I woke from a long sleep once and the world had changed. Direction had abandoned me. Perhaps had abandoned me before I slept. I unrolled myself from the earth and above me hung a sign. “You are here.” This on a wrought iron lamppost.
Of course I am here.
Wandering the road I found a peculiar shanty with slanting angles. A sign was nailed to the door. “Writer’s Welcome.” Inside the air was damp. The windowless walls suffocated the day. A pulsating lamp held the rooms only light, bathing me in a fortune tellers glow. I sat in a chair positioned by a shabby table and looked at the items assembled on the tabletop: a pen, a piece of parchment, a bottle of Jamison accompanied by a shooter glass, and a broken pocket watch bearing the inscription, “All the Time in the World.”
Like I am Henry David Thoreau and this is my Walden Pond.
I took a swig of Jamison (without the shooter because drinking out of the bottle is more poetic) and settled into my chair ready to ink my novel in gold. Then the broken pocket watch ticked. Shallow at first, without fervor. But growing increasingly, the ticking impeding my thoughts like a lawnmower on Sunday morning or a whiff of something bad in an elevator going to the 40th floor. My thoughts went from my story to the clock and the passing time and my peddler’s shack with its sad man’s decor and I rose from my seat all nervous and parched, looking for a fountain to water my soul.
I left the melancholy place and the world shifted…how can I explain it, like a camera capturing an image, like an old memory come to play, yes… and a college scene enveloped me. When the balance came and I was well enough to stand I chose the nearest path. It took me to a girl in a seaside ghetto. She was wearing a blue sundress and her hair was held in a loose knot only beauty can pull off. The cliffs were crumbling and the foundations of homes poked through the dirt like teeth with braces but we walked below them anyways where the real places mattered, the ocean and the cave and the flats where her dog ran. She had effortless appeal. But at the same time she was my Wendy Peffercorn and I was Michael ‘Squints’ Palledorous thinking “She knows exactly what she is doing” and she left me under a no u-turn sign the night her dreams waltzed her away.
Afterwards I heard someone mention a youth movement in motion and I welcomed the fray. Floatopia with inner tubes and beers out at sea. My hand on the goal post we threw off the cliff and into the ocean after our soccer team won it all. The fires on the beach and the fires in backyard pits and the fires from all those burning couches holding the night to a higher standard. Moments when the world molded itself to us in a costume of today and today and never tomorrow.
Here is where I write. Here is where I grow. This place, forever.
But before I was ready, before saying goodbye to all the things that mattered, the shift came…
..and a gun backed me into the corner of a room. Zip ties imprisoned my hands behind my back. And the kitchen floor tasted hideous as the faceless men took the girl in a bathrobe up the curling stairs to show them where our housemate’s things were and me helpless on the ground with the sunlight bleeding through the blinds and over my agony while our neighbors slept and dreamt of all things good only ten feet away.
The drop deposited me in a massive city. Out west, where the sun sneaks away, the glint of diamonds on the hillside, and a sign much larger than the one I awoke to, drew in my attention. Dismay came as I approached the hill. The diamonds were only the lights of large, cavernous homes with hundreds of rooms built for families of one. Homes for people who walk on pathways cemented with stars; who feel offended when speeding Ambulances waste their green light. Even the sign at the top was splotchy and flaking and seemed to lack whatever made it famous. It didn’t tell me where to go. It just said Hollywood.
I was contemplating my next move when a man in passing told me LA is a where the bums come to play. “The warm weather brings them here,” he said in a traveler’s tone. “And the free bum showers in the ocean.”
And he was right. Instead of plants Los Angeles grew bums. In the cracks of downtown concrete. In the honey baked streets of Santa Monica. In Beverly Hills and Echo Park and Venice, oh Venice. Highway on-ramps and places where traffic comes to a stand still were their stopping grounds. I saw one who looked like me and I thought more than once if the fortune of having my parents was bestowed onto him and I was left with whatever semblance of a childhood he meagerly managed then I might be in his shoes, filled with the bitter salts of a city that just doesn’t give a damn.
One bum held a sign that caught my attention. “Where to go from here?” He wasn’t asking for money or food or shelter. Only for direction. I walked up to him and spoke with him for a time. He told me of the city signs on every street corner. The ones that confused his feet and trapped his motivation. “They are everywhere, these signs,” he said. “They mean nothing to me, and should mean nothing to you.” He asked me if I had an answer to his question and I said I am sorry, I do not. He was content with my response, not expecting much from a young man when he himself could not find the answer in over 50 years of life. I left him to his mobile belongings stuffed in a grocery cart and said farewell.
I walked away from the city, then. Past all those signs the man spoke about and the hill with false diamonds. The mountains were all around me, growing a lighter shade of blue the more they slumbered into the horizon. The night came and the pondering came. My own mountainous ambition collided with memories of contentment and before I knew it I was passing the lowly shack I once stumbled into and was on my way to the lamppost with the sign I desperately needed to see.
But the sign was blank. Rubbed clean of the words confirming I am here. I slumped at the base of the post and closed my eyes like a rag doll. My clothes were dirty from my wanderings. I had one shoe on and had no idea when I had lost the other. And the memories of the places I had been cradled into the creases of my dreams, stitching my life together like a silent film without commentary.
When I awoke my family was there. My friends were there, the ones far away and the ones who never left. My animals were there in the order I lost them. My ninja turtle bed sheet was there. My baseball cards and comic books and first kiss and second kiss and driver’s license and the movie theater where Lucy beat the hell out of me and turning 18 and 21 are all there in an arrangement I fancy and thoroughly enjoy.
At last the flickering does not come.
I am home.
My memories fuel my pen and there it is.