A wide tear in the fabric of the clouds revealed stars twinkling in the black abyss beside the rainbow-halo’d moon. It seemed to suggest something. Thoughts of several women orbited my head like cherubs floating around a cathedral steeple, some carrying harps and some with daggers. I tried to understand what the connection was of my mental goings-on with the display in the sky, but I couldn’t come up with anything. Maybe it was nothing.
“Do you ever look up?” Vernon was standing there smoking a cigarette, an old black maintenance man who is sometimes funny, sometimes condescending, kind of a know-it-all, though he does know-a-bit. I had waved to him when I had just passed him but went back to my thoughts right away.
“Yeah,” I said, stopping.
“What do you look at?”
“The sky,” I said.
“Come here, come here,” he said in a friendly way that made it sound unlike an order. I walked back over.
He pointed up to the sky. “You see that, what’s that?”
“Is that Venus?” I said.
“That’s Venus. What’s that?” he said, pointing to another star. Before I could come up with a guess he answered for me. “That’s Jupiter. I can see four moons right now with a pair of binoculars. There’s four moons in front of Jupiter, that’s why it’s twinklin.”
“Really?” I thought it was bullshit. “I had a telescope that was good for looking at the moon, other than that I couldn’t see shit with it.”
“Nah, I can see the moons of Jupiter with a pair of binoculars. I haven’t looked much though– I don’t want to be standin out in the fuckin cold at night after second shift, lookin up at shit.” His laugh sounded like an angry sea lion being speared in the throat. I laughed and walked into the factory.
The earthquake at the Washington Monument the previous summer had me in a mystical state, looking for signs in the sky and in the water and in songs and in human behavior. For a while I was a hard-line, evidence-based skeptic. It was a reaction to the Bush years and the rise of the internet and the general atmosphere of disrespect for science and evidence in various political movements. I was still that way, though I believed the mind has at least an essential, interactive part in creating reality out of what we perceive through the senses, something that can’t always be quantified through the instruments of science. I had gone from reaching out for metaphors as messages directly from the almighty, to disregarding metaphors as merely coincidence, to regarding the metaphors as phenomena I form with perception that are messages from the vast multiverse of the brain, somewhere out of the subconscious and perhaps the brain and the outer universe aren’t that different…
Days before the earthquake my wife and I had traveled to Pittsburgh from North Carolina. When we got off the interstate I saw a rainbow in the Eastern sky as The Who was asking me on the radio “Whooo are you are you are who are you are you…?” as I drove into my childhood neighborhood. That was the first omen that this would be a profoundly strange weekend.
Nervous anticipations, odd, vaguely insulting behavior from a few of the natives, little disappointments, weird little signals of something profound to come whirred around me like bees around a hive. I went head on into the weirdness the usual way, by getting obliviously drunk and seeing what it would do with me– the booze gods told me to play guitar and dance around like an idiot, bleeding from my fingers all over the guitar and the sidewalk of Carson Street on the South Side.. It was a cleansing. I needed rage out of me. Good old guitar. A girl stuck a dirty shriveled dollar in my shirt.
We drove from Pittsburgh to DC for an Arlington funeral for an old beloved National Press Club bartender who happened to be my wife’s great uncle. We had our dog along with us. While the memorial was going on Maggie the dog and me walked up to Kennedy’s grave, then to the top of the hill to the Tomb of the Unknown soldier. Maggie was thirsty and I got water from a fountain in my hand and she drank from it. I took her picture near the strange Roman memorial. Acres and acres of graves.
I met my cousin and his girlfriend for lunch at an outdoor cafe while my wife was at a post-memorial service reception in the Press Club. After that we wanted to go see the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial which had only been open for one day. We didn’t know where it was located exactly, but from the shots on the local TV news it looked like it was in the general vicinity of the Washington Monument. So we met on the street and began to walk on the walkway toward the Monument.
As we stepped on the outer ring the ground turned to jello. I looked up and the great obelisk shook. We were beneath it, close enough that if it had collapsed, it would have fallen on us. I thought I was having a dizzy spell or some kind of acid flashback. Maggie didn’t respond- being off the farm and walking around in metropolitan DC was weird enough for her, the ground turning to jello was just another strange string of events in her farm-dog sensory perception.
“Y’all ain’t use to that are you?” It was an old black lady pushing an older black lady in a wheelchair. “We’re from California, we get that all the time.” The earthquake was big enough that even they were a bit flustered by it.
Another guy was paranoid, “That wasn’t an earthquake, there was smoke coming from the ground over there.” To him the terrorists were attacking. He almost wanted it to happen.
My wife had her Iphone on her. People were feeling it back in Pittsburgh, down in North Carolina.
I wanted to walk away from the monument in case it collapsed, but we were taking our time, until the cops came in and started clearing people out. They were in 9/11 emergency mode. All the monuments were evacuated. They wouldn’t even let us cut through the grass in the park across the street from the White House, though President Obama was out of town. We began to walk back toward where the car was parked in a parking garage. I looked back and a helicopter was circling the Washington Monument.
The street was filled with suits in the middle of the workday, thousands in the streets, eerily quiet. The buildings were all evacuated. We managed to sneak back into our parking garage. We hopped into our little red rental car and got the hell out of DC.
It was profound and weird day for everybody.. but for me it was something out of Greek myth, a message from the gods of Freedom and Independence via the ultimate phallic symbol of American manhood. I’d soon have to stand alone, something in me knew that.
We took the long way home and drove near the epicenter of the quake, a little place called Mineral, VA with the dog sitting quietly in the back seat. Two months later my wife would be with someone else and I’d leave the farm. I’d be alone, independent and free.
My energy expends. I make little improvements. I don’t kill myself with worry. I forgive myself for mistakes. I have room. I can stretch out into the whole universe. Everything that exists is written, woven, painted, played from a chaotic void, and is immediately burned into the past. A tear in the fabric of reality helps to reveal the infinite. I walk into new neighborhoods, new forests, watching the picture move and breathe and change in front of me.