Stuck in Schenectady
Copyright 2021, John Manimas
I needed a "change of scenery." Maybe like going to the last place I would live. Does that mean "heaven?" But this old concept took on a new deeper meaning to me, because as soon as I made my move I knew the change I was looking for was inside, not outside. I had to make repairs, paint, which I hate, and complete the paperwork to sell the house. Put in a new septic system for the shit of the future. I had to discard my treasures in four dumpster loads, my books, my old hardware that I might need someday.
After I left Vermont, where I had lived a lifetime of forty-six years (from 26 to 72), I had an ee-pif-a-knee that what I had done was a lot like giving away all that I own and following Jesus. I was following Jesus. I was always following Jesus, even though I was never certain where we were going.
On my first excursion to Schenectady I was moved by the variety of architecture and the variety of people. Although there was a concentration of Italian, who had come to Schenectady long ago to work for General Electric, the company that made toasters, jet engines, and parts for war missiles and space rockets. Many have known that Thomas Edison made Schenectady the home office of his electrical universe near the end of the 19th century. The signs say so, and the statue on Erie Boulevard of Edison talking to Steinmetz, the hunchbacked dwarf who changed the world. Another secret of Schenectady is that the company called American Locomotive was located here, where the immigrants and engineers made locomotives that were shipped all over the world, until the late 20th century, and some still are running today in the nations that take our old clothes. So, Schenectady was called "the city that lights and hauls the world." There's more. What is also here in Schenectady is the center of history in the Western Hemisphere. Here is the left turn in the Erie Canal from the Hudson River to the Mohawk River, then west to Buffalo and the Great Lakes. Here there was a "massacre" at the old Dutch Stockade in 1690 which played a major role in the battle to control the Albany region which was the crossroads and strategic center of the fight to control North America and its resources, featuring helmeted killing teams from France, Holland, Great Britain, and occasionally the Spanish who were usually pre-occupied with shipping gold and burning records.
If you put a compass point on Schenectady and turn the scribe, you will enclose the area which is the general setting for "The Last of the Mohicans," where James F. Cooper tells us how the United States of America is stolen property. And how it was paradise before the Europeans came to escape the hell they had created in Europe. I digress.
So Vermont was wonderful in many ways. Lots of life, lots of trees, lots of dry humor. The seat of irony. An iron seat. Vermont was like an iron seat because it held one in place with its quiet beauty, the full spectrum of color, the ideal of all the trees being close together and the people far apart. The originals, who had lived on farmland for two hundred years, or three, and the righteous capitalists who made a million dollars, or three, in some big city but then came to Vermont to enjoy quiet, family life, simplicity, small business, and divorce. There is something absolutely genuine about Vermont. Much has been made in that vital, creative little state: rifles, farm machinery, machines that make other machines, pottery, glass, novels, laws, children to grow up and leave to grow some more and make their contribution to change that would be welcome further west, or even further. Vermont treasures the good life, life close to the Earth. Sometimes too close. The unblend of oldies and newbies is ever charming, like shrimp in a beef stew. So, what is the surprise here? Where are we going? We are going nowhere.
Yes, that is the surprise about the Schenectady haven, this beautiful, active, hopeful, vibrant city that has survived the economic disease called "rust belt" and is reclaiming, demolishing, cleaning up, and rebuilding. It is a good place to be. But the problem is, I cannot leave. No one can leave, in fact. That's the thing about Schenectady and heaven, once you get here, after leaving wherever it is you were, you are here permanently. This is your final resting place. One has a lot here: variety, security, stability, color, charm, history, music, art, history, play space, a sky, a river, parks, food, drink, even a kind of trembling peace. But the thing is the closed border. I am here now, forever, with my neighbors, as well as the others who are neighbors in a general moral sense but whom I do not really know. I have infinity in which to get to know them, virtually all came from somewhere else, even the Indians, who came from somewhere we try to find by digging in the ground. Yes, that's it. I came to Schenectady to find myself, and now I would like to find someone else. We could say that I want to find someone who is me but not my self. If there is such a thing. But whether I continue to search, or just try to get some rest, find a quiet spot to contemplate, escape the rat race of eternal serenity, it is here and only here I must be. I cannot go back, cannot leave. Leaving is over. I miss the soul of a half-wild cat sitting in a meadow. But I must stay here now, in Schenectady haven, forever. That's the deal. Irony.
Whenever I contemplated the concept of "heaven," I supposed it is a place where everything is good, only good, and nothing is bad. But am I sure that having nothing bad is really good? Strange question. I have a cat. A female. The most beautiful calico in the world, long fur. She is half-wild. Can I learn something from her? From a cat! I like to have her sit on my lap or near me and I pet her. She gets nervous. She does not always like to be petted. Often, she turns her head up and glares at me and scratches my hand. Why I do not know. But she is telling me something. Maybe she is telling me that I am not in heaven yet, just Schenectady. Even though I gave away everything and followed Jesus, I am still in a prison of flesh and thought. I cannot leave, ever. We crave freedom to learn. In freedom only can we learn what is. And what we learn is that freedom does not exist. We all live in Schenectady, and none of us can leave. That's the deal.
I would like to go back to Earth. I like Earth. But I cannot. I am perfectly free, they tell me, so long as I stop missing Earth, my cat, birds, trees, the ocean waves giving the sandy shore a back rub. If I had this alleged "complete freedom" of heaven, I would go back to Earth, as a tree. But wherever we go for something new, for a change of scenery, we are held captive in the laws of Nature. It appears, my beloved friend, that heaven and hell are the same place. Our only hope is good company. So, when you get off the bus, look me up. There is a vast conspiracy of life, and we have been selected. –end-
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