Let me forget for a moment all the noise of the world, all the heroes on TV. What is it that I want?
I remember suddenly my father’s Real Estate signs leaned against the wall of the garage. Rusting sometimes in small places, usually the legs he drove into the red dirt ground. Spider webs would collect behind them. I always had to be careful not to bump the signs, or they might fall onto his car. Our garage was so narrow.
As a kid I think I wanted to understand my father better. What were the signs for? Where did he go to put them up and take them down? Why did he pick such bland colors, black and shades of brown, for his symbols and signs? The Real Estate business seemed incidental to me. What was important then to my child-self were the signs; how they represented a man I had trouble understanding, in a world I didn’t understand at all. And the transitory nature of the signs, sometimes along a roadside, sometimes slowly rusting back in our garage, narrowed in between drywall and steel.
This is likely the best metaphor to explain the difference between my father and I. To him the signs were a tool used to put food on the table. From my privileged position this petty “salesmanship” was unimportant. But the signs, the symbols my father chose to represent himself, that was truly important to me. The symbols were transcendent. It’s how I still see the world, and why the world and I are so often at odds. I don’t see things the way they are, the way my father sees them. I see the symbols behind the way things are. I don’t see what is, and I don’t see what could be, not in the utilitarian way my father does. But I do see what something’s could-be-ing represents. What an odd memory, that it should pop up now in the middle of my existential neurosis.
Maybe I miss the mystery of youth, before I came to learn the shabbiness of the world far exceeded the rusting legs of my father’s signs. That it is so much bartering, hustling, buying and selling. No one cares about the meanings behind things; they just want a sign they can stick in the ground to make a buck.
I miss the naïveté and innocence of my childhood. I may have been depressed and anxious, but at least I didn’t know it yet. A time when musty garages held enough mystery to create memory.
And now here I am, some twenty years later, pounding my own sign into the dirt while my children watch me with their eyes full of novelty, mystery, wonder.
God help me.