100. Divine Tragedy


Here we are at the century mark. I never imagined writing so many posts so quickly. Thanks, Jake and Erin for getting me started.  It’s been fun cleaning out the closet of my mind over the past eight months. Some things I have been pleased to come across and others just needed to be purged. Like the Divine Comedy of Dante, there seems to be a Heaven, Purgatory and Hell in my memory closet. I have no guide, however. So I rummage through randomly. Perhaps you’ve already noticed, Bloggians.

Out for a walk this afternoon in the local park I saw three boys taking control of a pile of large gravel chunks, maybe the size of turnips. They could throw rocks all day and never make a dent in the pile. It brought back memories of waiting at the end of King Street in Old Town Alexandria before it was gentrified. While my mother shopped, my three brothers and I and my dad would pass the time skipping rocks across the surface of the Potomac River. I recall huge piles of yellow sulfur stockpiled there. Don’t ask me why. It was a working dock back then not a tourist attraction. The water may have been grossly polluted, but it was still an impressive expanse of water to my small boy mind. It’s funny how a young imagination can sail across still water and into Neverland where it’s always good and the residents stand ready to grant your wishes. I think Michael Jackson knew this.

Things changed after the riots of 1968. Malls mushroomed outside of old familiar shopping zones. Lots of folks fled the previously comfortable urban life, flooding into the suburbs and the suburbs of suburbs. What had been distant outposts became bustling housing developments clogged with government employees and active military folks. The road construction system was always behind the housing construction trends, so traffic became nightmarish as roads were constantly widened and fitted with traffic lights. Here’s a for instance:  the baseball field where we used to practice had once been a private airstrip, Beacon Hill. By the time I was in high school that acreage had been covered with apartments and a housing development.  Open fields I used to roam across were buried under concrete and macadam. Strange how the mental map of childhood was erased and written over. My truth was still true but could no longer be proven. Over and over again in Fairfax County, Virginia that’s how it went down at warp 9 speed… deforest, level, build, occupy, choke, re-invent for the bigger and faster and always better use. If you couldn’t think of anything better, you could always build a mall.

Maybe that is why we boys spent so much time in the unwanted swampy land and flood plains. Those areas were cost prohibitive to develop and were left open until the very end of the building boom. The swamp at the end of Harrison Lane was awesome. The big creek behind Ben-Mae Manor flowed down to flat swampland that spread out for hundreds of acres. It was developed into a county park long after my days. Many days I spent wandering along that wonderful creek down to the flat ground with Chris Young or Richard Cooper. We were looking for turtles, water turtles, frogs and snakes. There were lots of them in the marshy side of Harrison Lane, now called Huntley Meadows Park. I see on Google maps that those wonderful woods have been developed into neighborhoods with lovely sounding street names. I can’t go back in person, not without a time machine. I do remember the scary house on the other side of Harrison Lane that sat above and behind a small swimming pool in heavy woods. We speculated all sorts of awful things that went on there. No one dared go investigate, which goes to show how scary it was. No one would take the dare. On the other side of Harrison Lane was a church that we boldly walked into and drank communion grape juice right from their refrigerator. That’s how scary the manor house was across the lane, scarier than sacrilege. And riding bikes down that hill was a death wish. I think I did it once with a new bike long, long ago. Of course you had to walk your bike back up the wicked half mile grade.

We had little boy-girl parties with record players and a handful of vinyl discs. Rubber Soul, The Magical Mystery Tour, The Monkees, the Stones. Pretty innocent stuff back then, some heated up kissing and a lot of imagination. Someone would hypnotize someone else or a seance would break out or truth or dare. No alcohol or drugs, not even cigarettes, despite the fact that the country was going through sex and drug catharsis and the Vietnam War escalated outside of the suburban basements where kids played Spin the Bottle. Having slathered yourself in English Leather or Jade East or Old Spice was the ticket to studliness and allergic reactions in confined spaces. There was always a candle and a lava lamp at these soirees. It’s a miracle that we never had a fire with all the cologne fumes and open flame.

And we danced a bit. I’m not sure how that worked out since no one knew how to dance. If you did the slow mojo junior high grope, you were officially a couple by midnight, well 9:30 p.m. Those touch fests did not lead to relationships in the cold light of dawn due to such complications as immaturity, stupidity, braces, bad breath, inability to behave or speak coherently, and various other afflictions. Sometimes the girl you liked broke out in zits and looked completely different than she had on the two day honeymoon. Such eruptions were like the local woods being transformed overnight into a housing community.  Come morning  it/they/she were unrecognizable. The resulting detachment was similar to gravity being temporarily turned off. An undesirable floating followed this power loss as The Queen of one dream became a zombie in a snap. Ahh, youth truly is wasted on the young as the young are wasted by the new. Remember this: there is a treasure buried beneath all the overkill construction, and the fashionable  make up, and the constant groping of the now.

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