Its my fiftieth birthday.
I haven’t written in my journal since february, though I have been keeping my Haiku Journal on twitter pretty assiduously on my phone. I want to write this one “birthday letter” that I was thinking about as I couldn’t fall back to sleep.
Sometime in the fall or Winter of 1976 I was walking through the basement of the church where whe had theatre at Copley Sq. High school. On the table of a room we didn’t regularly have access to was a newspaper. It looked old and I am inveterate newspaper reader so I walked over to it. It was the sports section from the Boston BGlobe from the day I was born, December 4th, 1959. I wish I could remember something pithy, like “the Bruins were winning when I was born,” but truthfully, I don’t that was a long time ago. And, since I was born in Japan, and thought of myself as a New Yorker even then, it didn’t seem particularly relevant. But I picked it up and kept it at least until my parents through my junk away when they sold the House I grew up in in the 80s or 90s.
I remember this bit of litter all these years later because it is a good reminder of my special sense of aesthetics. I saw it then, in my tight high-wasted bell bottoms, as a sighn of my special providence. I knew that I was not “select” like in some pilgrim’s progress sort of way, but in a nead coincidence and left-handed style sort of way. This was long before I would read Siddhartha but I knew that my life was not going to be one of great import to anyone but me. I guess I am an existentialist at heart, because I would have to find my own special meaning in the symbols of the world. Bradshaw or Winthrop or one of those pilgrim-y types saw an eagle fighting a snake and took it to mean something (the rightness of evangelical colonialism).
I saw an old sports section from the day I was born in a basement and I took it to mean something. I think it meant that I was to be happy with the quotidian (not vocabulary I had then), the everyday pleased me in ways that I cannot easily explain. But, Since this is my 50th Birthday, and I did wake up at 4 against my will, I will to limn it out. Looking back at my life I can see this aesthetic and moral value system even earlier. My first recollectionof it was when Scott and I walked to school alone in the winter of ’69-’70. We walked past a vacant gas station that was in ruins between Warren Ave and Columbus Ave. Methunion manner projects lay there the last time I was in Boston. It was across from Braddock Drugs where junkies would get paragoric cough syrup and there were always lots of cough syrup bottles littering the abandoned lot. It was there that the beginner junkies would “get straight” with codine. I would always marvel at the repetition of these bottles in their decay, fragmentation and crystaline green form. When the old came Scotty and I would crush the ice as it formed embedding the glass in the water crystals. It is now over 40 years later and I am still mesmerized by the formation of Ice Crystals. I look at their random perfection and skewed patterns and I am struck by their rightness.
Now I knew that this was a vacant lot full of litter. I knew that this was a place of peril and filth. I knew that this was where the lowest of the low went to shepherd their diminished chemical dreams into the abyss that was their lives. But I also saw a beauty there. I saw patterns, textures, artifacts, symbols, shapes, colors, textures, causes and effects, and, finally, meanings that Scott and the adults who told us not to got there didn’t want to see. I was a junior archeologist of some sort of hidden aesthetic that no-one-else saw. I was an anthropologist of the despair of those junkies (that were never there frozen December 8-AMs). What made them, like ants, repeat the same futile track across Columbus to the gas station and empty those light-green glass bottles? Why did those bottles and shards embedded in the thin -first of the season- ice attract me so?
So now I am 50. I’m not the child I once was. I don’t care about the Bruins, Celtics, Three Stooges or even girls (outside of Linda) anymore. But I am still the person who sees the hand of beauty in placement of litter. Indeed, for better or for worse, I would have to say that this is my “signature move.” I see the art and poetry that is littered evenly all around like the first snowflakes of a blizzard. The sidewalk is still visible, but it will soon be obliterated. Lost in a blanket of temporary beauty. The white that will come, the even-ness and sound absorbing uniformity that most look to as payment for the inconvenience of the snow is not stunning to me as the discarded little tykes truck that once made a kid so happy. The litter of our lives tells us much more about ourselves than the prized possessions.
Those things we want, that we work so hard to get, will be the beaters, whoopdis, litter, of the next snow storm. When they are new, they tell the story we want to hear. When they are cast away, discarded in heaps, like coffee grounds, tea leaves or the bones of the orishas, they tell us the truth.
Here’s a truth I can tell. I am fifty today. I am alive today. The world hids treasures for me today. And I will continue to be the archeologistof today, looking for the sports section of weighted import.