I think that somewhere between Buffalo, New York and Phoenix, Arizona I must have hit the bottom. The thing about the bottom is that only in retrospect can one tell if one has been there or not. It might not be recognized upon arrival. Asking one’s self, “Is this the bottom?” is of no use. One never knows if it might be possible to slip lower still.
Indeed, I did not understand that I had hit the bottom and was on the way back up until I looked through the motley collage of images stored on my camera. I had forgotten about this one. If you have a few minutes, I’ll tell you the story.
When I left Canada, I had no rational excuses for complaining. I had worked some things out. My immediate future was assured, insofar as one’s future can ever be guaranteed. I had settled family obligations as well as a life-long black sheep absentee can ever do. I had visited, conversed with, made the right noises, put on the appropriate clothes and been effusively grateful for all of the kindnesses which seemed to spring from some bottomless well of good will. In short, I was ready for What Comes Next.
The problem was that I could not find reason for expectations. Hope is sometimes a cruel mistress. One becomes timid of the lashes meted out by life. To hope is to expose the stripped back once again to the vagaries of the universe. Where there is hope there is also the risk of pain and disappointment. It is feels safer to be seduced by feigned indifference and passivity, to allow oneself to be dragged along with the flow of happenstance. It is easier to sit there in a nameless airport lounge eating plastic food from a plastic bag and say that I don’t really care any more. If I just keep telling myself that, it will be true. To sit and wait, not knowing for what.
At some convenience store on the way to the airport, Hans and I stopped for a last chance for cheap sustenance. Frugality prevents me from purchasing anything non-essential at an airport. In line with my mood I decided to discover how inexpensively I could fill my growling belly with sufficient bulk to tide me over until the next watering hole. As I perused the offerings my eye was caught by a familiar label from my impoverished youth:
Yes, for $1.86 I could tank up on calories and pump enough sugar into my blood to keep me from getting dizzy. My plan was to eat it in the departure lounge. What I failed to consider was the Spanish Inquisition of our day, the universally dreaded TSA.
Nobody interfered with my right to consume degrading food in a public place until I came to the station where one’s most intimate body parts are displayed as if they were party favors on a giant x-ray screen. I dutifully removed my shoes, my $8.00 suit coat, my black fedora and unpacked my innocent Toshiba computer from its hidey-hole and placed them all in the plastic trays for their trip through the place of exposure. My ravioli caught the attention of the protectors of our security.
You know the drill. The TSA man stepped in front of me and asked, rather too sternly, I think, “Is this your back pack?” I freely admitted so. He proceeded to tell me that my can of Chef Boyardee Ravioli was contraband and could not be allowed to accompany me to the departure lounge. I told him that I was planning to eat it before I boarded the plane, where it might be considered genuinely dangerous to something other than my digestive system. As he walked away with the potential weapon I dedcided to live very dangerously and spoke the hazardous words, “It’s sad when you’re forced to take away an old man’s breakfast.” He seemed to stumble a little. When he returned a minute or so later, he said, “You can keep it.”
At that point one of those crazy metaphors entered my head unannounced. I pictured a harmless forest animal cowering against a tree as a hunter pointed a gun at its head. When the trigger is pulled all that is heard is “CLICK”. Picture a cartoon of it. That’s what I saw in my head. Maybe that was the bottom. I don’t know. I said, “That’s very kind of you. Thank you.”
And then there was Sedona. Have you seen the beautiful performance of Peter Sellers playing out his best roll in the movie, Being There? This kind of surreal unexpected turn is what I’m talking about. Things start getting replaced by other things willy-nilly. Fear gives way to confidence, puzzlement to certainty. Laughter pushes sadness aside and depression is savaged by a soaring spirit. Doom and gloom begone! In the movie simple-mindedness was suddenly seen as profound. But Chance could not be transformed until he was released from the prison of pity in which he lived. His transformation was one of appearances and interpretation. Mine is real.
I heard about this old trunk and Grace’s hope for its future when we first pulled into her garage where it has lived for some years in the quiet company of garden tools and old school records:
Grace’s plan for the old trunk was to give it a purpose in life. She pictured it in a place where it could shine and be useful as an humble table for cool drinks in the toasty Arizona afternoons. I saw its beauty and its message under layers of rust and dust. As Grace insisted, paint was not the answer. It would only hide the story of the trunk. I began to formulate a title for my first Sedona art. It would be called Just Returned from a Sentimental Journey. At this point is is only half finished. My plan is to find two pairs of boots, one pair of men’s boots and one pair for a lady. I will fill them full of concrete and place bolts in the tops. I will then bolt the boots underneath the trunk, the woman’s boots facing to the right on the right end of the trunk and the man’s boots following on the left side walking in the same direction. This will make an amusing table for the patio. Sedona is a place where artistic inclinations can be allowed to run rampant. Nothing is too outrageous.
And I have not yet scratched the surface of the wealth of hard-living flora which speckle the deceptively barren landscape:
I have but a while to appreciate the austere beauty of this desert nearly a mile high in the thin atmosphere. No wonder I feel breathless most of the time.
Three years ago I was here visiting Grace with Eunie. I remember the holiday very well. We were consolidating our lives and planning for a sweet future of growing old together. We saw the Grand Canyon. I got my final tattoo, one I had been planning for a year. Many things have changed in my life since then. The loss of Eunie devastated me. I am still surprised that I survived it. It was a very close call. Along the worrisome way my new tattoo faded, the victim of my impatience to get it done quickly. I lost much ink when my arm swelled from the trauma of a too-quick job. I had in mind to return to the same shop to get it repaired:
The delightfully decorated young lady is a skin artist at Avatar Tat2 in Cottonwood, Arizona. Mery Bear is very skilled and has a deft touch. I would recommend her to anyone wishing to improve on God’s handiwork. Mery did an excellent job of renewing the colours on my arm. It is now bright and cheery.
I am, in total, being renewed. In the process I am happy to find that the best of the past is coming along with me. Eunie is as fresh in my mind as if I had had breakfast with her this morning.
Is this real or am I going to wake up? Time will tell.