Thursday, September 05, 2013

Gifts for the Taking, Belatedly Unwrapped

WARNING: Yet another one of those godawful stop-and-smell-the-roses kind of posts.

Like me, Charles Bukowski suffered from severe bouts of depression with the occasional dip into suicidal ideation, and it helps to see how he handled it. Bukowski wrote of how he could be inspired by the sight of a dog walking down the street, his spirits lifted by the flash of lightning behind the mountain. This I have recognized from past experience. You look for any encouragement you can get from the universe, however indirect.

So. What do I have? Only what happened to me a few Sundays back, the one right before my Bad Week.

While taking my customary after-dinner walk. I got a whiff of something blooming on a cool breeze just before the crossing the pedestrian walk. I’d crossed over because the walking trails in the greenbelt across the street are on a tall ridge overlooking the near south, and beyond the next tall ridge was a very active electrical storm. 

This is the view due south. You have to picture this in late summer, not early fall. Then early evening,
as opposed to late afternoon. Then with blue-black storm clouds with lightning spanning the horizon
and well beyond the frame of this photo. Got that?

Although the storm was so far away you couldn’t hear the thunder (keep in mind this is Colorado, and you can see for miles from a tall enough ridge) I could feel the electricity in the air, making the hair stand up on the back of my neck. So I cut a hard right back up a steep slope on the ridge to take me back into the residential neighborhood and a quicker way home.

“This is Colorado, and you can see for miles from a tall enough ridge.”
This is the view from near the top of that “really steep slope” mentioned above. I feel like I’m eye-level with the summit of Cheyenne Mountain.

The thought of getting zapped on this high ridge helped immensely with any fatigue I might have suffered taking on this slope. Still, I had to stop and turn and look one more time at the light show. It was a fantastic view, bolts of hotter-than-the-sun electricity spreading for miles over east and west.

Another reason I was cutting my walk short had to do with the growing darkness. The storm clouds brought the deep twilight on early. I ascended into the cul-de-sac and walked my zig-zag route back down to the main road.

As I rounded the corner I was stopped by the sight of a hissing, sparking, popping cylinder in the middle of the street. It was some kind of fireworks device I’ve never seen before. I was uncertain of how safe it would be to walk around it, even on the sidewalk. So I stood and watched as it hissed and threw sparks ten feet into the air, some of which popped like small firecrackers.

On the opposite side of the street were what I guessed to be two families from adjacent houses sitting in folding chairs in one driveway, watching the spectacle. 

I stood on my side and watched with them. In maybe a minute or so I felt safe enough to pass on down the street. Once I got a few yards down towards the next intersection I turned in time to see the cylinder catch its second wind. It spat sparkles and popping flame for another 30 or 45 seconds. 

I thought about taking my phone out to snap a picture* but I didn’t want the families enjoying this to think I was ratting them out to the police, as fireworks are banned in El Paso County, Colorado. So I enjoyed it with them, complicit in their criminality, until the cylinder fizzled out. Remarkably, the usual odor of cordite was absent. A very stealthy cylinder. I wondered how much it cost. A few minutes late or soon and I would have missed this. Lucky me. A gift from the Universe, as a former therapist of mine would have put it. 

I turned and walked on. The dying light behind the mountains as I walked westward towards home, the graceful S-curve of the four-lane street I crossed as it wound away down the hill...all of it was lost on me. The fireworks, the lightning, that pleasant scent as I stood at the top of the ridge before crossing the road. Wasted. What followed was simply a bad week. One misery after another, the kind of week in which you question the validity of breathing.

I did remember all this, though, as I took my walk the following Sunday. It all came back to me in the huge, grassy park I go through towards the beginning of my walk. Out in the middle of the field was the guy who lives somewhere down my street with four tiny little toy poodles. He’s a blonde, athletic-looking guy of 30 or so who should have no trouble with the ladies—and he’s wielding one heck of a conversation-starter with these dogs. They’re not yappy. They’re extremely well trained. He’s running his own little circus with these things, right there in the middle of that big green field.

A free circus, with the most insufferably adorable little creatures you ever did clap your tired, grumpy eyes on. The guy running it isn’t some schlumpy-looking loser, either. Imagine that. Only where I live, in the unfashionable and crumbling south end of Briargate, in Great Recession-era Colorado Springs.

On these Sundays since, I notice the ladies all say “Hi” and “Good evening!” to me now that I no longer give them the two-second sizing-up I used to do before passing them. One fading little yuppie beauty gave me this big, chirpy “”Hey!” right in front of her husband. In this case I looked and saw her smiling right at me, showing off her preternaturally straight and white teeth. I had just enough time to smile and nod in response as I passed. And then wonder, What on earth was that all about?

Thanks for all this, Universe. I do look for these things now and they’re all very nice, but what I really need is a spike in book sales and a massive royalty payment at the end of the quarter this month. Christmas and everything else depends upon it. Put a few C-notes in the card next time, all right?

* As a man of a Certain Age, I can’t help chuckling at the facile absurdity of “taking my phone out to snap a picture.” I laugh out loud when I picture how my long-dead (since Reagan was president) and not-very-quick-on-the-uptake mother would have reacted to such a statement.