to look. We didn’t want to see. That’s how it was with Skip. You just stared straight ahead and waited for what would happen because something always happened.
He got out and I hated him as he stumbled toward the front of the car. We had driven 3 hours and he was about to fuck it up and I hated him. I hated him for constantly fucking up and for always fucking up at the very last second. He climbed on the hood and muttered something about readiness and sobriety and Plotinus. Bryan and I were a pissed off choir of admonition: C’mon! Get off the car, Skip! You’re gonna get kicked out before you sign in! Off the car! Get off the car! Christ, Skip! Get off the car!
But he just stood on the hood, clutching two beers.
Bryan and I spoke with our eyes about how we should just drive. We shrugged our defeated shoulders and shook our tired heads. The only alternative was sitting there until he needed more beer. Bryan took the car out of park and smirked. We lurched forward and Skip fell to his knee. How could this end well?
But he regained his composure and popped open a beer. He tipped the can to his mouth and posed like a statue in the garden as the car crept toward recovery. Bryan laughed in disbelief as I stared ahead. Skip switched poses with every deep gulp, mocking the gravity of his own demise. Inside my chest occurred a blurry conversation between hating and loving. Which was which? My eyes met Bryan’s and we laughed and laughed.
Skip popped his 2nd beer, this hilarious failure.
Sometimes, when I listen to traffic and feel lonely, I miss cigarettes. The best thing about cigarettes is the perpetual need for something that is readily attainable. Nicotine is nothing like Truth or Justice. You have to fight for Truth and Justice and all you get in return is pepper spray, probably, or maybe a big welt from a rubber bullet. But nicotine is easily ingested by inhaling tobacco smoke. So you crave and satisfy, crave and satisfy; it’s like little Hero’s Journeys all day long, freeing you from the plague of identity, launched into the archetypal cycle of mythical time. As night follows the day and the snake swallows her tail, Mr. Jones knocks and you spark one. Too bad they kill you.
Your life wants to kill you. Get lonely and let it. What’s the worst that could happen? I read a story this morning about a little boy watching the smoke from an incense stick burning by his dead mother at her funeral. It made him very pensive and lonely and he got hip to evanescence. Say it with me now, slowly: evanescence. Disappearing, vanishing, fading away. Smoke has a lot to teach. Smoke’ll get you lonely. And to die from loneliness is the only way to flower into light.
The man I rent a room from threw a New Year’s Eve party at his house with a big bonfire in the backyard. The smoke appeared to me as a ghost using the alchemy of fire to eke out a brief haunting presence. Memory. Old friends. Up in smoke. The smell stayed in my coat. Midnight came and went. The people came and went. Like everything else in this great big world. I quietly considered some resolutions: run, listen to smoke, keep burning, stay alive. When the fire was out and everyone had gone, I ate a piece of cherry pie in the dark. I don’t remember things as sharply as when I was a younger man. The future is none of my business.
“Let’s walk the dog.”
“We don’t have a dog.”
“Baby, please. Don't be so frustratingly literal.”
“How then? Figurative?”
“Yes. Metaphorical. Like a simile.”
“Like a woman with a dog.”
“Like a trip to Spain in springtime.”
“Yes. Freed from the tyranny of selfhood. Out, into the world.”
“Like opening the curtains.”
“Throwing them open with pomp and grandiosity.”
“The white sail in the black breeze.”
“Is the ice cube, I wonder, happy or sad to melt in a glass—”
“Of water or lemonade?”
“Overjoyed. Remember? Like the curtains and Spain.”
“But still melting itself. It might be sad.”
“I suppose there’s no telling.”
“Or both somehow.”
“Comes to the same.”
“Like sex and the dream.”
“Yes. Let’s walk the dog.”
By chance (how else?), I found myself at a table with 5 deaf kids. This is the way life goes. I mind my own business, right in front of me and, eventually, I find myself at a table with 5 deaf kids. Try it. Mind your own business and see where it goes. It’s all about the business.
So there we were, at a table, me and 5 deaf kids, thrown together by the culmination of all the Mysteries (like the flower blooming and the engine starting and so on) and the relationship bearing on us was such that the 5 deaf kids read a word and, together, taught me how to sign the word. Now I, maybe like you (or maybe not like you if you, unlike me, are naturally insightful about—and grateful for—all your blessings), have lived my entire life in the presence of sound, immersed in sound, so near sound and in sound and of sound that I’m actually unaware of sound as sound. Do you follow? Sound is granted and that’s how I take it: for. It’s so there, I don’t even notice. This is not to say I don’t hear. I do hear, all the time, but I never notice hearing. Because I live in a sounded world within (here, hear, in here, inhere) the privilege of hearing, I never pay attention to sound or hearing because attention isn’t necessary. Sound is given. Unless you can’t fucking hear. Now if men or white people or heteros or any other recipient of all the good things want to read this little story and interpret “hearing” as a symbol, that’s all well and good. But I’m going to get on with it.
First, before I get on with it, I ought to make a not so easy confession. Here goes: I didn’t want to play the ‘Learn To Sign With 5 Deaf Kids’ game. You are no doubt wondering “Why? Why didn’t you want to play the ‘Learn To Sign With 5 Deaf Kids’ game, Black Hockey Jesus?” Well, I didn’t want to play the ‘Learn To Sign With 5 Deaf Kids’ game because it seemed to me like a waste of goddamn time. Which is to say I am a selfish prick with functioning ears. The only redeeming quality I sometimes possess is an unlocked door to a closed mind. It can be opened. It does, sometimes, in fact, open.
The first word was hide and, to sign hide, you put your upturned fist on top of your flat hand (like a rock on paper) and—whoosh—you hide your fist beneath your hand. Hide. Now, though I just provided a very clear and concise description of how to sign hide, at the time the signing of hide was not so apparent. The 5 deaf kids were fast and, though I mean no disrespect, impatient. All 5 kids were either signing hide too quickly or whipping their hands in the air with animated disgust at my sign fumbling fingers. After many furrowed brows and some hands on instruction, I finally mastered hide (and WTF, old man?). At the first signs of their celebration and delight, I was hooked. Imagine Helen Keller finally understanding water with Anne Sullivan. Same thing. Whatever.
After that I was lost in the intensity of teaching and learning and language. There, with them, but also removed, in awe. They cycled so quickly from finger wagging disgust to smiles and high fives. They taught me to sign sing, crawl, write, splash, listen, pull, hop, march, and sweep. And with eyes trained on their hands, obsessed, seemingly consumed with the urgent new concern to learn sign language, I—upon further reflection—sought only to please them. Sure, there’s a bunch of things to think and say about the nature of being and language, about where we truly dwell, houses of vision and sound or both, signification, and, by extension, the inherent privileges that accompany seeing and hearing and communicating and being. But this was simpler than all that. This was just education and pleasure. Here was a man who for awhile groped at the air with his big hands to evoke joy and acceptance from his happy and able teachers.
When it was time to go, instead of drawing a word from the pile, they asked me if there was a word that I wanted to learn. I grabbed a book from my backpack and, ever ignorant, screamed “HOW DO YOU SAY… BOOK?” Like little birds flying, their hands—all of them—came together so quickly, palms up, and I smiled at 5 little books as they opened and closed, book, or was it maybe the wings of 5 big butterflies flapping or 5 outstretched cups to receive an offering that snapped closed into 5 prayers?
Hey. I know you read my blog and—the thing is—sometimes during the day I get filled up with things I want to tell you but then the day does what days do and whatever. I know you stay up later than you’re supposed to and I know you read my blog and I know you’re a little rule breaker and shhhhhh (I think that’s pretty cool).
Here’s what I want to tell you. Listen to your mother. She loves you more than science will ever explain and she’s always right. Stop making her crazy.
I also want to tell you about a disease that’s haunted our culture for millennia. The Patriarchy. But it’s really complicated and it’s especially hard for me to explain because I’m predisposed to not see it and explain it away to perpetuate all my privileges. It’s called mansplaining. I’m not sure if dadsplaining is a thing yet, but this is probably that and I’m sorry.
Are you confused? Me too! All the time. There’s stuff in the news, little girl, and men—they’re just terrible. We’re terrible, all of us, and we must be stopped and—that’s the thing—I think we are, right now, being stopped. I think we, you and me, are living in this incredible cultural moment when the tide is turning. And even if we’re not, why not act like we are? Let’s be pioneers, revolutionaries, rabble rousers at the beginning of something really cool.
You want to break rules?
I mean, do you really, really, really want to break some goddamn rules?
Cool! (Again, sorry for dadsplaining, but what else can I do?) First. Girls rock. And I hear you saying Duh! Shake it off! I already know girls rock, but do you really? Do you act like it? I’m sorry but you and your little friends are already forming little cliques and torturing each other and why? Why are girls so mean to girls? The answer is long and complicated and it has nothing to do with girl nature because girl nature—real girl nature—rocks. A girl on the frontline of the revolution who knows girls rock is not mean to other girls. On the contrary. They fight for, and insist upon, kindness for all girls because why? Because girls rock.
Second. Girls rock. I know I’m being redundant but I want you to understand that you rock intrinsically. In and of yourself. You, yourself—you—rock as a unit. Wholly. Completely. Rock. What this means is that you don’t need a boyfriend before you can rock. You already exist fully in a wholesale state of unblemished rockitude. I did not just now tell you to never have a boyfriend. I said you don’t need a boyfriend. You have grown up, and will continue to grow up, in a culture that bombards you with kajillions of impressions that constantly tell you otherwise. It’s lies, all lies. Listen to your dad (at least this once): you rock. If you feel needy or hungry or incomplete, that’s a call from deep within to fulfill your destiny of rocking as only you can rock. The extent to which you mistake that call for needing a boyfriend is the extent to which you muffle the triumphant sound of girls rocking.
Third. Girls rock with furious vengeance. Soon, if they haven’t already, boys will begin to touch you. As the world inches toward righteousness, they will lose their unspoken cultural permission to touch you, we’ll hold them accountable, and punish them accordingly. Until that day arrives, if someone touches you and you don’t like it, say “Don’t touch me; I don’t like it,” and, if you detect the threat of a second attempt, thrash him in the face and scream “GIRLS ROCK, MOTHERFUCKER! GIRLS ROCK WITH FURIOUS VENGEANCE!” I will support you in the principal’s office. We’ll call the newspaper. We’ll break the rules.
Fourth. Girls rock. Girls don’t need to be pretty. Being pretty is a patriarchal construct that needs to fall off the radar of necessary adjectives through which girls appear. You rock too hard to thrive only in compliments about physical beauty. Ultimately, girls should call their own shots about the criteria by which they rock. But if you’d permit a suggestion, a worthy adjective to which to aspire is KICKASS! You know how you tell your friends on Instagram that they’re pretty and beautiful and all those other words about how they look? Here’s an experiment. Try this. When you feel like typing “You’re so pretty,” try “You KICKASS!” instead. Be the leader on this one. “OMG! You totally KICKASS!” Because girls! They’re so much more than how they look. You rock, LB. You KICKASS! Tell your friends. Girls KICKASS!
Okay. Are you still up? You should get some sleep, but that’s what I wanted to tell you today. The world’s in a big fight and we’re right in the middle of it and I love you so much. I’m scared for you. I’m excited for you. And I’d gladly step aside and step down for you in the name of all that rocks.
What I really want you to know is that I don’t understand how I am where I am. And, because I find the arrival to my life confusing, it’s really hard to make sense of the events of my life. Things keep happening and that’s enough. Let’s not allow meaning to harsh our presence. When I got to the detox, the guys were talking to a drunk man in the parking lot. The drunk man told us a few things that were wrong with the world and we didn’t disagree. Who were we to disagree? There’s a lot of things from various perspectives that are wrong with the world. Then he told us we could all get fucked and he hopes we fucking die, which was good timing because we had to get inside by 7.
Me and Kris and Wes and Zac were the guys they bring to the detox to tell the drug addicts that, if they stop using drugs, they will soon get money and girlfriends. Zac has a girlfriend in Germany. I knew Zac a couple years ago and I guarantee you that not one woman in Germany wanted to be his girlfriend back then. And Wes? Just 18 months ago, Wes came out of a blackout while helping a 52-year-old prostitute find a good enough vein to shoot dope in her neck. Have you ever come out of a blackout and just found yourself being alive and doing stuff? I can’t, in good conscience, recommend this to you but I recommend it anyway, at least once. It’s a good metaphor for every single morning. Wes is married now and has a daughter, only 2 weeks old. The prostitute, Candi, is dead. Now how’s that work? I don’t know either. But if you don’t pray, why not? Don’t you continue to appear where you are—over and over—for no rhyme or reason?
Are you paying attention? You need to understand this because, if you read this wrong, you’ll think I’m outlining some qualitative difference between us (me, Kris, Wes, and Zac) and them—the people in the detox wearing white gowns and orange socks. Or the drunk man in the parking lot. Or Candi. Or you. And I’m absolutely not; I’m telling you the exact opposite. I’m trying to tell you that I don’t understand how I am where I am or what a you is in relation to this. It’s like I woke up from a blackout and Zac said “Jon?” and I just started telling stories. “When I was 12, I got drunk for the first time and an angel whispered in my ear that Something good’s about to happen.” Some of the people in the white gowns and orange socks were sleeping or knocking my teeth out or losing the rigid sense of distinction between us; I saw my reflection in their eyes and we forgot for awhile about the frailty of names.
Kris told this story about being a little kid and going to the Grand Canyon. Looking over the edge and wrestling with that insatiable urge to just jump. You know, somewhere in your heart, that you won’t but, still, there’s that reckless part of you that’s always ready to jump, to take the next big step, to go where you’re going and I thought, yes, that’s where this, here, always is—the edge of the Grand Canyon. And, sure, some people are talking, some people are listening, some people are outside telling the whole world to get fucked, some are dead, and one of them is even doing what you’re doing, but we’re—all of us—on the edge and we all, in our own ways, want to jump.
Suspended between where we’ve been and where we’re going, our fates depend on the way the drink tips. Do you pray? Do you pray? Do you pray?
I want to talk now about remembering the funnel cake. Actually, I want to talk about something more than a funnel cake because who remembers a plain old funnel cake? I mean, seriously. How many funnel cakes in world history have been deep fried, consumed, and forgotten? A lot! That’s how many. Innumerable memories of funnel cakes have vanished in our collective swamp of memorial oblivion. People remember their rides on the ferris wheel, the merry-go-round, and a bunch of other carnival pleasures but press them for a memory of a funnel cake and you’re likely to receive some blank stares. Oh sure, they’ve had their fair share of funnel cakes; they know what they are. But ask them to describe the specifics of a particular experience with a funnel cake and those funnel cakes? They are gone, baby. Gone.
But this funnel cake was different and I’m not sure why. Do you have memories like that? Memories derived from experiences that stand out as they’re happening and you pay special attention to them because you know that this—this will be a memory. What’s the source of this standing out? It’s not as if it was an especially great funnel cake. It was—as they all are—crazy delicious, but that’s not what I’m talking about at all. I’m talking about the funnel cake, not as an isolated noun, but as a form of funnel caking occurrence. The way it funnel caked. A thing that happened set apart and above the things that usually happen, the things we often forget.
There is of course the context inside of which the funnel cake becomes the funnel cake: the carnival. The carnival, as you know, is a chaotic (anxiety producing) production of random forms and noisy colors. There’s lots of red! and blue! and yellow things! and little kids yelling or crying or drinking excessive root beers or looking at you strangely like they see dead people and you’re dead, which is dislocating. Greasy haired slicksters taunt you into throwing ping pong balls in goldfish bowls or plastic rings around soda bottles; they question your manhood with a single sneer. Was that a wild boar? A wild boar weaved its way through a crowd of Miller swilled men and motorcycle women. Or maybe it didn’t. The great fact is that it could’ve been a wild boar; it could’ve been anything. And it’s here—in the unreal midst of the way anything goes at the carnival, the rigged games, dizzying rides, dirty kids, loud music, brashly juxtaposed color, and hordes of drunken poor people—here, at the carnival, where the funnel cake finds its place, its meaning in our cultural code, its essential funnel cakeitude. Add powdered sugar. Boom.
But here we have merely discovered the funnel cake’s essence in the funnel cake’s context. However, we are nowhere nearer the source of what made this funnel cake, the one I’m writing about, more than a plain-old-funnel-cake-at-the-carnival—indeed, a funnel cake that stands out and shines forth, worthy of vivid memory. Phenomenology’s hard.
Perhaps, though, the plain old funnel cake’s relational dependence upon context could serve as a clue toward discerning the power of this particular funnel cake, shared with Gwen at the carnival when the sun was just releasing its grasp on the day and the declining light ripped through her hair like a 1000 golden promises that shimmered underwater and I, absorbed in the activity of seeing her, forgot I was a man with a name and a funnel cake. Do you ever disappear like that? Like there’s no such thing as a you at all or, if there is, “you” are everything, all at once, together. Like, the world just then is one big explosion, a fountain, an eruption into which the past (and the future too) pours and it includes—is supported by—everything everywhere ever and this thing, this whole big thing, of which you’re usually just a tiny part is all here now, just now, and you are somehow a representation of the whole ball of wax. You are IT, you know? And it’s YOU, you feel me? Seamlessly. Can you imagine? Me and Gwen sharing a funnel cake at the carnival, more than me and Gwen sharing a funnel cake at the carnival, but a moment by moment exploding expression of the infinite bones of all that was, is, and ever will be, happening, issing, funnel caking.
All that to say: The power of the memory of that particular funnel cake undoubtedly occurs in relation to sharing it with Gwen. Gwen makes everything better. Gwen makes everything better. I will never forget that funnel cake.