Mark Twain, God Knows Where

I read, in an old book up at the Goat’s Nest, that it is always a good idea to tell a story about Mark Twain.  How many of the stories I’ve heard about him are true? I don’t know.  How many of his quotes are real? I don’t know.  Fact checking is for people in school or people with a job!  Thank God I am a hobo, a smelly drifter, a passing face!  The mild untruths of tall tales are the seasonings, the marinade, the sauce for the main course.  If the main course is of a high quality to begin with, then satisfaction of epic magnitudes is likely…even with very little fibbing or even none at all.  However, if the meat has started to sour and the bread is dry and dotted with blue-green mold, then a person must apply copious amounts of saucy fabrications to assuage the bitter-boring-potentially-poisonous truth.

I’ve never been a great story teller in person.  A good story teller has a presence even before they speak a word.  They have a confidence about them and a certain swagger.  A raconteur’s mannerisms are aesthetically pleasing and eye-catching.  When they do speak, their voice is usually strong and commanding–or captivating in some manner.  A strange voice always pulls me in: smokey, deep, rough, hoarse, I don’t know…just odd.  Spinning yarns requires animation and entertainment, it takes a real showman.  If a person has these qualities: then they are a loaded gun, they have the best hand in the room, they have the fattest wallet, and most importantly they have the eyes and ears of anyone they desire!

So what about me?  I’m a tortured collector of tales, stuck behind a forgettable face and a weak voice.  My mannerisms project my, ever present, nervous feelings.  My eyes are a melancholy blue, and they always appear worried or stressed…even when I am happy.  I always manage to start talking at the same time as someone else, and I’m always the one that says, “Oh, you go ahead!”  I’m an awkward turtle, a fish without gills, a dog with no bark, a hairless cat!  And it really is a pity because in my mind, I spin the most epic of stories.  Every detail is sharp, every color is saturated to the fullest extent, each sound echoes as if it were bouncing off of the walls of the Grand Canyon.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in bars lately, but not because I have been lured in by the burning kick of hard liquor.  Not because I have decided to drown my sorrows in a bath of British Navy Pusser’s Rum…okay, I’ve never had that I just picked it because the name is inappropriate and I have an immature sense of humor.  Rather, it is because bars are the only places open late at night in small towns.  Shops and cafes seem shut their doors before the sun has even had a chance to brush his teeth or change into his pajamas.  So, I often find myself basking under blinking neon lights of downtown bars.  The best part, or the worst part (I haven’t decided yet) is that bartenders hate me!  First of all, everyone thinks my ID is fake!  Maybe partly because I dress like a 12 year old boy?  (I should probably work on that at some point).  Maybe because my complexion is sprinkled with blemishes?  Maybe because my voice gets high and squeaky when I get nervous?  Bartenders always look at me with the most skeptical of eyes, and to make things worse…I only ever order one drink.  They always have this tone with me, like they have immediately decided I am a complete moron…like I am their annoying little sister that won’t go away.  And after all that, hell if I am going to tip them…so then they reallllllly hate me!

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Leadville, CO

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Leadville, CO

I always try to find a spot at the back of a bar, you know, the place where the dirt is swept at the end of the night.  I do my best to avoid conversations or flirtations with drunk older men, but somehow they always laser in on me and stick to me like glue.  Lord knows, young men are never lured in by my appearance (or lack there of) , it’s always the lonely old men who take a liking to me.  Sometimes it gets a little creepy. However, more often than not, I have found that after we exchange words–they realize that I am not prey.  They then, by default, are no longer predators (or maybe I am just fooling myself).  Despite the awkward thoughts that they may or many not be thinking, old codgers always have the best stories!  And they just give them away, like the words have been stabbing the inside of their mouth and they can’t wait to be rid of them.  Every time I hear a good story, I envision it in the same way that I envision a good story in a book.  I deepen the blues of the mountains the characters have climbed, I lengthen the chin hairs of the ex wives so often referred to as witches, I hear the crunching of the earth beneath military boots,  I inhale the wet-dirt smell of rain,  and if a story is really old–I picture it in black and white or sepia tones.

I love collecting tales: I love hearing them, I love memorizing the faces that tell them, I love how my brain feels like it lights up, I love collecting tales. But I hate it when the inevitable questions about me start flowing!  “What do you do for a living?  What did you go to school for?  What are your plans for the future?  What does your dad think about all this?  Do you have a fella?”  I’d happily attempt to spew a story about a made up thing: a corrupted frog leaping contest perhaps. But a narration of my actual life?  You want me to tell you about me?  That feels far too personal, far too intimate, and requires far too much vulnerability.  Maybe because I’m not liquored up, I’m not ready to give it up.  I also know that boozy graybeard’s aren’t going to remember jack-shit the next day.  So, why would I waste my energy?  For the sake of hearing my own voice?  I’d rather not hear it…and I am sure the bartender would rather not hear it either.  I’ve gotten pretty good at deflecting questions and spinning them back around to these geezers I meet, and they usually end up bumbling around on a bunch of weird tangents.  That pretty much takes care of my problem, and it gives me something to write about.  Ahhhh, something to write about.  Write about.  Write!

I love writing!  In the real world I am no one, but here in the writing world I am ME!  I am the person I envision!  My stories are as vivid as I imagine them to be, my bellowing words echo against the walls of the Grand Canyon, and I have a plethora of embellishing sauces and spices to help improve story flavors when necessary.  I love remembering how things looked, I love describing, and I love the way words wiggle their way into my ear drums.  I am amazed by the way events and memories race to the tips of my fingers or bleed out from my pen to my paper.  Now, I’m not the best writer, some days I don’t feel like I can write at all…but other days–words flow from my brain like a raging river.  My words, as Mark Twain (supposedly) said, “are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. (Fortunately) everybody drinks water.”  To every: loss, gain, tear, smile, laugh, lie, sound, each unfortunate event, lucky break, each step I’ve taken, every right or wrong turn,  every drunk old codger with a story, to every alcohol induced confession…I am grateful!  For each and everyone of you have given me something to write about.

Writing: dedicated to– adventures, alcohol, mild untruths, wilder truths, and Mark Twain!

Anecdote:

One night a group of Mark Twain’s friends in New York, having recognized the date as that of his birth, decided to send him a suitable greeting. Unfortunately, the globe-trotting traveler was away and no one knew where he might be reached. After some deliberation, a letter was simply sent off with the address: “Mark Twain, God Knows Where.” Several weeks later a letter arrived from Twain: “He did.”

Unchecked Quotes:

I have made a rule never to smoke more than one cigar at a time.

Man – a creature made at the end of the week’s work when God was tired.

My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. (Fortunately) everybody drinks water.

The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

When angry, count to four; when very angry, swear.

Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.

Always respect your superiors; if you have any.

Be good and you will be lonesome.

A full belly is little worth where the mind is starved.

There is no sadder thing than a young pessimist‚ except an old optimist.

Travel is fatal to prejudice.

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