On the horrible massacre at Gettysburg, 151 years later, and with no particular thread to hold it all together

This is my fourth trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I was here last summer for the 150th anniversary, here the year before that for a conference, and prior to that, many moons ago, when I was in eighth grade and too stupid to realize that it might have been my only opportunity to visit this place. Lord knows, I doubt that many of the kids who were with me on that trip will ever come back — we were on The Eighth Grade Washington Trip, and most of us were too excited by the prospect of making out with girls and boys we had crushes on to pay attention to the fact that in both DC and Gettysburg we were experiencing something we wouldn’t necessarily get a chance to again. Gettysburg is a perfect place, though, in early Fall. I sat today on Seminary Ridge, where, per Wikipedia and assorted plaques nearby:

Robert E. Lee established his headquarters… just north of the Chambersburg pike. [It] also served as the Confederate line of battle for July 2 & 3 attacks against Union Army positions on Cemetery Ridge. On July 3, 500 men in George Pickett‘s division were killed/wounded on Seminary Ridge (including 88 lost in one regiment of Kemper’s Brigade) from the Federal artillery counterfire prior to Pickett’s Charge.The last hospital patient of the seminary’s Old Dorm left on September 16, 1863

I watched the sunset, and thought about where I would want to die. I wouldn’t mind that spot, but I’d want to do it shooting muskets at Confederates.

In the eulogy for my father, I mentioned that Abraham Lincoln had composed the Gettysburg Address over the course of a brief train ride. This turns out to not be true. There’s a house near the rotary/roundabout in the center of town with a weird statue of Lincoln and someone, I dunno maybe the sculptor (it’s weird), holding hands in front of it — and it’s this house, the David Wills House, where historians, or perhaps simply the Wills estate, believe Lincoln put his finishing touches on the Gettysburg Address. In my eulogy for my father, I had said something along the lines of how remarkable it was that Lincoln could just pull something like the Gettysburg Address out of his ass, all the more so since I was presently meditating — in my eulogy, and during the service — on the majesty of the Gettysburg Address when my father was two or three days dead. All I could think about on the morning of his funeral, in a dizzying hangover, was how inadequate my speech was compared to his. At least, I thought enough about it to include it in the ceremony.

Which is weird.

And which maybe has always haunted me. I think of my visits to Gettysburg now as something of a pilgrimage. I always go to the outskirts of the battlefield and wonder what would have happened if the Union had lost. Counter-factual history. The stuff that made me so despise Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America.” What if the Lindbergh had been elected president, or the Confederacy had prevailed at Gettysburg or Antietam? WHAT THEN???

The truth is that Roth’s book was stupid, but I finished the damn thing because I like a thought experiment or two, and I spent some time this evening dwelling on Seminary Ridge and daydreaming in counter-factuals. What if Pickett’s Charge had been successful? (I grew up on a Pickett Street, albeit a northern one, so Pickett’s Charge has always just sounded alarm bells for me — which perhaps helps to explain my fascination with Gettysburg.) What if my father were still alive? I wonder if he’s ever been to Gettysburg. Wait, that’s still past tense. I wonder if he came here. Would he be proud of me? I haven’t fucked up too much yet. Would he and I finally be able to talk to one another like we always should have? We had that one conversation when I finally felt like we were friends, and then, and then… Would he forgive me? For not being able to do it again as he died. Because of Gettysburg, of course. And General George Pickett, and Robert E. Lee, and the horrible traitors of the Confederacy. May they burn in hell, as my father’s ghost ambles away somewhere nicer.

Hotel by Tom III: Northern California (Or, Excerpts from a Journal Never Published), 2010

It might be a dispositional quirk, but for me driving as a passenger down a road called The Gauntlet doesn’t, for the most part, faze me. When I say that I don’t feel better about anything with five pounds of marijuana in the trunk, I don’t mean that I start freaking out — I simply mean that I don’t feel any better about a thing I’m pretty blase about otherwise. I tell myself that calling myself a journalist will save me, despite the fact that I have no journalistic endeavor paying me for my efforts — despite my lack of credentials — …. . But in reality, I know that that ploy must have been tried before, that it probably wouldn’t work. Everyone’s a journalist and nobody’s a journalist. Look at this: it’s a journal –

Much more to the point: to feel blase about driving five pounds of marijuana through The Gauntlet involves deploying your suspension of disbelief. You mustn’t believe that you’ll get pulled over, that you’ll be in trouble if you do get pulled over, or that such a possibility is even within the realm of narrative coherence.

You must cross your fingers, silently pray, and have faith in forces you don’t believe in. You should also try not to act sketchy.

*

“See that helicopter?” Nat says. But of course I see the helicopter. I may be mostly looking at the landscape and pretending there’s no weed in the car, but it’s hard to miss a fucking helicopter here, Nat.

“Yeah, I see it.”

“That’s CAMP, dude.” CAMP is the Campaign Against Marijuana Proliferation or Production or Peaceable Right To Assemble, or some such. I forget what the P stands for. “They’re pulling down someone’s grow.” He points at them, at the helicopter, and I glance over. They see me and a moment of terror passes as I realize that we’ve been outed with five pounds of marijuana in the car and also that we haven’t. Of course we haven’t. We’re pointing at a helicopter landing next to the highway with marijuana plants sticking out of it. Anyone would point at that.

*

Another day in Mendocino and another day of plumbing. I wish I felt more like writing.

*

Charlie left yesterday. My iPod provoked the incident that resulted in his departure. Charlie started giving me shit in the morning about having a password on my iPod, and I walked outside to smoke, said, “Fuck you, Charlie.” Only to see Lauren come outside crying moments later. I asked her what was wrong. “Nothing,” she said. “It’s fine.”

It wasn’t fine. She (the nicest person in the world) and Charlie butted heads for a minute before she told him, basically, to get the fuck out if he wasn’t going to be nice, which isn’t in his nature, and which I really appreciated him for.

He was gone within an hour.

*

I’m situated in the Northern California hills, seven miles to the Pacific Ocean as the crow flies, or so Lauren says — or rather, so her former landlord says, according to Lauren. The fog says they might be right: early morning the hills are flush with it, bobbing in and out of peaks and valleys and redwoods until midday, when the sun is out in force and it coaxes the water back up into the atmosphere. It’s all very pretty, is what I’m saying. And I go to sleep to a symphony of crickets and the starscape from Starry Night, minus the village.

More specifically I’m at the bottom of a hill, next to a pond strangled by weeds and blue-green algae. There are six tents in total, under and abutting a tiny grove of juvenile redwoods. Beside the tents are an empty greenhouse, an empty trailer, and two storage tents with various odds and ends required to run a successful marijuana grow operation. Up the hill, past the gardens and the outhouse, is the workshop and the dry room.

*

My cell phone has been dead for three days, but I don’t care. I only got the spottiest reception anyway, and everyone who’s important to me knows that I’m in mountain lion country. (I spent half an hour last night trying not to breathe, so convinced was I that a cougar was prowling outside; it turns out it was Miranda — girl needs to get a headlamp and stop sounding so much like a large cat.)

This morning, rain. It arrived last night, actually, but I didn’t believe it. Now I do. Now I hope the rain flap holds.

*

Sharing my tent with me are a fly and a daddy-long-legs. I was going to swat them or otherwise get them to leave my general habitat, but I decided that we could share.

I haven’t taken a shower in over ten days.

I’m going to die on this mountain.

*

Josh says “fuck” too much. Uncle John is one of my favorite people of all time. Goat calls me his nigga. Eric plays with some shit he calls “nectar.” Dina is going to celebrate her birthday today if she ever wakes up. Goose has been mastering impressions of all the trimmers for the past two months. Shaggy is being Shaggy. Trish had that seizure I told you about.

Jess had her baby — Lillianna. Lauren isn’t nice, just fake. I miss my friends. And I need to shave.

*

It’s Thanksgiving Day in America and I’m still stuck on this mountainside. Today Goose will deep-fry a turkey and we’ll all try to finish up what remains of the weed to be trimmed. Or, let me put it this way: this movie is about to be over, the credits are about to roll — though I doubt that anyone here deserves any credit for anything.

But it’s Thanksgiving Day in America and I’m still stuck on this mountainside. I’ll tell you what I’m thankful for. I’m thankful that I’m still alive. I’m thankful for the the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever had as a Thanksgiving backdrop. I’m thankful for the friends I’ve made — for Shaggy and Goose and Uncle John and Goose again and Josh, Kimmy, Goat. I’m thankful for the fact that this shitshow is almost over. Now if I could just figure out where my home should be.

Look. Listen. I didn’t plan any of this. I’m tired. I’ve had two slugs of whiskey and I’m working on a beer. Duma escaped from Jess’s spot and is running around the property looking for people who are awake so they can pet her. I’m sitting on a lawn chair in the sun with my winter coat on, sunshine melting the ice that formed last night. My hand is horrendously bandaged from a fall I took two nights ago, stumbling high on mushrooms down the hill to get to my tent so that I could sleep everything off. Look, listen: Sometimes I wonder why we don’t all spend a whole lot more time crying. Sometimes I wonder why we’re pretending to understand what we can’t possibly understand. Sometimes I wonder things like that and then I forget them, because they’re far too depressing to think about most of the time.

And so it’s Thanksgiving Day in America, and I’m stuck on a mountainside until this shitshow is over. I leave with whoever will take me the furthest south. I am lonely and permanently heartbroken. I dread what will become of us all. I really, really do.

Happy fucking holidays.

Rating: 5/5

Hotel By Tom II: Uncle Tom’s Second and More Hospitable Cabin, Brooklyn, New York. Late Summer

At this point, of course, my home has become hotel. Danny and his girlfriend stayed here while I was gone. Aliya stayed here while I was gone. According to them my bed is lumpy.

Hey, assholes: YOU’RE WELCOME!

But seriously, thanks for the plants, the broom, and the toilet-bowl scrubber. Most clutch.

Here is what I can offer you (Should you ever want to AirBNB this shit and be a horrible scourge on the rest of the city):

  • Shower that is really consistently hot
  • Toilet that flushes most poops with one flush
  • Plunger
  • Four plants that don’t need any maintenance
  • Gas range
  • Brooklyn balcony (aka, fire escape)
  • Prime location (this part isn’t a lie)
  • Compliments on your attire from the people at the coffee shop next door

Okay, so maybe not the last one.

Point of the story — somebody probably left a glass of farmer’s market milk in your fridge and in the 24 hours you were in New York before leaving you didn’t even see it, and so when you got back late last night, several days, presumably, after the mysterious substance appeared, you dumped it out into the sink.

Point of the story — it’s pretty much impossible to beat a price that is “FREE” and “NOT INFESTED WITH VERMIN” in New York City, which is why, despite the plants, the broom, the toilet thingy, I’m still waiting on Thank-You cards, guys.

I’m still waiting.

Rating: 4.5/5

Hotel by Tom I: Embassy Suites, Boca Raton, Florida. Late Summer.

I’ve stayed at this hotel before. About a month ago, I was in Boca Raton, where half of my company is based — or really, a third — and trying to figure out what my job was. I still am, but that’s beside the point. Samantha and I got off the plane at 10:30 to meet Susan, who had been wandering around the Ft. Lauderdale airport since she’d arrived in town, waiting for us. She looked every bit as frazzled as she’d said when we texted as I landed. 

“Fair warning: I look like a homeless person with crazy hair.” 

She told us to meet her by the escalators, and Samantha and I bumped into her strewn over some benches there, decked out in a University of Wisconisin-Madison sweatshirt, shorts, sandals, and looking somewhat like a homeless person. Susan is a former librarian, insofar as she spent many, many years working in one, even if she never got her MLIS. Samantha is from Staten Island, engaged, and a Giants fan. I’m Blogbytom. Presumably you already know me.

We get the rental car at the Hertz place, and of course the line is too long and it all takes too long, and whatever. We drive north to Boca, to the Embassy Suites, by Hilton. In Boca Raton, Florida. Late summer.

The Embassy Suites in Boca Raton has a stupid layout. I should just get that out of the way. Think of a giant hall, seven stories high, with a courtyard in the middle. On one half of the courtyard is the breakfast area and on the other the bar and dinner area. The elevators are pushed over to one side, all three of them(!), so you have to walk halfway around the giant amphitheater to get to your room. There are no hallways, only balconies, overlooking the people below, as you make your way around the building. If you wanted to spit on someone, no one would be able to tell where it came from.

The rooms themselves, and on the Very Very Plus side, all have their own balconies. For this, I give the Embassy Suites in Boca Raton, Florida much credit. Because I smoke. And not having to take a shitty elevator that’s all the way over there down six floors to go outside to smoke is really, really convenient.

We all go to sleep and decide that we’ll meet in the lobby at 8:30.

We end up meeting in the breakfast area. Samantha and Susan (both of whom had been there only in January, but hadn’t been aware of the renovations I saw on my first visit) both got lost coming out of the stupidly-situated elevators. We ate eggs and fruit and had coffee. Michael and Renata joined us. We went to work. 

Work was, as it can tend to be in the corporate world, two days of a giant Sales Meeting. It was exhausting. I barely had time to smoke, let alone think. I drew a bunch of doodles the first day, feeling shy, listening but not really contributing. Corey and I have been talking about making my new company a bit more like my old one since I was hired. As if to prompt me, the first day he floated me some softballs, perhaps to get my confidence up. It was a nice gesture, and I appreciated it. I’ve decided I like Corey, even though he’s Sales-bot through and through.

We went out to dinner and it wasn’t good. An old man twice complimented our table of twenty on how wonderful we were, how young we made him feel. The first time, the whole restaurant went quiet. To listen. As he was leaving, he gave the table $20 to “add to the tip” as thanks for bringing his spirits up. He gave a couple of the women in our party affectionate kisses on the hair. I think he probably was a little bit lost up there, but it’s Florida. What do you expect?

It was nice, but in a sad way.

Dennis and I battled it out in front of Emmett today. Dennis is the VP of Sales and Emmett is the CEO. The issue was pricing and how to account for different budgets, different needs, different strategies, etc. I won the argument, for what it’s worth, but in front of your boss, even if he’s put the item on the agenda for discussion, you never say that. Especially not when he’s in front of his boss. Bad form. Not cool. Either way, I got what I wanted when my immediate boss came up to me just before lunch, when I was still a bit shaky from the whole “little-guy-vs-big-buy-in-front-of-biggest-guy” affair (that shit’s kinda nerve-wracking), and said, “Just keep that pricing in your head, and we’ll get it done.”

She also said, at the end of the day:

“Corey, you keep bugging John about that marketing project, and Tom, you keep challenging Dennis on pricing.”

It was nice.

This morning, as I went to put my roller in the rental and return my key, I told the man at the Embassy Suites in Boca Raton, Florida in late summer that I was going to be back for breakfast. He told me okay. It was in the 90’s already, and the palm trees were sweating in the humidity. The grass was still damp on the islands in the parking lot from the morning sprinklers. The sun wasn’t high enough for sunglasses. 

I had scrambled eggs, sausage, and two cups of coffee. 

Rating: 3/5

Moving

This weekend I pack for my third move in three years. Perhaps fittingly for the numerologists out there, I’m 30, so this means something, cosmically. Probably. At any rate, it will be the first time I’ve lived alone since I had a tiny studio in the McGill Ghetto my third year of college. Again with that number. Three. Third year, thirty, third move. Gosh. Everything is destiny.

I’ve also moved, in the past week, into a new job. My new job is basically like my old job, except my new boss is amazing and not a tyrant. Someone on LinkedIn posted something about how a worker’s displeasure with their manager makes one a less productive employee. (Ah, capitalism. Speaking of which, among other fever dreams I had last night, one entailed me arguing with someone about how they weren’t actually a capitalist, since capitalists moved capital for a living, and all they did was work. It’s a line I picked up from a trainee who didn’t make it back when I was a door-to-door hippy for the AFL-CIO, and it’s always stuck with me, to the extent that, evidently, I deploy it in fever dreams.) This is true. I was undoubtedly a less productive employee when my old boss tried to destroy me.

My new manager called me yesterday at the end of the day from Boca Raton, Florida, where she’s based, to apologize that she hadn’t been in better touch and to ask for my advice on a consortial deal her boss had proposed. It affects my territory, so I understand ostensibly why she was giving me the heads-up, but in our conversation, it was pretty clear that she was treating me as a peer.

“I’m generally not a fan of working with aggregators,” I said. You don’t have to know what an aggregator is for the rest of this to make sense.

“Yeah, I’m not sure that this is the best way forward, and I don’t want to shoot you in the foot right off the bat. But this is the first time Christoph has asked for my advice on a deal, and I don’t want to tell him it’s a bad idea. Otherwise, he might not ask me again.”

We laughed.

“Office politics,” I said. “The only ones I’m worried about are RPI and West Point. Oh, and Colgate. Oh, but wait, no. Springer never sold anything to Colgate. We need to just wait for that librarian to die.”

We bandied a few ideas about — compromises, ways to gently say no to a questionable idea from a manager without seeming combative. Alternatives, add-on conditions, exclusions, etc. It was a productive call, and it wasn’t even what she had called me to discuss.

Whatever that was will have to wait until next week. She had to go pick up her boys.

***

In the process of moving there are always doubts. I’m not sure where I’m going. But I like what I see so far.

On escape, and being found

This morning I received a call from Jessica, who extended an offer from a company that competes, in a roundabout way, with my own, to take over a position handling the Mid-Atlantic on up through the Northeast and Quebec and Ontario. I was pretty much high-fiving myself throughout the whole call, so excited to be out from under the reign of a tyrant boss who’s done her best to destroy me for the last six months. I interviewed on Thursday, during the latter half of the USMNT game against Germany where, by losing by one, we actually won. Somewhere in there is a metaphor, I’m sure.

I left the bar where I was watching the World Cup game (drinking cranberry juice, because I’m not that much of an idiot), and the people around me were like, “Seriously? You’re giving up your seat?” And I said, “I have a job interview,” and kinda shrugged my shoulders, and they wished me good luck, and then I nailed it. I fucking nailed it. I wish I could go back to those people today and say, “God bless the USA.”

But this is about escape.

And the important thing to note about escape is that you don’t necessarily recognize it when it happens. I talked to my dear friend and colleague Maura today, to let her know what was happening, and she asked me if I wanted a dinner or a lunch or any kind of send-off, because she’s a doll and I love her, and I said no. No. Because I don’t. Because all I want is to be softly let go. I don’t even know that I’ll give two weeks. I might simply arrive and depart and that will be that. 

Listen. My boss was gunning for me a month and a half ago. She also didn’t realize that I had the law on my side and that having your boss gunning for you can cause some serious emotional issues. Like, for real. Like, I’m not making this shit up. Like, I was crying every day, and that’s a symptom that a certified psychiatrist will recognize as “Not Good.” And so I took leave and my doctor basically told me to find another job, and I did. And now I have one. And so, holy moly.

I’m going into work Wednesday, whether there’s a doctor’s note or not. I’m going in to resign and then I’m going to work for a company with a boss who seems eminently awesome and sane, who understands adult life, who has already proven herself, in a 45 minute interview, to be more mature and understanding than my current boss. And then I’m probably going to leave New York. Because that’s a thing that can happen, too.

Go be free

There’s the concept of the “non-place,” a space where it’s impossible to be comfortable due to its inherent transitory nature. Where I’m remembering this from I forget at the moment, but I find that it’s a rather apt phrase for describing what precisely the life of a traveling salesman entails. To wit, living in places where impermanence is paramount, where there is nothing at all resembling an anchor.

True, Heraclitus brought all of this up back in the Presocratic years, and impermanence isn’t exactly a novel concept – our greatest poets and writers, songwriters and artists have been dealing with this shit for ages – and yet these spaces that are designed to mask them… Hiltons and JFKs and Starwoods – they only end up doing the precise opposite of what they’re intended to. Which is why I never let the housekeeping people clean my room if I’m at a hotel – BECAUSE I DON’T ALWAYS MAKE MY BED AND CHRIST ALMIGHTY AT LEAST LET ME PRETEND I’M NOT A STRANGER HERE.

The sterility, of course, is to be expected. What’s somewhat unexpected is the notion I hear on occasion from some of my friends that what I do is in any way glamorous. It’s not, and in fact it’s terribly lonesome and all I want to do is drown myself in liquor and get fired so that I can escape this routine and this rut of going back and forth and back and forth again and again in between places, never being home, or when at home simply wanting to sleep or be alone or maybe, maybe say hello to you.

This is the life of the road, perpetual anxiety, perpetual groping at strangers for some sort of feeling, and upon finding it, more often than not, losing it the next day.

I look out the window of this little courier jet, seated in the exit row on my way to Sioux Falls, head against the latch, knowing full well that all I have to do is unbuckle my seatbelt, pull the lever, and be sucked out into Dakota country. But life is beautiful and cloying and an insufferable flirt – the only one I haven’t yet given up on.