Monday, March 30, 2009

Omaha Gravity

I arrived in Omaha sometime in January, rattled by a white-knuckle out of Guadalajara and half-mad after two days and three nights of shepherding a three-legged kitten through Puerto Vallarta's barrio de crackheads. I slept for a couple weeks and when I awoke, I'd landed a job shelving books at the local library. I bought a gym membership and lost ten pounds I didn't have on me at the time. And life has coasted along in the Nebraska suburbs at a Ford Taurus pace. But the adventure hasn't ended. No, I'm afraid that so long as one has a brain, there is always adventure.

As I may have mentioned, I've been nominated to serve in the U.S. Peace Force. Two-point-two-five years of my roaring twenties lay etherized upon the operating table. A political map of the People's Republic of China is thumbtacked above the Ticonderoga. Sometimes I throw darts, other times I just stare.

My fondest memories from the past three years are some of the dullest. One of the many luxuries afforded to the chronic hobo is the freedom of occasional solitude. I spent a lot of my time abroad running or walking down side streets with an audiobook to keep me company. I got heavy into late night jogging during the Korean rainy season and would run six miles up the side of a small and misty mountain called Unamji, listening to Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. "Chapter Seven," announced the narrator in his Welsh brogue as I panted and shivered along the shoulder of a four-lane highway, "The Atomic Bomb."

And Poland. Never have I had so few friends as I did in Poland. I spent the winter indoors, hacking at Polish grammar, boiling kielbasa, making music videos. When it got tolerably warm, I would walk the town from one end to the other, from the Christmas Village in the center to the coaldusty lunar outskirts and back again. I was consuming audiobooks voraciously then. I hiked into the Świętokrzyskie woods listening to Walden and only grudgingly came back out.

These moments seem more adventurous to me than any of the actual globehopping I've done. And the moments which remain fresh in my mind are arbitrary ones, seemingly hand-picked by memory to be void of any significance. I think often of the night Jared Nelson threw two fistfulls of CDs against the dashboard of my Dodge Intrepid and growled, "Keith Petit, you sloppy bastard," while Ramshackle by Beck played low on the stereo. I also think of the weird euphoria I experienced roaming the Daegu University campus at midnight under a full moon with some girl I was supposed to like. It was the first green space I'd seen in eight months. You could hear bottles clinking and Korean frat boys shouting over the hills. This memory almost drowns out the present with its intensity, yet I'm not sure why it's there.

I've quoted this David Foster Wallace passage before, but I will quote it again because I'm senile and loving it:

"... our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home ... imagine [Kafka's] art as a kind of door. To envision us readers coming up and pounding on this door, pounding and pounding, not just wanting admission but needing it, we don't know what it is but we can feel it, this total desperation to enter, pounding and pushing and kicking, etc. That, finally, the door opens ... and it opens outward: we've been inside what we wanted all along."

And this little snippet from Heart of Darkness, which I read the other night, nestled in a naughahyde booth at the Village Inn on Galvin:

"... the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel, but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine."

I have seen strange things, but I've never been much for weaving sailor's yarns out of them, probably because I'm not very good at speaking in general. But I think it's partly that I don't find the plotline of my life all that interesting, and neither does anyone else. Often it's a non-event, or an odd sensation, or something moving in the periphery which fascinates me. Those moments where happiness bubbles out of you like an insupressible steam - where do those moments come from? Where do they go? Where did you come from, Cotton-Eyed Joe?

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