bart plantenga

The Long March

The meditation of the trail: Walk along, looking at the trail at your feet and don’t look about and just fall into a trance as the ground zips by.
                • Jack Kerouac

Don’t fall asleep on the Metro-North Train out of Grand Central late at night or you’ll end up somewhere you never in a million years thought you’d end up. If you’d been on that particular train, you would have heard me repeating the old late-night mantra STAY AWAKE DON’T FALL ASLEEP ... over&over and despite – or precisely BECAUSE of! – this mantra, and despite imploring myself to stand up, fumble through my wallet, retie my shoe, make a list ... I indeed conked out, clueless to the world, only startled awake when a valise thudded against my seat, just as the signs Ardsley-on-Hudson flashed by.

I managed to gather my remaining wits, leaped up to lunge through the closing doors and onto the platform at ... uh... Tarrytown! Overshooting my destination, Dobbs Ferry, by about 5 miles to the south. There’s a particular state – it probably has a name – when you’re standing there helplessly staring at a schedule that indicates very clearly that you have missed the last train. But you keep looking anyway. Meanwhile, the few scurrying passengers are careful not to make eye contact lest you ask one of them for a lift.

I’m only somewhat consoled by research that shows several million people yearly miss the last train home, leaving them stranded in almost EVERY major city of the world. Idiocy, indeed like misery, loves company.

I’d gone to Manhattan to see a friend’s progressive-indie-bluegrass band. He plays bass and I drank whatever liquid bribes he shoved in front of me.

Coming out of that gig you would have to agree: the horror is evident as soon as you step outside into the post-sell-by-date East Village. Here we are instantly confronted by that most current of sidewalk dances: the shuffle-app-selfie-click-ice-cream-lick-dance. Those who believe that an app can guarantee the triumph of certainty over a sense of adventure that comes from riding out serendipity are constantly googling Top Ten Ice Cream Shacks Below 14th Street. So, yes, I only venture down to my old “home” turf if: 1. I want to be saddened by the ruthless disappearance of historical sites by uninformed indifference, the ruthless tactics of landlords, and the sacred laws of unbridled capital; 2. my critical capacities dip below zero; and 3. when a friend lures you to hear him perform with the promise of unlimited drinks in the ghostly space once inhabited by the renowned Brownie’s ...

As I am about to tell you the rest of this tale, I again hear my partner’s voice of reason whispering sternly into my ear: Do not advertise your stupidity or drunkenness – not charming and not a career maker. Not heard in her actual voice but the one my mind has filed on a mental mp3 under Disapproval/Admonish/Raised Eyebrows.

But I’m hardwired to tell stories like this because humility forges a crooked and poorly marked trail to Nirvana, or some place like that. Whenever I encounter an error of judgement nourished by alcohol – or hubris – it usually incites impetuous, flaky reactions on my part. I had already missed the last train back, and so I decided: it’s summer, I’ll walk home.

By walking I mean for over 2 hours to atone and contemplate the relation between circumstance and idiocy. I see it like winding a tangle of yarn into a ball again. A metaphor, you rightly notice, for my foibles unraveling my best interests. It was 85° plus 120% humidity – if that’s even possible. Whatever the numbers, it was like walking the doggy paddle through a swimming pool of air on the grounds of a failed banana republic resort.

My long march commenced with an I’m-not-the-long-distance-runner-I-once-was stress test, a steep, 25-minute climb from the Hudson Riverfront station up to Broadway, aka US Route 9 where strings of engine-gunning, weaving revelers return home in their pimped SUVs with their GPS, their A/C, their panoramic views, and soundtracks ennobling even their most trivial of gestures.

My pace synced in quickly with my heartbeat – and the passing cars – which created a unique syncopation that hurled me back to my hitchhiking days and that forlorn feeling when the sun is sinking and you still haven’t hooked that last magical ride that will taxi you through the night. I remember my thumb failing to lure a lift and having to resort to walking along many highways. But at least I had the feeling I was moving in the right direction. Ohio, Iowa, Upstate New York, Colorado, Utah ... Walking through towns, past warm picture windows with smiles floating around in them, passing luncheonettes, wanting so much to say hello to those scurrying to their cars in the lot. I sang Patsy Cline at the top of my lungs under an Ohio viaduct, sheltered from the January snow:

I go out walkin' after midnight
Out in the moonlight ...

I walk for miles along the highway
Well, that's just my way of sayin' I love you...

Back then, swaddled in the viaduct’s echo, I’d blow my harmonica so hard I thought I knew the blues. Tonight I turn to humming as I pick up my pace, clearly defying many laws of nature involving age, wisdom, inebriation, existentialism, loss of muscular elasticity, amnesia and never mind exhaustion as I now pass one thousand dark trees shaking their dark leaves. I squint in the sketchy darkness as the toes of my shoes come into view like the darting beaks of birds defining the contours of my universe at this moment.

I surprise myself, singing Frankie Smith’s “Double Dutch Bus” over&over:

                Now I’ve missed my train / That’s a darn shame

Halfway home my mind, body, heart, footsteps and the periodic calls of birds – thrushes? swallows? hidden deep in among the darkest branches – have joined my unearthly hum in an expansive chorus that may hypnotize one into a state of perseverance and reverie, where we discover a latent tenacity, allowing us to proceed onward beyond reason, refusing to lie down in the warm, inviting hollow of a pothole every quarter mile.

No stopping, no pity ... and suddenly I hear myself chanting, singing VERY LOUDLY: THE BUZZIN’S GOTTA COME OUT over&over& over&over& over&over, riffing on THE BUZZARD’S GOTTA COME OUT for half an hour, until I realize I’m not actually fronting some 1990s Manchester band but walking down Cedar Street in downtown Dobbs Ferry. Delirium or transcendence? Do I have to choose?

A drunk glares from the curb opposite; maybe he thinks I’m mocking him or following him, although I’m walking beside him in sync, isolated from one another by the street! He doesn’t nod and I don’t either.

The chanting has probably kept my legs moving, my mind fixed, a triumph of self-hypnosis over seemingly unsurmountable circumstances + distance. I marvel for a minute and am distracted by the fact that when I try to greet the drunk, no words, no mother tongue, no language emerges. Plus he is long gone.

When I get home I see what the drunk may have seen: a Sing Sing escapee, an illegal, a mute outlier with eyes pried open gazing into another realm. My pants, shirt, underwear, socks are fall-in-a-river wet and at 2 AM I weigh them on an old scale: a full, moist 4 pounds – double their weight when dry.

I woke up the next morning a new man – lighter, with less bullshit and ballast and yet, in no time, I witnessed myself failing to act upon this gifted instant of illumination. Instead, I busy myself by trying to decipher my nocturnal chant: Was the “buzzin” a fusion of ear/head buzz + the passing cars + cicadas and birds + breeze through trees? Alfred Tomatis examined Gregorian and Tibetan chanting and discovered that they abound in harmonics or the sounds within all sounds. It is said that chanting vowel sounds – e.g., the “O” – will enthusiastically bound (Latin for deep, hollow sound) you out of any black hole that may have been designed to impound your soul.

And what was it that I was singing?: The buzzin’s gotta come out / The buzzword’s gonna come out / Her bosom’s gotta come out / The gizzard’s gotta come out / The bustle’s in the commode / The ice cream’s a la mode / He mus’ be lookin’ like Moe / The Muslims of Kokomo / The mind’s lost a chromosome ...

[The 1-min. film documents my sensory derangement as a result of exhaustion + inebriation + lost in darkness + repetition. The resulting video “The Long March” can be viewed here.]

The Useful Useless Visual Poetic Upheaval: 3 Examples

Addressing the vague sensual pleasure of lettrocity or the atrocity of words parsed subatomically as an antidote to texts bearing too much meaning whereby narratives prance around the garden of the arts with the pompous esteem accorded those engaged in mucky meaning-making.

▲ 6 hose six

Two Amsterdam house numbers and an emergency sign salute the omphalos, the ancient would-be center of the world, that wombful, hypnotic swirl, that delirious oracular spiral, which hurls us into/outward/toward hidden desires.


The Barcodes For Ecstasy & Agony Are Almost the Same ▲

Notice the ingenious likeness between the grimace of pain and the aah-sigh of ecstasy. This may simultaneously both prove and mock the notion of the secret code, the universality of facial expressions.


▲ mARk / bARt / pARis: Friendship Is A Strange Bond

If the heart were made of magnets instead of valves, it would make more sense. Strangers with very different stories, unique experiences & far-gone adventures hover across a plane, worlds apart, neither knowing the other even exists – until that first meeting. The imagination, working like a croupier, busily rearranges the signals, the blinks of illumination. Unexpectedly, the stars realign, disillusionments dissolve, endorphins are released, insights coalesce, to create a mysterious magnetism. & suddenly, in an unexpected turn, you’re on the same page, the same magic carpet.

Mark & I met in Paris, late 1988. He, an upstart-golf-caddie-avant-garde-filmmaker; me a reticent DJ-wordsmith with many publications & a deep suspicion of the reigning narrative – we were outsiders, spectators in the crimped, insular Paris ex-pat scene. Friendship was sealed early. We were standing outside the Beaux Arts, sensing the Re-Fluxus event was to be a landmark evening. A car pulled up & out stepped Yoko Ono; we shook her hand & she may have said: “Will you join me inside?” Yes, yes, indeed, reconstructed memory can facilitate bonding. ...

We saw that we saw eye to eye – enchantment & amazement as two of our cardinal directions. & what did we do in Paris? We plotted, dreamed, speculated, flirted, wandered off the grid, somehow thrived in survival mode on a deadbeat budget, drank, wrote & performed in classic poetry reading situations. We quickly developed our own brand of engagé spoken word that was both surprising to us – & shocking to audiences. I will always love Paris for introducing us. Here we became the friends we remain to this very day. I am very grateful that I chanced upon my three best friends here. We are separated & yet are inseparable.

bart plantenga is the author of novels Beer Mystic, Radio Activity Kills, & Ocean GroOve, short story collection Wiggling Wishbone & novella Spermatagonia: The Isle of Man & wander memoirs: Paris Scratch & NY Sin Phoney in Face Flat Minor. His books YODEL-AY-EE-OOOO: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World and Yodel in HiFi plus the CD Rough Guide to Yodel have created the misunderstanding that he’s one of the world’s foremost yodel experts. He’s also a DJ & has produced Wreck This Mess in NYC, Paris & Amsterdam since forever. He lives in Amsterdam.
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Blogger Seth Howard said...

Enchanting work Bart. I had been meaning to read these for a while & glad I finally got the chance to sit down & give them my full attention. Kudos!

8:19 AM  

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