I got up early to walk around the neighborhood. I need to walk around. It burns off energy that would otherwise be paced into a rut.
My head is a good place to be, except for one thing.
The good part is that it's like you walked into your dreamscape. It's everything you ever wanted. There's a giant ballpit, for example. There's skeeball and shuffleboard and solar-powered hovercraft rides over the bounty of nascent ecosystems. The brutal benevolence of green. There's gluten-free pizza and cold bubbly beverages with none of the side effects of cold bubbly beverages. You'll never have a hangover and diabetes doesn't exist. There are all the neat things you could ever want except for that one thing. Something distracting. Like the high-pitched screech you'd hear on old TVs. Sunny day; gentle breeze. Screeching. Something's always screeching. Imagine, if you will, your friend from the 80s who thought he could play guitar, and now his mom has bought him an amp and he's following you all over this otherwise perfect place with rancid licks of butchered anthem rock.
I'll say to myself out loud, "Wow, I have it all. Life is beautiful." And then I hear fat fingers running the neck of the guitar. It's the music world's version of fingernails on the chalkboard. He's a virtuoso of terrible; his fret stroking a cocking shotgun. Guitar boy unleashes his latest lyrics.
"Get on stage or on the air, Get off your derrière!
you're wasting time and you're going to perish."
It falls flat in the end but that's intentional. The composition of repentant lyrics are as lackluster as any attempt to overcome them.
I avert the glare of this query and head to the ball pit. The guitar guy tailing and wailing away on a song titled "What are you doing with your Masters degree?" He's able to rhyme this time with "the back door needs painted can't you see?"
The best thing I can do is write. When I write, I feel really good for, like, 9 hours. Almost the span of a day. But don't get cocky, Jared. You gotta keep it up.
Five days later I'm awake at 4am because I haven't written. My mom emerges. She was in my brain's theater that plays It's a Wonderful Life continuously. It was her idea.
"You're doing just fine!" she pronounces whilst carefully eating one piece of bottomless theater popcorn at a time.
It's about then, when the lead guitar of my internal panic is groining my leg and flinging sweaty mop droplets from his rock n roll hair, that I see my neighbor. To be clear, the guitarist is in my head. The neighbor's in real life. I'm happy to see her because just a few words with a another person turns off the noise. And this neighbor is not the person with whom you normally get a few words. She's quiet. She's suspect and she's suspicious. Typically she can be found crouching on her lawn picking renegade leaves of grass. It's the opposite of Walt Whitman's passionate classic. She looks like she hates the grass. It's a burden. It's her lot in life. Sometimes there's another woman, maybe her daughter, chugging cigarettes and mourning something. You know how you mourn and it's mostly fast and intense? You grasp at life's handrails and get back on track. These two women have seemed to master tantric mourning. Long-term bleakness.
I don't know their story but I'm always assuming it was some asshole guy. Asshole guys are the apex predator of great expectations. I imagine her as a little girl and her mother worried she'd turn out like her. That kind of scares the shit out of me.
This neighbor who may have turned out like her mother is walking towards me in the new light of 6am. I say 'hello' and she makes this wrinkled face like I'd just farted. That wasn't entirely unexpected. She passes without saying a word, you know, other than the thousands she hurled in silence. I chalk it up to a failed interaction. It's gonna happen in life.
"It always happens with you you YOU! You're so goddamn screwed!" screams the guitarist with double hook 'em horns raised above his head and relishing the spotlight.
And then this woman, in real life, stops and asks "Is that the pumpkins talking?"
I'm bouyed by this. Any interaction that starts with that question is a success, I quickly decide. I turn and she's looking at the neighbor's yard. They have seven inflatable pumpkins all lit up and smiling. They're the happiest gourds you've ever seen. It's funny these giant, celebratory yard items: They're so strangely out of context. Even if it is a pumpkin in October, it's a plastic pumpkin filled with electric air and smiling so big it looks like they could turn on you.
When she suggests they might be talking, they go from holiday happy to egregiously evil.
I restate the question.
"The pumpkins are talking?"
She paused and then spoke kind of to me but also kind of to the sidewalk. "I thought I heard the pumpkins talking."
I too paused. "Oh" I said, not wanting to be the unimaginative party pooper who shits on someone's incredible perception.
She turned to me. Making eye contact. "It's probably that car idling over there."
Even more amazing.
"The car?" I squeaked with a mix of confusion and joy. She didn't answer. She turned and walked away, apparently everything that needed to be said had been said. Although the car wouldn't shut up.
And the guitarist smashed his trusty ax and passed out on a bed of edible dreams.