Afternoons with Carl and Abraham
Every now and then I'd wander up from the Rathskellar to some other part of the College. It seems like thats where I spent my freshman year in high school. Either in a Junior College, or the University close to where we were. Other kids were borrowing the car to go out. I borrowed the car to drive over to the computer lab. I borrowed it to go play video games when I wasn't writing them. I would blow weeks of allowance in pursuit of a high score.
At one point I discovered in the local college library - a collection of works by Carl Sandburg relating to the Life and Biography of Abraham Lincoln. Sandburg had a unique presence for me - I seem to remember that I was reading the books as an assignment - but that at some point or another it became less of an assignment and more of thing.
It was also at this point that my grades dropped through the floor. I pretty much didn't care about school at all. In Computer Science I would sit in the back and write games - barely passing the class - but writing utilities and programs for my teacher. The only class I did well in, was art. In fact one of my paintings went into the museum. Paradoxically, I got a D+ in Art as a result of a typographical error - it was later corrected to an A.
Algebra was the worst. For some reason I just couldn't get it. I would sit there staring at the ceiling. Or I would just fall asleep. I actually took Algebra II over in summer school and got an A . From some arcane way that they would calculate my grade, they ended up giving me a B for the year.
But the thing I perhaps remember the most was how the sun would slant down through the narrow college windows - from within the university library that was about 3 miles away from my home. The way that it would fall upon this work about a man who continually asked questions - he wondered for hours about what the word 'predestination' meant.
Abraham Lincoln would bring books with him while he worked and when he was done felling trees - he would sit down and read them. He was a self taught lawyer - a self made man. His favorite saying was "Measure twice, and cut once." And he would remark that if he were given 10 minutes to fell a tree, he would spend seven minutes sharpening the axe.
Carl Sandburg considered the Biography of Abraham Lincoln in a way that I almost understood. I would skateboard over to the library, read, get high - then come back home. Skip my homework and listen to music. Fall asleep. Then wait through school until I could go back to Carl and Abraham. It was like a giant puzzle.
In a way , at this point in my life - I am looking for something like this. I want something that I can work on - something I can get my teeth into - being a single dad scares me. I want the happiness of a well married man.
Mary Lincoln weaves her way through Abrahams life like a dark undercurrent. She is a driving force to him - a center of his own depression and the voice of the darkness within. She was, as best as my 13 year old mind could understand - a woman well married. If anything, she showed me that a man can be held together by the substance of his wife - even if his wife is not steadfast. Their love was simple and apparent. She was neither the source of his stability nor the reason for his downfall - she was simply - his wife, and they journeyed through life together. At some point the Biography became a Fusion of their lives. As they continued to lose their sons. One after another.
We imagine darkness. But we could not imagine having four sons and losing three. In the era of modern medicine, we do not often confront this condition. Only one of her four sons ever lived to maturity. And she did not let him go.
Carl Sandburg knew the happiness of a well married man - it seems apparent that part of the work of his biography of Abraham Lincoln - documented the happiness at its outer bound - and perhaps at its inner bound - a sense of self - that can arise independently of the personality and affect of two people. It is almost as if marriage itself is something other than a bond between two people - and a kind of living thing. Something that seems to extend beyond life. Mary Lincoln's bond with her husband was never truly severed - in the final 17 years of her life she slipped into a world of illusion, poverty and murder. And she took her son with her.
The reckless ecstacy of Florida afternoons - the sunlight bearing down on the books. And then back to the Rat room to play Pacman before skating home on a Tony Alva Pig with Tracker Trucks, GS Wings and AZF Bearings.
Sometimes school is not about getting a good grade. My Dad never seemed to agree with this point. Later on, when I was accepted to the University of Hawaii - he gently disagreed. I ended up back in Florida. Only this time when I holed up in my dorm room with a book it was Charles Effing Darwin.
I never forgot those afternoons. Sometimes it was a pain in the ass to read those books. I still don't know them all. But I think there's something there. As I write this - waiting for my son to fall asleep so that I can seal the edge of the door to my room and paint the kids new room. I wonder what it would be like to have gone back there - actually finished the biography without hazily skipping through some or most of it - and not played so much goddamn video games. Then again. So what. Somehow it got me here - to Friday Night in 2010 - a world of happiness waiting just down the road from me. My new home is a stone's throw away from a really great bar. I haven't been yet.
Pfft. Back to work.