design fashion film music art photography global affairs life
vhcle-09:eulogy for a stranger Eulogy for a Stranger

By Eric Garbe
May 2009

I’m on a city bus sometime last week, heading from one suburb to another. The man in front of me is sneaking sips from a can of Icehouse hidden in his jacket pocket. There’s a phrase running through my head: there will be whales. On the beach tonight. Where the water melts. It’s been haunting me for a year and half now and I still don’t know what to make of it. I don’t live anywhere near the beach. Would I know what to do with it if I did?
John Updike died this month. Or last month, I think. It’s so hard to keep time when your frame of reference is the instercises of the shadows of a thousand concrete and glass sundials. I should care. I remember being 17 and picking up some anonymous collection of his short stories (paperback and since discarded) and I remember laying curled on the floor of a motel room and feeling... frightened... is I think the only word that really works. There was a beautiful hopelessness in those stories. I remember thinking “these people... they have all the world open to them... and yet... it means nothing.” And I fell asleep. And I put it aside and I tried the books I know I should have read and in turn each bored me and I gave up and moved on but never quite forgot that night. That’s my story - my one night stand with John Updike in a cheap motel outside Princeton.
Why do I feel such a compulsion to write about a man I didn’t really even know by reputation? His ghost haunts me, hunts me through cracks between windows and walls, the whale-being of my dream: heavy hot-blooded tail/head/things peeping up above the surf. The Updike ghost that scrapes across the storefronts is the ghosts of the suburbs; a thing I was born into, and if I leave, still almost certainly the thing I’ll return to when my time comes to die. I’ll pass on into the ghost form and see the face of the man who haunts me.
She asks him will they go down to the beach tonight and see the whales. The ghost haunts the dawn of the so-called American Empire. His pall slinks over the the rows of houses freshly-built, the newly constructed families surveying the endless possibilities of the new day and finding them boring. They’re (we’re) cursed, they know it now, they see the bright vistas open in every direction and a sound echoes down them: “why bother?” He shakes his head. The ghost curls up amid the ruins of the possible and composes a new poetry, the poetry of the diminished expectations. No, I don’t think we will.

But the wind that whispered with dawn has grown silent, the middle of the day is languid, hot and sticky. It’s time for a new generation of suburban poets - boys and girls weaned on the sticky sweet of artificial grass and the nurturing hum of the strip mall. If we don’t speak for ourselves, it’s left for others to speak for us, to whisper, stutter with the ghosts of our collective past in our absence. You never take me anywhere when the sun is out, she said. 
This is a missive echoing off the walls to the children of the noon day sun. I want to take hands and speak as one. I want to answer the ghosts and say this is who we are; not prideful, but not ashamed.
No, he said.
I want to sing back at the dawn, I want to whisper at the forgotten wind.
No, I suppose I don’t.
Voices of the beautiful suburban youth, sing out!
And she went back to her reading and they were silent the rest of the night.	

Eric Garbe is an on-and-off student living in Atlanta. He graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in theater and a minor in Russian. He is currently working as a test-prep teacher and a part-time scenic carpenter.

vhcle-09:life © 2009 vhcle [subscribe to our list]
[terms & conditions] [contact us] life design music photography home us film art fashion global notes archive links