Monthly Archives: February 2016

In the Someday with the Sound of All the Passing Years

Photograph by Jose Padua
We only have one TV in the house, and last night Julien took a break from whatever he wanted to watch and let Maggie take control of it. What she put on was a DVD that had videos and footage of live performances by Nirvana. As Maggie watched, I remembered how she was impressed when I told her that an old friend of mine was in a band that had opened for Nirvana a number of times, and that Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain was a big fan of this band. What impressed her even more was that this friend had been to our house here in Front Royal a number of years ago, and that she’d actually met him. I then tried to think of some other things that might impress Maggie, which brought Kurt Cobain’s wife Courtney Love to mind. There was, after all, a connection between me and Courtney Love, though not a direct one. That’s where Kathleen Hannah of the band Bikini Kill came in.

“Courtney Love and Kathleen Hannah,” I explained to Maggie, “had once gotten into a fist fight…” And then I paused, because I wasn’t quite sure how to explain my connection to Kathleen Hanna.

“Kathleen Hanna didn’t like Daddy,” Heather said.

“Why?” Maggie asked.

“Because of something he wrote in the Washington City Paper,” Heather continued.

I wanted to explain to Maggie how, back then, some of the things I wrote didn’t exactly come from a position of enlightenment, and to get to that, I had to tell Maggie how Kathleen Hanna used to work at the Royal Palace. I didn’t quite know how to tell her about the Royal Palace. That it’s a strip joint, and that a story I wrote over twenty years ago about it was rather unkind to the women who worked there. So first I told her about the Black Cat Club, the musical venue in DC.

“You see,” I told Maggie, “Kathleen Hanna denounced me from the stage during a show at the Black Cat Club because of what I wrote.”

Then Maggie said, “Oh?” and a look of puzzlement came upon her face. That’s when I remembered that our neighbor here in Front Royal, Linda, used to dance at the Royal Palace back in the day.

“You see, there’s this club where Linda used to work, and Kathleen Hanna used to work there too,” I said, and I paused again.

Maggie had heard vague references to “a place where Linda used to work,” and when we first moved here, I thought Linda looked familiar. It was a few years after we’d been here, though, when I finally asked her, “Did you ever dance at the Royal Palace?” That’s when Linda whispered to Heather and me so Maggie couldn’t hear, telling us about her wild, dancing partying days. And every now and then it comes up again, and all Maggie ever hears are the words “Royal Palace” and a lot of hushed words and whispers. So she know something’s up, and that the Royal Palace is a place where none of us works or drinks or does anything anymore.

And I was ready to go on about how I wasn’t always the way I am now. And how, like Homo Erectus or Neanderthal man, I evolved into something better. That’s when Maggie said, “Er, okay. You can just tell me later.” Which meant she understood that this was another one of those stories where I don’t come out looking all that good in the end. Where I’m, at best, more anti-hero than hero.

“Yeah,” she said again. “Just tell me later.”

So she went back to watching Kurt Cobain as he swung a guitar around on stage during a concert, and I never got to explain my connection to Courtney Love, and why she and I were both hated by the same person–Kathleen Hanna. Though I imagine that while she may still hate Courtney Love, Kathleen Hanna has most likely forgotten all about me. As have a lot of other people. And for that I’m grateful.

I took this self-portrait while I showed Julien a video of Amy Winehouse singing, “Tears Dry on Their Own.” It’s a sad and beautiful song, and Julien fell in love with it right away last year when I played it in the car while we were driving around Rehoboth Beach. Then, just a couple of days after we got back from the beach, I showed him, for the first time, the video of Amy Winehouse singing that very song. The look of astonishment on his face made me love the song even more.

A few months later, though, Julien had tired of the song. Whenever it came up in the random mix on the car stereo he’d say, “Different song. Different song.” Now, for a long time, he’s been hooked on Miles Davis. So many times, when we get in the car, he’ll say, “Play Miles Davis.” He knows the music from A Tribute to Jack Johnson and Bitches Brew, but one time recently I played Miles Davis’s In a Silent Way when I picked him up from school.

“Who’s this?” I asked. Julien listened for a few seconds, then said confidently, “Miles Davis.”

And we slowly made our way home, listening to “Shhh/Peaceful” from In a Silent Way. Getting from Julien’s school to our house is not a long drive. In fact, it’s a pretty short drive. But it was just long enough for us to listen and let the music shelter us—maybe even more than the rolled up windows—from a cold winter day. Soon enough, those days when time seems to move so quickly would be back. There was no need for us to rush.

-Jose Padua

The River After David Foster Wallace

Photograph by Jose Padua
Every love story may be a ghost story but
some may also be stories about assassination
and greed, depending on who’s in love
and who the ghosts are and if one or both
or several of the people in love are responsible
for the ghosts being ghosts in the first place.
Sometimes the ghosts are wholly innocent;
other times they’re complicit in the slaughter
of innocents, chief architects of the perpetuation
and performing of unconscionable acts, ministers
of transgressive forgetfulness where robbery,
arson, and murder are examples of forgetting
and the demolition of funhouses and everything
housed within them, giving birth to the fearsome
dawn of advertising, vanity license plates, juices
derived from vegetables, the promulgation of
excessive irony and ambiguity in self-conscious
narratives and the proliferation of superficial
forms of living. Meanwhile, I have sat on damp
tennis courts to examine the sullen bouncing of
soggy balls, ridden lost highways in cars with tires
as bald as William Frawley, but most importantly
I have read all the books in the library on the
subjects of true love and intimidation and at best
felt my affection for these things unrequited.
I have studied detailed maps of the constellations
only to look up toward the heavens feeling
despondent and lost. Everyone loves a love story
although they don’t always know this, everyone
struggles through obstructions, acid rain, and the
turning on of television shows programmed by
the stooges and flunkies of oppressive regimes.
And every long embrace is also a call to arms,
the assertion that if all hostilities do not cease,
there is a force of nature with the power to settle
all scores, a river winding its way through the forest,
and the memory of everyone who’s ever been defeated.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua.
First published, in a slightly different version, at Vox Populi.

And the Visions Go on Endlessly Like the Passing of These Many Years

Photograph by Jose Padua
At 4:20 on a Thursday
in the valley where I live
I’m at the optometrist’s office
in Winchester helping
my eleven year old daughter
pick out her first pair of eyeglasses
when I remember it was
twenty-one years ago
almost to the minute
when my mother died
and as my daughter
chooses a pair
of dark wire-rimmed
frames I notice
how her face is
not as round
as it once was
and that her eyes
though still full of wonder
now have a strong measure of knowing
and I am reminded
that whether we are
young or old
the key to living well
is to age as gracefully
as morning becoming afternoon
or evening shining its half moon
light through a narrow
clearing between trees.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Great Expectations

Photograph by Jose Padua
It must have been 1971 or ’72 on a school night
listening in my room to WHFS
playing Boz Scaggs
way before he hit it big
on the pop charts.
It was a tune he wrote called,
“I’ll Be Long Gone,”
and the chorus was
“I’m gonna get up and make my life shine,”
but this time the LP at the radio station
got stuck and during the last repetition of the chorus
where Boz Scaggs adds a flourish
of “yeah yeah yeah yeah”
was when the record began to skip,
sending what sounded
like a hundred Yeah Yeahs out
over the airwaves from Bethesda, Maryland,
just north of DC to my
family’s house on Hobart Street.
I hadn’t tried smoking pot
or dropping acid yet
and I’d hardly even tried alcohol
and I thought
“Man, yeah, shit,
this is what it must be like
to get HIGH!”
as the walls, the ceiling,
even the books in my room
seemed to come alive.
And I listened to that Yeah Yeah repeat
for what seemed like several hundred
more times before the DJ
(probably Cerphe who I had
no idea what he looked like
but whom I thought must be
the coolest person in the universe)
came on the air to say,
“Sorry about that,”
before picking the tone arm off the record
and moving it slightly closer
to the center of the turntable
and a little bit closer to the end of the song
to put an end to the endless round
of Yeah Yeahs.
And I thought,
“This is what it must be like
to come down from being high.”
And I steadied myself,
looked at the mural
I’d painted on the wall of my room
to check if the figures of beautiful women
had stopped swinging their arms
nodding their heads up and down,
then to the books on my bookcase
to listen if they’d stopped speaking to me
with the wise voices of people much older than I was,
telling me that great things rarely happen
to those who simply sit and wait.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua.

On the Persistence of Color as a Way of Seeing the World

Less than fifty years ago it would have been illegal
for me to marry the woman I’m married to
in the state where I now live.
I didn’t know this until
I was an adult,
until I was old enough to start a family,
but young enough to understand
like a child remembering last winter’s stinging cold
during the slow burn of summer
that it was not
all that long ago.
Anyone who questions
the stubbornness
of my memory knows nothing
about the force of the wind
lifting dead leaves
in the last days of autumn,
nor understands the slow passage
of time when you’re standing
on the edge of town
in the late evening light
seeing the world
in vivid, living color.

-Jose Padua

The photograph of Jose Padua and Heather Davis was taken in 1996.

I Placed a Jar in North Carolina and Round It Was Upon a Hill

Photograph by Jose Padua
On a near ninety degree day last June on Ocracoke Island in North Carolina, I sat in our car reading the opening pages of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle while Julien slept in the back seat. We were parked in the lot by one of the beaches halfway up the island with the car running and the air conditioner on, and at that very moment Heather’s youngest sister, Sarah, was over on the beach getting married to her boyfriend Ryan. That’s where Heather and Maggie were, with Heather in the wedding and Maggie watching the proceedings.

Julien and I were in the car because we all knew that as soon as Julien saw Heather walking up the ramp to the beach in her bridesmaid’s dress, Julien would run right over to her and never let go and not care one bit that he was disrupting the ceremony. Young children are like that sometimes and, when you think of it, it’s a beautiful thing—to not care about propriety, ritual, and whatever specific reason led to this ceremony and the gathering that surrounds it. (Certainly, I’d welcome this sort of interruption more than the horrible noise of the fighter jets that sometimes appear in the sky over Ocracoke, performing some sort of exercise and disturbing the natural beauty of the place.)

On the other hand, ceremony has its own beauty as well, and this was an occasion where the beauty of the wedding had priority over the beauty of Julien’s impulsiveness. This was why as Sarah and Ryan were exchanging their vows, I was reading the reflection on death with which Knausgaard begins his epic, autobiographical novel. For some people—indeed, for a lot of people—if given the choice, this would be the last thing they’d choose.

Me, I can’t say that if we were sure Julien could be well behaved at the wedding that I wouldn’t still choose to stay in the car reading Knausgaard obsessing on death. Not that I didn’t want to see Sarah and Ryan’s wedding on the beach, which by all accounts was a tremendously beautiful ceremony, because I did. And it’s not that Knausgaard’s epic is an unequivocally great work—many friends whose opinion I respect find his books incredibly tedious and pretentious. But so much of the time the thing I most want to do is think about things, and to read about death and then reflect on the many subjects that it brings to mind is, for me, an effective way of dealing with the problem of time.

And, as soon as Julien fell asleep, that’s what I did. I read about death—about the heart, and how it stops, and how the blood stops flowing. How consciousness—at least as we know and understand it, ends. As sometimes happens when I think about these things, my mood becomes apologetic. I think about loose ends, all those stories and novels I never kept working on, all those people I never got back in touch with, as well as all those people I should have left behind much sooner. And when Maggie came back to the car because it was getting too hot for her standing outside in the sun during the wedding ceremony, I began to apologize to her.

“Maggie,” I said, “I’m sorry for all those times I’ve gotten mad.”

Because I do get mad regularly, and although I always apologize immediately afterwards, it never seems like I’ve apologized enough to make up for getting angry in the first place. Then I went on to apologize for anything else I thought I needed to apologize for.

“Maggie,” I said. “I’m sorry I fart so much.” Because I do fart a lot.

As always, Maggie said, “It’s fine, it’s fine!” and shook her head.

She is, I’m pretty sure, old enough to appreciate having a weird, older dad like me. Then she looked at the book I was reading and asked, “What’s it about?”

“Well,” I said, “it’s an autobiographical novel. And it goes on for several more books.”

“What’s interesting about it?” As is often the case whenever someone asks whether or not something is interesting, my answer was Proust. I told Maggie about that other autobiographical epic, Proust’s A Remembrance of Things Past, even though I’ve never finished reading it. I’d told her about Proust before, and she’d even read little excerpts from his work in response to my giving Proust as the answer to all sorts of questions.

“This,” I explained, “is something like Proust. Except that Knausgaard is still alive. In fact, you can go meet him at a book signing. He always begins the little talk he gives by saying, ‘This book. Which is mine.’”

At this point Maggie knew I was just making things up again, and I also think that she’s at the age where she’s starting to appreciate the odd stories I tell off the top of my head sometimes, or the strange details and “facts” I present to her. Julien is far from this point, but I have reason to believe he’ll be there soon.

Just earlier that day, when I took him to the rest room while we were having lunch with Heather’s brother Jeff and his wife Laura, Julien looked to the wall and said “Dogfish.” He doesn’t read yet, but he saw the logo for Dogfish Head brewery in Delaware adorning the wall of the rest room, and he knew what it was. This, I thought, was a good thing—that he knows Dogfish Head but doesn’t know Budweiser or Dos Equis from a black hole in outer space. That, and that he recognizes the face of Sun Ra and advises me each night before going to sleep “to write some poems” are all signs that he’s finding his way to the truth.

This photograph of Julien with Heather was taken later that day during the reception of Sarah and Ryan’s wedding. That’s where we went after the ceremony on the beach, when Heather met us back at the car and we drove to the other end of the island. Julien danced to a lot of the songs they played, but he danced the most to P-Funk’s “Flashlight,” which was one of the songs Heather got to pick as a part of the wedding party.

Me, if I’d had a pick, I would have chosen, in addition to “Flashlight,” Sun Ra’s “Magic City.” There probably wouldn’t be anyone but me dancing to it (and maybe Julien), but toward the end of the song, when the last notes of Sun Ra’s clavioline start to fade, we’d all start to glow. And rise, over the sands of this little island, taking flight without the aid of the horrible machines and dead-end dreams of those men and women who don’t write about death but, rather, seek to create it.

As their faces and figures grow smaller and smaller as we rise higher and higher in the sky, our parting words to them will be something like, “Sorry, but this is how it’s going to be from now on.” And as we take off for other worlds, we won’t feel the least bit sad that we neglected to apologize to them for farting so much. Well, maybe a little.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

On the Revolutionary Properties of Sound and Speech

Photograph by Jose Padua
Silence is the edge of everything that makes sound;
the slicing tone of the violin is preceded
by a pushing back of the border
of everything that is not that tone.
The saxophone’s squeal punches holes
in the numb hush of space
while the banging of drums builds
a cloud of rhythm that stillness
can never enter.
When they come at us
with the blunt flash of their bullets
and other flying death machines
let us not suffer in silence
nor lay down our instruments and be meek.
Let every stark tower tremble
from the force of our sounds
and other forms of sharp speech.
Let us speak of impractical things.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

In Homage to All These Beautiful Years and Delicate Hours

Photograph by Jose Padua
About a year ago was the first time in forty or so years that I didn’t watch even a single minute of the Super Bowl. Since it had been around fifteen years since I stopped paying close attention to football, it wasn’t all that difficult. Still, every year come Super Sunday, I always turned on the television in time to see what was going on with the halftime show and then to watch the second half of the game. And, if it was a good game, I’d get into it.

Last year, with the halftime entertainment being Katy Perry (whose music and performances I consider an example of the sort of fine-tuned professionalism that’s totally vapid and completely uncompelling) I wasn’t driven to turn on the Super Bowl even midway through the game. In addition to that, we only have one working television in the house—which is fine with me because I find televisions to be one of the ugliest appliances imaginable—and on that television my young son Julien was watching a DVD of the show Arthur. You know, Arthur. The cartoon where the main character is from a family of aardvarks (of course you have to look that up because the first time you see the show you have no idea what sort of animal Arthur is supposed to be). Rounding out the remaining cast of characters are rabbits, monkeys, cats, and so on.

I like Arthur. It’s a sweet show, and the theme song—which goes, “And I say HEY! (HEY!)/ What a wonderful kind of day. / If you can learn to work and play/ And get along with each other”—is catchier than anything I’ve ever heard coming from the mouth of Katy Perry. Apparently, Julien likes it too, and while it’s playing, he always sings along with that exclamatory “HEY!” And, I must say that, right now, Arthur and his cast of anthropomorphic animals still makes me happier than football does.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate football at all, because back in the day, I watched it enthusiastically. I have fond memories of watching football games. Back in the 60s and 70s, a smooth spiraling pass from Sonny Jurgensen (or even a wobbly one from Billy Kilmer) to Charley Taylor were amazing things to behold. And then Charley Taylor, standing in the end zone, would raise his arms up in a way that seemed to say that he got the score and there was nothing you or anyone else could do to change that. I always thought that Charley Taylor’s victory pose may have even signified other things, too—things beyond the football field, and pointed toward other sorts of victories yet to be achieved. But whatever it was that went on in Charley Taylor’s mind, it was always a beautiful sight, and the image of him with his arms raised is an image that stays with me and inspires me even.

As the years went on, though, football became something along the lines of sleep, with sleep becoming more and more a thing I did without so I could spend a decent amount of my time writing (and writing being the work I did that so far didn’t pay much but which moved me in profound ways). But perhaps even more than that, football was like some girl I had a crush on when I was a teenager. Someone I thought was cool and interesting and fun and all that, before I moved on to other things. Things that got to me all the way down to a core I didn’t know I had. Things like the ordinary occurrences and activities of everyday life.

I can’t say exactly when it happened. Certainly it had begun before we moved out to Front Royal, but it probably wasn’t until then that I really began to focus on the moment. And though, because of my OCD, the moment might end up being terrifying whenever bad thoughts entered my head, it could also (again, because of my OCD) have this intense and beautiful depth to it.

And so, on the day after the Super Bowl I didn’t watch last year, my then four-year old son Julien was sitting at the dining room table when he said, “I want my leftover pizza. I love pizza.” Now, I like a lot of different kinds of food, but when Julien said “I love pizza,” pizza suddenly became the most important food of all for me. Then, on the day after that, Julien was again sitting at the table when he said, “I want my paints. I love to paint.” And for the moment, for me, there was no artistic endeavor in the world more important that painting, and no greater painter I could think of than Kandinsky or maybe it was Frida Kahlo or Romare Bearden whose works were suddenly filling my mind. Later that night, right before dinner, my daughter Maggie was in the hall playing this incredible tune on the piano.

“What is that?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s some old Russian folk song,” she answered nonchalantly.

“That was really good!”

“Okay,” Maggie said. Then after a second added, “Weirdo.” With ‘weirdo’ being her favorite all-purpose word at the time serving as an expression of thanks, a term of endearment, and a morning, afternoon, and evening greeting. And in that moment, I loved being a weirdo.

Then it was dinner time. Heather heated up leftovers from the previous night. We ate, I washed the dishes, and Heather reminded Maggie a few times that she’d better start on her homework. Soon, it was time for Heather to take Julien up to bed, but it took a while for him to fall asleep that night, and it took her a long time as well, and it was late before Maggie finally went upstairs. Then, when I finally went up to bed, I saw that Maggie was awake again, sitting up in bed. Like everything else, losing sleep is something we usually do together.

The following morning, with Heather already having been at the office in Arlington for a few hours, I was on the way back home from dropping Maggie and Julien off at school when the Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait” came on the car stereo followed by Earth Wind & Fire’s “Can’t Let Go”–two songs that that put me in two different sorts of mood, each mood beautiful in its own way. As the songs played, I looked down John Marshall Highway to watch the mountains in the distance, towering green and white over town under a lush purple sky. At any rate, I thought it was a purple sky I was seeing–I’m never all that sure when it comes to the colors I’m seeing. Then, remembering again the Super Bowl that I missed in its entirety, it occurred to me that no matter what these actual colors were, the comfort I got from those images and from the music that accompanied them, was–at least at that point in my life–far greater than whatever comfort or diversion or whatever it was that I got out of watching any game.

And the thing is that I’d rather take my time examining and contemplating these moments– wondering what song is going to play next, or what color the mountains are going to take on–than anticipating whether the next play will be a run, or a short pass, or a bomb. It’s not that I couldn’t have enjoyed the game, because I could have, if I’d taken the time to watch it. But I’m at an age where time seems like such a delicate thing. The apparent abundance of it that was there forty years ago, when I was just a teenager, has dissipated like a rain puddle in the summer’s heat.

And more and more, games are something for me to play with my kids. They’re not so much for my own enjoyment, but for them, so that while they’re young they may know abundance. Not the abundance that comes from money or objects or from the winning of competitions of any sort. But that which comes from being here, now, in these sometimes tired but always beautiful hours of wakefulness.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua