Friday, December 5, 2014

If You Have Ghosts....

"And sometimes I flap my arms like a hummingbird.
Just to remind myself I'll never fly.
And sometimes I burn my arms with cigarettes..
Just to pretend I won't scream when I die."
                                         -The Handsome Family.

Spoiler alert: The kid grows up and tries to kill himself.

Like most of you, outside of time spent cursing everything and everyone involved with a holiday that seems to become increasingly more complicated and vexing each year...
...I spent at least a fraction of time reflecting on exactly what it was that I was thankful for.
And while there are many many things that I am truly thankful for... family, friends, lovers, kiddos... what honestly kept occurring to me is that at this moment in time I am most sincerely (and ironically (and unironically)) thankful for being a failure. The irony of this, of course, being that I am perpetually locked in PSYWAR with the not just the concept of "failing" but with the reality of it. Ignoring the larger war for a moment, in this one case feelings of failure win a battle, and I embrace it as a win for my side....
Because being a failure at killing yourself...well, it's kind of a-ok.

So....Do you remember your first ghost? Your first real ghost. Not some story about the Gray Man or Rene Rondolier that kept you up at night. Not the imaginary, giant, one-eyed frog who was always staring at your back when you lay in bed at night... (the... what?) Not the disembodied pair of pants that was standing on the other side of the closet door waiting for you to get up to pee (...pants?...)
Oh come on... you know you had your own equally bizarre bogie...the one that made you jump as far off your bed as possible to avoid whatever grasping hand you knew was under there.

I'm not talking about shadows on the wall... (maybe I am?)
I'm talking about that first time you really met someone who shouldn't exist...who couldn't exist.
And yet... there they were.
I do.
He came to my house...out of the blue. A faraway friend knocking on my door. He was from SanFran, and while it seemed bizarre that he should suddenly be on the other side of the country, standing on my front steps, I didn't think much of it. Stranger things had happened in my life.
He wouldn't come in the house, so instead we hung out in my front yard, talking about all of the things that budding teenagers talk about... angst and bands and girls and angst.
Sitting in the grass, absentmindedly pulling clovers as we talked, he suddenly looked up and said, "Hey. You want to catch a train with me?"
I didn't know what he meant... but catching a train sounded... right, somehow.
So we got up and ran for the train... at which point the reality sloughed off to reveal a landscape that was no longer my home... because there were no tracks near my house... no trains. Nonetheless, there they were. And it all made sense. And the place resonated with familiarity.
Trampling dandelion and clover, we chased the train.
Giules jumped on without missing a beat.
I faltered. Stumbled.
And it seemed like as fast as I ran, I still couldn't catch up.
I looked up to see the train pulling away from me. And instead of jumping off, or motioning me to come on... Giules just waved good bye.
I woke up... wondering why he was in my dream. And why it had all felt so... weird... so real. One of those dreams that sticks to you like web and follows you into the waking world.

The thing is... Giuliano Bourbon died that day.

I didn't know it at the time. Wouldn't know it for weeks to come, in fact, when I arrived back at school and some worthless fat fuck of a sociopath kid (they were all sociopaths, truth be told. All of them..) got in my face and excitedly asked if I'd heard about Giuliano.

I typed Giuliano's name into the google a moment ago to see if I could find an obit... or an old picture... or even a trace...
...and instead I found THIS.

Giuliano is the smiling imp on the right.

Read it.
It made me laugh out loud, tear up, and break out in chills all at the same time.
Fuck, man... that kid. A fucking legend.
He'd talked about the Scabs, and while I'd kind of believed him.... I still thought that he was making a bunch of it up... weaving the same bullshit that every kid does. Even the stories I'd heard about how he died seemed somehow larger than life... no pun intended.
Shows how much I knew.

Giules was my first ghost.
I don't know why he came to see me that night. Or how to correlate it with my worldview that doesn't believe in that kind of ghost story. But there it is.

These days, I see ghosts everywhere. Not in a "sixth sense" kind of way, mind you. At least I don't think so. Fuck, I hope not. It's just in a... way.
My ghosts are shades... shadows of all the other directions we go. Other paths we take. Other places we end up. Other people we are. And for the first time, I guess I'll admit that when I zone out... those times that you talk to me and you can tell that I'm just not there... chances are I'm watching the ghosts.
(Or thinking about Claire Danes. It's one of those.)

A number of years ago, I saw a movie called The Hanging Garden. It's not a happy movie, and in that way, I can't recommend it. I doubt it would ever be branded as a "ghost story." But to me, that's exactly what it was. And even if it's not a great movie... it stuck with me. Which I guess makes it great, in it's own ways. Either affected me powerfully.
Because sometimes... I think I'm the ghost.
I'm that splinter of alternate universe branching out from the reality where a car didn't swerve to avoid the man who walked in front of it...a reality where a cut was deeper and the bleeding didn't stop.
I see the ghost of me that never kissed the girl... never breathed her in.... never spun her in circles.
I see the ghost that did... and is laying next to her right now....away from here....on a a bathtub. (...what?)

When I hold my son's hand crossing the street, walking next to us I see his ghost... a grown man holding his own son's hand.
I see the happy ghosts of unhappy people....And ghosts paralyzed by anxiety, meekly falling in line behind their swaggering counterparts.

There's a ghost of me that didn't try to die one night.
And there's a ghost that did. And succeeded. (He's a double ghost. #amiright?)
And there's a ghost of Giules that didn't go elevator surfing that day, and is currently wreaking creative havok on the Bay Area and world.

I see them everyday. And once you start seeing them... you kind of can't stop. At least I can't. And most times I don't care. It's just the way my mind works... a particle collision of a million splintering possibilities and paths radiating from one single atom of a thought.

It's amazing I can function at all.

This summer, after years of misses, I finally got to see the Handsome Family play live. As I was ordering drinks at the bar, one half of the family proper and the vocal conduit for his wife Renny's amazing pictures, Brett Sparks, pulled up next to me and ordered a beer. As the first act finished up, we talked for a long while. I told him that the Handsome Family had gotten me through some very hard times in my life. He laughed and said that he hears that a lot... and that he wonders what it is about their music that does that. And that he doesn't trust "any of these fuckers that got into us through True Detective." (FYI, fuckers.) Granted.. it's a good song, but it's atmospheric nonsense. And that's not why I like the Handsome Family. I like them because they resonate, and because Renny and Brett can tell a story in one verse.
One of the most powerful, for me, is a song titled.. you'll never guess... "My Ghost."
Because I know a thing or two about that ghost. He might not drive around with a bag of dead fish (not literally, at least) or clog up the toilet with bottles of pills (once... maybe)... but he's always there, banging on my own roof. And he's wreaked a fair amount of havok in my life... and other's. Kissed people he shouldn't. Punched out windows. Kicked in doors. Stepped in front of traffic. Cut the fuck out of himself.
And unlike the other ghosts, who slide past on their own trajectories... lost in the gravity of their own suns... this ghost is always there, staring out at me out from every reflective surface, whether I'm looking in it or not.
 You can't reason with him... so you either pretend you don't see him or get straight to the fisticuffs.
And I mean... Yeah... I look pretty rough these days. But as they say... you should see the other guy.

Remember when you were a kid and you'd look in the mirror and wonder if THAT was the reality... and you were just the reflection?
Or when you'd hold another mirror up and try to see as far into infinity as possible?
I don't know if I ever grew out of that.
I mean, that's what this stupid blog is, right? A cracked mirror of it's own?

Maybe it's a little like this. Maybe.

What I'm really trying to that... painful and confounding as they can be....I'm thankful for ghosts. For constantly reminding me of what could have been... and what could still be.
High-five them. Or throat-punch them. But try and get some learning... because they've got something to tell you.

Um... bikes. And riding them. (Boom. It's officially still a cycling blog.)


  1. Awesome. The electronic medium doesn't do this justice. I'd rather see this in print, where it should be.

  2. Amazing Watts. It's this level of writing that keeps me constantly checking the site waiting for the next one (apparition) to appear...