Light A Candle For No Reason...But For Reason Only.

Nearly one year after leaving for Alaska, we are back on the road.

After four months of somewhat stationary living, Tiff and I are doing our best to settle into life on the road again.  Pele´, as usual, is the standard bearer for exemplary behavior on the road and at home.  If he could speak, I imagine he might say, “Relax, and a good time will likely follow.  If it doesn’t, at least you’ll be relaxed.”

 

We are preparing at the moment to cross the border from the US into Mexico.  An undercurrent of other people’s fears and their eagerly shared stories of tragedy (typically experienced by a friend of a friend) are regular companions to these preparations.  We understand the fear people have for our safety.  We have some of it too…some of it.  Mostly, however, we have a desire to experience the world, and to meet the people who live in it.  Although, I’m not sure I can give you a good reason for that.

 

Much of our journey lately has reminded me of, or has been peripherally related to, the futility of living life with any expectation of it having meaning.  Tiffany and I collect memories.  Some couples collect magnets, others might collect houses, spouses and cars. In any case, the result is the same. The collector will do her best to gather the best of a thing, and then she will die.  Those left to deal with the collected items will forget, sell, or completely discard those items.  Not long after that, the person’s life will fade from living memory, possibly leaving behind other collectors, more than willing to repeat the cycle.  

 

On that chipper note, I’d like to tell you a bit about what we’ve been doing since leaving our home of the past four months, Larkspur, CA.

 

Our last days in the San Francisco Bay Area were pretty easy going.  Tiffany and I were not exactly getting along perfectly, but that is just how the cookie gets crumbled sometimes.  I’ve definitely noticed myself struggling with some existential issues lately.  Thoughts of death are often with me.  Ever since my friend’s suicide in January, I’ve been keeping an eye on my own mental health.  I’m not ashamed to say, I’m not totally in the clear there.  My own mental health is a work in progress, and is aided greatly by the writing of this journal.

 

Mental health issues not withstanding, we packed up our shit, spent a few hours with our friends Erik and Lala (who have let us live in their home since January), then headed out for a very strange errand.  Pele´ was scheduled for rattlesnake awareness training.

 

Rattlesnake awareness training is exactly what you think it is, teaching a dog to be fucking terrified of all things snake.  An electric shock collar is affixed to the dog.  When the dog sees the first snake, a de-fanged rattler with a distinct and easily triggered rattle, a mild electric shock is administered at the first hint of interest on the dog’s part.  Then, the dog is exposed to a fully deadly snake with fangs and venom, safely enclosed in a wire mesh box.  The scent of a rattler with venom and fangs is somewhat different than the defanged variety.  Again, a shock is delivered if the dog gets too close or appears too interested. Finally, the dog is lead over to a pipe, filled with recently-shed snake skins, and the same treatment with the shock collar is given.

 

Mercifully, Pele´ is a quick study.  He passed the test with flying colors.  By the end of the test, he was avoiding those snakes and snake-y elements with all the might and gusto his little legs could muster.  He is one tough, and smart little character.

 

From there, we headed over to Petaluma, CA to have one last meal and a game of Scrabble with our friends Sally and Cathy.  Sally is hilarious, and Cathy is as sweet as they come.  After a big meal and a good night’s sleep, we headed East to the mountains. 

 

We spent a few days in Yosemite Valley.  The Valley is stunning, of course.  Waterfalls were everywhere as the snow in the higher elevations has been falling at a record pace this year.  We took a few small hikes (again, Pele´ is not welcome there), basked in the glory of the mountains and raging rivers, and just generally enjoyed the scenery.  

 

We spent a few nights camping above the raging Merced River.  We woke up on the first morning and noticed we were parked across the street from a guy we met last year in Index, WA, Ryan the climber.  This is the second time on our journey we’ve run into him unexpectedly.  We saw him last fall outside of Bozeman, MT as we were leaving a trailhead.  Ryan was in Yosemite for a month of climbing.  He had just completed his first ascent of the giant, El Capitan.  It took him three days and two nights to climb to the top.  He is a sweet character and inspiring to be around.  We feel lucky to continue to run into him. 

From Yosemite Valley, we headed south to the Sequoia National Forest to soak in a hot spring.  We ended up on the western edge of the Sierras, perched a few hundred feet above the Kern River as a series of powerful thunderstorms rolled over us in the night.  You tend to miss thunder when it’s been a while since you last heard it.  Miracle Hots spring, just outside of Bakersfield, is a beautiful, free place to soak in man made pools while watching the magnificent Kern River do its thing.  With more severe weather on the way, we opted to keep moving South, so we headed towards another beautiful valley, Ojai, CA.

EL CAPITAN…Somewhat larger in person.

 

On our way to Ojai, we attempted to drive over the pass which separates Ojai from the north; the Los Padres National Forest.  Unfortunately, we were resoundingly deterred about a quarter of the way up the mountains by a wild thunderstorm. Light rain quickly turned into heavy rain, then to hail and sleet, creating amazingly unsafe driving conditions in less than two minutes.  I did a slow turn around, tucked our tail and took the less scenic, but considerably safer and longer route.  

From this…

 

…to this in 2 minutes.

From the relative safety of the Ojai Valley, looking at the other side of that mountain range, we watched as the sun set behind the range to the West, creating a gentle-glowing pink sky.  The danger in the mountains behind that lovely pink was wearing a mask as convincing as any I’ve ever seen.  Beware of pink skies, they may be hiding something!     

 

Our stay in Ojai was brief, but beautiful.  We took a small hike in the morning with the dog, marveling at how lush and beautiful the valley seemed as the sun rose over the mountains to the East.  If you visit Ojai by van, take a minute to stop at the River View trail.  You can camp in this lovely spot for free!

Ojai Valley.

 

We met up with our Brazilian friends, Cristina, Marcos, and their son and daughter, Caetano, and Teresa. Seeing them, and playing on the beach in Malibu with the kids and Pele´ had a soothing effect; we felt like we were back on the road again.  We spent a long afternoon with them, then found a uniquely awful place to park for the evening along highway 1.  

 

When sleeping in a vehicle, it is important to find as quiet and safe a place to park for an evening as possible.  In Malibu, CA, along the side of the PCH is definitely not such a place.  Cars and trucks are constantly barreling down the road. With each vehicle’s passing, the van rocks slightly.  When a truck passes, the whole vehicle pitches forth and back like someone was pushing on the sides.  The intermittent sounds of whooshing vehicles gave me a case of the highway madness.  In the morning, we made our way to Pepperdine University, and parked in a beautiful grassy area, high above the crazed highway below.  We did some yoga, ate breakfast, and tossed the ball with Pele´ until I could face the highway again. 

 

Our Brazilian friends were not bothered by the road noise.  After four years of vehicle living, they are immune to the sensations felt by the less-well-traveled.  Young Caetano was actually comforted by the noise and the rocking of his home in the night. His explanation of this phenomenon was magnificent, and delivered in a mix of Portuguese, English and the universal language of Pantomime.

 

Later in the day, Tiffany and Cristina took the kids down to the beach to play.  It was Mother’s day, and Cristina was gifted with balloons and little treats from her husband and children.  The balloons accompanied her to the beach.  Marcos stayed with their vehicle and did a big clean up.  Pele stayed with me in our van and we caught up on the sleep we missed the night before.  A rare afternoon nap for me.

Caetano, unfazed by highway madness, flies his new kite.

 

We left the Brazilians to visit with our friends Gene and Vicki.  Actually, writing down the word, “Gene” feels strange.  I met “Gene” 16 years ago on the Pacific Crest Trail, and have really only known him by his trail name, Gnome.  

 

Gnome and I met in the absolute middle of nowhere.  I had a huge bag of pot, given to me by a grower in southern California who showed me his operation and told me to take as much of the trimmings as I could carry.  There was a large black trash bag, filled with trimmings from the harvest.  I filled a half gallon Ziploc bag with pot, and asked if that was OK.  He told me I could leave the Ziploc, and take the trash bag if I wanted.  I kept the Ziploc, and was more than happy to share my marijuana windfall with friends and strangers on the trail.  Gnome was eager to accept, and eventually ended up carrying what was left of the bag when I decided to pass it along.  We became friends immediately, and have remained friends ever since.

Gnome’s wife Vicky is one of the sweetest people we know.  She makes an effort to ensure a visitor feels welcome and well fed.  We crashed her mother’s day party, and I was delighted to keep her out of the kitchen for once.  Gnome, Tiffany and I did all the cooking, with a little help from one of Vicky’s sons.  Vicky’s mother, Eleanor, was also present.  I have no question as to where Vicky’s sweetness comes from.  Eleanor is in her golden years…of course, we absolutely love her.

 

We spent three days and two nights with Gnome and Vicky in their beautiful home in Malibu.  We cooked, we sat in a hot tub, we hiked, we ate, Gnome and I had a little taste of some potent psychedelics, and their dog, Panda and Pele´ were wrestling and playing almost non-stop from the time we got there until we left.  

 

A nice address for a Gnome.

From Malibu, we made our way to Simi Valley to hang out with our new friends Oliver and Cheryl.  We were introduced to Oliver by Chris Ryan when our van started having transmission issues.  Oliver and Cheryl took Tiffany into their home, gave her a place to crash, fed her, and had our van fixed up in no time.  Since then, they have become friends.  

 

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Oliver on a variety of projects, ranging from suspension work on our van at his shop, to building projects for the Bombay Beach Biennale. He is a super smart, effortlessly talented and relentlessly inquisitive guy.  Working with him is a gift!  

 

After a full day’s work for Oliver, he invited us up to his shop where he changed our oil, gave the van a final check-up, and helped me weld a new and very secure lock on our sliding door.  After that, we took the dogs to a large park near their home and watched Cheryl’s softball team lose a game by a comically large margin.

 

Oliver and Cheryl, who were preparing to travel to Europe the day after we left, were amazingly accommodating, in-spite of the fact that they both had so much to do before leaving. The only thing we could do to help pay back the generosity and kindness was to clean out and replenish their amazing chicken coop.  That chore was more fun than work, for sure.

 

From Cheryl and Oliver’s, we took a trip to Silver lake and East Hollywood to visit with someone I met at the Biennale, Sarah Larsen.  Before recording a podcast with her, Tiff, Pele´ and I took a hike around the lake, ate at Astros’ Diner, did a little grocery shopping, then made our way to Sarah’s satellite living room, The Faculty Bar on Heliotrope.  

 

Sarah and Tiff, looking pretty.

Sarah’s story is super interesting, and her art is the result.  We had a far reaching conversation in the van, and I got the whole thing on tape, just for you!     

 

My niece Corrine and my nephew Allen 3, made a surprise visit to L.A. while we were there.  They met us at Faculty Bar for a brief visit, and we made plans to hang out again in a few days.

 

From our time with Sarah, and the youngsters, we made our way to Laguna Beach as a sort of pilgrimage to honor our recently departed friend, Kent Broussard.  

 

I met Kent in New Orleans about nine years ago.  We were both bartending at a restaurant in the French Quarter.  It was obvious immediately, Kent was the coolest guy in the room, regardless of the room.  He was gentle, funny, and completely unfazed by any type of confrontational or rude tourist.  He was well known for being laid-back, and deeply committed to being relaxed at all times. 

 

We later became friends with his long-time partner, Jules.  We met his family, they watched our dog when we traveled, we watched their sweet dog, Ava when they traveled.  We lived with them for a few months after our cross-country bicycle journey.  Although I hadn’t seen Kent in almost four years when I got the news of his passing in March of this year, I considered him a close friend and was deeply saddened by the loss.  He died in his sleep at age 57.  When his friends found him, he was grinning.   

 

Before we met Kent and Jules, they lived in Laguna Beach, CA.  Jules told us about some of his favorite spots there, so we decided to make the trip.  We are both incredibly glad we did.

Jules and Kent.

 

We spent an entire day on a beach in Laguna, mostly mimicking the itinerary of a beautifully bronzed and supremely unperturbed homeless man near the beach.  My first encounter with the man, Mauricio we would later learn, was in the viewing of a pile of suitcases and blankets, roughly outlining the shape of a sleeping person.  There was a cardboard sign propped up on one of the suitcases.  The message was simple, “Hungry, Please Help”.

 

We spent the evening before, only a few yards from him in the comfort of our van.  In the middle of the night, we heard one of Mauricio’s compatriots embroiled in an intense altercation with the authorities.  A young man was yelling in a loud voice at two police officers in an extremely cavalier tone.  The two officers countered his intensity with nearly supernatural calm.  At one point I heard the man say, “Am I being detained?  Are you arresting me?  No? Well, fuck off, then!”  Not surprisingly, the cops did not, in fact, fuck off…not even a little bit.

 

I looked out my window to see the man sitting on the sidewalk, casually thumbing through images on his phone with two officers standing over him.  One of the officers, a female, was calmly talking to the man. When she finished her sentence, which I could not hear, the man said, “Well, I sincerely hope you choke on a dick!”  Remarkable…absolutely incredible really. The man was never taken into custody, and the whole thing fizzled without further incident.  I couldn’t help but wonder how that would have gone down if the young man were not white.

 

Throughout that whole altercation, Mauricio was huddled in his makeshift cave of blankets and luggage, roughly 5 yards from the action.  I’m not sure how he slept, but when I saw him in the morning, he certainly looked well rested.  

 

I first noticed a bit of movement in the blankets around 8AM.  We had been up, drinking coffee and wandering around on the beachfront for a few hours by that point.  Suddenly, a head appeared from the blanket pile.  A thick and dark black head of hair, attached to a deeply tanned face was calmly taking in the scene.  A beautiful woman was on the beach a few yards down the hill.  The owner of this magnificent head of hair noticed her, and began shuffling through unseen pockets in the blankets for something.  A moment later, a long black comb emerged, and began taming the thick hair in practiced and precise movements.  The result was also magnificent.  

 

Once properly quaffed, Mauricio pulled back his blankets, which were crisp white and clean, to reveal a slim and tanned chest, bright blue swim trunks, and long tan legs. Mauricio’s eyes were as blue as Tiffany’s, and peered across the beachfront like some sort of benevolent alien surveying a world who was unaware of having been conquered.  

 

I was intrigued by the man. He rose, stretched his limbs and made his stately way to the toilet for what I assume was a long and stately piss. He returned, settled back into his apartment, and fished out half of a sandwich from yet another unseen cubicle in his nest.  He ate it with pure, finger-licking delight, pausing occasionally to discourage overly interested seagulls.  

 

We followed his lead, and managed to do almost nothing all day.  We watched as people brought him food, all day long.  A group of missionaries from some religious group came by to pray with him.  I almost got the impression they were visiting the guru on the mountain, and were there to learn, not to proselytize…almost.

 

At one point, marking one of about six outings from his den, Mauricio came by our little encampment to offer us a gift.  “Hey man, you want tacos?  These are Really good!” he said through a beatific smile with an unfamiliar but exotic accent (never forget, I’m from Mississippi, so exotic accents to me could be from almost anywhere).  We politely declined, and he left us, his grin never breaking stride.

 

We shared almost zero conversation with him for hours on end.  It was not a strained or intentional silence, but one born of sublime contentment.  We were at that beach from sunrise to sunset, and watched as his skin went from bronzed to baked.  As we were preparing to leave, we noticed the man sitting behind our van, clean, well dressed and resplendent, lending something of a regal air to an otherwise pedestrian camping chair.  With his legs delicately crossed and blue eyes looking like powerful blue flames nestled under black hair and nearly iridescent brown skin, he poured his smile in our direction.  

 

He spoke to me as I approached, “you had a nice day, right?”  I told him we had.  I didn’t need to ask him about his, instead I asked him how long he had been living in Laguna.   “Almost 8 years, man.  It’s unreal, yeah?”.  I agreed, unreal.

 

We talked for a bit, then took our leave of him, taking our satisfaction with having spent a day engaged in the absolute best kind of nothing.  I can think of no better tribute to our friend Kent;  a notoriously unhurried and restful man.  The kind of guy who would have thought I maybe made a few too many unnecessary trips away from our blankets for his taste.  Having Mauricio there to guide us in the ways of inspired and fulfilled laziness was a blessing, and would maybe seem even more meaningful if I made a greater effort to dig through the significance of it…somehow, the effort just doesn’t seem to fit the lesson.

 

We had plans to hang out with my Niece and nephew again, and heard from our friend Tao Ruspoli that he and his girl Nastasia were having an art show in Downtown L.A..  We met up with Corrine and Allen at a little Indian restaurant near Hollywood.  We ate, laughed, and had fun with them for several hours.

 

My niece Corrine is a self-motivated, bright, funny and supremely sarcastic human being.  She is living in Memphis, TN for some reason which I can’t fully understand.  I know it is only temporary though, she’s a smart cookie.

 

My nephew, Allen the 3rd, is a whole other ball of wax.  He is quiet, yet funny.  He is intelligent, but not particularly curious about the world.  He likes to golf, is something of an accounting wiz, and is capable of greatness at just about anything he wants to do.  When I asked him why he gravitated to accounting, “Because I’m good at it” was his answer.

 

I don’t want to be the sort of uncle that gives his nephews and nieces a hard time about their decisions, but when it comes to the pursuit of happiness, I tend to take a bit of a different level of interest.  When I asked him what he loved doing, he answered, “playing golf”.  He perceives accounting as a means to be able to make money to play more golf.  I gave him my two cents on the project, but did so without judging his values…at least, I hope I did.  I want him to be happy, and to see the potential in the world.  He seems bright enough to me to figure it out on his own. For what it’s worth, I did not advocate the ditching of one’s responsibilities for the purely selfish pursuits I’m currently after.  

 

After eating and wandering around Hollywood with them (wandering through the hoopla across from the Chinese Theatre for the opening of a Godzilla movie was a high-point), we said our goodbyes, and made our way to see Tao.

 

We made a number of friends while I was working in Bombay Beach.  Several of them were there to support Tao and Nastasia in this art opening. Art openings, like many social gatherings, are not particularly my thing.  I don’t drink, so the allure of free booze doesn’t appeal to me.  I don’t particularly like standing around and chatting with strangers either, so I loose out on that count as well.  

 

It seems almost contrived to say that an art opening in L.A. could be a little pretentious.  I won’t go so far as to say that, but I will say that the opening was not my favorite part of the night.  I was thrilled to see my friends, and to see Pele´ react to seeing Nastasia again for the first time in several months (he is crazy about her, and practically dances when he sees her).  I was also thrilled to be able to park behind the gallery space, and have a quiet and secure night of sleep in the middle of downtown L.A..

 

We had a small meal with our friends, Laura and Ariana.  Laura has been a guest on the podcast, and her friend Ariana is a beautiful, funny and inquisitive woman who I very much enjoy speaking with.  Tiffany, Laura, Ariana and I laughed, shared stories, and took the party back to the van for a bit while the rare, late season rain continued to drizzle down on the roof.  We shared some eggs from Oliver and Cheryl’s chickens, said good night, and slept like we deserved it.

 

From L.A., we headed to Joshua Tree to see our friend, Jane Maru (another podcast guest).  Jane leaves Joshua Tree every summer, and makes her way to Montana.  Before she goes, she has a small gathering at her home to say goodbye to all of her pals. We felt fortunate to get that invitation.  She let us shower, fed us, and insisted that we stay in the house for the night.  

 

While offers to sleep indoors are wonderful, it is hard to convince people that our van is more than just a place to crash; it is our home.  Our bed is SUPER comfortable.  Our pillows are just right, our sheets are just right, and the whole experience of sleeping in our van is roughly what most people have when walking into their own bedrooms at home to read, fuck and sleep.  So, if ever you find us at your home, and you offer us a bed “in the house”, and we politely decline, please know that it is not a slight upon your guest bedroom, but rather a preference to sleep in the comfort of our own bed.

 

We had a great time meeting Jane’s pals, ate lots of delicious food, and slept pretty well, considering the fact that we were on foreign ground, so to speak.  The next day, we had the longest morning in recorded history, and didn’t leave Jane’s house until almost 6PM! 

 

Jane, Tiffany and I met up with Tao and Nastasia for sushi in Yucca Valley. The restaurant was improbably located in the back of a Travelodge on Hwy 62.  The quality of service and the fish were fantastic!  We had a great meal, said goodbye to Jane, then headed over to Tao’s place for mind expanding conversation and stimulants!

 

We spent the next day and night with Tao and Nastasia.  Tao was busy editing a music video he shot for Alex Ebert, AKA Edward Sharpe, and Nastasia was busy working on her website.  Tiff, Pele´, and I took a hike to see their neighbor, Sam.  Sam, an ex-tech guy, is building a small, off-grid campground on a beautiful mountain-side in the high desert.

 

We hiked back to Tao’s with Sam, and cooked up a singular steak to share with three grown men.  It was delicious, and hit the spot.  Somehow, we even managed to save a piece for Nastasia!  

 

We left Tao’s place early the next day.  Before leaving, we watched the most recent edit of the soon to be released video. The video is beautifully shot, and the tune has an upbeat melody and rhythm, but a seriously dark premise.  I liked it.

 

Our next destination was San Diego to see our friends Larry and his daughter, Julie.  

 

My connection to Larry and Julie starts long before I was born.  My mother’s best friend in high school, Jane, moved from Peru, IL to San Diego, CA sometime in the 1960’s.  When my mom finished nursing school, she took a trip to see Jane in San Diego.  At the time, students and soldiers could fly for free with a standby ticket.  On the way back from San Diego, my mom, and many other students and soldiers (Many of whom were on leave from duty in Vietnam) were also flying standby, so other arrangements had to be made.  My mom ended up taking a train, along with dozens of other young people, heading back to the Midwest and the East coast.

 

My mother, who is still a beautiful woman, was particularly cute in the 1960’s.  A handsome young marine, recently discharged from military service, noticed her, and asked if she wanted to join him in the bar for a drink.  She was not yet old enough to drink, so the young soldier told her to wait while he brought back drinks from the bar.  After an exceedingly long time, the soldier came back, without any drinks in-hand, but a few in the belly, and chatted up my mom for a while.  They exchanged addresses, said goodbye, and my mother thought she would never see him again. 

 

A few months later, a knock at the door stirred my grandmother from the kitchen. Standing there, unannounced, was the young soldier.  Not long after that, my mother married the young man, Private Allen Couch.  Nearly ten years and three children later, I was born, the fourth sibling and second son.  

 

Jane was fond of telling that story, and took credit for our existence in a really cute way.  My mom had 4 children with my father.  Jane and Larry had 2 of their own.  Jane’s daughter Julie was born with Downs Syndrome in December of 1979, only a few months after I was born.  

Julie and I grew up hearing about each other.  I heard about her open heart surgery, and struggle to live.  She heard about me playing basketball and learning guitar.  I heard about her dealing with the aftermath of heart trouble, she heard about me traveling around the country.  Julie and I didn’t meet until I headed to San Diego after my father’s death, to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.  As an abstraction who would send me birthday cards and other greetings, I knew her to be a sweet and thoughtful soul.  Meeting her for the first time, however, I felt a deep connection to her and saw in her eyes a purity and tenderness I’d not experienced before.

 

Since then, I have seen her a few times.  Spending a little time with Julie after Tiffany and I rode across the country on our bicycles was one of the highpoints of the adventure.  Coupled with spending time with Julie, was the joy I felt seeing my mom’s longtime pal, Jane.  It was clear where Julie’s flame got its spark.  Her father, Larry is also a good man, but something about Jane was unique.

 

Three years ago, Jane was diagnosed with a terminal cancer, quite out of the blue.  My mom headed out to San Diego to help look after her dying friend while Larry underwent an emergency hip surgery.  My mom looked after Julie, Jane and Larry.  Shortly after Larry’s recovery, my mom headed back home to look after her own family. A few weeks later, Jane was gone.

 

Seeing Larry for the first time since Jane’s death was deeply sad.  He spoke of missing her still, and how lonesome his life had become.  He was also deeply conflicted about Julie.  While Jane was alive, Julie was with her, side by side, almost every day of her life. Although others told Jane she needed to help Julie gain some sort of independence, Jane resisted; thinking she would likely outlive Julie.  Modern medicine and food science have increased the lifespans of people with Downs Syndrome significantly, and Jane’s unexpected brush with cancer came as a surprise to all.  Jane’s mother was still living when Jane passed, she was in her nineties and going strong.  

 

Larry and his son, Chris decided that the very best thing for Julie, after Jane’s death, would be to find a place for Julie to live, before Larry joined Jane in the hereafter.  A prolonged search began, and after a few years of waiting, a suitable place was found, and Julie moved out of her home for the first time in nearly 40 years. That was on May 1st.  

Julie may be small, but her impact on me has been enormous.

 

We had lunch with Larry, and planned a visit to Julie later in the day. The home where Julie is living asked that for the first 30 days, the family keep visits to a minimum.  We were fortunate to have a brief window of time to see Julie between activities and dinner.  I didn’t want to miss it.

 

Julie’s new home is a beautiful place, and the ratio of staff to residents is impressive.  There are daily activities, great facilities, delicious and nutritious meals served, and the vibe is more family than hospital.  When we saw Julie, she was SO excited.  She ran to her father and hugged him for an eternity.  After embracing him, she hugged Tiffany and then me. The look of joy in her eyes melted my heart. 

She was incredibly happy to see us, and to show us the grounds, her house and her bedroom.  She loved her new home, and refers to her move out of the house as “A new chapter in my life.  I’m growing up and becoming a woman.”  I was so happy to hear her say that.  I asked her a dozen questions about the place, how the food was, how the staff were treating her, if she had any friends, etc.…  Tiffany had about a dozen follow-up questions.  I honestly wished I could have recorded the whole thing.

 

We spent about a half hour with Julie, joked around a bit, and then said goodbye to her.  Her sweetness and lovely charm make me want to be a better person.  As we walked away, Julie peaked out from the open doorway for one last look.  Fortunately, both Tiffany and I were thinking the same thing, and looked back in time to catch her eyes.  Her parting grin was a thing of the rarest beauty.

 

On the way back to Larry’s large, quiet and nearly empty home, our conversation went deep.  Larry needed to process his grief, so Tiffany and I listened intently.  He talked about down-sizing; a difficult task for just about anyone, but particularly difficult when it includes items from a deceased spouse, friend and partner of over fifty years.  

 

The idea of it hit me hard.  Jane had been a collector.  She loved porcelain figurines, angels, small statuary, and various items of interest to her. Her whole life, Jane had been dedicated to her volunteer work, caring for Julie, and for her own mother.  At every turn, Jane was generous, kind, loving, and considerate of others.  Her collections meant the world to her.  Now, after her death, they are understandably of little value to anyone.  Larry can’t keep them, her son can’t keep them, Julie can’t keep them, and no one else wants them.  After a lifetime of selfless giving and struggling to do the right thing, everything she collected in the pursuit of life is little more than heavy dust.

 

It is hard for me to consider the implications of this.  No matter how hard you try, no matter what good you do, at some point, the things you collect will either be stolen, lost, sold, destroyed, or thrown in the garbage.  When looking through the lens Tiffany and I are working with, our “collections” aren’t even going to go through that much scrutiny.  We have memories which will die along with us, saving our loved ones a step.

 

So what of it then?  In a world of story-addict apes struggling to create meaning in their lives, is there a point to any of it?  Are we all just curating a future yard sale/dumpster fire/inconvenient and painful trip to a donation center?  Is there a deeper meaning to this experiment?  We tell ourselves we are enriching our lives for the betterment of mankind.   We are gathering knowledge to fully experience life. We are working hard to make a better future.  We are struggling to cure diseases, search the stars for life, search the oceans for answers, comb the past for clues to the future, and looking to the future to make a better now…but for what?  When all is said and done in your life, you will join the billions who have died before you, and will await the billions more who will pile on top of you.  Our flesh will decay or be burned, our molecules will disperse, and our collections of thoughts, experiences and ephemera will follow.  

 

Don’t get me wrong.  I am increasingly convinced, being kind and loving to friend and stranger alike is the best way to navigate a life.  The reality is that dying is frightening to me, and is not exactly in my best interest, so I need to eat.  I’d like that food to be delicious, even if it is pointless to eat it.  Being alone is not as much fun as it once was, so I would like my company to be delightful, even if it is meaningless.  Embracing purposelessness is not a hall pass to dickishness.  I feel like the call to live well, be kind and make the most of life is somewhat stronger when there is no supernatural obligation to do so.  Who really knows? 

 

For what it’s worth, Tiffany does not feel this way, and has very much her own views on the subject of a pointless existence. 

 

On this strange and bleak note, Tiffany and I continue to make preparations to cross the Mexican border.  Last minute paperwork, checkups, personal items, sunrise and sunset, meals, walks, sex, shit, more meals, more walks; all of it piling up in a heap around the moment when we will finally plunge the nose of this van into the country so feared by our friends and family.

 

We don’t do this to make a point; there likely isn’t one.  We aren’t doing this to make things better, or to make a difference.  Our recorded conversations are not going to change anything, and we know it.  But, we will continue to do it, because we can. We will continue to make this journey because we like it.  And we will continue to pursue our pointless agendas because, at the end of the day, when we die, our only consolation will be that we were meant to be kindhearted the whole time…even when we failed.   

 

It is good

 To be kind

For no reason

In a pointless universe

So light a candle

For no reason

But for reason Only

When you are low, look up!