Monday, May 5, 2014

No. 31 – Drown

Performer: Smashing Pumpkins
Songwriter: Billy Corgan
Original Release: Singles: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Year: 1992
Definitive Version: The original version. Don’t buy Rotten Apples for this song. The version there cuts the second half of this 8-minute song—the only part that truly matters. For those of you who haven’t heard it, the second half is all instrumental, featuring the most remarkable guitar solo I’ve ever heard. It’s four minutes of feedback-drenched mayhem, but with a melody! Don’t regret it; Buy Singles for this song if no other reason.

Regrets. Unless you’re either clueless or the biggest self-absorbed butthole on the planet, you’ll have a few. And I’m not talking about regrets, like, Gee, I wish I’d bought Apple stock when Steve Jobs took over again in 1997, but personal regrets.

I have, well, more than I should, some of which I’ve mentioned on this here blog, but I’m working on it. In all candor, I have far fewer than I used to. Age and looming mortality have a way of putting things in proper perspective and making it easier to let go of that which you don’t need.

I suppose if I could do one thing over—which, of course, I can’t—I’d set the Wayback Machine to August 1995. Almost from the time that the regrettable incident took place, I wished I had handled it differently.

For those of you paying attention, August 1995 was when Debbie and I moved in together in an apartment in Gahanna. As I mentioned a long time ago (good ol’ No. 850), the move of all furniture was successful, so all I had to do was pack up the last few things in my German Village apartment and clean it up.

I had no need to keep my sofa, so I called The Salvation Army to pick it up. The movers were supposed to come Saturday—moving day—but they blew me off. Because they weren’t open on Sunday, the soonest the movers would come was Monday, which was too late for me.

When I told my landlords, they were none too pleased. They said they’d deal with it as long as I cleaned out my back patio garden. Otherwise, they’d ding me $100 off my security deposit for the sofa. What’s that saying about “no good deed”?

The back patio featured a tiny cement landing at the bottom of the townhouse stairs and a brick walkway that divided the two gardens. I had a large tree in the corner of the left garden. I wasn’t out back much, and I didn’t have the desire to plant flowers or bushes like I would now, so weeds overran the whole thing.

Now, most weeds, you give them a good tug, and out they come. But these weeds, aside from being about 3 feet tall, had roots on them like a tree. If I was able to move the weed at all, I typically snapped the weed at the base and left the root in the ground. It didn’t take long to see that I would need all day Sunday to tackle the Giant Hogweed infestation as well as the cleaning the apartment itself.

So that morning, I threw on the grubbiest shorts and tennis shoes I had as well as a bad T-shirt and made a run to Lowe’s. The nearest Lowe’s was out by Eastland, about a six-mile drive from my apartment. I bought a good shovel and some lawn bags. When I got home, I went to work. I started inside.

While I swept the floor in the kitchen, a guy knocked on my door. He noticed the For Rent sign my landlords put in my front window, but rather than call the number below, he just asked whether he could come in and see the place for himself. I didn’t have anything with me aside from my wallet and boombox, so I didn’t care if he looked around. I answered a few questions, and he went on his way, and I went back to my task at hand.

The inside was mostly clean to begin with, so my real chore was clearing out the Hogweed. It was dirty, grimy, hard work. I don’t know what it was that took root in my garden, but the whole back patio was connected. I should have just dug the whole thing up, but it was more satisfying to pull out each clump. I’d chop the roots and pull up the clumps, then move to the next one.

I didn’t buy nearly enough lawn bags, so I threw my T-shirt back on—long discarded in the hot sun—and went back to Lowe’s that afternoon. By now, I was starting to run out of steam, so I took frequent breaks.

At one point as the sun began to set, I saw a woman knock on my door. Ah, another interested renter. Come on in, I called out and went to greet her. She walked into my apartment and asked whether I was Will.

Now let me tell you a little bit about my guest. If I drew up a list of all the physical attributes that I sought in a woman at the time, she would have checked every single box. She was young, tall, slim but well-built. She had reddish-brown hair that cascaded over her shoulders in curly permed waves, with a nice face and a great smile. She even wore glasses, fer crissakes! Bonus points!

I’d never seen this woman before. How did she come to be standing in my apartment, and more important, how did she know my name?

“Is this your wallet?” Wait … what? Yeah, it looked like it. She handed it over. I opened it up. Yeah, it definitely was my wallet. “I found it in the parking lot at Lowe’s.”

Obviously, I dropped my wallet at Lowe’s when I had been there the second time, but that quickly became a secondary concern. Think of this: This woman, who introduced herself as Helen of Troy, Ohio, found my wallet, but rather than take it to the store’s lost and found, she brought it to me … six miles from the store.

I thanked Helen and asked whether she lived around here. No, but it wasn’t really out of the way, she insisted. She had her friend drive her here to bring it to me.

Forgive my audacity, but this just struck me as beyond a Good Samaritan thing. The only conclusion: Helen found my wallet, liked what she saw on the driver’s license and decided to hand-deliver it just to see what happened.

There were other clues: She didn’t leave right away after giving me my wallet, instead continuing the conversation to the point where I learned she worked—are you ready for this?—at The Dispatch. Wait, I work at The Dispatch; I’ve never seen you before. Helen worked in circulation out at the plant in Grove City.

This cannot be happening, but … WHAT exactly was happening? I don’t know, but I can tell you what happened: Nothing. I suppose I should have offered her a financial reward, but I wasn’t thinking clearly (clearly). Finally, after thanking her for about the 100th time, Helen left, and I went back to the Hogweed patch. I never saw her again.

But, I definitely thought about her after that. Did my ideal woman really just show up on my doorstep out of nowhere and all but beg me to ask her out? I wasn’t sure, but what did it matter? After all, I just moved into a new apartment with my girlfriend YESTERDAY.

That was the crux of the situation. Three months sooner, I definitely would have asked Helen if I could buy her a drink as a show of appreciation. But that day? Then? Not a chance. I’d just convinced Debbie to move out of an apartment she loved and in with me. Plus, living with someone to whom she wasn’t married went counter to Debbie’s nature.

I knew I couldn’t live with myself if all of a sudden I said to her: You know what? I changed my mind. I COULDN’T change my mind. So I did the right thing: I carried on. I even told Debbie about the incident, calling it the Last Temptation of Will.

But … I didn’t let it go, not entirely. Naturally, when Debbie and I broke up, I regretted that I didn’t at least discover the answer to the question that gnawed at me: What would have happened if I had done the thing I deep down wanted to do in the moment, instead of the right thing? What would have happened if I had invited Helen to have that drink with me?

There were any in a myriad of possibilities. Say Helen declined. Well, that’s that, and life goes on as scheduled, already in progress. Say I asked Helen for the drink, she accepted, but at the end of the night, we went our separate ways? Again, nothing changes.

Now, say I asked Helen for a drink, she accepted, we went back to my place at the end of the night, she didn’t care that I was with someone else, I broke up with Debbie, got together with Helen, and we lived happily ever after? Well, there are a lot of steps to get from “how about a drink” to “let’s go visit the grandkids,” and it’s a fool’s errand to jump automatically from Point A to Point Z. Besides, things have worked out well for me, so I can’t complain.

The bottom line is I’ll never know what would have happened if I’d done things just a bit differently back in August 1995. But … I suppose I’ll always wonder.

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