All Things Must Pass

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All Things Must Pass

It was the last night of a 46-show tour and we were in Richmond, Virginia at a venue called “The Yerb,” which wasn’t a venue at all but a dilapidated house in whose living room somebody had built a stage where the fireplace should have been. The floorboards were warped and dirty and the kitchen was heaped with crusty dishware and outside in the dirt yard kids with tattoos stood around under strings of dim Christmas lights smoking and drinking beer.

We had arrived late that afternoon from Maryland and passed the last daylight hours drinking in Cary Town with Little Tybee, the band with whom we’d been touring  for the past two months. It was just another day on the road, except that by this time tomorrow we’d be home, separated from Little Tybee,and separated from each other and separated, in some ways, from ourselves. We drank and reminisced on our travels and did not talk about tomorrow.

When our set began the kids came in from the yard. The PA system was cheap and half-broken, farting out the low notes and missing the highs altogether, but nobody seemed to mind. They pressed against the rim of the stage,  they stood in couches and crowded the kitchen and spilled into the hallway and made stadium seating of the staircase and the house grew hot and sweat-fogged and at the end of every song came an eruption of applause so that by mid-set I had slipped into that state of blurred and furious bliss we all so coveted and in fact had pursued to every corner of the country.

Little Tybee played next. I stood watching from the back of the room. And so pure appeared their pleasure, even after all those shows,  that my bliss was extended,  absorbing the worry that usually works over me at the end of a tour,  the concern about money and the future and the questions of what have we accomplished and where do we go from here and will we ever “make it” and how long before we’re forced to move on, disband, get jobs, start families, and what happens if we never do?—all was forgotten, the unceasing and all-consuming passing and passing and passing put on hold by the shere force and holiness of the moment.

But then the show was over and we began to pack our equipment. We’d done it so many times by now that it had become a completely thoughtless process. That same late-night, half-buzzed weariness. The slow fade of the onstage high that leaves you feeling scooped-out and lost. We moved around one another like ants in a nest, putting instruments in cases and hefting them down the staircase into the street where Ryan, as always, had climbed up into the back of the van to direct the last of the nightly routines. It was a perfect spring night and the streets were quiet, the nine of us standing about on the sidewalk in that middle-of-the-night stillness, talking idly, smoking, handing up each piece of equipment to Ryan as he announced it. And when all was loaded we piled in and rolled out, our van leading and the Little Tybee rig following. It was three in the morning and six hours to Asheville.

Ryan drove first shift. Dan laid out on the bench seat and Halli and I shared the homemade bunk in the back. We unrolled our sleeping bags head to foot and I was asleep before we hit the interstate. I woke somewhere near Chapel Hill. Dawn. My turn to drive. I shambled into the gas station and bought a coke, passing on my way in a group of truckers where they sat outside at a picnic table sipping coffee and eating doughnuts and smoking cigarettes while their rigs stood huge against the glowing rim of the horizon.

Soon it was full light. My mirrors consumed by a molten sun exploding behind me to the east. The van chasing its own shadow westward toward the mountains. Strange to think about going home, being home. What’s home? Asheville? No house there, no lease, nobody awaiting my return. Everything I cared about was here, in the van, and I wondered whether it was toward home I was heading, or away.

Ryan was the first to part. He was catching a flight that very morning to California where he would be staying with his girlfriend (a woman he met on a previous tour) for the duration of our three-week break. He was flying out from Charlotte. The Tybee guys were going to drop him at the airport on their way home to Atlanta. We stopped at a gas station in Statesville to make the switch. Ryan standing among the pumps in nothing but his boxer-shorts, rummaging through his suitcase for something halfway clean. People gawking at this ragged half-naked figure dousing himself in deodorant and brushing his teeth with a jug of water. This was also goodbye to Tybee. We hugged, said our farewells.

Now three: Halli, Dan, and I. And a hundred miles to Asheville. Dan drove, I slept in the back seat. Woke to the sight of mountains out my window as we pulled into the driveway of Molly’s house (Dan’s girlfriend). She came skip-running out the door. They embraced in the walkway. After awhile they turned and approached the van. “Hi, guys,” said Molly. Halli and I looked out, squinting into the bright sun. Reading Molly’s expression I saw that we stank.

Now Halli and I.

“I feel strange,” she said, having climbed up from the back and into the passenger seat.

“Me too,” I said.

“Almost sick” she said. “But not really. Not physically.”

“Not sick,” I said, nodding. “Just, I don’t know. Beat.”

 

 

Arriving at Halli’s grandparent’s house in Asheville we got out and removed our bags and schlepped inside without a word. It was eleven o’clock in the morning. We parted ways in the hallway.

“Goodnight,” she said.

“Goodnight.”

 

First thing I did was peel off my clothes. And standing there naked in the bright light of the bathroom I looked at myself in the mirror. Long hair, long beard. I ran the shower, waited for it to get hot. Sunburn lingering still on my face and arms from the long hot drive through Nebraska. Grass stains between my toes from that park in Maryland where we threw a baseball barefooted till dark. Blisters on the tops of my feet from walking around Richmond in those cheap flip-flops. Grease still under my fingernails from the fiddling I did under the hood back in Wyoming when the van started spewing coolant. Soreness of hips and back from the floors and chairs and couches on which I’d slept. Chicago you come back in flashes. Did I dream you, or you me? New York, you great and powerful place, are the souls you swallow equal to the those you set free? Where I sat atop the van with my legs dangling above the street on a Friday night in springtime Manhattan watching the people pass along the sidewalk, the taxis, the busses, the steaming subway grates—so much desire on a single island it breaks my bursting heart. San Francisco with your streets so steep, I know now your end-of-the-road sadness.

In the shower I took soap to every inch of my skin, turning the water hotter all the time. Afterward I clipped my fingernails and toenails. I flossed and brushed my teeth. I gargled with mouthwash and took Q-tips to my ears. Then I put on a clean pair of underwear and drank a massive glass of water and slid down into the cool sheets of a bed—sweet delicious bed—and put on my headphones and crossed my arms behind my head and closed my eyes.

I woke to the rumble of thunder. Darkness. The flash of lightning striping through the windowblinds. Then came the rain. Whispering rain, shushing everything into wetness. I got up and opened the window and climbed back in bed again. That stormy smell, cool and fresh. The thunder clapping now, loud and overlapping. I stretched my feet to the end of the bed and pulled the sheets to my chin and watched as trees jumped out in the white light like negatives of the night.

And raining still when I finally got up and dressed and went out to buy some groceries for dinner. Dark, dark night and the rain falling hard. Spattering my windshield and hanging like television static in my headlights. Wipers pumping, slinging sheets of water as I squinted to see the lines in the road. The traffic lights bleeding and streaked where they lay reflected in the shimmering black of the macadam. A set of headlights coming toward me all lashed and starry without a car at all to connect them to.

I wandered the grocery store. So long since I’ve shopped, longer since I’ve cooked. It was ten at night and the place nearly empty. The hum of the florescent lights. I fondled some tomatoes, I hefted a loaf of bread. I stood in the magazine aisle flipping absently through an issue of Rolling Stone. I paid for my groceries at the only open register.

Trying to embrace this loneliness. Cross-country tour number two now complete, and while I knew the second one would feel different, I wasn’t sure how. Now that’s it was over I would say only that it feels a little more normal. And because we have another one coming up in three weeks—another six-weeks up the east coast into Canada—I found myself at times looking past this tour before it was over. Not wise perhaps, but helpful in that it makes me less prone to dwell on all the excitement I’ve already used up. I made a dinner of tuna fish and raw spinach and sat eating it in silence at a little table in the basement. When I was finished I washed my dish and turned out the light and went to my room.

Pulling off my boots and how strange that tomorrow I had nowhere to go, nowhere to be. Still living out of my suitcase—will be for some time to come. The road is my home now and I am on it even when we aren’t touring. I laid and listened to the rain. Sometime later I received a text message from Ryan. It read: “Crazy that I just did in three hours what took us three weeks. This morning I was in Charlotte and now here I am on the Pacific. California. Los Angeles.  I’m confused about this. Driving seems….more honest.”

“Hope all is well in the west,” I replied. “A strange loneliness I wasn’t expecting. My sadness tonight is for this whole huge country of ours and the way all things must pass.”

 

-A.M.

 

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I’m No Hemingway

There’s something about the written word as a medium of expression that seems to attract us in a way no other medium seems able. Reading, as far as I can gather, is what you might call uniquely imaginative. In fiction especially, you are required as a reader to meet the material halfway. That is, unlike television or film or even live music, there is nothing afforded to the senses–no sound or picture or movement of any sort. Just black words on a white page. And yet reading can be one of the most absorbing, if not downright exciting, forms of entertainment. By no means do I intend to harp on these other forms of art and entertainment. There is a time and a place for everything. As my good friend Ryan often says, “Sometimes, after a long day, I just want to sit down in front of a screen and not think.” And anybody who seeks to argue against the value of that sort of escapism I can only assume lives in a different–gentler–world than the rest of us. But as I started to say earlier, reading is unique in that it requires–demands at times–that you be present. And when I say ‘you’ I mean You the Individual. Because to meet the material halfway with your imagination is a simplified way of saying you are actually coloring the material you’re reading with your own experiences. With your thoughts and ideas and feelings and dreams. You give voice to dialogue. You imagine characters. The author describes a setting, you bring it to life. In short, there is effort involved in reading. A sort of personal commitment you make for the duration of the work. An investment of time and energy for which you hope you will eventually be rewarded. Because reading can be tiresome, demanding, even arduous. Part of that might be due to the fact that what you’re reading isn’t very good. But another part of it is what I consider the natural discomfort of being challenged. Of being forced to insert some of yourself into what you’re doing. This challenge exists to some extent in all forms of art and media. Music, for lack of a better term, is what you might call auditory poetry; it is for the most part very impressionistic, the musician relying on you as a listener to attach to the song your own set of emotions. As I said, there is value in all forms of expression. But the point I guess I’m trying to make is that reading, if you haven’t noticed, seems to have taken a back seat to the more directly accessible, if not less challenging, forms of entertainment. To the Playstations and YouTubes and Facebooks. And it would be naive of me not to acknowledge the value of such things, the internet especially. It’s wonderful, truly. I am, after all, writing a blog. And the point of this little essay is not to get up on a soap box and demand that more people read. Reading and writing won’t ever go away completely. But they will, and have, adapted. Everywhere you look things are being abbreviated. Everything is shorter and quicker. It’s all instant access and direct download. It’s fast food and microwaveable meals. Text messaging and instant messaging and twit-tweetering. A little snippet here, a little there. Which, as I said, has proven to be quite convenient at times. But isn’t convenience in general a little shallow? Any by that I mean it isn’t challenging.

Most everybody believes they have a book in them somewhere waiting to be written. Who among us doesn’t have a story to tell? One of the first things I had to get over when I first thought about trying to write stories was thinking that in order to write I had to have something extraordinary to say before anyone would care to read it. Granted, you don’t want to ramble. Perhaps you consider this rambling. If so, I apologize. But only in part. The other part of me isn’t sorry in the slightest. If you’re bored, stop reading. Go see what’s on TV. Because this whole blog thing is as much a statement as it is an invitation. As much an experiment as an outlet. Not to say that if nobody reads my blog I will assume reading is dead. I’m aware that there are far better things you could be reading. I’m no Hemingway. But I will say that I refuse to abbreviate or abridge. Perhaps I’m simply too enamored with the sight of my own prose; but also I can’t help but believe in the values that reading and writing embody. The patience and commitment. The investment of time and energy and the willingness to grow. Call me old fashioned, but letting go completely of such values is like letting the government print more money than we have gold to back it up. Anyway, this is my blog: welcome. The point is to give voice to my creative impulses, that’s all. Naturally, I hope people will read it. But if they don’t, that’s okay too. It will be here regardless. Waiting to meet you halfway.

–A. McWalters