Well, at five a.m., oil pressure’s sinkin’ fast I make a pit stop, wipe the windshield, check the gas Gotta call my baby on the telephone Let her know that her daddy’s comin’ on home Sit tight, little mama, I’m comin’ ’round I got three more hours, but I’m coverin’ ground
I was not always a patient man, patience is a skill I have acquired over a life littered with setbacks and disappointments. And before Jersey girl came along, there was an unusually large number of those. I can’t regret them, though, because ultimately they made me the man she fell for.
She’d just spent thirteen years married to a boy in a man’s body – the worst sort of imposter to my mind – a narcissist who thought piling on muscle was what made you a man. She had lived all that time a prisoner of his childish behaviours and petty demands until the strain had become intolerable. For her, it was a case of get out or go insane.
Tonight we’ll blow off the doors and honey we won’t look back We held it in our hearts in the pourin’ rain We made it through the heart of a hurricane We tore it apart and put it together again
The one thing she knew was that she needed an adult; someone mature, reliable and patient. Sounds a bit dull, I know. If you’re under a certain age and reading this I’m sure you’re thinking that sounds about as sexy as cancer. If you’ve been around the block a few times, you probably get it.
For my part, it was important she too was a parent. I’d tried being with people with no kids but they just don’t get parents at all. My son’s an adult now but I remain a father first and everything else second, that’s not a problem for Jersey girl. She gets that and admires it, as I admire the incredible sacrifices she’s made for her kids since taking on life as basically a single mother.
Yes, we really are that boring – from the outside. From within the bubble, however, it is quite a different story. When we are together and all skins are shed, things become less… patient. Despite our apparent cautiousness, we are two people who cannot contain our passions. Within our private universe, there are no rules there is only the maelstrom. And like the characters in many a Springsteen song, we always drive towards the storm.
There’s a dark cloud rising from the desert floor I packed my bags and I’m heading straight into the storm Gonna be a twister to blow everything down That ain’t got the faith to stand its ground
In my case, I will soon be flying towards it. I don’t sleep on planes; I stare pensively ahead and imagine the coming fire. It’s good to be a patient man; an adult but the time for patience will soon be over. The bonfire waits for the first lick of flame.
I wonder what he was thinking when he hit that storm Or was he just lost in the flood?
I don’t just live a life of long separations; I live two distinct and parallel lives. The vast majority of my time is spent in Melbourne. Here I have an apartment, a job, friends, and family; all the things that make a life – almost. The obvious thing that appears to be missing is a significant other.
I have one of those too, of course, my Jersey girl, but I only spend a fraction of my time in her world of New Jersey; I’m talking here of time physically spent with her, which so far amounts to about four months out of the several years we’ve been a couple. All of this has spawned a strange reality in my mind.
Thanks to Skype, we both get to see each other every single day. We chat about the same things that all couples do; work, friends, the kids, what fresh hell her ex has devised to torment her with today (OK, perhaps that one’s just us).
We laugh and sometimes cry together and often the kids pile on too. I feel very present in her everyday there in Jersey. When she talks about people and places now (as opposed to when this all first started) I am able to visualize perfectly what she experiences despite the fact that it’s all happening thousands of miles away from me.
Even the mundane stuff is intimately familiar to me. When she says she’s been to the store, I know what route she probably took and what local features she passed along the way. I know the aisles she wandered down at the market and what she likely put in her cart. All of this comes immediately to mind as if I’d been there with her; a phantom limb of memory.
It’s that way with everything now. I live in two time zones. In my head, it is always day and night. I also live at two ends of the year in that it is always simultaneously summer and winter or spring and fall. I can be walking down the street on a swelteringly hot day thinking about her having to shovel the snow from her driveway that morning (my night) to go to work. In that instance, the snow is as real as the beating sun above me.
I also find myself slipping into Americanisms when talking to her, though, never in conversations here. Talking with her kids I’ll say your mom instead of your mum as one obvious example. Also, when I’m at the liquor store, I’ll absent-mindedly look for the wrong kind of beer (I do exactly the same thing on the Jersey side).
Sometimes I walk around parts of Jersey – Clinton, Asbury Park, Cape May – on Google Street view, just because I miss it. Within our relationship, this is all uniquely my situation, because Jersey girl has never had the opportunity to visit me here in Melbourne. She gets it, but she doesn’t feel it. It’s pretty much the only aspect of our relationship where our experiential perspectives differ to any significant degree.
It has me wondering how many other people are out there living their lives in this dualistic way.
They’re building a bunker down by the river And someone said that that’s where they’ve been getting together They got masks for the gas, they’re sleeping in their bulletproof vests I guess Shepard came out of St. Cloud with a little ideology Some new way of thinking, man A view to the future Jesus, this might be a mess
The Hold Steady, I hope this whole thing didn’t frighten you
The universe seems to be pushing back at the moment, I’m not sure why. The mix up with the tickets was a real shock and now things are getting weird in the building where I live. I try to pay attention to what life is telling me, but I’ll admit I don’t always understand the message that’s being presented.
The world is becoming sticky, there’s no other word I can think of to describe it. I’ve always believed we try to move with the flow of life but it doesn’t quite seem that way these days. Everything feels viscous and that viscosity seems to be killing momentum. Jersey girl also feels it and I’m seeing people around the blogosphere growing more unsettled too.
Who can blame them when people are getting meaner, politicians are getting more openly corrupt and the air as we attempt to pass through it feels more resistant, like a dream where you’re trying to run under water.
If I were to choose a metaphor to describe all this, it would be that of the elastic band stretched to its limit. It’s either going to break or spring back with an almighty thwack. Either way, it doesn’t seem good.
I should not be feeling this way so close to my reunion with the wife of my heart, but I can’t seem to shake this notion that there is some malignant threat at large in the world and that we are all, in some way, at risk of being consumed by it.
Jersey girl works in a busy bookstore and has noticed in the year and a half that she’s been there that the customers have been getting progressively ruder and more aggressive. If they are not screaming abuse at the staff, they generally treat them as if they were their personal servants to be ordered around on a whim. And this, as I mentioned, in a bookstore! She’s worked in many areas of retail over several decades and has never seen anything like this sort of constant aggression driven behavior.
I’ve been noticing it more and more here in Melbourne as well. It’s as if everyone senses something is building but most people have no idea what that something is. They feel like life is spinning out of control and that if they don’t do something, assert some authority in their lives, it will overwhelm them. This uncertainty seems, in some people at least, to translate into frustration and rage.
I know this is an unusually negative post compared to my normal enthusiastic raves about love and music but I have to be genuine in what I write. If I’m going to lay myself bare, I need to do it in as honest a manner as I can. I’m likely off the mark with all this but I’m compelled to write it all the same.
Feel free to share your opinion if you are so inclined.
The countdown is on. In just two weeks I board the flight that nearly wasn’t. How are we feeling right now? Terrified, of course.
After eight months of yearning, we will be back in each other’s arms in just a clutch of days. It’s what I want more than anything in this world but that doesn’t mean it comes without its fears. Both of us are unhappy with the way we currently look, for instance. Though neither she nor I have the slightest trepidations about how the other looks, both of us are fearful that the other will be disappointed when they see us.
This is an absolutely stupid thing to worry about at this late stage in the relationship, but neither of us seems quite able to shake it off. It’s really just the usual separation anxiety stuff. We both know without question how much the other loves us. Oh, human frailty.
There are other, probably more legitimate, fears regarding the tortured relationship between Jersey girl and her ex-husband, but I’m not really prepared to write about that situation at this time. Perhaps when she and I are finally safely married I will introduce you to the wonderful world of dealing with sociopaths and narcissists (almost a blog to itself – Runaway American Psycho?).
Anyway, the upshot of all this is that despite the joyous nature of each reunion, there is always an underlying need to be reassured that we are still worthy of each others love. I’m not going to examine too closely what that says about us, but at least it’s a confirmation that neither of us have gigantic egos.
Love in these days of fear is as tainted as everything else I suppose. Or perhaps it’s just me.
As the next trip draws near, I can let myself admit how difficult this latest separation has been for both of us. This was the longest space between the moments yet and it has been tough. The Skype contact makes it bearable (how on earth we ever managed for 18 months just talking on the phone I’ll never know) but obviously, Skype can never replace being in the same room as the one you love.
So yes, it has been very hard – never hard enough to question why we are doing it – but certainly hard enough to generate occasional depressions and bouts of melancholy. We’re only human after all and in these uncertain times in which we live, there is always an underlying anxiety.
Some of my friends and I have a ‘thing’ we say, where do you want to be when the planes stop flying? It’s kind of an in-joke but not really. It’s an acknowledgment that things are not too flash in the world these days and that everything could so easily go tits up. If the planes stop flying I know exactly where I want – where I need – to be; home. If there’s one hesitation in that it’s due only to the fact that my other home – my son – lives here in Melbourne, so were I with Jersey girl and unable to make the trip back to Australia, obviously that would be a source of deep anxiety for me.
We must follow where our hearts lead, however, and my son is as cognizant of that fact as am I. Love always demands a sacrifice. Some would even say love is sacrifice. Perhaps that’s true, it doesn’t really resonate with me, though. For me, love is the wellspring from which all things flow. Purpose, growth, altruism, and empathy all stem from love. Love for our work brings purpose, love for our friends and family brings personal growth, love for our community brings altruism, and love for those less advantaged or in pain brings empathy.
If you are capable of love in all its many incarnations, then you are ready for the truest love, the love of your life. And you will both need the other to have all of that capacity just to get you through the many trials of this life; that’s where the sacrifice comes in.
For richer, for poorer. In sickness and health. Those are great words, essential words and there are good reasons why they form part of most marriage vows. Without the empathy and compassion those words require from both parties, no relationship can flourish. That is what has gotten us through all these years of long separations with our sanities (mostly) intact. When one of us weakens, begins to spiral, the other’s compassion is what pulls the plane out of its dive.
There have been countless such moments and yet here we still stand, together even when separated by the mass of a medium sized planet.
Thoughts of you warm my bones I’m on the way, I’m on the phone Let’s get lost, me and you An ocean and a rock is nothing to me
Lisa Hannigan, Ocean and a Rock
Pouring out your heart in print is undeniably cathartic; it can also be very clarifying. Life happens to us in a chaotic jumble, it all makes a kind of sense at the time but, as we move away from each moment, it becomes blurred and indistinct. I would compare looking back upon our lives as somewhat akin to listening to a band from outside of the venue; it’s kind of impressionistic.
That’s where writing stuff down comes in handy.
In attempting to create a cogent narrative for these posts, I have needed to be able to look back at each event and relive it in my mind (the accompanying emotions at least, if not every physical detail). I’ve found that as I write, the memories become less clouded.
That is the point at which the patterns of my life begin to reveal themselves. I start to see the connections between things that I hadn’t quite noticed before and I begin then to hear the music of life.
Through this process, I was easily able to pinpoint the moment when one ‘song’ ended and the next began. For me, a song reflecting a somewhat resigned life of solitude came to an abrupt stop the moment I read a comment on an online thread. I didn’t know it at the time but nothing was going to be the same after that. I had just met Jersey girl.
The song that followed that moment had an entirely different tempo, beat, and intensity. Whereas mine had been a quiet, somber ballad of the Devils and dust variety, our song was more a euphoric foot stomper of the Meet me in the city school; grizzled and ambiguous tones replaced by soaring harmonies and appealing hooks.
I do not mean to trivialize the emotions we experienced as we learned our parts. Quite the contrary, music is to me humanity’s greatest achievement and when I compare our love to a song, I’m affording it the deepest respect.
That is why music features so heavily on this blog about love. For me, the two are absolutely inseparable.
What follows then, is a small selection of tracks from the mixtape to our story. If they seem a little melancholy, can you be surprised? After all, we live most of the time a world apart.
(I know that I described our song as a euphoric foot stomper but that doesn’t mean that the tracks we listen to when we are missing each other are also of that sort)
Well we’re living here in Allentown
And they’re closing all the factories down
Out in Bethlehem they’re killing time
Filling out forms
Standing in line
Well our fathers fought the Second World War
Spent their weekends on the Jersey Shore
Met our mothers in the USO
Asked them to dance
Danced with them slow
Billy Joel, Allentown
In the Eastern region of Pennsylvania lies the Lehigh Valley, this area has long been a centre for industry stretching back to colonial times. The town of Bethlehem, in particular, holds an important place in the history, not only of Pennsylvania but the entire country. Bethlehem was the birthplace of Bethlehem steel.
Few Americans need to be reminded of just how major a contribution that company made to the development of the nation. The Golden Gate Bridge was constructed with girders from the furnaces of Bethlehem Steel, as was the Empire State Building and a great many other iconic constructions.
In fact, it was due to the ability of Bethlehem’s foundries to produce the first wide-flange structural shapes that the skyscraper as we know it was born.
The US Navy, in particular, benefitted from Bethlehem’s ability to produce both armour plates and large calibre gun barrels for ships. From the end of the Civil War on, Bethlehem was a crucial cog in the nation’s ability to wage war… er… I mean defend herself.
Interestingly enough, in the sixties, Bethlehem lost the bid on providing steel for the World Trade Centre construction. In hindsight, this may have been the first sign that the company was sliding towards decline.
At the height of her powers, Bethlehem Steel employed tens of thousands of workers and had plants and mines in states all across the country. Unfortunately, the management of the company failed dismally to anticipate the changing environment and after a series of wrongheaded decisions, not the least of which being a refusal to modernize to keep pace with overseas competitors, the company began to flounder.
In 1982, Bethlehem reported a loss of US$1.5 billion.
At the end of 1995, they closed the original Bethlehem plant bringing to an end 140 years of metal production in Bethlehem PA.
In 2003, after the inevitable bankruptcy, the company’s remaining assets were acquired by International Steel Group.
In 2007, plans were drawn up to build a Sands casino on part of the site that had been occupied by the steelworks. Ironically, due to a global steel shortage, the construction suffered from a lack of structural steel. The casino was, nevertheless, completed in 2009.
The casino is only one aspect of the repurposing of the original site. The site is also home to SteelStacks, an arts and entertainment district which features live music and other cultural events.
We visited SteelStacks towards the end of my stay. Jersey girl’s Aunt and Uncle (two of my favourite people ever) invited us and the kids to a free gig on the lawn at the Levitt Pavilion. This is a wonderful amphitheatre affair with a top notch stage and great acoustics where people can bring chairs or blankets to picnic while the bands play.
On this particular evening, the act was The Glimmer Twins. You guessed it, a Rolling Stones tribute band. I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect as I’m not generally much of a fan of covers bands, but I was keen to check out the Steelworks.
I had my camera with me and when we got there, I was so glad I did. The place is just stunning. Much of the original architecture is still standing in various states of repair – or rather disrepair. The place has an almost post-apocalyptic vibe and this is only enhanced by the massive structure of the old furnaces that have been left standing and which form a truly impressive backdrop to the stage area.
As soon as we’d staked out our territory on the lawn, I grabbed my camera and disappeared alone for half an hour. I’ll largely let the pictures speak for themselves here but will say they barely do justice to the place.
As I was walking around in an ecstatic haze, I found myself trailing behind a group of men in their early sixties or late fifties. They were talking in that way old comrades do and I realized these were retired steel men. And they’d come to reminisce about the bad old days.
I wasn’t exactly eavesdropping, but I was close enough to get the gist of their talk and the story they told in resigned and offhand tones was a tragic one.
Have you heard from Al at all?
Nah, I think he passed.
Yeah? I didn’t know he was sick.
All those guys got sick.
I guess so, he was the last of that bunch I guess.
How’s your boy’s treatment goin’?
He’s up and down y’know.
After listening for a little, I let them pass on. I looked around at the pitted ironwork and the rust and wondered what it was that had lent their conversation such an air of inevitability and stoic acceptance. They sounded bitter, but only in the way that people who have no expectations left express bitterness; quietly and with black humour.
It would seem that work in such a place is perhaps more dangerous to health than is generally admitted. Back in the late forties and early fifties at the plant in Lackawanna, New York the Bethlehem workers were rolling Uranium for nuclear power stations. They had no idea that the metal they were rolling was hazardous and no protective gear was ever issued.
Many of the men grew ill, but due to the fact that their illness was claimed to be caused by heavy metal poisoning, rather than radiation, they were not entitled to compensation from the Department of Labour under their carefully worded radiation-exposure law.
I shook off the grim mood that overheard conversation had planted, I was here to enjoy some music and good company. Re-joining Jersey girl and the family I settled in to watch the show. Remarkably, the band turned out to be very good and I enjoyed the gig to an almost embarrassing degree.
The sun went down as we watched the band and at that point another feature was revealed. Slowly, as the sunset faded, coloured lights began to come up on the structure of the Furnaces.
By the time darkness had completely fallen, the ironwork was dramatically lit in multiple hues. It was really quite spectacular.