Sunday, August 23, 2015

Day Two Thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety Six . . . Carry-on.

It's so hard for me to travel light.

I know this is something that's more than just a superficial inclination; it's a part of me.

I realize that I've inherited more than a few traits from my ancestors. Like my mother's uncanny ability to not only pack on the pounds no matter what the season but keep them on, too.  I'd call it a skill but that would be bragging.

Maybe I have some residual memory of traveling with her in the 1970s and 80s when it seems like paying for extra baggage was merely a dystopian view of the far-away future. My mom, it seems, wasn't one to travel light either. Over the past few years I had to dispose of many a set of brighly colored, Samsonite luggage--three and four pieces each--that I'm sure accompanied her on many of her journeys. And on each of her bag's luggage tags her name was written in her near-perfect script, "Judith Ann Johnson" along with our Fall River, MA address and "USA" in gigantic letters, underlined in red squiggles from her trusty red teacher's marker.

The tags were attached to their corresponding bags with the utmost care. Buckles were cinched closed and straps were fortified with string. Brightly colored puffy fur balls were added next to set hers apart from the rest rolling down the luggage belt. My mom didn't enjoy flying, but if she had to do it she was going to make damn sure her belongings didn't find an easy escape.

Flash forward to present day.

I have five or six different sizes and styles of luggage--one piece each. I have a large one for extended trips and they get smaller and smaller ultimately ending with a tiny piece of Japanese luggage that I've often dared myself to use. It's that small.

A couple of week ago I went on a four day tour playing guitar with the Young at Heart Chorus. It being a summer trip, and after checking the weather report, I decided I could really just bring the basics--jeans, tee shirts, a pair of boots, socks, a bathing suit and a long sleeved shirt. I packed it all up in my tiny Japanese suitcase and brought it downstairs. I went searching through my travel supplies box for a luggage tag and came across one I had picked up in New Zealand. It was bright blue with a bird on one side and the obligatory clear information page on the other. The tag seemed pretty secure and strong, but the strap that attached it to the suitcase was made out of rubber. And not only that it had a strange way of closing that just didn't seem very well thought out. But I was in a hurry so I just slapped it together and closed the buckle and brought it out to the car.

I remember thinking, "That's not gonna stay on for long." But it was a carry-on so I wasn't that worried.

We had a great tour and played a very cool theater in Grand Rapids, Michigan and made a bunch of new fans.

When we landed in Hartford I had it pretty easy because for the first time in my life, it seems, I didn't have any checked baggage. All I had was my little Japanese suitcase.

A couple of days after we returned I got an email from the chorus's administrator, Mark. He said, "Freddy, somehow your luggage tag ended up in our office. You can come by and pick it up whenever you'd like."


Somehow the means of identification I used for my belongings had broken off and become its own entity.

Somebody in the group must have picked it up off of the ground, or the van, or the bus or wherever it had fallen and said, "Oh, this is Freddy's, he's going to be looking for it," and put it somewhere safe.

And this started me thinking how strange that I took the time and care to fill out the information on the tag--making sure my horrible penmanship was as legible as could be--but I just threw it together with the bag, using a strap I was almost certain was going to come undone. And how the idea of finding the I.D. tag on its own and returning it to its rightful owner is pretty ludicrous.

I think this speaks to a deeper level of living.

I think it conveys to me that sometimes that which I consider my identity can travel far from my actual life. And how not only is this something that could happen but something that should happen from time to time. It is so hard for me to admit it but I often get so hung up becoming the person who I want to be and forget that my name and address are really just words on a piece of paper.

Frederick Alexander Johnson

I'm living my third life right now.

My first life was the years up to when I started drinking when I was 15 or 16; my second life was from then until I got sober at 37; and from then until now I have been making a new person. This person is very different from those other two and there are people who don't recognize me since my life started again and, for better or for worse, aren't really a part of me anymore. But life is fluid and no two people are the same.

There is a version of me that I can see now in retrospect almost like a movie I once watched.

I see that me as a reflection of the years it spanned. I see the colors differently, like a filter on Instagram, and I know the resolution was much grainier. I can see how the characters in the story were much younger and alive and how they had so much less to care about when they had so much less to care about. I see brash and bold moves outside bars at last call, I see fights, I see rolling on the floor laughing, I see love, I see the neediness of an only child and the insolence of youth. I see people who were in one scene only to fade away, unfortunate victims of the reckless living that was just another average day back then. I see people who cared so much for me that they would stay on the phone while I wailed and coughed, trying to remember to put my hand over the receiver as I brought the glass of ice and liquor to my lips. I try to remember what those characters said but I so often come up empty. It's probably best not to know, but part of me can't help wonder. I see a young boy pretending to be a man. I see a man who somehow knew when to stumble off before he got his teeth punched out.

And then I see a life that began to unravel ten years ago next month when his mother fell ill. The movie stops shortly after that plot twist, the theater empties out and the first run is over.

A new story begins just like that, with a very similar cast of characters but a whole new set of goals. I can see that guy pretty clearly, he's right here and he's still very much in control. His name is the same but his identity has changed. The belongings are in the suitcase but the tag fell off long ago.

You see, there was a weak connection point holding his identity to his baggage and it just couldn't handle the turbulence.

I really do think it is a beautiful thing that that luggage tag had an adventure on its own regardless of how long. I love that it snuck away from the container that held the items that I felt I must have in order to exist away from home for four days. And I also love that I couldn't just say "Naw, you can just throw it out. I don't really need it." No, I had to retrieve it and put it back in my box of travel supplies where it sits safe and sound.

Upon inspection I noticed that the rubber strap was still attached but the flimsy buckle was broken; I threw that part away. But I kept the tag because I most certainly will use it again. It's a great tag and if my luggage does somehow go missing I'll definitely want to make sure it gets back to me.

And just like this time somebody will see my name on there, Frederick Alexander Johnson, and come up with a story in their head of who I am, what I look like and what I do.

I couldn't do it if I tried and believe me I have.

So for now I'll just keep hoping I get some good lines in the upcoming scenes.

Needless to say I've never been good at being the strong silent type.

Thanks for reading,