I haven’t had a really good night’s sleep in thirty years, or thereabouts anyway, not since my last paid job as a carpenter, back in my seminal youth (accent on my little seamen, with their voyages of discovery), and defined by the sweet smells of patchouli, herbal essence, and decay, honeysuckle and slowly rotting newsprint, antique pickup trucks and low technology, the lower the better in fact, living in five-quarter-inch plank-wood cabin, rough-cut and left un-planed in makeshift sawmills, and toted by the truckload to the lower forty acres of uncut forest, lain fallow by then for at least two generations while the world went on without it, until I saw value where others saw only clear-cut profit, like my father before me, and so proceeded to put permanent erections in temporary top soils, me and quarter-sawed antique heartwood and wood-burning stoves and kerosene lamps and nature-lust and heartache, back when Coors was currency and non-conformity was criminal and planets were small and getting smaller every day.


It all started half a world away back in 1966 when Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution in China at the same time that “Monday Monday” was the #1 song in the US, organizing the Red Guards to act like Taliban and send the intellectuals out to the countryside for a taste of reality, so that’s what we did, too, me and some others like-minded, sending ourselves back to the countryside, sentencing our over-excited minds to lives of hard labor, phrasing our answers in the forms of questions, and wording our special requests for the best chance of acceptance from a God we neither recognized nor trusted, but knew better than to proceed at cross-purposes with, just in case there was a heaven on earth or in our minds, better to be safe than sorry, and we had no Red Guards to satisfy in the first place, just the Saturday-night cops waiting at the town’s only red-light at midnight, looking for slips of the tongue or the wheel, with a bed always waiting downtown, and they’ll even leave the light on for you.


Somehow it all worked, and life was good, working like dogs, and reproducing like rabbits, or trying to anyway, and sleeping like babies, with each other and all over limbs akimbo and without much concern to the consequences, since chatting up girls became easier without having to run the equations past Russell and Whitehead, submitting my budgets to Marx or Malthus or Mill or the laws of supply and demand or psychological theories of value when all I really wanted was the pleasure principle and Freudian slips laid lovingly and laughingly around well-turned ankles, while Sartre and Camus just looked on without even smiling, knowing all the while that it would never last simply because it couldn’t, not under second-growth forest canopy uncertain whether it preferred deciduous oaks or evergreen pines, hardwood or soft or something in between.


Then Mao died in 1976, and they arrested the Gang of Four a short month later, so I knew my situation was suddenly precarious even at the moment of its inception, and then they rehabilitated Deng Xiaoping and brought him back to run China like a business, yanking it from the past to the future in one mighty jerk, moving them from communism to consumerism along a single fatal fateful irrevocable slope, and somehow I knew that I, too, would have to change and start running my life more like a business if I knew what was good for me, since the writing was on the four unpainted walls and everywhere it said the same thing, that four walls were no longer the operable concept, and Reagan would soon be president and everything would be different.


So I left.  Maybe it’s the age of twenty-seven that does in the best of us, does in our youth, turns us in a new direction, whether we like it or not, almost every rock & roll suicide at that age, every start-up dot-com, every heroin addiction, every planned pregnancy, so I finished the job I was working on, supervising a crew of five or six, and finished my BA, too, and just left, all in less than a year, the juxtaposition of events something I was proud of, something I figured Mao would be proud of, one of his philosopher/carpenters leaving it all behind to look for new pastures, or die trying, but fortunately I’d already traveled by then, to a dozen countries or so, and even spoke halfway decent Spanish, figuring that’d come in handy one day, so that the only time I sleep halfway soundly now is when I travel, the farther the better, the fact that there’s an alien world outside the door somehow giving me succor inside, even if the only thing out there is a well-lighted sign blinking “motel, motel” in neon arabesque as if trying to convince itself, or the sound of traffic somewhere on roads creating maps in their own image and likeness, chainsaws and roosters somehow finding their way into my dreams in an act of synchronicity that always matches the given sound with a picture to match, that always wakes me up whenever we hit a bump in whatever dreamy road I happen to be traveling after midnight…


Really the only mistake Mao made was to force his citizens into the countryside rather than just asking nicely, or better still, waiting until the time was right, and letting them think they came up with the idea themselves.  There may yet come another time when nature is the only refuge from a world gone wrong, and it’s time to go home to Mother… the womb… the Matrix…



Full disclosure:  Not only am I not now nor have I ever been a Communist, BUT… I slept like a baby last weekend in Berkeley.  I always sleep well in Berkeley, for some reason; must be good feng shui or something, better go ask Mao…