Best Worst Year: Episode 20 (Or, April in Paris, PA)

Waking up in the Electric City–with its crooked halo and gambler’s luck–seems to suit me. I am cotton mouthed, but for once, undertired. For Scranton, this week feels like a season under the midnight sun–possibly because I can’t recall in my eighteen years that I lived in NEPA the sun actually being out this many days in a row. It might also have to do with knowing summer itself is not too far away. Don’t worry; this is not going to be a ache-filled, Don Henley-faked, clarion call to the Boys of Summer (Donald failed to mention that the Dead Head-bedecked Cadillac was his, fyi. Seriously, can you trust a man who has sported both a ‘fro and a ponytail? At least Steven Seagal had the decency to stick to one on his way from Navy Seal to beached whale.)

A year ago, I don’t think I could have seen the sun if it was shining like God’s flashlight in my face after a night of questionable living. Don’t get me wrong, the living is still questionable and the light is fierce and unforgiving (not unlike my mom’s opinion on my litany of ex-girlfriends); however, in the months leading up to my best worst year, there were already crows and scavengers circling my days. It was like living in quicksand, although I had stopped struggling and thrashing about. I was just in a slow and controlled sink, ready to go under. The job was already all over but the calendar said otherwise–so I worked half days or went in late or didn’t go in at all in order to pack up my half a home without interruption.

I remember about a week into the serious packing cutting my hand. Iit looked like a little lightning bolt across my palm. The zig zag was deep. There was a beat between the cut and when it began to bleed, as if to warn me just how much it was going to hurt.

In a way, that caesura before the pain should have resonated deeper, but it didn’t. I guess if it did, then I wouldn’t have as much to say now, right? I was in my cousin’s basement last week, digging through box after box of LP’s, looking for my copy of Otis Blue. It took me almost an hour and half to find it. It was almost three in the morning and after I found it, I surveyed the carnage which was the basement. When I started to disassemble my prior life, I had almost the same feeling. Sitting on the floor, looking at this life spread across boxes in various states of completion–records, books, films piled without any sense of order. Then, as it did right then and there in my cousin’s basement at that very moment, it all felt so pointless. I had spent part of my night–when most reasonable people are asleep, digging for an album I could as easily pulled up on my Spotify and listen to without all the hassle. Worse still was once I found the record, I had no desire to hear it. My stomach soured, I felt the hour in my breath. I was restless. I repacked my vinyl into boxes without much accounting for order or reason. I sat on my old desk chair in the basement in silence.

This morning in Scranton, the sun is making a cross-cut angles on the bench seat in this kitchen. The sky is cloudless and the blue reminds me of my first car–a 1987 powder blue Plymouth Voyager. I drove that minivan with Motorhead stuck in the tapedeck until the wheels (actually the passenger door) fell off it. When I traded that beast in, I pretty sure it just collapsed into a heap a-la Jake and Elwood’s bluesmobile upon parking on The Honorable Richard J. Daley Plaza. That minivan saw me through several moves as well as serving as a mobile drunk tank. I don’t know what I miss more, the Voyager or my copy of Thin Lizzy Jailbreak which was stuck in the tapedeck at time of trade-in. This morning, the Electric City belongs to the analog set–my friends waking up from last night’s revelries and revelations–from yesterday’s great conversations and pointless pop culture prattle–from taking jukeboxes hostage to pizza with sweet sauce and thick crusts. Scranton is tube amp warm and spinning at 33 ⅓ even if I’m typing on a Macbook. It’s why I love this town and regardless of where I end up, it will always be home.

The t-bolt cut in my palm took forever to heal. It felt like a nagging paper cut. I’d open it up repeatedly as I was packing in Nanticoke. That house was so quiet in those last few weeks. Even when everyone was at home I felt like I was listening to music through gauze-packed ears. Muted. The world around me was muted. Colors were all reduced to ashen smudges. The shower water was tepid. Whiskey went down without the burn or warmth–spilled out of a part of me someone more poetic would probably call the hole in my heart. When I did go to work, it was to pack up my office. The ever vigilant framed Thelonious Monk poster was the first thing to come down. I bought the poster when I was a freshmen–it’s a reproduction of his Blue Note album Genius of Modern Music cover. Mustard yellow, classic font, Monk’s fierce stare–it’s everything I love about great music. The lower left hand corner is torn. You can’t really see it now since it’s framed. In my savage college years,before refined touches like framed art, I had duct taped Monk to my dorm wall. When I was getting ready to go home for my senior summer, I had torn the poster’s corner without much thought. In the constant construction/deconstruction of my life, I am still carelessly careful, I guess. It’s not like I won’t be hanging Monk up first thing in my next apartment, frame, missing corner, and all.

Jim Warner is the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared in The North American Review, PANK Magazine, Word Riot, and other journals. Jim received his MFA at Wilkes University. Pound for pound, he is the best half-Filipino poet who to adopted by Scranton, PA. Follow him on Twitter: @whoismisterjim.

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