What if you went on vacation and never went back. It doesn’t feel like vacation. It never did. It was never what they described or predicted. I remember looking down from a plane over the desert almost ten years ago, after leaving my last place of residence and putting all my belongings into storage. I was hopeful to feel some change but I felt exactly the same.
Ten years went by. A couple of months ago I landed in Italy and went by train to Southern France. I stayed there with friends for two weeks then on to work in Switzerland. That took two weeks in which time my plan for July evaporated and I scrambled for options. A friend from work helped me to find a house for the month in northern Spain down the street from his rental house in a rural farm town. I could rent a house with a pool for the same cost of a room in a shared apartment in an outer bourough of Manhattan. The house was in the countryside, yet factoring in a rental car I was still within the operating budget for a month in Manhattan. There was period of some days to fill before heading to occupy the house so I went up to visit still other friends who run a camping ground at the edge of the Black Forest. I know a lot of people, nice people. I’m a lucky fool.
On the first of the month, I moved into the house in the tiny hamlet of Voto. The house had been empty for over a year. The owner had a kind face and an easy way with his son. He said they had been happy in the house. The boy was tan and at ease at just about the age where a kid starts getting disgruntled. The fences surrounding the house were covered with a kind of astroturf bleached by the sun and the property had a neglected look. Long grass, weeds and various wild and domestic plants were sprouting from cracks everywhere, behind the house was a confusing quilt of tile asphalt and cement wrapping around the immediate property, creating a distinctly urban effect in a rural setting. It reminded me of the way the people in Queens put tile and fences all over their tiny properties. Why all the hard finish? Maybe they were city folk? A high tile patio with a ramp up was cluttered with sun busted wooden recliners and chairs, it had a brief stairway leading down to an apartment under the patio. A lack of airflow left the apartment uninhabitably moldy and past the picture window of the apartment was a big pool that had gradually turned into an algae pond. In general, the place was in need of some attention but the house OK due to the air flow system Miguel, the owner, had installed and kept running while he and his family moved further north to start a new business.
The rooms were small and dark so I swept out the sun porch behind the house that was all windows and shades. The light was great so I moved the rattan furniture around to shake up the vibe of stagnant air and used it to paint in. I could sit at a makeshift table and work while watching the clouds over the valley behind the house that changed all day.
The house next door was vacant The bank apparently handed over the keys to some local gypsies who came in and cleared out what ever they could use. The house across the street from me sat empty as well.
While allegedly writing a second book, I say allegedly because I feel it is going nowhere, I am also working on a book of watercolor paintings. It is a way to keep several balls in the air. I use photos from the front pages of major newspapers as source material, stripped of meaning, just an image that catches the eye because of colors and composition. I was first drawn to a photo of Russia’s Putin and China’s President Hu Jintau standing against a red and blue stage. It was so beautiful the content didn’t matter much to me. I wanted to steal it, so I did.
As for what I am calling this second book, I feel totally adrift. I talk about the world in the wake of UG. In the previous book he was a centerpiece, now I have nothing but my observations to occupy a so-called narrative. Since the thought mechanism is driven by a narrative anyway, this one seems to be about peeking over the edge of oblivion, like the rocky cliffs along the Atlantic coast here that drop hundreds of feet into thundering surf. If I’m honest, the narrative is about shrinking from that abyss.
When I got really sick of the noise in my head and staring at the computer screen and the walls of the house, I went down the many layers of cement yard to fiddle with some broken nets trying to clean the pool. That seemed as sensible as it was impossible. The pump motor appeared to be broken and using the garbage can as a bucket was comical enough to bring the neighbor up the hill out to watch the bald gringo scoop muck from the pool.
The Jehovah’s witnesses who owned the weekend house across the street leave a pet dog in the yard for weeks when they are away. Lisa looks like a bear, happy go lucky, desperately lonely bear. Automatic dispensers provide her with food and water. The witnesses came one weekend and she barked all night, every night they were there. Maybe she was telling them something. No matter what I conclude from this scenario I have no solution for it. Pets baffle me. I understand them in the abstract, but being responsible for another living creature’s food and shit is not a job I would take on as an owner. I have of course taken it on for room and board, so I have to shut my mouth here.
I was going to be alone in the house for the month. With 26 days left I went for a long ride on the bike. I picked an all uphill route to get an overview. While huffing and puffing up, up and up, with spectacular views of the valley all to myself, the thought crossed my mind that I’d been walking, riding or driving from one place to another my entire life, thinking the same unrelenting thoughts regurgitating the same memories that dredged up the same emotions over and over. “There you baptize the sensation by giving it a name.” UG said to a Dutch woman in a talk from Amsterdam in the 1980’s. Glancing into into a field from a passing car, train, plane, makes me long to be out there in it, then I get out there and its just me, standing there wondering where to go next.
“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
More than once UG used that image of the Red Queen from Through the Looking Glass in conversation.
Prerecorded chimes from a local chapel rang into the countryside from 7 am, every 15 minutes until 10 pm every day. The noise at first reminded me of the sleepless nights in Valliecrozia I spent watching UG wither away on the couch. Many times he seemed to be communing with other spirits. There was a church in that neighborhood as well, that rang bells all night on the hour. The bell was less aggressive conjuring in my imagination, a reaper on stilts with metallic pants. By 4am I would finally drift off and get about an hour’s sleep, emerging at 5 am to a blackbird singing a spectral song just before dawn.
“You are going to be a marvelous person tomorrow, always tomorrow, and that tomorrow never comes.” UG said more than once while I sat with him. My life is a series of postponements. The idea of this all coming to an end terrifies me sufficiently to keep the train of thoughts from ever venturing to where it would necessarily stop. A physical end cannot be imagined and for sure never allowed.
That’s already two.
I cannot let one minute go by without picking up a pen, or a brush, keeping the two of us up and running.
In the mornings there was a chill in the air. For days the sky was mercifully overcast, so I spent lots of time inside, writing or painting. Late in the afternoon I would go for a long bike ride when the sun wasn’t too strong. The sun would break through variously textured curtains of cloud covering the valley for a few hours every day. On Sunday morning I heard the Jehovah’s Witnesses packing their van. The resigned voice of the father needed no translation. People are doing the same thing everywhere you go, so what is the need for another language? All you need is money, the universal language, to survive. The dog stopped barking once they were gone.
I live in other people’s houses, other cities, in other countries, other continents, other cultures, to get away from the familiar, to see something new, to be alone, to exert control over my life. It works for a few days at a time but the demons I was born with follow me and wait. They always find me, they are me, a collage of demon thoughts battling for supremacy over the organism. They are without shape and not limited by time and space. No, that’s wrong, the fact is, they are space and time and sooner or later they come calling, building me a crumbling world out of my memories and there is nothing I can do about it.
I watched Escape from Alcatraz one afternoon. Frank Morris was a man of exceptional intelligence. His only hope of escape was to focus on the means of his goal. His neighbor prisoner was late on the day of the escape and missed his chance. That man was eventually released after serving his sentence and committed more crimes, spending most of his life in jail and finally dying there. This begs the question as to what he would have escaped. Frank Morris, the man who escaped, was exceptionally bright, and there is a chance that he may have survived but no one can be sure. Unless he made a radical life change, he too would have been incarcerated over and over again, as that was the pattern of his entire life so far.
Immediately I wonder what my IQ is.
I headed for the river one afternoon to find the path I’d seen people coming and going to from. There were always cars parked by the side of the road beside the house. Men came and went with fishing poles. I found the path and the river and followed it. The river crashed over a dam with three curves about 2 meters high. Water striders scampered in place, four legs skittering along the current. I skitter along just like that, going nowhere. Crossing the river on rocks, I followed a path to a cow pasture. The air over the pasture swarmed with tiny insects. In the woods the air was clear of bugs. One nice thing about Spain were the abandoned and crumbling structures everywhere. In the cow pasture a crumbling stone wall stood with trees leaning into the corner of it like a Constable landscape. From that vantage point the tower of the local chapel rose from treetops beyond the meadow.
I was standing in kitsch. The electronic chime was particularly loud from there, like a timer going off over the field every fifteen minutes. Cows stood under trees in the distance, munching grass, indifferent, until one of them looked up and eyed me. For some reason my presence caused a response. She came over to where I stood, nosing at me from a close distance with her massive head that moved heavy like a bucket of slow water swinging drool from around her mouth. When I put out my hand she shied away, then again moved toward me. Another started out from the shelter of the trees, following her lead, then another. They were all young females I presumed because no horns appeared on the funny haircut mounds on their heads. Finally there were four in a row, facing me, nosing forward more bravely in the pack. I stood and watched carefully, feeling the weight and size. What little I know of their behavior made me hesitant in such close proximity. Eventually I turned to walk away and they immediately started toward me. The feel of their weight crossing the soil was a distinct physical sensation. I turned back and spread my arms.
They stopped and retreated. Again I turned and again they came toward me.
So I just stood still for a while. I had nowhere to go anyway. Finally they got bored and started munching grass creating a pleasant grinding racket among them. Eventually they forgot about me and the munching carried on as I walked away. The thought came into my head that these harmless, curious creatures are blamed for global warming, the gas caused by cows farting and shitting, the cost of water and grains to feed them, are`1` all disasterous apparently, and yet looking at these faces, who is to blame? Who should die so we can live forever? Who is wrong and right in this idiocy? Who started this mess?
The bells rang off again.
Who was running that alarm clock? The neighbors didn’t seem particularly pious. I never saw anyone come or go to that chapel for instance. It was tucked up in the curve of a road well outside the town. The chimes reminded me of what was said by the black character called ‘English’ in the library scene in Escape from Alcatraz-
“Sometimes I think that’s all this place is. One… long… count. The prisoners count the hours, the bulls count the prisoners and the king bulls count the counts.”
I went back to another dirt path to a more finished road. Further on I glimpsed across the field to what my friend called “Mushrooms”, new, ugly vacation housing in the town. “Vende” signs were everywhere. Housing for sale. As I walked I was listening to the Butthole Surfer’s “Strangers die every day” on my iPhone. I kept it close to my ear to disguise myself as a productive member of society.
Crossing over one of an old bridges I passed a couple.
“Ola”, said fat guy in sweaty tee shirt.
“Ola.” I said.
“Ola” She mumbled, they were clearly bored with each other, out for a Sunday morning walk. They weren’t coming from church dressed that way. Rounding the corner was another cluster of mushrooms. Further on was the construction company. Three fat people sat at a table by a tree outside the house, tossing cold glances my way. The narrow road curved again, humped over a bridge to another curve ahead of me with a rise to the prerecorded chapel.
It was old and unoccupied. Hopping up the stone steps, I spotted two benches to the right. It was more like a park than a church, clean and empty. There were curtains on a tiny window in the locked door. The grass was worn around the back and the whole thing was Sunday morning silent as a… yes, there was the graveyard. Curious how old the graves might be, I went back to the front gate. It was unlocked, so I went inside.
The graves were disappointingly new, including eight blank squares in a house like structure, waiting for the entire Ortez family from the looks of it. The designs were all IKEA style, Mother Mary in multiple machine etched detailing on square marble slabs. Other graves had dates abbreviated, cheaply done, nothing touched by human hands. The place was dislocated from any sense of community. I left the church graveyard and headed back down to the road as the sky went darker. There was a field next to it on side of a hill. Up the hill, around the corner, a red haired woman swept the street while the wind blew her orange colored skirts around her hefty girth. I went down to my temporary house, hitting the door just as the skies opened up. Rain came in sheets, swept over swaying trees in a drunken orgy of green. From the sun porch a single red rose stood out from the tangle of weeds and grass by the side of the tiled yard. The flash of red swung useless and beautiful in the air filled with a scent of cow shit and lilies.
“I don’t want fame, I don’t want sex, and I don’t need your money.” -UG
I woke up in the morning once more to that electronic chime. According to myth a Vampires must be invited into a home before they can cross the threshhold. I think the same goes for sanyasins. I live in real estate that would otherwise go to waste while so many people on the planet live in the streets. This dynamic exists because people own things. Ownership is all about the incessant fear of falling into nothingness.
Another day wound slowly to a close as I lounged on a white plastic pool chair and a cluster of sparrows darted by, fluttering across the tile cement yard into an unending Spanish dusk, bouncing from point to point then vanishing into the green beyond the property. Another evening rain had just finished up, the clouds always fast moving in the sky. Looking up across the valley that kept reminding me of Switzerland, a bird was drifting very slowly up there. Was it a hawk? It was too far away to tell, but I could see it wasn’t an airplane by the way it drifted. The drift of nature is so pointless, a quiet drift of purposelessness. Man-made objects have a line of purpose running through them, like ideas driven from one point to another, creating an internal tension.
“That’s how I was living for some time…” he said, “like an animal. The sex drive was finished, or at least dormant for some time by then.”
He said there was nothing happening, he was ‘out of my head, I didn’t know what people were talking’.
Later he would describe his state as “A state of not-knowing.”