The Ghosts of the Past
The reason Odysseus knew so much about Helios’s cattle and Charybdis and Scylla was because he consulted with Tiresias. Tiresias was a blind prophet who was consulted by everyone. At one point he dressed in drag for 7 years. Basically, he was a unique character. He gave Odysseus a lot of advice on how to get home. He also gave him fashion and skin care tips because the sea salt air was murder on the complexion.
Tiresias also happened to be dead and lived in Hades. So after sailing to the River Acheron which bordered the underworld, and making all manner of sacrifices, Odysseus was allowed to contact the dead.
Not only did he meet Tiresias, he also ran into his late mother, some old friends from school, and numerous other people he knew who had died during the Trojan War. He was able to reach closure on his past and so it was a fruitful detour. Although, while he was busy with his reunions, his men were a little freaked out, shivering in the bone-chilling creepiness of the underworld.
Then and Now
If there’s a town that represents my past (but not the underworld!), it’s Eugene. I’ve already reached closure on many levels. Many of my friends have moved north to Portland, just up the highway. I still keep in touch with a handful of very special people, but the rest I’ve long fallen out of touch with.
Eugene is where I lived for a decade, performed modern dance, played guitar like every other guy, and held court at one of the oldest natural foods stores in the US. I biked everywhere, year-round, didn’t wear a watch, didn’t have a cell phone, always had fruit and bread in my bag (usually challah), a nalgene bottle of water, and a notebook.
I had a Mohawk ponytail that I tied back, wore sunglasses, a pair of shorts, and a tank top. My wallet was a tacky retro brown velcro thing that never had more than $20 in it. And that was it. It was a simpler life.
I ate only organic food, usually bought in bulk, assiduously avoided sugar, rarely drank alcohol or coffee, consumed gallons of green and herb teas, sometimes baked my own bread, grew my own fruit, vegetables, and herbs.
Now I wear a tie to work, have several watches, have a cell phone, a mobile phone and a keitai (that’s 3 handsets for 3 countries), buy sports drinks from vending machines, use hair wax. I usually carry around a digital camera, an ipod, and probably an implanted tracking device that I don’t know about.
My wallet now bulges with point cards, a commuter pass, lots of cash like everyone else in Japan, an immigration card that I must carry at all times, all encased in a nice leather wallet that I was shamed into buying many years ago. Life is a little less simpler now.
Sometimes, I wonder how I lived in Eugene for so long. Passing through there this time around, it felt like an unfamiliar place. Many of my favorite restaurants are gone. And I’m out of touch with most of the people that I knew. By my last year in Eugene, I knew just about everyone. Biking around town, I’d be greeted by soccer moms, street musicians, skater punks, police officers, and homeless artists. Now I feel like any other tourist.
The city has become a little more gentrified, a little more suburban. In the six years I’ve been away, there have been all sorts of new construction. My favorite is the gleaming public library. When I lived there, Time magazine called Eugene the anarchist capital of the US, because of the high density of activists, protesters and hippies, some of whom professed to be anarcho-syndicalists. I have a feeling this title has passed onto another city.
What made Eugene unique for me was the thriving dance scene. In terms of quality of dancers, the number of dance companies, the varieties of dance, and the frequency of performances, as well as the opportunities to join in, it surpassed Seattle and was comparable to San Francisco, in my opinion.
Eugene has a number of, who I consider, high priestesses of dance. And these are some of the people who I’m most in touch with. They are fabulously creative and charismatic. I met two of them while in Eugene.
There’s the incomparable, innovative Margo. Her choreography resonated deeply with audiences, her movements rooted in emotional authenticity. And she’s always been able to attract a devoted fan base.
And I also met with the magnetic Nanci, whose choreography was imbued with a sense of soaring and expansive space often with a political message.
If there’s a Tiresias on this trip, that would have to be Mike. He’s not blind, nor particularly prophetic. Nor have I ever seen him in a skirt. He does, however, offer a kind of support that could be mistaken for advice. But it’s nothing so pretentious. He’s always been a great friend. And people seek him out for something that could be called guidance, but it’s nothing so presumptuous. He’s just a sincerely, good guy who people trust. The kind of friend you would go to Hades for, just to have a chat and a few laughs.