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July 2002

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Original Writings 

[What's This All About?]

 

The Night Guy Series

Part 8 - Interlude Concerning Voracious Reading, And Song Lyrics

Nate had always been a voracious reader and although it could be that his previously mentioned fanatical dedication to the Boston Red Sox and consequential nightly confiscation of transistor played its own small role in shaping his reading habits, his parents would have him believe that his predilection for the written word resulted directly from measures taken during his upbringing -- specifically their staunch refusal to allow a television and what they called its associated mind pollution into their home. 

Nate's mother, in answering complaints at the time and questions in the years since has claimed that their not owning a television was her personal decision and a sacrifice adhered to out of concern for the family's mental livelihood. A mandate instituted specifically to instill in them all an appreciation for things literary and musical. Nate's father, on the other hand, has said that the idea of owning what his wife referred to as "the lobotomy box" occurred to him only once in his life, during a trough of depression which set in between degree candidacies and just after he had broken one leg and the other ankle in a rock climbing accident. He claims he even sank low enough one morning to go careening down main street in his wheelchair with delusions of purchasing a set only to find that the appliance and electronics store, being down a flight of stairs, was inaccessible to wheelchairs. Nate can recall the day himself only because it was on the way home that his father happened to roll past a hobby shop, which was accessible to wheelchairs, where he got interested in building model trains. As a result of this happenstance, Nate received an elaborate N gauge set up for his birthday the following week that he wasn't allowed to play with. Nate's father spent the next month of evenings scooting around the guest room like a crab, working on the layout and waiting for his injuries to heal. 

Credit and blame aside, Nate has no proof that his early passion for the written word necessarily resulted from anything other than a childhood need to constantly entertain himself and since reading material was always readily available and television was not, well there it was. Nate hasn't come across enough people who were subjects in similar TV deprivation experiments to draw any specific conclusions and can only note that what is true is that before he got out on his own and his years became less formative and tended more towards erosion, Nate spent some serious time reading. 

Novels were always his main affection but he would peruse any writing he could lay his hands on. Pamphlets, cereal boxes, newspapers, magazines, fanzines, comic books, and short stories. Billboards, brochures, road maps, handbooks, cookbooks, librettos, biographies, autobiographies, how-to manuals, and Harlequins. Poems. He read everything by everyone from Robert Ludlum and Louis L'Amour to Judy Blume, Mark Twain, James Michener, Joseph Conrad, and Laura Ingalls Wilder's daughter Rose. Poems by the Roberts -- Service, Frost, Lowell, and Burns. Anything about Robin Hood, snakes, J.F.K and dinosaurs. Encyclopedia Brown, Sherlock Holmes and Harriet the Spy. Drs Suess, Spock, and Gonzo. Quantity took precedence over quality and he kept no record, had no real favorites that survived past their particular phase, and seemed to forget most of what he read as soon as he set it down to pick up something else. 

Another result of the imposed television boycott was that Nate listened to a good deal of music. He would spin one of his parents records, (which for some reason were mostly songs of the old west and sea shanties) whenever the house seemed too quiet and his transistor radio was a constant daily companion whether the Red Sox were playing or not. If Nate discovered a catchy chorus or thought a beat was pretty cool, he might save allowance or paper route money and go out and buy a record himself. He'd sing along, often with no comprehension of the ideas he was vocalizing harmony with, to anything he had heard enough to learn the words. 

"And he's bad bad Leroy Brown said no no no I don't drink that no more I'm tired of waking up on the floor everybody was kung fu fighting from the redwood forests to the gulf stream waters sunshine on my shoulders got my chips cashed in that's the way uhuh uhuh I like it uhuh give me the stuff, that sweet funky stuff."

Nate listened to what is now called disco, country, folk, blues, bluegrass, gospel, and pop for different stages and for various lengths of time although it wasn't because he'd made any conscious choice of camp. It was just what was on. It disturbs Nate now to recall the influence John Travolta and the soundtracks to his movies seemed to have in his immediate world. For Nate comes from a generation inundated with lyrics like; "You can tell by the way I use my walk I'm a woman's man no time for talk." Which suggests that they will probably not be remembered for a command of Frost, Whitman, or the Shakespearean sonnets. 

For Nate, with nothing personal intended towards Travolta, he would have preferred a background in a number of other Johns, perhaps Steinbeck, Swift, or Quincy Adams, over him any day. In fact, now that he considers the segment of his memory unwittingly committed to banal song lyrics that, under more creative circumstances, might have been applied, at least in part to, almost anything else, it seems a significant sacrifice of gray matter. As it stands, ingrained in his long term, are the words to almost any old song that he now hears and it occurs to him often that if the periodic table, geometric theorems, names of former presidents, or even state birds, flowers and capitals, had been put to a snappy rhythm by the Bee Gees or some other band given free access to the air waves, he would have them all at his permanent disposal. Nate doesn't know who's fault this all is and he's not necessarily bitter. It's just something that happens and it happened to him. 

The reading and music shaped and nursed him along and, as high school was winding down and he was trying with limited success to look further than his body, other bodies, and the clothes that covered them, he noticed in addition to the traditional rumblings of physical change that the books he chose had begun to reflect a budding wanderlust. Urges within him, cultivated during the recent years of reading much and doing little, started bubbling to the surface bringing with them questions of how he could extricate himself from the plight of devoted follower, distant enthusiast, and nameless fan and throw in with those actually leading the tumultuous, adventuresome, and unbelievable lives he was reading about. 

During his younger years, when it seemed like all the family was ever really doing was planning to move so they could be doing something else, all Nate had wanted was to stay in one place and sink the roots that his mother constantly talked about. When it finally happened, his parents separated, and he was stuck throughout high school in Tucson, Arizona, Nate realized roots weren't all they were cracked up to be. But the Reagan youth he had fallen in with there swept him along into college with sights set on the pursuit of monetary success and although he tried to buy in for awhile, it became quickly clear that his heart lacked whatever is necessary to compete in some never ending monopoly game. But with too much invested in the in crowd, minimal self confidence, and little sense of individuality to speak of, he simply plodded along with the herd, listening with mounting concern as he heard himself say things like; "Special rates for the Wall Street Journal? Of course I'm in on that O'Grady. You heard the Econ Prof. A fellow needs all the tools he can get if he's gonna climb to the top and get ahead." or "Johnson, hey buddy this is Johannsen calling to say AOK All systems go. You can definitely count me in on that pyramid scheme, we need to build capital for our first enterprise somehow!" and "What's that Schweibel? An internship at I.B.M.? Be sure to pick me up an application for that ASAP. I think it'd be just jazzin." 

But the reading helped carry him through and although his actions at the time may not have revealed it, he continued to allow his mind to dream and scheme of ways to fight the tide and cast himself in with the documented travelers, the picaroons, the swashbucklers, the pirates, the rebels, and the fools. As he labored and languished through classes such as Money and Banking, Accounting, Finite Mathematics and Intro to Marketing, wondering why he found it so hard to concentrate, Nate dreamed of the ocean, ski bumming, and roustabouting. Of stomping grapes in France and llama riding over the Andes. Of sailing to Australia as a deckhand, running with the bulls in Pamplona, or, in short, of experiencing any and everything that wasn't Tucson, Arizona. But Nate was caught up in things so mundane and deadening that he just didn't possess the energy or experience to escape them. Somehow, several precious years went by.

 

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