Welcome to Sunday. Help yourself to coffee.
It seems like it’s always 11 a.m., like it’s always 8 a.m., like it’s always 2 p.m. These moments keep happening, over and over. (Cue: footage of a factory assembly line, robot arms spot-welding a ring of perfect shimmering seconds along the equator of a spherical moment: empty now, filled later.)
Moments get really good at what they do, and in time they begin to develop a personality. (They cease being nomadic, they develop agriculture, they discover metal, create tools, weapons, art, invent a currency, …) Eventually, each moment, each hour, each once here-once gone tick of the second hand becomes a straining, shining epitome of itself. With enough exposure and practice, we can “feel” 4 p.m. (Sometimes it feels “earlier,” and sometimes it feels “later” but 4 p.m. is still just 4 p.m. It has no reason to lie to you.) Moments come to you like radiation from far away stars. They move through you like ghosts. They leave you with memories.
I am hyper-aware of “fifteen minutes” because it takes four of them to make an hour. I am hyper-aware of “three hours” because when you pass through four of these gateways you will find yourself exactly halfway through the 24-hour period we call a “day.” The same applies to “noon,” to “midnight.”
How close mythical 4 a.m. stands to the rail, relishing its prime position in the front row, just ahead of the heaving cosmic mosh pit and right up against the universal stage, watching every morning as each man, woman and child at each successive position on the globe begin to swim up and out of their respective dreams; their inner clocks responding subconsciously to the distant trumpeting wall of soft light which heralds the re-arrival of the re-dawn. Soon it will be 7 a.m., followed by the thing we call “lunch”, followed by “quitting time”, “dinner” and “happy hour.” Did we give these things names because we were tired of the numbers? (What ancient branding firm, which eternal freelancer was hired to name “fire” and “time” and “darkness”?)
Time measures entropy. It measures change. It never stops. Not once. Not ever — except maybe in the first flutterings of a far and distant moment of the future when the last human beings, frail and old and dying, will begin to close their eyes for good. Eyelids collapsing like a gentle fist; the end of the bloodline, the end of music, the end of architecture and aircraft, the end of pretty girls in sundresses. The end of tall trees swaying in the afternoon sun, the end of love notes and stolen kisses, the end of food trucks and good coffee. (Raise your fists and cry, “Moloch!”)
We gave time a name. Before us, it just “was.” We give the seasons an identity. We gave it a fake driver’s license and looked the other way when it began sneaking into clubs. We told ourselves it was good clean fun, that “it had to grow up sometime.” But when there is no one left to agonize over the wasted years and love lost in hesitation, when fleeting seconds fade like photographs, when there is no one left to pay lip service to each and every moment, those seconds will finally tick to termination.
The eyes are closed. The clock stops. The genie is freed from the bottle and bleeds out across the sky.
Prometheus was a Southerner, for sure and for certain. What better partner for earthy and sacred Indian tobacco than holy and nomadic fire? I quit smoking many years ago at the polite and repeated request of my lungs, let me be clear on this. And let me next mention that I no more welcome your anti-smoking pamphlets, your links to diseased lung imagery, or any other well-intended wisdom on this matter any more than I’d care to have you approach me at the funeral of a close friend and piously inform me that my dearly departed drinking buddy was a notorious porn lord. (Justice has already been served, mouse mind. Have some respect for the dead.) But there are still times when I miss the devil’s draw, the sensuous flame, the crackle and crash of chemicals coursing and colliding through my bloodstream.
It was a natural companion to the moment. Birthed from sliding airport doors into the yawning humidity of local time, my bag slung across my body, my head held high and my eyes peeled for vague threats and available cabs. It is then that I miss a cigarette. A welcoming act. A moment to think, to plot, to plan. (Fun science fact: A 6’ 4” man can origami himself into a neat meat cube tucked hard ahead of a screaming, kicking child and immediately adjacent to an unctuous mouth breather whose stale odor and radiating body heat are capable of fast-depleting an entire iPod battery. Trust me, I’ve had it happen!) Lighting a cigarette upon arrival was a pause for thought, a mobile magic ceremony where any evil spirits accrued on the journey were carved away with the monomolecular edge of my psychic knife, cast out and cast away by cast iron, doomed to wander the airport like a phantom panhandler. Tear the ticket in half and destroy the portal.
Walking on the broken backs of autumn leaves, a large coffee in one hand, my camera slung about my neck and headphones plunged deep into my ears, the sky is a precise shade of 05fdf4 and the large black dial in my brain switched over to GATHER, light ‘em up. Yes. This is when my beloved cigarettes are missed.
Hunched in the corner of my favorite dark Alaskan pub on a long and wintry night, the merry tinkle of ice in my whiskey glass, I am surrounded by a candle-lit cluster of questioning faces; one hand stabbing high through the haze as I work to make some quasi-crucial point that applies only to we handful of ambulatory meat puppets residing in some lone corner of the universe, a point probably forgotten in the morning, possibly even before the next round.) Light ’em up. The metallic ring of a Zippo lighter plays but one note: satisfaction.
Drinking my fourth espresso whilst bashing away at my computer, bare-knuckle brawling with my demons for each and every turn of phrase. Fingertips sore. Eyes strained. (Knuckles raw.) Flakes of white grey ash scattered across the surface of my desk like deadly drifts from a very small nuclear winter as the rising plumes of ghosts turn blue in the evening light. Last time I checked it was 10 a.m. The sun is going down. Hit ‘save’ and light ’em up. So it was written, so it will be. Smoking is a human experience.
I remember my first boom box, saving up for months to buy a tape and anguishing at the choice. This album or that? Is the Best Of as good as the original? What if I only like three tracks on the whole album? The long winter bus rides between Harrisburg and Columbus with headphones in, watching the miles whip past, flipping the tape until the batteries died. The coarse plaid of the seat cloth. The scuffs and scratches on the seat back. The Christmas lights and endless slush. Tires turning like radio static. Sitting in the back of the Greyhound with the jabbering weirdos and the raven-eyed old drunks. “Hey, kid. You wanna sip? Come on, I ain’t got no germs!”
There are (awkward) times when I want to ask my friends to consider legally adopting me so that I will have a greater and binding sense of belonging to something. What a burden I must be to them! I’m not called friend by many; the need to belong is nearly equal to the need to keep the population at arm’s length as I fight to maintain and understand my identity. But the moment I open myself up, the moment I reveal is the moment I slam the door shut and lock it down tight. (“No. I never said that. I am perfect as stone. I am self-reliant and unflinching. I make no mistakes. I lean on no one.”)
P.S. Cats are natural knife fighters. Most people make the mistake of watching the tips of their tails flick like a furry metronome. And that’s the moment they strike, lungeing in fast and shivving you hard between your floating ribs, using their body weight to turn the handle over sharp for good measure. Cracks the bone, sucks all the fight right out of you and hurts like a motherfucker. Oldest trick in the book; learned from the Egyptians and practiced on the gypsies. Bottom line, if you know you’re gonna get in a knife fight with a cat, bring a gun.
Or a toy mouse.