Warning: Coarse language. Reader discretion advised.
I didn’t start feeling angry. I started wanting to break some new ground in my couple-times-a-week habit of taking walks around lunch time. I’d started using Daily Mile to track my distance and time and, not being a runner, the distance and “pace” it calculated after I’d painstakingly mapped my route and input the time were always more than a little underwhelming. Of course, walking 3 or 4 miles in 45 minutes or an hour is not shabby, but still. Unlike my default, today I felt driven. Ambitious. Like there was a chip on my shoulder, somehow.
It started as I was walking under I-405. A young, tall-ish couple was walking ahead of me, pretty fast. “Fuck that.” I sped up, gaining on them. Then the woman took off her top revealing a tank top and a gorgeous back. The sun was coming out, and at our pace, we were getting hot. She was tall, but he was taller, of course. “Fuck.”
At our wedding, our mutual musician friend Jeff Evans had been one of our casual, candid photographers. He met me downtown to give me the photos the day before we left on our honeymoon, about a week after the wedding. He had this worried look on his face. “So, Jay, man, I mean, they turned out great. It’s just…” (I’m thinking, “What! Did you have to kill someone at the photo store to get them on time?”) He continued, “There’s this picture. Of Julie’s… back.” I’m smiling. I knew how beautiful she looked in her backless wedding dress. And how cold she was before the sun came out, when the professional photographer was taking all the posed pictures. How her back had been covered in goose bumps. He continued, “It’s just, well, man, I wanted to you see it. I hope you’re not mad.” He’s saying this like he’s just posted a sex tape of us on YouTube. (Only back then there was no YouTube.) So I flip through the prints, and sure enough, there it is. The back that launched a thousand ships. And, yes, I could understand his concern. She was, after all, now, my wife. And that photo would have failed “prurient interest” test for obscenity set by the 1932 court ruling allowing Ulysses to be published in the United States. In a New York minute.
So there I was, ogling a beautiful, tall back. And thinking about Julie’s back, and how she always scoffed at tall women who always wanted their boyfriends to be taller. “Fuck.” I passed them. They were still walking fast, so I had to keep my pace up to stay ahead of them. Fuckers. So I didn’t realize until I was into one of those extra long Portland blocks that there was no way I could turn off before I got to NW 21st. Where the Laughing Planet was that used to be a falafel restaurant, where we were when she got the call from the fertility clinic on a nice September afternoon, confirming what she already knew, that her HCG levels were rising robustly, meaning she was absolutely pregnant with our first child. Across the street from the Starbucks where we usually went after visiting the fertility clinic that helped us create our second miracle baby, and, more recently, where the kids and I would stop after visiting her in the hospital. THE hospital. Where she had last seen and talked to the kids and I before they wheeled her in for surgery. Where I had had to make the decision to transfer her to hospice. To die. “Fuck.”
I took a left turn on 21st, away from those places. And walked faster.
Now, I was angry.
I zigged and zagged west and south a few times, crossing 23rd where Music Millennium used to be. The sun and sprinkles mix had given way to mostly sun. It was humid. I took off my jacket. It was then that my iPod started reading my mind. I looked at the slim aluminum device, always erratic since it went through the wash in my pants. It had been a Christmas present for Julie, but she never had the patience for finicky devices that didn’t work right, so I had inherited it. And though it was mostly reliable now, it could read my mind. Or my emotions, actually. And, as Stan Ridgway sang, it “could really twist the screws.” But this time I had no idea what I was in for.
Look at the stars,
Look how they shine for you,
And everything you do,
Yeah they were all yellow,
I came along
I wrote a song for you
And all the things you do
And it was called yellow
For you i bleed myself dry
With the one suspended chord at the end that makes the whole song worthwhile. The Julie chord. “Fuck.”
I had climbed up as far as the West Hills would let me. I was breathing hard, but it wasn’t enough. I was pissed that I couldn’t keep going up. So as I followed Westover’s diagonal down to 23rd and Burnside, I looked up the steep hill of Vista, where the extra brakes on the Council Crest trolleys had their work cut out for them.
Push, push, up, up. Across the Vista bridge with the great view that was invisible to me. Spit was starting to fly out of my mouth with my heavier breathing. Ahead, there was a guy with a map, walking, stopping, looking around, walking. Slowly. “Look out fucker. I might just run you down.”
I didn’t have to. He heard me coming. My heavy, spitting breaths whisper singing along to the next song. Fuckin’ A.
Something in me, dark and sticky
All the time it’s getting strong
The way you’re dealing, with this feeling
Can’t go on like this too long
This was fucking personal. This fucking psychic psychotic iPod HAD gone too far. #2 liked Peter Gabriel. Had seen this tour in Germany or something. When he sang this song with a wireless head cam pointing at his crazed face, eyeballs, sweating forehead. This was an angry song. A very angry song.
Don’t talk back!
Just drive the car!
Shut your mouth!
I know what you are!
Don’t say nuthin!
Keep your hands on the wheel!
Don’t turn around!
This is for real!
It was also a cry for help, an admission of vulnerability. Of need. Of feelings placed where they didn’t belong. But there they were, anyway. Of need. Like a slow-motion car crash in your psyche, with bones breaking and blood splattering. You want to look away. But you can’t look away.
The more I look, the more I find
As I close on in, I get so blind
I feel it in my head, I feel it in my toes
I feel it in my sex, that’s the place it goes
I’m digging in the dirt
Stay with me I need support
I’m digging in the dirt
To find the places I got hurt
To open up the places I got hurt
A trail sign points to the left. Down. Down sounded good. U2’s “Electrical Storm.” I can handle that. I can handle this. The next sign points to the right at a dead end. Up. Up? Again? Fucking trail.
You’re in my mind all of the time
I know that’s not enough
If the sky can crack, there must be some way back
For love and only love
Yeah, mind-fuck Pod. Tell me something I don’t already know.
It’s hot as hell, honey in this room
Sure hope the weather will break soon
The air is heavy, heavy as a truck
We need the rain to wash away our bad luck
I’ll say. Now you give the weather report, too. Fucking great. Don’t suppose you’ve got a GPS to tell me how to get out of this fucking maze? Of course not. Julie’s mom said she thought the roads in Southwest were like someone took a handful of rubber bands and just threw them down. That seems about right.
I couldn’t really blame this next one on the iPod. In fairness, when it and I are on a roll, I will skip songs that don’t fit. That don’t belong in the playlist. I figure it’s the 21st century equivalent of changing stations on the car radio.
So, I could have skipped it. I usually don’t listen to it, if it comes up. Too happy. Too lovey-dovey. Or so I had remembered. Widower brain is a bitch sometimes.
I wouldn’t mind
Was like the day
I had just yesterday
You and I,
Hanging on every kiss
On all of this
But these thoughts
Are only just that
Nothing like facts
And the facts, as the are
Are harder to take
‘Cause there’s a part of me
That’s ready to break
And I’m afraid
Yes, I am afraid
That you will go
That you’ll go away
And believe, that I’ll be O.K.
That I’ll be fine
That I will not mind, in time
OK, now when did the nice little love song I thought I’d remember turn into this? How did Duncan Sheik jump forward in time, read my fucking mind, and then jump back to the past, write and record this song so I could put it on this psychotic psychic iPod? Would someone explain that to me, please? ‘Cause I’m getting kind of pissed over here! Hello!
It wouldn’t stop. This time from Imogen Heap. I love Immi. I got in on the “fan” pre-sale and got two tickets. Good seats. #2 said she’d go with me. But that was a month a go. Before I got ridiculously ahead of myself, ahead of her, ahead of everything. And the concert wasn’t for another three weeks. Fuck. But wouldn’t it be nice if she could take this song to heart, just a bit? Would that be too much to fucking ask?
You say too late to start got your heart in a headlock,
I don’t believe any of it.
You say too late to start with your heart in a headlock,
You know you’re better than this.
By now the stupid trail signs had led me through the maze of rubber bands, up, down and all around, until finally there was a choice. A trail—a real trail, not a road—that went up to the right and down to the left. I really didn’t have much of an idea of where I was, but sign said that the top of Council Crest was one mile up to the right. Great. I didn’t have my phone and so, not wearing a watch (trying to act younger than my generation), I had no idea what fucking time it was. Were people at work freaking out? Was it time to pick the kids up from school? Fuck if I knew. I just knew down meant out, so down I went.
This actual trail went through a wooded canyon, drowning in English Ivy, but with large trees providing some welcome shade from the warming sun. The trail was muddy and I had to be careful I didn’t slip and slide down on my ass. My shoes would be muddy when I showed up for work, signaling a story that would hopefully not have to be told. “Where have you been?” “Oh, getting lost on a freak-out-walk listening to crazy-making songs from my psychic iPod. Nothing special.” They already know my programming is more than just a few lines of code short as it is. This certainly wouldn’t help.
k.d. lang’s beautiful song of love fit the beautiful surroundings perfectly. Moving fast downhill, I was covering some serious ground, but in a light of foot way that reflected the lighter hopes that had been kept from my spirit so far.
Swim through my veins
In your reign
Carries no shame
Will harbor no pain
Wash me clean
Mend my wounded seams
Cleanse my tarnished dreams
The upbeat mood continued. Duncan’s song of blissful happiness, regardless of circumstance (but ultimately shown to be another layer of denial), put a bounce in my step. I started to jog, coming precariously close to wiping out on the slippery trail but managing to stay upright.
I’m on a high, I’m on a high
There’s nothing more to it.
We are the sea and the sky
And the blue that runs through it, yeah.
And there are some who say there are so many things I need
So I run or I fight and I crawl or I scream
And I bleed, I bleed, I bleed
Well, it’s a lie it’s a lie—don’t you believe it.
If you’re fine then you’re fine—it’s all how you see it.
Oh, there never will be no conspiracy of happiness.
I can be happy, regardless of what happens with #2. If I’m fine, then I’m fine. “Nothing worth fearing.” The idea was like the sun, glinting through the trees and sparkling the raindrops on the bushes for just an instant. Maybe. Just maybe.
A shelter of sorts had a bunch of maps, showing me I’d walked—the long way, natch—most of the way to OHSU! Holy shit! Time to find the quickest way to public transit and what was left of my livelihood. And just to keep the mood light and the feet moving, the iPod served up Thomas Dolby’s humorous take on the randomness of life and love.
Again and again the laws of nature
Prove laws aren’t enough
And then the voice of reason
Flies off the deep end
That’s why people fall in love
Albert Einstein nailed space-time
But the wild thing had him stumped
Ow, baby, two and two make five and a quarter
That’s why people fall in love
Yup, sounds about right.
Civilization. Sixth Avenue, over the 405 and hop on the MAX to Union Station, then a few blocks back to work. Still no idea what time it was. But a slow, beautiful song from Bruce Hornsby, no less fitting than the rest, let me walk the rest of the way till I had to do a final sprint to catch the train.
No matter what else happens
What the future will be
In a world so uncertain
Through the clouds it’s hard to see
I will grab you and carry you
Calm your fears if you’re afraid
We’ll go walking
Across the fields of gray
As his live sets so often do, Hornsby sidetracks to another song, like it’s his turn to read my heart. Would you guys please cut that out?
Lights turned way down low
Music soft and slow
With someone you love so
Hey, that’s where it’s at
Your heart beating fast
Thinking that it’s not gonna last
Hoping that it won’t pass
Hey, that’s where it’s at
That’s where it’s at, pretty baby
That’s where it’s at
That’s where it’s at pretty baby
That’s where it’s at
4.94 miles, 1 hour 19 minutes, 15:59 pace
But my legs weren’t the only part of me that got a workout.