Why can’t I be like other people? Other people are out there on the great boulevard of life doing what people are bound by sane order to do whilst sits I here skulking in this secret fortification gazing through my periscope onto humanity, wondering “who are they” and why so different than this cubical bound critter casting them a furtive eye as they strolls past his hidden lair never once acknowledging his presence, never a glance in his direction; critters which look a lot like me but exhibit an amazing sophistication oddly askance of my own nature and interests.
Lost and lonesome that’s me that just about spells it out, suspension from lucid dimension. Lost and Lonesome is how my musical cohort Big George of Redding, Calif., one-time train master for Union Pacific, Bakersfield to Blythe, entrepreneur extraordinaire, and I billed our little duet as we traipsed over the country pretending to be entertainers. Often we argued which was lost and which was lonesome but lately I’m wondering if “lost and lonesome” don’t title my character to a tee as the whole scene drifts off across the wide river leaving me in total bewilderment of my lot, wandering there and about in a land of yesterdays lost.
The angst came early and stayed late. Of being like “them” the waif hadn’t a chance; oh I often envied them, imagined I was a part of their community intermingling, taking part in activities natural to their species, laughing, working, playing but mostly I just watched from under the ledge, overlooked, dismissed or ignored—at least until I somehow fouled up. Then they noticed.
As a kid it was E.F. Hutton in reverse, my voice seldom heard others talked I listened and so is defined the enigma that is my life. Been times I’ve held hour’s long “conversations” with these amazingly talented creatures all the while uttering nary a word. Oh I was there, mouth open and ready of tongue but never got the chance. I became shy, silent and reclusive: Whilst my young friends traipsed over the countryside doing all those macho things guys are apt to do, I sat teaching myself guitar, whiling away the hours playing wildwood flower and dreaming of exotic adventures in exotic lands far from hearth and home amongst people who not only looked as me but shared my spiritual genetics. Left to my own council wandered I alone along rutted stone and dirt pathways, confined to my own narrow zone wary only of the genus to which I belonged – or maybe not – avoiding contact, leaving the road whenever an automobile came rattling by, hiding myself away to watch from the safety of the surrounding woodland.
Escape from my psychological prison was impossible but doesn’t mean attempts weren’t made: I began by trying to be noticed, and noticed that the best way to be noticed is by being different or disruptive. Being “different” wasn’t a hard thing to accomplish, but being intentionally disruptive was out of character for a kid suffering debilitating shyness. Yet, sometime sacrifices have to be made: anyone ever been a kid knows boredom is the birthplace of ingenuity, and ingenuity expresses itself in many ways.
Desperate straits call for desperate measures: To gain attention I played dumb, something I found quite easy to do. I asked foolish questions, did awkward things, speech rolled off my tongue in rhymes, other times I wrote poetry – well, limerick really. A kid can get a lot of mileage out of rhythm and rhyme. No, no being a good Christian lad it ‘wasn’t blackguard stuff like older boys did, and I wasn’t of a mind to get my hide tanned. It’s a paradox that a fellow my friend Big George referred to as “not the sharpest tool in the shed,” was at the same time, quite cunning.
The most memorable moment of those young “creative” years was a rhyme penned in honor of my teacher Ms. Imogene. In retrospect if one wishes for attention that would be the way to get it; to my regret, the ploy was hugely successful. The incident is ancient history but by chance was recently covered in an exchange betwixt me and my friend Mr. Timothy Hill of Fayetteville. When I had posted a note in limerick form on our social networking site, Mr. Hill was inspired to reply in kind:
“I’ve read your posts every time
Everything was written in rhyme
Ne’r a thing said
That turned my face red
In fact it was so sublime.”
Odd that you should say
For on this very day
In an article that I’m writing
Just to make it more exciting
A limerick of my teacher
Which she showed my father
That awoke me in my bed
And filled my soul with dread
Cried me, oh lord I’m dead.
It was not that I disliked Ms. Imogene, a beautiful lady really, but I had learned to read and to write which broadened my young horizons significantly and introduced me to a vast world beyond the shadow of Hopewell Mountain. The rest was tedious stuff, boredom overtook and sitting in a class room became not my cup o’ tea.
The scheme, hatched during study period was launched at lunch break; a group of recruits were gathered to make a fuss over a feigned secretive script as we alone were privy to dire circumstance. The note paper upon which was scrawled the complementary—well, “colorful” commentary was carried over ‘neath the old slippery elm tree and “accidentally” lost under the spying eyes of the school snitch. Soon as we dropped it he got it. Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately – that would work out to be my crowning achievement, the apogee of my fledgling creativity.
Nighttime and pitch black in my bedroom when I awoke to the voices of my father and the school marm reviewing my day’s activities, he apologetic, she a little upset; if ever there is one moment in life one would erase and replace, that would be mine. The incident had proven hurtful indeed, the scope of it reaching beyond a mere childish prank to the question of whether the young lady was really appreciated by the community. It didn’t help matters that the limerick was shown first to my uncle “Clyde” who failed to keep a straight face as he read it. The incident dogged my trail for a lifetime reminding to be kind and compassionate to people around me, that in hurting others a conscionable man succeeds in hurting himself as well.
Perhaps everyone has moments of feeling isolated from the norm, from the commonality of the species, a defining element in their psyche that by their own observation seems to set them apart from others. Perhaps there really are folks other than myself who feel the need to pay off old debts ere the sounding of the Last Trump. No one remembers the incident but I, not even Ms. Imogene when, after 50 years of conscience and procrastination, I sought her out to apologize.
These days the lad is less isolated, not so “lost and lonesome” as yesterday, keenly observant of the world around him and his place in it. One might suppose that after a long climb from the abyss of shyness and sensitivity, this column I write suggests that in the least I’ve made it up to the bottom rung.