06 June 2004

Yes Sir, I Am That Kind Of Douchebag

Dale Wicks: Coffee House Lizards Posted by Hello


I used to wonder what kind of a douchebag would sit around and read poetry all day. When I first moved to Seattle, I saw people sitting in coffee houses reading at all hours of the day, every day of the year, season in and season out. And I would think to myself Jesus Christ, do none of these people have jobs? Is this entire town unemployed? The coffee house people were all pretty well dressed; they didn't seem like transients or artists or people on the dole. I knew that Seattle wasn't all that rich, at least not as rich as the neighborhoods of Beverly Hills that I used to see from the bus window every morning on my way to my minimum–wage job. Those people could certainly afford to sit on their asses in coffee houses all day. And mind you, I made this observation about Seattle's coffee house denizens before the rise of Microsoft, so God knows there weren't a lot of millionaires around here at that time, at least not as many as there are now, and certainly not enough of them to keep the coffee houses full to the gills all hours of the day and night.

Well, having said that, I am now that kind of douchebag. The only difference is that I don't hang out in coffee houses. The main reasons are that there's only so much coffee I can drink in a day, and that the coffee I make is far, far superior to anything I've ever had in a coffee house. I make coffee so rich and potent that it would make Turkish men weep for joy and sell their wives, so what would be the point of me lapping up the rusty nail water that they're peddling over at Starbucks for $2.50 a cup?

I am currently deep in the tender grasp of a five–day weekend. I'm working on the AOL account for Smashing Ideas, and I got all my stuff turned in at noon on Tuesday like I was supposed to, so now there's nothing for me to do until next Monday. I feel so fortunate for my situation that I'm lightheaded all day. Instead of using this time to "take care" of little bits of business that I might otherwise get out of the way, I've decided instead to just fritter away this time as though I were on vacation. That means that I'm not allowed to worry, or run errands, or clean things or whatever. Besides, I'm beginning to believe that the idea of "getting ahead" on the day to day business of life is a lie and a hoax. It's something we tell ourselves so that we can feel useful and not – God forbid – waste time. That in itself is impossible, as time is either incomprehensibly vast or altogether an illusion. It would be like wasting the vacuum of space. The pithiest parts of life are lived in moments, or if we're really lucky, over the whole spine of a week. The petty nigglings of daily business will never go away, but by the same token, they are there for us to pick up or lay down as we choose. (This rare moment of lucidity brought to you by my lazy side, which I have irrevocably surrendered to for a full five days.)

Which brings me back to being a poetry–reading douchebag. I'm sure that it's clear to you from my previous letters that I've become obsessed with poetry. I believe that my fascination is healthy because I don’t feel compelled to write any. (A thousand dead poets just collectively wiped their brows and sighed with relief.) I know that poetry often drives those who aren't poets to the brink of poetry; some even leap off and land on the stages of coffee houses on open mike night.
[2] Not me. I'm content to just ponder the stuff on my balcony every morning, or read aloud to my wife in the evenings, or burn up the batteries in my book light and fall asleep with a volume on my chest at night.[3]

I've recently acquired enough poetry to break the back of a healthy she–ass.
[4] I went down to the new public library and picked up a bunch of Mary Oliver including her poetry, prose and instructional texts, and some books of essays by Edward Hoagland. When I left my job at LMC, they gave me a gift certificate to Elliott Bay Books, so I used some of this stolen time I've been blessed with to browse for hours and I wound up purchasing something incredible. It's a book and 3–CD set called Poetry Speaks. And here's the coolest thing. It has recordings of two dozen or so dead poets reading their own work, including a recording of Alfred, Lord Tennyson made by Thomas Edison. Also included in the recordings are Frost, Auden Nash, Ginsberg, Plath, Whitman, Yeats, Sandburg, Langston Hughes, Dorothy Parker – the list goes on and on. Better still, the text has short biographies of all the poets, and also has essays by well–known living poets that explain and enrich the poems themselves. It's a boon for me because when it comes to understanding poetry, I'm still an idiot. Part of the problem is that in some cases, I'm not familiar with the text that the poet is using for his/her inspiration, as is the case with the mythology that Tennyson uses.

Why was I averse to poetry (pun NOT intended) when I was a kid, and now it seems that I can't get enough of the stuff? When I was younger, it seemed that all poetry was nebulous and effeminate, some sort of faggy code that I found frustrating to try to understand and didn't care to break. Now it seems like nourishment. And it helps my writing, too. I used to notice that when I was reading prose, my writing would start to sound like whoever I was reading. When I read poetry, I can't hope to write the stuff, so it simply acts as a stimulus for me to create original language in my own voice. Maybe that's what fascinates me about it. The licks are way too good for me to cop, they're beyond the horizon of my abilities, so I'm forced to use what I got, and the net effect is innovation.

So I'm hoping that my letters have helped to chronicle these unexpected changes in my middle–aged mind; to wit, my "discovery" of math, football and poetry so late in life. When I was younger, I thought that all my tastes and talents were already established. As time goes on, I find out that's not true at all, and it makes me look forward eagerly to the future.

Cheers, and give my best to Marie.

[1] And while I'm on the subject, what the hell is the deal with all the chain coffee houses selling "light" roast coffee in the summer? Like a lighter roast is going to keep you from getting too hot or something. The shit is weak to start with, and it's the same temperature as, say, a fine cup of Satan–black Senegalese, so what's the advantage? Coffee is an aphasic. It's going to make you sweat and pee regardless of what the outdoor temperature is.
[2] Children are often driven to act out things they don't understand and can't easily assimilate into their psyche, like the World Trade Center disaster or domestic violence. Adults acting out their fascination for poetry on open mike night is no less bewildering and horrific.
[3] Truth be told, I did all of those things just yesterday.
[4] Ed Hoagland used that term in his essay Behold Now Behemoth and I just can't get over it. I've stolen it and I'm going to use it as often as possible. Hoagland should be used to my literary larceny by now. I mean it as a compliment.