It had been raining most of that night.  Those storms that dwarfed skyscrapers had blown in from the north, the kind that tore up Joplin a few years ago, leaving nothing but a new area of windswept plains in its wake.  But perhaps I exaggerate?

I've been known to do it for effect on occasion.  Well, for now, allow me to assure you that the rain had been falling for some time, as I walked on the easternmost end of Elm Street, down by where the old industrial buildings red brick blended with the rough exteriors of new modern constructions, a blend of rowan stone, cold steel, and rotting garbage.  Oh, how I love it.  I've never known why, simply do.  Sometimes, when crossing from Deep Ellum over to Downtown, you feel like you're in a whole under-world, with the free-ways and their rumbling pillars of cement blocking the light and creating a canopy.  Deep Ellum is one of the oldest parts in the city, too, built right up against the new, and that always interested me.  I mean, really, think if a man could see his wisest younger self and his jaded older self right next to each other? What of they could get a drink and talk?  But anyway, I ramble.  

That night the city gave off a scent peculiar to cities when they become damp and wet by any measure: the scent of greenery begins to creep back into the cocktail of malt beer, poor hygiene, and the acrid fumes of a hundred thousand automobiles, trains and planes.  By this point I was soaked through to the bone, entirely hopeless of staying dry. I always forget my damn umbrella no matter how many times the bone-chilling moisture of a Midwest thunder storm soaks through my clothes.  I guess the brain really does forget trauma.  

Anyway, I walked at a casual pace, going westward on Elm Street, looking into dark vacant windows, peering deep into their chasms, ever curious as to what this portion of the city would reveal to me next.  I passed the loading docks, burglar barred doors of businesses, and eventually, through sheets of whipping rain, made my way to the parts of the city most interesting to the crowd that reads the Dallas Observer.  This side of Elm reeked of hipster; the rain barely sufficed to wash it away. No offense to hipsters – not that saying that matters any more.

Now the old industrial style warehouses and rowan red bricks were replaced by upscale taverns, bars, "secret" speak-easies and other places of the like.  Patios with twinkling lanterns and hanging lights covered the heads of folks sitting next to external heaters.  The Friday night's clientele had either run for their cars or crammed themselves under the patio coverings.  Girls in blue jean shorts huddled together hilariously like penguins, their long, bronzed legs almost visibly shivering in the moisture.  Men with the prototypical beard, the kind of guys who made it popular, guys who looked like Ulysses S Grant, stood behind the bars or sat at tables, vaping, sipping craft beer, the usual activities for this part of the city at this time of day.  I, however, received the looks of the huddled penguins as if I was some sort of tragi-comic oaf, or possibly some distant relation of that guy they knew in high-school who spent most of his time building models of Japanese Zeros or American Hurricanes.  I punctuated the moment with a ridiculous mouth-open-head-to-the sky-lap-like-a-dog enjoyment of the pouring rain.  "Look how existential I am!" I thought to myself, and then considered that the common vernacular for this is simply stark-raving mad.  Or wait, is that still vernacular? Isn't it insane? Crazy? Or just simply "batshit?"  I have no idea.

Nevertheless, to avoid the irredeemable loss in positive public opinion, I, too, ducked under a significantly emptier patio outside of the Free Man jazz bar, an old place that has top-of-the-line shows on any given night.  You should go there. (Although don't make the mistake of asking a jazz trio to play music by Duke Ellington.  Please.  Save yourself the effing embarrassment.  How do you expect a trio to do justice to – let alone play – music written for six trumpets, three trombones, a drum-set, keys, and God knows what else?)

Anyway I had a good view of the street from this point, and ordered a Tom Collins to pass the time and watch the passers-by.  It was February, so quite possibly borderline on ordering such a drink, but I made it work.  The penguins stayed close to their native habitats, and the occasional bearded gent made a rush to a car or escorted said penguins underneath an umbrella.  I do love watching folk play out old era's actions, such as the escorting of ladies to their means of transportation, when any other day of the week that would be seen as simply "batshit."  

As I was watching the scant goings on around the west side of Elm Street, I viewed a bevy, or perhaps a gaggle, of hooded and cloaked figures move from the entrance of one bar, and cross the street to my side of Elm. This part of the city literally never fails to give me a kick, I mean really.  If it's not a herd of penguins, its a bevy of beer-soused Nazgul or something else.  You simply never know what the hell you are going to see.  Although, I must admit, no matter how post-Norman conquest their garb was, I had to give it to them: they were prepared for the rainstorm.  Even more interesting was the disparity of height between some of the group: two were about my height, two looked to have the slight, slope shouldered form of children, and one appeared to hobble along.  It was just like the whole family decided to go out for a round of pre-Halloween party Irish car-bombs at the local watering hole.  I wasn't sure whether to laugh at this or go over to them and ask where the other four of their outfit were hiding.  Boy, did that kill me.

About this time, the gin in the Tom Collins finally started to take effect, producing a light buzz in between my ears, warming me ever so slightly in preparation for another bare-faced, existential stroll through the pouring rain.  God, I'm hilarious.

As I threw away the straw in my drink and downed the last lemony dregs, I observed the family of Norman knights go into the dust-smeared iron entrance of Adair's Saloon.  The place is super unassuming; you'd barely even know it was there.  But when you get in there it feels like a time portal between worlds, taking you from our world of woke misfits to the era of tobacco chewing old-timers, spitting in cans.  That imagery wasn't as gallant as I wanted. Whoops. I guess we're all equally pathetic, whether from the 00's or the 70's.  

Anyway, I paid for the drink, emerged from the cover of the patio and walked a bit down the puddle minefield of that sidewalk leading up to Adair's.  It was a Friday night and it was pretty late, so the bouncer outside, a guy who would have looked like Patrick Swayze from Road House, mullet and all, if he hadn't been a 4'7 Mexican with a wife beater accentuating his wiry biceps.  Not that I'm racist or anything. I love Mexicans.  The guy stopped me, asked for ID, I showed it to him, and I stepped into the smokey haze of Adair's.  

The floor was alive with two-steppers.  There were guys in cowboy hats, like it was a scene from Urban Cowboy or some shit.  That killed me.  The girls they danced with had skirts that were of some denim material that spun around their shapely legs as they twirled.  Off to one corner was an old jukebox, like it was straight out of a biker bar along some old gravel road in west Texas, the kind bikers are known to frequent, not that I've ever been to one of those or met any bikers.  Although there was one guy named Scratch.  That was one weird dude.  I don't know why he was named Scratch; you got the sense he could do a whole lot more than scratch if you pissed him off though.  When he offered me a cigarette, I had no choice but to accept it out of fear, even though the guy smoked Marlboro's, those sugar-laced pieces of trash.

Our favorite Nazgul dream family was seated at a booth with an assortment of copper mugs, drinking something.  The idea of them drinking a bunch of Moscow Mules – kids, grandma, and all – also gave me a real kick.  The bar had the usual assortment of bearded Civil War era look-alikes, angsty, dark-haired women in imitation of that chick from the Civil Wars – you know, the band – , and the occasional flamboyant loner.  I laughed to think of how I unintentionally categorized myself.

After observing the room, I ducked through the mass of dancing wanna-be John Travoltas and Debra Wingers to the bar, where I unfortunately picked the company of an overwhelmingly angsty gal, whose name escapes me. (It was probably Ashley and she probably goes by Ash to really up the ante on her angsty persona.)  I ordered a whiskey sour and lit my pipe, the Sherlock Holmes kind – real turn-of-the-nineteenth-century-Imperialism-is awesome- women-have-one-purpose-(maybe two)-kind-of-shit.  She looked at me like I had just forced two horny chihuahuas to copulate in a cage one foot wide by one foot tall.  Okay, maybe that's a bit much, but the simile made me laugh.  

"Howdy!"  God, I still can't believe I said that.  What a prick I am.

"Did you go to Texas A&M?"  She intoned with a rather large dose of venom.  For those of you unlucky enough to live in another state less awesome than mine, a lot of people hate Aggies, the folk who attend school at Texas A&M.  I have no ill-will for the Aggies per-se, and, in fact, I simply don't understand why people hold so much ill will towards each other over the glorified adult nurseries to which they submitted grotesque sums of money, only to later end up in the position of poor Ash, vaping strawberry bubblegum flavored shit and talking to a guy like me.  God, this world is hilarious.  

"No, Dallas Art Institute."  I lied.  I just love seeing how her kind perk up to know they're in the presence of a sensitive, probably gay, non-threatening artist.  I just love bending the wokeness in my favor.  

"That's so cool!  Do you work downtown?"  The usual following inquiry.

"No.  I work at a private studio off of Commerce a couple blocks over."

"Which one?"

I sensed a very important fork in the road in the dialogue.  She was about to catch me in a lie, I just knew it.  A couple of the big name Dallas art studios went through my head, such as Studio No. 3, one of those hipster-magnet rowan red brick buildings, but that one seemed possibly too upscale, a little too obvious.  I considered  the Deep Ellum Art Co., but, that too, seemed suspect, since this chick quite possibly worked there, what with the vaping and the hair and the angst and the superficial wokeness.  But hell, I just dove in to see how the water was anyway.

"Studio No. 3"

She cupped her chin in her hands and looked at me with perfectly coquettish eyes.

"Really? What department?"

"I specialize in the creation of paper mache giraffes."  

Silence.

Boy, did I do it.  If I had made her look at me weird earlier, she now looked at me as if I had not only forcibly made the chihuahuas copulate, but had lit a cigarette and watched from a dimly lit corner.

"Fuck off, creep.  I work there and we don't do shit with paper mache."

That was that.  She left with a group of friends, who walked back out into the down-pour in their waddling penguin herd.  This left both seats next to me empty; so goes the nights entertainment, I thought.  I ended my run of liquor with one more whiskey sour and then moved to beer.  People shit on American beer all the time, and I never have understood it.  Granted, the thought of Pabst makes me sick, but, let me tell you, a malty Shiner Bock, chased with a shot of Jack Daniels is quite an experience, like the feeling of ascending to the third heaven, or whatever. I forget where I read that.  

I went over to the jukebox and dropped a few quarters in to select my own songs, anything country from 1975 or before.  Why country, you ask?  Does the name "Adair's Saloon" drop any hints?  That was the only choice on the machine.  Even if I had wanted to drop some Aerosmith or even George Strait, the machine simply didn't go into that genre or time frame.  I swear to God the place is like a time machine or time capsule or something.  Everybody in there looks frozen in 1972, but not the East coast disco kind of 1972, the high living, coke snorting, Dallas Cowboy Cheer Team loving 1972.  It's nuts.  I settled on some Conway Twitty, Merle Haggard, and Patsy Cline before resuming my seat at the bar.

There's a timelessness that ensues at some point in the course of going out on a Friday night, the point where the old world and the new world collide for one split second. For one split second you feel immortal.  That's why they do it I guess.  The "they" being editorial obviously.  

I looked around the bar to see if I could drum up any action from the clientele:  the dance floor was still alive, but their dancing was somewhat toned down since I had picked "Hello Darlin'", "Somewhere Between", and "Crazy."  A few slow dancing couples continued the dance, and the real rabble-rousers cleared out to go on down Elm St. and see where the action was, probably Louie Louie's or someplace else. The Nazgul family of five, however, was still seated at their booth, enjoying their drinks from copper mugs.  They hadn't moved since I had last looked at them. What a trip.  So these are where all the bad reviews on Yelp come from, I thought.  

I sat there for a while, downing my Shiner Bock in between sips of Jack Daniels until my three songs ended, observing the little black hooded troop out of the corner of my eye.  They didn't talk, or at least not where I could hear them, and they didn't move perceptibly, except for when they lifted their arms to drink from their mugs.  By the end of my beer, I was simply dying of curiosity.  I thought about it for a bit, and then made up my mind to go over to them and drum up some action to figure out who the hell these folks were.  

I strolled on over there and thought up the best opening line I could find,

"Hey folks, ya know ya missed the Scarborough Fair by about 75 miles right? That's down in Waxahachie, not up here in the middle of town."

I swear to God, they completely ignored me.  It would have been hilarious if they hadn't been so weirdly dressed and so single-mindedly busy drinking from those cups.  I noted that I hadn't seen the waiter approach their table once over the whole night.  Could have happened when I got lost in Ash's vape smoke, but I usually notice those things. Next, I did something that I scarcely believe I did now, but, swear on my mother's grave, it happened.  I actually sat down at the booth with them.  They didn't move or protest my arrival in anyway, but, almost as if on cue, the littlest Nazgul offered me his copper mug, presumably to take a drink.

"Hey there, little man, what you drinkin'?"

"The good stuff," he said simply.  For some reason the familiarity of his voice gave me chills, not that there was any reason why his voice should be familiar to me at all. Hell, I was three cocktails and two beers deep, so at this point I barely questioned it and took a sip.

Immediately, it felt as if a whole new world was opened up to me, not that I'm saying I was so drunk that I heard voices or something, but that all of a sudden, out of nowhere, instead of the black hooded crew sitting in silence, they were engaged in a lengthy discussion and were motioning their arms about animatedly, and I could hear them.  Something crazy must have been in that drink.  Some Mexican probably gave the kid a shot of Mezcal with the worm in it.  Stupid kid. But the problem was that kid; that kid was so familiar and his voice was clear that I felt I knew him intimately.  It took me a while through my alcohol induced delirium to realize it but in fact he sounded an awful lot like me: me at the age of 15.  The dude sitting next to him was the same story.  I swear to God.  He sounded like me yet again, but maybe 18 or 19.  They were arguing about something inane, you know how I am.  From what I could gather they were arguing about whether or not John McCain was a neo-con or a liberal.  Idiots.  That question stopped mattering in 2008, and even more when the dude keeled over.

"Guys, guys, guys the whole thing is a crock of shit.  You guys can barely vote, what the hell?"  They kept on talking without an abatement.  We sat there for a while and I lifted my attention over to the other members of the party, the two gents who were also presumably me, although I wasn't yet certain of course.  When it came down to it, I could be hallucinating the whole thing, I thought.  I've been known to see some weird stuff.  After listening to the bigger dudes' conversation for a bit, it was confirmed: they also were, in fact, me.  Their conversation was no less inane, but somewhat less loud and obnoxious compared to the two younger blokes.  They were discussing the contrasting qualities of grass of the Bermuda and Zoysia strains, and, you guessed it, arguing over it yet again, albeit in quiet and hushed voices.  God, am I really such an ass-hole?

The last fellow, who I at one point thought to be the grandma of the crew, sat quietly in the corner of the booth, sipping his beverage, saying nothing, presumably because he had no one to argue with, poor chap.  He turned his head ever so slowly, swear to God, like in the Peter Jackson film, and looked right at me. I would have laughed if I wasn't certain I was going to hurl my churl.  He lifted both hands ever so slowly to his robes and uncovered his head.  The booth went silent and the gents stared straight ahead at one another saying nothing.

I'm not sure quite how to describe this, but this bloke was a good bit shorter than the rest.  I, at first, thought him to be my older self, but it was actually the younger self, possibly at the age of 12.  I'm really not sure though, because it was like the two changed back and forth like some Star Wars space hologram, one was young and one was very old.  It was something.

"Your future and your past are the key to your present."  The voice of this guy was all at once old and young, like one of those voice garblers people use who don't want anyone to know who they are.  The two middle-aged looking guys silenced themselves when this one spoke, and the two teenage one's even began to listen.  I figured I should do the same, and although this whole situation was pretty weird, I knew that I had to let it ride for some reason.  I mean, it was all pretty effing hilarious, too.  Anybody who has ever been in a situation like this probably understands how I felt.  This kind of stuff is the kind of stuff you just sit back, listen, and let wash over you. So that's what I did.  The child-man with gray hair served to call the meeting to order, and now the gathering of me's spoke their prepared pieces, as if this had been talked out at length before-hand.  But no, if they were anything like me, they made it up on the spot.  The fifteen year old me went first, his hood still covering his head.

"When I look at you, I see a man who forgot his mission, forgot his purpose.  I've watched you sit at that bar and down your drinks like a frog.  Where in the world is your conscience?  That's not a question you can answer right now obviously.  I will ask you this question instead: Where the heck – pardon my language – did you get off the tracks?  What happened?"

I must say I wasn't much surprised by the idealistic, combative question from little fifteen year old mini-me.  I honestly expected as much.  But I had downed five drinks.  I was pretty soused.  So I went ahead and answered the guy's question honestly, without backhanding the doofus into kingdom-come.

"Let me tell you something you never can understand or never will understand for at least a few more years, little man," I said quietly, not sure if the remaining people in Adair's would look at me like I was insane, "everything about doing the 'right thing' seems super fucking easy when you are fifteen.  Yeah, I'm sure you look at porn twice a week and do other stuff and probably cry about it till midnight or 2 am or something as you pray for your future wife, and I'm sure that makes you think that you've really tried to do the right thing.  Maybe that makes you think that the right thing is still difficult at fifteen.  Trust me, I remember, but the stuff about actually being a man.  That stuff is hard, little man.  It really sucks.  Imagine thinking you have resolved your problems – or that God resolved them – , but then somewhere along the way you realize those problems are still there, and then even more problems come up: the wife pisses you off with literally being irrational at all times, the house is always going to shit, the boss is constantly jumping down your throat because their boss is jumping down their throat.  You can't fix the house because the wife freaks out about spending money; you can't make more money because you aren't a lifeless prick who works in sales; you can't make your boss happy because they aren't actually the problem: it's their boss's boss.  Welcome to the wide, wild world of the rat race, little man, a place where men go to die!  But then we've all gotta go someway, so what the hell?  Digging through all of this shit – and trust me, that's only the beginning – results in a very difficult world in which to simply 'do the right thing', like you back-handedly pointed out to me  It doesn't simply happen, unless you are a monk who lives on an island.  I don't consider that doing the right thing.  That's hiding from the world.  I have sat in pew after pew since I was you –

At this point I had to stop and take a breath and laugh.  This situation was just killing me.  I mean really.  I blinked a few times to see if it would pass, but they just sat there with their hoods on staring at me, waiting for me to speak, presumably.  

"Well, where was I?"  

"Sat in many-a church pew," one of the older me's interjected.

"Ah yes, thank you middle age me.  I have sat in pew after pew where some prick gets up and reminds the men of the audience how they are the source of all problems in families.  I ask them for a citation for their little theory, and they have none.  It's a riot.  I'm sure you think that still, 15 year old mini-me.  I have two words for you: Grow up.  That's not reality.  There are a vast number of problems in the world and many of them are your fault, but if you keep thinking they all source from you – especially in family life – you will end up in one of two places: crushed by crippling despair when you realize the load to carry, or possessed by punk-ass pride, thinking that you are doing your duty to God and hearth and home by carrying that load.  The guys who fall in that latter category make me sick. Don't be one of those guys."

15 year old me looked decisively cowed by my diatribe, and, I admit, I couldn't help but have a slight feeling of triumph, cause that guy didn't know shit.  Seriously, if you knew 15 year old me, you'd think the same thing.  That guy was a prick.  He vacillated between religious fundamentalism and uber-impassioned insanity.

The Nazgul family of me's sat there for a minute, I yawned in my liquor induced stupor, attempting to stay awake, and then the next me said their piece: the 18 or 19 year old me.  

"Oh I just can't wait to hear what you have to say!" I sarcastically intoned.  If his hood had been down, the guy might have smiled politely and then continued with his sentence.  I know this cause that's what I would have done back then.

"You said to your younger self an honest truth from your heart, something you wished you could say to them.  Now I want to remind you of something, and I hope you will listen.  Maybe what you said is true – I don't know.  I haven't gotten to you yet."

I laughed.  18 year old me had finally lost a little bit of the John Bunyanesque fear of hell and started living a little, so he had a sense of humor, thank God.  

"I honestly hope you are treating the women in your life well."

Oh God, he blew it.  He so clearly blew it that it was an effing riot.  Right out the gate, too. But I listened anyway.

"I made the mistake of dating around when I was this guy's age", he said motioning to 15 mini-me,

"and I regret it.  My days are filled with regret.  I broke so many hearts.  Now, I plan to go to college in a few days and I'm changing these ridiculous ways of mine. I'm done being a heart-breaker.  I just know it.  I really can change. God is helping me do it.  I'm not going to do these things anymore and I'm certain that the right thing is within the power of anyone known of God."

"Woe, woe, woe...hold on there, buddy."  

I had obviously forgotten how my 18 year old mini-me had become one of those pricks who sincerely believed he was doing the right thing and thought everybody else should do it too because it came so easy to him.   Dear God, I just could not let him finish.

"I won't burst your little bubble of punk-ass pride, but I will tell you that there is a LOT more to life than making girls happy.  I mean, literally, an infinite ocean's worth more.  Your mom – pardon me, gents, our mom –  literally always talked about marriage and how terrible or awesome it was, depending on the day of the week.  Marriage is not the most important thing in the universe.  Period.  Dad knew it, obviously.  He has found a lot of things to do with himself that are super positive, productive, and keep him not too terribly tied down around the house. That's an ideal male existence: go out to hunt and let the wife prepare the meal, just like the Comanches – God, I'm drunk – but you see my point, don't you?  If you're living constantly thinking and praying about marriage, that's obviously stupid.  Oh...how would you understand this point most clearly...that's idolatry, boys! That's what it is!  You guys have a fixation or something –  I'm not sure what it is, but it's really weird."  

At that point, if 18 year old me had possessed the decency to uncover his face, he would have probably shown himself to have looked over to one of the middle aged me's with raised eye-brows, as if he was saying, "Can you please school this degenerate?  My holiness is soiled by even speaking to him."  But, honest to God, that was my 18 year old me; he couldn't have a normal conversation with normal, fucked-up people – i.e. most of humanity.  He had a lot of fucked up friends, but he always saw them as projects.  He had this Jesus complex, and he genuinely believed God had chosen him to make these people see the truth.  His arrogance was sickening.  He never could simply befriend someone and just know them and let them know him.  The guy had interest in two sorts of people: hot females, and people in need of Jesus, but, more specifically, his own personal campaign of helping them along with the 'truth.'    Nobody was saying anything at the table, so I went ahead and continued with my dressing down of this guy.

"The problem with you is honestly the same as 15 year old mini-me over there.  You think doing the right thing is plausible, doable, or whatever, and you think the rest of the world doesn't have a perfectly good reason for explaining to themselves why they live the supposedly "poor, deceived lives" that you believe they live.  More than that, you guys both have spent an unbelievable amount of time crafting systems for talking to women, delineating from supposedly "biblical" material, why dating – your particular fixation –  is the problem, the main cheese.  Guys, the Bible doesn't say anything about it.  You want to know the truth?  The badness in both your hearts is still unknown to both of you.  You have no idea how bad things can get.  You have no idea how much you need help.  You simply don't get it.  You know how I know this?  Because the biggest thing you're worried about is your damn dating habits.  Who gives a flying you know what!  That is the highest sliver of ice on the topmost clime of the massive iceberg that is your level of fucked-upness. My answer to you, 18 year old mini-me, is the same as to 15 year old mini-me:  this is not as simple as you think it is.  I don't mean that as a condescending insult, I assure you."

Both of those guys didn't say anything else the whole night, because – let's be real – they hadn't lived the section of road I had lived yet, and, for all they knew, I had dirt on them.  And boy did I ever, let me tell you.   If 18-year old me had spent more time actually figuring things out, instead of judging himself and others for their wrong, he might have been less of a prick.  But then hey, I'm doing that now, so what the fuck?  Sometime I'll tell you how he used to "evangelize", and boy, oh boy, is that rich.  The concept of knowing and letting people get to know him didn't work into that equation ever (in many cases simply because the whole thing would have been proven phony).  But in most, the dude simply threw the "truth" at people and then felt oh so very sorry for them when they didn't get it, cause after all he was chosen and they weren't.  This is the kind of guy who, if he had a friend, would approach another person about that friend and say, "I don't know if you are aware, but so and so did thus and such and you should be very careful – maybe not careful, but just be aware."  Where most have friends, he had little personal projects.  When most either didn't think about religion at all, or thought about it too much, he thought about it very little, but when he did, he assumed he was some specially chosen tool in some mission that somehow God had told him directly to take a part in, because he was special.  Insert howls of laughter here.

The little guys didn't say anything, nor did anyone else, for some time.  I don't know why they waited around, but I admit, I was pretty proud of myself, because I had wanted to give those guys a piece of my mind.  I've heard quotes about how the younger kid meets his older self from the future and feels such disappointment at what he became, and that stuff is full of shit, let me tell you.  The reason the young guy in the quote, poem, meme, or whatever, thinks that the old guy is messed up is because he doesn't know what the hell is going on half of the time. He lives in a cookie-cutter world of easy solutions.  He doesn't know his own fucked up self.  He doesn't know how a nice pair of legs or tits can attract you to fuck up your life forever.  He doesn't know how the drive to create, build, and reshape the world in one's own image can become an obsession.  My younger selves were especially dangerous because they had so many of those drives, especially the image-making side, specifically the side that creates their little human projects into their own image.

"I'm not a certainty, but I am you.  I'm not frail or weak.  I'm neither hale nor callous.  In fact, nothing can reach my innermost thoughts.  I've chosen my direction, I know it is good, and no one can dissuade me from it.  Their wild gesticulations of emotion – their cunning words, all of these things mean nothing to me when I walk the path I'm destined to travel.  There's nothing we can do about where we are or who we are, and no one else can either.  You talk to your younger selves and you realize this. For this, I laud you most heartily.  Walk your path, drink your wine, live your life.  If your wife leaves you, so be it.  If disease strikes you, so be it.  If your work chooses another over you, so be it.  Nothing means anything in the light of death, nothing but that which we choose to allow to have meaning for ourselves.  This is all.  This is final."

That was the voice of middle aged guy – maybe about 35 or 40 years old or so.  You can tell he has seen some real shit, – or at least thinks he has–, huh?  Well, you may agree with him, but for some reason he pissed me off, so I decided to pick a fight with him too.  

"Sounds like you've been sticking your nose thoroughly up the ass of Marcus Aurelius for some time!  I have trouble submitting so easily to disease, divorce, and delaboring.  Maybe you think that's okay, but I really don't.  My problem is that the life of goodness is so thoroughly unachievable to me that you could almost call it an unknown.  I have no idea how to do good to such a large extent that whatever it is that is good is almost out of my reach."

At this point middle aged guy interrupted my stupidity.  I hate how older people do that, but hey, I guessed I asked for it, didn't I?  I wasn't too nice to little-18 and little-15.

"Don't submit to a lack of knowledge. You know exactly what good is: living well in every moment that you have while you have it.  That is very simple, simple enough for you.  Lack of knowledge doesn't work in a court of law, and it doesn't work here.  You know what is good.  Do it.  Eat it.  Taste it. Live it. Make love to it till it becomes a part of you. Your worry about what most call righteousness is something you were never meant to worry about,at least for now.  You were meant to worry about those closest to you and to worry about the parts of your life that matter."

I'm sure middle-aged guy thought he had it figured out, but yet again, I had to interrupt like an absolute jerk.  

"Dude, that's exactly the problem.  What is good?  What parts of my life matter? What fucking heuristic are you using to figure that out?  Hell, I'll try to build common ground with you.  I know we both have some serious problems with guys who try to tell you to sit in a closet for five hours and pray about eating a bologna sandwich or taking a job that will obviously provide for your family better, or anything else like that right?  You know, the guys who then try to go and tell you the path they walked is exactly what you should walk too?  Just like the guys who sit and pray about the "right thing" so as to avoid any and all harm to their very tender and sensitive persons, we have problems with that kind of shit, right?"

He still had some sanity at the age of 40, and he assented with a nod.

"Well that is where I think both you and I are lost:  we don't know what good is, how good is achieved, and any answer given to us on that count, even the supposedly good religious ones, has always failed to help us achieve it.  Am I right or am I right?"

I could tell he wanted to fight it out, and that he wanted to convince me that the good thing was simply living your life independently for the essentials or whatever, but he still had enough intellectual honesty to admit that he had absolutely no way of proving that what he thought was good was good or even of proving to anyone but himself that he had "achieved" it, or whatever.  I could also tell he had a fair amount of dissonance about living in that world.  Who wouldn't?  I mean really, think about it, if your paradigm is king – with everybody else's paradigm also being king simultaneously, and nothing else left to help you see the good thing, then what right does anyone have to say what's good to anybody else at all?  In essence, you can't help your self and no one can help you.  You're shit out of luck, bucko.  But that's another problem under the problem.  All of this being said, me and middle aged guy still had some common ground in that we realized that anyone who knows something good and also wants to not be a fucked up, selfish person, wants to share it with everybody else.  So his little air-tight bubble of stoicism wasn't working either.

He took a sip from his cup, and the other guy to his left, probably about the age of 50 or so, gave a piece of his mind.

"It is so brutally obvious to me that you guys are getting tied up in knots about stuff that doesn't help you in any way.  When you get to be my age, get past your mid-life angst and your twenty-something existentialism, you will finally realize that God wants you to be happy.  This is not complicated.  He gave you a lovely world full of grandeur and he wants you to to take pleasure in it to the fullest extent possible.  If that means you divorce your wife, so be it.  If that means you get drunk on occasion , so be it.  If that means you fulfill your duties to your faith and family and country as best you, can so be it.  There is freedom here, boys, and lots of it.  Outside of the ten things commanded, who's to say what you do, when you do it, and who you do it with?  Even hell is just simply giving those people what they most wanted, to get away from God!  Every act is begun in love and ends in love, even one's that might cause pain.  God wants you to be happy.  End of story.  Now chill out and have another drink."

This guy's devil-may-care Epicureanism pissed me off.  I almost jumped across the table and strangled him, the fucking idiot.  I was surprised how even my voice came out.

"Look, Mister Fifty-who-doesn't-give-a-fuck.  Where are your balls?  Are you really gonna sit here and ask me to drink this cocktail of piss and vinegar you just pawned off as God's ultimate truth?  Your system cannot accurately quantify happiness; tell me this.  Happiness for how long?  Happiness to what extent? Happiness of what kind?  Happiness mixed with pain? Happiness here and now, huh?  If that's so, why death? Why is that a thing?  And don't even hint that the people in hell are in the slightest bit happy with their situation.  You talk about gifts of God, and a beautiful world, and yeah, we've been loving it since the age of fifteen, huh, boys?  But Mister Fifty seems to think that Happiness is really at rock bottom, and thinks he can build a system from there.  I don't know how you got to where you are at, Mister Fifty, but I hope to God I never become you."

So that about summed it up:  Mini-15 and Mini-18 thought that the right thing consisted of some half-baked code of chivalry and Christian imperialism, and thought it was so easy a caveman could do it; Mister Middle-Age and Mister Fifty thought life was about something somewhere between accepting however many times life gave it to you up the ass, or on the other hand being so sweet and "happy."  Blinded might be a better word.  After all this crap, I felt something like a mix of satisfaction and angst.  Think about it, who wants to see themselves presented as plain as day and find out they're a fucking nincompoop from cradle to grave?  At this point, mister space hologram would likely be the grandest failure of them all.  We all sat in the booth waiting for what he said with baited breath.  By this point Adair's was near to shutting down.  It was about 1:30 in the morning and the rain outside had slowed to a twinkling trickle that caught the light of the street lamps in little flashes.  Finally, the weirdest of them all opened his mouth and spoke:

"In the city that sets the young next to the old, the best places are the verdant and green with the architecture of old ages.  The places that remember the old, and live with the young."

"Great so now I'm so senile I don't make any fucking sense,"  I joked.  He just kept on talking.  

"Where the sun sets on the new, it rises again on the old.  Setting and rising, sleeping and waking, all of these are shadows of what is a greater reality.  You are but a screaming babe in the arms of a Providential wind that billows and buffets, shaking the trees to try to wake you.  This is always what all men were since the earth was young, but they fail to see themselves anything but gallant specimens of brawn.  You have naught to do but be quiet and still, and remember what you've always known, connected to the great fountainhead of Being as you are.  Listen to the trees, listen to the wind, again, I say, listen to the trees, and remember."

And just like that, they were gone.

"Sir, closing time and last call, anything else?  Do you need a ride called?"

The bartender and I were the last souls in the bar, and the clock read 2 AM.  

I shook my head, rose from the booth, and walked outside into the quiet stillness of the city.   I walked to the east of Elm, slower this time, listening with every footstep to the storm blowing off to the southwest, lighting the horizon occasionally with a flash of lightning.  Eventually, I made it to the wooded neighborhoods farthest down east Elm, and the wind blew.  I walked east, and listened, as the wind blew through the trees, always bending and breaking through the canopy of branches, and waking the trees to speak to those who can hear.  

It had been some night, and I remember it to this day.  I still sit outside on cool, empty nights, when the rain has passed into the west, and often I hear nothing but the birds and the cars whooshing down wet roads.  But I always listen for the wind about the boughs, and the rustling of the leaves; it goes on and on, and you never know where it comes from or where it goes next.  So goes the wind amid the ever-wakening trees.