There are many Fantastic Festivals Of The World of course, the overwhelming majority of which occur without notice except by respective locals. But then again that’s probably what makes them as fantastic as they are. We take what always is, what always was, and make it festive. Festoon the skies and bauble the walls. A fry up, a dress up. Play it up and dance it up and everything’s different for a day.
But if everything were different there’d be no celebration of home. One need only steer untoward and untowards. Look down, not up and you know.
Sidewalks. Whenever it is they stay the same, they collect what used to be celebratory, they don’t participate.
Wherever they are, they’re just there, the same no matter where you are. The streets have no name and every street looks the same.
Once learned, an image of a sidewalk is enough to conjure the name of the place the picture was taken and trip the lock to the memory box.
Sidewalks are always different in fact, small concrete squares in San Francisco, wide avenues unto themselves in Harlem, sparkly and with worn to rounded pebbles in Pittsburgh or even largely absent, like in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
In Charlotte Amalie, Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, the sidewalks are narrow, angled down and away from the old wooden buildings, buildings stacked upon one another, no wasted space. Storm-shutters made of old wood flank windows of old wood. Wooden doors with enormous iron hinges close off what’s private, could open any time, a threat to those of us who walked those tilted walkways.
The tilt helped balance the difference in short, short me and tall tall Allen, the only walking trip beyond the grand veranda outside our hotel room made during the week on the island. We’d made it down into Charlotte Amalie with few words, breaths better spent on the long leg throws he called walking.
Shopping, browsing, walking, picture taking, resting. A beer for me and a soda for him. Time for meds. More shopping and I got lost or he did. Separation and calls out. Shopping alone, anything he’d like?
Tourist crap, trifles. Trinkets and take-aways, crap stamped with “Charlotte Amalie” and “Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands”. However much later we find each other again and he’s toting a large bag.
Flash of recognition across the marketplace. Flash of more than that. Flash of that thing that makes us Us. Do you know that thing? Have you seen it leap across an open space and wonder why no one else has marked its path or noted its trail? Time Itself crackles and the light bends putting everyone else in special shadow.
He hands me the bag and we walk again down a narrow street on a narrow sidewalk, a quieter street and a sparser sidewalk and with no special reckoning or beckoning he on the curb side and I on the building side we configure ourselves and walk towards nowhere in particular but in the same direction. Neither of us knows where we’re going but We do.
And he lights a cigarette and I hate them but only on principle because I love the smell of them and the steps he takes, smacking the pack and pulling out just the one and reaching for the lighter and cupping his hand and taking that first pull while putting the lighter away and the anticipation of his left arm as it swings around behind me…
But it was Then And he was There And I am There
But this is Now and I can’t be there, not for long and not by choice…
My choices are limited, you see. It’s never a choice to live in the past, though some seem to live in the past. But no one does. One lives wishing. Wishing and whiling away their present lives, wishing they were still back there in the past.
But when you’re not trying, and when days like today happen, calendars in their jackboots trouncing over graves and flowerbeds and faces and dates and carpets…
and he’s right there in the field of your field, and you’re not touching because his skin on your skin is almost too much to bear, but you do bear it because you know that having to let go, to stop touching will be too much to bear.
And this, against this, in measure against this, sometimes sex is almost an insult, so fleeting and trivial, so brief and distracting, a gadfly fruit fly nipping biting down hard at this kind of Together and it’s so easy to see and why don’t they see?
…and his hand lands ingloriously on my left shoulder and falls forward, too long to stay put and we walk along and there’s just too much crap in this bag I’m carrying and who’s it for?
Hush, I’m told, and yes, it’s crap, but we’re here and they’re not, and Pat Robertson paid for our trip, remember?
Yes, I smiled and we walked.
I don’t remember how much more we walked, nor what really the rest of Charlotte Amalie looked like except in pictures and postcards I’ve seen since then. I remember we read a lot of books and I remember that I read both tomes of Angels in America (bad, bad idea, but I didn’t know what they were really about back then when I bought them).
There are some years when Allen’s birthday passes without notice except that a few days later I will have realized that it had passed and I’ll shrug a little shrug and wish a quiet birthday wish and some years it’ll be more and some years it’ll be much more.
It’s hard to say where on the scale this year fits, no matter what you might think at this point. There was a show on TV about St. Thomas a few days ago and from there to there to there to here to here to here and here I am.
Happy Birthday, Yog. I miss the hell out of you.