I have a knife that Johnnie traded to me for something or other when I worked on a pot farm in Northern California. Maybe it was dinner or something else I didn’t want, like more pot. But this knife is now cradled on my bookshelf, and this knife is primarily now deployed, contra its original purpose, to stop my fire alarm, or carbon monoxide alarm, or whatever the fuck alarm from chirping on a regular basis. This knife now stands as a testament to what I’ve allowed myself to become in the past four years — which is simply a yuppie, a person who has sacrificed his soul for a wage, for the hope that he’ll be able to support his mother when the time comes.
Filial obligations are a hell of a thing.
But this knife, and Johnnie — we spent an evening or two in Willits, California in a motel, eating sandwiches from the organic grocery and drinking and trying to figure out what to do next. There was a woman named Bob, who I helped set up a tent in the middle of the woods, because I didn’t want her to suffer and didn’t have the authority to bring back to the hill. At the time I had around two thousand dollars in the pocket of my coat, and when I was waiting for a ride — before we set up her tent and all that — I went to the bathroom of the only restaurant in town of note, and came back out hurriedly, worried that she might have run off with my money. Honestly, she was shady as shit, and I think if I’d given her two more minutes, she would have.
But I helped her set up her tent anyway.
Johnnie probably stole a thousand or dollars worth of weed from me, and I was frankly fine with that at the time. Still am. Johnnie is now a father, according to his Facebook updates. I wish him all the best. I sometimes wonder what happened to Bob after we left her in the woods with the deer and the paranoiacs who comprise the California marijuana growing squad.
But this knife.
This knife is not a Chekhov knife. My alarm beeps and I stand on the amplifier my father bought for me when I was 14 or so and hit the little reset button to make it stop. And the alarm has only been sounding for the past couple of months. And it’s fucking symbolic, I tell you. It’s symbolic of things that wake you up in the middle of the night, things that maybe you haven’t paid enough attention to.
It’s fucking annoying. And if anyone knows how to make it stop without ripping it out of my ceiling, I’m all ears.
I’m going to be honest: I’m the kind of person who looks for symbolism in everything. It’s just the way that I was built. I used to, when I was sober, spend a good couple of minutes everyday talking to myself in the mirror and telling myself what my fundamental values were. Like, simple things. Things like, “You are kind to people, and it’s good, and you should continue to be so.” My friend Ben, when I told him this yesterday, when I told him that I had had this ritual, told me I was a character out of a movie. Which maybe I am. Maybe I strive to be dramatic. Maybe that’s my fundamental problem. Maybe in the end I simply want to be seen as a beautiful mistake. And if that’s the case then it’s time to get working on the beauty part.
The knife, the alarm — it’s bullshit. I should just rip the alarm out of the ceiling. I should stop pretending that I’m a contractor and that the knife serves any purpose other than reminding me of who I once was. But who I once was is important. Who I once was was a person who was infinitely adaptable, who could paint walls or hang sheetrock or knock on doors for causes or run businesses or trim pot or trade knives with people in Northern California, when the weather had turned and the clouds had decided to hover, when the Lost Coast had decided to get a little bit more lost.
Johnnie and I moved my tent when it flooded. I don’t have a tent now, but I’m drowning. Northern California is a place. A knife is a knife. I never want to go back there.