Glory Be — Now!
So, it was — forty years ago today. Things were looking good, better than ever, really. There was an uneasiness roiling inside my psyche, but I did my best to try to ignore that. It would go away. I would run from it, just like I had successfully run from my ship when the heat got too hot to take, there.
“It’s nature’s way of telling you
All I needed to do was to get back on that road, and ride it all the way to glory. I was still on my Woody Guthrie kick, having read the book “Bound For Glory”, and recently seen the movie, with David Carradine playing Woody. It truly was glorious, in my still impressionable 22 year old mind.
While I was hardened and ground down by four hard years in the Navy, years that included some high achievements but lots of hard living, I did still have the tendency to latch onto dreams and be inspired by a movie, then want to live the way the heroes of the movies lived.
“We could steal time, just for one day
We can be Heroes, for ever and ever”
- David Bowie
I’d done that when I went AWOL from my ship, and spent sixty days on the road, from Norfolk, Virginia, to Portland, Oregon, on a greyhound bus, with two different girls, having gotten thrown off the bus in Nebraska, losing the first girl, but then finding another, not-quite-as-lovely, but kind female traveling companion on a later bus, who set me up with a place to live, temporarily, in Portland — until I got tossed out by her roommates!
Then, I’d tried hitchhiking back east, across Oregon and Idaho, into Utah, making it over the mountains just east of Ogden, 800 miles of 3500 under my thumb, when I’d bogged down. (Then, I’d felt very much like the main character in the Grateful Dead song, “Friend of the Devil” ) -
“I ran into the Devil, babe
He loaned me twenty bills
I spent that night in Utah
In a cave up in the hills”
So, I’d simply walked across the highway, and headed back west, back to Portland, where I would make my stand and ride out the rest of my AWOL adventure until I was ready to turn myself in to the authorities, all part of my plan to get transferred from my ship to another ship, away from the captain I despised and was scared to death of.
In my mind, I was living out the roles of characters like David Carradine’s Guthrie, or the Sundance Kid (from Butch Cassidy and …), or Lightfoot (from Thunderbolt and Lightfoot). There was action, plenty of action, and more action — if it wasn’t happening to me, I was creating it, to keep it going, keep it interesting and exciting, anything to beat the mundane, day to day stuff of living. That was for the birds — I was alive, and I was going to live it!
But, that’s the funny thing about movies and books and glory, vs. real life. Life isn’t a movie or a book, much as we’d like it to be. Day to day living is full of the mundane stuff that comprises living in the moment, in the now. The glory of living, as opposed to what we find in the movies or in books, comes in managing a way to master the mundane, to find the value of being in the now, no matter how mundane it may seem, without the need to glorify it, to make it more than what it is.
I would venture to say that, in many of my recollections of past exploits, which I’ve spent a good deal of my writing time doing over the past five years, mainly on Cowbird but continuing here on Story Hall, and over on AP (AllPoetry), my tales might come off just a bit glorified, like in a book or a movie. Even as I really believe I am recounting it the way it happened — no, I’m really not. I just think I am.
See, then I was living it. Now, I’m just remembering it. I’m telling a story about it. I’m entertaining, myself and my readers. I’m leaving out the mundane details, the day to day stuff that would bore me, and my readers, to tears. I’m focusing on the action, the memorable things that happened, amidst all of that mundane nonsense.
Forty years ago, today. That was the day that I climbed into my buddy Mike’s Jeep, and began another cross-country road trip, back to the West Coast, where I would begin my new, post-Navy life, in the land of sunshine and glory — California.
“Still a lot of lands to see
But I wouldn’t want to stay here
It’s too old and cold and settled in its ways here
Oh but California
California I’m coming home!”
Mike, inspired by the glory of my wildly successful AWOL jaunt, in which I got more than I’d bargained for — instead of a transfer to another ship, I’d gotten an honorable discharge, and freedom-was following in my footsteps, and giving me a free ride back to my future.
I only made it as far as Portland, Maine, with Mike. Well, actually, Kennebunkport, Maine, where we went to see our old sailor buddy, George.
George had inspired me to do one of the more interesting things I’ve done in my lifetime, when he was still on the ship with us. I had been planning to do something really stupid, before he’d intervened, convincing me to do something much less stupid — but forever memorable.
Now, we were both out, he having done his time and gotten his discharge the conventional way, me having forced the issue by my audacious AWOL actions. Mike was planning to do the same, and I would be his faithful companion on his AWOL journey.
Something happened to me, there in Maine, that made me turn around and look at myself. Something caught me off-guard, and I knew then, I needed to stop. I’ve long since blocked out whatever it was. Hell, up until I went over it again with Mike, in recent years, and he told me what actually happened, my recollection was that I had him pull over to the side of the road, in Massachussetts, and let me out, while he headed west, and I proceeded south.
That scenario made for a good story, and so I went with it. Mike reminded me what really happened. I had George drive me down to the bus station, and I split that scene, up there in Maine, without so much as a goodbye or a thanks to Mike for having taken me that far. I’ve never seen him since, although we have become great pen pals over the past nine years, or so.
In my ever-readiness for glory, I had hatched a scheme a few years ago where he and I would revisit the journey together that never happened, and in 2017 would take that trip in his jeep, from Norfolk to Treasure Island, in the San Francisco Bay, and write that book I’d always planned to write.
That one, like the first one, never happened — because, life happened, instead. After the first one, after George drove me to the bus station, I wound up back down in Norfolk, where I sunk into the depths of my alcoholism, and within a month, was crawling out of that abyss, and making my way back home, to Mom and Dad, where my running finally stopped.
I drank my last drink there a few days later, then tried to keep going with smoking some pot for a couple years, then quit that, but still tried to run for a few more years, before I finally ran out of steam, and surrendered to the mundane business of living life, on life’s terms, not mine.
That’s when life really happened. That’s when I got the job I’m still in today, when I met the girl who became the love of my life, and life sprang up around me. I didn’t have to chase after it — it came to me. It wasn’t like a movie or a book — it was just life. It was good. It was real.
So, any way, recent events made me realize — I was doing it again. I was chasing after something, glory maybe, a little more pizzazz, my own dramatic version of a mid-life crisis if you will — and I got a little carried away. Just like what happened forty years ago, I managed to heed the wake-up call that hit me between the eyes before it got a lot worse than it did. But, I know — it was headed in that direction. I was sacrificing who I really am, my true authenticity, for the glory I thought was out there, waiting for me.
Guess what — it isn’t. It’s all right here. It’s all right now. It’s life — it’s mundane, it’s not necessarily exciting — but, it’s mine. Ours. And, all I have to do is live it. That’s all the glory I really need.
“The dream is over. What can I say?
The dream is over — yesterday.
I was the dream-weaver, but now, I’m reborn
I was the Walrus — but now, I’m John
And, so, dear friends, you’ll just have to carry on
The dream is over…”
- John Lennon.