Saturday, November 8, 2014

This Is the End (an excerpt from Transient Suburbia)

It's National Novel Writing Month! A little check in on my progress:
Total Word Count (as of 11.7): 15197
Words Left: 34803
Days Left: 22

My protagonist, Harper Monroe, is all grown up (finally through that high school section) and has started her journalism career. She writes about musical pilgrimages. Enjoy a journey with Harper.

This Is the End
June 1999

I am lost in a cemetery. It’s a beautiful cemetery but it’s a cemetery nonetheless. I love cemeteries particularly ones where famous people are interred. But right now this cemetery is getting on my nerves.
I have a terrible sense of direction. Even with a map, I can’t say that I know where I am or where I’m trying to go. Interpreting cardinal directions is not a skill I possess. We all have our skills; mine are mostly related to making mixtapes, baking exceptional banana bread, and having opinions about 70s punk bands.
Cities of the dead are intriguing to me. My family visited New Orleans when I was in high school and I remember seeing the above ground tombs there for the first time. The cities of the dead are both creepy and beautiful, monuments to death and life. Tour guides in New Orleans like to tell people that the tombs exist because the dead would float if they were buried underground (New Orleans is below sea-level after all) but that’s really only partially true. The French and Spanish settled the city and the tombs have more to do with their influence than floating corpses.
I’ve come to Paris to find a rock star. Well, the resting place of a rock star. Like so many before me, I’ve come to pay my respects to the Lizard King, Mr. Mojo Risin’ Jim Morrison. Most people come to Paris for romance and good food. I want Jim to tell me my future. Or something.
There are some that don’t believe he’s dead; that the tomb is a simply a ploy to make fans believe he’s gone. Morrison no longer wanted to be the Lizard King; he just wanted a life of obscurity and quiet. People claim to see him at gas stations and on isolated stretches on highway. Morrison and Elvis forever alive, never being able to rest.
I believe he’s dead and buried here at  Cimetière du Père-Lachaise (Père Lachaise Cemetery). Morrison was an addict and heroin would be his downfall. July 3, 1971 - the day the music was over and we could turn out the light.
I have to believe he’s dead. I’ve been walking around this beautiful cemetery for an hour and am lost. I half expected him to appear to me like he appears to Wayne in Wayn’e’s World 2 and convinces Wayne to create the music festival Waynestock. Maybe Jim and aren’t connected on that level. I’m sad about that but I soldier on.
The official map of Père Lachaise Cemetery does not include the tomb of Jim Morrison. It used to and I suspect that it will again one day. The devoted have been making their way to Morrison’s tomb since it was erected and they don’t always exercise the right amount of respect for those buried near Morrison. At one point the tomb was even removed to combat the graffiti and destruction committed. This is why we can’t have nice things.
So finding Morrison’s tomb has now become a quest, a true music fan’s pilgrimage. It also attracts its share of curiosity seekers and people like me, a fan of The Doors but not a devotee. A person who is seeking answers about life who believe that Morrison can help.
I thought I had the directions. My roommate’s boyfriend visited last summer. He wrote down the directions and kept them. To remember his pilgrimage. I dutifully copied down his directions and followed them when I got here (in addition to picking up a map from the visitor’s office). However, he had forgotten an important part of the directions. He had forgotten the “chemins”. Chemins are basically side streets and they’re tricky. The run parallel and perpendicular and round and round. Between the directions and the map I was getting nowhere.I am starting to second guess my decision to start here in Paris. I don’t know why I decided to start my musical pilgrimages with Jim Morrison. I like The Doors but I don’t love The Doors. I could have started with Graceland or any number of places in New Orleans; familiar and close places. But here I am in Paris getting lost in a cemetery.
I don’t know if it’s luck or Jim Morrison deciding to help me out but just as I am about to give up and leave, help arrives. A group of Irish lads (sadly not those Irish lads) appear out of nowhere (or around the corner). I was sitting on the curb, disheveled and annoyed, when they crossed my path. The tallest guy, the one I’ve decided is the lead singer because they’re obviously in a band, introduces himself as Danny (of course) and asks if I need help. I explain my dilemma; Danny and his friends laugh and invite me to join them. They know the way. They have been here before. We walk for exactly ten minutes, circle around the same chemins I had already walked down twice, and walk another ten minutes in the opposite direction. We do not speak.
And then we arrive.
There it was. The tomb I had been searching for. I don’t know what I was expecting. All that happens is that “Love Street” pops into my head at the exact moment I see the tomb. This is probably not the song that most people would think of when seeing Jim Morrison’s final resting place for the first time but it is my favorite and that’s all there is. There are barricades keeping visitors from getting too close. The tomb itself is a bit further back from the path. The bust is gone but the graffiti and offerings remain. Whiskey bottles and song lyrics and flowers. That is what the legion of the faithful have left behind.
The Irish lads make their offerings. They brought whiskey (a little for Jim, a little for them). They offer me the bottle. As much as I would like to imbibe, I decide it is not wise to drink whiskey with unknown persons in a cemetery. Sometimes I’m not very rock and roll. We are not alone; an older couple snap photos and reminisce about seeing The Doors live in Los Angeles in their youth. They sing along to “Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)” when my Irish friends start to sing it and I can see the happiness/sadness in their eyes. They are lost in the music and the memories and their adoration of a flawed and talented man.
I think about why I have come here. I think it is because rock music makes us do crazy and bizarre things. It invades our souls and takes over our hearts. A friend once told me that all rock songs are about love. After observing these fans, I think I believe that statement more than ever.
I think I was in love once. I never actually met him; we wrote letters to one another. I was always myself in those letters I could tell him anything. We shared rock and roll and books and growing up. And then one day, he stopped writing to me. He’s the one that told me about The Doors. I listened because we traded music and I wanted to be a good music friend. I wanted to understand him through the music he loved. He told me that he thought I’d “dig” the music. And I did. I really did. Not because he liked it but because it was good. I could see Southern California and 1967 and the mythical Jim Morrison.
I am here because I want Jim Morrison to explain to me why people leave and why Love Street isn’t a real place. I need to be in this place at this moment so that I can put this person to rest in my heart.
There is no where to sit at the tomb of Jim Morrison so I sit on the curb across from it. I watch the Irish lads and the couple dance and sing and pay their respects. They being to move along. Not because it is too crowded but because their time with the Lizard King is over. They have had their moment and they can move on. Until next time.
I stare at the tomb. I take a few pictures (like the good tourist I am). I sketch some of the graffiti into my notebook. A few more pilgrims make their way to their moment with Jim - a couple of hippies, some students like me, an aging rocker in well-worn leather pants. They each have their moment, nod to one another, and move on. There are no orgies or wild parties. There are only fans paying their respects.
Morrison has not revealed anything to me. He has not led me to my lost boy or to some version of understanding. I’m okay with this. I feel more at ease, more aware of myself. I spend a few more minutes with Jim. I leave a small token of my admiration (a sunflower) and move along back to the busy streets of Paris.
All rock songs are about love and love is a crazy thing.

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