Archive for relationships

Our Dewey Walk

Posted in Prose, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on June 11, 2017 by sethdellinger

I just went out for a very late night walk with Benji. The moon was so bright, a brazen beacon up there, like some alternate version of the sun, and it is so warm, like nights I remember from technicolor teenagehood, and the smell of grass, always the smell of grass, and tonight the tiny insects that swarmed Benji and I even seemed pleased, seemed to be telling us their happiest secrets. Barely midnight and already dew droplets leapt from the ground with each step we took, Benji looking for the perfect place to pee, different every time we come out but always perfect.  I was bathing in the moonlight like it was sunlight, turning my face toward it and soaking it in, staring at the gray ball, stunned as I often am by the thought that there’s a world there, that I’m looking at another world and it’s there right now, the surface of the moon, sitting there waiting for something, or maybe not waiting at all but just happy all alone, its craters and mountains just perfect, silent and airless and pockmarked, goddamn what a beautiful night with the insects and Benji looking back over his shoulder at me, his big black eyes pleading something, something I can’t know and can never know , and tucked inside our little air conditioned house my Love sleeps, her of the fine features and deep understanding, she sleeps in there like the surface of the moon and she has chosen me and aint it grand, aint it grand indeed.  Tomorrow we’ll wake up without an alarm and have mango and basmati rice for breakfast, and a pot of coffee, too, and maybe Schubert on the stereo.  Oh, life is probably pointless, ultimately, just atoms and electrons and consciousness happening by accident, the whole damned scene just one ludicrous accident, but who can argue with this, with the moon so serious and luminous and the dog looking over his shoulder and the air conditioning inside and basmati rice tomorrow, who would ever want to call any of it an accident?  Oh Karla I love you so much!

Days: Fifteen Years Sober

Posted in Memoir with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2017 by sethdellinger

Prologue

There were chandeliers.  I had rarely been around chandeliers, and even then, never so many, never so shiny.  In fact, nearly everything was shiny—the centerpieces, the candle holders, the forks and knives had glints and sparkles.  Light seemed to reflect and refract from everywhere all at once, off of balloons and from under tables, men’s wingtip shoes had tiny stars in them, large wire-rimmed glasses on women’s faces beamed chandelier light into my eyes.  The whole ballroom was like a universe.

I should have expected to be dazzled at the first wedding I ever attended.  I’d seen depictions of weddings in some movies, sure, but being only eight or nine years old, I didn’t have a lot to go on.  I knew there would be a ceremony, and they’d kiss, and then I heard we threw rice at them, oddly enough.  I must have expected there to be a party afterward, but if I did, I certainly had no idea what to expect from it.  And all this shininess—I hadn’t been prepared for that.

My cousins were there—some that I liked and some that I didn’t, but we all kept playing together, regardless.  That’s what you do with cousins when you’re a kid, after all—you play with them no matter how much you like them.  Once the pomp and trope of the adult rituals during the reception began to wear thin for us (how many times does an eight-year-old think it’s interesting to watch two grown-ups kiss? Just because someone tapped their glass?) we found our way to each other and began exploring.  We found an elevator in the lobby that we rode up and down and up and down, getting off on random floors, running to the ends of the halls.  We made a game where you tried to touch the wall at the end of the hall and get back to the elevator before the doors closed.  It wasn’t easy.  We also devised a contest to see who could, when controlling the floor buttons, go longest without the doors opening to let a stranger onto the elevator.  Again and again we were tempted to press the Emergency Stop button, but we never did.  Eventually, an employee caught onto the fact that some kids were playing fast and loose with their elevator and we got yelled at and told to stop, and, feeling like we’d just been dressed down by a Supreme Court justice, we ran out of the elevator, through the lobby, and back into the ballroom.

We played under vacant tables.  We made forts under there by using spare tablecloths and draping them over the chairs.  We moved the large potted plants out a few feet from the walls and hid behind them until grown-ups gave us weird looks.  We took M&Ms out of our gift baskets and threw them long distances into each other’s mouths.  By and large, nobody was watching us.  The adults were having a grand old time and we were left to play, to run around.  It was a unique environment for us.  Dressed in our little spiffy clothes—suspenders, skirts, ties—we felt like miniature grown-ups, doing our kid things under the shiny lights.

Occasionally, the action in the grown-up world would halt briefly while they did another of their inexplicable rituals—shoving cake at each other, somebody’s dad dancing with somebody else, and on and on.  At one point, everyone stopped what they were doing for the throwing of the bouquet, which did not sound remotely interesting to me, but my cousins ran to the crowd to watch.  I was thirsty and a little tired, so I made my way back to my family’s table to regroup and hydrate.

Nobody was there, as they were off watching something happen to a bouquet.  I pulled myself up to the table, the empty food plates still scattered around, and my mother’s purse hanging on the side of her chair, and more M&Ms in clear mason jars.  I found my Sprite and gulped it down.  It was nice to have a moment alone.  Then my eye fell upon it: the champagne flute.  Full, bubbles creeping up the sides, mysterious presences.  I glanced around and verified I was unwatched.  I took the glass, using both hands to steady it, and brought it to my lips, surprised by the blast of carbon dioxide as the carbonation hit my nose.  I barely tasted anything as I downed the beverage in one quick movement.  I sat back in my chair, looked around myself again to see if I had been observed.  In a moment, the warmth hit my stomach.  A smile crept at my lips.

 

Days of Nothing

 

It had been a hot summer. Summers are always hot, and Pennsylvania summers get that special kind of humidity working for them, but this summer had just been a rainforest ordeal. We spent every day with a thin sheen of sweat on us almost all the time, even indoors, even in the dark in the basement. It was a summer of Sloe Gin Fizzes, chain-smoking Newports, sitting on the front porch.  It was a stoop, really, but we called it a porch, although you entered through the side door, not the front.

I was staying quite suddenly and unexpectedly with two of my friends who were renting a house in the middle of the Pennsylvania countryside. And I mean Countryside. At least a 20-minute drive from where anyone might consider civilization. The view from that front porch was actual and real rolling Pennsylvania Hills, green as Ireland, constantly sun-dappled, you could see the shadows of clouds as they passed overhead, rolling down the hills like boulders. Cows and sheep on the periphery, small tree outcroppings dotting the very tops of the horizons. I make it sound kind of lovely, but in fact, it was a pretty awful time for everybody.

See, if you are from Pennsylvania, it would mean something if I told you this was in Perry County, and really far out in the middle of Perry County. How these friends rented the house, how they found it, I’ll never know. But there I found myself, immediately after giving up on a semester of college, literally walking away from classes that were over three-quarters of the way done, because I couldn’t stop drinking long enough to wake up in the morning, or do homework or even read Mark Twain books. I simply threw in the towel, and after spending a couple weeks tooling around campus aimlessly, I decided to just jump ship entirely, threw what little belongings I had into the back of my 1983 Ford Escort, and drove an hour from my college out into the middle of the rolling god-damned Hills. I did this in order to spend the summer with two people who were likewise as troubled as I was, but in different ways, and we were miserable as hell together. We’d spend entire mornings out in front of the house with a two-by-four, swatting at the huge bumble bees as they flew past us, drinking 20 ounce cans of Busch beer, trying to kill as many of those bees as we could, for no reason other than there was nothing else to do. We’d sit on our plastic lawn chairs on that porch, with our view of the field, secretly hoping that it was manure spreading day, just so that there was something to look at, something to talk about, something to complain about other than the heat and the damn bees.

We spent our nights inside, in the dark basement, lit only by multiple strings of Christmas lights, the smell of must and tobacco smoke, no television, no stereo. Just imbibing and talking, and sometimes in full silence. I spent the whole summer reading one issue of Guitar World magazine, articles I didn’t even understand, once everybody else was asleep, reading these damn guitar articles in the almost total darkness, falling asleep on a dust-covered couch. It was terrible and wonderful.

One morning, as we were sitting on our stoop smoking our cigarettes watching the distant rolling hills as though something might erupt from them, an Amish boy strolled past on the street in front of our yard, walking his ancient bike beside him. He stood and looked at us, as though he were seeing something for the very first time, some true curiosity. Thinking we were some sort of cultural emissaries, we approached him and struck up a conversation. I can’t remember now what was said between us, what inane questions we must have asked in the name of science, but after a 20-minute conversation, he went his way and we went back to the stoop, thinking we had just crossed some cultural divide. I can’t be sure what we said, but I know who I was back then, so I know I was an asshole.

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In my early twenties there was a short time period when I stayed with my mother in a small apartment she was renting in the small Pennsylvania town of Dillsburg. This was during a time when she went on frequent extended trips for her job, so even though it was a place where I wasn’t paying any rent, I would find myself with my own apartment for a couple days at a time, here and there. Living the kind of life I was living then, which is to say, mildly indigent, alone time was a fairly sacrosanct rarity. On these times when she was gone, I would wake up on the couch, still mildly dizzy from my stupor the night before, find some water to drink, and commence sitting there, absorbing cable television, mixing large amounts of Diet Coke with larger amounts of cheap gin, chainsmoking generic menthol light cigarettes until the whole room was suffused with a haze as if it were packing material. Somehow having that apartment to myself, and enough booze and cigarettes and food I hadn’t paid for to last me through a couple days, felt like I had a luxury a room on a cruise liner. I would crank up the air-conditioning, raid her collection of compact discs, listen to Led Zeppelin’s “Gallows Pole” over and over again at an incredibly high volume. One such night, after a lengthy day of solo debauchery, I found myself inexplicably out in the parking lot of the apartment complex, wandering aimlessly, smoking my cigarette with a gin and Coke in a supersize McDonald’s cup. Suddenly and quite unexpectedly I heard from behind me someone yell my name. It took me awhile to realize what I was witnessing, but it was one of my more lengthy roommates from college, suddenly here in this parking lot, 45 minutes from the town we went to school in. At this point, I must have been out of college for about two years and hadn’t heard from him since (this is pre-Facebook and even pre-MySpace). I couldn’t believe my eyes! After getting over both of our initial confusions, I learned that not only did he live in the same apartment complex, but he lived with a man that we were also roommates with. The three of us had shared an apartment for about a year in college, and now they were living together and working in the town of Dillsburg, while I was mooching off my mother in the same apartment complex! It was almost too much to handle. Excited for the reunion, we both walked into their apartment, and sure enough, there was the third roommate, and he was just as shocked as us! We spent about half an hour catching up on what we had done since school, and then sat there in a kind of dazed boredom. We had nothing to talk about. It hadn’t been that long ago we were in college, pulling pranks, making silly movies, running all over the town like young people who would never die, would never have a problem in the world. But now just a few years later here we were, clearly at different crossroads. We sat in silence and watched a movie, and then I left and never went back there again.

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I don’t really remember how it happened, but I know for a fact that once, stone drunk, I found myself walking down the Carlisle Pike in the middle of night, just past the 81 North entrance ramp, headed away from Carlisle. I had just past the entrance ramp when I saw a tractor-trailer pulled over on the side of the road, presumably for the driver to sleep there for the night. None of the lights were on and the engine was off. I thought to myself, ‘I could just roll underneath a truck right there and sleep for the night. I could just lay under there, be sheltered from view and the wind, look up at the underside of that trailer, let this drunkenness and tiredness wash over me, and sleep there for the night.’ And I did roll under that truck, and I looked at the underside of it. I put my hands behind my head and stretched out in the gravel parking lot. I laid there for a little while, I have no idea how long, but even in my drunken stupor, and as low as I was in every aspect of life at that moment, even I knew this was a bad idea. I rolled back out and kept on walking, and I have no idea where I went.

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Time is a sad, dense fog over a sea, and places are lighted buoys.  The people?  I don’t know, maybe they’re boats, or fishes.  The days stretch out like dreams in a desert.

 

Days of Something

 

Just a few months after getting sober, I found myself living back in Pennsylvania, after a short stint in New Jersey.  I had moved in with a friend of mine who had a spare bedroom. I got my old job back, the same job cooking greasy diner food for a company that kept giving me chances.  I would come home everyday and see some of my friends there, hanging around this house I had moved into. Sometimes playing music, or fiddling with the communal telescope, or playing board games.   A few weeks into this living arrangement, I decided that I was going to go out that night by myself.  I ended up going to a movie, “Million Dollar Baby”, and it was a good movie, I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I’ll start watching good movies.’  I walked out of the theater, and it was a late showing, and it was winter, so it was dark and frigid everywhere, and I was the only one in the parking lot, and it suddenly dawned on me that I could do anything I wanted. I wasn’t a slave to anything like I had been before. Nothing drove me to a bar or a convenience store to get a fix. Nothing told me I had to be somewhere that I could fall asleep anytime soon. I didn’t have to work in the morning. I didn’t have anybody who knew where I was or was expecting me somewhere. I walked across the frigid parking lot to the adjacent Walmart, bought a Butterfinger candy bar and a Red Bull, walked back to my car, and drove into the countryside, smoking cigarettes, laughing my ass off at freedom.

 

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Philadelphia is a great city, but there’s nothing special about it in the winter. It becomes winter just like every place else becomes the winter: slowly, and then all at once. My first winter in the city was also the first winter I’d spent anywhere without a car. During the summer I had learned to get around by riding my bike and walking, and was just getting pretty good at it when the gradual winter hit all of a sudden. It was cold and it was windy, but didn’t snow for the first few months, and then one day, a day that I also happened to have off work, the sky opened up and dumped down about eight inches. It was a very different experience than my previous winters elsewhere, where you might go outside and walk around, do some shoveling, maybe go see a few of the local landmarks covered in the fluffy cliches. In a densely packed urban area that stretches out for miles and miles in any direction, and where local landmarks are a dime a dozen but breathtaking beauty might be a little scarce, I wasn’t sure exactly what to do with myself, other than sit on my couch and watch Netflix. Eventually I decided to just bundle up, put on some heavy shoes (since I never really am in the habit of keeping boots around) and venture out into the snow and see what happened. I started walking through the streets of my South Philly neighborhood, unplowed, unshoveled, the houses squished up against each other like sandwich bread, snow building up in the trashy pedestrian alleys between them, choking the tops of open the trash cans, pawprints sometimes the only sign anyone had been down a sidewalk.  And I kept walking and walking, taking note how it was different than my previous experience, and also ways in which it was similar, compare and contrast, compare and contrast, that is essentially how I Live every moment of my life. One experience must always be similar or different from previous ones; otherwise, how do you measure anything?  Eventually the neighborhood started to change as I kept walking, buildings got farther apart, the roads got wider, the streets were starting to be plowed, cars started moving around, the city seemed to wake up. I started passing people on the street and there was an air of conviviality, of shared experience. Everyone was saying hello, commenting on the snow, and it wasn’t just what people were saying, but the attitude, the feeling, like we were all finally together, not that we were undergoing any major hardship, but just that the presence of something so different, something so sudden, almost held us together like a web. Connection.  Eventually I realized I was closer to Independence Mall, which is the cluster of extremely significant historical sites in the city, than I was to home, so I just kept on walking. I arrived behind Independence Hall probably an hour and a half after leaving my house, still trudging through almost a foot of snow, surprised to see that there were a few people milling around, but only a few, much less than the hundreds and hundreds that crammed into this park in the summer months. I circled the building, taking note of what the roof looked like covered in snow, imagining it would have looked the same to George Washington or Thomas Jefferson when it snowed in the late 1700s. I crossed Chestnut Street, which is directly in front of Independence Hall, my feet not quite hitting the cobblestones, but still feeling the unevenness of the walk, as the snow impacted into the cracks around the cobblestones, as it surely has done to other foot travelers for centuries. I trudged across the open space in front of Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell to my left, taking note that it was still open, the Park Service still there and operating, but I didn’t see a soul in line to see the famed bell. I kept on going, heading towards the visitor center, with its bright glass interiors, newly built restrooms, shiny gift shop and concession stand. I often used to stop at the visitor center in the summer, as I was riding my bike around the city, for its quick and easy access to a restroom and bottled water.  As I swung open the heavy glass and stainless steel doors, it was clear to me that everyone inside the visitor center was surprised to see me, not because of anything about me, but simply because I was a human being. I was literally the only non-employee in this entire visitor center. It’s amazing what snow does to history tourism. Despite the fact that it was winter and snowing, I was sweating greatly, and was glad of the opportunity to take my coat off, breathe a little bit, stomp the snow out of every crease and crevice. I was thirsty and hungry, as I didn’t leave the house with the intention to walk halfway across the city, so I went straight to the concession stand, got me a bottle of water, a hot coffee, and some sort of breakfast sandwich.  I sat alone in the bright, metal cafeteria, my belly growing content as I fed it.  I took note that outside, it had begun snowing again, and heavier this time.  It was quiet in the visitor center.  I was far from home.

 

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This day started very early. I woke up around 4am not knowing what I was going to do with the day, but knowing that I wanted to wake up early enough to have a really thorough day, if you know what I mean. I was living by myself in Erie Pennsylvania, in an apartment, one bedroom, on the second level of an old house that was nearing dilapidation, but still teetering on the edge of respectability. It was smack-dab in the middle of summer, and waking up at 4am, the whole apartment was already laden with a heat, an oppressive second floor apartment kind of heat; a thin layer of sweat somehow on everything you looked at. I rolled out of bed, made myself a latte on my proudly-acquired home espresso machine, and set about pondering what to do with such a lengthy, summery kind of day all to myself.  I took a long, overly hot shower while the local morning news played on the television which I had crammed into my tiny bathroom. I stayed in the shower for the whole newscast, mind mostly blank. After the shower, while air drying mostly to cool off, I randomly selected a DVD from my bloated collection, and came up with “The 40 Year Old Virgin”, a movie that I don’t know how it ended up in my collection and no longer resides there, but at the time, a mindless comedy seemed just the ticket. I laid on my couch and let the Steve Carell comedy wash over me. Having gotten up so early that an immense amount of day still laid stretched out before me, even after my lengthy ablutions. What to do? Living by one’s self for so long, and so far from everyone you know, turns days and 31316_1458245861882_8379455_nmornings into quiet studies of one’s inner mechanics, and if you linger too long without plans, your cogs and belts begin to make a lot of noise. Suddenly it hit me: Niagara Falls. I’d been living relatively close to Niagara Falls for almost a year at this point, and it was always something bouncing around the periphery of what I wanted to do, but I never quite made it there, never quite made that my actual plan. Almost the moment that it struck me, I bounded off the couch, went to my computer to MapQuest the directions, threw on some clothes and some essentials into a backpack, and I was out the door.  I don’t remember much about the drive, although certainly there had to be a drive. It was close but not incredibly close, probably something like an hour and 15 minutes. A decent trip, but then again, much closer than almost anyone else in the world lives to such landmark. I remember having trouble figuring out where to park when I got close to it, the town itself surrounding it not exactly being incredibly helpful with instructions.  Finally I did get my car parked, and walked across a large grassy mall, the sound of the falls quite distinct, just like you expect the sound of Niagara Falls to be: thunderous, droning, like a white noise that comes from within.  I remember hearing the falls, I remember a large grassy area you had to walk across to get to it, but I don’t remember actually arriving at the falls.  In fact, the order of what I did that day and the specifics of how I did it, are lost in the labyrinth of my brain. I did the touristy things, I rode the boat, I walked up and down the path alongside the falls, I wore the poncho they provide you. I took selfies on the boat, all by myself, surrounded by revelers and families and church groups. After doing the requisite attractions, I found myself walking around the grounds, reading the historical markers, interpreting the interpretive maps. I noticed that there was a small landmass called Goat Island, out of the middle of the river, one of the features that gives the Falls that look, where it is divided occasionally, not one big solid Falls. It was accessible quite easily via a pedestrian bridge across the river, so I went out there, reading the Wikipedia entry on my phone as I went, the long and somewhat interesting history of the island, its ownership and various names. I arrived on the island to find a sweltering patch of grass, the heat dense with liquid, the roar of the falls now like a white noise outside myself, like a curtain descending. The island itself was no larger than a small park, and trees lined the northern edge, so that one couldn’t actually see the land fall away at the end.  I had the island entirely to myself. Of course the only thing to do on an island like that is to walk toward the edge. Walking through the grass I was assaulted by bugs everywhere, insects nipping at my legs, bouncing off my knees like miniature Kamikazes. The closer and closer I got to the river, the more amazed I was that there were no protections of any kind in place. One expects to find some sort of railing here, some warning signs, maybe even Park Rangers or something. But no, the island just walks right up to the river, and right up to the falls, anyone with dark designs would be in no way dissuaded.  The design of the island makes it challenging to walk right up to the falls, but instead it is very easy to sit at a clearing about twenty yards away from the actual precipice. I took my backpack off and sat in the grass, and looked out across the Niagara River, just beginning to get a real good head of steam up, just beginning to get its little whitecaps and wavelets, the water not knowing it was about to fly.  The heat washed over me, the insect buzzing began to mesh with the white noise of the falls, it all became a hot buzzing constant, I laid my head on the grass and sunk in, sunk down into the dirt, I was so far from home, and for a moment, I had no idea where I was, or maybe even who I was.

 

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“Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your hometown
Waiting for something or someone to show you the way.

Tired of lying in the sunshine, staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find, ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run. You missed the starting gun!”

‘Time’, by Pink Floyd

 

Days of Everything

 

It was a cold night, but not too cold, which was fortunate, because we had to park very far away from the arena. I unbuckled Boy from his car seat and heaved him into the air, bringing him next to my cheek to give him a kiss in the crisp evening air. “This soccer game?” He asked. “Yes,” I told him. “This is the big building I told you about.” I sat him down and stuck out my hand for him to grab, as we strolled quickly through the immense parking lot together. He had lots of questions. He kept calling it football, which was interesting, I thought, since most of the world referred to soccer as football, but he couldn’t possibly know that, could he? Most of his questions weren’t really about the sport we were about to go watch, but the building it was in. How could a building be so big that you could play soccer inside of it? How tall was it, was it taller than the telephone poles? Taller than our house? Will there be snacks? Soft pretzels? I’ve become accustomed to the constant barrage of questions at this point, pulling from deep within me a patience I honestly did not think I possessed.  Not that this patience is without limits—but at any rate, I seem to have more than I thought.  I suspect a toddler will prove this to be true of most anyone.

I was surprised by the patience he displayed as we waited in a long line to buy tickets. It seems every day, he is making leaps and bounds, growing in things like patience, understanding, and empathy. Which is not to say he’s still not a little ball of emotions that doesn’t know how to act, just maybe a little less so than a few months ago or a year ago. He’s becoming much more of a companion as opposed to a force of nature to wrangle and watch. While for the most part, time with Boy is still all about teaching, there are moments now of truly just being.  And “just being” with a little guy like boy is more magic than I’m accustomed to.

Finally, tickets procured, we entered the concourse, looking for our section. I hadn’t studied the arena map extensively, and had chosen seats in the section on the complete opposite side of the concourse, so we had to walk past countless souvenir stands and snack bars, him wanting desperately to stop at each, and also wanting to enter into each section as we passed, with me constantly trying to tell him that it wasn’t much farther, not much farther. But through it all, he didn’t freak out or melt down or cry, just implored me strongly. Finally we came upon our entrance to the arena, and I picked him up because I knew the stairs were going to be steep and he was probably going to be shocked by the sight of walking into the big room. Carrying him on my side, we entered the arena proper, and although an indoor soccer field lacks the nebulous breathtaking quality of a baseball field, the sudden shock of green and the expanse of a sudden cavernous room had its desired effect on the countencance of Boy, which is to say, it produced a certain amount of awe. After pausing to allow him to soak it in, we climbed up the steep steps, to find our seats. We were all alone in our section, something I had to ask the ticket man to do, in case it did not go very well. Boy was beyond excited to sit here. He was very into his seat, enamored with the idea that the number on it matched  the number on his ticket, and in this enormous room, this seat was his and his alone. He was not restless as I had feared, his eyes trained on the action on the field. I would steal sidelong glances at him, see his eyes glued to the action, his head swiveling as the ball bounced back and forth, his complete concentration and immersion something only possible in the earliest years of life, and during a first exposure to things; the sights and sounds meshing with dawning understanding, realization writ large across his face. He would sometimes stop his concentration to ask questions about the goalies, which he called The Goal Guys, their different colored jerseys causing him no end of confusion. Later, as he was able to again float back into our world, he would watch me for cues whenever the arena sound system would play the tropes of modern sporting events: the “Charge!” song, the “De-Fense!” chant, and on and on. He saw and understood there was an audience participation element and he wanted to learn.  I would raise my fist and yell “Charge!”, glancing over to see him mimic it, his tiny voice bursting forth its own “Charge!”  This moment, especially, nearly crippled me with emotion.

He paid close attention to the game and stayed quite interested for well over an hour and a half when he started to fall asleep on my shoulder. I told him I thought it was time to go, and he protested quite strongly, saying he didn’t want to miss anything. And I kept giving in, saying we could stay, and then he kept falling asleep again, until eventually I picked him up, went up the stairs to the upper concourse, and told him he should get down and walk around and look at all the empty chairs, all the sections without anybody in them. The arena was quite empty, in fact, especially once one got up to the upper reaches. We got to a very high section, a corner section so high up you could almost touch the roof in a few of the spots, and as we emerged into it, it became clear that it had not even been cleaned out or looked at after the preceding weekend’s Motocross event in the arena. Everywhere there was trash, even half-eaten food and some beer cans on their sides. It was an astonishing array of trash and smells to walk into amid what appeared to be an otherwise normal arena. It was immediately too late for me to backtrack and take him out of this section, he was much too interested in the hows or whys this could have happened. I explained as best I could that they assumed they would not sell any tickets in this section for the soccer game, so they must be waiting to clean up from the Motocross. He did not want to walk around the section, but he also didn’t want to leave. I picked him up and we watched the soccer from way high up near the ceiling, looking down on all that old trash and beer cans, until he looked at me and told me he was ready to go home. I felt that I had a companion here, a little guy who I could teach and learn from, who was now going to be interested in things, who was present with me.

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It wasn’t too long ago that we had a little get-together for Boy’s birthday. My Love’s father was there—and let me tell you, I like Love’s father so much it’s nearly criminal–as well as both of my parents and my paternal grandmother. My parents have been divorced for quite a few years, and yet they get along like the best of friends, and there was my dad’s mother, chatting it up with his ex-wife, all while boy ran around and told everyone he loves them all the time, and climbed on everybody, and climbed on me, while I held Loves hand, while the room was full of talk and laughter, while there was warmth everywhere, and everywhere I looked there was future, future, future.

 

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My love and I put on our light spring jackets and walked into the crisp evening. Just the two of us, we interlocked our hands, and headed down the street toward Midtown. It is one of the benefits of living where we do, that usually, given the right weather and the right child care situation, we can walk to some of the places that we like to spend time together. This night it was simple: we were going out to eat. It was one of the last walkable nights of the year, and we knew it. The cold was setting in, soon we would be driving everywhere and stuck inside like prisoners.  So tonight, we knew, was a walking night.

There was a very popular and artsy restaurant in the middle of Midtown, which somehow we still had not made it to. Recently they had started serving a very popular veggie burger, that all of our friends were talking about, and we still hadn’t tried. It had been on our list for weeks.

The thing about taking a somewhat lengthy walk with the person that you love is that it forces conversation you don’t normally have inside the house or perhaps in a moving car. You see things that you don’t normally see, are reminded of things you might only see or think of by yourself, you’re moving at an interesting pace, a different speed. I love holding hands and walking with my love. I love the way her hand feels, I love being connected to her physically in that way, I love being able to look at her face from the side so often. I love being able to point out things, and have her point out things to me, elements of our neighborhood that we only see when we are walking the dog by ourselves.  I love kissing her outside. Many people spend most of their lives in relationships and begin to take things like this for granted, maybe even very early on in life, they assume they will have a companion in this form. Having spent so long single, small things like holding hands, walking down the street, these things never seem anything other than magical to me. My love thrills me.  Literally every single thing about her. It’s electric.

Twenty minutes later we found ourselves the only customers in the artsy eating establishment, it being only five o’clock. We were talking about the art on the wall, the interesting sculptures, the funny man who kept looking at us askance from inside the kitchen. We talked about the interesting ordering system the restaurant used, the haphazard way salt was placed on some of the tables but not others, we talked about our days, we held hands and looked at each other. Sometimes we didn’t say anything and that was lovely in its own way. When you know someone is your true partner, being in their presence is a constant salve.

The food came and it was delicious, just as delicious as everyone says it is was, and it was fantastic to share a meal with someone who shares so many of my worldviews, who has the compassion in the same places I do, love and freedom in the same proportions, to share a meal with a woman who has taught me so much. As I was finishing off my Diet Pepsi, stealing glances at this woman, I kept thinking some of the same thoughts I come back to all the time.  How I waited so long to find her.  How, when I did find her, I couldn’t and still can’t believe how perfect she is.  How my journey to find her wasn’t about me, or even the journey, but it was about her, about us.  How I still learn about her every day and she’s such a delicious mystery.  How she fits so well.  I looked at her as I sat there, finishing my Diet Pepsi, and I said to her the only thing one can say, given the unbearable weight of the world:  I can’t believe you’re finally here.

 

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The days, good or bad, really do just stretch out like deserts, uncountable deserts, again and again and again.  Some, you find, contain nothing: plodding marches under a bored sun.  But sometimes, they are filled up, filled with everything you ever dreamed, brazen neon signs of days, confetti and love love love.  I don’t know about you, but I’m trying to figure out how to keep them filled up.  I want the days of everything, forever.

It is possible to grow up and still let the juice run down your chin.

Posted in Memoir, real life with tags , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2017 by sethdellinger

Our culture is full of tales that suggest there is a prime way to live life; movies, music and books that implore you to chase your dreams, to leave the safe confines of your daily routine, to reach out and grab life by the whatevers, because, you know, you only live once.  It’s a moving, inspiring narrative.  The thing is, you see, in our society, typically when someone does that sort of thing, we all look at them like they’re crazy.  I can’t believe she just up and moved to New York—to be an actress!  She had a pretty good job here, too.  She’s nuts!

And so on.

This is not going to be a piece of writing where I tell you how you should be living.  For the most part, how you are living is between you and, possibly, those closest to you.  It’s got nothing to do with me.  They make so many movies etc suggesting you grab life by the armpits because those kinds of things make money.  People love to be told how they are pissing away their existence.  Why?  Because almost everyone is, in some way, convinced they actually are pissing away their existence.

It’s hard to know how to live your life, right?  By the time you get one thing figured out, one part of you fully colored in, you’ve changed in other ways, and now you’re chasing other ghosts, ironing out new parts of you, nursing new interests.  The songs tell you to chase your dream but very few of us have just one enormous dream.  Most of us are a collection of dozens of itsy bitsy dreams.  I don’t suggest driving your car off a cliff over an itsy bitsy dream.

All I’m personally concerned with is being passionate, living with vigor.  I keep changing, evolving; it’s like I’m in the center of an orchard that is spinning around me and I’m leaping at fruit as they fly past.  Even as I near my fortieth year, I find my changes accelerating: I would be unrecognizable even to my thirty-year-old self.  With so much swirling into and out of my crosshairs, it’s impossible to laser-focus on something.  What I need is passion for everything.  The racing heart, smelling the book, walking outside in the cold to take the photograph, the peach juice running down your chin, holding Her as tight as I can.  I don’t need to move to New York to be an actress to squeeze the juice out—but maybe you do, so maybe you should.

And maybe you’re OK with rote routine, eating your food and drinking your water just to stay alive as long as possible.  That’s fine, too.  Like I said, this isn’t a piece of writing to tell you how to live your life.  That’s got nothing to do with me, because nobody’s paying me to write this.

But me, I need passion.

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For a few years in my early twenties I was passionate about Alcoholics Anonymous.  I mean that’s who I was for a little while.  I thought it was the life for me.  After being tentative and gradually going into that world, I fully immersed myself once comfortable.  I would get phone calls late at night and go talk to a drunk in need.  I gave a talk to troubled teens attending an early intervention class at a local church.  Almost all of my friends were members of AA.  We went to meetings together, then went out for coffee afterward, then sometimes even back to an apartment or house for a movie night after the coffee.  We took road trips together to meetings and seminars.  At the time, I was still considered a “young person in sobriety” (I was 25-26) and my closest AA buddies and I went to the Pennsylvania Convention of Young People in Alcoholics Anonymous (known as “Pennsypaa”).  We took over a hotel in downtown Baltimore (that’s right, it was in Baltimore–they like to make it a nice trip for everyone no matter where you live in the state) for three whole days.  That’s how passionate I was about Alcoholics Anonymous.  In addition to tons of panels and activities, there was also a room where they had round-the-clock meetings, one an hour, for the whole three days.  I made it my mission to do a stretch of 24 hours straight, but I think I only got 7 or 8 before I had to go sleep.  I had my favorite AA jokes (“They asked me to go to that meeting and give a talk on humility, but I said I’d only do it if enough people showed up”), I had my favorite chapters in the Big Book (“Us Agnostics”), and on and on.  It was my life and I thought it would always be.  It isn’t my life anymore, though.  It hasn’t been for a very long time.  Those guys I went to Baltimore with–there is only one of them I am still in touch with.  But that’s how it is supposed to be, back before social media changed our expectations; people, like passions, are allowed to come and go.  You can let them go.

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Like most of my blog entries lately, I’m just kind of thinking out loud here.  Don’t look too hard for an overarching theme or thesis.  As my birthday approaches I’m doing a little taking stock.  Certainly my life right now is the most amazing it’s ever been–it is not putting on a front to say that.  People think that if you say your life is amazing on the internet that you must be lying, but they think that because their lives are not amazing.  I assure you mine is.

No, I am not taking stock of my life in some way that implies it needs improved, but rather, to discern just how I have changed so much.  This is one of the more massive themes of all the blog entries I’ve ever written: how the old me becomes the new me becomes the old me becomes the new me and on and on and on.  And why do I think you’d want to read about this?  Why, because I assume the same thing is happening to you.

I suppose it’s possible this is not happening to you.  It’s possible the old you became the new you and then you stayed right there, and now you’re just you.  But again, that’s none of my business.

What I want to get at is, how much of those old me’s are still part of me?  Are there fundamental bits of Seth mixed up inside me, that have always been there and shall always remain?  Or do we change, piece by piece, insidiously, until the person we see in the mirror bears no relation to the people we were 10, 20 years ago?

Is there even a way to know the answer?

Sometimes I think the only thing in this world that cuts to any part of the truth of existence is music–music without words–and the only thing I can really create is words, but no music.  So there you have it.  Questions stacked on questions like mirrors looking into mirrors.

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I’ve seen Pearl Jam live 21 times.  Approximately.  It might be 17.  I know it is more than 15.  At some point in my life I knew that number very concretely.  That is how much has changed within me since I gave up the ghost on Pearl Jam.  For a very long stretch, the band was my life.  I bought everything you can possibly imagine–spending thousands of dollars on the band’s merchandise.  When they would tour, I would take vacations from work and follow them up and down the east coast, staying in hotels by myself in places as diverse as Jersey City to Virginia Beach.  I attended about 75% of those Pearl Jam shows all alone, and did not mind one bit.  I used to tell people I had to go to as many shows as possible because Pearl Jam concerts were “my church”.  Especially the long instrumental parts they would play in “Even Flow” and “rearviewmirror”; I would close my eyes during these times and replay my life up to that point, flipping through memory images, whatever came to mind and seemed significant, and then giving immense thanks that I had come through everything to be in a position to be standing there, right then, as this band was creating this music, and I had enough money to buy the poster and a t-shirt and my own hotel room.  When the band cycled back around to the climax of the song, I’d open my eyes, always tear-filled, and they’d pour down my cheeks, and I’d jump like a maniac as the music built to a catharsis, and I’d scream and pump my fists and let out my barbaric yawp.  It was my church.  I did that for a long time.  Seven or eight years.  But I don’t do that anymore.  I didn’t even look at the setlists for Pearl Jam’s last two tours.  I’m more of a Miles Davis kind of man now.

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People talk very poorly of “routine”.  They are afraid of falling into routine.  They think routine will just sap the authenticity directly out of your life.

Here is what they mean: they are afraid of getting old and having responsibilities.

Lord knows I was afraid of those things for a very long time.  I lived by myself for a decade and railed against the breakfast-nook-having, 401k-caring-about, child-rearing snoozevilles.  But guess what?  While I was living alone, bitching about all that, I still had a routine.  I may have been able to take road trips more often, stay out late, what-have-you, but ultimately, if what you fear is routine, then you are fucked, mister, because whoever you are and whatever you do, you are already in a routine.

I have a family now.  I am now living much closer to what some people would call a “normal adult life”, and yes, we have a routine.  Having a routine is how you make sure you get out the door in the morning (if that’s what you have to do), get food in your belly, pay the power company on time.  Having a routine and being in the flow of “normal” adult life doesn’t mean your passion has to be siphoned off.

But you gotta work at it.

The last thing I want, as I near forty and the changes inside me keep accelerating, is to live joylessly, simply existing, from one day to the next, sun up, sun down, alarm beeping, alarm beeping.  Luckily my partner is also a person with no interest in living an ordinary life, even if we do want to have breakfast nooks someday and pay attention to our 401ks.  Intense existence and successful adulthood, I think, are not mutually exclusive.

I want our family to be safe from harm but I don’t want to “be safe”.  I want desperately to reach further and further out of my comfort zones.  I want to do new stuff until the day I die.  I don’t want to only listen to the music I loved in high school.  The world is so damn huge.  We’re only here for a blink.

I have learned that it is possible to grow up and still let the juice run down your chin.

And to think I spent twenty years thinking art films and shoegaze rock were the meaning of life.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on December 19, 2016 by sethdellinger

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First Date

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on October 4, 2016 by sethdellinger

I don’t remember the first time I saw Karla.  It would make a better story if I could, but I don’t.  I was 16 or 17 and working at McDonalds.  It was a lousy job but looking back I can see I loved it there.  I loved my co-workers.  There was a lot of laughing.  One day Karla got a job there.  I don’t remember the first time I saw her but there’s little doubt I took notice.

Very shortly after she started working there, I had somehow finagled a date with her. I have no idea how the date got set up–this is 22 years ago, so we’re basically talking about a different life.  I don’t remember narrative details but I remember her.  I remember being mesmerized by her while I worked.  She was demure, beautiful–but it was more than that.  There was something different in the way she carried herself; everything about her movements, facial expressions, even her tone of voice suggested a deep inner life, as though her existence itself might convey an intense meaning, if it could only be unlocked.  Even as a sixteen year old boy, these mysteries were magnetic.

We went on a date.  I was terribly excited and nervous.  I had, in fact, just stopped working at the McDonalds when our date happened, and had begun working as a dishwasher at Eat ‘n Park.  We decided to go to Eat ‘n Park for dinner.  I assume we had more date planned for afterward, but again–too much time has passed for me to remember.

As soon as we walked in the Eat ‘n Park lobby, things went awry.  My boss saw me and asked why I wasn’t at work!  I had been scheduled to work and not known it, somehow.  Quite distressed, Karla and I had to cut our date short before it had even started.  I felt like a total bozo.  She left and I went to the back to start washing dishes, only to discover my manager had been wrong and I wasn’t scheduled to work!  Alas–this was 1996 or 1997–none of us had cell phones or Facebook or anything.  She was just…gone.

I don’t know what happened after that, but we didn’t try again.  We had one date and we never even ordered dinner.  Over the next twenty years, I would, of course, live a full life; I would have a list of “ones that got away”.  But even after just that one short date, Karla’s name and face stayed with me and surfaced often.  I wondered about her.  What had I missed out on?  What churned below her stoic surface?  What cosmic secrets did she hold tight to?  Few people that I have encountered in my life seemed so vested with weighty things.

At some point, social media started happening.  It took me awhile to find her on Myspace; her last name had changed and I didn’t know it.  I finally did find her, but then, as now, she has never been very active on social media, and so we didn’t communicate much.  And of course that name change meant she was unavailable, besides.

It was probably for the best, because I wasn’t ready for her yet, not then, but after many more years passed and Facebook made everyone much more closely connected and she was getting ready to change her name back…I sent a message to her that was very well-timed.  I didn’t even know that I was ready for her, and everything she brought with her, but I was.  After seeing each other twice, we both knew.  We just…knew.

Now I get to keep unlocking the secrets of the universe with this woman for the rest of my life.  It’s easy to get sad by our missed “first date”, but it’s the best thing that ever happened to me–it made me wait twenty more years, until I was really ready.

Everything That Was Broken

Posted in My Poetry with tags , , , on November 4, 2015 by sethdellinger

Everything that was broken has
forgotten its brokenness.  I live now
in a sky-house, through every window
we see the sun.  Also your presence.
Our touching, our stories.  Both Earthly
and invisible.  How can this be?, but it is.
Every day has something in it whose name is Forever.

Karla

Posted in Prose with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2015 by sethdellinger

Despite the fact that it is an impossibility in this version of the universe, I sometimes imagine what it would be like to lose you.  It is, I understand, just a thought exercise.  But it is nonetheless intensely powerful, and a little debilitating.  The depth of sorrow I can experience in just these few moments alone with a hypothetical–it is indescribable.  You out in the wide world, somehow not in my orbit, no longer my anchor and my sail, and I am alone late at night (it is always late at night in this thought exercise) and I am always holding, for whatever reason, a corded landline phone, waiting for I don’t know what.
This isn’t a sad exercise; it’s glorious for reminding me that you are my lady, and you are a glorious lady.

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Tonight I drove to the movie theater and back.  It wasn’t incredibly late at night; 9pm on the way there, close to midnight on the way back, but it felt much later than that.  The roads were empty and even Dunkin Donuts was closed, but the night had that great mid-summer heat and glow, as though the whole world had been swimming all day in a very chlorinated pool.  I saw the new Mission: Impossible movie and it was pretty good.  I thought about you and the way your jaw juts out a little bit–really it’s practically imperceptible–when you are worrying about something.  It’s a small glimpse into your inner universe.  It’s a magical moment, when I get glimpses like that.  I wish I was in there with you.

I was listening to a Seven Mary Three mix disc I’ve made myself and I had the song Favorite Dog on repeat.  The lyrics have nothing (or very little, or who knows, really?) to do with me or us, but the dirge-like buildup and dreamy crescendo and Sisyphean lyrics bled into my ruminations.  That’s my other hand, open and empty. It wants one too, I guess. That’s my other jaw, swollen and shameless. It talks too much, I know.

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The neighborhood we live in is pockmarked; pockets of new buildings, swaths of blight, dozens of playgrounds: some new, some disgusting.  Office buildings and squalid churches and a new-ish Red Cross headquarters.  It doesn’t know what it wants to be, this neighborhood, although I’m confident some day it will sort everything out.  For now it’s enough that we live here, together, and our neighbors are nice and we have a huge bathtub and don’t worry about much and it’s a safe neighborhood.

There seem to be more people on motorized wheelchairs than I see elsewhere.  And chicken bones; a lot of people seem to eat chicken wings here and leave them on the ground, which is strange.  But the ice cream truck stops many places, and frequently, and plays cheery tunes with that twinkly horrible bell.  Sometimes when you’re up in bed, I slip out the front door and buy a cone.  They are creamy and luscious and melt down my hand by the time I’m back inside our air conditioned living room.

Last week we were driving down Harris Street toward Sixth and, outside an old barber shop that I had assumed was no longer in business, there were dozens of chairs sitting on the sidewalk; perhaps ten recliners, maybe three or four dining room 1chairs, and a few folding chairs.  At first we thought some small event was taking place, but as we pulled up beside them, it was obvious they were for sale.  Just chairs.  We were incredulous and we laughed and were baffled.

A few days ago I was walking our dog and just a few blocks from our house I came upon an old wooden chair that had been partially disassembled.  It sat boldly on the corner of the sidewalk as though it belonged there; I couldn’t help but remember the barber shop of a few days before.  I thought to myself, we live in a neighborhood of chairs.  I know this is nonsense and is not meaningful, but it sounds meaningful.

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…and they’re barking at me, yeah they’re working on me, just like my favorite dog.  Geronimo!  Look out below!  I love that rusty water like it was my favorite dog…

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Much, much more than most people (I assume) I become instantly and strongly aware that I am a creature scurrying across the outer crust of a planet in the massive and unpredictable universe.  You know how, in science fiction movies, sometimes the protagonists land on a planet they weren’t prepared for, and when they step out onto the surface, it is often something recognizable to us but also partly mystifying and different, and you think how you’d like to explore that world, see how it works?  I am frequently struck by that sensation on our own world.  From our current house, I need only walk six blocks to be standing beside the Susquehanna River–massive amounts of water which has all found its way into one spot, moving along together, flowing, flowing, never stopping, against a backdrop of a blue atmosphere and low mountains dappled with bushy green trees.  I’m on a planet, I think to myself, and nearly faint.

A few months ago I was at my father’s house out in the country when an especially intense weather pattern blew through the area and I stood outside with the neighbors, watching in awe as a tornado almost formed in the farmer’s field across the road. The massive dark and white clouds were moving faster than I could have imagined, swirling into and out of each other, turning 11148570_10206509552443317_4647072801334266283_oon end, pitching and yawing, an intricate dance choreographed by pressures beyond my ability to fathom, powers pulled from even beyond the Earth but the laws of the universe itself.  Suddenly the pressures above turned their powers toward us and a gush of air was blown directly down, the strangely warm air like a very strong wind blowing at the ground.  A gargantuan black cloud passed over our heads so close it was almost fog, and so fast it was almost an airplane, and then in an instant, it was gone, had moved past us, onto the next crop of onlookers elsewhere.  As I walked inside I said to my father in the living room, I have never felt so much like I was on a planet!  As I was walking out to the kitchen to get a drink I heard him reply I already know I’m on a damned planet! 

Just a few days ago, my dear, we were driving on one of these lengthy but truly scenic highways that Central Pennsylvania supplies us with by the dozens, and when we rounded a bend, we saw the light coming through holes in a cloud, we could see the light’s rays dancing on the air, and we could see it land, slantingly, on the nearby bulbous mountaintop, lighting individual treetops.  It almost looked like a forest fire was raining from the sky.  I was breathless and you let me take your hand and you let me be amazed and you were amazed with me, here on the surface of this world.

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…that’s my other head, open and bleeding, it thinks too much, I guess. That’s my other eye, swollen but fearless. It’s seen too much I know.  Geronimo!  Look out below!  I love that rusty water like it was my favorite dog…

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It’s enough–it is so much more than enough–that your hair falls across your ear the way it does when you lay on the couch.  How you sigh after a long day’s work: it is tired but determined.  It is so much more than enough the way you always offer me water when I walk in the door, it is so much more than I ever would have asked for.  The way that your lips taste, always so sweet, like you had just put a dab of sugar on them, even that is all I need, all I could ever need, here in our neighborhood of chairs, here on the surface of our planet.

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