"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Routine, Sameness, And The Value Of Staying Put

“I’ve got to get out of here!”, shouted Bark Avery.  He threw his coffee cup against the wall, yelled at his wife, and stormed out the door.  Within minutes he was on Hwy17 headed out of town and through the surprisingly rural countryside of Central Connecticut.

He had had enough of his wife’s hectoring, digs and a thousand cuts. There was no safe haven in the house.  The knick-knacks were hers, the furniture was arranged just so, the kitchen knives were racked on the left of the sink and not the right, and even his study had been appointed with her Indian kilims and African statues.  The kilims’ designs were too floral for his taste, too busy and distracting; and every time he looked up from his desk to look out the window at the birch trees in the back yard, India was screaming at him.

The African masks were creepy.  Nothing gentle or suggestive about them. All brutal, pagan, and aboriginal.  Every time he saw them he could only hear ritual tom-toms, imagine human sacrifice, and see only frenzy. Not what he needed to compose lyrical poetry or even revive childhood memories.

African mask


He drove fast, windows down, music blasting. He felt like an adolescent again, juiced with energy, sexed and hot, driving nowhere, stopping only when he was far up Meriden Mountain at the end of a dirt road. Drives like this always got rid of the bile and venom which always built up after a few months of oppressive routine, his wife’s fussy puttering, and the same music, the same books, the same pre-teen girly chatter up to school.

If he disaggregated this distorted reproduction of Wilder’s Our Town, each piece was innocuous enough. His wife meant well when she added a Klimt poster to the hall. The girls on their way to Immaculata were only doing what 12-year olds do.  Any music gets boring if you listen to it enough.  The same with pasta, curry, or garden salads.  Why the ensemble of unique pieces repeated enough became insufferably painful was beyond him. How had interesting recipes, toccata and fugues, children playing in the neighbor’s yard, tribal masks and artisan rugs become irritating noise and unwanted taste?

Image result for images wilder's Our Town


Bark got out of the car and looked down the ravine below the sawhorses and strewn boulders that marked the end of the road. Late summer nights in New Brighton were always cool and fragrant, especially at the top of the mountain where breezes from the valley flowed up the western slopes, and the smells of orchards and vegetable farms with them.

It took Bark a few minutes to orient himself – not so much to the quiet of the mountain woods, but to a returning calm. How was it that only a few minutes ago he was ready to tear down his house roof beam by rafter or blow the whole thing up and watch the bits and pieces fly apart like the slow-motion explosion of Zabriskie Point; and now he was quite happy sitting on a rock and looking down at the valley, the river, and the streetlights below?

Image result for images explosion scene zabriskie point


There was nothing wrong with Bark, no serious psychological disconnect or worrisome pathology.  He did indeed love his wife, was not unhappy at his job, and found poetry satisfying and preparatory.  For what, he had no idea; but the composition of verses which came to him at odd times of the day seemed to mean something more important than just pastime.

To Bark the familiar patterns he observed were irritating signs of waste. He had become what he had detested as a young man – a Babbitt, a smug and self-satisfied burgher, a bourgeois caricature.

Bark’s genes and upbringing had combined in an ironic way.  He was intellectually curious, sexually eager, and intolerant of mediocre ideas and people; but unadventurous.  The top of Meriden Mountain was all the travel and adventure he could muster.  Youth was the inflammable ingredient to the mix of nature and nurture; and he felt he was wasting his time, energy, and intelligence.

Image result for images meriden mountain


It was only years later that Bark’s unique formative ingredients paid off. At some point in his later years – he could not accurately remember when – everything that had irritated him as younger man was now in its right place.  The sound of young girls on Lincoln Street on their way to school was as it should be.  The Haydn sonata was never boring, and every time he listened to it he discovered a phrasing he had ignored, a change of key or rhythm he had overlooked. He looked forward to waking up early, making bed tea, writing, and when the sun came up sitting in the garden.  The only irritation he felt was when his routine was interrupted; or when the maid disturbed the Nayarit terracottas on the mantelpiece.

Image result for images nayarit terracottas


“We never do anything”, his wife complained after hearing a friend’s account of her 40-day walking pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela; and proposed a trip to England and Ireland.

Nothing could be further from Bark’s mind.  What could possibly be gained by a tour of the moors of ‘Wessex’, the Lake Country, or the Irish seacoast?  Far from the Madding Crowd, Jude the Obscure, and Riders to the Sea were more than enough. What more did anyone need to know about the Judean desert other than the accounts of Christ’s temptation by the devil in The Gospel of Matthew ,Milton’s Paradise Regained, or Dostoevsky’s The Grand Inquisitor?

Judean desert


Contraction, Bark thought, was not a bad thing at all; but his wife worried about his complete lack of interest in the restaurants, bars, and cafes that he used to like. Especially troublesome was his solitariness and exclusion of even his closest friends. For Bark, however, there was nothing morose or depressing about paring down non-essentials. Everything important for this, the last stage of his life, was either in his mind or on the bookshelf in his study.

Travel was indeed interesting and relevant in his younger years – so much to learn – but there was only so much that he could glean from chance and temporal encounters. If anything, diversity only provided the context for later inquiry.  And irrelevant diversity – the St. Regis, Le Diplomate, or Vidalia – now made no sense at all.

Image result for images oak bar new york


Bark’s trajectory was not surprising. In fact he had followed his genetic and environmental destiny more truly than most. When his youthful energy had finally been spent, he was lucky that he didn’t find himself adrift – or worse again at the ravine on Meriden Mountain. Energy, he knew now, was always distracting and irritating if not used at the right time, used up too soon, or wasted.  When looked at in the composite, his life had been remarkably well-balanced.  There were only a few times when his mechanism was out of synch; but these periods were like molting – necessary sloughing off of immature skin.

“Whatever happened to Bark Avery”, old friends often asked. “I don’t see him around much anymore”; but he was never happier.  There was a consonance in his life that he had never had before.  He had no regrets about the past, no fussiness about the present, and no anxiety about the future.  He eventually did travel to Ireland with his wife – after a long marriage he owed her at least that – but was glad to be back to his pre-teen girls, set pieces, and long hours reading.

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