Wednesday, July 6, 2011

the piano man

It was the fourth of July. It was also my friend's twenty-first birthday. Naturally, a lot of stuff happened that night, but this small moment in time stands out to me like a pin.


The girl I used to work with. She quit though, off to bigger and better things. Her name was Jenny. The guy I was friendly with, though we weren't friends. His name was Tyler.

The atmosphere was happy. It was the fourth of July and among our friends we finally established a reliable and permanent source of alcohol. Greg and Paul were setting off bottle rockets in the backyard, a few feet away from the deck where I watched their antics from a distance. My iPod was plugged into the stereo, blasting happy sounds into the night.

I was standing in a circle with half a dozen other kids. I knew some of them by reputation, some of them personally, and one kid recognized me from work. I looked around the yard to see if there was anybody else whom I could spark up a conversation with.

I noticed Jenny and Tyler then. They were sitting next to each other at the picnic table on the deck next to the stereo system. Tyler had his arm around her. I guess they've been dating for a while now. She smiled at him, but only with her mouth.

When they first arrived and I first ran into them Tyler stuck his hand out. "Jack! How the hell are ya?" I gripped his hand. A firm handshake I suppose. I gave Jenny a brief hug. "You should text me about going to Denny's sometime!" She turned to Tyler, "I still owe Jack Denny's! He bought me Denny's once."

Now they were sitting at the table. Billy Joel had come on the speakers. It's nine o clock on a Saturday. The regular crowd shuffles in. Jenny started to sing along, "There's an old man sitting next to me, making love to his tonic and gin!"

Tyler watched Jenny for a moment. Looking at her with a smile that was only on his face. As if taking a queue that this was in fact the proper and social thing to do in the situation, he began to sing along too, though I don't think he's really sure how it goes. But it's sad and it's sweet and I knew it complete when I wore a younger man's clothes.

"Sing us a song you're the piano man! Sing us a song tonight. We're all in the mood for a melody and you've got us feeling alright!"
They looked at each other as they sung and they swayed back and forth, taking sips from their plastic cups full of mixed drinks.

Tyler sung, "He says "Bill I believe this is killing me." As a smile ran away from his face."
Jenny sung, "Well I'm sure that I could be a movie star if I could get out of this place"

I watched in amazement. (now Paul is a real estate novelist) Didn't they realize how sad it was? (who never had time for a wife) This wasn't a song meant to be sung between lovers. (and he's talking with Davy, who's still in the Navy) It's a sad song, yet they seemed happy. (and probably will be for life.) To be honest I never really thought their relationship made much sense. She was a nice girl, and Tyler always seemed a little sketchy to me. But who am I to label what should make them happy? I guess I'll let them decide that one for themselves.

Yes, they're sharing a drink they call loneliness. But it's better than drinking alone!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

the old man and the beaver

"I wish I were a beaver," I said to the old man. He raised an eyebrow at me but did not respond. His eyes seemed to tell me to continue.

"Think about it. Nobody really does anything with their life anymore. We carry in the groceries while hauling out the trash, but in the end nothing changes. We pay our taxes and do our part so that other people can keep moving and doing their part for us. We're like a bunch of spinning gears without anything attached to the rod. What's the point?"

"And a beaver's life would have more meaning than this to you?"

"Yea," I smiled, "a beaver gets to build something. They can take a river, any old river, and build a dam. And when they build that dam they build a lake. It would be great to be a beaver. Throw a couple logs down, let the river carry driftwood into your branches, ensnaring them. I would make easy work of it. The lake would fill up with food for me, right at my doorstep. I would have a place to swim and play. Most importantly though, I would make a difference. I would create an entire new ecosystem myself. With my bare.. well. I don't know quite what to call a beaver's hands."

"Well what about new scientific breakthroughs. You have medicine we never dreamed of when I was a child. The technology is amazing. You can stand in this room and using a device you keep in your pocket, call somebody half way around the world in real time. You don't think the people who made these inventions. You don't think their life has a purpose?"

"Well... I suppose they do. But that's a lot of work. It'd be much easier to be a beaver. Besides, I'm talking about most people. Most people don't contribute anything to progress, to society."

The old man made a grunting noise and nodded slowly.

"You nod, but I don't think you agree with me."

"I don't."

"Well what about you. You worked your life at blue collar jobs. You never invented anything, cured anything, caused some great paradigm shift. What did you do with your life?"

The old man smiled, with only the smallest hint of sadness in his eyes. "Me?" he paused thoughtfully, "I lived. Isn't that something?"