Notes From The Flip Side: 10.25.2002
"And how long will it take me / To walk across the United States / All alone / The West Coast has been traumatized / And I think I'm the only one / Still alive"
Jimmy Eat World
To begin: I'm in Illinois. Bloomington, to be exact, and even the residents admit that there's fuck all to do here. I can listen to a pretty good college radio station, but there don't seem to be many other forms of entertainment besides drinking. Luckily, beer is cheap.
And maybe that's why this update may seem more disjointed than usual.
I met a girl only a few days before I left San Diego. What was the old line about least expecting it? My friend Amy and her husband had come into town and she needed a break so we were going out to dinner. We tried to go to a sushi bar, only to find out that - empty tables notwithstanding - they expected reservations. We walked outside, pondered what to do and settled on a Greek restaurant next door.
Which is where I met ... Amy, our waitress for the evening. With that, my update begins to sound like an Elton John song. And from that, where do I begin?
She was 19. I have t-shirts older than that. She was flirtatious. Playful. Vivacious. Mysterious. Mischievous. She looked like I imagine a pixie would look. She moved like I dream a pixie would move. My friend laughed at how flustered I was for most of the night. Amy had me in a state of complete twitterpation. I finally bit the bullet and asked her if she had plans after her shift and she said she didn't; soon enough, she did.
We wound up having coffee that night. Talked for hours about where we were from, childhood pets, the perfect greeting card. Our conversation ranged from the profound to the pointless, with lots of laughter and smiling thrown in for good measure. You know the drill. You've been there or, if you haven't, you will be someday. Dropped her off at 3 in the morning. Went home trying not to hope too much. I already knew I was leaving town in a matter of days.
We talked on the phone a few times. Went shopping to buy stuff for her rat. Ate lunch at Extraordinary Desserts on an overcast October day. Like I said, I already knew I was leaving. Why not eat cake for lunch? She was cold so I loaned her my jacket. It might as well have been a parka. She swam in it. Her fingertips poked out of the sleeves. She probably could have wrapped it around her twice. She looked at my jacket and apparently decided it needed something ... so she pulled a Powerpuff Girls button off her purse strap - she said it was her favorite badge - and put it on. Left side. It's still there. She looked absolutely adorable, a fresh-faced pixie in black leather.
She had to go to work so I took her back to her apartment. She introduced me to her rodent chum. We talked for a while about important things - about love, about loss. About leaving. We danced around the attraction, avoiding stepping on its toes. We knew it was there. We alluded to it. And we made plans for later that night.
That was the last time I saw her. Our plans fell through. She wasn't there when I called. She didn't call back. I didn't know if she didn't get the message. She told me that her roommate could be flaky. My friend Kate suggested slipping some sort of card under her door as I was leaving town which sparked a manic, last-minute rampage through Hillcrest to find The Perfect Card before Kate had to be at work. Somehow, we managed to do it. We laughed about it. The card was clever and witty and self-referential and just slightly self-deprecating. It was a charming greeting card, an endearing one. I made sure it had my phone number in it, as well as my email address. I slid it under Amy's door as my friend Brandie and I were on our way to breakfast at Harry's, home of the best waffles in the world.
My phone didn't ring.
A few hours later, I was on my way to Illinois, my dog sleeping in the back seat, radio on. I thought about my friends. I thought about leaving my hometown. I thought about all those hours of drinking, friendship, singing, dancing and loving. I tried not to cry, and I'd be lying if I said that a good part of those tears weren't happy ones but I'd also be lying if I said they all were. I said goodbye to a few more friends on the way and then started across the United States.
"I'm going tits up / I'm all mixed up / Everything is falling apart" - tiltWheel
As I write this, it's heading up on three weeks since I left San Diego. Three weeks since I saw Led, Trav, Kerry, Dave, Lida, Adam, Nowak, Jeff and the rest of the Watch It Burn crew (side note: I realized after the zine went to print that I forgot to thank Adam and Jill - please accept my most humble apologies. I didn't mean to leave you two out, it was pure oversight. I also forgot to thank my dog and my ex, for whatever that's worth). Three weeks since I saw my good friend Anna in Denver. Three weeks since I saw Shane, Nick and Cary. Almost a month since Alex and I caught the last game of the season and saw Fairweather and Liar's Academy. And almost a month since the last time I saw her smiling, sparkling eyes.
It's pretty easy for me to see what happened, although I don't know if I can do it justice by putting it into words. There was a moment that represented a window of opportunity; a chance at something, although neither of us could imagine what it might be. We just knew it was there. Maybe it was good sense that kept us on the carnival's merry-go-round horse. Maybe it was fear. Maybe it was apathy, or thinking that something better might someday come along. Or maybe both of us had been let down too many times to risk opening up, particularly in such a ridiculously impetuous way, again. Maybe we both had hopes ... and maybe those hopes tripped us since we didn't have enough time to slow down. Our time was better measured in days and hours at that point - and when each passing minute seems to demand a life-changing decision, it's hard to know what's right. I wonder about that ... especially since she said, at one point, that she didn't necessarily object to moving here. I suppose that's what lets me know, perhaps more than anything else, that something unspoken was hovering between us.
All I know is this. I said it then and I'll say it now - I could have fallen in love with that girl. For whatever reason, we didn't get the chance. Lately, I've been thinking a lot about an old band called The Alarm - many years ago, they released a song called "Spirit Of 76," a song about hard times and doing what it took to survive them, and the particular lines I've been thinking about lately are these: "If there was more sense in this world / And work wasn't so hard to find / You would not be going your way / I would not be going mine."
I listened to that song as I drove across Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois. It occurred to me, once again, that The Alarm's music was there for me, once again, just as it was in '87 when I was heading to the funeral of a grandfather I never really knew, just as it was when "Electric Folklore" came out and I heard Mike Peters ranting about Woody Guthrie in the midst of a live version of "Rescue Me" that still sends chills up my spine when I even think about it.
Once again, those songs were there for me when I needed them and, once again, my surroundings and my recent past colored my perception of them. Once again, those words resonated with meanings that the band never could have imagined that a song released 17 years ago could possess for a lonely punk driving 2,000 miles, straight across the proverbial heartland. All these things were running through my head as I pointed the car in a straight line and headed east, leaving it all behind, trading one set of vaguely conceived possibilities for a set of entirely unknown ones.
And as I sit here, thinking about it all, I can only say one thing - I'm grateful. Fleeting though those moments with her were, I can feel nothing but gratitude for them. After all, little moments are the things that sustain us - a glance, an overheard offhand comment ... a hug shared in the midst of a cluttered room, as we try to keep from stumbling over a table or box, as we try to keep our footing. A hug that neither of us seemed to want to let end.
Thank you. All of you. For everything.
Ian McEwan, "The Innocent"
Thomas Wolfe, "You Can't Go Home Again"; Andrew Feenberg, "Questioning Technology" and "Alternative Modernity"; Steven Heller, "Graphic Design History" (edited with Georgette Ballance); Gunnar Swanson, ed., "Graphic Design And Reading"; Italo Calvino, "t zero"; Greil Marcus, "The Old, Weird America"; Naomi Klein, "No Logo"