Farewell, Sailor (an excerpt)

Farewell, Sailor is an autobiographical novel that I am still in the process of writing. Here is the introduction of one of the main characters, Oliver Lars Olsen (the alias of a fellow I know from Connecticut):

Two summers ago I made my way up to Stamford, Connecticut to visit Lars at his home. I took a bus. It arrived at 4:56pm, 11 minutes before it’s estimated arrival. I stumbled out of the bus exhausted from the cramped, 32-hour ride. I’d arranged a pick-up from Lars Olsen, himself, but since I was early, had to wait. So I cut out of the downtown station and aimed for the small park across the street to stretch out the stiffness of my bus legs. While I waited, I examined the people passing: Businessmen paced quickly with boring eyes and white knuckled hands clutching  their afternoon briefcases empty of coffee and pens and papers; tattooed legs of activist-types attached to bicycles curled around corners with the anarchistic thoughts of a just world (but what is “just” to different brands of brains?); bums crept by with scavenger eyes glaring for a dollar or a smoke– I tossed a couple quarters; joggers galloped by, sweat-backed and disembodied from the world outside their bouncing headphones; scattered crowds of ran to the bus station wanting nothing more than to get home swiftly to their children or lover or a six-pack; a sick fellow spoke to himself (his only friend), gesturing his hands as he stumbled gracefully down the sidewalk– his odor reeking of dirty alcohol and a lack of sex; and nurses in pink and blue scrubs walked past wondering if what they’re doing with their lives is actually meaningful to them, all the while, laughing with the rest of the group who were swooning over some handsome hunk in some new sitcom. All these folks passing me barely looked at me but when you’re sitting in a park waiting for a pick up, all you can do is create in your mind the minds of the millions of men and women surrounding you. Like a book.

Suddenly, I saw Lars. His big wide smile gazed straight at me, almost burning my eyes. He passed between the park and the bus station in his little gray Volvo, peeling around a corner, unable to stop; so I jumped up, grabbed my things, darted across the grass for the passenger door, and while the car was accelerating around the corner jumped in scratch free, pack and all.

“Well hot damn, Silas, I’da thought you’s a Jedi from the way you sprung over here like that!”

“Nice threads!” I complimented him on his golden Levi canvas pants glowing in the sun. In the pocket of his purple shirt with shiny snap-buttons was a red rose freshly plucked from his flower garden back home. The aroma lingered.

“Why, thank you.” he grinned modestly. Whenever you compliment him, he gets all bashful and his eyes slant diagonally down his blushing cheeks and he almost buries his head into his own arm pit. “I just got these at Salvo’s yesterday. They flare out to a bell bottom very subtly, at the bottom, you see? See? Very sexy like. They’re my new favorite pants. I call them my Zombie Apocalypse Pants. Look, man, how I think of it is this: if you’re one of the last humans on earth and the millions of zombies are closing in at a quick and dangerous pace, you, as one of the last survivors, YOU, my friend, you have got to be wearing your finest apocalypse apparell, you dig? Everyone should die in their sleekest most dazzling, dashing suit, I say. So that’s why these are my Apocalypse Pants. Plus, what if there’s a lovely little lady survivor, too?”

I chuckled and agreed.

“And, they’re Golden, see?” He made a very suave gesture with his hand, almost caressing his own thigh with his fingertips.

“Do I ever.”

No mind I’d ever crossed was more intelligent or deranged as that of Sir Oliver Lars Olsen. Originally hailed from a tiny town in Norway– his other home– Lars was paste pale with a few brown freckles on his arms and cheeks, sweet silver eyes, and a crooked tooth on the left side of his smile. The sweetest man known alive. He was a slender, stringy haired fellow who pranced around like a wood nymph lunatic and dressed in the most puzzling apparel, no matter the occasion. The finest dresser of them all. But not in the formal sense (though he could be more dapper than James Bond when the times was right). Eccentric. Peculiar. Almost odd. In fact, I’d seen Lars walking around wearing simply a pink leotard and a cape once. But he does it with such confidence that you could go on talking with him in regular conversation even though his package is clearly bulging a foot away from your own. There’s no telling his maniacal wardrobe decisions, and you can’t help but admire it. There aren’t many people in the world who can pull of wearing such quizzical garments; like a complete formal cowboy get-up (including the ten-gallon hat), or an authentic Japanese kimono or, as I say, even a pink leotard. And those who try appear that they are trying too hard. But Lars did it with such perfection, appeal and the precise amount of modesty that not only do women swoon, but so do men. He reeks of charisma, and I think deep down he knows it.

Out of a traffic light he punched the gas with his old cowboy boots and we zoomed the streets of Stamford caught in his curly driving patterns until we came to the Ferguson Library, where he works.

“I gotta pick up a few things,” he said. “That cool?”

“Man, you know me. I could stay in there until your apocalypse comes.”

Lars smiled. “Sally Forth, then!” He charged, his boots tapping along the sidewalk.

I followed like a stray pup. He held the door for me and a young lady who was walking out as if he were a butler holding an imaginary key dish. “M’lady,” said he, bowing.

At the front desk was an older woman wearing glasses and stamping returned books.

“Why, hello, Marcy. Meet my darling pal, Silas! He’s here on business,” Lars larked.

“It’s a pleasure, Marcy,” I said, extending my hand.

“Hi, Silas,” she smiled.

Lars walked behind the desk to grab a stack of books he’s had on hold for himself. Popping his head up from behind the counter he says with a fierce gasp, “Marcy, you know those lamp post signs along the streets downtown that promote the city? The ones that say, PLAY and EAT, or what have you?” She nodded. “Well, there’s this one sign which I swear is inspired by yours truly. It’s the cartoon picture of the fellow playing his guitar with rainbow dreadlocks dangling from his head. I’m sure you’ve witnessed what I speak of.  Now who else have you known in this little town who trots around these streets busking with his guitar or ukulele or banjo with rainbow dreadlocks dangling from his head? Who I ask you!?” Three years ago Lars wore short colorful dreads down to his boney shoulders.“Who!?”

Marcy laughed and insisted it wasn’t inspired by Lars. “I think it’s only coincidence, hon,” she said, and kept on stamping books. But Lars knew it was he, and so did I.

After intently tapping around on the computer he genuinely says to me with all sincerity,”Happy library card month, Si, have a peppermint pattie,” and shoves a bowl of them to me. I snagged three, and shoved two in my pocket.

“I gotta take care of a few more businessal matters upstairs. You gunna be alright for about…” he looks at his watch, “1,800 seconds?”

I laughed. “Of course, I’ll browse.”

So he darts upstairs and I bid Marcy farewell, then get lost in the book maze of the Ferguson Library. If there’s anything that soothes my brain it’s loosing myself in rooms of books. I don’t even have to read the books I’m fingering through; I’m content simply holding them, folding them, flipping through the pages, testing their weight… but most of all (except for reading them) I take sensational pleasure in placing my full face into the spine of an open book and sniffing with the deepest nasal breath the one distinct fragrance that each book carries within itself. Yes, you can find adventures, and characters, and wisdom, and sub-text, and meaning… but what the author didn’t intend are those aromas that accumulate after years of sitting on crowded shelves with hundreds of other flavored books; being fingered by skins that have been licked or wiped clean of sauce; being saturated in the sun or sand-beaten on the beach; and most of all, being loved more really than the Velveteen Rabbit. Sometimes I get strange stares and cock-eyed glares when my face is literally inside a book, but I pay no attention, and, in fact, don’t even realize it since all I can really see is the blur of dark text and the shadow of my nose (leaving its grease in the mystery).

“I love seeing you do that,” whispers Lars, peering through the other side of the shelf like a creep.

“All done?” I said, placing the book back in its predetermined space on the shelf.

“Indeed. Let’s split!” Lars waddled out of the library with his stack of books, and I followed opening the door for him this time.

“Muchas gracias, mi amigo!” He said from behind his books.

Back in the car, making our way back to his house through town we passed those promotional signs he’d mentioned.

“There’s the EAT sign,” he says pointing upwards towards a lamp post. His saying that inpsired me to pull the peppermint patties from my pocket. He ate his. “Let me tell you, Si, I love to eat, I love it;” (chewing), “but this guy’s wearing what I call doofus ignoramus glasses. The kind of glasses no one should be allowed to wear. Look at them! What a goof.” He slaps his forehead. “Oh, and there’s the snazzy WORK one with the fellow with the sharp suit on… “ We drive further. “Oh and here’s me! PLAY– just a rainbow-headed lunatic jammin’ on his guitar!”

Sure enough, it was clearly an aspiring Oliver Lars Olsen cartoon looming over me.

“You’re more famous than you know, Lars.”

He blushed, playing with his rose as he drove. When we got to his little brick house, I helped him schlep his books up the stone steps and through the red door. Lars lived alone in a peculiar home. Quaint. In almost every room were instruments scattered around. Lars was a magician of a musician; playing the simple mouth harp to plucking a full-size grand concert harp. In his small living room sits a piano, on the walls a banjo and a couple guitars. In his room is a hand-made Appalachian dulcimer (crafted by Lars, himself) and in the corners of his kitchen sit two wooden congas. In fact, once Lars actually had me sit across from him with the two drums between us creating beats, but in addition to slapping the skins with our hands, we’d also bounce a blue racket ball between the heads of the drums which gave it a hollow thump and a new flavor that got our juices jumping. Aside from instruments, his home was littered with literature. I watched him file the library books on a separate library book shelf (since he’s constantly  checking out new books from his work). He’s got to sort them somehow. His most favored book of all the hundreds he’s read and checked out from the library is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. A normal favorite, sure. But the most peculiar thing about Lars is this: he’s read that classic quest 17 times in his young life… but he has never once sat down to read the final chapter. “It’s too good to end!” He says, in all seriousness. In fact, his cat he named Baggins. He was purring against my thigh on the couch as Lars stuck his last book on the shelf.

“Shall we steep some tea?” He asked, turning around.

“What if I say no?” I joke.

“Then Baggins and I will have a tea party ourselves.”

“Let’s.”

So Lars, who is a maniac for teas (especially the South American Yerba Mate), gallops to the kitchen and puts a pot of water on the stove. As it slowly begins to steam he grabs all the teas from his pantry like he’s unpacking the whole house. “I’ve got stacks of teas here, Si. What do you fancy? Here’s peppermint, chamomile, echinecea, black tea, green tea… let’s see… rose hips,” plundering through cupboards, “chai, jasmine, wild berry, white tea, and your regular old orange pekoe. Oh, and loose-leaf Yerba Mate… naturally.”

“Green. Please.”

“So choice. I’ll go with… you guessed it, yerba derba.”

He grabs a porcelain cup and a saucer for me and drops into it a bag of green tea gently draping its flag on a string over the lip like he’s painting the most intentional brush stroke. For himself, I wasn’t surprised to see him reach for his regular tea container: a clear, glass scientist’s beaker. The kind you’d find in the middle of a laboratory table among the complexity of potions and experiments. It had a round bottom and a long, thick tube extending upwards, like a bong. And whenever he steeps his teas in it, the water naturally turns an opaque brown color in the bowl of the beaker; easily mistaken for two-week-old bong water. He drinks it. It’s quite humorous.

We sip. We drink. It’s warm. Like stepping into a steaming shower after a morning in the snow. Since not all of the loose Yerba Mate sinks to the bottom, the lingering bits floating on top either get drunk or, if using a bombilla (a filtered steel or bamboo straw), are sifted out. Lars uses a bombilla on occasion, but usually lets his own teeth act as the sieve. Sometimes the leaflets stick between the cracks of his smiling teeth, but as I say, Lars can pull anything off, and, this, he does too.

“Oh, dude!” He jumped up, almost spilling his beaker. “You’ve GOT to cruise over to my room. I scored this new piece of super hip gear the other day.”

He lead me to his sleeping quarters near the back of the house and opened the door to his cluttered room. “Check it!” He gestured in a ta-da stance. Against the wall beside the door stood a long beautiful wooden self-amplified high-fidelity phonograph record player on stilts with a built-in cassette tape deck and radio which he had purchased a few weeks earlier from Salvo’s. “Only twenty bones!” He ran his long fingers across the shiny wood top. “Ain’t it just the sleekest, suave-assed thing you ever seen, Silas?“ He cooed, swooning over the piece. “Thank you, Thomas Alva Edison!”

“Does it work?”

“Hell yeah, it works!” He rushed over to his record collection and picked out his absolute favorite album. A Marvin Gaye record. How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You. Lars was as fanatical for Marvin and Motown as he was for tea and The Hobbit. He walked back over to me and slowly removed the shiny black disc from its sleeve. It smelled old. Dropping the sleeve down on the blanket on his bed, he centered the record into the depths of the table’s mouth, punched play and very gently placed the needle in the first groove. The record spun at seventy eight rotations per minute. It cracked and popped in static before the soul of the record blew outwards. We sat back and dug the entire album in conversational silence as we sipped our teas. Baggins eventually joined us too, softly purring on the bed.

Lars’ room was a beautiful reflection of himself. In one word: colorful. The floor was cloaked in a thick oriental rug. In the corner was his beautiful harp, glowing like gold; the mountain of the room.  On the walls were photographs and postcards, letters from friends taped in Tetris patterns, a map of Middle Earth, a poster of Wayne’s World, a small string of prayer flags hanging in the corner, and over his light switch a cluster of Metropolitan Museum of Art pins pressed on the wall. All different colors. The ones you get when you enter the huge New York museum. Strewn about in the corners were solved Rubick’s cubes, guitar picks, and newspapers. His closet was a colorful collection of chaos spilling out like vomit. On his bed-side table sat a permanent porcelian cup for midnight tea, and a magnified edition of Carl Jung’s Red Book. Every morning he would flip one page (no more) of this book, read it, and begin his day like meditation. Striped curtains draped over the window above his desk– the most interesting sight in his room: on the edge was a fine typewriter from the 1950’s, in complete working condition, which he used to write some, but definitely not all, of his letters. Singles and rolls of stamps lay curled on top of a pile of white and brown paper: regular Liberty Bell stamps, Simpson stamps, silly kanine stamps, floral stamps, abstract expressionist stamps, Jane Fonda stamps, and, of course, Dick Tracy too. A large cigar box sat next to a plaid coffee mug penetrated by pens in which he kept a collection of future envelopes. All sorts of slips and squares of papers: crinkled grocery bags, viking ship patterns, floral prints, green and purple paisley, comic book pages, newspapers, teddy bears, maps, solid pastels, forests prints, torn yellowing pages from old books, gnome paper, regular white envelopes (for formal letters), and even hand-sewn fabric envelopes. And of course his infamous weather pattern stationary. Dozens of piles of letters and empty envelopes lay scattered over the whole desk like a game of 52 Pick-Up. I saw a few a my own letters hidden within the mess.

 
 
Written in Durango, CO 2011

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Categories: Prose, Travel Poetry | Leave a comment

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