Pointless Stories: Sleep in Winter Part 1

Today I woke up at about 7:50 am. The alarm shattered the silent air with beats that seemed concentric. The beeps sped up the longer the alarm stayed on, as a way to keep you from taking that extra five minutes that soon balloons into a half an hour. I sprung out of bed and quickly made my way to the alarm clock. Whenever I near it in the morning the beeps get faster and faster. Though they respond to time, it feels more like space. With each step I get closer to the core of the concentric circles and the sound grows quicker and harsher. The alarm shrieks faster and faster at me, delivering as much of an oration as it can before I silence it. Sometimes my finger slides right of the smooth black surface of the off button without clicking it. My tired frustration compels me to jam the button until the alarm stops arguing. I have my fill of interaction with people and I do not need my machines piping about their concerns.

My roommate, Peter, wakes up too, probably because his alarm won’t arrive much later, and we both have a class in the morning at the same time. I set my alarm ten minutes earlier than usual to beat a strange shower rush that developed in the mornings just recently. I have tenuous mornings, easy to derail. I move too slowly to feel at ease with any routine I set in the morning. My mind does not function as sharply as like either, so I yield to grumpiness, mostly because I feel inadequate in the pressured mornings. I deeply want to slink back into bed to face the day later, but I know that post-sleep I’ll be deprived of full faculties, regardless of quakes in routine. I gather my shower gear slowly. I did not buy a shower caddy this year because frankly the container store does not deserve twenty dollars for a cheap plastic box with a knobby handle. I know the overhead of perforating a cheap chunk of plastic does not warrant the price. I do miss the convenience of the shower caddy. It sucks to drop your soap or have your shampoo bottle break open while walking to the shower.

I get to showering and worrying about the time in one simultaneous and routine motion. I manage just fine, though. I brush my teeth and floss as well, recently deciding to try and force myself into more hygienic habits as I age. I get my stuff and take the stairs down. The elevator is just a quick so long as it goes straight from 5 to 1, but you cannot trust it. If you are in a hurry it’ll likely stop on all four floors along the way just to make your hubris seem Greek. Not to mention, I do not find repressing the desire to chew out the person using the elevator to transcend a flight of stairs to be a fun exercise in patience. If I am not in a hurry and not in a group then I tend not to care if someone uses the elevator to get up or down a flight of stairs. I would consider doing it myself were I them. When I am in a group I get this feeling of shared outrage that I must join in on to indicate I am fully human and not some sanctimonious Buddhist reminding people that frustration should teach us patience. Instead I revel in that emotional connection I create when another person and I judge a stranger in unison. I do not know either person, but at that moment I feel pretty well connected with both on an emotional level. Most people living on the second floor anticipate your reaction when they take the elevator. They either respond in a flash, with something along the lines of “I am sorry, I am just lazy.” They flash you this nervously jovial smile, knowing that one day one person in too much of a hurry to form restraint might start up a real argument with them. That smile prints them all over with guilt. Or maybe it is just a prankster’s nervousness that makes them invincible to anything but silent disparaging. After all, they chose the forthright path, and throughout the day ninety percent of the people you meet will not choose that path. That must be worth something. Otherwise they just stare straight at the elevator door and pretend they did nothing out of the norm. The lack of confrontation might save them from lectures, but one day I cannot help but think a senior rushing to turn in a thesis will plant a welt right in the back of their head.

I took the stairs though, so none of that would happen privy to my sight. I love the stairs for their consistency. They will not disappoint me. Even with my legs feeling worn, I plod down them at a familiar pace. I step outside and feel the slight cold of an all too warm DC November embrace me.

I always make my way to the dining hall to get a bagel and maybe some bacon in the morning. I walk up through the amphitheater. The amphitheater looks like a giant set of grassy steps leading down to a stage. The university maintains the grass perfectly, and even as winter approaches it glimmers green beneath the morning sunlight. Trees tower over the sides of the amphitheater, and a small creek runs a sneaky path along the left side of the large, leafy steps. You can hear its subterfuge if you listen close.

The trees begin to lose their leaves and to me they looked like they’re burning. An orangish red spreads on the outsides of the leaf until it forces them to fall to the earth. The cold weather spreads a burn across most of the foliage, but the campus remains well raked. The leaves speckle the ground, rather than coat it. We run our large brushes through a thicket of green hair, cut to a fine buzz. We foster the growth of massive barky limbs and let it stretch its legs out to touch the sky. Such is the treatment a national arboretum warrants.

My campus is small, but I basically have to cross the spread of it to get to my destination. We tucked the science building off on the north side, far away from the quadrangle and the bustle of activity around it. Only humanities receive such venerated locales.

I get to my economics class after a dull walk on tired legs. It feels long, but it isn’t. It just happens to be the grayest path to follow. Once I leave the neat green array of the amphitheater and quadrangle, I tread along a river of pavement, with towering slabs of concrete ringing me in on the sides. The spots of green are still there, but the campus on the far north side only receives a trickle of people going to and fro. It feels lonely and quiet compared to the bustle found elsewhere.

My economics class goes fine, though I have trouble focusing. My mind generates a few sharp responses to the basic economic principles, which I scrawl in my notes to ask the teacher about later. I can hardly remember them now, but I do remember our discussions centered on the use of patents and the creation of a complicated patent buyout system that would foster innovation and profits simultaneously. For the most part I agree with the lecture. Usually I find economics slanted at justifying itself. Economics traces out a clear path and I love and hate that about it. History’s splintered over the years, and we can no longer agree even on objectivity. But Economics, that young and brash bastard does not seem to give a shit about dissention at all. Sure, when you dive deep, Economists fight bitterly with one another, but no one’s questioning supply and demand, and they’ll all agree to devise sticky wages and frictional unemployment to support the flaws in their more widely agreed upon theories.

Economics always energizes me, but well after the morning’s passed. Walking back to my dorm, usually I can only focus on the nap I am about to indulge in. Of course as time passes I forget the specifics of economics and I regret not processing it right at that moment. The dilemmas of my morning classes are spending my free afternoons forgetting what I learned. I am dead tired walking back. An acquaintance of mine makes a quick interaction, notes that I am tired and lets me off the hook. Walking back through the amphitheater provides a different perspective. The wide steps lead down now, and I quickly clear past the creek whispering to my left and the wide empty stage. My eyes fix themselves against that large concrete structure of a residence hall I live in. It towers over the amphitheater and towers more and more as I slide down the hill of the amphitheater. Once I get back to the elevators, I find them both ascending to the upper floors. On another day, I might just hike up the five flights and fall on my bed. Today my legs will not allow it. The elevators take quite some time to get to the first floor. Each one stops at three floors, and they arrive nearly at the same time. Another person from my floor hops on the elevator and I remark that the elevators raced to the first floor. When I get back to my room I set my alarm for 11 AM. I intend to limit my nap to a half an hour. Any longer, and they say it only makes you sleepier. Recently I can recall all of my nap dreams.

So I napped and I dreamt about some interpersonal interactions in which I was quite the hero. Of course, the tale of a hero ends tragically, and just as the villain winded up to confront me, the whole world shook. The earth became the sky and the sky became the earth and it all faded beneath a concentric beeping. The rings of sound cascading in faster and faster forced that subconscious world of reverie and oddity to lapse back into reality. I stood up, turned the alarm off and then sat back down on the bed. I promised myself that I could shut my eyes for a second and remain upright. I lied to myself and made a perfectly noiseless transition into sleep. I strode right into my subconscious without even noticing. It all blended well.


~Austin R Ryan

The Opening Act


The eclectic and violently energetic Man Man chose to tour with a much more toned down and rhythmic Murder By Death. The Black Cat packed to capacity and not a person had more than an inch of air between them and the next fan. While gradually accepting every time I inhaled I would suck in a sour mixture of foreign breath and various cindery smogs. The bands did no share too many features. Man Man distorts the sound of a 1950’s dance hall into a bizarre cavalcade of toxic talk and jilted gibberish. Murder By Death cleanly constructs cinematic climaxes, weaving a western folk tune in with a web of modern stories. A soft rock and a punk rock band were not playing together, but they were different enough that everyone there either seemed eager for Man Man or Murder By Death, not both. It got me wondering what made them tour together, and how much it means to tour with another band.

A live show can tell you a lot about a band’s health, lifespan, direction, influences, and so on, but one show provides just one isolated incident. To get an honest idea of what “live” means in the context of one band requires devotion, time, and money. But it takes a few clicks and a search to find out who tours with whom, and in many ways that simple fact provides more answers than how the band behaves on stage.

It turns out you cannot underestimate how much it means when bands build a bond. Man Man toured with Modest Mouse (a similarly strange band inflated with violent volta centered vocals) back in 2007 and now members of each band formed Mister Heavenly. Two bands can tour then rapidly forget about it. Kiss and Rush toured back when Neil Peart just joined Rush, and neither band become integral to the other, but when two bands strike a chord on tour it can jumpstart careers and change genres. My Morning Jacket brought Dr. Dog into a new world of popularity and success by selecting the burgeoning band as their opener. The Mars Volta got their start setting the stage for The Red Hot Chili Peppers, despite The Mars Volta sounding quite unlike any other band out there, let alone The Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Mars Volta’s guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez occasionally played guitar for The Chili Peppers, perhaps leading the two bands to tour together.

Every instance above gives a glance into a part of a musical artist perhaps completely invisible otherwise. Omar’s involvement with The Red Hot Chili peppers and The Mars Volta demonstrates his prolific and splayed nature as a musician. Perhaps Man Man’s tour with Murder by Death demonstrates the conviction to tone both bands share. When a band like My Morning Jacket brings a band out of obscurity, perhaps it foreshadows forays into publishing and labels. And when Coheed and Cambria chose to tour with Between the Buried and Me and Russian Circles it might have gone a long way towards defining progressive metal as a genre, by amalgamating acts too weird for metal and too harsh for progressive rock. The next time your favorite band plays, be sure to get there early. The opener might mean more than the show.


~Austin R Ryan