what’s a little malaise between winged and un-winged friends?

10/20/2022 0 By BuddyCushman

(From yesterday’s LA Zoom writing group 45-minute rave on:)

This story begins with Jimmy Longley walking out to the middle of the Vermont Street Bridge. Maybe it says something about you, how you took that opening sentence. Or about me, the way I’m telling it – this story. I wonder if the experience of hearing or seeing or both would be different if I’d started like this: “Once upon a time a boy named Jimmy Longley walked out to the middle of the Vermont Street Bridge?” Give it a little fairy tale quality. Not that fairy tales have to be gentle, so, say, I ended that sentence with a comma instead of a period. So now it goes, “Once upon a time a boy named Jimmy Longley walked out to the middle of the Vermont Street Bridge, where a dragon swooped up from its nest below the bridge and ate Jimmy Longley alive.” Yuck, right? The point is things aren’t always the way our mind tells us they ought to be. I mean I don’t know how obvious that is to you, but it seems obvious to me.

A story begins with someone walking out to the middle of a bridge and you almost can’t help going to suicide. Maybe you don’t, or wouldn’t, but I bet lots if not most people would. Even without details of the height of the bridge or iron bars for walls or maybe there aren’t any. So, let me help now. Here’s the we’ve-been-holding-our-breath-nearly-forever second sentence. “Jimmy liked it out there near the very middle of what he thought of as his bridge.” See – there’s a small grove of eucalyptus trees rising up from the floor of the little canyon over which the bridge spans. These eucalyptus trees are nearly always alive with zig-zagging hummingbirds. Jimmy’s a real fan of hummingbirds and especially the ones you see from the middle of the Vermont Street Bridge because, well, they look back at you. That’s the way Jimmy describes it. They buzz around and light on branches and shoot off and come back and visit eucalyptus leaves – which smell so good – and rocket off and all of a sudden, and it helps to have real good patience, one of the hummingbirds will fly directly in front of him, maybe eight feet away he figures, and hover, it would be floating if the wings weren’t going a million miles an hour, and look right at Jimmy. No doubt they’re looking right at him and seeing him look out at them, and Jimmy has never said anything like this to me, but I wonder if the hummingbirds can tell he loves them, which he does because he has told me that. Or it could be a science experiment on the hummingbirds’ part – check out that. But, the way I was brought up and how I’ve been all my life, I’m going with love. So, back in the day Jackie DeShannon sang “What the World Needs Now Is Love”, and I’m thinking that what the world could use is lots more hummingbirds. I don’t know if that’s an opinion or philosophy or what just came up telling you this story – with or without the once upon a time – but I said it and I’m sticking to it.

Now, if you remember, we’re only on the second sentence of the actual story. The third will go like this: “Jimmy’s gone out to the middle of the Vermont Street Bridge today because there’s something he wants to think about”, and Jimmy’s told me a bunch of times he feels like he does his best thinking there. He wants to think about – he told me this yesterday when we were drinking coffee – he wants to think about if you can be unhappy and be happy being unhappy. Maybe that’s not clear. Can you be happy when you’re unhappy, but pretty much deeper than that. He said to me, “I want to know if I can be happy right in the middle of my unhappiness.” Like, nothing else added. And here I suppose you – the reader and hearer of this story – could go back to where we started and wonder if he might jump (after all) because he’s so unhappy, and I will just say Jimmy and I have been pals most of our lives and he knows I know he’s nowhere near that unhappy, like he’d even think about jumping. And plus – this is me wondering this – what would the hummingbirds be thinking about someone without wings falling to the canyon floor. 

Anyway, what Jimmy said to me is the word “malaise.” He said that and had a sip of coffee and put the cup down and grinned at me the way he does and said, “I wonder if there’s happiness in malaise?”

Which is why he walked out to the middle of the Vermont Street Bridge today. And as far as I know, he’s still out there.