T for Tom

I Like Big Cities.

Posted in Uncategorized by johnsontoms on August 16, 2011

I like big cities.  Something about the mystery that lies behind every street corner, every door, every sidewalk lamp, and how it spreads deep until the city limits hit the tree lines and still finds time to light up throughout the darkness of night.  Hidden in every square foot of space is someone new, some rich experience that I haven’t had that could lead to the greatest single minute, hour, night and time of my life.  I think often of my favorite parts of the cities I’ve been to and the people that have made those times the best of my life so far.

It never took much exploring through Austin to find a good time – whether on South Congress dancin’ to Dale Watson on Monday nights, at Zilker, Pease, Seawright, or Met Parks playing disc golf without a shirt on in the rain as the sun drops low over the horizon into gold and orange, walking around Town Lake talking to the cute couples holding hands, strolling through campus soaking in the exemplary atmosphere of our generations minds joined in the effort to engage and discuss our country’s important intellectual and political topics, bouncing from bar to bar on 6th Street shouting at the drunks who tend to shout back, pushing the car up to 80 MPH on HWY 635 driving around the west banks of the town on the cusp of the Central Texas Hill Country looking for a good place to stop and pass the time, usually on the ledge of the lookout where the cityscape spread out through the break of two slow rolling mountains.  Anything was possible and it’s the simple beauty of each time that makes me wish I were there again.  But I can never go back.  At least not ever in the same way.

It’s true for every city I know, some I’ve only seen once.  You’d be surprised what can happen halfway across the continent with a few good friends.  In Flagstaff, AZ I lost a good friend forever; not until the car ride home was over of course.  In Phoenix I learned that some people were never what I thought they were, and conversely that going home is a bad thing.  Now in Virginia I’ve made great new friends through the Army and have been to wonderful places I could never have otherwise imagined: walked the streets of Washington, D.C. in its entirety, able to see all the halls of our country’s political and historical past; strolled the sands of Virginia Beach to see the Atlantic Ocean and its bevy of ocean-goers.  Surely in each of these towns as I passed for the first time I saw and met many new people, read the expressions on strangers faces, and gathered one distinct piece of information – same shit different place.

Each day human beings with no reasonable physical commonality beyond citizenship engage in exactly the same behavior without attrition.  The concept is mind-blowing to me, to think that amongst the 350-million or so human animals that have gathered from sea to shining sea we have concocted only about 50-100 truly genuine different ways to live and behave, morally, religiously, scientifically, politically and without deviation.  Somehow the system has given us all the same dreams, ideas, and faiths and I sadly believe that less than 2% openly challenge this notion of accepted human behavior.  Is it right to find a job and support a family by finance, or by physical skills that can hunt/gather food and shelter?  Is it right to believe in a god that fits into a sociopolitical schema, or is it better to find a god through self-searching and possibly reach a conclusion outside of cultural normality? Is it even worth the stress, alienation, and torture that I could go through to achieve these answers, or is it better to accept that regardless of faith and without therefore a guided purpose to living the best we can do is go along?  I have no idea, but I hope not to quit.

Soon in a few weeks I’ll be able to finally disappear from my environment for a days, this time in a completely separate peace – I’m going to go hiking through the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Appalachians with a few platoonmates of mine, in hopes to find silence, the woods, and some cognition of nature.  It is of course a place I’ve never been, physically, but spiritually not dissimilar from the environments that often brought me the most comfort.  In the forests and the trees we are able, nay, forced to explore ourselves without the commonplace distractions so frequent to urban living – the list is endless but the simplest and most intrinsic can be stated as women and drinking.  Sure there will be drinking but I look forward to the canopy of trees overhead and staring down the mountainside at the clouds gathered below, able for the first time in months to escape a hangar floor where I work on combat helicopters, symbolic of the unnecessary aggression men oppose on men and instead focused on the harmony of the birds and the rain, the one flying with grace through the other that brings us humans such opposition and difficulty, thinking maybe for more than just a minute that surely these small examples of animal ingenuity and combined instinct might serve as obvious examples to the inferiority of the human species, and maybe for just a minute think that we cannot be serious if we think we’re doing well for ourselves.

There are so many things in front of us that it’s near to tragedy that many and most humans will never experience the true elation that comes with a riverside sunrise where the treeline across the banks turns from black to charcoal to navy to sky and the cows troll their way toward the water to begin grazing for the day, or that exact moment when a strong wind blows through a group of cedar trees in the spring, forcing each tree to release hundreds of its pollen bearing seed to lightly glide through the air like snowflakes on a winter day, hanging before your eyes in the sunlight and gently rolling to the ground and rest in hopes on it, too, sprouting one day.  In the daily regimen of working out and working on choppers I get infrequently the opportunity to witness a passing day, seen in the glow of the sunset on the leaves of a blooming chrysanthemum bush full of tiny pink feather-light petals that blow away in the wind.  But even here, even here where I am not allowed to leave the post come Saturday, there are these opportunities to see, and be aware.

In the cities these opportunities do exist and in a way more acutely sensible to our existence.  It is for the following reason that I believe I love cities so much – it is representative of our existence in this world and our relation to each other.  The best can be found in city squares and parks, areas designed to bring humans together, sometimes humans with each other and nature.  The pool at Barton Springs pushes the creek high into a swimmable depth at the trench of two sloping hills lined with a paved sidewalk, still cold enough to chill your bones, still strong enough to push you down, but still beautiful enough to let you remember that it’s mother nature that put this together and quite possibly put us together, too, not the other way around.  But if it weren’t for the city, the people wouldn’t exist.  Therein comes the glory when the two are combined well.  Go in a bar, dance with the women.  Go for a walk, talk to the strangers.  Turn a corner, turn a smile.  Were the streets to stay lit all night it would drive me wild, I wouldn’t know whether to sleep at night or day, to meet the sun or to meet the moon, each with their gifts and each with their surprises.

It cannot come to pass that this life will ever cease to amaze me.

For that reason also though it contains its same measure of sadness.  I wish when I meet these people on the benches waiting for the bus, sharing cigarettes and the failures that brought us together, that I could somehow make them more cognizant of their place in this random spectral moment, that somehow their intellectual connections with their nation, political party, or church are less important than their physical connections with the spaces and places and people and trees and weather around them, that if they weren’t so focused on where to cast their ballot or apply for work that they might take a minute to dive into a saloon for a bar and tip the waitress, because it’s the people that we can touch that need our help most.

If I could do it my way these words and thoughts would be put on paper where strangers passing a New York newsstand would stop and purchase a copy, then pass it on to their friends, and in years maybe I’ll be able to leave a legacy of saying important things.  Until then I’m content to drift, wander, and never find that place everyone is looking for.  The cities are everywhere after all and so too are the people.  Just roll on, town to town, road to road, woman to woman, drink by drink.  It’s all a mystery which one will be the one.

Maybe that’s why I like big cities.

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