“Tonight is a night of your life,” I whisper. “Live it while you can.”
He nods his head curiously, confused. “Okay.”
“Take it easy.”
He steps off the curb, clutching the can with a shivering hand. “Don’t forget the flowers,” he reminds me. “Well, goodbye.” He turns and walks across the icy street where an ivory Buick awaits with blazing flashers.
The snow tumbles from the sky in thick clumps, dying upon impact, upon arrival.
Yes, it’s all about the journey.
He slips inside the Buick and waves happily as the car blends with the traffic. I stand motionless, watching the future move forward around me. It suddenly occurs to me, as the relentless winter wind tosses my clothes like a flag in wartime, that tonight, also is a night of my life.
I will live it accordingly.
-Charles Romalotti Salad Days
I remember when I was younger and it never occurred to me that I was wasting time doing anything. Time ahead seemed infinite back then. Even though I truly did not figure living to see thirty plus, except in the vaguest sense of something like “Yeah, I’ll be dropping acid and smoking weed and listening to punk rock when I’m seventy”. Which was just the standard line I gave at around age 15 when my poor mother would remind me that I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing forever.
There was no forever though, there was only the day and where it would take me. There was a sense of immediacy to fucking everything back then; when at any point I could be faced with immanent death and would have been able to say I’d lived a full life. Well, as long as I got one more chance to eat another bag of shrooms and skate the parking towers in Seattle all night or get drunk and stage dive at just one more Accused show. So I lived accordingly.
Then I left home. Hit the streets up in Seattle, started doing junk, spent most of my time involved in petty drug dealing and other crime while sleeping in various abandominums. I was living how I wanted to live. I wasn’t unhappy. Every day was an adventure, though it wasn’t like you wake up under a puke stained blanket in a squat house when dope sick thinking “What kind of adventure am I going to have today?”. Time still seemed endless, like there was all of it in the world to be had. Except, well, except when you had to go cop dope and there’s a hold up. There was always a hold up back then. Seattle, back then, unless you wanted to go score low grade shit downtown or you could find a ride to the parking lot across from the Methadone clinic on Aurora…well, you had to wait for your connect. And like the old song says, “He’s never early, he’s always late, first thing you learn is that you always gotta wait.”
But, if faced with immanent death back then…and there were times I was precariously close….I still would have been able to say I’d lived a full life. Well, just one more shot, just a taste, and I’d lived a full life. Thus, I lived accordingly.
I don’t really know that I even started getting anything right until I got out of prison. At least, my perspective didn’t start changing until then. That doesn’t mean I think prison is good for people. I think I just needed time to get my shit straight. Not that much time and not there neccesarily, but I just needed to do some serious introspection n’ shit I guess.
I moved out here from Seattle in 93, but I still lived like there really was no tomorrow while taking for granted that I was going to live forever. The hallmark of immaturity, of refusing to grow up. Between 93 and 96 I at least stopped shooting dope. I was all into playing in atrocious sounding bands and taking photos of much less atrocious sounding bands. I didn’t think of time as finite then either, but I figured that since I was in my twenties I should be moving in some sort of direction. I guess at that point immanent death would have seemed like an interruption in my master scheme for rocking the Northeast corner of this state and NY in my awful punk bands. Thus, I lived according to those desires.
I mean, fuck, I was forward-looking enough to even start college. Though admittedly I did it mainly because it just seemed like what I should be doing. Everybody told me how great it was and how it wasn’t like high school at all. They lied. It wasn’t that different.
Somewhere in there I started up with the heroin again. Hit the city, lost the band, dropped out of college, went to prison, the full nine. While I locked up I gained an acute sense of time. Somewhat of a preternatural sense of time. At the end of every day I was bound to hear at least one old con say “one day closer to freedom”. And that was pretty much it. You. Count. The. Fucking. Days. And at the same time each day that passes is a day you are completely losing behind bars. It’s just fucking gone. You’ll never get the day back, you’ll never get the years back while you rot away in there. And then there’s the guys who die in there from whatever. You hear about it, you see it, and it’s just one of those things where you realize there is nowhere worse to die.
I had a cellie for awhile who was a lifer. He didn’t even bother with filing all the court appeals and claiming he was innocent. Him and another kid killed a guy during a robbery in 78. He was like 16 or 17. They tried him as an adult and gave him natural life. In Pa. a life sentence is just that. You don’t come up for parole after twenty years or whatever, you’re just done, period. One of the saddest things I ever saw was Harry, my cellie, telling this one noob prisoner the only way he was getting out was in a pine box after he asked Harry when his time was up. Harry was the best guitarist I ever met in my life, and one of the best I have ever heard play the instrument. He never bothered nobody. He liked to make home-made wine and get drunk now and then, but he never got belligerent or nothin. If it weren’t for him I never would have had a shot at playing bass in the prison band, and that band was about the only thing besides my ‘zine that kept me half sane in there. But he aint getting out. He’s gonna die in there for a crime he committed when he wasn’t even old enough to vote.
So, you know, I saw shit like that all around me for eight years. Just heartbreaking shit like this sixty-seven year old guy who was being prosecuted for a shooting in 1957 that his cousin committed. He was with his cousin when it happened, so they filed charges on him too. Nobody knew about it for decades, the guy never got in any more trouble-never even had a traffic ticket. Then somebody ratted the both of them out. Forty some odd years later. The court offered him a “deal” cause it happened in Jersey and he would have to be prosecuted there under the 1957 statutes. Fifteen years. Might as well have been lethal injection.
So yeah, since I’ve been out I’ve been aware of time. I still do what I want to do same as ever but I just want to do different shit now. I want to work and make money doing something legal. Something I could say a thorough individual would do and not some hustle run by some shady motherfucker. I don’t have a glamorous job, but I like it enough and I work with some good people. I have a wife and two step kids who mean the world to me. I don’t get high, fuck I don’t even drink anymore. I realize, at forty years old my time is finite. If faced with immanent death, I really wouldn’t want to go. I could still say I’ve lived a full life…but I’d feel like I was cheated from the opportunity to put something into it for other people. Cause I have responsibilities now. Before it didn’t matter. It was all about what I’d gotten and was getting out of life. Now it’s not so much that way. I don’t think of it as a dichotomy between responsibilities and desires, though. It’s more a mottling of both, and it’s a balance I’ve never even tried to strike except for in the past six or so years. The same kind of balance as the difference between growing up and growing old. The former I have, at least a great deal compared, and the latter I still refuse to, by the way. I try to live accordingly.