Working by Hindsight

by: Michael Bradford

Stuck in the waiting room with so much more to offer-and then still waiting…..

I imagined, as a boy, being everything else but just that. What a lament that is for a man now active in the imagining of being nothing else except just that.  I was told then I simply had to wait. Insufferably so, it seemed then, for that time that has become now. Shunned then as I was from the closed door forums of grown men and women–themselves once restricted from the seemingly preferred company of adults in conversation–and yet welcomed now, I am crippled by the hungering pangs of want for some alternate version of that which here transpires among whom I then imagined the sages of wisdom.

We all had so much more to offer when we were locked out. In the waiting room.

Tracing fingers through the worn out back page mazes of Highlights magazines already savaged by the fiercely gripped pencils of our founding fore-children, I was then–as I remain now–as equally frustrated as entertained by the idiocy of patience that decorated waiting rooms offered. It was there and then, however, that somehow first thrived in restless soil, my take on the great American idea–that of an undisclosed Adventure of our Choosing–as I think it was surely then exactly how I believe it now.

I was reminded of this belief when shining love on my current hobby of following the sometimes tearful trail of a modern day artist’s inspiration; an effort which just now has led me, with the narrative intrigue of an Encyclopedia Brown mystery, to the surprisingly cold case file of a mesmerizing once-14 year-old wordsmith by the name of Mike Altman.

Shunned then, as he was, from those closed door conversations of unheard wisdom our young Mr. Altman devised an altogether discouraging version of all the things he could not see–fittingly bleak when considering his vantage point of a childhood spent wasting away in the desolation of empty waiting rooms due to advice cast by his doctoral adults–and he wrote it into song.  A song we all know very well but of which I have to believe, have not even the slightest recognition in its printed version. As such, it begins like this:

Through early morning fog I see 
visions of the things to be
the pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see… 

His words, a 14 year vintage, I suspect, touched another amazingly daring young man on his own high flying trapeze many years later, and so here and now, together, we are going to read through those lyrics that, while now main street standards, were then written under the cover of that lonely exile of an all too familiar silence which blankets the bedroom afternoon affectations of children left to their own devices when facing the light of wonder. A revisiting of all of those lyrics, except, of course, the most important.  Critical as it is, the line that holds the hook sinks the ships. Stay afloat for a spell….

I try to find a way to make
all our little joys relate
without that ever-present hate
but now I know that it’s too late

There is a game young folk play, or at least, they once played, with the intent of finding out what exactly their future life held in store for them. It is meant to foresee their outcome–of the most important variables of their life not yet lived–as an adult. Whom will you marry? What will you do to provide? How many children will you have? What car will you drive?  But among them all and of titular importance was this one highly questioned and so distinctly marked prompt: Where will you dwell in this life to be?

The game of life is hard to play
I’m gonna lose it anyway
The losing card I’ll someday lay
so this is all I have to say…

That game the children play is actually born of a surprisingly involved and evolved idea. The only way to inherit the fortune of their future’s telling is by mixing the ink they spilled into carefully worded desires with another’s carelessly spiraled doodle, the combination serving to weave together the hopes of the former with the fate of the latter and yet ultimately, to be decided as fact by the very precise and singular timing marked by only one soul’s yelling: STOP!

The only way to win is cheat 
And lay it down before I’m beat
and to another give my seat
for that’s the only painless feat. 

When passing GO, instead of collecting $200, in exchange for permission to use his words as the lyrics of what would become an international anthem for the ages our hero simply requested a new guitar. But his father told him that was not enough.  Robert would not let his son get cheated out of the gold that surely his future held in storage. His son possessed a mighty pen.

The sword of time will pierce our skins
It doesn’t hurt when it begins
But as it works its way on in
The pain grows stronger…watch it grin

He never wrote another song. If you tried to look him up and ask why, you wouldn’t find him. If you did, he wouldn’t reply.

A brave man once requested me 
to answer questions that are key
‘is it to be or not to be’
and I replied ‘oh why ask me?’ 

Fourteen laps around the sun. That’s all he needed to captain the most crooked of hooks:

Cause suicide is painless 
it brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.
…and you can do the same thing if you choose.

[23 hours earlier:]

Tracing a finger through the worn out back page mazes of the Highlights magazine of David Byrne’s song book will make anyone cross-eyed, and me painlessly spit shit out of order

I’m ready to leave-
I push the fact in front of me

Making a list-
Find the cost of opportunity
Nothing there!-
No information left of any kind
Lifting my head-

Looking for danger signs

The island of doubt-

It’s like the taste of medicine 

Doing it right-

Facts are useless in emergencies 

Can’t stop-

I might end up in the hospital

Sharp as a knife-

Facts cut a hole in us

I’m changing my shape-

I feel like an accident
There was a line-

There was a formula 

Facts lost-
Facts are never what they seem to be 

Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view
Facts don’t do what I want them to
Facts just twist the truth around
Facts are living turned inside out

Facts are getting the best of them
Facts are nothing on the face of things
Facts don’t stain the furniture
Facts go out and slam the door
Facts are written all over your face
Facts continue to change their shape 

Still waiting….

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