The wayward season

By - May 30th, 2008 02:52 pm
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I spent the long weekend in Michigan in what felt like a state of convalescence, although I have nothing to heal from besides a drumming anxiety that had welled up for no good reason and a persistent homesickness that had been creeping on me for weeks. And the drinking. Yes, there’s that. Really, we all know it; I’ve been on a bender since February.

Often my trips home involve non-stop action: long days with little kids and dogs, big family dinners, mad late-night drives to downtown Detroit, whiskey on the river gazing toward Canada, biking through the ghetto, dance parties in apartments, etc. This time, despite an international electronic music festival, several significant local rock showcases and a best friend in town from Baltimore, I did very little besides sit in the sun and play fetch with the dogs. The most adventurous endeavor I made was into a poison-ivy and mosquito-infested woods to retrieve my dog’s tennis ball and help my nephew climb out of a tree. The wildest time I had was in my best friend’s backyard with two bottles of wine, the dregs of some whiskey, tall candles and a computer full of music. We stayed up until dawn, catching up with each other and making sense of things. I didn’t go into the city at all. It was the closest I’ve come since graduating from high school to reliving the way I grew up: in the suburbs, antsy but anchored there, taken with the banal beauty of long lawns and long conversations, man-made ponds and dark, fresh skies.

On Memorial Day, I thought about how lucky it is that I haven’t lost anyone to a war. In South Carolina this week, my cousin was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force. He’s a careerist, trained at the Academy; he’s flown cargo planes all over the world, served in secret conflicts in Africa and Central Asia, trained Iraqi soldiers to fly fighter jets. He spent two years studying in Cairo and speaks fluent Arabic.

He’s older than I am, but we’re a lot alike: similarly smart, loving and warm, passionate about ideas, interested in the way the world works and concerned with getting it right. But we’ve pursued drastically different paths in life, and we’ll come to drastically different understandings of the world we inhabit. I tend to think of him as a kind of 21st century Indiana Jones, dusty, ballsy, full of tricks and tales of narrow escapes, resigned to his very exciting fate. I know it’s a fiction, but I stack my life up to it and feel boring at best, an underachiever at worst.

Then again, I know there are people who are stacking their lives up to the fictions that follow me around, too; the industrious days of the magazine editor, the glamorous nights of the big-city social ambassador. Those tall tales make me feel small, too, when the primary source of my life’s excitement of late has been driving too fast on the interstate, riding my bike down busy streets and wondering whether or not I’m going to make rent.

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I just finished reading Public Enemies by Bryan Burrough, the extraordinary story of the bank robbers and highway murderers who “terrorized” the nation during 1933 and 1934. (Yes, this is the Public Enemies upon which the Michael Mann/Johnny Depp movie is based; I’d recommend the book regardless, but especially if you’ve been following the making of the film. Burrough goes to exhausting lengths to correct the Hollywood-ization of criminals like Bonnie & Clyde and Ma Barker; it’s a mind-warp to think about an adaptation of his book starring Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover.) The author is careful to avoid glamorizing criminals, but I can’t help but imagine myself in idle moments as an outlaw, living by sweat and wit, tough as nails, ambling through dark parts of the country in desperation or in triumph, trying to run out the clock, or outsmart it. It’s an absurd legend to live by, but captivating.

But the summer holds promise, of adventure, if not of crime: I’m conserving as much as possible at home and saving the miles for strange and terrific journeys. Maybe western Wisconsin’s driftless zone, maybe the Sleeping Bear Dunes in the Leelenau Peninsula, hopefully Baltimore, with any luck a spur-of-the-moment road trip to New York City. And to kick-start the wayward season, stay tuned next week for live updates from – I kid you not – Branson, Missouri. You heard it here first – more details to come.

Categories: VITAL

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