One week left.
About 30 years ago, I was living in a house next to campus with some friends. A few months after graduation, I had headed off to graduate school where an accounting assistantship was waiting for me, only to discover that the faculty member who’d promised me the assistantship was no longer there and neither was my assistantship. No great loss in my mind, as I’d already become unengaged to the woman who was the only reason I’d taken all those accounting courses during my senior year anyway. So I headed back to my old campus, my glory days, my small pond.
It was a home filled with music from Neil Young wailing away on that stereo to finger picked guitars and banjos on the porch and the piano by the tape recorder; I tried my hand at matching lyrics. A housemate’s visiting younger sister made me smile and we fell and she wrote me a song. It was a home filled with shrimp curry and dinner guests, the best one now long dead, a home filled with beer bottles full and empty and roaches of all description and late night discussions. In the front yard stood a giant spider made of welded railroad spikes.
And one day I decided to use my college cafeteria experience and go wash dishes at Yellowstone, and eventually boarded the bus. I got as far as the closest big city before sickness turned me around to my mattress where I stayed for a couple days. I was legitimately sick, but I think I was also afraid of the bears back then--now I’m eager for the bears, and afraid of the people. Back on campus, the April 1st edition of the college newspaper where I’d been a columnist included a notice that I’d been killed in a prairie dog stampede.
And in a few months, instead of an unwanted accounting assistantship, it became an English assistantship and a few of the best years of my life, living a couple floors above a great bar,
(I stole this photo from the internet—those windows at the very top were mine in the early 80s)
with The Clash constantly indecisive on the floor between, and the whistle of the train between Chicago and St. Louis, and the pizza place across the park, and the writers, and the women, and the beers at the porch tables, before my inability to swallow petty injustice got me fired from a fast food job, adrift in a farmers' recession, and back here in a major error.
And now what’s left of my stuff is in a storage unit across the street from the condemned collapsing jewelry factory where I worked when I returned here about 25 years ago, where the big seller was an earring of Michael Jackson’s glove. I’d met the latest fiancée while I was working there, gave her daughter a handful of gloves and she became the star of the school.
I spent some time with the ex-fiancée a few months ago until we reached the usual point where we disliked each other more than we liked each other. “You’re like a child,” she said. “Thank you,” I said, but apparently she didn’t mean it as a compliment. Do-over done, cross the three cats in the yard off the possible futures list I wrote up last fall.
But put a check mark next to working at Yellowstone which was also on that list. I don’t know how long I’ll last there considering that, as in the example I just gave you, I’ve quit or been fired from many jobs where employees are treated poorly, but there are places and things and beings I want to experience out there, and I think knowing in advance how bad certain aspects of it are likely to be will make a difference. I have a line drawn in the sand I call my mind and we’ll see how long it takes for them to try to drag me across it and whether my enjoyment outweighs the disgust.
It’s a shame really, because it could be an ideal experience for me if things were done a little differently. One of the commonest objections is that they schedule people for too many hours, not leaving them enough time to really enjoy the park. And let’s face it, the park is the only reason people are traveling hundreds, thousands of miles across the country and world--we’re not going for the opportunity of minimum wage service jobs we could get down the block. Also, I would gladly have let them take more money from my check in exchange for a private room but that’s not an option. Hell, if the food was good enough and the working hours few enough, I’d do it as straight barter—no pay needed. And I'm sure they'd have happier employees.
I also don’t know if I’ll actually see any of the money from the sale of my grandfather’s house which was promised all my life (let’s skip those sordid legal details and what the past few months have been like), and I don’t know if I’ll ever see that stored stuff again. The storage unit is less than a mile from a train station, so someday I could just head back out to Boston and take the big backpack from its box and add the journals and photos to the tent and sleeping bag and be back on my way west the same day—the books can be repurchased and most of the music is on this laptop. Except for the tapes, the songs written by the smiling sister and the New York calligrapher, finger picked and played.
It felt like I was saying goodbye to it all when I left it there yesterday—in theory, everything with me now, intended for life both at and after Yellowstone, is going to fit into a duffel bag under the bus and a gym bag on the bus. Whether I’ll be able to carry all this is another theory. To give you an idea of just how big this duffel bag is, it contains work shoes, hiking boots, lots of clothes including winter coat, blanket, laptop backpack, and a smaller duffel bag. In the gym bag will be camera, laptop, books, journals, toiletries, binoculars, food, and water.
As for those books, I’d planned to take a few favorites--Jack Turner’s The Abstract Wild, David Carroll’s Swampwalker’s Journal, some of Thoreau’s Journal—but we got offered extra free Vine books last month (some I’ve read and enjoyed which you might check out: 5 stars for Every Man in this Village is a Liar: An Education in War, 4 stars for Everything is Broken: A Tale of Catastrophe in Burma, and two 4 star novels with radicals, American Subversive, and Something Red) so I still have a few of those to read and review, taking up room, making up weight. Other than those, all I’ll be taking is a field guide and a cheap edition of Walden. What more does a man really need? Some of you might say Abbey, but I think that’s more of a state of mind than a book. Whether it’s the journey home or the fool’s progress is yet to be determined.