Hum Us
Chapter One: Chains & Other Reactionaries. My New York Felony.

The Radley Threshold

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"It's partly true, too, but it isn't all true.  People always think something's
all true."


"Moreoever, misunderstandings may be fruitful under certain circumstances."    -Hesse

Before I begin this post I’d like to say a word about standing still.  The moments we stand still just at the brink of something – a step, a leap, a tumble, a drive, a dive – we look out at our world and see.  Sometimes with fear.  Fear of the unknown.  Because who knows really, in the next moment we might die.  Movement eventually leads us to the end of the road and a new threshold beyond which we cannot see.  Death.  Birth.  Life.  The unknown.  This post is a bit of nostalgia and a little ditty about that moment before the plunge.


Today I wrote on my facebook wall:  "I dreamt last night that George Clooney gave me $110,000 to start making a movie.  Such a beautiful man, that George..."


I've oft heard it said - and so have you - that in dreams sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.  True enough, Sigmund.  True enough.  But when I woke up from this dream, I knew the instant I opened my eyes this was not one of those times.  This Clooney was, perhaps, THE George Clooney who lends his dashing smile to the screen and his silver studded voice to animated foxes.  But the man in my dream was someone dressed up as George.  Someone I know in the actual world of the actual Jason.  If such a place does actually exist...

It's funny because the dream happened in an instant.  An ordinary sleeping instant and I did not wake up with any 'ah ha' or heavy feeling of portents.  Yet the idea of it has stayed with me and tickeled my nose like a feather, lightly throughout the day as with the seemingly innocuous moment you approach an unpeeled onion.  I know, from the tickling of a feather to an onion might not be the metaphoric route you would take, but go with me on this.  You grab hold of the solid baseball-sized roundness and feel the crackly fibers of skin and place it on the wooded board.  Then the actual work of peeling begins and your relationship to it grows as you strip away layers. It gets heavier and more significant and your connection to this tuber root is as personal as it gets between a man and his vegetable.  Your skin tingles from the light electric acid juices.  There are tears like tiny plucked berry sprigs buckling at the seams of your eyes.  For me there is simultaneous laughing and crying.  It's a mess.  Yet it seems I’ve ordered onions in this take-out service that is my life; so a-peeling I will go.  

I pushed out of bed and put my feet to the floor and began conversing with the memory of my dream of George.  My feet do not feel quite connected to the rest of me when I first wake up and my steps are heavier than they would otherwise be.  I clomped around the room and then into the bath, muttering to myself with a husky morning voice.  What I was muttering to myself is what I didn't mention to George in the dream as he showed up with his unprepossesing smile; and that is that he actually has a part to play in this movie he's helped fund.  As far as screen time, it's a bit part.  But it's also one of THOSE bit parts.  Like a Boo Radley bit part.  I have no idea of the context at the time of casting Mockingbird in 1961, but if actors everywhere had our present hindsight, I have no doubt every A-lister across the nation and the globe would have lined up to beat-out the then unknown Robert Duvall for their chance to play that small but universe-inhabiting role of Boo.  In my movie, George doesn't play Boo at all really, though he is quiet in his own way.   And a wise man he is as well.  He also sports a Henry VIII cap whose plush purple matter flops to one side as he peaks his head around a doorway.  Below him peaks the head of another man, also wise in his way.  This one sports a thick white beard and a borsalino hat.  Don't know what a Borsalino is?  Think of a cross between Indiana Jones and that Amish kid from Witness and you're in the right borsalino hat ball park.  So Borsalino Bearded man is the low man on the totem pole here, fundamental you might say; then there's our Henry The Eighth George in the middle; and then there's Clark from St. Paul.  The shaman on top.  He wears sackcloth about his loins and a face painted Maury style.  He also carries a massive staff engraved with characters I don't quite recognize.  At one point in the story, these characters move in a spiral and begin to lift themselves up off the wood.  Anyway, during the short course of this sequence, a woman approaches the three men and Clark sticks out his tongue to reveal a tattoo of the Statue of Liberty.  She peels this tattoo off as if it were only a child’s sticker and passes it to another woman standing behind her.  As it passes, the sticker tattoo turns into a small trinket of a statue like one you can buy at zillions of shops about town.  Then it gets passed again and the trinket grows larger until the fourth woman, the daughter of the third, takes a more robust, fist-to-elbow sized souvenir of the Statue of Liberty. She holds it up for the audience to see and, with a weightless grin, tosses it over her shoulder into a bubbling caldron behind her.  

I know this description is a bit vague.  It's because I don't want to give it all up right this second.  Much happens before and much after the appearance of Clooney Boo and the statue toss.  It is actually part of a short music video and fits within the narrative of this movie George has given me one hundred and ten thousand dollars to start making.  You know, dream George.  I love calling him Clooney Boo.  It’s endearing.  Clooney Boo.

And speaking of bit parts and Boo Radley, Mr. Boo has also been on my mind all of his own today.  I've started reading Jeremy's book, Catcher In The Rye.  Yes, I call him Jeremy.  As I started the first few chapters of Jeremy’s book, it occurred to me I might want to bring in Steppenwolf and Mockingbird while I'm at it.  I wasn't sure why, exactly, just following a hunch.  Then later that evening I came across an essay by Harold Bloom where he passingly compares Salinger and Lee's work.  He questions whether or not Scout Finch is the stuff of permanence that Holden Caulfield is.  I think his question has been answered these fifty-three years later, don’t you?  Scout wins.  And as far as my own history goes, I've read Mockingbird at least eleven times.  This will be my first venture into the world of Holden Caulfield.

But there's also Steppenwolf.  We'll get to that believe me.  Steppy little wolf you are indeed, Harry Haller.  Harry Haller - he's Hesse's doppelgänger in that Steppenwolf story.  Just like Scout is Nelle Harper Lee's and Holden Caulfield is Jerome David Salinger's.  I say 'just like' because I don't know any of these people.  Only their doppels.  And I'd say there's as good a chance as any that Hesse is related to Haller in a manner similar to Scout’s affinity to Nelle, and Holden’s to Jeremy.  What that affinity is, I may never know.  I hope one day in that infinity of time I get to chit chat with all three; and their doppels.

So Boo, I started on a tangent about Boo and went off on another about doppels.  I was saying that as I was riding home from work on the subway today, I read about Nelle Harper Lee and about Boo.  Though the children in the novel know little to nothing about this ghost who lives next door, his existence is palpable fodder for their imaginations.  And it reminded me for some reason of a moment I'd nearly forgotten about my own childhood.

I grew up on Luna Way.  My street runs through a suburb of Salt Lake City called Cottonwood Heights.  A few years ago my mother proudly pointed out that Cottonwood Heights was recently named one of the top 100 most desirable living locations in the country.  Whoopty doo.  When I first knew it, I wouldn't say - like Scout - that it was anything like a tired old town.  Yet it did have a soporific sense about it.  A place that sometimes felt like it was on the verge of waking up.  And it's true that nearly every time I think of the place, it's in the morning.

Anyway, when I was around eleven or twelve, I used to visit a neighborhood block that others might call 'lower down' than mine.  La Cresta Drive.  You had to walk down a steady decline to get there and some of the houses were tucked behind trees and other growth.  Some fences.  It was more mysterious and hidden than my block.  And all the way around to one end of that block, my friend Malcolm lived with his parents.  The Brits of the neighborhood.  Though Malcolm was and is thoroughly American.  This memory is not specifically about Malcolm or his parents, Gordon and Cynthia (who we called Cyndi), but about a house all the way around and at the other end of his block.  On both sides of the block – where Malcolm was and where this other house was - our neighborhood ends; first with a road and eventually with a wall and a freeway on the other side of it. 

So this house on the other end of Malcolm’s was more transient in its inhabitants than his, and at this time and in this memory, a kid named Chad lived there with his mother.  They had moved here from Texas and that's nearly all I remember about him.  Except that he looked a bit like the kid who plays Flick and gets his tongue frozen to a flag pole near Christmas in that one movie we all know and love.  I'll call him Chad Flick.  I know that's not his real name, but who cares.  The Flick movie holds a bit of built-in nostalgia so Chad Flick gets to carry that with him in my story.  We were all down at Chad Flick's house.  By 'we all' I mean I was, Jason Barnett was, Chad Smith was, and maybe Malcolm was.  I don't remember for sure if Malcolm was there at the time.  I should ask.  We were chit-chatting away and the room we were in was not well-lit and the ceiling was not very high.  Chad Flick's mother, who could easily be played by a younger Paula Dean, was 'ya-alling' and smiling and trying her best to make her son’s new friends feel at home.  It was winter.  Snow on the ground, coats draped across the back of some darkly upholstered couch.  I think Chad's mom probably gave us food and something to drink. Then off we went.  We started out of the house down the road and as we did, we saw a white bunny and a couple of ducks squatting and waddling in the driveway next door to Chad’s house.  One of the ducks was waddling its way right into the road, and being boys of twelve we thought we'd kill two birds - really just the one - with one stone - really just the twelve.  And they weren't stones - they were snowballs.  We didn't kill it.  We did whack it with snow a few times and it waddled and flapped madly back up onto the driveway.  We giggled and chattered in our own little boy-gaggle and made our way on up the street.  We were near the end where the road turns right and back up into the 'regular' neighborhood of Luna Way.  The first thing I felt was a crushing sensation round my rib cage and a kind of muffled, internal shock-wave sound.  Then I was on my back and sliding across gravel and snow.  A man's head flew into view and he wore rage on his face, baby.  I think he was definitely baring his teeth. That part is true.  I don't think my memory of him holding a cocked fist over me is accurate.  But he did drag me several feet and he was yelling like a crazy one, waving his coat like paraphernalia to a crime, know what I'm saying?  I don't remember anything that happened between being on the ground and then back in Chad Flick's house with his mother on the phone.  She’d dialed the police.  We told her not to call them but she wasn't listening to us.  I also remember Jason Barnett explaining, as a twelve-year old would, how we had no idea why this guy was so pissed at us and that we had oh so gently nudged a snowball at the feet of this poor, helpless fluffy ducky thing so that it would hobble its precious precious way out from the harmful onslaught of the street and, you know, trillions of evil killer cars.  

All this I remembered on the subway home today.  Somehow it was about Boo.  Mostly because this guy next door lived by himself with his two ducks and a rabbit.  We knew nothing about him and we only saw him when he pulled me into a scissor dive across the snow and graveled road.  Bad bad boo man.  

Honest, I know nothing more about him.  But as I sat on the subway home I could picture myself in such a situation as his.  Solitary.  Enjoying the company of cuddly animals (I did have a French Lop named Chelsea when I was young, but that's another story); and misunderstood.  And seeing those pesky little bully brat kids who have everything and think nothing of squashing my innocent little precious things.  

But I also think of the boys.  

When you actually ARE a boy, you don't feel that way.  You just feel like you.  You're YOU and the world is the world and you relate to it as you.  But looking at the scene now as I did on the subway tonight, I thought of the 'what if.'  What if those boys were my nephew, True - who is right about that age now - and some of his wonky friends, who'd gone by and pelted snowballs at the neighbors' pets.  Very naughty True.  Bad True. Bad.  You can yell at him.  You can call his mother and get her on the case.  You can threaten to sue if you really must.  But.  If you lay a finger on him - on a twelve year old nephew of mine…. That’s the but.  And you should prepair yourself for it because it will not end pretty for you.  You'd better come at me with everything you've got because I will take you down town, baby.

So that's that about me and Boo.  Except in my story True is me and I'm Boo and that naughty man next door with his fluffy bunny and is a very naughty man indeed; is Bob Ewell.  Except that I just got finished identifying with the naughty man next door.  

So there's that.

Anyway, I'm rambling now.  It was a fun memory and a fun subway ride with some authors and their doppels.  With my twelve-year-old self and my little gang.  With my nephew and his gang.  I'm sure we'll see more of them soon.  And just think it all started with Georgie Porgie Clooney Boo Pie.  Who is not just Georgie Porgie Clooney Boo Pie at all.  He's real.  He knows.  I know.  And aside from the gang of three (you know - big G, big J, and big Boo), I think no one else in the world knows.  But I dreamt he gave me a wad of cash to make a movie.  Even if it was only a dream, I'm encouraged nonetheless.  

And it helped me to open my mouth and nibble on some of that onion.  

More to come.  Peel peel peel. 

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Oh, before I go, I should add something festive.  After all, Thanksgiving is upon us.  So I’ll say this:  I am very thankful for my childhood.  For my childhood friends and the top-one-hundred-most-desirable-places-to-live neighborhood I grew up in.  For Luna Way.  La Cresta Drive.  For tucked away houses and mysterious pockets. For the other streets of my life.  For my mother.  For Chad Flick’s mother.  Hell, why not… for ALL mothers.  Okay, and fathers too.  For Utah.  For Texas.  For New York.  The Subway.  For Clooney Boo and his doppel.  For all doppels everywhere.  For ducks and bunnies and other furry things.  For snow.  For dreams.


        Think I'll go out and get a burger now.  With onions.

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