T for Tom

Always Doing Things I’ve Never Done

Posted in Europe by johnsontoms on December 14, 2011

Always doing things I’ve never done, I feel alive like a skeleton ignited by fire inside the bones, burning through every fiber and using the heat to drive onward even when the body is lost.  Repetition weighs like a chainmail over the ribcage, depressing the sternum inward where the lungs can’t breathe, and after a long enough time the organs stop trying, stop moving at full speed and get accustomed to a long, lethargic process that keeps it merely alive but not longer living.  Everyday and every week becomes a search for treasure, like Ahab at sea or Ponce de Leon on foot for the Fountain of Youth, trying to find the answers to life and the secrets of vengeance, if life is the arbiter and the only source of revenge is living forever.

For myself the secrets are found simply in not standing still, not quitting to move and never looking back on the memories that play like ghosts on a television screen.  Growing old is growing apart, and leaving behind the scenes of my youth for the script of my life ahead has been the most enlivening experience for me so far, one that will be requited only on my deathbed as I lay dying, clutching the infernal bastard that finally shot me down and screaming “I’ll get you yet!” because if the afterlife exists it could only be used to move forward and away from the trappings of life on earth.  But for all her traps and pratfalls nothing could convince me that a life not on earth is worth finding, whether in the physical world or the phenomenal.  It is the soil that we spring from that must be touched, sifted between the fingers and heard as it drops quickly to the ground, the same way our bones will fall when the last shot rings out: the eyes may move skyward praying for an answer but the knees will buckle and the end will be met at the ground with a thud.  Before the mud claims our spirit it is our duty to the air that we breathe and the animals we flock, the trees we plant and the oceans we cross to breathe deeply, dine sweetly, replenish and travel to the sources of these most exciting and unparalleled moments of transience, the points on the map that mark where human history took a dive forward, either up or down but always in a new direction and see for ourselves where we grew further apart from each of those tools that we use: the air, the flocks, the trees and the seas.  Once we were joined in symbiosis like a Mozart harmony, the tenors dancing delicately on the bedeviled and dragging basses that march the tune along.  The animals could be counted on to migrate and with them the herds of humans would follow, and against the might of the struggle we would find trepidation and trials that wound us tightly to the core of existence: as one, and with all.  Lately though the fields are marched by John Phillip Sousa himself – a driving rhythm moving at a slow, pounding court that never sways, never falters from the low-down, dirty depths of progress, sounding powerful and empiric but only at the expense of beauty and the beauty of non-syncopation – we used to find our way delicately through the mist, surely each person finding their own way.  Now all we do is beat the same drum, or horse, if you will.

It all started following the war, that great event that tore everyone apart, or so they say.  Really, it was a fight of global purification, the swift movement towards one world, one society that brought us together after tearing us apart.  The Germans were killing for it, but the Americans won it.  I’ve now seen what it means to liberate a country, and not because I’m at the front of the line holding a rifle.  The past weekend was spent in Bastogne, Belgium, sight of the Nazi’s greatest push westward into the American front and for which the Battle of the Bulge got its name.  We were there to travel, to drink, and the relive the march that General Patton sent his troops on to relieve the small detachment that the Nazis sieged during the final months of World War II.  Bastogne is a small town in eastern Belgium with a French heritage, settled into the valley of the northern Alps where seven different highways converge, a transportation hub that gave whoever held it access to western, northern, and eastern Europe.  It was here that the Nazis attempted to salvage their war, and it was here that I saw the Yankees coming.   The people of Bastogne recreate the march and the singular battles that happened all throughout the siege on a weekly basis.  And joining them for one weekend I knew what they lived for.

These people lived and breathed the opportunity to pretend, the chance to be someone else and the moment that they could be somebody important, as a symbol for their own freedom and the freedom of life.  Streets filled with war trucks, machines, motorcycles and tanks from the American invasion and a third of every citizen in the street was uniformed from head-to-toe in military gear, looking every bit as detailed as the textbooks that give our generations the perceptions we have of the devilish beauty of war that masks the brutality underneath.  It was a sea of green and mud brown, rifles everywhere and motorcycles flying through the cobblestoned streets that overhead hang strings of lights declaring it was Christmas, that the soul should still be celebrated amidst chaos.  At each intersection where soldiers (real and fake alike) gathered there were conversations, drinks and patches traded, and slaps on the back with a hearty “Thank You!” to say that we’re having a good time, but every smile and every wave became a moment hanging in time where I could freeze the reality around me and sink into the environment that wasn’t truly mine, wasn’t there for me and became drunk when a wave was returned with an honest to god peace sign from the hand of a man dressed as a Yank; it was my own moving picture, seen at the Paramount Theater in 1945.  Knowledge learned is knowledge gained, and today’s world is littered with the detached artifacts of things that were but will never be again, attempting to fill the gaps with summations, guesses, extrapolations from what’s left to figure out how the hell we got to where we were.  But for just a minute I had Bill & Ted’s phone booth and it took me to a place where peace was dropped and lives once again could thrive.  The start of the march discovered for us the exact pictures that we were looking for but could never expect to see with our own eyes; the trailhead began at a Y-intersection and instantly I was greeted by a broken iron fence, only pieces left standing up at a canted angle where the chickens ran amok and squawked while running the other direction into the tall grass where the dew still sat as the sun slowly rose over the hills in the distance, every bit as if the war had just begun in this town and the walls were starting to fall from the firefights, the cold air breaking hard one direction and smacking the face with chills that drove the march into one of labor and not pleasure, the true source of liberation if no freedom was ever easy to find.  And as the number of steps piled up the instances of war did also – intersections where barns were missing walls but inside was the alliance troops ganged around, passing beer and smokes, smiling with their rifles thrown over their shoulders cheering that for only a minute they could break before putting their helmets on and getting back to business.  And when it was all done, the uniforms didn’t come off – the beer just became part of the uniform.

That evening brought with it the bars and the women, most of them in uniform, from soldiers to civilians they were dressed exactly as they were in 1945, farmers, panhandlers, shop-makers and shoe-cobblers all together under one roof to discuss the day’s activities and the troubles of life that for once were no longer a problem but were at that time something to celebrate – should we be thankful for the opportunity to work a job and survive a family, we have something to live for if the opposite means stillness and death.  There was the bleach-blond bombshell that looked like she came straight off the side of a B-52 Bomber, the type of woman that was found in the corner-store calendars of the time and the minds of every soldier, with names like Betty and Sue Ann, she stood five-foot-six and was every bit as candy-red lipstick and pouty lips as a fighting man could hope to come home to.  Her friend contained the same eloquence but stuffed into tight-fighting plaid and farmer’s overalls which were not enough to hold back the bosom that spilled through the sides of the shirt, a brunette this one but equal in passion with red lips and piercing blue eyes.  Of course they spoke not a bit of English.  Nor did their fighting counterpart – the kind of girl that you only see once in a few years, she was wearing a green parachutist suit and I’ll be damned if it didn’t ride perfectly down her backline to seam right at the seat of her ass to expose every inch and curve of what possibly were the only legs to every make me cry.  She too could only look quizzically as I tried to ask her how she was doing, but even just a hint of French language from her mouth was enough to satiate my night’s desire.  Everything about the hillside and women were perfect and perfectly disguised in a time that shipped us out of our being just like the soldiers they were pretending to be who were shipped overseas to fight for women they’d never see again, but maybe, just maybe, I’d see these women again because the fight for freedom is over but the fight for love never ends.  This is enough to drive a man mad.  It mostly drives them to war.  I’m no different, but in between take time to look at the river that runs through the middle of Laroche, Belgium, a waterway only a foot deep but riddle with a rock bed, no sand to be found so that the rushing water can be heard blocks away as it crashes around the corners of the centuries old wall that encases it inside the small town of maybe 400 people.  The stone castle atop the hill, only a quarter way up the mountain but high above the shops and cafes that adorn the streets, looks down over the people as they walk to and from work, probably not for a minute to think that what they have is the most beautiful existence in the world, untainted by the hands of modern thought and civilized thinking because here living is not outbalanced by profit.  It’s a shame to think that they could be so used to the sight of the pines rising high over their windows that sparkle with the rising morning that they think nothing of it, because they do the same thing over and over again.

The Yankees are coming!

It’s important to keep doing things differently.  Even if the actions have similarities it can’t be a copy or facsimile of something that previously has never worked.  But if just bringing a smile to my face is the end-means, there are many different ways to find this.  Just keep marching, onward to new places, to new people, with new bars and new drinks and new roads and new streets and new languages and haircuts and numbers and dances and cuisine and cars and stores, books, colors, shows, and women, women with their looks that cut back from across their shoulder when you catch their eye as they turn back to look me in the eyes but they can’t turn around to say hello because this world has business and it’s there’s to take care of even though they could just stop for one minute and find that always doing things they’ve never done before might lead to something they’ve always wanted even in the face of knowing that world the says what we should do is the same as everyone, but doing it differently is the only way or be damned.

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  1. Before Me Lied A New Dawn | T for Tom said, on December 28, 2013 at 1:48 am

    […] Clarity there existed in the folding iron fence taken over by the grips of time.  Only a single cemented post remained upright, a half-rolled distance of chicken-wire pulling out from one side before stopping not at its destination but upon an indeterminate length of grass, the total of which enclosed nothing.  The cemented post was adorned with the artisanal etching of a rooster, as sure as the chicken that now clucked its way down the slow hill toward the faint amount of water nestled in the crest of the valley.  The valley of which rolled back up and over again and down and around on all sides like the bubbling sheets of water that move over a creek bed of rocks, themselves smoothed over with the washing of time.   This was Bastogne, Belgium.  The scene was lifted straight from a film or a history book, and the image was modern, timeless, and iconic all at once.  It looked like the last relics of the great war. […]


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