Hey, gang! Welcome to EP 04 of my podcast, “Something That I Wrote.”
I know I always start with this greeting. Maybe I don’t need to, but I don’t wanna stop. I want you to feel welcome, I really do. You can call me many things – you can say that I’m a liar, and a traitor, and a robber, and a thief, and maybe you can even see past my diamond eyes, too – but you can’t say that I’m unwelcome. That’s the difference between heaven and hell, you know.
I want you to feel welcome. I want us to be pals. I want you and I to be sweethearts, too, but I’ll try to stay patient. I’ll try to stay patient, even as I sit here, and wonder where you wander. It’s a cold, cold night, out on the town, and I just want somebody to take me home. I’m a lonesome, lonely man. I got nowhere else to go.
We’ll see what happens, as time goes by. But here we are now. Here you are now, and here I am now. I got this pen in my hand. I try to make some sense of it all, but there’s just so much I don’t understand. There’s a part of me that wants to say I’m not gonna try anymore, but I won’t. You’re here, and I’m here. Here we are now, so let me tell you another story.
Last time we were together I started to take you through Niagara. I hope you liked your visit, because I’d like to take you there again. There is so much to see, and I think I could stay forever. (Sometimes I hope I do.) So let me take you back. We might pass by some familiar places, and we might wave to some familiar faces, but I want to take a closer look at some things we only just briefly glimpsed at before. Let’s linger awhile longer. Let’s stare at the same storefronts, but let’s cross the street. Let’s look at them from over there. Let’s go stand on that sidewalk.
I’ve mentioned before how much I love living in a town where I can so intimately interact with the people and the places – the stories – that make me who I am. But there’s also something about this that sometimes bothers me.
I have been told many times by many different people that I look just like my great-grandfather. I never met him – he died long before I came along – but I’ve been told that he was tall and lanky, like a scarecrow, just as I am. From the neck down, I’m told, I am him.
I suppose there’s something comforting about knowing that someone else lived their life with as awkward a frame as mine. But there’s something that I can’t help but wonder: if I am just like him physically, how else do I resemble him? And what troubles me most of all is that I don’t know anything about him. I don’t know what kinda guy he was. I don’t know if he was happy or sad, and I don’t know if he was liked or disliked, and I don’t want to. I’m too scared to find something like that out. They say I look just like him, after all.
I was thinking this through when I started writing this story. And I was thinking about something else about Niagara, too. I was thinking about all the people I know who were born here and who died here. Some people have never, ever left. It happens in any small town. There are some of us, with rural souls, who do this intentionally, I think. But there are some who don’t. I started to wonder about the people who never left Niagara, and never will, but who might’ve wanted to.
When I was in highschool I played in a band with a real good friend of mine. It was just the two of us. We hardly knew our instruments, and yet we played our little hearts out in basements and living rooms and in my dad’s barn. In the grand scheme of the universe we accomplished nothing, yet in the scope of our individual lives, I am so so proud of all that we achieved. We made a homemade CD, and we even sold t-shirts, and a few people whose opinions I hold very highly told me they liked our songs, and they told me sincerely, and that’s all I ever needed. And so I’m proud of us.
But I think there’s something about whatever it is you do when you’re old enough to start doing whatever it is you want to do that you never ever lose. When you’re 16, it’s easy to believe, with all your heart, that your band can rise up from your town and burn it to the ground. You still bother with your daydreams, in a way that starts to seem silly and foolish as you get older and jaded and broken. There’s something genuine and beautiful about it, and you never get that back. I have played in other bands since then. I’ve played in better bands, and I’ve written better songs, too. But nothing ever feels like it felt back then. Nothing ever will.
My friend loved our band, but he never thought about it as more than a hobby. I never really did either, though I think that’s mostly because I was able to get the things I needed to get from it – a creative outlet, a reason to write, a way to feel cool – from other places. Like this, right now. So we both look back fondly, and we still sometimes hang out in the basement, trying to make that glorious racket once again, but we never stay down for too long. We’re lucky that way. Because I think there are some people who just can’t leave their basement, no matter how they try. There are some people who never do.
And so I was thinking about all that, too, when I wrote this. It is once again, distinctly, a story from Niagara. I fear that all this sounds like an unfavorable description of this place that I love oh-so-dearly. I don’t mean it to be. Niagara is flawed, but it is still beautiful. It is my hometown. But I think it is important to be able to detach and look at something without any bias. You gotta see it for all that it is, not just for what you want it to be. And a funny thing happens when you do that. For better or for worse, you start to see it differently. Especially when you look at yourself.