“The Boulevard” – Americana

The rhythm section on this song hits hard. Back in the day when I had my aftermarket car stereo with the bass tube, those crunchy, punctuated chords when the rhythm guitar, bass and drums hit in unison would kick me in the rib cage like a mule. I think my philosophy for listening to music in those days was if it didn’t border on physical assault, then what was even the point.

The lead guitar is alive here. It is its own distinct character. How does JM make the guitar sound so alive? If I practiced hard enough, I could probably get to the point that I could mimic the lead notes; it doesn’t sound like it would be that hard to do. But I could never make the guitar sound alive like this. It is the curse of the Salieri’s of the world like me that we should have just enough talent to be able to recognize and marvel at true genius when we see it or hear it.

The tension of the music sets the stage for the story told in the lyrics. These lyrics describe those awkward encounters you may have with someone you used to be close with but things ended in less than optimal ways. Now you’ve run into them at Wal-Mart and you have to do that dance of making small talk and keeping your distance while maintaining civil dialogue. Maybe I am interpreting it this way because of an encounter I had two days ago. This story requires some context.

Time’s all you need when you stop to think

At the end of my last breakup, my ex moved out leaving most of her belongings behind. I mean, she left about 80% all of her worldly possession here. She had ample time to deal with her stuff before she left but chose not to, such was the nature of her scorched earth policy she had adopted at the time. It took me 2 weeks working constantly, about 20 trash bags, 2 truck loads to the landfill and 8 full car loads to the Goodwill to get the bulk of it cleared out. I kept some of the things, not out of any sentimental feelings for my ex but because of her mother.

Many of the things my ex owned were either given to her or were loaned by her mother. I knew her mother was particularly possessive of these things. Her mother had that character quirk that you sometimes see with children who were orphaned or abandoned (as her mother was) where they grow up with an obsession for holding on to material things. It is as if she thought that if she filled her surroundings with enough furniture and knick-knacks, she would eventually fill the void within.

Her mother is elderly and already living on borrowed time with all of her physical ailments. I knew that she could not physically deal with all that was left behind. I also knew that if she found out about how much I was giving or throwing away, she would get so worked up about it that she would probably stroke out. At the same time, I had to get rid of the stuff just for my own self-preservation. I was thrown into a situation impossible to navigate in a way that would make everyone happy.

I worked out a compromise with myself that I would get rid of most of the stuff but hold on to some of the things that I thought her mother would have an emotional attachment to. This included crystal wine glasses from her wedding, an antique tea set and a bookcase that the mother built by hand. The mother couldn’t get them right way because of physical limitations. I decided to be patient. In retrospect, I kept these things far longer than anyone with any sense would do. I would call the mother about every 3 months or so to remind her that I had her things. This went on and on. But I suppose she showed up when she was ready to deal with it. Sometimes time is all you need.

Tell me what you heard on the boulevard

On Friday, my ex’s mother and her aunt show up at my door to take the rest of the stuff. The aunt pulls me aside and starts asking where specific things are. I try to explain to her that I had to give most of it away. The aunt tells me that my ex claimed that most of the stuff was in a storage building (which they discovered was a lie) and that I held onto the rest. The gravity of how much was lost set in on the aunt’s face. Shaking her head, she said, “That’s how that girl has always been. She leaves things behind for other people to deal with and she doesn’t care about it.” I nod my head in agreement. This is not news to me. The aunt warns me not to let the mother know how much is lost because it will break her heart and she can’t handle it.

While I’m whispering with the aunt, the mother is in the car (she can’t get out because of her health) just chatting me up in a loud, sing-song voice. I make small talk and ask her about her recent doctor’s appointments. I make jokes and try to keep her distracted as we load things into the back of the car. My goal was to keep her talking and laughing, if possible.

Don’t take it hard
Things like this go on
Don’t take it so hard

After the car was loaded, I walk up to the mother to say goodbye. I comment that this was the last load of stuff they needed to pick up. Confusion sets in on her face and she asks how we could fit so much into one car load. I let it slip that I took some of the stuff to Goodwill. Her mouth drops open and her head jerks back as if I had told her that someone she knew had died. She is speechless (which is a thing that never happens to this woman, believe me).

I take her hand in mine and say, “I know it’s hard to accept. Material things are just things. You haven’t lost anything that would have made your life better. Try not to worry about it so much. It’s okay.”

Her eyes drop to the floorboard. “I know,” she sighs. “It’s just that she didn’t care. She knew that stuff was important to me. Why didn’t she care?” Her question kicks me in the ribs like a mule. I don’t have an answer for that. While we were together, I knew my ex to be one of the most caring people I’d ever met. A switch inside her was flipped and what was light turned dark. In the midst of this darkness, she responded by setting everything around her ablaze and did not care what collateral damage was left behind for others to deal with. I cannot say why.

Sometimes you hold it over me

It is not my intention to make my ex the villain of the story. The truth is more complex. My ex’s grandparents abandoned their children to whatever strangers would be willing to take them in and some of those strangers where abusive. What could be going on in someone’s life that they would be willing to abandon their children to such a fate, I cannot say. It must have been some deep pain within them. My ex’s mother either chose not to deal with her pain or she did not have the capacity to do so. She passed it on to her daughter by creating an environment where her daughter was abused in ways that were even worse.

And so it is that the chains of pain have been carried and passed on, person to person, for generations. That is until those chains were left in the middle of my house with the rest of the furniture, books and clothes she left behind. I chose differently than that family did. I do not carry those chains. I have not handed them off to someone else. I accept that this is what happens when people perpetually do not care for each other. That doesn’t mean I have to join in with it.

Don’t take it hard
Things like this go on
Don’t take it so hard