If I had, for the sake of argument, to come up with one word that would describe how I really felt about myself all of these years since I have been able to self reflect; that word would have to be "lacking". It's not a nice way to think about yourself, but it is really not the word itself that makes it bad, it's the emotion attached to letters arranged in that particular order.
I always use the word when I write. I am always saying that something or somebody is lacking something. It is like a personal totem, I guess. My family crest should be an image of a bearded man holding a hand shaped capital L to his forehead. The problem then would be that most people would think it meant "Loser", and the words mean two different things; while a loser is certainly lacking, a lacker ( is there such a word?) is not necessarily a loser.
The second problem with that image would be once that people understood that it doesn't mean loser, they would immediately want to run out and add the image, with or without guy with the beard, to their own family crests. For after all, aren't we all lacking something (shit, there I go again)? Lacking seems to be the most common trait among us humans.
This seems to have been the case since the very beginning of time. It appears that God was lacking in amusement; why else would he have created creatures as twisted and funny as a human beings? Eve was probably lacking in vitamins and/or common sense-she got tricked by a snake for God's sake. Adam was lacking a better idea of how to get laid. His son Abel was lacking a sense of adventure, and his other son Caine grew up lacking a set of real man-sized testicles. If Caine would have just manned up, took one for the team, and did shit the right way, we would all probably still be living just outside the gates of Eden waiting for a vacancy notice to go up.
I'll stop right there because it starts getting real messy after Able dies, but mainly because I'm getting seriously off track. Where was I? Oh, yeah, lacking! I was never lacking in curiosity, and I picked up reading like water rolling off a duck. Because of reading, I knew that there were other things out there beyond the narrow limits of my small neighborhood.
I have always loved mythology. I guess that that was long about the time that I first started trying to reconcile the difference between life with an Olympian perspective and life looking out the windows of Pop's candy store. Needless to day, in that comparison, the candy store viewpoint was somewhat lacking ( I know, I know).
And you might justly ask, why would any kid have to reconcile life in Olympus to life on the Southside of Corcoran? The answer is because he knows it is a thing. Olympus might be regarded only as a myth by most, but even as a myth, it is a thing that people know about, and knowing about it means we have to reconcile the ideas it engenders with our own existence.
Then I started going to church where I had a Sunday School teacher tell me that I was going to burn in hell if I didn't do what the preachers said, and since I thought that most of the preachers who I knew were lacking in good judgement-which I could prove by the fact that they were willing to along with a plan to burn people forever- I knew that something else was going on there, and I had a perfect right, really more of a need, to go in search of those answers which I was lacking. Once again in effort to reconcile the idea of heaven with what I knew of life on the Southside of Corcoran. And once again, it was the Southside perspective that was, you know, lacking.
I am not going to continue delineating all of the questioning, searching, and reconciling I have had to do over the years. Most of you already know what I am talking about; it is the curse of the human race to know that we all are lacking. If we weren't so driven by this knowledge we would have gone extinct by now. We could have all of the knowledge, all of the power, and all of the money, but the realization that it's all on loan does funny things to how we think and feel, or don't think and feel, for that matter.
When I was younger, I thought that Superman and Willy Mays had the answers. They were both highly skilled, but they didn't really know much more than I did. Then it was Robert Young, Andy Griffith, and my dad. That was before I figured out the first two were just mouthing words that others had written, and that my dad was leading more by example than wisdom. In fact, a lot of what he said didn't make any fucking sense. Rode across the plains on the back of a buffalo, my ass!
There were a few important scraps of knowledge that I squirreled away from school- like the fact that Shakespeare wrote great things. Likewise, some of the stuff that was in the Bible managed to escape across the Berlin Wall of dogmatism into the freedom of my mind; I snatched them off the pavement and stuffed them into a pants pocket stuffed with pennies, bottle-caps and marbles. I would then go home and paste those bits and fragments into some semblance of order in my own private scrapbook.
I would also have to translate the words of Christ backwards out of the Californian/Okie /Arkansan vernacular into some kind of semblance of the original words. It was hard work because, not only did I have to excise and repair the mangled pronunciations, I would also have to guess at all of the redactions and mistranslations. And I had to do it all in my head because all of the writing time I had was spent writing about things like insipid pro and con essays on the banning and burning of books as if the fact that Hitler and Stalin both were in favor of the banning and burning of books did not explain things with sufficient clarity.
Then later on, I searched through the books of Vonnegut and Tolkien, the humor of Lenny Bruce, the lyrics of Lennon-McCartney and Dylan, the musical rainbows of Hendrix, and the philosophy of Leary trying to find answers. And once again, I only found snippets. I tried moving locations, crossing Bainum Avenue to the nicer part of the town where there were sidewalks, gutters, and tree lined streets. Closer to heaven, I reasoned.
I searched for what I felt that I was lacking for years, taking long breaks off when the search got tedious and wearisome. Then, a funny thing happened, I got old. Okay, maybe not so funny. When I look at my dusty scrapbook now, I am saddened by the lack of real focus and effort. Elmore James described the feeling best.
My mama told me
These days would surely come
But I wouldn't listen to her
Said I've got to have some fun
It was all my fault
I must have did somebody wrong
I could not help but realize looking backwards, that by not filling that hole inside of me, I had done myself wrong, I had done my family wrong, and I had done my neighbor's wrong.
You know, fuck that. It is WE who have done ourselves wrong, and WE who have done our families wrong, and WE who continue to do our neighbors wrong by pretending that whatever it is that we are lacking will attend to its own cure.
Yeah, I got old and have yet to fully reconcile the idea of Heaven with what I know; there is a greater sense of urgency now as I don't want to enter into eternity with the idea that the entire Olympic pantheon were laughing and drinking wine at my expense.
And this explains my need to now read bigger books- 2 pound books and three pound books- because I was told far too many times over the years that those books and the men and women who wrote them have a lot of answers. I was far too lazy for that. I was always looking for snapped twigs and not seeing that they were often found in the bottom Sasquatch's footprints. It's funny how we use to know some things were a lot more valuable than others things, yet are now so perfectly willing to swap our time, our most precious possession, in exchange for meaningless and often mind numbing diversions.
I ain't going to lie, I also read bigger books because Barnes and Noble had them on sale. I walked out of the Fresno store one time with War and Peace and Moby Dick for only $7.50. At the front of that very same store, they were selling Hillary's book for $30!
And while that's something that speaks volumes about our current culture, and a thing that offers scant hope for our collective future, it does help me understand that one thing I'm not lacking is knowing a bargain when I see one.