“Yes I have a pair of eyes … and that’s just it. If they was a pair o’ patent double million magnifyin’ gas microscopes of hextra power, p’raps I might be able to see through a flight o’ stairs and a deal door; but bein’ only eyes, you see, my wision’s limited.”
The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens
That’s how I feel. Like Dickens’ Sam Weller out of context. So does The Seer, oddly. But he says it’s best that way…
I met The Seer early one morning in Monterey when I was out on the beach off Cannery Row between Prescott and Hoffman. He was sitting on a rock out in the water, facing east and eating a bagged breakfast, the ocean ebbing and flowing around him. He was decked out in homeless attire, wild salt and pepper hair flying out from under his baseball cap. He had a small circular horn tied with twine and swung round his neck, resting on his back.
He saw me coming down the beach pondering life, and he motioned to me. I waved, thinking he was just being friendly that way, but he kept on. When I was almost adjacent to him, he climbed down from his rock and hopped from rock to rock and onto the sand and stood in front of me. He looked in his mid fifties, his face a parchment pirates’ map. As if he was quite used to being too much for the mainstream to take, he smiled benignly and offered me a bread roll from his bag.
I took it despite the What-ifs. He patted my shoulder and said, “Folks call me ‘The Seer’…I’m not entirely sure why, but I’ve become used to it.”
“I’ve heard of you,” is all I could say. I forgot my white-bread manners and didn’t tell him my name, but he didn’t seem to notice. Heck, he probably already knew, being The Seer and all. I smiled at the thought.
“The atmosphere’s dripping wet,” he reported good-naturedly, “The breeze is practically visible it’s so thick with the possibility of rain. It’s so sticky I can’t see either way.”
How absurd, I thought, as if he considers humidity an oddity on the coast. Stranger, though, was his statement about stickiness affecting his vision, so I asked, “Sticky? See either way? What do you mean?”
“Wision disconnect,” he said. “It’s like wearing a wetsuit. There’s condensation between my horn keys and my fingertips. My feet feel clammy. There’s dampness between me and my clothes, between me and everything, including my vision and my wisdom. Like electronics and moisture. Bad combination, bad contact. Produces static.”
He squinted into the darkening sky, sniffed the air, and looked back at me. He continued matter-of-factly, “There’s static between my imagination and my common sense, there’s fog between my eyesight and my insight. The manner in which I conceive something is out of synch with the process of generating a wise course of action.”
Ah, it’s figurative, I thought. It must be. Still, if I hadn’t gotten such good vibes from the guy I for sure would’ve run away screaming by then, but I was beginning to really enjoy his presence. Even so, maybe because so, I said something stupid like, “Well I guess you’ll just have to settle for one or the other, wisdom or vision, until a dry air mass flows through.”
The Seer lifted his cap and scratched the bald top of his head, “Not likely in these parts.” He patted the cap down on his head and just looked at me with nothing but good in his eyes.
I could see all the way out to the center of the universe through those eyes, could see why they called him The Seer, and I could’ve asked him the secret to life, anything, but all that came out of my mouth was, “Why don’t you move to Arizona or something?”
The Seer chuckled and said, “Because I like water flowing ‘round my rocks and on my sand. Because my skin would dry out and I don’t need wision that bad. Because you’re right, I can alternate between wisdom and vision and get along just fine. It’s just not optimum.”
“Why wouldn’t you want to strive for optimum?” I asked.
“Striving can get dangerously close to desperation without your knowing it,” he said. “Everyone around you can see it but you. Thoreau once said, ‘It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.’”
“Desperation certainly is unbecoming,” I thought aloud.
“Best not to invite the possibility of it,” The Seer said. “I did that once, chased after a dream…used to play baseball for a living… Yup, it’s best to let the dream come to you.”
“What happened with baseball?” I asked.
“I don’t remember…” The Seer frowned for a split second. Then his cheerful glow returned and he looked deep into my eyes and said, “This is the dream that found me: to usher in the day, usher it out, and fill the in-between with whatever’s in front of me.”
Then The Seer hopped back across the rocks, climbed up onto his rock and sat there facing west. Without looking back at me he put a hand up to wave goodbye and swung the little horn from off his back around to the front of him and began to play “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
“Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonss, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories, and glophouses. Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, ‘whores, pimps, gamblers and sons of bitches,’ by which he menat Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, ‘Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,’ and he would have meant the same thing.”
John Steinbeck, Cannery Row
Old Cannery Row photo from http://www.unc.edu/~intrm/can_row.jpg, originally from Steve Frisch Photography, Copyright 2001
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