Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Charlies of the World

I made a new friend recently, this guy in his late 20s who went to a very nice Ivy League school, and then decided to go into construction, and spend a large portion of his 20s traveling around 3rd world countries or riding around America doing odd jobs. He feels inherently guilty about the position in life he was born into, he's well read and very well educated, he's adept at most social situations but prefers ones with a lack of pretension, and he's picked up a fair amount of "life skills". Earlier this week I had a conversation with a couple I know about "manliness", and one thing mentioned was how important it was to try to fix something yourself first. Like, at least TRY to open up the dryer and see what's wrong before you pay someone to come over and do it. At least TRY to unclog the sink yourself. So this guy, he's a guy who Tries. For the purposes of this blog, he'll be known as the Prince.

When I first met him, we had a conversation about how he was really All American looking, and I said I thought he looked like he could be a WW2 fighter pilot named Charlie. It's probably related to the fact that I'm obsessed with Steinbeck's Travels with Charley this summer. I found my copy again while I was moving, and I keep reading a few pages at a time every day, like it's a supply of antibiotics and I'm stuck on a desert island.

Last night the Prince had a couchsurfer come through, a guy named Emmett (though his first name was actually Charlie) who is going on a Hobo Odyssey , which means he had his parents drop him off at a gas station with 50 bucks in his pocket, and he's traveling through 50 states in 50 weeks, hitchhiking, train hopping, panhandling, couch surfing. He's also making a movie with his little pocket ProGo camera (which I WANT now) and writing a book. We took him to Phnom Penh in Ohio City for dinner, and he interviewed a guy standing in the West Side Market parking lot wearing a Heat jersey, who refused to be on camera, but spoke passionately about how Lebron would come back to Cleveland some day if we just let him, but Gilbert had fucked that up, and then as we were leaving the Prince noted that one of the other guys standing around had a very large handgun stuffed in his pants. Oh Cleveland. After dinner, we went down to Edgewater Pier, to hang out with the fishermen. It was way after sunset, but there was a red glow coming from the horizon as if Canada was on fire. Emmett immediately started talking to people, just walked into the crowd of strangers and didn't come out for an hour. He ended up emerging with a  bag of fish, promising the guy he would cook it and eat it as part of the movie. You could tell the guy was skeptical about giving his fish away, he kept telling him to make sure he actually ate it, which honestly seems like a valid doubt, that these three young white kids on the pier "making a movie" would waste the fish, but Emmett is sincere as heck, it's a wonderful quality in him and I wonder if he had it before the trip and that's why strangers take him in, or if he's developed it these last 274 days having to rely on kindness. We watched the sailboats on the dark lake, blinking little green and red lights from the gloom. As we were leaving, the moon set heavy and red in the horizon, and I got super confused by why the moon would be setting at like 11, it had been high and bright in the sky at our arrival, and the three of us discovered together that despite our educations we had only the most primitive understanding of how the moon worked. Though later I did manage to logic out how lake effect snow worked on my own with guesswork, so I, I should have known that too. No excuses. I'm not trying hard enough to retain these basic understandings of the universe, I'm taking them for granted.

Standing on the pier, I told the Prince that I was going to refer to this little sub class of educated monied travelers that both of them belonged to as the Charlies. It makes me happy to think about all the Charlies of the last 50 years, graduating from nice schools, then setting out for the open roads of the continent and voluntary poorness and adventure. Dad did the same thing once, hopped trains and hitchhiked across the country after Brandeis, and even though he wasn't from money, I think the main requirement to be a Charlie is that you have the kind of rich kid education that teaches you these things are possible, that all you have to do is DO them, TRY. I think I got that from Hathaway Brown too, this feeling of freedom that you get from having the (sense of) money and time to think and imagine, this supportive consensus of  "of course if you want to do that, you should do it, why not?"  A lack of Can'ts. That kind of education shouldn't be just for rich kids, it isn't fair, but that's the difference of going to a really good probably expensive school. I understand why my parents thought it was so important we got those scholarships now, they knew what the difference was, what kind of perspective you would learn to face the world with. Also, I think it's helped me a lot to not be intimidated by people with more money than me. Equality, Freedom, and Curiosity, that's what the nice schools teach you if you're the right kind of person.

In the case of every Charlie I've ever known though, that also includes graduating with a lack of school debt. But that's not primary. It's not like I paid my school debt at all through out my twenties anyway. I can't use that as an excuse.

 I guess this move, this turning over the rock on my life halfway through, is the little remaining bits of Charlie in me coming out, an insistent nagging voice that says "of course you can give up this career you don't like and move somewhere by the ocean where you don't know anyone, of course you can, why wouldn't you?" Girls though, we need another word, we're almost never full on Charlies because we grow up with such a sense of danger, that it just isn't safe and we'll get raped or mugged or otherwise hacked to pieces. That's not an invalid concern, the world is more dangerous for women, but there are female Charlies out there too, wandering around. I think I will call them Carolines.  I would like someday to be a Caroline.

After the lake we went back to my house and drank on the porch, and watched the cops stop by the shady apartment building next door, and then the weirdly unmarked tractor trailers leaving the parking lot at 2am chased by other cars, the dealers standing at the end of our driveway waiting to hop in a passing car that slows down. Those guys could be Charlies too, if someone had told them they could. If there had been just enough money around their childhoods to teach them money isn't everything, and if someone had made them read really good books. The luckiness of my life is overwhelming on nights like this.

You should follow Emmett's adventure now, because it's almost over and I'm really excited to see how the Alaska/Hawaii part works out


  1. I love this. I think being a Caroline comes from within. You either are or you aren't. It is everyday.

    I am also very much in love with Emmett/Charlie's journey now. Thanks for enlightening...

  2. A "lack of cant's" should be in the rulebook handed out for life. Too many people hobbled along the way by the venomous CAN'T. It has steamrolled many a potential Charley/Caroline.


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