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11.

Sometimes you feel like going for a run.

It doesn’t happen often, but it happened today, because today was an interesting day.

You put on the yoga pants and the sport bra you bought last year when you signed up for that gym membership that you canceled after four months and you put on the only pair of sneakers you own and you load some Amanda Palmer onto your iPhone and you walk out the door.

Run for one song, walk for one song.  You decide to let shuffle do the decision-making, because you’re out of breath and now is not the time to stare at your music library on a hand-held screen.

Run for “Supergeil.”  Walk for “Peaches en Regalia.”  Walk for “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.”  Run for “Streets of Sorrow / Birmingham Six.”

It’s dark.  You’re sweating.  Your lungs feel small.  It’s time to walk home.  Your iPhone decides you need to hear “Indian Summer.”  You get really happy.  You love “Indian Summer.”  You loved it the first time you heard it and you love it tonight.  You loved it that one night you listened to it on that mix tape you made and you imagine yourself dancing to it at your wedding with a faceless person you haven’t met and you wonder if that’s lame.

You look up at the moon.  Jim tells you he loves you the best, better than all the rest that he’ll meet in the summer.

Summer.

You think about why today was interesting and you get a little annoyed.  You wonder why you’re even annoyed at all because you should be above it all because you’ve been through it all and you’ve been through a lot.

You contemplate the Human Condition and wonder what it even specifically means.  Does it refer to the way we’re all gonna die and we know it?  Or is that Existentialism?  And are you allowed to pay attention to coincidences when you’re an Existentialist?  Or do Existentialists not believe in coincidences?  Or do they think coincidences are just coincidences and not anything to pay any attention to?

You wonder why you don’t tell more people to fuck off.  You wonder why your first instinct is to get to know why a total asshole is a total asshole so that maybe, one day, you and that total asshole can be friends.  But why would you wanna be friends with a total asshole?  But aren’t we supposed to make friends while we’re here?  And is there something innate in all of us that makes us want to hang out with each other and not kill each other?

Is that what God is?  Is God the voice in your head that stops you from punching someone in the face?  Is God the voice in your head that tells you to apologize?  Is God the voice in your head that stops you from telling more people to fuck off?

Yes.  You’re contemplating the existence of the divine.  Not Divine: the divine.  You’re wondering why more people don’t talk about how God may be a force of energy as opposed to a man who keeps tabs on everyone.  You wonder why paying attention to things — things like coincidences — is considered silly and spooky, and yet condemning groups of people for the way they live in the name of God is allowed in the year 2014.

“Indian Summer” ends.  You’re alone with the passing cars and the sound of your own footsteps.  You look at the sign for the LA River and think of an episode of Six Feet Under, immediately followed by a scene from Inside Llewyn Davis.

Suddenly, loudly and beautifully and perfectly, “In the Aeroplane over the Sea” fills your ears and your brain and — perhaps? — your soul.

You love this song.  You really, really love this song.  You think about the people you love, and how some of them also love this song, and you think about how maybe you really should start paying more attention to what music other people like, because if they don’t like music that you like, that’s kind of actually a big deal.  Or maybe they don’t need to like all the music you like, but they do need to like music, because if they don’t like music then what the hell are they doing?

You turn on to the crowded boulevard and you look at the neon signs and you feel almost like you live in a cool city, and there’s that bar you like and there’s that sushi place you like and you still have to go into that weird little shop and check out their Tibetan prayer flags.  For Tibet.

Looking at your neighborhood reminds you that it’s the 11th.  It’s March 11th.  You moved into your apartment exactly one year ago.

One year ago.

You remember what was happening one year ago.  You remember how afraid you were one year ago and how much more broke you were one year ago and dear God — thank God it’s no longer one year ago.

You pass the stupid lingerie store you’ve never been inside of and Mick and Keith take over and sing to you about “Wild Horses” and remind you you’ll ride them.  Someday.

You wonder if you should write when you get home.  You wonder who even reads your writing.  You wonder if people read your writing and never tell you they read your writing.  You wonder if people read your writing and tell you they love it but really they don’t.  You wonder if people purposely avoid reading your writing because they don’t actually care about you when you’re not around.  You wonder if you’ll ever write some more.  Some more meaningful stuff.  Stuff that more people see.

Here’s your street.  You hang a right.  Your feet hurt because your sneakers really weren’t designed to be used for running on concrete and your shirt is plastered to your back but yeah, man, going for a run was a good idea.

You think, Wasn’t it weird how your iTunes shuffle came up with such a perfect little set of songs?  It was great, wasn’t it?  You almost want to keep walking just to see what comes on next…

Warren Zevon comes on next.

Everybody’s restless and they’ve got no place to go
Someone’s always trying to tell them
Something they already know
So their anger and resentment flow

But don’t it make you want to rock and roll
All night long
Mohammed’s Radio
I heard somebody singing sweet and soulful
On the radio, Mohammed’s Radio

You stop.  You laugh.  You can hardly believe your iPhone chose to play you a song that implies a divine figure is spinning rock and roll for the restless.  On the 11th.

You open the gate, walk up the stairs, unlock the door to your apartment and step inside.  You hang up your key and walk straight to your bedroom, where you plop down on the floor, set your laptop on your bed, and open up your blog that some people sometimes read.

And now you’re finished.  And you’re hungry.  And you’re excited to take a shower and put on your pajamas and watch another episode of Twin Peaks.  You’re also a little freaked out and excited by how Twin Peaks is all about mysteries and synchronies and coincidences, and you think about Agent Dale Cooper and how he’s nice to everyone and never gets mad or annoyed or nasty

So.  What have you learned today?

And what do you think will happen tomorrow?

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Neutral Milk Tradition.

On Thanksgiving, when I was 17, my big brother changed my life when he handed me a brand new copy of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel.  At the time, I only listened to bands who had reached the height of their popularity in the late 1960’s or early [to mid -] 1970’s.  My favorite movie was The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus.  I still felt buzzed from the David Bowie concert I had seen months earlier.  I had written my 11th grade research paper on the cultural influence of Punk Rock, for which I received — and didn’t care that I received! — a good ol’ mediocre 75%.  Why, dear God, did my brother hand me a copy of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea?  All he said was, “I think you’ll like it.”

I’m positive the only reason I listened to the album was because my big brother told me to.  We weren’t little kids anymore, but that didn’t matter; handing me that album incited the same sense of urgency and fear I felt when I was seven-years-old and he handed me a copy of Soundgarden’s Superunknown.  I was given a task, and if I followed through that would mean I was Cool.  I took my copy of Raw Power out of my CD player, and replaced it with the CD my brother had just given me.  What I heard was all at once everything I loved about my classic stuff, as well as unlike anything I’d ever heard before.  It was dark in a Jim Morrison way, but not at all Bohemian.  Could Bob Dylan have written this?  Leonard Cohen?  Patti Smith?  Maybe, yeah, in another world…but that’s not how things panned out, was it?

Somehow, the rest of my family got turned on to that album.  Perhaps it was because my big brother also gave a copy to my little brother — or was it me who did that? — and then it was eventually played for my parents.  Regardless of the real explanation, it eventually got to the point where all five of us were singing, “What a beautiful face I have found in this place…”.

(My family’s love for this song gives my love for this cover a bit of extra umph).

A few weeks later, when my big brother was home for Christmas, he handed me a copy of On Avery Island.  Similar to the Aeroplane phenomenon, the remaining family members fell in love.  I distinctly remember listening to “3 Peaches” as a family on our way back home from a car trip somewhere.  Was it Vegas?  How…appropriate?

As I became a bigger fan, I learned that the band was formed in the 1990’s and that the lead singer’s name was Jeff Mangum.  When I learned about the band’s indefinite hiatus, I really, truly felt sad.  Bowie Buzz be damned, I wanted to hear “Oh Comely” live!

My prayers were answered, in a way, a year later.  I was a freshman in college, and my mom came to Santa Cruz to drive me home for Thanksgiving.  To keep us entertained during the six-hour-long trip, she brought a copy of Live at Jittery Joe’s.  She was especially excited for me to hear, “I Love How You Love Me” because it was “nothing like the original version!”  She also loved how the crying baby in the background punctuated Mangum’s performance.  “Isn’t it just so good and weird?” she said.

As a result of all this, Thanksgiving makes me think of Neutral Milk Hotel.  When Halloween is over and it finally starts to get a little bit cold (here in Southern California, that is) and people start thinking about ordering turkeys and learning how the Hell to make cranberry sauce, all I can think about is trumpets and Anne Frank.  Every morning, afternoon and night, regardless of where I am, I am either listening to, or thinking about In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.

***

On Thursday night, after all of our esteemed guests had left the building, the five of us sat down in the family room to decompress and digest.  I was on the couch between my dad and my big brother.  My Big Brother.  My Big Brother who wanted me to stop listening to my Ren & Stimpy CD and start listening to grunge.  My Big Brother who changed my life when he handed me a brand new copy of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

I turned to him and said, “Thanksgiving makes me think of Neutral Milk Hotel.”  “Oh yeah?” he said.  I then told him that he had given me that album on Thanksgiving years before, and what an impression that album had made on me.  He said, “I loved that band so much in college and I was so upset that I would never be able to see them live.  I once had a dream I did.  It was very…emotional.” As someone who knows all about emotional concerts and emotional dreams, I felt very close to My Big Brother in that moment.  “Brother see, we are one in the same…”.

My dad and I mentioned that Jeff Mangum played at Occupy Wall Street.  “No way!” My Big Brother said.  “He did a show?”  He wanted to know when, where, and how we knew.  We explained that we had seen a segment on Democracy Now! where Amy Goodman talked about Occupy, and that during the segment she showed a few seconds of Jeff Mangum singing “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” for a crowd of people.  This really blew My Big Brother’s mind.  He didn’t seem to believe what we were telling him.  “I’m sure it’s on YouTube,” I said.

My Big Brother found a forty minute and fifty-nine-second long video of Jeff Mangum’s Occupy Wall Street set, and, as a family, we listened to all of it.  We sang along to every song: “Holland 1945,” “Song Against Sex,” “Two Headed Boy Part 2,” “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” “King of Carrot Flowers Part 1,” and “Oh Comely.”  During “Two Headed Boy Part 2,” when all of us took a break from singing to just listen, my younger brother — who is awesome — couldn’t help but repeat after Jeff Mangum when he sang, “God is a place where some holy spectacle lies.”  “Wow,” my little brother said.  “God is a PLACE.”  At the risk of sounding like a sentimental nut, I have to agree; and maybe, just maybe, it’s a place I’ve been to.  All I know is that I spent the night of Thanksgiving sitting on my couch singing about “how strange it is to be anything at all” with the two people who brought me into this world and the two people who I will always be inextricably linked to.  Does it get much better?  You tell me.

It is now the evening of Sunday, November 27th.  Thanksgiving of 2011 has come and gone.  While I’ve had a great time eating mashed potatoes and pie and stuffing for the last three days (curse you, delicious leftovers!), I’m looking forward to tomorrow, when I plan on ingesting some green vegetables and going to the gym.  The food binge may have reached its end, but the feeling of thankfulness will continue.  For as long as I have my Neutral Milk Hotel CDs, what ISN’T there to be thankful for?

Thanks mom and dad, for the obvious.  Thanks, little brother, for the awesomeness.  Thanks, Big Brother for more than you know…

And thanks, YouTube, for the sweet covers.

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