The Suburbs of Babylon Chapter 4 Part 3

It’s Friday again—not that it matters, since every day trapped indoors due to Covid-19 is exactly the same as the one before, except when Seven posts part of his self-published meh-moir, “The Suburbs of Babylon.” Today’s offering is a continuation of Chapter 4, titled “Home.” If you’re interested in knowing the continuity of the story but haven’t read the previous two Friday’s blogs, I suggest scrolling down my homepage and reading those first…

“A couple blocks from the orphanage where I grew up is a convalescent hospital for mentally disturbed individuals.  Not criminally insane, but those who are simply unable to care for themselves.  The world would devour them, so they collect at this place, called simply “Guest Home” to affect an air of normalcy.  Most of the guests at the Home have been there for decades.  They are allowed to come and go freely, so they spend their days walking the hundred-yard stretch of storefront between the Home and Seven-eleven.  I’ve seen the same crop of bedbugs roaming the streets since I was a child.  My friend Ty—another boy at the orphanage—and I used to walk up to Thrifty’s Drug Store for a twenty cent ice cream cone, and the same guy would be there every day.  He was about seven feet tall, four hundred pounds, mute, and endlessly cheerful.  He’d see us, amble up, shake our hands, give us a bone-crushing hug, flip us the middle finger, and walk off toward Chuck E. Cheeze’s as happy as a clam.  Ty said he once saw the guy masturbating in a movie theater, but I think he misinterpreted the poor man’s compulsive bobbing movement, which was present even in his walk.

Another gentleman from the Home has stood on the corner by the fire station every day for twenty years.  He always has his camera with him to photograph the fire engines as they leave the station, sirens blaring.  He wears a red bandana around his neck, is shaped a bit like a pear, or a weeble (the ones that wobble but don’t fall down), and is on that corner faithfully, sun or moon, rain or shine.  The most I’ve ever got out of him is a “good morning,” since his attention to his work is profoundly devout.  I can only assume that from his labors there exists somewhere in the Guest Home an enormous photo library documenting every occasion that a fire truck has left that station since 1974.  An amazing feat when you think about it.  I would like very much to see that collection one day.  Though I wonder if anyone except the artist has ever had the privilege.

*    *    *

The only thing that had been keeping me sane as I battle the loneliness and misdirection of my life, other than the brief relief of various frivolous women, was the anticipation of an impending road trip to Mexico.  The compulsion to leave home is nagging at me like an addict’s itch, and I’ve found it’s better to plan ahead rather than wait till the urge is too strong and then strike out blindly to God knows where.  This trip was going to save me from myself—from the daily torture that turns minutes into endless hours of reflection on Jane, which send me off in random combinations of grief, anger, woe, self-pity, numbness, agony, and obsession.  I say “was” because the trip had to be cancelled due to lack of funds.  So now panic is setting in.

My hopes were high at the thought of that old coastal road through Baja California, and one of my favorite spots:  a little beach south of Rosarito where Alvin, Norman, and I have spent many Spring Breaks together.  There is a hotel on the cliff overlooking the beach and a camping area between, where we could stay for next to nothing.  Each morning, around eleven, a plump Mexican woman would appear from who knows where, right as we were finishing our first case of Coronas, hold out a hand to Alvin (I think she liked him) and say, “No parke.”  At which time Alvin would hand her two bucks and our empty beer bottles and she would waddle off, disappearing until the next day.  This is how we paid to camp on the beach.

Across the road behind the hotel was a canyon out of which ran a stream into the ocean.  Once Alvin and I hiked to the back of the canyon and found a waterfall rushing out of rolling green hills, over a high cliff, surrounded by wild daisies.  The waterfall fed a stream, which irrigated a field of multi-pastelled carnations, flowers that were sold in the nearby towns.  Alvin and I clamored to the base of the waterfall and stood under it, and eventually climbed higher to find its source:  a deep, soundless, night-blue lake set in a lazy meadow.  I had an epiphany there, surrounded by all that beauty.  It was where I made my first connection of peace with a location, and where I have drawn it from ever since.

I’m trying to think of that place, but unfortunately I spent a weekend at the hotel with Jane last year, which sours the image.  Not because it was unpleasant, but because the memory of happiness with one now lost brings not happiness, as any person knows, but sorrow at the loss of it all.  (I’m always sick when people say that their head is filled with happy memories of the debunked relationship, which warm them with nostalgic joy at the recollection of what was.  What a crock of steaming manure.  I don’t care how happy I was then, the fact is that person is gone, and thinking about how happy I was only reminds me how miserable I am now.)  So instead of trying to the seam holding the two thoughts—Jane at the hotel and the waterfall canyon—I will submit for your approval or rejection the soliloquy I wrote upon leaving that lake and waterfall for the first time.  I was twenty, had not yet met Jane, and I had written the following stream-of-consciousness recollection, which has its own implications:

‘I have left the place now, and am already trying to imagine myself on the cliff again, overlooking the ocean in the distance, and feeling that the view has something to do with my destiny.  This vision tells me something about myself that I haven’t quite put my finger on, and do not wish to at the moment.  Something is trying to push its way into my mind, something deep and dark like the endless night sky over my head.  I’m trying right now not to start thinking about women, since that’s usually what I end up writing about.  I’m struggling not to think of how my fear and hatred and love and obsession for them wear at me all the time and about how I whish I had one who I loved who loved me.  And yet I know that that’s the most impossible and deplorable scenario I can think of for myself, since I know them and hate them for what I know.

‘I’m trying not to think about kisses that never come without guilt and sex that never comes at all, and about how I steal moments with them like pornography from a liquor store shelf, and how they all seem to know that I feel that way.  What amazes me is the pleasure they seem to take in knowing they were part of a man’s unfixing, and—wait.  Damn, I didn’t want to write about women.

‘I’m thinking of the cliff. . .I’m thinking of that lake, the deep blue of the water, the dragonflies buzzing among the reeds, and of the pale blue of the sky above it.  The color of that sky is relaxing, though at times in a dangerous way.  There’s too much of this color blue around.  I think it’s used as a rouse for people in power to give us false delusions about bad things.  Like drugs for your eyes.  Not that anyone has had anything to do with the color of the sky.  It’s just coincidence.  Or else it’s God’s hypnosis.  But sometimes I feel like I’m in a fog, and I can almost shake myself out of the haze I’m in (which we’re all in) and see the world for what it is.  But I never completely do.  Instead I linger in a private semi-conscious state and struggle to tell the difference between the waking world and my illusions.  It’s like in the morning when you dream you wake up and start getting ready for school, but then you really wake up and figure out you were dreaming.  Kind of like that only the opposite.  Or something.

‘It just struck me that Sunday—the actual day—gives me this same kind of drugged feeling.  Only it’s worse.  In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a weird haze over Sunday, like somebody tinted the sun or something.  The way it shines is different, uglier.  And the colors are skewed, like if you had pneumonia or a really bad fever.  Also, I tend to get really depressed on Sundays.  My friend knows what I’m talking about” (incidentally, that friend is Alvin).  “He calls it the Sunday doldrums.  I totally agree.  Sunday is when you can’t chase away your brain when it wants to remind you the future is as close as next Sunday and pretty soon Sunday is going to be the rest of your life and what then?  What will you be?  Why are you in school?  What the hell for?  You want to be in a rock band!  You want to set the world on its ear!  You can’t do that teaching junior high in Tarzana!  And of course, Sunday reminds you you’re alone.  Of all the amazing women in the world, I can’t even get one to share a Sunday with me.  Sunday, which is the crappiest day of the week!  Maybe it’s my approach.  No, I feel that it is my ugly car and lack of money that keeps them away.  God knows you don’t have to be good-looking.  Rick O’Cassic, case in point.  No, it’s pretty clear what is in fact needed to pinch the cottage-cheesy fat in a woman’s brain to generate a response.  Forget intelligence, expunge humor, destroy trust, decimate loyalty.  It’s money, pure and simple.  You never—hey what—oh, hell, I’m talking about them again.

‘If I were back on that cliff right now, I believe God Himself would come down out of Heaven and say to me, Enjoy this view.  Take it all in, every last detail.  Not because you’ll never see it again, but because this is the best you’re ever going to get.  A pretty view, nothing more.  That’s all you get with women, too, just to look at them.  No love for you, son, no success.  Just 8th grade English and a used Honda for you, forever.  And you know why?  Because instead of wasting every Sunday looking up at the sky, pondering your existence, you should have been in church!’

Looking back at this piece of literary drivel from years ago, it is apparent to me that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  I was wrong about the future of some things, though.  Last year the Mexican government bulldozed the whole cliff to put up timeshare suites.  Also, I got a much better car, and I briefly did more than look at a beautiful woman, who has since gone away and left me to spiral into madness.

The night I wrote that piece, the night after my first visit to the canyon, I lay in my tent on the beach, listening to the sound of the Pacific mixing with the carefree drunken conversation of my friends, and wondered about my life.  Nothing really specific, just pondering, mind agape, waiting for some thought to come into my head.  As I drifted off into sleep, I dreamed of the waterfall, of the harrowing rocks we had to climb to reach the top, of the lake, surrounded by fields of tall grass and wildflowers.  In my dream, the light began to fade, and beyond the far water’s edge I could see the figure of a man, dark against the hill and gray-blue sky.  Nondescript yet somehow familiar to me as myself, he invaded my mind like he belonged.  He was walking towards me, and I did not know whether or not to be afraid.  As he neared the water, without stopping he placed a foot in, and then another, and I realized he was walking across the surface, closing the distance.  I strained to see his face, but it was too dark.  And then I was awakened by the sound of my friends calling me to come join them at the campfire and drink with them, which I did.”

Looking back now, as a much wiser and heavier man, after having traveled to three continents and making my home 8,000 miles from my place of birth, I realize that these yearnings for escape, for new horizons, and for foreign soil began decades ago, and only my fear of the unknown prevented me from boarding a plane to Thailand way back then.

I guess the lesson here is, when you feel the urge to leave…leave. Get on that plane and go, and fuck your fears. Or the lesson could be, better late than never. Either way, cheers to those of us with the balls to venture off to sights unseen and the adventure that calls us all. Peace.