Where the heck am I?
Tacoma, Washington. We are here for a wedding.
A river runs through it. Once highly contaminated, now not so much. Lots of water in Washington.
Well, yesterday, Thursday, March 14, 2013, I taught my last class ever at UCSB. Could well be my last class period. Been teaching writing since 1973. Can’t imagine not doing it. But having used up my call back time, I am officially done. Oh, wait. I still have the last batch of papers to grade. And then I am done.
Though the title might not suggest
it, I had wanted to end “The Tingles,” as we had begun it (Lighthouse
of Love), on a slightly more upbeat note.
Now looking back, I can’t say where exactly I located that note, the
more upbeat one. But I think it’s in the
last line of the refrain, “You can lean on me if I can lean
you.” True, it’s hardly The
Youngbloods calling on us all to smile on each other, but at least there’s a
hint of an exchange of human warmth, though perhaps significantly qualified by
that “if.” You can lean on me
IF I can lean on you. I could have
written: You can lean on me AND I can
lean on you. But I didn’t because
“and” seems to presume to much, and honestly, you can lean on me only
if I am allowed to do the same.
So that’s the upbeat note as best I can locate it.
As for the rest of the refrain, I must insist on the
“Nothing now anyone can do
Just have to buckle down and try to see it through.”
Sometimes that’s just how things are. It–whatever it might be (someone dying;
dreams gone up in flames; words spoken that can’t be taken back; really bad
mistakes made)–simply cannot be undone or fixed up or glossed over. All that you can do–if that–is try to get
though it with whatever dignity you can muster.
The last stanza is perhaps a bit too existential (in the
existentialism sense). But I just can’t
get Sartre and Heidegger out of my head…with their idea of our having been
flung into a world we did not make.
Death again. This
time about dying anonymously, as it were.
A body pops up in the lake with no I.D. or identifying marks and then
gets buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave.
That’s a downer. But maybe
too–given how noisy the song is–it’s about making a joyful noise, in spite
of everything: as in the line:
Rise on angel’s wings
Sing, Sing, Sing
Maybe, in relation to the whole, we all die
anonymously. Sure, we all have a smaller
social circle. But just beyond that the
circle spreads out to those other people we may even share a few moments but pass
by generally in our daily rounds. I
noticed, one day, at this place where I worked out, that an older guy, who was
usually there all the time, had not been there for some time. So I asked another guy if he knew anything
about that guy. “That guy,”
because I couldn’t remember that guy’s name.
I indicated where that guy usually sat and said that I thought he was
from Wisconsin and had worked for Sears.
And the guy says, “Oh that guy.
He died I think.”
So I worked for a while on a song called “That
Guy. You know, that guy.” But I never finished it.
This is Brother Dan’s song from top to bottom. He plays all the guitars and percussion and
sings it. I do a little back up. He also wrote it, some time ago, back in the
80’s, when he and his wife, Kim, had a punk band. I don’t know what they were calling
themselves at the time. Goodbye Blue
Monday? Mr. Pleasant? I don’t know, as I said, but I always liked
the song from the first I heard it. And
it mixes well with the overall malaise of the CD. It’s about a suicide, I think.
If “Around Once” was lugubrious, this one is at
It’s about insomnia, about suddenly being wide awake at 3 AM
and not being able to get back to sleep again, knowing that you have a long
hard day ahead, and will need every bit of energy you have to get through it,
yet here you are at 3 AM wide awake with the minutes slipping by. No rest for the wicked, eh?
I hate it. I have
been insomniac for years. At one point,
years ago, I used as my soporific cheap wine and was for some time in effect a
situational alcoholic. But that proved
counter-productive, and anyway, I
discovered prescription meds. Before I
couldn’t get to sleep at all. With the
meds, I got off to sleep OK but started waking up at aberrant hours, like 3
AM. Now apparently, as a senior citizen,
according to what I have read, I am likely to have only “fragmented”
sleep the rest of my days.
I don’t know why exactly but the song makes me think of a
bit from Freud’s essay on Narcissism:
We should then say: the sick man withdraws his libidinal
cathexes back upon his own soul, and
sends them out again when he recovers.
‘Concentrated is his soul’, says Wilhelm Busch of the poet suffering
from toothache, ‘in his molar’s narrow hole.’
I was aware of something like this, I think. The first two parts of this song are very much
concentrated in my molar’s narrow hole.
I tried to break out of the narrow hole in the last part by suggesting
there are other people–poets, lovers, soldiers–doing other things at 3
AM. But true to form, I return in the
last line to narcissistic grandiosity claiming that, as I lie there, I hear the
world turning round.
This is one lugubrious sucker.
We all get to go around just once.
What’s the big deal? I don’t
know. But I think it is.
As I wrote I thought it was in the genre of the
stages of life poem.
But the song didn’t turn out like that.
The first stanza is sort of about what life looks like when you start
out. Much potential seems to lie
ahead. Things look different in the
middle stage; mostly regrets at things not done and sadness at how quickly time
has passed. And the last stanza is about
how things look right at the end: pretty bleak.
The emotional key to the song for me is the line, “And
you ain’t got time to unpack your trunk.” The psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut
tries to differentiate the classical theory (Freud) of man [sic] as suffering
from guilt from what he calls “tragic” man [sic]. The former he says:
…cannot illuminate the sense of fractured, enfeebled,
discontinuous human existence; it cannot explain the essence of the
schizophrenic’s fragmentation, the struggle of the patient who suffers from a
narcissistic personality disorder to reassemble himself, the despair–the
guiltless despair, I stress–of those who in late middle age discover that the
basic patterns of their self as laid down in their nuclear ambitions and ideals
have not been realized.
That’s a long way of saying: and you ain’t got time to
unpack your trunk.
“And So It Is” represents a continuation of, or elaboration upon, the dying in the old person’s home theme announced first in “5150” as it concerns the “the old man.”
They put him in this big old place where every door is locked
They don’t want no one getting out they might go for a walk
He’s feeling sad and lonely now so far away from home
Not a single person there that he’s ever known.
All of this is pretty much true or as it occurred. But the refrain is mostly made up:
They take him to the window to get a little light
Blind as a bat he don’t know if it’s day or night
But his face like a flower it turns to the sun
And so it is and so it is
Until his day is done.
The last part–until his day is done–is of course a metaphor with the word “day” standing in for the concept “life.” But the other part seems to make an empirical or matter-of-fact claim: that he was “taken to the window” and that he was “blind as a bat.” Maybe he was taken to the window to get a little light. I don’t know, but I doubt it. He had a walker. I know for certain though that he was not blind as a bat. Though he was pretty blind, having suffered over a number of years ocular decay, resulting from something called macular degeneration. I am not sure what this is medically speaking. I only know its effects that one loses vision starting in the center of the eye. So right in the middle of what one should be seeing becomes a black hole which gradually expands taking up all vision except usually on the very periphery. One is left with enough peripheral vision to get about. So he was not blind as a bat.
I think his peripheral vision responsible for suggesting the line I like best in this song: his face like flower it turns to the sun… He walked, during our visit, into a large room, with light streaming at one end, and he cocked his head in a birdlike way, first to this side and then to that, trying to make out where was. He was using, I know, his peripheral vision, but to do that, he had to cock his head left and right as does a bird. Somehow his making that movement touched me. I couldn’t figure out how to get a bird into the song, so I changed his face to a flower.
This I think fitting since as we age the more we regress back along the food chain, so that in end, some exist only in a “vegetative state.”
Once again: based on a true story, or, perhaps…and I believe…multiple true stories that are bound further to multiply by the day as more and more baby boomers, themselves getting along in years, are forced to deal with their own dying and sometimes demented parents.
That’s what–in three parts–5150 is a tale of.
Part one: making the call.
5150 is CA Police Code for “a danger to himself (herself) and others.” So you dial 911 and say, “I have a 5150.” And depending on the details you give, the authorities will come and pick up the elderly.
Call 911, get the medic and his van
They come and took away the old man
He was threatening to burn down the house
Figured it was time to get him out
The burn down the house part isn’t exactly true, but close enough. And it’s no fun at all when things get to this point, and you have to make that call. And the elder doesn’t go peacefully, but screaming at the top of his lungs and resisting for dear life.
So they come and they took him away
Locked him up for 14 days
Trying to figure out where he might go
Fact was don’t nobody know…
Which is pretty much what happened. Being a veteran in this case, he was locked up, in a “pod,” they called it, at the VA Hospital for evaluation, for a legal period of 14 days.
They took him off to an old person’s home
He was sad and so all alone
I cry like a baby, that’s what he said
Couple days later I heard he was dead…
Also pretty much occurred as told. The old person’s home was very sanitary. You could smell that. But he was sad, and said so. In fact he said, “I am in hell.” And then a few days after I saw him in that home, he was dead.
Or as I previously wrote:
He left the room without making a sound
Nobody noticed till the orderly made his rounds..
So that’s the story of 5150. In three parts.