Monday Hangover: Equinox

by | Mar 29, 2010 | COMMUNITY

“I’m TIRED, MAN! I’m so tired of being homeless.”

“I’m TIRED, MAN! I’m so tired of being homeless.”

He was standing on the corner of Allen and Grace next to a bicycle on a kickstand, 1am Friday morning, oversized flight jacket and backpack straps wrapped around what seemed to be a large and muscular frame, face slightly hard in the headlights of passing cars, tears falling over the rough features of his expression.

“I’m sorry, man.”

“No, don’t feel sorry for me. I don’t need pity. I just, I work two jobs, I’m a good guy, and I still got nowhere to sleep.”

I stopped. He wasn’t asking for spare change, he was asking for someone to listen to him. He wasn’t asking for a cigarette, either, but I gave him one anyway.

Reggie (we’ll call him,) and I talked on the corner for about an hour, and mostly I listened. He told me about his gunshot and stab wounds, about his community college degree and family, how he loves guns but doesn’t carry one because his hands are registered weapons in North Carolina.

He apologized for crying, which intensified when he spoke about how cold it got in the pocket parks and river rocks where he took what transient and restless sleep he could find. He apologized for being drunk, but I assured him I was in no position to judge. When he spoke about God, it was with a sense of repentance. When he spoke about his life, it was with palpable loneliness.

“What I really want to know man, what I really want to understand, is why did you stop? Why did you talk to me for so long?”

I couldn’t answer.

Saturday. The Equinox. I sat in the backseat of a pickup loaded with speakers, fire sculptures, propane tanks and DJ equipment, watching familiar mountains cut short the sky and stretch their heels down into rippling farmland. Funny how the last day of winter stains itself sweetly with the blue and blush of spring, the atmosphere brushing up against new seasons like big tires flirting with white lines on the side of 64 West.

Just outside of Charlottesville we pull into a field that rolls itself out from a house made of art, low relief walls and rows of ceramic forms that would vibrate beneath their dust by nightfall. There is an enormous tower of plywood and logs and brush circled by a bulldozer that carries more logs. Tents construct as the sun sets about the business of angles and deepening gold. Shadows slide down the ranges, the possibilities feeling so vast just behind the treeline. We take a shot of whiskey and the night rises up through the grass.

The music starts. Mr. Jennings and DJ Reinhold of the Party Liberation Front ease into dubstep as the crowd thickens.

On a stage that seems to have been constructed on the bed of a Mack truck, burlesque dancers begin their rhythmic vernal seductions. A metal dragon above the stage belches six-foot flames and bucks wildly at the hands of some unseen operator. Beside it a stand-alone sculpture of a head that appears to have been constructed from rusted Volkswagen parts rises at incalculable heights into the sky, its eyes burning brightly with a series of flames that grow together and split like petals in the wind.

As the private beer stashes and PLF bar liquor empty into throbbing bodies that dance in the wonky bass and tongue-tied shadows of fire spinners, the wooden tower is lit. It’s just after midnight. And all at once the brittle and unthawed branches of winter erupt passionately into the first fires of spring and its inevitable rush towards summer. With so many bodies draped in the colors of destruction and rebirth, soot falling like snow, the crowd circling and circling around the flames, there is no longer me. There is a common exuberance, an ancient waltz with transience, the tribal thump of natural rhythms, the primal embrace of savage intensity, and all at once silence. My breath is bourbon, my mouth is open, my words are gone. I am in the curve of magnificent cycles, pulsing indistinguishably with everyone around me, everyone everywhere, with everything.

When I woke up on the hard floor of a strange tent, it was spring. I grabbed a Boddington’s from a friend’s stash and lit a cigarette.

The mountains around me were not the row houses of Allen Avenue, the trees did not resemble streetlamps. The grass was soft and did not shine like stars with broken glass in the morning, and yet I found myself thinking about Reggie, or more specifically, his question.

Why did I stop?

In the cold competition, the survivalist violence of impoverished streets and visible wealth, it’s easy to forget that we are human. Everyone is a potential threat to our desires, ambitions, comfort, safety, lives… we lose the sense that we are connected, inextricably bound to each other as a species. We cease to recognize in any consistent capacity that we have a vested interest in the wellbeing of others.

It’s easy to feel an empathic connection in the utopian enclaves we create for ourselves, with the privilege of ideals and space. My cold, hard, unpadded night on the ground was a choice, and my mattress was still in my room on Sunday.

I don’t claim to have the solution to poverty or homelessness or deeply conditioned indifference, and I’m not playing any kind of moral high ground because I’m more likely to stumble face first over one than stand righteously upon it.

But what I have found is that regardless of whether your actions have a positive effect on the jaded corruption and greed of modern society, the art of being human is not an antiquated one. Sometimes you make it with 300 liquored-up Burners on a mountain, and sometimes you share it like cigarettes on a lonely corner in Richmond.

words S. Preston Duncan
Images Todd Raviotta

RVA Staff

RVA Staff

Since 2005, the dedicated team at RVA Magazine, known as RVA Staff, has been delivering the cultural news that matters in Richmond, VA. This talented group of professionals is committed to keeping you informed about the events and happenings in the city.

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