Like a Guilty Chimney

I was meandering around my apartment a few days ago, terribly close to feeling, for one split second, bored.  It was terrifying;  there is, for me, almost no worse sensation, and I’ve been successful for years in avoiding it.  To head it off, I walked over to one of my more neglected bookshelves and started nosing through books from my distant past.

I was almost immediately confronted with an unexpected sight: my own handwriting, on the inside cover of a book.  And then the memory came flooding back:  during a sizeable period of my 20s, I did a lot of writing inside of books.

First, I like to write things, as readers of my blog know.  And I’m not referring to the creative writing aspect of my interests, I mean I just like to write.  Even now, I fill notebooks with meaningless lists and jibber-jabber.  I’ve always been a writer-downer.  But during my mid-twenties—after I began drinking very seriously as an alcoholic but before my life became a miserable unlivable mess—I went through a period of two or three years when a majority of my nights were spent at friends’ houses, or friends of friends’ houses, or the house of a friend’s out-of-town grandparents, or a house a co-worker was house-sitting.  It wasn’t an unhappy time, just a time of listless drifting, half-hearted partying, and a fair amount of depravity.

For the majority of this time period, my faithful companion was a backpack, in which I kept my alcohol (White Tavern Gin, half gallon, almost always), clothes and/or toiletries if I had any, cigarettes, and whatever book I was currently reading.  This was quite often all I had with me in foreign homes.  And I often found myself the only person awake in these places.  Granted, as an alcoholic, there was a lot of sleeping in my life, but you’d also be surprised how drunk a practiced alcoholic can get after a few years of really going at it.  And so it was on many, many occasions, I found myself in homes where I felt slightly uncomfortable, often the only person awake very late at night, in complete silence for whatever reason (don’t wake the parents/wife, can’t figure out how to turn the TV on, cable bill didn’t get paid, or just plain no TV or stero to be found, etc), and after some time, I’d become largely too drunk to actually read the book I had with me.  This is when I started writing inside my books—because they were the only thing I could find to write on, and I had little else to do.

Not everything I found on my bookshelf was a great example of these writings.  Sometimes it was just me leaving these little markings for my future self, a little flag saying, “Hey!  You liked this part!”  I think it’s cute and optimistic.  Here is a “flag” from my copy of Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22”:

(clicking on any of the photos, and then click it again when it re-loads, to see the full-size scan)

And here’s another one not quite from lonely drunken nights, but from a golden era in a relationship I had with a marvelous woman named Cory.  We both took turns reading stories in the “Collected Short Stories” of Ray Bradbury.  We devised a coding system in the table of contents.  (there are 6 pages like this):

Now, for some of the “lonely night” book scribbling.  Here is a poem I wrote inside my “Selected Poems” of E.E. Cummings (a book I must have owned for almost 20 years now, and I still consult nearly every month, but I didn’t know this poem was in the back of it until I checked for this blog entry).  The text of the poem is this:

Richard Simmons is a terrible man.
He seems to be more happy than
a lazy sleeping noiseless cat
which doesn’t mind being fat.

Some incomprehensible blabber from the back cover of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find”.  It looks like academic notation, although I never had to read it for school:

From C.S. Lewis’ “The Problem of Pain”.  Also, there’s a phone number (I came across a lot of phone number’s written in books; this was before the cell phone).  Anyone recognize the number?

For a time, I stayed in the basement of some friends of mine.  This basement had zero entertainment modules in it…no television, radio, whatnot…in fact, it barely had light in it.  But it did contain, most of the time, thousands of dollars in musical equipment:  full drum kit, multiple guitars, 4-track recorders and all sorts of other gadgets and whirlygigs I never understood.  That’s because this basement was the de facto practice space of a band called Post Vintage (one of my friends who lived at this place was the bassist), and let me tell you, I loved this band.  Not just because my friend was in it or because I lived in their practice room, but because they ruled!  (listen to their stuff here; they’re unfortunately no longer active.)

Anyway, this is all a very long way of telling you that, apparently, one night in this dark, quiet basement, I decided to write the lyrics to their song “Next at Seven” inside the front cover of my copy of Sylvia Plath’s “Collected Poems”.  “Next at Seven”‘s lyrics are by Dave Peifer, whose solo work (as Isotope) can be heard here.

Anyway, this one kind of shocked me.  I have no memory of doing this.  Although I do distinctly recall having my Plath phase at the same time I lived in the basement here.  Not, largely, a very happy time in my life.

But here, for me, is the one that really tickled me.  A drunken poem (I can always tell when something I wrote was composed while intoxicated) inside the cover of Gregory Corso’s “Mindfield”.  Corso is (I think he’s still alive) a Beat poet who I liked very much back then but not so much now.  His poetry is also markedly different than the poem I wrote inside his book, which I think it interesting.  But what’s most interesting to me is that I really like this drunken poem I wrote.  That is very rare.  I wrote like shit when I was drunk.  But this one really seems to capture the whole feeling and environment I’ve descibed to you from this time period of my life:  being the only person, awake and drunk in a house that I am unfamiliar with, and the subtext of sorrow and addiction I was feeling.  This is the poem:

Upon finding myself too drunk to read
and too severed to cavort
with folks
I resign to my own posturing
amongst myselves
amidst sleeping zombie-me’s.

Twirling in this foreign apartment
thier slumbering noses
reflect the television screen
and I cannot find my shoes.

Like a guilty chimney I sit still.

6 Responses to “Like a Guilty Chimney”

  1. Kyle Sundgren Says:

    Zombie-me’s! That’s brilliant!

    I’m sure it’s happened and I can understand not hearing about it in a public blog, but have you ever found yourself for whatever reason years later remembering something about your lost years and it’s negative? Like, “holy shit, I was such an asshole and I would have apologized sooner if I remembered any sooner”?

    Sometimes I envy forgetful people because they get to remember gems like this. I know in your case it wasn’t just having a bad memory, and I don’t envy how you got to this point where you now get to remember things long forgotten.

    • sethdellinger Says:

      Oh yeah, I frequently have a negative recollection out of nowhere it sucks. It doesn’t happen as much as it used to, as I’m sure there’s a limited amount of them available. It is definitely a not-fun occurence.

  2. Cory War-ch-ch-chia Says:

    You’re right, this doesn’t seem like the writing of drunk-Seth. It’s far better, possibly because it’s so much more honest than what you would normally write when you were drunk.
    I love finding things I’ve written ages ago and have long since forgotten. It’s very cool to see that list of short stories too! I remember marking it and that there were some I absolutely loved! I’m not sure why I didn’t recommend any of them.

    • sethdellinger Says:

      Oh you recommended plenty of them on the following pages. I just had to show the first page cause that’s where the “key” is, but yeah, there’s 6 pages of contents.

  3. The phone number is the Motel 6 in Carlisle

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