Wednesday, June 13, 2007

clicks of the shutter from valdez

I remember very well certain clicks of the shutter from Valdez. I picture lying on the wooden platform that served as a step into the prefab bunkhouse with my arms crossed over my eyes, alternately railing against the anonymous malice of the fire alarm that had pulled us night shifters out of bed, and marveling at the work of the sun. I had not seen the sun since I had arrived in Valdez, and here it was peering under my defiant eyelids, here it came while I slept sweeping brilliant clouds out of the bay and greening the mountains to a brilliance only enhanced by streaks of still-living snow. . . I and my companions sat or lolled on the platform, surprised, disgruntled, half-dressed, cursing, blinking in the sunlight. I try, and hard, to remember whether I pulled off my shirt or not. Why should that be important? Probably I just lay back and pulled it up off my stomach and chest. I had stumbled out dressed for fog. Did we talk about anything? Little more than about “who the hell was pulling this trick,” about the ungodly 11 am we had gotten to bed, about (if you were new) the shocking change in the weather (this rush to crystalline) and finally, resignedly, about what we contemplated breaking out for breakfast. . .

The other picture has only returned to me this morning. It is of baskets of fish going down the conveyor belt to be picked up by the next crew until suddenly people down the line are yelling, “Hey! What’s this all about?” and we realizing that their table was fuller than ours, leaving them and us chuckling. The light, I believe, is fluorescent. The roar of the fans and the coslime feeders with the steady Chunk-hiss! Chunk-hiss! Chunk-hiss! of the headers fills my ears; the sterile smell of fish guts and blood palls the air. My sudden laughter and what it meant left me awestruck. It had burst through an hour of turmoil, interrupting an inner war over What to do to want to live, and How to fight off doom. How? I asked insistently, How? Of the cold, stripped salmon in my hands and the silent cluster of people around the table. And then the indignant shouts rang out. I took the easy grin on my face to be religious revelation, from fish to me. My wallowing in fish had, suddenly, a stroke of the possible in it. I dumped a renegade basket back into the tank still grinning. I may have tingled up the back of my legs. Question: and answer!

And of course there is the picture of my first night there, just off the ferry, setting up my tent in the dark atop the round stones, overhearing two guys making fun of me in a nearby tent.

The air leaves me different today and yesterday than previous days. It gave me a feeling familiar but completely forgotten until now: languid, lustrous, a slowness and watching their bodies move, a working shirtless in the night washing pots, hair long and obsessed with her presence but not with her, shaking with want, hard scrubbing and nervousness. . .

All the same songs sound out over springtime in America, except for a few enclaves of the Bronx and LA. “So I get on my guitar and play – just like yesterday – then I get on my knees and pray (bam bam ba-bam) We won’t get fooled again!” How many times have I heard this song?

So, Mr. Townshend, you are privileged with “not getting fooled” again in your blissful recording session but then the song is off on its own, leaving us programmed with the repeated sameness of that four minutes in time done over and over again as we work or play or drive. How ironic that a song extolling revolution can become such an ossified piece of the wall holding our energy – creative or revolutionary – inside, and slack as an early morning gas station attendant, content with studying the tabloid covers from his slouch behind the counter. . .

February 1992, Palo Alto, California

1 comment:

Starfire said...

Here we have a conundrum- how do we keep feeling alive in a world that we have populated with so much sameness? On the one hand, each new day the bright sun unveils new wonders for us, the weather is so-slightly like never before- the snow, or rain, or clear skies beckon us to a new sense of wonder.

Yet the human society is in its usual patterns. The same songs being played, we are almost being asked, 'be small, be temporary, fit into the system- who do you think you are, supposing something new and incredible is happening today? It's the same old stuff and here is the same old song, just to prove it!'

The irony is that like any art, that song was a work of revolution, of evolution, bursting free from the mundane, with all is deadness-of-heart. Yet put in a picture frame, played endlessly on a radio, it gets subsumed into 'the establishment', the ordinary, the mundane, making us feel lifeless again.

We are truly lost if we allow ourselves to be subsumed into society. Society is there to protect us, not us it. It has no rights, no legitimate opinions. We need a life lived beyond the media, a life filled with the mysterious wonder of each new day. Such is the real life. Such is the life the artists beckon us to, time after time, eon after eon.

Life only has a meaning, if we feel alive.