Sunday, November 5, 2006

And Strawberry Ice Cream Sandwhiches (p. 19)

And Strawberry Ice Cream Sandwhiches
Oedipus Jones

“Move closer, corpse of Catherine Tekakwitha, it is 20 below, I do not know how to hug you.”
-Leonard Cohen

I’ve fallen in love. I’ve fallen in love and I can hardly bear it. It’s not that I never expected to fall in love--that maddening, sickening, 4:43-in-the-morning-and-I-can’t-stop-writing-about-it kind of love. It’s not that at all. I’ve always had a sort of disgusting flare for the romantic (no matter how hard I’ve tried to hide it, tried to run from it), and it was never anything but a matter of time.

I just never thought I’d fall in love with a postcard.

But if you could just see this postcard, then you would understand. My God! You couldn’t believe the art, the love and the care and the passionate cries that must have gone into this postcard. The shortcomings of language could never be more apparent than in the frail attempt of a writer to capture in paltry prose the very essence of beauty (when even beauty itself, with all its array of nuance and connotation, seems a bastard misnomer in this particular signifier). My love is more than just cardstock and stamp, ink and idea. My love is a life all its own… but what kind of life is a life unrequited?

Forgive, if you will, an inevitably doomed attempt at an explanation (with the utmost poeticism, of course).

I live in small apartment in a small apartment building in a fairly busy section of a fairly small town. The placement of my residence is only relevant in its relation. This relation of relevance is found exactly sixty-six feet east of my building’s front steps, ninety-nine feet north of the town’s post office, cleverly standing in clear view of heaven, mockingly hiding the gateway to hell.

The structure in question, while known by many names, bears the official title: Infoshop and Community Resource Center. Its primary function, for all intents and purposes, seems to be amassing hippies and anarchists, the socially conscious and the consciously social (without mention to the undoubtedly present poseurs (with whom your admittedly unacclimated author would certainly fall akin)), for the fulfillment of a collective unconscious desire for rock and roll music. Those endless summer nights of loud interruptions from my reading have long since extended through the fall and now winter months.

The building itself is both unimpressive and unimportant. Possibly of equal unimportance (except, of course, to satisfy the unshakable curiosity of my theoretical Reader) is the nature of the activities held at this Infoshop. What is important (and I only italicize (as, I imagine, all great writers italicize) out of my own personal insecurities), is the fact that this building, this Infoshop--has at its front, as all buildings must (especially those ninety-nine feet north of post offices), a mailbox. (An obvious point, I’m well aware. But, I assure you, of dire importance to the story at hand.)

The entire action of the story is really culminated in one action--and a pedestrian one at that. (I apologize still, finding myself untrusting of the wording “pedestrian” to abate the anticlimax of this next statement.) The physical action of this story is perfect and complete in the singular act of checking the mail.

(With the ever-present fear of losing what little credibility I may have with the Reader (masking prose as poetry, feigning enlightenment in the hope of being heard…), I’m going to venture a brief change of tone. Not to suggest a lack of poetry in the mundane, I just can’t self-justify flowery language in the description of finding a piece of mail (no matter how beautiful) that was meant for my next-door neighbors. To cut to the balls of it all, that’s just what happened--I opened my mailbox and found an odd-looking postcard that was addressed to the Infoshop next-door. Curiosity (if not also a bit of that disgusting flare mentioned above) got the best of me.)

The postcard itself was visually captivating. It was obviously hand-made, not just purchased at some souvenir shop or gas station--consisting of a cardboard base with duct tape on the corners (--I’ll spare you the artful details of the duct tape’s tender placement). The front of the postcard was decorated with a shopping list written on notebook paper:

1 small thing milk
1 bg cheddar-n-sour cream
1 bg doritos
1 cake donut
1 strawberry ice cream sandwhich
1 milky way

On the back, written on long white labels with no return address:

Dear infoshop!

I hope everything is going well! I heard a story on the radio about a man who collected as many grocery lists as he could and pasted them in scrapbooks. He would scour grocery store floors—he said there was an “intimate poetry” to them. I think that’s very silly, but at the same time I really love it and kind of secretly agree. I miss you guys a lot and think about you all the time. I know that the space must be going well because I get ya’lls emails—so, good job! Could somebody please tell Ben and Chris that I’m considering purchasing a copy machine? Everybody I know just really needs a lot of goddam copies.
I love you guys!

Yours truly!
and strawberry ice cream sandwhiches,

Nikki R.

As I held the postcard, a tear began to well up in my eye. I haven’t been moved, deeply or otherwise, in years, but when I read that postcard I wept like a child. It wasn’t just the fact that the postcard was homemade. It wasn’t just the fact that the shopping list taped to the front was in a different handwriting and had a footprint on it. It wasn’t just that she spelled “goddam” the way that a spell-checker says is wrong—the angsty literary way. It wasn’t just that there was a real person behind this masterpiece. It was something else that, if it isn’t already apparent, I must not have the capacity to explain. If my attempt at conveying the magnificence of this postcard remains unaccomplished, it can only be said that there must be a more talented writer than myself who should have been the one checking my mailbox on that windy night. Or maybe the pinnacle work of human expression--of truth, of beauty, of passionate squalor and love—maybe that…something might possibly be beyond the limits of explanation. Maybe it just has to be experienced.

* * *

It's been twelve days since I opened my mailbox and found what artists and philosophers have been looking for forever. It's the middle of one of the most frigid winters I've ever experienced, but I don't care. I'm siting namked in my apartment with the windows open, and the cold wind is nothing when I hold the postcard. The floor is covered with pages and pages of worthless literature, torn-off covers, wasted lives. I've searched through it all—there is nothing left for me. Nobody else knows. No one ever knew. I'm the first.

I can hear a band warming up next-door. The hippies and anarchists (aren't we all just poseurs, really?) are waiting patiently as the collective unconscious grows more and more reckless. I know what they're looking for, but they won't ever find it. Not over there, not anywhere.

For a brief moment, I considered going over to the Infoshop. Maybe she would be there. Would I know her if she was? In the very least I could deliver the postcard to its proper destination. No. Proper is the wrong word. Intended destination. The very idea of propriety seems injust...

I'm sorry, Nikki R. (wherever you are), but I'm keeping your postcard. It was never anything but mine.