A Day in the Life
© 2012 Greek to Me by Michael Raysses
This month's theme is a banana peel, strategically positioned to invite a slip and fall of indeterminate outcome. "Getting back to nature" implies having been there in the first place (I wasn't). And if the Bible is any authority in this regard (it's not), we've arguably been trying to get back ever since Adam and Eve got their divine eviction notice.
The vehicle that gets me back is my memory—that rusting clunker that I garage somewhere in the expanse between my head and heart. The one whose crank I turn with increasing frequency if only because I'm all too aware of the gap between what the number on the odometer conveys versus how I feel. I take it out for regular spins. Sometimes the ride is a sprint where speed is as important as the endpoint. Other times the trip is a marathon, and I've forgotten how to get where I want to go. This is where my memory defies logic because unlike every other vehicle I've known, it drives me. It picks me up based on the subtlest of triggers: a meandering smell wafting through the air, a random sound, a fleeting image so scant that it skims my subconscious, barely felt.
I was recently taken back by the Beatles' song, "A Day in the Life." It transported me to when I was barely old enough to begin thinking about who I was beyond my name and my status as a member of my family. I was nine or so, and resigned that I was never going to be a Beatle, something I had devoted a lot of energy to up to that point in time. Even with that realization, though, I still tried to pass myself off as a friend of the Fab Four by blackening the back side of a Beatles card and claiming it was a picture I'd taken at a concert they'd given at the Sherwood Club. Or there was the time I called Ronnie Whitfield on the telephone and told him the Beatles were at my house playing for me, my proof being the scratchy 45 I played in the background. But Ronnie was too cagey to fall for my radioactive fantasy. Not becoming a Beatle cast me adrift—who was I? What was I?
Enter my Dad and his older brother John.
They were hunters. Which is to say, every autumn, they would pull out their shotguns, donning long underwear and hats I couldn't imagine wearing anyplace but where you were highly unlikely to see anyone—or at least anyone who wasn't also wearing a likeminded hat. They would find some distant patch of land on the farthest reaches of some unknown farm, and traipse through fields in search of game, 'game' being rabbits or pheasants or ducks. Each species had its season, some of which overlapped, something I found odd because I thought that each animal somehow knew when it was its respective season and dreaded it accordingly.
Looking back, they probably hunted for a couple of reasons. Practically speaking, we actually ate whatever they bagged. It was also a chance for them to maintain a brotherly connection. And just maybe it provided them an opportunity to get back to nature—by tromping around, shooting off firearms that ripped to shreds the silence typically found on a farm very early in the morning. Or as my Uncle John so eloquently put it, by "busting geese."
Regardless of why, hunting was a big deal. It required getting up so early that it was still dark, something that would never have occurred to me. It felt like some bad practical joke we were playing on the sun by beating it to its appointed rounds. Over time, though, I understood it as part of a special project undertaken only by men, which ultimately struck me as something cool if only because it began to fill in the blank that was me.
After bundling ourselves against the cold and filling thermoses full of steaming coffee, we'd drive silently into the inkwell countryside. Once there, guns were loaded with great deliberation and a silence that draped the ritual in ceremony. Though it was technically still dark as we stood around our car, off to the east I could almost hear the sky release its fierce grip on the night so gradually, as if it were laying down a precious item it could no longer bear to hold but didn't want to break.
Eventually, my Dad and Uncle spoke in a stage whisper: loud enough to be heard, but delivered in such a way that great effort was being expended to respect the silence despite the sound. I took my cue from them. Not talking reduced me to spectating. Everything seemed new, freshly minted. The dew on the ground reminded me of floor wax, making the ground shiny and slippery.
Guns ready, we set out. Sometimes we'd walk in fields, down rows of corn that had long since been harvested, the fallen stalks crisscrossing the ground. My feet would get tangled and I'd fall like the corn, something that felt as unmanly a thing as I could do.
Initially, my job was to keep pace and not fall behind. But by my third time out, I was tasked with wearing the game coat: a jacket with large pockets inside it to store our take. Once we were walking between a railroad track and a creek when we spooked a rabbit ahead of us. Uncle John dispatched it with a shot, grabbing its limp body and dropping it into the game coat, right next to my chest. No sooner was the flap closed than I felt this frantic thumping where the rabbit was—it'd come back to life and was thrashing mightily, trying to get out! I was so shocked I couldn't even scream. I stood riveted to the ground, waving my arms. In motion as fluid as the rabbit's was frantic, my Uncle reached in, pulled it out by its ears, gave it a swift chop to the back of its neck, and returned it to the pocket where it had been an instant ago.
I'll never forget that feeling. What had been so alive a second before was now a leaden bag of fur and bone, literally dead weight, still warm against my body.
I think of that almost every time I hear the Beatles' song, "A Day in the Life." In that song's famous final chords, a musical technique called deceptive cadence was used whereby the listener assumes the next chord, or melody note, will go somewhere it doesn't. They're led to expect a certain outcome, but the writer/arranger intentionally surprises them by going someplace else musically. Like that song's interminable last chord, my hunting experience led me to expect a certain outcome, but I ended up some place else altogether. I was trying to take a step toward becoming what I thought was a man, only to discover that path is defined by its missteps as much as by its forward progress. Sometimes when you go hunting for one thing, you inadvertently bag another, which is lyrically Greek to me.
Michael Raysses is a writer/NPR commentator who lives in Malibu, California. You can follow him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Michael-Raysses/159019634181724. Or e-mail him at MichaelRaysses@hotmail.com.