Posted on the final exam for this year’s Sophomores:
Fuck, I love Tobacco
There is something to be said about vices and how they keep us human. After all, comrades, how are we to trust someone who has ne’er indulged themselves beyond the Dark Stream?
I first started smoking at 16 when I was punished for fighting at NMMI. I was only a Sophomore in high school, but my heavy boots and quick tongue found me in a moral quandary my young mind wasn’t capable of extricating itself just yet. My squad leader – a loveable chap who shall remain nameless – recognized my errant behavior and my uncouth attitude toward rules and regulations. After receiving my duly (and justly) fit punishment for breaking the rules, he and I stole away to an insecure power bay and there – on those hallowed grounds of cavalry stomping – I indulged myself for the first time.
Ah, how flitting is the smoke.
I went cold for five years when I found myself sworn to a girl I was for certain to marry. But, if you know my story, comrades, you know that weren’t the case. After five years of biting a hole into my cheek, of swallowing my tongue, of putting on the Richard Cory face, I watched as Rome burnt afore me; I hadn’t even a fiddle to play.
These days – far from that five years – I find myself with a couple of proper pipes and an endless supply of fine American Spirits. There is something to be said about addiction, comrades, for I find it humanizes me. After all, when one compares themselves to Beowulf’s greatest foe, it is reassuring to relate monstrosity to humanity. Am I not flawed? Am I not imperfect? Ah, yes; so very much so. All courtesy of a finely wrapped and packaged death sentence I all too happily indulge: we all die. Enjoy it.
The Longest Journey by Ensiferum has been on repeat for at least an hour – quite possibly more – and though I have listened to this song a thousandfold, each new reverberation brings a new realization. The Dark Stream; pray tell, what is it?
On the morrow I am to teach the Allegory of the Cave by a Mr. Plato. Some Greek blowhard who had some good ideas and unintentionally spawned Christianity. My faithful readers, I implore you to remember we are born of pagan ideals mixed with the blood of the Savior. The Allegory is a stark reminder of this. We escape toward Truth. We must cross the Dark Stream lest we let it consume us.
To my students who are reading this drivel, foremost: stop. Read something of substance. I shan’t quiz you on what your loony instructor writes, but that of what truly matters: this ultimate quest for Truth. And certainly don’t take up smoking; we all die, but at least die knowing you made a contribution aside from being a lung cancer statistic.
Back to the Allegory for I find it a most provocative piece: we delight in our ignorance. It is humanity’s universality. I have some kids who are dumber than a sack of hammers and are destined to make a killing in the o’lfield one day swinging said hammer, but is Life merely an amount of zeros following a dollar sign? No, comrades, far from it.
Beyond that Dark Stream – the proverbial End – and far beyond the Cave of Ignorance, a whole world yearns for our touch. Our gentle boot to the ass. The slap of indignation across the face of realization. To think – to fucking think! – that we are to merely exist to swing hammers and collect a paycheck; ah, how that irks. How it perturbs. How it disturbs. Disrupts. Defiles. And, most damnably, distorts.
We, my comrades, are not put upon this sphere of influence to collect magical pieces of paper with a monetary value in constant flux; render unto Caesar and fuck all. We were not put upon this globe to work until our hands shrivel in dotage and our ungrateful children retire us to homes of the walking dead. And we certainly weren’t put upon this earth, comrades, to labor for no higher purpose.
Are we not to serve as reminders?
Ah; education. Education – that bridge across the Stream, straddling the Cave – to enlightenment. My little bastards have but a taste of it; far more is to come as Real Life swings the proverbial Dick of Life into their wholesome faces, but let it be clear that it is with the best of intentions. Certainly, a dick in the face is frowned upon in polite company, but if you can learn something – for Good or Ill – is learning not worth it?
Years ago I learned I found relief in stimulants, my beautiful tobacco, and mastered the art of keeping an addiction under control for self-betterment. With each new high, I found the dragon e’er out of reach until I stumbled upon that one high replicated e’ery 49 minutes. Teaching, ah blessed Teaching, how you, like my tobacco, keep me humble, alive, and awake.
We all die, comrades. We all struggle with addiction. Self-doubt. The cancer of the soul that one day will claim us as another statistic of whatever egress you fancy. But, comrades, but, we aren’t there yet. Make something of yourself. Make something of yours. Embrace your mistakes and realize you were simply the Escaped Prisoner from the Cave the entirety.
If, dear reader, these words are lost upon you, then I fear you ne’er left the Cave. Rethink yourself. Rethink the Cave. The Dark Stream. Rethink you. What have you to offer, after all?
I am a near-alcoholic, chain-smoking, foul-mouthin’, fucking crazy.
But at least I am Free.
It was Swiss National Day. 1 August, when the original three cantons swore blood oaths against foreign aggression and the hated Hapsburgs. It was unlike any other Erste August they had celebrated before.
He sat across from her, a diminutive woman from centuries past, a veritable peasant milkmaid once upon a time who most certainly hurled boulders on the invading Austrians at Morgarten. She might have been a shade, her stature so small against the massive wooden chair she found herself seated upon. His grandmother – his father’s side – who was approaching her 85th birthday.
Grössi. Swiss shorthand for grandmother.
He looked upon her gnarled hands – worn well with ages of manual labor – and remembered the tenderness behind those curved fingers. How she would comfort his father when he was sick – a shot of grög to cure any illness (warm schnapps with water, lemon, and sugar to hide the bitterness) – how those very same hands once fended off a rabid fox using only a wooden pitchfork before his grandfather – Opa – shot it with a rudimentary (possibly flintlock) shotgun. The very same hands that knitted water-tight wicker baskets, carved planks from felled trees, sowed corn in the Alpine climate of Fribourg, cut beans, made salbe to cure wounds and prevent infections, swatted misbehaving children and grandchildren, and toasted fortune and misfortune alike with a hearty Sante and a fiery schnapps. Those very hands, rough as talons, that would pat his head and remind him – even well into adulthood – he was still just a little boy. Hepschabübe.
Apart from his full-blood Swiss cousin who was destined to inherit the family farm, he was the only grandchild who spoke enough of her odd dialect to engage in genuine conversation; the trouble with immigrant parents. He recalled the times she would badger him about his American girlfriends, when he would settle down and find himself a nice Swiss girl.
Üb’ die Berge, she would say, passing him chocolate and sweets, forcing him to sit in the shade and rest as she labored in the fields, refusing to accept his help. Over the mountain, indicating a potential Swiss bride was just over the next Berge for her wayward American grandson.
Nay, Grössi, i’ wie nicht, he would respond a thousandfold. No, Grandmother, I don’t know. His catch-all response for matters of the heart.
Schön, schön, she would sigh gayly, returning her attention to fields needing plowing and hay needing turning. Good, good. It was a waiting game for her – a means of conversation – and even though he dreaded explaining himself in a foreign tongue to this family relic, he found solace in their brief, practical conversations.
She was no taller than five feet, coming to his shoulder on a good day, but with a perpetual crick in her spine, as if the weight of the farm and family constantly caused her to tilt to and fro in either direction. Despite her size – this elderly ragamuffin – she was worth every ounce of her salt, easily outpacing him in plowing fields, harvesting hay, gathering roots, or chopping wood. She was a metronome, and he, in the prime of his Life, found himself wholly inadequate in her maternal, enduring presence. She was carved from the very stone of her mountainous homeland; part of him was certain she watched the granite blossom from nothingness.
He had visited the farm several years ago, intent on exploring Europe via foot and backpack. For a week, whilst his luggage languished in Germany – Düütschesland, she’d mutter – he helped about the place, trying to earn his keep, to show her that not all Americans were fat and lazy. Even though he awoke before dawn and helped milk cows before herding them to the hills, she was always there before him. It seemed Time was afraid of her and merely responded to her bidding. Geh’ du Lese’, Professor, she would say laughingly. Go back to reading. Farm work was no place for a boy outpaced by an octogenarian.
Once, many years ago, she asked about his American interests and what sort of music he enjoyed. Though he did take a particular liking to traditional Swiss polka and yodel, he confessed he admired Rammstein. She swore in rapid fire Swiss, crossing herself thrice – a good Catholic woman – before chastising him for his lack of taste and affinity for megabrutal music. Mein’ Gött. When they visited Rome together later that summer, she entered the Vatican on bended knee, crawling through St. Peter’s gate as a true Pilgrim. The heavens sang.
When his mother was stricken with breast cancer, the very same diminutive woman (who had only left Switzerland three times before) made an immediate pilgrimage to Lourdes to pray for healing. His uncle, who ran the farm, protested at the loss of his most valuable hand for a near week: how would he get by? Soga’ Ketzer brauche’ Hilfe, the good Catholic would laugh. Even heretics need help, she said with love. His Protestant mother had been cancer-free for several years.
He thought of the old woman he and his missionary comrades had served in Santiago de Chile. Abuela, they had affectionately called her, a tiny woman who was easily 80 years old, yet cared for her American hijos and hijas as if they were her own babes. He saw his grandmother in this woman – the very same spark of Life and vitality no hardship could extinguish. She kissed the ground as they left for the last time, falling prostrate, rising for each child, kissing them on the cheek, and whispering Spanish prayers into their ears as they hugged goodbye. He wept that day, finding his Grössi in the slums of Chile.
His thoughts returned to 1 August, a day of celebration and fest. Here they were, assembled as a family: grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, daughters, sons, the whole mess of them drunk on wine, schnapps, food, and family.
His father raised his wine glass and the table silenced themselves – the chatter and laughter coming to a hushed close. “I wish to make a toast,” he said in his heavily accented English, “to Grössi. And to Switzerland.”
The quiet table burst into raucous cheers of hear, hear’s and Sante’s as they clinked crystal wine glasses against one another, ensuring they made eye contact with every individual at the table (and never crossing arms; taboo and bad luck) before supping the fine French wine.
Amidst bread, blood, and drink, all was well.
He looked at his father, a proud, strong man who seized the American dream by the throat and throttled every meaningful promise into existence for his family. He held back tears – plain enough to see – as he smashed his glass again and again.
“Für Grössi, Vater,” he said as their glasses met.
Grössi raised her own glass, her petite bird arm cradling the fine schlöcki as she toasted her fellow well-wishers.
“Für dich,” he said as he met Grössi’s strong, patient eye. “Mein’ Grössi.”
“Mein’ Kinde’,” she replied warmly, the sound of cascading crystal reverberating throughout the room. My child.
She had passed away some 12 hours before, approximately 3,000 miles away, in the comfort of her bed.
My Grandmother in Switzerland passed away during the early hours of 1 August. I last saw her in 2014 when I started Camino Primaris, still the strong, implacable woman of my youth. Her image of strength, tenacity, and willpower will ne’er leave me.
Geh’ mit Gött, Grössi.
Go with God.