While the origins of San Diego’s name remain murky for some, The Nervous Breakdown is staying as classy as ever by celebrating it’s 5th birthday with TNB’s Literary Experience in San Diego, CA on Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 7 p.m.

This event, like the tasty waves rolling up to its bikini-speckled beaches, will be epic.

To commemorate this auspicious occasion, TNB is unleashing a seismic event full of outrageous readings, delicious birthday cake and a special musical guest.

WHEN: Thursday August 25, 2011. 7 p.m.

WHERE:  The Historic Ideal Hotel and Tea Room
540 3rd Ave.
San Diego, CA

 

Please explain what just happened.

I’ve been trying to figure that one out myself for years…

What is your earliest memory?

Running back from a creek with tadpoles in my hands and getting yelled at. Slapped, too!

If you weren’t an adventure filmmaker/musician, what other profession would you choose?

I would pursue whatever profession would allow me to wander around aimlessly.

 

2/2 The Road to Jackson Hole

The roar of the V8 under my feet feels very American as we climb through the foothills of the Northern Rockies, yellow/green grass, red/pink rock plateaus like specialty cakes crafted by time and erosion, off to the left deeper foothills, browner, dotted with conifers, the path we drive through treeless, only scrubby brush and hearty grasses, a perfect cross between prairie and western plateaus.

The road is flat and mostly straight, speed limit 75, black cows munching on grass–content to chew and flap their tails–rarely will you see a lone cow stray from the group–sad in a way that I can see them now as something natural and beautiful, soon to be only cling wrapped, sliced pieces of flesh, dredged through terrible cutting machines, consumed by somebody with an appetite for meat but never able to appreciate the beauty of a lone cow chewing on the pale grasses of the plains.

Entering Wyoming, moving Northwest, tree cover here is thicker–low, dense conifers, stout and hearty. Trees say a lot about a place–tropical trees sway with long, loose branches and naked trunks, like a scantily clad, dreadlocked island native. The trees here are short and tacit–little mountain men.

We have sliced through the initial barrier of the foothills and are nestled in a flat line between them and bigger hills to the left. Passing large ranches, ‘real’ ranches, hundreds of acres in size. I imagine working the land here, waking up to bacon and coffee and pancakes and working all day, stopping only for lunch.

Train tracks dip in and out of the landscape, sinking off into the distance. Something about trains is fascinating–long, ugly steel beasts, and yet beautiful, mythic, invoking a sense of timelessness–sameness in a changing world–romantic–reminiscent of the great American work ethic–so large and yet stealthy–creeping through the land with a steady chugga chugga and at times a lonesome whistle that at night pierces, shrill, into your room, into your head like a Blues chord, as if to say, “Don’t be lonely, everything is OK, the train is still going–everything is still relevant.” While other machines are left discarded by the side of the tracks the train keeps on–same old cars and smoky engines–unflappable, as though my grandkids will someday see the same ones–they have an air of immortality, like the mountains forever a part of the landscape–but I know this to be untrue, they will someday crumble, mere wreckage, and then dust.

We crossed the continental divide some time ago and now too are flowing downhill towards the Pacific. But we won’t make it that far. I have trouble believing the Rockies resume close by as I stare out across the prairie but I know they remain hidden behind the clouds to the West, rise up like a fortress–beautiful but also sinister. A mountain ages like a man–slowly creasing and sagging and breaking down–worn away by time until finally gone–dust.

The snow and slope of the land gradually are getting steeper until the mountains that a while ago appeared painted on the horizon are all around. The rancher’s fence that lined the farmland is here, except now rolling up and down with the rise and fall of the land and almost buried in snow. The familiar pointy, tall, skinny conifers and thin, wispy Aspen of the Rockies have returned. We have entered the Teton National Forest, and two mighty moose trudge through deep snow, diplomats to this pristine land.

Driving provides a lesson for life: keep moving and things will change–no matter how far off what you’re going for appears–stay on the path and it will happen–all of a sudden you’re there and it’s surreal because for so long the road was somewhere else–passing through countless points until at last it’s the one you want.

2/3 Reflections on Jackson Hole

One of those times you see somebody else that looks like you–and momentarily they are you–and I see upon their face my own expression–eyes ablaze with joy looking up on steep slopes surrounded by rocky cliffs and trees and the outline of skiers and boarders descending dark against the white background. It snowed all morning but later the sun burst free and as it did felt like a privilege–which is what I see in the eyes of the stranger that is me–humbleness, wonder, thanks for the deep snow and vertical drop and sun–a religious experience, deeply spiritual–but somebody in line jokingly moos and I see the other side–we are cattle, each of us no more important than the other–perhaps some better stock but all doing the same thing–standing in line, gear in hand, telling stories that are just an attempt to stay relevant. It’s why I write this story, to tell that I was there, I skied Jackson Hole, I descended its steep rocky slopes, the sun was out the snow was deep and I’ll never forget it or the looks on my friends’ faces as they laid and rested in the snow, only their grins discernable behind thick clothing and bug eyed goggles–looking like spacemen on the moon, adventurers on their own strange, alien planet and as I remember their faces I also remember mine–my face on another–the face of joy we all wore but was no more important to the mountains than cows being herded through machines and packaged and sold. A mountain is indifferent to all.

2/4 The Return Voyage

Each portion of mountains has a distinct look even among a large chain–the Rockies of Wyoming have a different look than those of Colorado–but they do appear similar, as though cousins. The fairly blunt tops indicate the toil of millions of years of erosion–these are old mountains, some of the oldest in the world–but once they were never here at all–and so it will be in the future–mountains to dust–dust back into mountains–someday a great sea may cover this land, with the top of Jackson Hole an island jutting up through the blue depths–the descendants of cowboys and ski bums making a living, diving to explore the decaying remains of a chairlift.

But for now we are above sea level and it is a glorious sight–rolling along through a valley, the sun breaking over a peak and flooding the land with a blast of light–everything covered with a film of frost– and when the sun hits the land it sparkles and the branches of trees stretch outward like hands straining for the warmth of the sun. All living things reach for the sun, the only certain God.

A fog rolls over the valley, clinging to a river that winds through the trees like a serpent of mist. I imagine myself as a great adventurer starting a day of travel on foot–seeing this same view–taking a moment from his quest to enjoy the vista–I am alive–this is real–no mission is so great as not to take time to enjoy the moments of beauty, such as the epic landscape laid out before me–this is the adventure–everything in between.

Towns proudly display population signs of one and two hundred–horses outside in stables–steam coming from their nostrils, matching the smoke rising from the chimneys of houses that are all warm and snug inside. Few things are more satisfying than a roaring fire on a cold day, the feeling of triumphing over the elements. Men here have beards and cowboy hats and denim and drive trucks–tough and silent and grizzled and yet possessing a simple kindness–a traditional way that keeps them human. Here they are sheltered from the terrible world not too far away–this is a sanctuary–wildlife and mountains and rivers and pure white snow–hidden from the world of man–cold, dirty, greedy, loud, crowded. Living here is a firm stand against the society that cheapens it–fouls it–destroys it. Staying here is a decision to stay human and as I drive through Wyoming I briefly regain the innocence the world has taken away.

A few years ago Roy Horn’s 7-year-old white Siberian tiger, Montecore, decided to act against six and a half years of complacent dutifulness and attack his long-time trainer, dragging Horn off stage, near death. That same week a 425-pound, 20-month-old Bengal-Siberian tiger mix named Ming had to be removed from a Harlem housing-project apartment, along with his companion, Al—a five-foot-long alligator. Why do people pay to see a man enter a cage with 600-pound cats and pretend to be their friend? And why does someone raise large dangerous beasts in an apartment in Harlem?

“We’re moving,” I tell my dental hygienist when she tries to set up my next visit, six months from today.

“Oh! Wow! Where to?” The inevitable next question.

Honestly, I really don’t care much for dental friendliness. I like clean teeth and gingivitis tops my pet peeve list, right along with things that involve a seething crowd of fans, but I am not here to make friends. Perhaps it’s the vacuuming of my spittle that makes me feel so vulnerable and mean, or the lead vest, I don’t know. I shut my eyes behind my colossal sunglasses and run my tongue across the polished surface of my incisors for strength.

I do not explain how we are planning to pack our family into our Honda CRV, drive ourselves to Lincoln Mortgage, sit for our property closing, hand over keys to our house and then drive out of town. It’s a long story.

I also don’t tell her that I wish she were a robot.

“West,” I say, not so helpfully, and only because she’s blocking my exit with her Care Bear scrubs and confusion I add, “Seattle maybe.”

We really don’t know, I don’t say.

We are among the millions that have been directly affected by the recession. I hate that word, that euphemism. It’s an insult to eupha-mizing. It’s a euphemism that needs euthanizing. We have been unemployed for a year, our house is under contract and we simply have no reason to stay, so we decided that we might as well be in a place we love and we love what’s west of here, so we’re going there.

When we tell people this, the responses vary from interest, excitement to sadness and heartbreak for the missing that comes with leaving. The dental hygienist is easy. The good friends are definitely harder. It’s one of those all-inclusive-full-spectrum kind of experiences.

“Fear not!” I say to the friends, but not to the hygienist. Actually, I probably don’t really say, fear not to my friends either. But I certainly do imply it when I assure them that although we may not have a firm destination, we do have a plan, we do have faith, and we do have job prospects, talent and are unabated survivors. We will land.

In the interim, relieved of the weight of our things (having traded them for garage sale cash) we will be light and expansive! With a loose itinerary and a sense of adventure we will zig zag! We will take the long cut! We will have spitting contests with our son over canyon lips and notice the difference in the shape of the sky, the varied species of clouds over Wyoming, Montana. We will get cricks in our necks from gazing up the to the peaks of the Rockies, the tips of the Redwoods. But most importantly, we plan to laugh in the face of our homelessness and bestow onto it, with an avowed sacristy, ineffable calm, hearty and appropriate euphemisms. We will not undermine it like that “recession” crap. Instead, we will enhance! Transform!

We will not be Homeless. No way.

We will be Nomadic. We will be Gypsies. Vagabonds. James Bonds. Free Willys. Rolling Stones. Pigs in Zen. We will be Superbad and coming to a town near you. We will be cruising with the windows down, making terrific wave formations with our arms and we will be shaking our heads at the naysayers and the game players because we will know we are indestructible.

We will pretend we are flying, we will know we are free.


A small rabbit, a small bullet of pepper brown fur, fires across my line of vision. 

The ground underfoot, a soft springy marshmallow of mud, moist with a recent smattering of light rain, clings in clumps to my boot heel. I unzip my pale green corduroy jacket; it’s warm, early evening. The sun is setting, casting strange and interesting patterns of light in the dimming sky.

The sky is smothered by thin, wispy pink candy floss clouds; closer to the horizon the clouds are thicker, darker, smoggier— like smoke. The sky is red; a deep, menacing red, molten sunlight oozing across the skyline.

The billowing eye of a volcano— spread 180 degrees across the periphery of my vision.

About two hours earlier I was sitting in a darkened room; curtains drawn, lights off. The volume is right down low on the stereo— emitting the dreamy, nasal tones of Mr Robert Zimmerman.

Mr Tambourine man himself… soothing… fears? I don’t know; fifteen minutes previously I’d had my papers stamped and was officially out of formal education. The last time I was not in formal education: the summer of 1995. I was five years old.

There was no fear; only excitement.

The times they are a-changing.

I was fidgeting— boredom and frustration I’d never experienced before… I wanted to escape, to explore somewhere… A pure, natural urge came over me. I pulled on my boots almost without thinking; pulled on my corduroy jacket, locked the door and starting walking.

 The campus on which I live is small— but it is built on acres of parkland; this is where I was walking to. I intended to explore it, as well as find solace and calm and try and breathe new life into a jammed, cobwebbed mind.

The fresh air will do you good.

About 200 yards into my woodland adventure I found a path, a path curiosity and social convention led me to follow. After an additional 300 yards I turned around.

Never look back.

I looked back. From 500 yards away the entire campus was visible— from the North Car Park to the South. It clicked.

No wonder I feel trapped.

The smallness of the university hit me; the compactness. Frightening to think I’d lived most of the last 5 months in such a confined space— a zoo animal jumping through hoops for those in charge.


Leaves are falling all around

It’s time I was on my way

Thanks to you, I’m much obliged

For such a pleasant stay


And I ramble on.

Through the banality of English countryside— my head (and lungs) polluted by the motorway that cuts through the landscape; a dappled grey tarmac scar across the face of this green and pleasant land.

The day is warm; surprising given the recent snowfall— and excited rumours of more to come. The sky, though bright and baby blue, is heavy with crisp white cloud.

I jump a moss embossed fence, the grounds takes a steady and slow slant down towards a small stream. We usually call them rivers, although they are small and shallow; slow running water too. So slow any salmon would have great difficulty in deciding which way was upstream; but they are freshwater fish, this is almost certainly not freshwater.

I see a house, a house that seems to be built on the river. This truly gave my mind something to focus on; a taste of adventure.

My mind grew increasingly inquisitive and curious over the walk; like a kitten.

Curiosity killed the cat.

I don’t shit in trays, I’ll be ok.

There was a very clearly defined boundary— a fence stating that this was PRIVATE property; nonetheless I got close enough to have a good gawk.

The house was built on a bridge over the stream. Up on stilts like an unimpressive clown, long, white and rectangular— a cuboid, with a small patch of garden on either side. The side I was on had several rabbit hutches.

This I found weird. The University of Essex is famed for it’s rabbit riddled grounds— they do, after all, breed like lapin. And here, in this magical house/bridge were several of the species incarcerated and domesticated; imprisoned for the thrill of cleaning water bottles, cutting lettuce and scrapping nuggets of shit off cheap plywood cages.

I wondered if the free rabbits ever see their caged brethrin; or vice versa. A Rabbit in the Striped Pyjamas kind of thing.

I thought probably not.

I headed back towards my path, the clouds spitting rain— playfully, not spitefully.

The path led me to the top of a bridge/dam; the water ran right through, but through a pipe in the brick structure— an elaborate and beautifully quaint construction.

I sat on the edge for some time; staring downstream, facing the house on stilts and the Sun which shone just behind the strange dwelling, dappling the still stream with specks of light and flecks of sunshine. The surface glimmered; metallic and shiny. It looked like liquid mercury.

The water was bombing out of the brick pipe onto a concrete platform and then slowing and slinking into the body of the stream.

It occurred to me it would be fairly easy to climb down the embankment on the far side and get onto the concrete platform; take a closer look— see what’s at the end of the intriguing pipe.

Hardly Huckleberry Finn.

It beats waiting for a notification.

I got down without falling over— or in, and made the small leap onto the concrete platform, less than quarter of an inch deep; the water was projected forwards, the short platform, if it had any use, was to slow the speed of flow.

I got right up close to the pipe— darting round I could see the fading light filtered through and around the house-bridge. I was almost at water level; standing like one of the structures clownish stilts.

The intoxicating beauty of the scene could only distract for a moment; the curiosity of the pipe was too much. I bent down to take a peek; the pipe was too long, fading into pitch black nothing.

No light at the end of the tunnel.

I walked through the flow to see if a different angle would proffer a different view; but alas no, the same pitch black nothingness.

However, a cluster of dead leaves and twigs caught my eye; the vicious flow of the (ice cold) water barrelled down and bounced off to the side— deflecting, and slowing, the stream.

I pulled at the natural debris; a strong tug was enough to yank it loose and the flow quickened and thickened and glistened; riding straight on through at such ferocity my jeans soon became smattered and spattered with heavy flecks.

I leapt back over the now fierce flow and clambered back onto dry land.

Terra Firma.

The next thing I see: a cluster of buildings through the trees, some new, some clearly Victorian and some just grand. However, I decided as I was heading back this way I would explore that further then.

About 100 yards later, in a dark, brooding corner— far off the path, I find a strange white building. Exactly the same as one I’d seen when I first set off— I’d assumed it was the private counselling building. They have it slightly off campus so you don’t have to go through the humiliation of other people seeing you facing up to the mental or personal problems that we all need guidance with to some degree.

But this one was way off. I’d walked maybe an hour from campus— in roughly a straight trajectory.

It was an octagon. That was intriguing— as was the white paint, peeling like zombie flesh, from the wood panelling. Each wall had a church-like window— although dusty and murky.

The door was locked and there was no bell. No sign of life. I assumed it was abandoned— but through the sepia filter of the single pane magazines and chairs and other rooms became visible. It was spooky. Texas Chainsaw creepy.

Had a retard wearing a human face as a balaclava pounced with a rusty chainsaw I would not have been entirely surprised.

If anything my next discovery was ever more terrifying; more so due to pounding footsteps.

This is it.

This is the end.

This is ho-

A harmless jogger— a beautiful jogger; a fellow student, her hooded top indicated she was on the NETBALL team.

Her dusty blonde pigtails bobbed with each confident stride; her legs tanned and toned; almost succulent. She turned and smiled— the sun too bright to clearly make out anything but a million dollar smile and the sheer radiance only the combination of health, happiness and beauty can emit.

I may or may not have stared too long— she kept looking back; she upped her pace.

Paranoid?

Who told you?


I fought through a hedge and stumbled across a synapse popping scene.

Looming over me, a huge rusty satellite dish; clearly ancient. It was like something from Return of the Jedi; for a moment I am on the forest moon of Endor.

Panels of wood lay scattered— what was clearly once a hut. Some panels stand limp, but erect. The floor is over grown with weeds and burnt bronze leaves, fallen from surrounding oaks.

A plug pokes out from the rusted foliage; clearing the leaves I follow the thick plastic lead to a dead end— a mess of pulled and broken copper wire.

A steel filing cabinet, gutted and empty, stands in a corner. In another stands a table and the remains of an almost prehistoric computer— a simplistic circuit board poking from a hard, brown, plastic shell.

There is technological debris all over the scene. The freaky nature of this place isn’t that it is a satellite station; nor that it is long abandoned, but the manner in which it seems to have been abandoned.

Shells of equipment remain, panels are cracked and battered; the height of innovation left to rot and die.

It feels very much like the place was raided or destroyed rather than decommissioned. It didn’t feel like a happy place.

I decided to make my way back; stopping first at the Victorian buildings.

Signs indicated this was all part of my university— except of course I was no longer part of the university and hadn’t been for some two hours. Technically I was trespassing.

I explored artificial alleys and Victorian courtyards.

One had a tall mesh gate, open. I walked through and found three options; walk back out, walk up that staircase into an empty conference room or walk up those steps that simply go up and out of sight.

Forty three seconds later I find myself at the pinnacle of the black iron staircase— a fire escape serving three large windows in the roof. I am level with the adjoining roof.

The staircase has railing all around to stop mischievous wanderers climbing onto the roof.

You are not Spiderman

I’m Peter Parkour.


I jumped the railing.

I was now on the roof of the Constable building.

Beneath me science students went about their courses; just like any other day of the week, except today I was standing on their roof.

Not just standing, walking.

I felt the impulse to climb— I assessed me chances. There was no route, no safe route, back to ground level.

I walked the length of the building looking. I could get so far down, but then I’d have to risk a jump; my withdrawal meant I was not insured for accidents on Essex University property. And I am not a natural risk taker. I still wasn’t quite sure why the fuck I was on the roof of the fucking Constable building— a building that I didn’t even know the existence of until approximately five minutes ago.

I got as close to the edge as I dared and surveyed the car park.

Shit.

People.

Panic.

Did they see?

He defnitely saw.

Or did he?

I headed back over to the fire escape, barrelled down like a stream through brick pipe and decided I should be leaving now.

Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.

I got to the car park I had been surveying.

The Sun was setting now— shades of crimson leaking across the horizon.

The car park I had been surveyed from.

There he was; the balding, moustachioed man in a bright blue boiler suit, taking long drags of his cigarette and longer, menacing glares at me.

He started to move.

Where?

My direction.

His gait?

Purposeful.

I darted behind one of the few cars; wedged between fence and fender.

The boiler suit was just far enough away for me to be out of sight.

In my sight?

A gap in the fence— and beyond the mercury flow of the stream, the bridge and the path back

The sky’s on fire now.

Swiftly, with all the gazelle like grace I can muster, I glide through the gap.

On the other side I dust myself down; I head down to the stream and run a thin coating of mud off my palms.

And then:


I walk into the sunset.