April 9th, 2007
I woke up and it was already 1:13 p.m. I was getting a late start, but by 1:15 I was (practically) fully awake, and I had roughly 26 hours until my first meeting with my new professor. It was to be a day of writing, and I was nervous about being behind the gun, but excited to see what I would come up with.
With my new roommate, Don Jeezy, and my first apartment, I was another step farther from Coupeville. That’s the thing they don’t tell you about moving away from home. It seems you move farther from “home sweet home” with each move to a new house. No matter if it be a modest apartment, campus housing, or a duplex in town, it never seems to be anything like home. No combination of posters, pictures of old friends, or soundtrack can recreate the sanctuary-ambience of Coupeville for me. My big, baby shit-green house in the middle of Whidbey Island’s smallest farm town had its own mythology in my mind. I feel safer there sometimes, under the watchful eye of the always gossipy, occasionally judgmental neighbors and a fleet of cops with nothing else to do, than in the enveloping field of Evergreen amidst a sea of well-wishing pacifists, most of whom have never been in a fight.
I distracted myself and snapped out of homesick trances by keeping busy.
A man of my upbringing, not at all an uncommon one, is subject to countless instances of heroism in those who push themselves to the limit. Whether it be Michael Jordan or Tony Montana, Jason McElwain or Jim Abbott, there is no shortage of role models who rise to the occasion and emerge triumphant in the face of adversity. But now, I often feel helpless in a field where intangibles like “the mood,” “writer’s block,” and “the zone” carry more weight than adrenaline, clutch, or raw desire. Besides, we had no cable in our new apartment, and writing about sports, I discovered, was difficult without the luxury of watching sports.
It had been two days since Moony, one of my closest and dearest friends from back home, had left for Iraq. I had expected this would leave me emotionally laden and with plenty to write about. However, much to my dismay, it had instead left me cold and stolid. This was most likely due in part to the fact that I hadn’t been able to see him and say goodbye before he left. I went home specifically with the intention to do just that, but he had been too busy with family business to hang out with the rest of the guys and I the night before his departure. The morning of, some buddies of mind went to his house early in the morning to see him, and they were supposed to pick me up on the way at 8 o’clock. When I woke up at 9:30, I called and found out they had gone without me. That is a memory I hope never to revisit, but I suspect I will do so frequently in the next 7-10 months until Moony returns home.
Since that morning, I had written only a single poem. I wasn’t ready to write about Moony leaving … yet. Instead, the poem was about a neighbor who had asked my parents that morning to take down the flag that flies in their front yard, claiming it was offensive.
It was a peace sign.
Jeezy came out of his room and showed me a coupon for a free lunch at IHOP, and we each quickly abandoned our plans of getting lots of work done at home and we were off; Jeezy had succumbed to hunger while I was just looking to stimulate new thoughts and maybe even get some pancakes in the process.
The previous day had been Don Jeezy’s 20th birthday. For him, it was less a celebration than it was a cold reminder of the three hundred and sixty-five long days he had to wait until we has legal drinking age. There’s really not much you can do at 20 that you can’t do at 19, truth be told.
For his gift, I’d gotten Jeezy a magnum of wine and the debut album from a NY rapper named Mims. How strange, I thought… two or three years ago I may have actually liked this album, but now Jeezy and I were listening strictly as parody, laughing out loud at Mims’ boasts concerning his Billboard status and #1 most downloaded ring-tone, as well as his triumphant self promotion. Whenever there was moment he had not yet graced the track, he would simply yell out his own name to fill the air, as though perhaps you’d forgotten whose album you had purchased – “Mims!”
We arrived at IHOP and waited a few moments. I was banging on an invisible bell in the lobby when we were finally welcomed by our waiter, a man in his late 40’s with a dirty blonde comb-over and a comically large moustache. He looked like a thin, sober Rip Taylor.
When he asked if I wanted soup or salad, I misheard and wondered - will I have room beyond my chicken for this “SuperSalad?”
“No thank you.” I replied.
“Either way, it’s free.” Don Jeezy interjected. I caught on, ordered a salad with 1000 Island dressing, and we continued discussing our excitement for what else Mims had to say.
Jeezy asked if we could stop by campus so he could rent a digital camera from media loan. Half-listening, I nodded my head somberly as I stared out the window behind him. Olympia’s excuse for “sunlight” was shifting in a hurry. From a distance, it seemed only cloudy, but a barrage of raindrops revealed themselves on the sidewalk nearest the IHOP window. It seemed proper furnishing for such a day. Although I was wearing shorts, and was sure to be freezing cold by the time we reached campus, at least I would not be tempted to spend the rest of the day outside. I just hoped the rain would not manifest in a dreary tone of writing, as it seemed to have done throughout the winter.
By the time we made it to campus, it was still raining. Although, the second we stepped out of the car, it turned to hail.
“It’s better than rain, I guess,” said Jeezy. “Instead of sticking to you and getting you wet, it just kinda bounces off you.”
“I don’t know,” I replied, “Hail’s no fun either…it’s like an endless barrage of mild annoyances.”
“…Just like life.” Don Jeezy quipped.
When he returned with his camera, he was carrying it in an absurdly oversized compartment – nothing short of a suitcase. It was black on black and had espionage appeal. Before I could even make fun of him for it, he laughed. He claimed Media Loan had no real reason for giving him this ridiculous carrying case. He asserted that perhaps it made people treat the camera a bit more carefully; After all, nothing could be assigned such a trunk unless it were very, very important.
We were walking back to the car when I heard a sort of half-sing, half-chant off in the distance. I didn’t give it a second thought (after all, this sort of thing is rather commonplace on campus) until I saw Jeezy come to a sudden halt out of my peripherals. He didn’t have to say a thing – I knew just then what was going on.
“Wait a second - ” Jeezy began…
“Holy shit…” I muttered.
“Eskay!!!” we called out in unison.
There, about 50 feet in the distance, was a frumpy, balding African man in a three-piece suit. The self-proclaimed Prince of Kenya appeared to have been visiting from … wherever it is he does…whatever it is he does. I knew he had spent a great deal of the previous 6 months in a mental institution in Seattle. Jeezy and I walked near toward him as he wandered around the dorm rooms aimlessly, singing in a very high pitch. I no longer attempt to decipher or find any meaning in the songs Eskay sings, but I listened intently just the same. It had been awhile since I’d had the pleasure of zoning out to his nonsensical ramblings, and I missed it.
We called his name again as we approached. This time, he stopped singing and looked at us.
“Who is it?!?” he sang.
“Dude … you’re not blind.” Jeezy said, as he hugged Eskay.
I hugged him, too, and he began to dance. Onlookers sported either a smirk and a giggle, or a confused expression of awe. The latter, of course, were the freshmen.
“Eskay,” Jeezy began in a deadly-serious tone.
“Do you want to go smoke right now?”
Eskay excitedly seconded the notion, and we were off to the woods, adding another member to our crew on the way, whom Jeezy and Eskay appeared to know, but whom I’d never met.
I was excited to go out to the woods. I hadn’t been since I moved off campus, and even in the waning months of campus living, I had taken for granted what many consider to be the greatest student resource here at The Evergreen State College. I had many, many fond memories from the woods.
If the field represents one side of Evergreen, I suppose the forest represents the other. If the field represents the social climate, the forest is a symbol for the catharsis and introspective thinking that seems to be an inevitable side-effect of living and learning in that climate.
Unfortunately, my retrospective sunglasses proved a bit rosy. I never remembered the many various trails of the woods being this wet. With each step I cringed as my white British Knight high-tops sunk half an inch into the trail, further dirtying the shoes I once vowed never to wear, having been autographed by Zaakir of Jurassic-5. They’d been through a lot since then – but cleaning this jungle brush, I thought, would be a real bitch.
With this in the back of my mind, I was nonetheless calmed by the enveloping nature of the woods. It was a rare occurrence, after all, in this day, to have found myself once again in an area where there seemed to be no imposing evidence of man’s presence. A closer look would reveal a number of bridges scattered, abandoned swings, and even a couple of hand-rails. But there is a scent to the whole experience that should really be right up there with 8 glasses of water, some exercise, and an apple as daily prescriptions. Even in the damn hail.
We arrived at a small creek and stopped on a sturdy but superfluous bridge, suspending us 6 or 7 inches above the audible flow of the stream.
“I think we should smoke here.” said Don Jeezy. Eskay jumped all over the idea.
“– yeah!” he shouted, and we agreed.
Eskay’s eyes had widened and his often frantic mind was clearly zoned in. Damn, I thought, this guy is a fiend!
Eskay and the unnamed, newly acquired member of our crew each took a big hit, and started coughing furiously. Just then, we heard someone coming down the trail. No one spoke, but there was a latent sense of paranoia that whoever it was would get us into trouble. For a few seconds, all one could hear throughout the entire woodland was the sound of coughing and rapidly approaching footsteps. A young white woman at least six feet tall came into sight and walked across the bridge.
“It’s marijuana!” Eskay shouted at her, for no apparent reason at all. The girl giggled and walked past us without breaking stride while the rest of us collapsed in a fit of laughter. Our hysterical shrieks echoed and could probably have been heard everywhere from the entrance of the woods all the way down to the waterfront. I hadn’t laughed like that in a long while and it felt like it had been waiting to come out for some time.
I thought of Moony. Two years ago, we had been in essentially the same position: Two white, middle-class males with more opportunity than we were willing to acknowledge. All we wanted was to take our 400 meter relay team to State, win, and then find someone to buy us some beer to celebrate. We were in the midst of our glory days, and we knew it. Thusly, we were so wrapped up in soaking it all in, we didn’t give much thought to the idea of life beyond Coupeville.
We were more than happy, we were perfect – but we were archetypes, not yet developed into men, with identities. Somewhere in that odyssey, Moony lost his way.
A year and a half ago, we were in a different chapter of the same story. Still, essentially, in the same position as each other: confused, afraid, and not ready to leave home as we were hurled into a world that was so much bigger than Coupeville it terrified us. But we had each other. All the guys were experiencing some manner of the same crisis. We’d call one another late at night and reminisce about the good ol’ days as though they’d been decades ago. It seemed like from college to college, none of the guys liked their new friends as much as the clique from back home. Something about growing up together in a town with one stop light forges a bond that cannot be shaken. It lives on for all of us, if only in our memories.
I often lay awake at night and click my teeth mindlessly to the beat of Bill Ward’s drums, wondering where I would be if Moony and I had remained on such parallel tracks. When I say Evergreen saved my life, is there an underlying veil of literal truth?
These late-night mental journal entries usually conclude as my eyes close, with a half-assed commitment, broken in my dreams, to either kill myself, join the Marines, or join the Peace Corps. I wake in the morning to a jumbled neutrality, comprised of all three. I come to a fork in the road and turn around rather than face the consequences of left or right.
In the midst of all this inner turmoil, a shared, hearty laugh in the waning sun of the Evergreen forest is something to be cherished. We sat together, and soaked in the peace of it all. Don Jeezy asked Eskay if he wanted to freestyle with him. They decided Eskay would go first, but as Jeezy supplied the beat, Eskay suddenly called it all off.
He gave us each a stern, deliberate look in the eyes.
“You are a redneck … you are a redneck … and you are a redneck!”
I could see we were in for one of Eskay’s patented rants.
“And if you say ‘Hey Nigger’ I will say, ‘Yes, what is it?’ And if you say ‘Pardon me’ I will say, ‘Yes, you are pardoned.’ … ”
Jeezy nodded in silence. I could see that he really just wanted someone to freestyle with, so I cut Eskay off there and we began walking back home.
As Don Jeezy and I got back into my bright red Mazda-3, suddenly it donned on me that I was focused entirely on the future. Always stressed. Always worrying. Stressed and worried out of my wits, to the degree that I was blinded. As Joespeh Campbell once said, “Eternity has nothing to do with time. It is the here and now. If you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere.” For one brief moment, I was able to grasp the idea that I was, in fact, dealt a good hand. In the few moments when I was able to block out the terrifying uncertainty of the future, I was immersed in a world where I had the freedom to spend my days roaming around a forest with two good friends and a stranger. Exotic as the average adventure tends to be at The Evergreen State College, it does get excruciatingly boring from time to time. But I was not a threat to myself or others outside of a mental institution, I was in no fear of Iraqi gun-fire, and I knew where I’d be in a week. I was fairly certain of that. A year and a half out of high school and that was already more than some of us could say.