Monday, March 06, 2006

Dreaming of America

Kathy, I’m lost, I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why
Counting the cars on the new jersey turnpike
They’ve all gone to look for america
All gone to look for America
All gone to look for America

If you're a bit less ancient than I, the lyrics above are from "America," a song by Paul Simon. That song has always struck a chord and made its own internal music inside my rather cluttered head. Perhaps my oftimes "empty and aching" head.

In retrospect, mine is a writer's head. I'm not sure what that means exactly but I'm well aware that I'm continually occupied with what-ifs, why nots and well, dreams and fantasies that seem to party across my gray cells on a 24/7 basis. I'm not sure that this differentiates me from anyone else but it took me years to appreciate that some of my real life endeavors were doomed to failure because they were nothing more than an attempt to live out my own personal fiction.

I'm well aware, as I'm awake during the wee hours watching re-runs of "Andy Hardy Goes to College," that there's a large part of me that longs for a life of basic simplicity, honesty, decent, well-intentioned people, wise fathers, loving mothers, intact families and (once upon a time) un-neurotic girlfriends. In short, an image of America that was often portrayed though, I suspect, never quite really existed. What did exist, however, was the dream -- now considered naive.

One of my favorite movies of all time (I didn't say the "Andy Hardy" films were classics) is "Tender Mercies," by Horton Foote. The title alone should suggest why the movie appealed to me. It goes far beyond that, however. The characters communicate with sparse and eloquent simplicity. Where in most of our lives there would be revenge, in this film there is tenderness and acceptance. It's a love story, a story of our ability to care and heal -- short, sweet and simple. You done me wrong, Mr. Foote. I want to believe this stuff, you see! I want to use two words to communicate a thought or feeling as opposed to the two thousand that I and my urban counterparts seem so familiar with. After all, how many words does it take to express love and decency?

I hold this film and its author fully responsible for one of my more spectacularly failed relationships. (Well, not really, but it felt good to momentarily not take responsibility.) I always referred to this woman as my "Tender Mercies" fantasy. She was born in Texas but living in Southern California when I met her. She had a young son, attended church regularly and was a school teacher. ("That new school marm sure is somethin'!") If only someone had tapped me on the shoulder right then and there to remind me, "hey, dummy -- Tender Mercies was a MOVIE!!!"

The object of my affection turned out to be a significantly damaged human being. Her church-going turned out to be a desperate attempt to drown out just how un-church-like she really was. This lady had enough "sins" on the books to turn Yom Kippur into a 365 day a year event. (Look it up.) The sordid details are of no signficance here, only my realization that Horton had slipped me a bit of a hot Foote (sorry!)

What I had (and still have) to come to terms with is that Andy Hardy's home town, Carville, New York was made up in someone's head. And, shudder, shot in Hollywood. That between the neurotic, over-urbanized big city coasts of this country, the waving amber fields of grain are not necessarily filled with "good country folk."

Small town life, after all, can be just as stressful -- if not moreso -- than big town life. They don't even have the electric neon, Circuit City, shopping mall distractions that often help to provide a dose of self-medication to us overstimulated city dwellers. But bars still provide self-medication, motels provide freshly made beds (one can only hope) to sneak off with someone else's partner, etc. etc. etc. The truth is, Judge Hardy just might have been doing Mrs. Johnson next door. Or, at the least, rendering a judgement because it might help to line his pockets.

I fully believe that the people who populate my Tender Mercies fantasy do exist. I don't believe there are plenty, but many. It's unlikely that one has to live in Carville to be one of those people or find them; they're most likely peppered across the planet, often living too quietly to be noticed.

It's just that hopping on that Paul Simon bus to leave the big city to look for "America" is probably an exercise in futility. So what, if anything has changed? The best I can conjure up is that the dreams that party in my head used to party in more heads, more frequently. Perhaps if enough people still held the ideal, if enough people still wished to believe it, despite its mythic, "romantic" nature, it might've provided a heavier anchor, slowing our drift away from the dream. I'm fully aware that believing in Santa doesn't make him real. But I often wonder where the triumph is in coming to the realization that "it's just my mom and dad." We call that maturity. I wonder.

Toss me a cigarette, I think there's one in my raincoat.


Blogger knowwhereman said...

"...there's a large part of me that longs for a life of basic simplicity, honesty, decent, well-intentioned people, wise fathers, loving mothers, intact families and (once upon a time) un-neurotic girlfriends. In short, an image of America that was often portrayed though, I suspect, never quite really existed."

My preferred reality is that of
"Leave It To Beaver". I've always loved that show. The wise and
understanding father, the warm and
and dedicated mother, the good-hearted boys who have a touch of good natured naughtiness to spice up a character of goodness. And Eddie Haskell. The farthest edge of troublemaking and "evil" in this world should be Eddie. Nothing worse.

There's nothing wrong with longing for this kind of reality. Lord knows we spend enough time in another kind of world long enough every day. Something about
the character of America has changed in recent years, and it's
clearly not a direction for the better.

All of life's problems would not disappear if life could become more
like LITB. But many problems would. Each person decides every
day what his or her "story" is going to be that day. Each moment
one answers the questions of what kind of person do you want to be
today? What kind of world do you want to live in today? These decisions are made in the realm of the mind and spirit where one's life story begins to be chosen
and manifest.

Maybe your dream world in the privacy of your thoughts isn't
Andy Hardy or LITB. That's OK, as long as you choose one that works for you to make yourself and the world you live in a little bit nicer and a little more human each day. If "life is but a dream", then we can dream whatever we want,
can't we? Gee Wally, I think so.

5:57 PM  

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