Archive | November, 2012

Eyes in Santa Fe

30 Nov

“Fuck you you pussy ass Mexicans. I don’t need you anyway. Go hang out in this ghetto ass Mexican park.” Then he makes eye contact with me. “And you too you fucking Mexican.”

He noticed me staring at him, wondering what the hell he was talking about.

“Oh, sorry bro. I’m all pissed off right now at those FUCKING IDIOTS AND I DON’T CARE IF THEY HEAR ME because they are a bunch of fucking DRUG ADDICTS. Dude, do a shot with me?”

He approaches the low concrete wall I had been sitting on, approaches way too close, and pulls a bottle out of his pocket. It has some pink liquid in it, and the bottle is labeled 20/20. He then pulls out another bottle, from the other pocket, I suppose, I didn’t really see. This one seems to be Vodka.

“No? What, are you too good to drink with me, mother fucker? I’m not a fucking Mexican. You can do a shot with me. I’m a Goddamned Spaniard. You shouldn’t be in this park, dude. Bro. This is a shitty park, trust me, I know. Do a shot with me bro? No? Man, I like you.” And he extends his hand, so I shake it. “Hey, look, a Porsche.” I’m looking him in the eyes and something about his look makes me think that when I turn around to see this Porsche, he’s gonna grab for my wallet or something. So, I do the only sensible thing, hold on to my book as tightly as I can, and turn around. To his credit, there was a Porche. I asked his name at some point; it is Ernie.

“Trust me, dude, I’m not a Mexican. Look at me. Do I look like I’m 44 years old? No, I don’t. I get all the girls. I was at this party last night…holy shit. Do you think I’m good looking?” He is standing way too close to me, such that I can’t even get up without bumping into him.

“I got an oxycontin. I’ll sell it to you for seven bucks. I don’t do drugs, I just got it. I just do this…” He holds up the bottle. “That and a little bit of weed and coke. But I don’t take any pills.” He looks almost shocked that I’m not interested, and his tone started to shift a bit, to become a bit more enraged. “Damn, bro, you are totally white. You even have blue eyes. You can’t be in this fucking park, man. Go over to the plaza where all the tourists are. This is my park. Blue eyed people aren’t allowed in this park.” He moves a bit, so I take the opportunity to stand up. “I’m sorry bro. I didn’t mean to disturb you. Hey, look at me man. Everything I’m wearing is Ralph Lauren. This shirt cost me a hundred and twenty bucks. Alright man. Bye.” And he turned and stormed off across the bridge.

A few hours passed; then the elderly, grey haired French lady looked at me with her soft, brown eyes when she told me not to worry about it, and I believed her. I had just eaten a blueberry crepe in her crepe shop, and when I came up to the front to pay, she told me they didn’t take debit cards. I had nearly enough, only 25 cents short, in cash. But she told me not to worry about it, so I didn’t, and I went back out onto the sidewalk and headed back through the plaza, holding my book and trying to get it into the long side pocket which was the reason I bought these shorts. I was thinking. Walking and thinking. Then, suddenly, from out of nowhere, this body was in front of me, a face in my face, and eyes I can only remember as black were peering into mine. “Do you support gay rights,” he demanded, not asked, and looked at me with as if to say the only acceptable answer was yes. I didn’t realize what he was at first, then I looked him over, saw the light blue polo-shirt with the ACLU logo on it, and the clip-board in his hand. “I’m not interested in doing a survey,” I heard myself say, and I walked past him, and he snarled after me, “It’s not a survey! It’s not a survey!” A few seconds later I passed by one of his blue-shirted compatriots who winked at me; I found that wink delightful.

A few hours passed; then I walked into the coffee shop by the train station, having arrived a good half hour early, and I saw the colors on her face. The tips of her eyelids were highlighted in black, her eyelids colored a deep blue, which blended to green then to purple which somehow blended into her face, such that you could hardly tell where the coloring actually stopped. Her arms were decorated with tattoos.

I brushed aside my initial thought, that someone so decorated must be hiding something, and began to see the colors as a life, existing both together and separate from this barista. I ordered a coffee, she filled it to the top, and I poured a bit out to make room for cream.

I sat at a corner table in the small, unoccupied dining area. The other guests were outside on the porch, when it started to downpour. The painted lady and her co-worker scrambled outside to get the various tables and umbrellas and other sundry items from the porch. As she moved in an out, hurry, I saw a flash of colors streaking through the room. She offered me a refill and left a good inch at the top, and handed me the cream.

The two (arguably) greatest works of English literature are set in Denmark. That isn’t my insight (I heard it from Michael Drout at a lecture…hadn’t thought of it like that before). Both also have fratricide as a central theme; both also talk about a king’s power being marked by the tribute paid to him; a driving force in both is wergild, explicitly or not; both are set against the backdrop of an ongoing political and martial conflict with men from the north; both have the hero dramatically declare his identity when appropriate. That is what I was doing in Santa Fe. Back on the train, I browsed through the endnotes of the Arden edition of Hamlet. I am no Shakespearean scholar, but I sort of assume, based on various things I have heard, that the Arden editions are the authoritative critical editions of Shakespeare, sort of like the equivalent of Klaeber’s editions of Beowulf. I marveled a bit at the small, olive colored book; I opened it up, and felt a chill when I looked at the publication date: 1895; and not a mark in it, but my name inside the cover, and $4.95 in the faint pencil of a used bookstore owner. Then I went to it. There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. I re-read that scene. He knows death is coming, he has already mused upon the unknown which is the afterlife, it fits perfectly. It has to be in the notes. He is defying augury, for crying out loud! So, I check the notes, hoping it will be there, hoping the authoritative edition will validate my meandering thoughts; but also hoping otherwise, hoping it won’t be there. And, ultimately to my delight, nothing but a quote of Matthew 10.29; only a reference to the second most important sparrow in the English literary imagination. I smiled and closed my eyes.

Douglas VanBenthuysen


Who Do You Need When You Come Undone?

30 Nov

“but when a southern anthem rings 
she will buckle to that sound 
when that southern anthem sings 
it will lay her burdens down”                                – Southern Anthem, Iron and Wine

When I am sad I go home.

All my life I have known who I am and where I come from. I’m a Southerner. An Oxonian. Sometimes a place can define you, make you who you are.  Not in any sense of fatalistic determination, I simply mean that when your environment is as all encompassing and (arcane) as Oxford, Mississippi the in late 80s and early 90s, it’s hard to not be a product of the southern gothic. At least for me. Move as I may, however far, I have that place so deeply ingrained in me it’s in the very core of my thoughts and actions, in the substance of my tears, and when I slip up, it’s in the slow drawl of my speech. We Oxonians have a sense of place- or of history- of a collective past so contradictory we spend our entire lives contemplating it.

When I am sad, I go home. It is my admission to vulnerability. I go to Mississippi. When my heart aches, I visit the red clay hills and steamy green deltas that both broke and healed me when I was young. The river. My river. My lake. And my town and my place. And I become part of a colletive we. Our place. I melt back into the clay from which I come.

The sights of magnolias and giant oak trees, of weeping willow and Spanish moss, of kudzu forests in the shape of dinosaurs, and the sounds of crickets and birds, and the smells that hang in the humidity like a thick blanket comprised entirely of a watery air. It’s all so familiar. It embraces me.

But It’s not the same. I grew up in a small town that was just beginning to be known for the miraculous nest of culture that it is. Now that we’re caught on, alumnus and other out-of-towners buy up the real estate and bulldoze our history in order to install chain restaurants, condominiums, and shopping centers. High end wine and cheese bars and private clubs are everywhere. They have torn down the older, crumbling buildings that I knew so well and erected newer, flashier, and higher city blocks than I ever dreamed of as a child. The woods have been replaced by high rise apartments. The population has more than doubled. My town is underneath, buried beneath progress.

Sadness frightens me- triggers the stress response- fight or flight- and I RUN. I run to something, though I don’t know exactly what it is- I simply run to the future. I run to move the ground beneath my feet. I run because I don’t want to answer for it, I don’t want to explain to them what it is.

And I am not quite certain as to who the ‘them’ I am referring to is.

Maybe ‘them’ is everyone who doesn’t get it, and those who don’t let it go, and those who don’t know, those who know too much.

Terrible Knowledge

-the kind that has a weight; the kind that leaves a scar.

I run back to where it originates, where everything originates in my world.

There is hope and beauty and peace in the absurd.

I have this memory from when I was very very young. So young that when I recall my memories they are just blips and blurs. My brother and I are playing in the backyard, up the hill by the blackberry patch at the edge if the woods. I remember the oak trees and the shape of the hill. The crunch of leaves beneath my feet. I remember the neighbors and their small farm. The old green truck that sat in the garden for so many decades it became part of the plant life. I hear the sound of the call of the wild turkey hens. I can smell the dirt and leaves. The memory is as alive as the little green grass snakes that hang from the trees. And I remember the blackberries. Our game is simply to push each other into the thorns. Our parents scold us. We both win, and neither of us ever win.

And all of it is gone now.

I remember the nightmare I had about Sardis Lake, full of faceless bodies missing their limbs and I remember not wanting to go water skiing because of it.

We played a game we called ‘scientist.’ We would poke at algae with sticks and fling it at the ducks. We roamed the woods in search of the tree with the initials carved into it. It had a mark, a wound left by lovers years before. Scarred. We found the spring that fed the lake- we named it. We saw the cannonball, left there from the war that raged and destroyed deep in the dark cervices of the county, and that still rages to this day. We stumbled upon a very old tombstone, picked it up, and brought it home us.

My best friend and I roamed wild in a forest that to us had no end. We lost our boundaries. We shot a squirrel. As it jumped from branch to branch we chased the poor bastard with a bombardment of .22 bullets. Finally one struck it- right through the head- and it fell 20 or so feet down to us. We killed it. The devil made us do it. We cried. Smeared the blood on our faces. Tied it to a brick and threw the body in the lake.

I remember the home movies we would make at the creepy old ice house. And how we would dare each other enter Faulkner’s woods or walk around Rowan Oak on the darkest, moonless nights.

How Ole Miss was nearly indistinguishable from the town itself.

“Meet me on the Square” 

Ice cream on the Square Books balcony and wasting time at As Seen on TV. Even the old Purvis’ pool hall, where children weren’t really allowed but we dared to go anyhow.

Living in a tornado alley and the familiarity of climbing into the tub and leaning an old mattress against the tiles, listening to the rain and thunder outside. And the the sight of the pottery manufacturing factory that Floyd and the other cats came from after it was leveled by a storm.

“We’ll be at the Grove”

I visit the plot of earth, next to my father’s, where I will spend my physical eternity when the time comes.  I will share my rest with many great men- my father, William Faulkner, the yellow fever deaths, past classmates, accomplished professors, and lauded statesmen. All gone now.

A comfort in the insanity. Acceptance in the inevitable.

And time slows down. A year happens each day I am at home- my Southern home- and when I return to my reality time has skipped ahead and things are different. It is my time machine. My reality check.

I’m lucky to come from such a place, to know the deep sadness and heavy air that hangs optimistically over the deep south. And it puts my own sadness into perspective because no matter how many times I see someone off to St. Peter’s, my sorrow is minuscule compared to the suffering and pain and loneliness that Oxford- that Mississippi- has known. I am insignificant in the story of the South.

And it is not a defeat to be sad. Just an observation. And it is not cured by these visits. Simply acknowledged. A celebration of the macabre.

A habit I cannot shake.

Perhaps when I am sad I go to the place that I associate with sadness. Sometimes I am too tired- and that underlying southern sadness is just all that I have left. And I think I want that more than nothing. Because to let my southern sadness go, to forget the great albatross that has anchored me thus far, would be to belittle it’s value to me all those years. To let it go and move on and forget about the place underneath the kitsch and development would be saying that there was nothing there worth remembering. And the nothing is scary and empty and sad. It is a cycle that cannot be broken. And to leave it and let it go entirely feels like a betrayal of how much I once felt for my woods and lakes, and how those places enveloped me, and what my kudzu covered jungle meant to me as I formed the shape I take now.

But sadness is not all. It can’t be. There has to be a balance.

If we loved once then we can love again.

The joy and thrill of beginning life still exists there alongside it. It is found on Bramlett hill. The innocence and awe of the world. The kind that wears off as we learn to weather the storm. With every break and every hurt is the reminder that I am still alive, that the deepest cuts heal and the gnarliest wounds mend up. Our scars are our maps.

I see the town as I remember it- I get lost now with the new roads and the new place- but the old Oxford is still there, underneath, lurking. You cannot kill a ghost.

And I am not sad I left. But there is always a sense of longing that I feel when I am away. I guess it is easier for me to preserve the memory from a distance.

But when I am sad I return to my home.

They Don’t Make This Model Anymore

24 Nov

I tend to gravitate towards the dangerous, odd, marginal, troublesome. Always. It’s the flaw in my design. I find trouble absolutely delightful. That’s the trouble.

Giving Thanks

22 Nov

Each year it gets harder and harder, the listing of all the things I love and for which I am thankful. Not because I haven’t got plenty, but because each year there are more and more wonders. And I am thankful for it all. I’m thankful for the enormity of the love in the world and I’m thankful for being a part of it, and thankful for being a person able to see it. The good and the bad, the dark and the light.

A wonderful exercise- thinking about the good. We spend entirely too much time griping about the bad.

I am thankful for:

Southern ghosts and desert landscapes
Morning glories
Good books
Hot chocolate on cold nights
Astro Zombies
My family
My jobs
My cheesy burger boss
Old friends. and new.
Growing up, and that I was given the chance to be a child once.
The fact that I wasn’t born terribly ordinary or common, even if it meant that I was instead born batshit crazy and odd.
Hot toddies- and whiskey in general
The smell of snow
The color of pink champagne
My bougainvillea
The memories of my travels and the anticipation of those to come. Thankful for getting the hell out of dodge.

Thankful that even though I won’t be home for Thanksgiving I will still be with people I love.

And I am thankful for still possessing the capacity to feel thankful. I’m thankful that life hasn’t broken me yet.

Getting ready to go home

20 Nov

You’re Doing It Wrong

18 Nov

Sometimes we just don’t catch a break.

I was looking forward to this Sunday, a day I actually have a break from almost everything. A slow morning recovery, returning to find everything is still in order and nothing was lost in the night, a little gym time, a trip to the comic book store, and eventually a movie. Some junk food? Hell, why not? Skype with old friends? Sure, I’ve got time.

And then this happened.


New plan:

scream so loud the neighbors come to check on me, cry with an anguish and woe so real it’s primal, take all the Ibuprophen in the world, ice toe with New Mexico’s heaviest ice pack.

Return to bed- beaten, defeated, broken and small.

Sometimes we just don’t catch a break.

She has to discipline her body

10 Nov


Shit went upside down there for a minute. Like way crazy. Name any aspect of my life, any at all, and it pretty much changed in a matter of about a week and a half. Woof.

So to deal with the new joys and stresses (all at once- a crazy feeling) I brought out my ‘bulldozer.’ That’s the part of my personality that powers through bullshit with such a lovely and sardonic sense of humor, my bulldozer.

And as always, one of my favorite motivational songs became the theme song for the last week of fuckall, which I originally thought was impossible- turns out it wasn’t, which is awesome. The song: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by the Flaming Lips.

In this instance, an expansive set of 3D data was given to me, someone essentially said “Go” and about nine people watched as I scrambled to make heads or tails of things. I was given 48 hours. Perfect (that’s sarcasm by the way).

So, with it all being done and myself having a LOT of excess adrenaline, I exercised my demons. What better way than death by cardio? If I have to live in a virtual model of the Super D site, I will at least look amazing doing it. 3D data is the evil-natured robots, and I have to be strong to fight them, so I’m taking lots of vitamins.

…I know I can beat them.


%d bloggers like this: