Sunday, March 16, 2008
The skies are very much alive these days.
All you have to do is pay cursory attention to the outdoors to see and hear it.
"Honk, honk, hee-onk, hee-onk, honk, honk, hee-onk..."
And they fly overhead.
Geese. Lots of them.
If my environmental clock is right they're heading back home to Canada.
I don't blame them. It's more peaceful up there and their money's worth more than ours.
I've always loved how birds traveling in large groups fly in "V" formation. It's so civil and intelligent. One bird helping the next, helping the next, helping each other stay together, stay healthy, safe, and strong.
Nature's inventions are all around us constantly. If one took the time to look around at our world, it would appear as if the Discovery channel was making a special year round documentary. "TV imitates science" with your host Freddy Freedom. Now with limited commercial interruptions.
In fact, I just found out that not only does flying in the "V" formation double the birds efficiency, but when one of them gets tired, it allows for them to fall back to the end of the skein to pantingly cheer on his brethren while spreading flight fatigue equally among the flock members. The recently demoted captain may not be able to take the helm and lead the group forward, but it has another equally important job just like the rest of them: morale booster.
It's why they honk.
I mean, it's such a practical solution; so smart, so ingenious, and so simple that it's hard to believe it's merely instinctual. If it was a technique we as humans could possess we would never just leave it as is. No, if it were us, it would be researched, fended out to focus groups, touted in instructional DVD's and hyped in ads in every magazine so we could make millions on accessories.
But our brains are too big and sometimes we believe that the simplest of solutions are the result of hours of hard work which we would never do on our own. It's so logical that it baffles us to no end.
Right over our heads as it were.
I remember making my first funnel.
I had just started college at Southeastern Mass. University in North Dartmouth. It was 1989 and I was still underage. But I was going to school and although the school was hardly party central, it did have its share of bashes at the dorms.
And to attend one of these bashes in the accepted manner entailed having your own funnel. I have heard them called "beer bongs" in other parts of the country, but where I'm from we just called them funnels.
I mean, it has the word "fun" right in it. It's perfect.
Making a funnel was almost as simple as it sounds. You need a funnel and you need about two feet of PVC tubing.
Oh, and you need beer. Lots of beer.
You connect the two parts tightly together, pour a beer in the funnel making sure to keep the tube balanced so the beer stays within its clear confines, put the open end in your mouth, quickly raise it above your head and open your throat. A few glugs and gag reflexes later and amazingly you've just downed 12 ounces of Old Milwaukee in a matter of about 4 seconds.
I can remember it as if it was yesterday, shopping at the hardware section of Ann and Hope department store near the North Dartmouth Mall, walking around and picking up one of the many sized funnels which were available for sale, holding it in my hand, hefting it for no real reason and picturing the beer swirling around waiting to become one with my insides. I even held it over my head for visual measurements.
And then you pick your color, red or blue. It's such a hard question but I believe I went with red.
Then the really hard part; getting the right size tubing. Now, I knew it wasn't illegal to have this device but I still felt strange when the smocked stocker came by and asked me if I needed help.
"No thanks. I think I have what I need."
And then I spent the better part of an hour whittling the tube down so it would fit properly.
I sort of remember the parties I went to back then. I mean, I remember them better than some of the ones I hosted when I lived at the famous Market St. house back in the 90’s. Those were the days I was busy perfecting the underrated look of Goodwill formal wear paired with bleached orange dreadlocks.
I remember playing along with some random 20 year old drunk kid who was convinced that I was Adam Duritz from the Counting Crows. Who was I to tell him differently? He was just a drunk college kid and he was way psyched.
"Wow, I had no idea you lived right here in Northampton." He said.
"Yeah, it's pretty low key. I like slumming when I'm not on the road staying at the Four Seasons," I explained, "That rock and roll lifestyle gets old really fast."
"Wow! I bet. I can't fucking believe this," He said, "I love you guys. I've seen you at least 10 times. Hey, I gotta get my girlfriend and introduce her to you. She's never gonna believe this."
And, of course, she didn't.
"Can you please tell my boyfriend you're not really that guy from the Counting Crows?" She pleaded. "He's all freaked out and he won't stop talking about it."
I took a glance into the living room/casino and saw him yelling in someone's ear, gesturing wildly, and making the universal "dreadlocks" sign by pulling your fists down the sides of your head as if you were pulling a rope over it.
"Um...no," I said, "If he's happy believing that Grammy nominee Adam Duritz is living in a decrepit party house hosting his own kegger with Michelob in plastic red cups and a Yorx stereo system, then what's to say he's going to believe me if I try to tell him who I really am. Deal with it. I made his freakin' day. You should thank me."
And, of course, she didn't.
Hmmm...maybe I remember those days a bit better than I thought.
The great thing about the old college parties that changed a bit as I got older was the camaraderie of excess; the group mentality; the challenge to stay conscious and stay moving, drinking more and more, faster and faster, until you were basically letting gravity and instinct decide your next body motion. And if you had to stop and rest for fear of vomiting the precious foamy gold, you could drop back to the end of the line of madmen and women. You could take a rest and try and suppress the gag reflexes that were strangely becoming easier and easier to control. You could lean on a novelty footstool that was in the shape of a giant foot and you could hold your head and rub your eyes. You weren't going home. You knew that much. And this dorm room was definitely off limits. You had to make it back to your buddies place. But right now, there was a bunch of people doing funnels in the corner and you've got to show your support. You've got to root on your peers.
"Chug, chug, chug, chug, chug."
"Wake up man. This isn't your room."
"Hey. I said wake the fuck up and get out of here. I need this bedroom. And you just puked in the corner. Nice going asshole."
I woke up that morning in the student lot between two parked cars, neither of them mine and neither one of them occupied thank god. I rolled over on what felt like a curved broomstick. It had a red plastic top on it. And as I brushed the gravel off my face and checked for blood I felt the sharp pain crash around in my head like an electrical storm. I rolled up my funnel and stuffed the tube end under my shirt.
I had spent the better part of an hour whittling that tube down so it would fit properly. I was going to definitely need it next weekend.
My best friend and bandmate Steve and I have a new tradition.
When we were in France in December, I was on a quest for Foie Gras. I had seen a special on French television and knew it was a delicacy. Some call it animal cruelty the way they force feed the geese to fatten their liver. The indispensable organ becomes massive from the grain which is crammed down their throat via mechanical feed tubes. It is cooked, seasoned, and served in a square the size of a slice of bread with a small pile of coarse ground salt, a bit of chopped gelatin, some hot whole grain toast and spicy mustard.
It was good but not great. In the middle of the meal I said to Steve:
"Hey Steve, how about we call this your birthday meal" (as he had ordered it as well and his birthday was less than a month away).
He looked at me and I could see his eyes vibrating trying to think of a way to say no that was polite.
He said, "OK, but when it's your birthday, I'm going to take you out to a place I want to go to. And you're going to have to order something that I've been dying to try...OK?"
And of course I said OK, because it is a fantastic and unique tradition. And tradition is what keeps the living world from extinction. It gives us something to look forward to. It gives us a destination.
There go those geese again. Man, they sure do make a lot of noise when they get together.
Thanks for reading.
Happy St. Patrick's Day.
Posted by F. Alex Johnson at 3/16/2008 09:40:00 PM