First, please listen to this song about class to get you in the mood.
Lyrics provided for those who urge to sing along:
Cement Block Layer’s Lament
A man finds it hard to stand
8 a.m. to the end
Deep in the dark bendin’ down
Throwin’ dirt in a hole
Throwin’ dirt in a hole
It’s like this all over town
Grown men in line at home centers
Screamin’, “Buck 25 fer a block?”
Throwin’ dirt in a hole
Throwin’ dirt in a hole
Throwin’ dirt in a hole
But it don’t have to be that May
June’s spring leaves and women on a roof
French thinking painters never get paid
They eat like happy monsters
and are always warm
Old man one block at a time
4 cups of dust and one cup of dirty city water
Why don’t the damn flies just eat us alive?
Throwin’ dirt in a hole
Throwin’ dirt in a hole
Throwin’ dirt in a hole
This is cement block layer’s lament
Put your two hands in yer pockets boys
and don’t ever say, “Peaches would look nice in that light”
Throwin’ dirt in a hole
Throwin’ dirt in a hole
Throwin’ dirt in a hole
But it don’t have to be that May…
Before spring semester 2021 begins, my daughter will be quarantining with college mates at a friend’s camp in Massachusetts. Last week I used Google Voyeur® to map the address, and came across a Zillow® page with its value and lots of private pictures posted by the previous owner. It doesn’t look like a camp at all; just a run-of-the-mill 1.2 million dollar half mansion in the suburbs with private swimming pool and shared tennis courts. I think she’ll have a great time, even if it’s the dead of winter and a high point of pandemic woe.
We had a camp once. I built a 10 x 14 foot “living roof” hut on 16 acres we purchased with money borrowed from a bank. An off the grid camp, with loft, futon and a 5 gallon bucket for a bathroom. We had a well drilled for a future when we could afford to build a tiny house with a bath and a half. I purchased a riding lawnmower for landscaping, and trimmed the trails clear of seasonal overgrowth. We tapped maple trees in March, planted veggies in May, picked berries in August and apples in September. For most of the winter, however, we kept to our big house in the city (valued at $100,000 on Zillow.com®). Carrying supplies to the hut in deep snow was no fun. If I knew then that in a few years Gaia would upend our faith in stormy winters, we might have stayed the course and kept the little camp. But money was tight, and we sold the land to some speed dreamers who cut down trees and built a half-mansion on top of my living roof hut.
Today, our Zillow® quarter-mansion in Oswego is deteriorating. Electricity and plumbing need expensive updates, the sump pump malfunctioned last month and flooded the basement, and this morning, as I write, one of our toilets is leaking. Last night we picked up a tank repair kit at Lowes®. Because we are quarantining for Massachusetts law and the piece of mind of our daughter’s gracious host, we opted for the pick up service in the parking lot. While the Lowes® employee approached the car, I stepped out and opened the hatchback. I thanked him and he thanked me.
When I got back in the car my wife said that my voice changed when thanking the Lowes® guy. “It got low and tougher-sounding,” she said, “with a touch of Utica Italian accent.” She also noticed that the employee’s “thank you” mimicked mine.
“We don’t talk like that back home,” she said. She was right. I felt ashamed.
Defensively I made some off-the-cuff remark about how the working class sets a “least common denominator” dialect to civil social encounters. We adjust our speech because to talk the same means that we “come from” the same. An equal footing justifies our “fit” in this depressed economy, whether he’s a bag boy (man) at Lowes® or I’m an unmade artist, writer, friendly stay-at-home-husband, financial parasite.
We drove past Gary’s Bar, and I told her that any legal drinking age resident of Oswego would feel at home on a Gary’s bar stool. Doctor, lawyer, sheet-rocker, it wouldn’t matter. The same goes for the “high end” Oswego taverns like The Press Box, or Steamers. Conversations with power plant engineers and gas station cashiers are never ironic because the cashier is in the engineer is in the cashier. There isn’t a professional class in Oswego—only jobs that pay better. But even so, one could make the same inference about a fictional Cheers bar in Boston. A mailman, accountant, jock, doofus, dilettante, psychiatrist, and hard luck barmaid all get along after dark on Beacon Hill, like it’s a stale beer barroom in Oswego, N.Y.
No way. Not even close.
Oswego professionals of any income level, would have a very difficult time transplanting their lives to a city like Boston, and also vice-versa, but for different reasons. Bostonians would have more financial ease in the initial transfer. Their difficulties would come with adjustment to a Caucasian working class culture. Indian takeout is 40 miles away. The Oswego theater district is a seasonal high school play. Fine-dining is powdered demi-glace and a waitress who calls everyone “Hon”. And the downtown consignment store sells used designer clothes worn by people who once lived in Boston.
Therefore a sheetrocker who fashioned a life working in downtown Boston could easily afford a move to Oswego and tape walls merrily without the added expense of an uplifting culture. Conversely, sheetrockers in Oswego who relocate to Boston will be homeless eating garbage within a year. Granted, better garbage for sure, like Indian takeout plates and day old pastries from gourmet shops.
Working lives built over time in Oswego do not carry over to big cities like Boston. A proud worker here is destitute there, but like I said, rarely vice-versa.
Cheers-like realities of mingling classes only exist in television dreams and severely depressed economies like Oswego, NY.
Tonight, a sheetrocker nearing retirement sits beside Oswego’s only multimillionaire at Gary’s Bar. The latter sold his rent-to-own business to a national company and now owns a full mansion on a hill. He broke the Guinness Book of World Records for chin-ups after making a mint ripping off the working class in his own home town. (He has a Wikipedia page that literally depresses the hell out me.) The Oswego sheetrocker doesn’t see the irony. Few in Oswego ever do. He thinks he could be rich one day too. There’s a Powerball® fortune to be won, but in the meantime he shouldn’t complain so much about struggle to the guy sitting next to him who has 9 bathrooms and a team to clean them. They share a bowl of popcorn and strike up a conversation. Bob is the rich guy of no class. Sam is the poor guy of no class.
Sam: What year did you graduate Bob?
Sam: I was ’78. I remember you. You were on the wrestling team.
Bob: Yeah, we went to the championships that year. I had a black ’68 Charger I bought on loan from my grandparents. I was dating Sally Brown, remember her? Man, those were the days.
Sam: Remember her? I married her sister. Didn’t you know that?
Bob: Get outta here! Really? How’s Sally doing?
Sam: Oh I don’t know. Me and Lizzy got divorced in ’96. Haven’t seen her or Sally in years.
Bob: Ah man, sorry about that.
Sam: Yeah, I just couldn’t keep up with life. Her father died, my mother got cancer, and Ritchie went to jail for that stupid thing with the cop. Then the girls left Oswego for good after college, and me and Lizzy had nothing but the mortgage and Buffalo Bills. Well, I had the Buffalo Bills anyway. So she left me.
What about you Bob?
Bob: I sold my scam business to some other sleazeball company in Texas for $92 million in cash. Now I do chin-ups all day and dream about high school because I’m stuck in the same socioeconomic mirage as you Sam. So low and unnecessary to contemporary society outside of Oswego as to bottom feed here at Gary’s bar among the class of no class. Want to split an order of wings?
Sam: Sure. But let me pay for it. We’re cut from the same cloth, even if I have to fix the toilet and boil the noodles myself.
Bob: No, I got it. I take it that’s your Corolla® at the curb?
Sam: Yeah, how’d you know?
Bob: The Timebuyer® sticker in the window. I own it.
[Note: Timebuyer® is Bob’s new business. It’s a car dealership that sells lemons to vulnerable people in the community with bad or no credit (the poor and young) at interest rates from 10 - 15% APR.]
And the sheetrocker and multimillionaire finish a football game together at Gary’s Bar in Oswego—neither one richer nor poorer enough to notice. Two members of the class of no class, existing.
So back to my daughter and her visit to a camp that is a large house with manicured lawn. How is this experience (and the many to come) going to translate in her psyche? Will she lose self confidence in the coming years while her well-off, class-stratified peers get internship opportunities during and after college from friends and acquaintances of connected parents? She could come back to Oswego for a professional internship. Timebuyer® is always looking for new trainees for pressure sales in a high stress, high turnover, unethical business. Can my daughter ever break the class ceiling by attending college among peers in a class tier she knows nothing about, except that they are well off enough to have a summer residence worth more than any house built in the city she grew up in?
My father is the only relative we know who has a camp. It’s in the Adirondacks, tucked away two miles down a private road on a lake shared by 30 other camps. He calls it a workingman’s club, which couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a heredity club. No camp can be bought or sold, only willed to a family member, usually a son or a daughter. My Dad inherited it from his parents who bought in during the 1950s, when the club sought more dues paying members. What might have begun as a carpenter’s camp association long ago (1898), has since evolved into a more varied class structure. Contemporary members are doctors, CEOs, retired secretaries, and jacks of all trades. There is no class divide around the lake. The club charter forbids motorboats or building additions. No show of wealth allowed. The square footage one inherited is the square footage that remains to the day it’s re-bequeathed.
The camp is a subjective paradise minus the spring back fly attacks. It was built in 1911 and still has the original furnishings and outbuildings well preserved by my father who is also a detailed craftsman—he’s made an Adirondack guide boat and wood kayaks to add to the ambiance. What a superhuman effort of upkeep he makes each year for self-pride and, I believe, the desire to shame his neighbors. Truly, he puts his whole being into that camp. What was once a labor of love, now just steals his precious time as he approaches 80 years. Thank god he’s leaving it to my sister. I wouldn’t touch that burden with a ten-foot spruce pole.
That is the only camp my family (or my wife’s family) has ever known for as many generations as we can count back. None of our friends have camps, second homes, tents squatting in the wildernesss… Wait, that’s not true. An old cook friend turned city fireman recently bought a camp on the lake next to the nuclear power plant. But he could own the power plant for all Oswego cares. Barstools and warm beers await him too, in the shared experiences of no class.
But this is not a story for revelation. Class consciousness should be studied often as reminder to hold to the path of the life worth living. One in a million will ever get close to a fabulously rich person—the billionaire who can live like a child in an “I want anything I want, and without consequences” reality-fantasy. We have heard of the type, and they do exist. Though I believe they should not exist, since they skew the statistics and interpretation of class to confuse the heck out of earthlings trying to explain why one has this and the other has that.
What are the “its” that any person has?
A camp, car, whirlpool, ATV, roof, smartphone, country club, sailboat, regular meals, Hawaiian vacation, potable water, swimming lesson, rare pet, private jet? What does the other guy have that I might covet? Because I am a lower middle class veteran home cook, I guess I envy most the class that can afford to dine out any night of the week in restaurants with worldly menus designed and prepared by culinary masters. Though I realize I will never reach that tier, at least I can cook the meals I imagine, even if they never rise to the occasion of which I dream, and I always have to do the dishes and take out the garbage.
I would think nearly every person on earth, with the exception of the 3,000 billionaires, wants something the other guy has, whether it be a swimming pool, rock concert, or perfect and unsurpassed awakening. And once it’s got, a new want is begotten. A vicious circle driven by boredom, which, I believe, is the only vice of all classes of people who can feed themselves, because it trips the wires of the many traps we fall into.
I also believe time had is the true wealth attainable after the necessities of life are secure (food and shelter, fuel and clothing). I pity millionaires as I do any class of people who do not make time kill their boredom.
We dropped our daughter off at base camp in a suburb of Boston, her college friend’s main house. Other friends were flying in from around the world and meeting there before venturing off to the “camp” on Cape Cod—a coveted first and only house for any income of the working class. The main house was situated in a suburb crowded in with other single family houses no bigger than the average in upstate NY, though they cost 10 times as much (I checked on Zillow®). There was neither shoulder nor sidewalk along the old roads either, yet an inordinate amount of bike riders and joggers donning the expensive gear of their chosen class and exercise.
From the outside, the house was nearly identical to our own, plus 500 square feet and systems updates I can only dream of. The parents were working people—a physician with a practice and a spouse with a job. Healthy kids, a family dog, small yard, street lights, terrible and tolerable neighbors… Just like Oswego if Oswego had access to world cuisines and health conscious inhabitants. However, in my cursory estimation, the town experienced 5 times the stress for 10 times the cost with zero gain in health and happiness. Perhaps even hundreds more mental and physical maladies per capita being treated in perpetuum.
Upper middle class suburbia, United States, 2021. Homes with second homes. Bikes with biking apparel. Thriving restaurants and retail shops, and nearness to a vibrant city culture that entertains on occasion, yet not as often after habits are ingrained and people grow old.* And of course, with the ups of high class suburban living, comes the downside of overpopulation with its negative impacts on society and environment.
Personally, for all the added cost, I just can’t imagine life improved 10 times for any person stuck in a traffic jam, no matter what he or she does for a living or the income made while doing it.
The implication of class is that one is better than the other. Who wants to be lower when he can be upper? Still, if we are socially doomed to suffer the afflictions of modernity, I’d rather have the status and income of a doctor with an Audi® than a plumber with a tee. It ain’t happening in this lifetime, so I’ll stick with making the best of time, which I earned an abundance of after I became class conscious.
To me true wealth is time and what we make of it. I hope my daughter learns this lesson at camp, so she can return to school and take up classes on the life worth living.
*[I would want to mention excellent health care too, compared to places of no class like Oswego, but I believe modern medicine for the healthily born a classless complex structured to “fix every malady caused by over-consumption and sedentary habits”. Varied life expectancies among the classes are caused by right and wrong lifestyles, and whether one has access to “the fix”. Doctors aren’t preventing ill health. They are treating symptoms of modern living. The poor guy who eats too many Dortitoes® doesn’t live as long as the rich guy who eats too many Dorities® because the rich guy gets the “fix pills” and the poor guy gets an early grave. Access to health care (as it exists), does not imply an increased life expectancy, any more than “thriving restaurants and retail shops” prove a better avenue to wasting your time.]
Please visit here to watch me continue “Feats of Skill” achievement toward my Wolf Badge. If I remain steadfast and do my best, Mom will be sewing my badge on by July!
Where Do I Live and What Do I Live For?
From Fish Are Very Capable of Destroying the World. Just Don’t Tell Them, OK?
Freeflow Publishing® 2005
Six years ago I thought I was wise. You remember the time when you think that you become wise. You don’t talk about it. You wake up in the morning to wait for it again, and enjoy the mock enlightenment alone. Six years before that I set out on a silly little journey to become wise. Trials and tribulations a-plenty, but an underlying constant, and always a dream of the woods with a hut, maybe a well, but just as content to store rain water in old flowerpots. The dream was the important thing. Keep the dream alive while raising a child. She’ll let you keep it. She doesn’t care if the cellar is clean. She’ll play with her horses on a carpet of dog hair, stale crumbs, and beer stink. Move her into a square hut with a wood stove and a wood bed, and she still won’t care even when her lips turn blue on the morning you run out of wood. She doesn’t care, provided of course that you brought along the box with the toy horses, and spent every day attending to each one of her specific needs.
So six years ago I thought I was wise. Rachelle was six. Marie was twenty-two, I was twenty-eight, and all ready to be the full-time artist and dreamer I was born to be.
The house. Oh dammit the house. Somebody bought us an old house. A live inheritance, the house. A foreboding dowry which arrived on the same day of my proposal to Marie. A sick old house. A smelly old dusty box, the house. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t want it. At the time I was so appreciative by the gesture of the house, that on moving-in day I eagerly dove into the piles of dust and mold of the previous owner’s exposed life. By the end of the day I had my first ever full-blown asthma attack.
This horror story begins on a warm spring evening before yesterday. I am busy at work in a restaurant’s kitchen. My beautiful Marie steps into the side vestibule, built for deliveries, but used more often for the cook’s cigarette meditations. She’s waving a sheet of paper, quietly, to catch my peripheral vision. I walk off the line as soon as the moment allows, to ask her what’s what.
On the paper is a picture of a small, light blue house by a lake, with a long grassy lawn, a woods in the back, and neighbor houses to its left and right, but a Great lake straight ahead, so who cares about the neighbors? Thirty-nine thousand dollars. We have fifty dollars. She asks if I am interested. Sure I’m interested!
Later that night she asks her parents how we can get the house. I am honest. I’ll work hard at the restaurant to get it. True, I am indifferent, but ready, always ready. I like its looks and location. I guess I want it. This could be the next rational step before the cabin in the woods. At least it would be ours after it’s paid for. Then I could devote more time to art, and the art of living.
Marie’s father says that nothing can be done. We have no savings. We haven’t collateral. We have nothing but our lives and a youthful, wonderful, illogical hunger for life, where blooms the only beautiful flowers human... No, it’s not in our future until we save, says her father. But secretly he’s on a mission. Over the summer and into the early autumn he’ll have us tour a few dilapidated nightmare houses. One or two are downright destroyed, although super cheap, and according to Marie’s Dad, the only way to buy.
What do I care? I’m a line cook with nada. I think I am wise with nada. I am a father who plays jungle animals on the floor with his daughter for two hours, for nada. I don’t sense for a second the gargantuan amount of labor necessary to rebuild these two-story shacks to meet middle class standards. I see a ceiling, a floor, a thorough cleaning, a throw-carpet there, some contact paper stuck on the oily shelves... I see the same thing I have seen over the past ten years of renting. I see someone else’s problem, and myself adapting in a day, continuing housekeeping exactly where I left off. That is, back to the jungle animals on the floor, and occasional dusting of shelves and appliances.
Anyway, Marie and I have no money. I never suspect that her parents are secretly planning their goodwill murder of my few, but very well-guarded joys.
It comes. On the day we return from the mountains an engaged couple. They bought us the house we walked through the week prior. It was the worst of them all, and the cheapest. Twenty thousand dollars. I am overwhelmed. And surprised. It never crossed my mind, besides in dreams, that one day I’d own a house. How rich! How wonderful! Immediately, I gather up all my hard work of the previous six years, and stuff it in a hole that I dug in my head. No more renting. I got something big here. My own house. No more repetitions of packing and moving. A permanent dry square for my daughter. An affordable mortgage to the in-laws. Pay the house debt, and less money needed for life, so less work that I despise, more time for art and the art of living. Great if the living you chose would remain a constant always, no matter what storms upset it.
We’ll take it! Whichever shack it was. So what? A thorough cleaning, run the water to wash out the rust in the pipes, new curtains, a new mattress, a warm house for the rest of my daughter’s days, and a small cabin for me, at least by the time I am a grandfather. Putting the future in charge of wisdom. Delegating time as if it were your lackey, made to follow every order. A major life mistake I’d realize on moving-in day, but instead of running away, I would lock myself in the prison of this house for the next five years, and counting.
How can I explain what is lost? If it’s not home repair, it might be staying late at the office, or a full day playing eighteen holes away from your original mind. I don’t know who you are, nor how well you can manipulate others to achieve your will’s end. The important thing to remember is that I know what we’re up to. Western contributions to world suffering are blatant and many. Daily rounds shooting sadness and silent weeping, rapid fire, inward, where the defense is the weakest. The polio vaccine injected into every child in Africa increases suffering by a billion immeasurable units. Mental suffering. For to inoculate means improving conditions on condition that they’re improved the Western way, which is the wrong way, the sad way, the despair way, the head bowed down way, never in respect, but often with humiliation. Mental suffering is the result of the new age brain polio, smallpox, cholera... We can feed all of Africa, we can rid the entire continent of disease, make them all BASPs, industrious, practical, sober, strong... Without a wire to be found anywhere this situation might lend itself quite nicely to society-building. But the wires are already connected, endless, googols of them, and nobody, not even the strongest most physically fit seven foot tall Zambian is wise to the reason why just an inch of wire rolled out into a fit society is sign of the future mental erosion of that society. I foresee the bright, hot afternoon when crates of Prozac® are parachuted down over an industrialized Kalahari.
Scientific tongues blabber bunk that human beings are a social species. I got a good mind to burn this house to the ground for what their suffering, anti-social society has done to my maturing wisdom. It’s true that human beings can talk a blue-streak. But who is ever social the way that an elephant is social to an elephant? An elk to an elk, or even to a muskox in trouble? They don’t want to help the herd with intentions born out of the survival instinct. That is civilization’s downside. We are clean, very clean on the outside, for our eyes only. Yet we’ve slopped such a permanent dirty stain on ourselves seen clearly bt the rest of the non-human world. The instinct of herd protection, even older than cooked meat, the two-pronged fork, Jesus, Buddha, and Rodney, the mailman, has all but vanished beyond our immediate families. Why didn’t anybody from the herd tell me what was in store? Why was the secret of the old house kept from me?
Granted, if I possessed a spit of wisdom, I would have known the truth beforehand: That their silence was my purgatory-in-waiting. My place at the time was wide open like the child—ignorant, pure, too separate from mental hurt to attempt to break secret-coded warnings of doom. Nor did I see the opportunity in going backwards. A wise duck would. Backwards can be just as profitable as any direction, when food and shelter are your only acquired securities.
Just sitting here looking back, thinking where to start up on the story of this house, fills my mind up with such a thick sludge of memory. So many improvements to the house. So many. Though so little time to work on self-improvement. I had no idea of the huge amount of time wasted to make a beat house look less beat, but more like the one next door. That is, passable. I was, and am, a poor man who possesses neither the skill nor will to make old rooms look new. I realized on moving-in day this rash action of mine was definitely not the precursor to smaller, easier livings in the future. Still, it didn’t matter. With wide open eyes I eagerly opened the door to hell, having the naive intention of fast repair and a fast break outta there.
Now here I am six years later, sitting at my kitchen table of woe. I think I know better. Yesterday I stood in the homeschool room looking at the doorway for fifteen minutes. Angles, not angels. Measurement, not meditation. This is not a revolution! This is not my final freedom walk into the woods. This is not my solid shelter built in a week out of stone, bark and creek mud...
Six years! And always on edge. Never finished. Always something else to repair, to build, to repair again. I am the neurotic carpenter, the scitzoid-plumber, the hyperactive electrician. No end in sight. Not after the first day, nor six years after the fist day... Nineteen thousand dollars more for the blue house on the lake. Almost double the cost of Hell. But definitely one of those easy choices to make in life... No matter what earthly price you have to pay, avoid Hell!
Maybe suffering the cheaper house would have been worth it, provided I got six years and nineteen thousand dollar’s worth of home repair knowledge instilled in my brain.
I did not. And it wasn’t my teacher’s fault, although I think his goal was to rebuild me, and not just my house. When I was eleven, when I was five, when I am fifty, I will listen to the teacher exactly how I listened to my father whenever he tried to teach me something new. I will appear to be so attentive, so ready to copy, to imitate, to learn... Inside though, a complete blank. Not the kind of blank washed on a clear slate, which is ready for the Word of Knowledge to be scratched onto it. No. Not that. More like a total blackness, an emptiness, a blotto. A slab of slate stretched out miles and miles deep below the earth’s surface.
I didn’t want a house. I would have bought the blue house. Somebody else bought this house instead, and I should be thankful. But how does one offer proper thanks for the rusty dumpster parked in the yard five muddy springs in a row? Any poetry written across the bottom of soiled mattresses pushed out the window? No? How about another lazy Tuesday to spend lying down on the floor listening to the rain? Forget about it? Six thousand more unwanted odds and ends scattered throughout the “new” house on our happy moving-in day. Not a few hours of elbow grease and scrub-a-lub, but six years of suffering hard labor. Always very difficult to force yourself to do what you hate to do. But I did it, dutifully. All because of a kind gesture.
By God almighty, where is my blue house? My spring robin? My long meals washed down with red wine and laughter? Fortunately I have been able to keep these traditions alive. But barely. That is, I look for the robin, but don’t appreciate him, draw him, or write a poem about him. Not like I used to. I see him, sure enough, hopping for worms, but in the same way that one wakes from sleep to see, out of focus, oblivious. I could be carrying a rotted length of tongue-and-groove to the heap in the side yard. The whole spring alive, laughing and singing. A bird could land on my nose and start pecking out my eyes. Memory would fill in the blank. “Robin has a red breast.”—Your father, 1969.
Lucky for me, I still prepare and cook most meals. But I am rushing. There is a tightness in me. I haven’t felt loose in six years. Even now, as I write, I do it almost frantically. For if I don’t finish the next paragraph on time, the squash won’t get into the preheated oven, and thereafter my world will fall apart. I am never at ease. I get a “do or die” feeling about everything. Everything! Even the most insignificant chores. Brushing my teeth. Walking the dog. Passing gas. The energy I possess is phenomenal. I am astounded by the feats that I perform in a day. It’s hyperactivity, I know. Not whistling. Never joy. I can stop and stare at any spot in the house. But my thoughts cannot stop. Oh I might look dumb and carefree, but I promise you that I have caulk on the brain with French books, used doors, scrambled eggs, etc., right up until bedtime, and even then I am dreaming about the etceteras.
It is the curse of this old house plaguing my days and nights. I know it is. You see, here I go again...
Originally I intended to write until 4:30 pm, when Marie and Rachelle leave for horse lessons. Because I am in charge of providing the evening meal, and because, fortunately, I still dream... I have decided to make a quiche. The spaghetti squash got into the oven on time. But if I don’t start preparing the crust now, the cheeses, the eggs right now, oh Jesus—gotta go!
I went and made the quiche. It’s a day later and these etceteras are more and piling up fast. I don’t know what is real anymore. Too much can happen for me to know all that is happening. I know this at least because of the quichely etceteras: We must build small. Smaller than Thoreau. Smaller than Ratty and Mole. My God the summer’s coming. It should be tents and boiled lake water. And if presently we are unable to make this simple truth manifest, theoretically, philosophically we must recognize its validity. Oh my God the illusions are piled so high and fall down so deep. I live a hyperactive life in the curse of an old house. On moving-in day I spent eight hours pulling nails out of pieces of hundred year old wood. After several thousand hours of work, I still have not de-catacombized my cellar. It was just this last summer when I got up the courage to clean up the dead birds. One broken window to peek in and hop through, but once inside, forget it—death by darkness. A Chernobyl cellar, disaster area, ruin upon ruin left by several, tired overworked generations. No one in my family is allowed down there besides me and the furnace delivery man when that day comes. Asbestos pipe insulation, sewage leak, gas leak, water leak, wet, dirt piles, unknown smell, mercury, arsenic, radium...
I mention the cellar because the cellar walls make up the foundation, and it’s the art of the foundation of a house that builds a home on top of it. There is no art to my structure. No personal art. Nothing of me. Not mine. I don’t feel at home when I am in this house. And yet I expect to because I am not a perpetual traveler of the earth. I want to settle down. I am habitual, constant, repetitious, like an animal. The wildest wide-eyed poet, the lunatic, and the sage all catch themselves in the act of routine most times, whether they admit it or not. We have homes, real or imaginary. Even the homeless have favorite haunts. Garbage dumpsters instead of cans. Pine grove preferred over shrubbery.
Finally, we live in the age of beauty, cleanliness, fearlessness, freshness... No time in the story of mankind have we had such potential for good mental and physical health. We are the beginning of the beginning of our greatest potential. New. Not brand new. Man new! So where do we live?
In old houses. Or new houses. Maybe houses made by a man’s own two hands. But he shopped for the materials at a home center, and worked two years buying the house as he built it. I know that his effort is base, although busy, and it is never a home he achieves. Unless it be a Home Depot he longs to inhabit.
My cellar is awful. It would take another two or three summers to clean and repair it. We need a new roof. The siding has gaps and holes. The water pressure is so weak... That alone would take a summer to fix, and I promise not to drag you further along on this tour of endless repair etceteras that will happen again and again whenever the living invest in dead people’s homes. This house was built in 1862. It’s 2002. I think I might do well to clear out before cleaning up again. Or burn it down. Sweep the rubble into the old foundation. Cover with dirt and plant tulips.
I was never wise. I rented. I worked to get money to pay my rent. That is wisdom, but only if you love the work that you do. Love it. Like you love a child. That means art, and I never once thought that I was an artist line cook sweeping up muddy slabs of fat and vegetables after another high-strung night of sweat and hypertension.
I was quiet, but never wise. I was underground, but never wise. The path to wisdom, to reality, might include an old brown house that you purchased for $20,000. But if it takes you your whole life to realize the insanity of the purchase, then you must live in 1862, when Americans were fool enough to build this big to keep warm without a furnace. It’s true. Because it is my point-of-view. At least now it is, and I could change all my present point-of-views by next week. That could be wisdom. Living wisdom has no constant opinion.
I don’t want a blue house. I don’t want a gray one. I want a home. And a home should be no place at all like a prison or Hell. Not in the Age of Beauty.
Now, what do I live for?
Lunch to serve in a few minutes, and an evening to work on this quarter’s homeschool report. I have a house on my back. But in truth I could finish the report lying against a tree while this old house burns to the ground. The worthwhile of my life does not include a single slab of this old box that sets the stage. I can always take my act on the road.
Finally, please go here for the Stuckats Exhibition “Caricature” that I was mentioning a couple Friday Freeflows ago. Curated by Don Guy, cat painter of Stuckist renown. Bound to turn a COVID frown upside down.
I think I’ll do a bit on Stuckism next week, or the week after.
Thank you so much for visiting. I feel so fortunate to have readers!