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"Where's your wife now?"

Friday 4/19/19

Dum, diddle dee don dum--little girl where do you come from?

Composed 1600 more words of "You're Up, You're Down, You're Up," my essay about climbing the Bunker Hill Monument, this morning, bringing the total of the piece to about 6000 words.


After the death of his wife, the great actor Peter Cushing, who starred so memorably in hearse-loads of Hammer horror films—and had a turn as the odious Governor Tarkin in Star Wars—attempted to kill himself by repeatedly climbing steps. Death by stairwell, was his intention. I wasn’t aware of this when I began the Monument climbs intended to keep me alive in the present, so that I could be available when called upon for a better life in the future. I’m aware of it now, though, having read Cushing’s memoir since, a thought which, when overlaid atop my deep climbing breaths, makes me feel like I am the re-animator; I am self-risen.

It is interesting the diametrically opposed way two people can look at the same thing and both can retain a degree of correctness. As I climb now I think of how the Monument conceivably parallels a manner of death box. Not that anyone has died in it during my climbing career, but people do pass out, ambulances are summoned, and of course nearly everyone stops to rest two, three, four times before reaching the top a single time, bending over and sucking wind, looking at the person they are with as though they want to crack a joke, then focusing back on the catching of breath and not passing out. You could, in theory, take yourself out in the Monument, sound life’s final bell. At the same time, I could not live without it, in the manner of being fully alive at this point in my life—tortorously unhappy, but fully alive—and I would certainly be dead without it.

It would be easy to assume, that within the Monument, you escape society. You have a reprieve from the ills of our age. The annoyances of the outside world are not to be found within this shaft of stone. That was a hope of mine when I began the climbs. Instead, I learned a powerful lesson, that wherever you go right now, what annoys you in one place, is going to find you in every other, and your solution to maintaining your peace of mind, or finding your peace of mind, or evolving into someone who will have peace of mind in the future, will come down to cultivating the expansion of your thoughts while processing the world around you, and not letting that world impede upon your growth.

For instance: it is all but impossible for me to make it to the top of the Monument once without multiple people giving me advice that I never solicited. Some of these people, whom I will pass two or three times, will not recall that it is I who has passed them two or three times, and, fancying themselves experts on everything—or someone with a two-bit opinion that counts just as much as everyone else’s, god damnit—give me their words of wisdom repeatedly.

“You’re never going to make it to the top, if you run.” Ah. Got it. “You need to pace yourself, you can’t do it like you’re doing it.” Cheers, thanks. “It’s not as easy as it looks.” Excellent, your counsel will serve me well. “How many cycles do you do?” Fella: we just had this conversation six minutes ago. We are doing cycles of the same conversations? Blimey.

It’s pretty depressing that people are so locked in their own worlds, even within a tightly compacted world like the Monument, that they fail to process what is happening right in front of their faces. You ask yourself, What can these people acutely observe? Anything?

I’ll answer these commenters and interlocutors for the most part, because this adds an extra strenuous element to the training aspect, like a bonus wrinkle, because now I have to say a sentence or two as I keep my pace. Attractive women from the ages of twenty-five to forty-five, usually just ask once, actually listen to my answer, and sometimes they are sticking around at the bottom to ask further questions for when I come down again, something I probably should work to turn into a love connection, and now as I type this I am wondering why I’ve been so stupid as to not even try.

A young woman in a Duke hoodie said, “Wow, ten climbs? You are very fit.” It was August, I was dripping all over myself. People at the top had just commented on my odor. “Something is ripe in here!” That happens. It’s my gym, dude. What do you smell like at the gym? But, you see, I was about to see this guy again in another five minutes when I was back at the top. That’s a truism of the Monument, as it is a truism of life, especially within the digital septic tank that is our social media and anonymous comment culture: People will say things to your back, thinking they’ll never see you again. To your face, knowing that you’ll be eyeball to eyeball with them multiple times in the future? Nah. People don’t like that.

This reminds me of a man who used to work at Harper’s, who absolutely hated me. I just wanted a response to my work—which he was going to form reject anyway, because I wasn’t one of his people—who sent me a nasty email saying, “You email me more than my wife.” Naturally I wondered why his wife emailed him at all. He was still employed there a couple years later when someone else brought me in for a meeting. The halls were very narrow—they were Monument-narrow, you might say. And along comes this guy, my buddy with the emailing wife, from the end of one corridor, and we’re going to have to pass so closely that we nearly touch, and as we did so, I leaned in and said, “Where’s your wife now?”

Ah. That was a little wrong. But I enjoyed it. That refrain plays in my head when I get back to the top and encounter some trash talker once more. They look at the ground so fast, like their feet held the key to their happiness, with a mix of the cure for cancer thrown in. There is no way they can look you in the eye. Then again, if I wasn’t locked on that experience myself, I might have had something better for the Duke woman, that could have ended up in us getting a coffee later on, after a hosing-down of my mephitic personage. I let whomever it was at the top get in my head, which took my focus away from better things. And this was a reminder that if I was going to remain healthy enough in dealing with what I had to deal with in my life and career, to be able to get to where I wanted to go, despite huge obstacles/envy/hate/pettiness/gossip, I was going to have to tune out such noise. Be aware of who was dispensing it, if they were creating problems I needed to solve, but not let them impact my blood pressure a single click. You do not get to rule your future happiness, and give those who aimed to keep you from it reasons to rue their pasts and now their present, if you are One Dead Fuck. Which is the same as forfeiting a game because you could not show up. I keep trying to show up. To be around for future games, to later be the scheduler of those games. The Monument helps me ride, anchored though it is to that drumlin in Charlestown.

At a certain temperature—this usually occurs in early spring—there is fog in the Monument. If you go up and down many times, generating more heat, because of the close quarters, you become a fog bank unto yourself, a hard-charging cloud. The vapory mist is spermatic, and it can smell like the sea, and I breath it in deeply as if it has enmeshed life itself, which I sort of think it does. People will text me things, when they know I am going to climb, like “have fun climbing,” as if this was enjoyable. It’s not in the least. I feel better about myself after. I wake up, and what happens with work is so bad that I often vomit. I’ll work 130 hours a week, and I will get boot after boot—which might as well have nails on the end for grip—in the face. I’ve already had a stroke, in my thirties. My climbs allow me to fight. They allow me to hang in. They allow me to say, “Lay on, you fuckers, smash me now, because ultimately I am going to prevail, I’m going to outlast you. I don’t die so easy.” The Monument is part of that, physically, but it is also a larger part of that, spiritually and attitudinally. It’s my soul’s medicine. If I were Popeye, it’d be my spinach. If I were the 1980 US Men’s hockey team, it would be my Herb Brooks speech before talking on the Soviets. It’s my friend. It’s my counsel. It’s my mirror. You know that Velvet Underground song that goes, “I’ll be your mirror/Reflect what you are/In case you don’t know”? That is the Monument’s siren song. If you know how to hear it. I know how to hear it.


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