At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.

This must be the place: Bein’ a decrepit old bag of bones, that’s what’s ridiculous, gettin’ old

Late Thursday night. I’m sitting in my recliner. Netflix and the half-full lukewarm beer next to the chair have both lost my interest. I lean back into a horizontal position and take inventory of my apartment, the humble abode that I’ve called home going on nine years now. 

The first thing my eyes gravitate toward is the wrinkled and ripped Jack Kerouac poster on the wall nearest my front door. Purchased my freshman year of college in Connecticut, the large piece of printed paper has followed me throughout my entire adult journey thus far, just like the words do of the author whose face looks directly at mine when I walk outside each and every day. Always looking. Always judging, perpetually posing the age-old question, “Are you living the life that you so choose?”

Just above Jack are several license plates that have come into my possession over the years. Two are from my youthful collection of license plates: Alaska and British Columbia, both destinations that haunt my dreams to someday step foot into. One is from North Carolina, from my old truck that’s somewhere in a junkyard in Kentucky, rusting away, probably wondering why I sold 10 years of road-weary memories for $300 of scrap metal. 

One plate is from New York with “Pearl Harbor Survivor” across it, the remaining physical memory I have of my late grandfather, a World War II veteran who was there in the Army on Dec. 7, 1941. It’s been about 14 years since he left this earth. And I miss him immensely, though I feel his presence from time to time, especially in the midnight hour when I’m cruising along some lonely highway to destinations unknown. 

The last plate hails from Massachusetts, the only remaining physical memory of a woman I once loved when she first landed in Haywood County. She was once the center of my universe, and yet now I know nothing about her: is she happy? Where is she sleeping tonight? Could I have done more to keep the relationship alive and flourishing, to where she’d still be sitting on the couch across the room like she always used to do when we shared the humble abode (and the bills)?

Above the love seat couch is a painting of a foliage scene, most likely from New England. That girl now long gone picked it out with me one summer day, from the dusty frame bin at the thrift store a couple of blocks from the humble abode. It triggers memories of my native North Country, the ever-present and ongoing muse, at least in my corner of the written word.

Surrounding the foliage scene are posters hung symmetrically from concerts so far gone in memory, I’d dare to even speculate on what was played in those venues in Tennessee, North Carolina and Vermont, let alone remember who was even with me on those nights when I pulled them off the walls and stuck them in the back pocket of my jeans; you know, for posterity purposes.

Across the room to the fridge. A couple photographs under magnets of my 6-year-old niece, a thousand miles away back in my Upstate New York hometown. Next to the photos is the looming electric bill and a tattered ticket from a Phish show in North Charleston, South Carolina, from December 2019: when live music was (not by me) taken for granted, so was social interaction and the unlimited possibilities of meeting someone — anyone — in the midst of the irresponsible enlightenment not spent (not by choice, at least) in the humble abode. 

Circle back to the recliner. Lean back and reach for the six-string acoustic guitar, somewhat new, but with a lone (deep) scratch underneath the sound hole from an overzealous musician who I handed it to when we held a small gathering during the shutdown: a bonfire and beers sort of thing, just to feel some sense of “normalcy” during “all of this.” Hoist the beer. Forget the deep scratch. Move on and strum the chords that make the distance from here to back home seem that much closer, at least melodically-speaking.

No more horizontal sitting. Pick up yourself and kick back the footrest. Pull aside the faded window tapestry. Tack it up against the wall, but only after you feel how thin and worn it is in doing so, at least for a moment. Covered in elephants, I had to buy it at a Phish festival in Maine, alongside an old girlfriend I haven’t talked to in years. 

Back then, I was 18 when I handed the street vendor at the festival a shabby $20 earned from my front desk job at my uncle’s motel in Lake Placid, New York. I was high as a kite — on weed, booze and life — and “just had to have” the tapestry with the elephants. It too has followed me around this country, just like good old Jack, still looking back into my eyes whenever I gaze in his general direction. 

Look at the window. No cars or people wandering about on Russ Avenue, not this time of night, and especially in the here and now of where we stand as a people, a society trying to come to grips with what to do next, all while that the age-old question remains (more so now): “Are you living the life that you so choose?”

Outside sits the rusty, musty pickup truck. Just begging to be driven somewhere, anywhere. Always waiting for the next adventure. Always teasing me to “jump in and see where the road takes me.” There’s a full tank of gas, so why not, eh? 

My fingers roll along the keyboard with ease right now. It’s 1:16 a.m. and here I sit in the recliner. Netflix and the half-full lukewarm beer next to the chair have both lost my interest. I lean back into a horizontal position and take inventory of my apartment, the humble abode that I’ve called home going on nine years now.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it y’all. 

Go to top