Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gardening at Night

Sun sets on the ol' urban garden.
These days, I don't have a lot of time to be reflective. With 3 "hey it's better than zero" jobs, an 11 month old boy, a wife, house, dog, and truck, there are plenty of things that deserve my attention. But something caught me off guard tonight. I stopped by the garden to pick some small okra - my last batch was picked wwaaaaaaay too late thanks to our trip to Virginia - and a wave of something came over me. And only part of it was "God, I haven't spent enough time outside lately."
It was nearly 8pm (yup...on the way home from Job #1), and yet it was still 97 degrees outside - with ample humidity. The air was filled with the sound of cicadas, and the garden was abuzz with bees, whiteflies, a few biting flies, and the goldfinches who are terrorizing my mammoth sunflowers. Yup, it's August.
Misleading picture - the squash is only 6" long

I don't know what made me flash back - but it all came rushing back. The last 20 or more summers. It may as well have been 100. Seeing as how I started this blog to chronicle my adventures - my long term memory is notoriously patchy - let's take a quick trip down memory lane. At some point, I do want to write down what I remember of being a kid - calling my memory of my life before age 10 as "patchy" would be generous - but it's just a bit too much to bite off, given my current pace of life.
But standing out in the deserted garden tonight, I remembered that old catchy REM song "Gardening at Night," a song that created a vivid mental picture for me when it was released (rather, re-released) on their Eponymous album on IRS Records in 1988. I was 14 and was experiencing all of the exciting things that 14 year olds experience. My life was just turbid - awash in the mess that is being old enough to identify everything that's going wrong, and possessing none of the tools to comprehend, affect, fix, rectify, or even ignore it all. "Gardening at Night" made me think of carefree, moonlit harvesting or just walking around. Silence. Peace. Quiet monotony. When it's your garden, you can walk around in it all night, every night, right? The song never really affected me on a deep level, but I still remember all the lyrics.
As I picked okra and remembered old times, I shuddered to think of the later, more significant REM song that I've always connected to "Gardening at Night," Country Feedback, a haunting tune from 1991. A video that approaches justice for that tune is right here. That song, along with Social Distortion's Cold Feelings, carried me through a frenetic and amazing senior year in high school. I gained a girlfriend I'd chased for nearly a year, lost her to my (much later) best man, and gained her back (just to let her go two years later). I played in a (terrible) band and we even played at our high school senior day for over 1,000 students, 300 teachers, and about 200 parents. I ruled the roost, raised hell, got into 4 of the 6 colleges I applied to, and raised some more hell. We'd sit around smoke cigarettes and drink gin (sorry mom and dad!), and listen to Sam Cooke (try "Bring It On Home"), followed by Suicidal Tendencies (try "Nobody Hears"), followed by 4 Walls Falling (try "Happy Face"), followed by the original outlaw, Mr. John R. Cash of Dyess, Arkansas (damned if you don't watch "Big River").
We spent a lot of time in those days talking, running up and down the rural roads and the busy highway to the beach, playing music, and playing outdoors. While a lot of our classmates seemed paralyzed by the awful balance of negative and positive anxiety in the average 18 year old's life, my friends and I (mostly) let that anxiety (and hope) burn white hot and take us through some crazy times and adventures. We made some mistakes - some hurt more than others - but we lived. We really lived!
In the years that followed, it became apparent that the era - and our friendships - were an amazing meeting point in a set of very different lives. Some friends stayed in that place where "nothing is ever put straight," as the song goes, and literally died - some by their own hand, others at the hand of drugs. Most of us have survived two more decades though, and many of us still talk - and of course - our kids have met.
As my mother's grandpa used to say, those was some big times. And I would never trade them - even the worst of them - for any amount of money.
Funny how a quiet moment outdoors can bring it all back.


Ann said...

So glad that I could be a part of your senior year :) We did have some great times. While a lot of people complain about their high school years, I look back rather fondly on those days. Senior year was definitly a blast.

Kirk Mantay said...

Ha! I had no idea that you knew about my blog! In fact, I didn't count on anyone from high school (except my brothers and maybe Adam or Dave) seeing this.

It was awesome to see you guys too. We are still learning how to socialize like normal grownups while watching Capt. Daredevil constantly crawl/jump/fall/stumble into danger.

It was really good to see you too :) Did I tell you that we hung out with Audra in SC last year?

Ann said...

I don't remember how I found your blog, to be honest. I know it's been in my favorites for a while. I check up on ya every once in a while :)
You didn't tell me that you met up with Audra. That's neat. I'd love to see her again. We've talked a bit through facebook but that's the extent of it.
Natalie is becoming quite the daredevil as well. She is also learning that screaming gets fast results :/ Can't wait until she's walking. lol Then we're really in trouble.

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