"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Monday, December 15, 2003
Hunting in the Jade Forest
va-ca-tion Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English vacacioun, from Middle French vacation, from Latin vacation-, vacatio freedom, exemption, from vacare
Date: 14th century
1 : a respite or a time of respite from something : INTERMISSION
2 a : a scheduled period during which activity (as of a court or school) is suspended b : a period of exemption from work granted to an employee for rest and relaxation
3 : a period spent away from home or business in travel or recreation [had a restful vacation at the beach]
4 : the time when a person is most vulnerable to a predator
It was the Summer of 1977. I was the featured act at the Jade Tree in Myrtle Beach. The world was all mine for the taking.
And I had locked my heart up in a steel box and thrown away the key so nobody could touch it. But even then, every so often someone would sneak in and take a little bite.
Like Sherry Connelly, for instance. I mentioned her earlier (see "Turning into a Shark", Dec 12th, 2003).
One afternoon I walked into the arcade at the campground where I was living. That arcade was a fantastic hunting area for me and the rest of the guys that lived there. Almost all of the pretty, available girls would end up in there eventually. And we figured that about one out of five families in the campground had girls about our age, and about one out of five of them would be really pretty. That meant that at any time there would be about 50 pretty girls right there for the taking.
Yeah, I know, its a callous and sexist way of looking at things. And I surely don't think that way now, but back in 1977, that was my mindset.
So anyways, there I am, walking into the arcade, on the prowl. It was a Sunday and the fresh crop had just come in. But this Sunday would be a little bit different.
There across the room stood Sherry. She had the biggest smile I think I have ever seen on any human being. And our eyes met and each of us transfixed the other one like a deer in the headlights.
I went straight across the room and introduced myself, not passing Go and not collecting $100.
Pretty quickly, we hit it off. I was on the prowl for someone just like her, and she wanted some adventure. I intended to be that adventure.
My mistake was that I let those eyes get to me, that smile creep into my sealed off heart. She told me about her childhood, which was pretty rough, punctuated by abuse from her father. I think that awakened that "caring reflex" that I had, and that's how my heart got involved.
Remember now, we're talking only days here. Things move fast at the beach.
Now when I look back, I know that probably that entire summer I was having one extended manic episode punctuated by only a few quick bouts with depression and hardly any "normals." One hallmark of my personal mania is obsession. By the time a few hours had passed with Sherry I was totally obsessed with her. Not in love, obsessed. It's different. And way quicker.
One morning she came over to my trailer and woke me up. I had some champagne and we had quite a bit of it. About the time we were getting really tipsy, she said she had to go check in at her trailer and would be back.
An hour passed, and no Sherry. So I went by her trailer to make sure everything was OK.
She was inside with another guy. (Just talking, I am sure, but I wasn't looking at it like that.)
I was sledgehammered again.
The other guy and I had words, and almost got into a fight, but then I just said the heck with it and walked off. I had broken my promise to myself that I would never let that happen again.
On the way home that night I picked up enough beer to send me into the ozone. John was partying with this girl named Sally that he really liked (she never had much use for him) and all her friends. I quietly sat there and drank all of my beers in the space of about fifteen minutes.
And that's when the world started spinning.
I was drunker than I had ever been in my life. I lay at the base of an oak tree, convinced that I was going to fall right into the sky. John knew something was wrong right away. Yep, soon as I made that sky remark, the jig was up.
I said I had to go to the bathhouse. While I was there, I decided it would be terribly fun to toilet paper the entire campground, and I came out with a roll of toilet paper, kicking it along gleefully laughing. John ran along right behind me picking it up, and they pretty soon had me under some type of control. It was late, and a boisterous drunk would have been trouble.
In my muddled thought vacuum, I decided that a walk would help clear my head. Everyone agreed that it might help, so off I went. (Note: Now that I think about it, they might have agreed just to get rid of drunk Cliff!)
I tottered down the road like, well, a drunk, and ended up on a stretch of road that had a lake on one side and deep woods and a ditch on the other. I was so drunk, I was having a great deal of trouble staying on the road at all, so I was walking really really carefully, gingerly avoiding the ditch ten feet on one side and the lake ten feet to the other, and made it about halfway down before I realized I had company.
In front of me were six guys. One of them was the guy that had been with Sherry. They had lined up across the road, blocking it.
And they had chains.
My mind forced a coherent train of thought through the hops in my head.
'Uh, this looks dangerous. Can't go left, I'll go in the lake. Can't go right, I'll fall in that ditch and who knows when they will find me. Can't run, that's pretty obvious! And I can't fight, that would really hurt.'
So, in a blaze of drunken intuition, I decided to be nice. I could do that, and drunk even.
"Heeeeeeyyyyy! How Y'aaaallllll doiiiiin'?" I mustered my biggest stupidest grin and stuck it right on my face.
"Pretty good," the guy said, looking at me uncertainly.
"What y'all been up to?"
"Aw, we've been throwing people's lawn chairs into the ocean. It was fun."
(These were real bright bulbs.)
"Whoa, sounds coooooool. Man, I am druuuuuuuunk!"
For a while, it was like old home week, talking about the joys of wrecking other people's stuff and generally vandalizing the entire world, and the pleasures of drinking so much you can't feel your elbow, and the need for a guy to be able to walk around at 1am with a bicycle chain or two. I responded with the occasional "Cool!" or "Man!" and that seemed to egg them on and get me more on their side of things. Eventually they decided not to pulverize me and just walked off, and I staggered slowly back to safety.
The next morning I felt very, very, very bad.
I hopped into my father's sailboat and took it out way beyond the breakers. It was nice out there, totally quiet except for the gentle swoosh of the water against the hull. I stayed out there until the headache got manageable.
Apparently hangovers can toss you into a depressive state. They usually did with me, anyway. This was definitely one of those times.
That afternoon, I sat down and wrote a song about Sherry, pouring all my heartache and betrayal into that tune. I needed the catharsis, so I spilled it all over the song. And it pretty much worked, it usually did. After a couple of hours, I felt better, it seemed resolved in my mind, and my heart was safely tucked back away under lock and key.
Later, Sherry came by. We talked, and she apologized. I invited her to come with me to hear me play that evening. She thought everything was OK between us.
I was such a cad.
We walked into the Jade Tree, and I sat Sherry right in front of the place where I played. I'm pretty sure I bought her dinner, I know she drank all night on my tab. She listened and was suitably impressed with my songs and talent.
Then, towards the end of the night, after the bar had pretty much cleared except for us, I played the song I wrote, telling her beforehand that I had written it especially for her.
And it was scathing.
It ripped her poor heart to shreds.
When the song was done, she sat there sobbing staring at me with those doe eyes, astonished that anyone could have been so cruel. I sat on my stool like an executioner who had just killed a victim.
I think that somewhere down inside of me there was a part of me that said "no, don't do this." But I was not listening. The predator in me wanted blood and revenge and took it.
The bartender was shocked at what I had done, she was the only other person in the room, and has stopped what she was doing and was just staring at me. We never talked about it afterwards, and I never played that song in there again.
I am not sure what happened to Sherry. We wrote for a while and stayed in touch, then it just kind of stopped. I hope she got the full and rich life she wanted and deserved. She sure didn't deserve that night in the Jade Tree.
And Sherry, if you ever read this, I'm sorry.
There is a story that is told in China about a frog and a scorpion. The scorpion comes to the frog and asks if the frog will carry him across a river. The frog says no, that the scorpion is dangerous and will sting him. The scorpion begs and begs, and eventually the frog thinks to himself "Why would he sting me while he is on my back? Surely I will be safe while we are in the water." So the frog agrees to ferry the scorpion.
At exactly the halfway point where the water is deepest, the scorpion rears back and stings the frog. As the poison takes effect, the frog cries "Why did you sting me? Now we both will die!"
The scorpion replies, "Because that is the nature of a scorpion."
In the summer of 1977, what I did was in the nature of a predator.
He that studieth revenge keepeth his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well.
John Milton (1608 - 1674)