Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Simeon Stylites looks at 30

Simeon Stylites' pathology was vocational.

But it hadn't always been this way. Growing up, Simeon never worried about growing up. In fact, Simeon was convinced he never would grow up -- his certainty of this ushered in by an early vision that he'd die -- really die, irrevocably -- at 29. He wasn't clear on how it would happen, but was fully convinced it would not be in a high-speed motorcycle crash on California's coastal Highway 1, or being eaten alive by the sharks that waited in the craggy waters below.

These sorts of visions, after all, would just have been flights of fancy -- the drama too heightened to be real life. If these had been Simeon's visions, they would have been proof enough that his imagination had simply gotten the best of him; they would have cast a suspicious pall, in fact, over his death-at-29 prognostication altogether. In contrast, that Simeon's own death-visions were always blurred, vague, but invariably mundane for all that -- a car accident, perhaps, or a surprisingly early case of testicular cancer -- reinforced, at least to him, that he was in fact going to die within the decade.

And so, Simeon Stylites never did bother making plans for what he'd "do" someday. Why come up with some grand orchestration for a life that would end so soon, so tragically? Simeon reasoned instead that time would be better spent smoking marijuana, writing music on crumpled napkins, watching un-slept sunrises. As far as that went, his early 20s seemed so far to prove him right.

But by his late 20s, the whole game had changed. The visions of a premature death had almost entirely been replaced by a prophecy more daunting still: a 30-, 40-, even 50-year wilderness opened up ahead of him, just past the guard rail that had always kept him safely on the younger side of 29.

"Crap," said Simeon Stylites. And at that, he started walking into the expanse, beginning his frenetic search for vocation.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Noah Prayer

Ike passed over our house last night, living and oblivious, Texas-sized. Its 800-mile slug trail, once a daunting wall of water at the coast, had since tapered down to ankle deep.

Around midnight, I took off my shoes and stepped out into our backyard, a modern Noah-figure with the sweet calm of deflected responsibility. God never told me to build no ark; if he did I wasn't listening.

I'd gone outside with lesser objectives -- namely, to investigate one particular drip, pounding just outside our back porch door. Most drips are quaint; the recognize their place as one among billions. This one was clearly malevolent.

Sure enough, where the porch overhang meets the compound asbestos, a steady trickle of water was weaseling through; already the wood over our doorway is rotting. I should've taken a picture of the giant wolf spider, holding its ground on the pucker-painted rot, or the spider-shadow my flashlight made on the door.

After wading around to check out all the more suspect gutters (they were holding up well, I'm thankful to say), I almost stepped on a garter snake who, I assume, had gotten the memo on the Ash Street Ark. Racing by my feet, he zipped up onto our porch, not caring anymore that I was a giant.

Suddenly I could feel the suffocation. Suddenly I realized what Ike had really left behind: an 800-mile trail of desperately drowning ground-dwellers: snakes and worms and groundhogs, bat-blind moles, all of whom were trying to keep their heads above water while Jen and I watched Saturday Night Live lay deliciously into Sarah Palin's snarkiness.

But again, I ain't no Noah, and I ain't no angel host. Looking back now, I wish I'd done differently. I picked up the snake and brought him inside, but more to freak Jen out than to offer asylum to a legless refugee. After getting the desired response from Jen, I dutifully brought the snake back outside. Then, istead of leaving him on the porch like I should have, I tossed him back out into the ankle-deep rain, where he curled up for a moment and then shot off toward other arks.

God forgave Noah. God forgive me.