Today had been the first significant downpour I’ve seen in Northern California for quite some time now. After a few tense hours of waiting for rain—let alone the tension built from a few years of drought—that little congress of water droplets at last made contact with the parched, trembling lips of Earth.
For minutes I listened to the percussive soundings of the rain drum on the leaves of plants, the pavement, and the pond. Though the drumming of such a found, communal context is, most often, something I’d actively avoid, it provided me with a comfort and relief unlike anything I’ve listened to in a great deal of time.
After the volume of rain gradually faded into white noise, it was then that I heard the earth omit a sigh similar to that of a local, old derelict, who I once saw, make that compulsive—or errant—leap off-the-wagon.
“Because you are going to die, with or without it,” he waxed to me that day, as my posture waned away from him to a soberer space of the bar counter. At first, I thought that was the kind of logic that had kept him out of institutions for higher learning across the nation; but, as I stand here now, I guess there can be glory in all forms of hydration.
It was Sunday, November 1, 2015, and in the background the fourth game in the World Series between the Mets and Royals was airing on the TV. As of current, the standings were Royals three and Mets one.
Much of the media attention, to this point, had favored the Mets because of their rare appearance on this stage of the dramatically unworldly event called World Series. But, the Royals, of Kansas City (which is a place we have collectively just remembered to exist), had been in the playoffs last year and were the better bet to win. In many analysts’s belief they “deserved” it because they earned it. To me, it was much less, all of it plainly revealing the theater of consumerism: a cyclical drama of contradiction and amnesia.
I am not watching the game. Instead, I am sitting on a porch looking out onto the Ione landscape. Off to the left, floodlights from the Mule Creek Prison nearby garner my attention for a moment before they simply become a part of the scenery. Some days it takes effect that you are living in a community nearly hundreds of hazardous feet away from such notable criminal icons like the Rainbow Man or Charles Manson’s crony Tex Watson. For some reason the peril of it always sustains, taking for granite those man-made walls.
The day before was Halloween, which really hadn’t made much of an impact here. Ione, being situated in a remote locus of both Sacramento and Yosemite, caters mostly to those who are transitioning from their career lives to the retirement sphere. The town’s population is in the single digit thousands and those few with the many kids are located more on the perimeter where the law is as remote as their civilities. Us here in the nucleus really only saw a few Mormon children in outdated, parentally advised Disney costumes. A few teens rolled on later without costumes, all presumptuous and completely consumed in their indignity. Made me think of that play which declares Halloween to be the most Republican of holidays.
Most of what I see now is a canvas of darkness behind a shimmering curtain of rain. I stare through the glistening veil to detect any movement, to try and find the immediate positive effect of the rain on our dry land.
Abruptly the cynic voice appears. The voice says that no matter how much rain we receive this year it will never be enough to replenish us. Even more, we have to begin adapting to these changes, because the climate of the world, as we knew it, is changing. What was once normal no longer means anything anymore, in that we are in a phase of a more explicit change, that we are experiencing an age of greater instability—and so it’s said.
A stream of consciousness whisked me another direction. Just last week I had drove two hours to see my friends’ band play a free show in Mill Valley. I arrived somewhat late, walked through the empty downtown district of the old, rich North Bay town. Walking in through the bar I was surprised to open the venue doors and find about a hundred or so people in their forties and fifties sitting and listening. Being that it was a Tuesday night in a town miles from the locale of the band’s usual pull, I hadn’t anticipated such an audience.
After finding a free space, which was a considerable effort, I sat and listened. I began to think that the venue was somewhere that many went to after work and that it wasn’t the band that pulled this many people, but the place. Yet, as they began one of the first songs they ever recorded I could hear a wave of excitement from the crowd. I was delighted to find that only after a year they had generated a significant fan base that extended beyond the boundaries of age, milieu, and location.
I then commiserated the fact that they, in complete contradiction, were to dissolve as a unit in a month or so, that this was to most likely be their last show in the area. A few months ago they came to a resolve that in order to progress as individuals the band had to…well, disband.
I spent the next few days traveling with them, embracing the joys of their achievements. Nothing about them seemed to indicate that their break would produce turmoil or rifts in their relations to each other. But, you can’t help but feel in those moments that there has got to be someone prudent enough or patient enough to settle them down and remind them of the privilege they built for themselves over the years of hard work. That being said, it could never be me, after the years of watching my towers crumble from the distance, I had no answer to dissuade these collective agreements to end a good thing. Sometimes when there is so much disagreement between a group of people, the only possible agreement left is make it end.
Back here in Ione for Halloween, not wanting to participate in the transgressions and excuses of a masked holiday, my parents had neighbors over for dinner. They were a couple in their forties with a sweet child who has a severe impairment that required a wheelchair and constant attention. The father was an ex-military man who fought in Iraq and now worked for the prison after years of unemployment. The mom seemed nice, never really had a chance to meet her.
They were interesting enough to talk to, despite their extreme Conservative prejudices that leaked out on occasion. We talked briefly about Europe until he saw my guitar. From then it was mostly focussed on the difficulties of playing instruments and new video games that supposedly train and enhance your technical abilities.
The platitudes and tranquility of it all, along with the onset of the rain, made me reminisce of the year in Europe prior to my California return. How ironic it was to be relieved by the rain, where in Galway I had felt the exact opposite. In a grander, more emotional sense, it makes you feel like your experiences in one location and time could provide the solutions to the ones you are facing now. But, sometimes this just isn't the case. For all the rain I had encountered in Ireland, I could never bring back here. One man’s trouble is another man’s fortune.
The neighbor, ex-soldier had a great amount of energy, especially for his age. I wonder how incredibly different the pace of his life on the battlefield was compared to what he experiences now. I wonder how similar the dynamics of his constant battle with his child’s impairment, how his training from the army has prepared for such a commanding task at home.
I couldn’t ever understand his daily thoughts or perspective. I can’t imagine the images and voices he has catalogued, the ones that interrupt the ordinary moments of his life, that he suppresses, that come and go in moments unannounced.
After dinner they turned on the television to a stand-up comedian with puppets. I could hardly laugh as he exploited Arabs, the elderly, women, and Mexicans with facsimile characters. I couldn’t understand the gall and the cowardice of his act: to not take anything on the shoulder himself, but to pantomime the rhetoric of misogyny, racism, and nationalism. It was complete other-ing and dissociation to a degree of blindness. It was really just the disembodied monologue of a dying empire lying to itself.
Speaking of dying empires, after everyone went to sleep I watched Lawrence of Arabia, about a misfit, flamboyant British soldier who was the outcast of his unit. He was assigned to obtain intel on an Arabian prince, and over the course of a few months, led a band of disputing tribes to join together and continually defeat the opposing Turkish forces through guerrilla raids. After multiple executions and successes done by Lawrence, his hubris and lust for power got the best of him. Despite his friend, Sharif Ali’s, counsel, he soon found himself arrested and beaten in a Saudi Arabian town trying to recruit others into his army. Dejected, he abandoned his tribal army and returned back to the British forces where they persuaded him to lead one last campaign to overtake Damascus.
Behind me, I could hear chanting from the TV. “Harvey! Harvey! Harvey!”
I turned around as a tall man with a beard and Mets jersey walked onto the baseball pitch. The announcer informed us that Harvey and the audience begged for his return to the pitch instead of giving the call for the closing pitcher. It was potentially a historical moment in which he’d be the second pitcher of all time to close a shut-out game in a World Series. There was no questioning and the coach permitted his return.
With thunderous applause he took the mound. The Royals’s hitter came up to plate. Harvey threw pitch after pitch to the unconfined excitement of the crowd. If he is able to achieve three outs without any runs in this last inning he will not only make the records but prevent the Royals from winning the series that day.
He throws and throws, to finally back the first batter down into a Full Count. The final pitch is sent and he walks him.
A silence ensues after to then elevate again as the next batter takes the stand. Harvey still has a chance at the game. The spotlight is on. It is his moment in history.
The previous batter stole second. The home crowd cheers, proclaiming his name to the heavens. He threw another curve and the batter makes contact, sending the ball into an empty space far in the left field. The Mets scrambled but to no avail because the first batter makes it around third and finally to the home plate. The game was two to one and there is another man on second.
The coach emerged from the bullpen and relieved Harvey of his duties. He slapped his palm into his mitt as the audience applauds his otherwise exceptional game.
Just then the rain fell harder, I returned to look at the black screen before me. Behind me I could here the gradual progression of the Royals making run after run to the home plate. With extra innings, the game was over. The Royals had won.
The sound of rain captured my attention more, I was transported to my small room in Ireland. After months of seclusion, I sat in my room listening to the hurricane force of the weather tear at my ceiling. Scraps of paper and plastic swirled around in the empty parking lot and the streetlight bent almost twenty degrees before my lofted apartment window. Then, as if ripped off by a hand, the ceiling blew open and I was lifted into the sky, tumbling in the flotsam of madness...
A film of white rain occluded my vision. In a fury of water I closed my eyes. I opened them again as the rain settled. I was on a two person canoe, rowing down a winding and reeded river on the border of Lithuania and Belarus with a colleague and friend from New York. In the rear seat I steered trying to not blame him for our lack of progress. I paddled and paddled for hours ignoring him as he relentlessly complained about and questioned the significance of gnats in our ecosystem. Before I was about to “accidentally” whack him on the head, we passed through an ingress to a glorious lake situated in a magisterial glade of the forest. We stood on the canoe, arms outspread and as the sun broke through the clouds we laughed our big adult laughs with childish fervor--just like you see on all those jeans commercials. He turned on an old radio and through the static a faint hum of classical music played.
My reverie quickly ended as thunder then erupted and rattled the porch. The sky lit up for a brief moment before everything returned to darkness. Stripped from my memory I looked at the book below me. I read the page about the fall of the Berlin Wall but couldn’t concentrate much further than that.
I turned back to the TV. The camera focussed in on Harvey in the bullpen as he stared, bloodshot eyes, through the fence at the lost game. I wondered what world of regrets eclipsed all the accomplishments he had gained at this point to get him there. I saw him running through those pitches over and over again in his head. His arm a windmill, turning, and turning, and turning.
It made me think of the Tex and the Rainbowman looking at the moon through their jail cell windows, remembering their days of power and criminal success. I thought of the neighbor walking through the hall of his small town at night after tucking in his kid, remembering how he crouched down, rifle ready, walking softly through the red poppy fields of Iraq. Or my friends in their band, drinking to excess and jamming bluegrass music in the greenroom until the club owner asked them to leave, far after the audience had left to their respective homes. I thought of the drunk old man who jumped off the wagon, as he danced on the bar, reigning him the local celebrity for those last few years of his life.
What meaning did those words have now? Because you are going to die, with or without it.
With or without it…
Dad turned off the TV and went to bed. On the lit porch I watched and listened to the rain fall. The white static of raindrops became a screen and I saw Lawrence in a vaulted, empty hall, chairs overturned, paper and garments strewn about everywhere, with Auda abu Tayi and Sharif Ali in the failed Arab council of Damascus.
There Auba tries to persuade Lawrence to return to the desert, but he relents. Audu asks, “Is it the blood? The desert has dried up more blood than you can think of.”
Lawrence replies, “I pray that I may never see the desert again. Hear me, God!”
Audu persists, “There is only the desert for you…”
The rain falls harder. It is a good thing. The water will replenish this arid land, revitalize the plants that have dried, and elevate the river and reservoir levels to a habitable degree. It will not be enough here, but it is better than nothing.
And these moments perpetuated—individually, naturally, and collectively—are enough to keep all of this going. It may not matter, and sometimes, it may not be good. But there are moments that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. The rest of the time, it is a much need rain and nothing much more than that. Nothing for the history books, just something to keep it all going.
So I sit here, this improbable, tiny cell of light, before a chandelier of rain, enclosed in darkness that extends as far as that possibly could be.
And maybe that old drunk was right, maybe there is glory in all forms of hydration.
On the white static of the rain, the movie projects again: Lawrence is in a car, transporting him down a desert road. He stands up as he passes a Boudin tribe, then sits.
The young driver says, “Well, Sir. Going home.”
Lawrence looks down perplexedly, “Hm?”
A motorcyclist then overtakes them as the camera intermittently follows a jeep containing a group of young soldiers chanting Harvey! Harvey! Harvey! as they head into war.
The camera cuts backs to the desert landscape as a plume of sand lifts into the air.
Then a close up of Lawrence as he looks onward in silence and I know what he’s thinking, I know exactly what he is thinking just before the rain stops and it cuts to black.
Nothing is written…what a beautiful thing to write.