Finding the spirit – Here, there and everywhere

The cat lay sprawled across my desk, bathing in that subtle gray hue of sunlight known only to Clevelanders and the thousands of other Americans left to rot in the cities lost in time. As a rule, I must be enemies with one of my cats at all times. This particular cat, stretching now as if to reach the finer particles of cloud-blotched daylight, was not my enemy at the moment. That honor was reserved for the other one. We call him Winnie.

The cat on my desk, named Caspian and adorned in stripes of varying shades of black, gray, orange and the like, did not like the smell, the effervescent scent, of my red wine. I sloshed it around a bit before lifting it once again to my mouth. There’s something about vino that brings out the ritualistic in me – moreso, at least, than the beer that typically addles my mind.

But no, on this fine Wednesday afternoon, I was indulging in the fine pleasures of retail red and, more notably, listening to Phish’s Aug. 17, 2010, concert at Jones Beach in Wantaugh, N.Y. It was my first Phish show. That, and many other reasons lost in the dark sea of remembrances, make it a particularly enjoyable three hours of music. Among the finest, I should say.

It was the perfect aperitif for the evening’s entertainment. Phish has chosen the tasteful path of broadcasting several of its shows live on the Internet. Furthermore, the band was putting on a benefit show relating to the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, a nasty bitch of a storm that had ravaged much of North Carolina and New England. Indeed, it was a unique phenomenon. Heather and I wiled away a weekend in Orlando, a potential target for Irene, but we were fortunate enough to watch her set sail for the North, ignoring Florida for the most part. Residents of Vermont, however, were not as fortunate.

To donate to the flood recovery efforts in Vermont, visit or catch up on Twitter with the hashtag #VTResponse

The Burlington Free Press and other news outlets noted that the flooding throughout Vermont was the worst in over 100 years. Vermont natives Trey Anastastio, Mike Gordon, Page McConnell and Jon Fishman responded through both their music and their WaterWheel Foundation. Proceeds from the show will be directed toward Vermont-based recovery efforts, but as of Sept. 10 the foundation and related organizations had donated $25,000 to schools in the New England area. That altruistic undercurrent in the band is just one of the seemingly infinite reasons I give a daily goddamn about them.

But, further back in time, the Aug. 17, 2010, show was a fantastic trip to what seemed to be another planet. There have been numerous words written about the music, the scene and the antics of Phish over the years, and there’s not much a point in diluting my wine-soaked fanaticism into a coherent train of thought on the topic. On the other hand, it’s worth getting into the fact that exposure to different subcultures in America is one of the finest pursuits in this society.

There’s something freeing about diving headfirst into the unknown. There are so many outlets for compassion and creation that it’s foolish to ignore them. Open-mindedness, something that lurks beneath each note in Phish’s playing, is the key to unlocking the good stuff in life.

After graduating from college in June 2010, a mere 66 days prior to the aforementioned Jones Beach show, I’ve collided with the unsettling brick wall of unrelenting humanity. And not in the good sense. I’m talking about Herbert Morrison’s coverage of the Hindenburg disaster. “Oh, the humanity!” It’s a disturbing mantra that, for better or worse, restlessly loops in the back of my mind. At best, it serves as a constant reminder that ghosts exist. Horrors abound. Get the fuck out of the way, there’s a storm coming! Manifest destiny is all we have – and not even that sometimes. Indeed, sometimes our fate is writ long before its coming.

But that’s all slapstick bullshit, right? Getting that worked up over the societal ills that seep up through the carpet and spill out into our rivers and lakes and oceans is just a silly, amoral pastime. Far better to muzzle the barking dog and, once he’s asleep, let him lie.

Nonetheless, there’s a disconcerting element of disengagement in this world. All around us, there’s a built-up immunity to progress and curiosity and the exploration of the other. Xenophobia, the great Plague of our century, is firmly planted in our skulls. A seething, breathing reminder that it’s far more comfortable to stay indoors and avoid the nuisances out there.

Fuck it. Put on some music and spin your memories – if, in fact, you still have any memories left. There are stories within us and without us. It serves us well to remind ourselves how we got here. Because if there were lessons to be learned on the way, it would certainly be a boon to our own lives and to the lives around us to put them to good use.

I may feel a moral need to meditate from time to time and to espouse Zen koans and views. But I’ll revel in my past as well. It’s an important feature of our individualities. Again, it informs our present and future. Whether our histories are dull or vibrant, they should propel us to seek better futures for ourselves. We should dabble in the weeble-wobble of culture and the idiosyncrasies of store-bought red wine. Undulations, much in the way that good vino laps against the rounded sides of the glass, make up the footpath of life. Dig it.

The cat continued its midday nap, stirring from time to time under the Lake Erie-spawned gray skies. Refracting through the thin layer of dust on the window, the light flooded into my office. It gave the wine an oceanic undertone. I was not displeased as I took another slug, my quaint, ritualistic sips now thrown out the window, along with any semblance of sanity for the evening.

There was, after all, a Phish show on the the horizon. Another chance to dip into the undertow of creation and wash away with the loamy sea floor. Indeed, like the ocean, life is nothing more than an ever-shifting environment, cast forward under the sun.

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