"Notes on Living Back at Home" —Seven Years of Back Luck Trilogy, Book One
"'Now you take Maxfield Parrish,' he continued. 'I suppose he doesn’t count, but just the same he gives ’em what they want. While a guy like Gauguin has to struggle for a crust of bread — and even when he’s dead they spit in his eye. It’s a queer game, art. I suppose it’s like everything else — you do it because you like it, that’s about the size of it, what? Now you take that bastard sitting alongside of you — yeah you!' he said, grinning at me through the mirror. 'He thinks we ought to support him, nurse him along until he writes his masterpiece. He never thinks that he might look for a job meanwhile. Oh no, he wouldn’t soil his lily-white hands that way. He’s an artist. Well, maybe he is, for all I know. But he’s got to prove it first, am I right? Did anybody support me because I thought I was a lawyer? It’s all right to have dreams — we all like to dream — but somebody has to pay the rent.'" — Henry Miller, Sexus
Okay, so I wrote a book. I wrote a few books. I probably wrote about a dozen books within the last six years and all I got in return was a Fuck You, Pay Me.
Well, so what?
I’m drinking a cold Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy, my second one of the night. Fan buzzing in the background. Parrot painting I made on the floor to my left, a FUTURE TEACHER’S EDITING AND LESSON PLANNER there also. And, my newest book (I self-published): NOTES ON LIVING BACK AT HOME.
This was a manuscript I wrote back in 2012, after my first return trip from Colorado. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and I didn’t know where my mind was at, nor what I was going to do about it. The only thing that really mattered to me was being able to write. I didn’t have a place to release my over-exaggerated emotions. They were stymied by my own bullshit.
But, so what?
I got on by writing. There was a time I had dreams — to go out to Colorado and to enjoin myself, enraptured by art and self-expression, in a hippie school. THE DISEMBODIED SCHOOL OF POETICS. A Jack Kerouac school — the first Buddhist school in the country. Oh, fuck. Another school in Bumblefuck. Would my parents have to give me a ride?
I rode on out west, like a cocker spaniel chasing its tail. I knew what was true. I was following my dream. When I knew what I wanted, that’s when I was at my best. Speeding. Like a rocket. I’d break that fucking moon into a million pieces. I had the world on my shoulders. I couldn’t pay for bar tabs I’d ran and run up like a demon on somebody else’s shoulder. I wanted freedom. They tried to take it from me, those evil bastards!
I wouldn’t have it. I saw what lay in store for me in the future of the wilderness of a world going south and sour. I wanted contraband, whiskey, my car was filled up with clothes — the way back from the future, everybody knew me as this wandering soul. What was true? Where did the wind blow? Could I whistle a new tune? Why did I put on so many layers? What did I care about? Was I letting my hair grow long? Would it really matter what I did or what I was doing it for? Wasn’t there a better man for me to look up to? What the hell was wrong with me anyway?
I had all these questions burning me up. My ears filtered out the smoke. I was doomed. Destined for something big. I had my cock dangling centerfold in the console of my bastard nightmare of dwindling sadness. Oh, fuck. I was getting dramatic.
LET’S GO. TO COLORADO!!!!!! I never write with exorbitant exclamation points. I feel it’s greedy and unnecessary. It’s my birthday. I’m 32.
Like I was saying, I wrote a book. I polished it with spit and spackle, dark glasses and a secret silence of discipline. I wasn’t fucking around, no. I had The Secret in my buttonhole. I tucked in my shirt, went to a job I despised. I did bad cocaine in blind alleys with ribbons across my chest. Fuck America!
When I was back in town, people broached the subject. No, wait. That was the year after 2012. I was in the midst of a private trilogy. What did it matter? I had nothing to lose.
When I was finished with this book, I was realizing what really mattered — or at least I was only just beginning to come to terms with myself, my own bullshit, my elf, my delf, my quelf, my belf. Myself. Stuttering into the night. In search of drinks, endlessly. Adventure. I was bored. I was boisterous. I could dance. I could prance. I would sweep. I could work. I could lurk. I could change. Jesus Christ. Are you up there? HelOOOOOOO?????
I was holding onto something. I couldn’t let go of the past. I was damned. I was thinking of myself too much. Bad writers do that. A lot. I was a bad writer who thought too much. It’s fine.
The turgid, timid turmoil in my brain. I remember slinging that BS to no one. I wrote and worked and lurked in bars. I drank in Jay’s Elbow room, out in Uno’s on Route 73 — I worked and drank in Tortilla Press. I wrote that into this book. I wrote about a girl, I wrote about two girls. In fact, I wrote this book for a girl.
I was drunk on F. Scott Fitzgerald. That romantic sundried tomato.
He had me livid, with the world. I held up my fist to the moon and the sun. YOU BASTARD. HIDING OUT PAST GRAVITY ON EARTH. COWARD. WHY NOT COME DOWN HERE AND FIGHT ME, FACE ME LIKE A MAN!
Demons abound, I wrote. I probably scared a few of my family members.
I kept getting pulled over by cops. In fact, the book starts out that way. Bad, bad shit. I wrote about things happening in the nighttime air where I was dreamy with the past. I missed somebody or something, some eternal sadness — I had latched onto time — I felt the waves of the wandering mist that kept the earth burdened unto itself. I was trying to make myself free. I wanted my heart to be an open door. Why not?
I kept quiet. I wanted the road and the eternity of circling back and forth across the country, I wasn’t sure of anything — I didn’t have a place to call my own. A destined dreamer! What a dingleberry, astute and deranged.
I was like a lost philosopher. My philosophy was to get drunk. Fuck it.
I was skinny.
I was a beam of light, a face without — stranded. Pacing.
Couldn’t keep my two feet firmly planted into the earth. I thought of fret-boards, chord progressions. Resolutions. Peace. I wanted peace. Where was my peace? Hello, myriad moon-like figures of dissonance and distress. I have a heart, just like you.
(It should be noted that in the book, I switch avidly from past and present tense. My favorite authors, my favorite books have done that. It’s like one long conversation with myself. I learned a lot about my friends, too. They had cool things to say to me. I soaked that into this book.)
After writing it between July 2012 and December 2012, I left again for Colorado. But not before I quit my job and worked every day on this manuscript. I told my mom, or I acted, rather, that I was going to work at some job that kept me in harness. Really, what I was doing was looking for my art. I was suffering for it, in a really strange way. I’d always been strange. That never bothered me. In fact, I didn’t even realize it. Until it’d been brought up to me by other people.
It felt natural to write this book. That’s all I can really say about it.
It’s a salute to my friends, driving drunk around South Jersey. Getting pulled over. Almost going to jail. Being in love. I was confused, too. By love. I didn’t know how to handle being overly-sensitive. I didn’t know how to chill myself out, from over-thinking, over-analyzing. What’d they put up all those stars in the sky for anyway?
It took me the last three days to read the first part of the book. I wrote that between July 2012 and Sept 1, 2012. Then, from Oct 2012 to December 2012, I wrote in a notebook in my car while working at some job in a warehouse out on Route 38. It was something to do. Writing was the only thing that mattered to me. I mean, it was the only thing I wanted to do with my life.
And how was I supposed to make a living with writing in a fucking notebook?
You tell me.
FOR “RILEY” AND “JAIDA”.
From the first part of the book, pp. 1–147. (Out of a total of 216.)
Pp. 44–45: “Like a madman I flew. It felt good to be driving on the open highway again. It was there that I got the impression that nobody could ever catch me and that everything would always work out okay. So long as I was deliberate in going somewhere, nobody could stop me. I went over eighty miles an hour until I reached the Walt Whitman Bridge. The city blazed with a vibrant array of soft orange and brilliant white lights.”
Pg. 48: “The most natural path I have found, to that end, is through reading and writing. Filling this page is the reason I was born. Nothing feels better, and nothing ever will. It just takes time to realize that. And it takes even longer to accept it. The world would be a better place if we all knew the reasons for our being here.”
Pg. 53: “I don’t expatiate to anybody at work how I want to be a writer.”
Pg. 71: “‘YEAH, DUDE!’ His voice booms out into the night. I laugh at him, at both of us. The light turns green. We turn left and race down the highway. When we are finally close to our parents’ houses, Anthony lays into his horn. He begins flashing his high-beams at me. I punch my horn, louder and longer than he does his. Again he beeps. A car approaches us, in the opposite direction. I shut off my lights and press my horn, holding it there for ten seconds. We’re then passing a school. I flip my lights back on. Both of us are cracking up, losing it. I drive past his parents’ house, him still trailing behind me. Again he slightly hits his car horn. We’re supposed to be adults.”
Pg. 77: “‘Well, what do you see yourself doing in the future? Like, what are your goals now?’
Hadn’t thought about it. But I was always a good bull-shitter.
‘I definitely want to have a role-reversal, so to speak.’ I moved my hands. ‘I understand that I’m not getting any younger. And I want to be able to support myself, to be self-sufficient. So I can assert and organize my priorities, in my free time, away from work. When I was out in Colorado, I had looked at a writing program. I like to write…’
‘You write music?’
‘I sort of write music. But I also write, like, words.’
‘Oh, so you write literature?’ She was interested. I had sparked something in her.
‘I wouldn’t say that anything I write would be considered literature. But, yes, I like to write.’
Pg. 83: “I go for it. I start talking about my previous employers, why they had disillusioned me, what I’d been through, why I had decided to travel to Colorado, why I had to come back, how I needed some form of stability in my life, that I wasn’t getting any younger, and how it would help to have a job where I got up every day, so that I could function better, as a Man, in society. I’m not scared anymore. I don’t want to be desperate, either. But, at some point, I have to make my move. What better time than now? That’s what all the Mickey Mouse people say. Isn’t it?”
Pg. 92: “Suddenly I didn’t want to go on stage at all. I thought that I should just tell the sound-guy to skip me.
‘You’ll be fine, dude.’
I had the guitar-strap around my shoulders. From being nervous, again I tuned the strings. The act before me had finished their songs. Two guys playing acoustic guitars. The last song they had performed was a Bon Jovi tune. Bon Jovi? I couldn’t stand Bon Jovi. The guy that sung it, Nele had referred to him as one of the sexiest men she had ever seen — until he opened his mouth.
They walked off stage and I felt sure that I was ready to vomit. Why even bother? Why go through with it?
No, dude. You came this far. You waited this long. Don’t be such a pussy.”
Pg. 100: “Out of the car, I flicked my cigarette and hurried back into the library. Was I nervous or excited? I felt my blood rising. I didn’t have to be so tucked away any more. I didn’t have to put all my eggs into this one beastly endeavor. Even though I had already entirely uprooted my life, for things that might never amount to squat, I still had my family and a few good friends.
And now, for once, I had a fucking daytime job.”
Pp. 102–103: “‘That’s great, dude. When do you start?’
‘Actually, I missed her call. I was in the library and my phone was in the car. When I came out to have a cigarette, I had a voicemail from her. She told me that everything came back clean and that the offer was still on the table. I tried calling her back, but she didn’t answer. I just left a voicemail.’
‘Aw, dude. There goes that job.’ Anthony was good at laying on the sarcasm. Jameson let out a laugh. He sipped his beer.
‘That’s not funny. You guys are not funny,’ I said.
‘Dude. We’re hilaaaarrrious.’
I felt good. The beer was perfect, cold and delicious. The closer to noon, the better it tasted.
‘So you are waiting for her to call you?’
‘Yeah. Every time I’ve called her I’ve gotten her voicemail. She’ll call me back.’
‘You have your phone with you? You jackass. And what were you doing in the library?’
‘My phone is right here.’ I lifted it into the air. Then I put it back down on the bar. ‘What was I doing in the library? I was writing and doing a little reading.’
Anthony hardly believed me. Or at least he acted like he didn’t believe that I would go to the library. ‘The library? Who goes to the library?’
‘I do. I went when I was in Denver and Austin. And I go plenty around here. I even eat there.’
Now he was amused and entertained, coming to life.
‘What did you eat there?’ He was staring directly at me.
‘I had a banana and a sandwich.’
‘What? Do they serve sandwiches there?’
‘No,’ I turned and looked at the beer in my glass. ‘I brought my own.’
‘What?’ He started cracking up. ‘You brought your own?’ He turned to Jameson and stuck his finger in my face. ‘This kid acts like he’s homeless.’
It was partially true. But it didn’t bother me. Nothing could bother me, then. I was at the bar during the day with my friends. The next day would be Friday. What was there to be bothered about?”
Pg. 108–109: “Never enough time to catch up on everything. The jobs and the days have blended together. Last weekend was very similar to the weekends of the past. Where my friends and I would convene at bars, only to then be leaving at closing time and making our way back to somebody’s apartment or house.
Which was exactly what we had done last Saturday…
After leaving the first one, ten of us had gone walking in the streets of Haddon Heights to the next nearest bar. And it was a ridiculous sight. I remember thinking: Should ten adults be walking in the middle of the streets at nearly two in the morning?
In a haze, we got there. We walked in, with some of us still hanging on to the beers we had opened back at the house. We ordered a few new beers to drink, bought a few six-packs. As I recall, it had been a beer-walk.
‘Hey, you can’t drink those in here!’
Everything flashed again and we were back at the house of a friend’s. There, we stayed up and drank and smoked until five in the morning. We loudly played old Punk and Emo music, singing, shouting, and talking excitedly. We fucked around with toy guns that had Styrofoam darts. Picking up the guns, we fired them viciously at each other, at random. Unabashed, I remember shooting some of my friend’s roommates directly in the face and neck. They gave me dirty looks. I was very drunk. Some of my friends started asking me for cigarettes. I had some left and tossed them around.
‘Sure! Here! Have a cigarette! Have one! It doesn’t matter … I don’t mind…’
They laughed at me and knew I was highly intoxicated. That morning, most of us were.”
Pg. 129: “My only desired labor was to use and enjoy what I’d been given.
Friends and family alike had encouraged and inspired me to use my talents. Speaking to my friends about writing helped to nullify self-conscious doubts. Over the years of keeping my writings private, I’d instinctively developed an online medium, which, by then, I’d been unable to keep a secret. At the bar one night with Taylor and Shawn, they both had invoked conversations with me about what I had publicly authored. They read a bit of what I had let show to the digital world. And they had been surprised and impressed. It was like a light bulb in my chest, having two grown men, what society might call my most successful friends, offering accolades and support for my efforts at writing. As they were employed in politics and finance, it was easy for me to deem them as being some of the more intelligent people I had befriended and come across in my twenty-six years here on this planet. For them to have broached the subject of having enjoyed my writings meant more to me than I could ever relate to either of them. It was the equivalent of them each holding a bellows to the flames that engulfed my head, heart and chest since I was a teenager. In high school, I used to stare out the windows and dream. I had problems paying attention, and with damned good reason. During the day I would leave school, brazenly walking right out through any and all doors. To this day I have not experienced anything as liberating as being anywhere I wanted to be, especially when I was supposed to be somewhere else. Fuck school, I thought. I can do whatever the hell I want, anything I want, in whatever way that I choose for myself. I don’t need somebody to lay out the options for me, to be selected from a handful of careers that are marketable and trendy and oversimplified. I don’t want to follow the path of some ill-begotten formula for success, where each of our lives we do and believe what we’re told, always accepting what’s been given and handed down to us like baboons. I am a goddamn human being!”
Pg. 138: “Away I walked, back to the produce section. There were floating strawberries, watermelons, and cherries. I walked up to a strawberry and pulled it from its spot. Then I carried the balloon, selected a card, went up to the self-serving registers and I paid for the card. I left the store and walked to my car, to pull out the book and my cigarettes. I wrote a message on the card and put the letter inside of it. I sealed the card and put it in the book. Then I strolled down to where Jaida was working.
“Suddenly I was upon the woman that I’d loved and been plagued by for so many years. Her eyes opened wide and her cheeks flushed red. It was contagious. I felt hot and jittery and frozen.
‘Hi,’ I spoke. ‘This is for you.’”
Pg. 142: “Out of the garage and into the basement I sat with the beer bottle in my hand. I thought of sending Jaida a message. But instead, I stripped down and got into the shower. It was my third one of the day. Under the hot water, I drank the cold beer. I was finished with the day, but I wasn’t willing to lie down with my thoughts. Quickly I dressed and saw that Anthony had sent me a message, telling me that the coast was clear to come on over. I put on a pair of underwear, shorts and a shirt. Clutching the beer in my hands, I walked up the steps, and into the kitchen. Grabbing my keys, I left the house, barefooted.
From my car, I retrieved a solitary cigarette. I walked in the middle of the street, putting the cigarette in my mouth, and then lighting it. I was out in the open now. There were no more secrets for me to keep. I was the twenty-six-year-old shoeless wanderer, back at home, walking underneath the streetlights, smoking, with a bottle of beer in my hands.”