Philosophical Ponderings in Dog Food by Charlie Paddington

Everything, everything at all is ironic. And if you can’t see the irony in something, then that in itself is ironic. I drive around too much. I’m actually capable of totally wasting half a tank of gas just driving around; somehow hoping it will appease my lonely soul. My lonely soul—it’s strange because sometimes I start saying things, and even though they seem perfectly logical and like there would be no better way to say them, coming off like some sort of Far East guru is inevitable.

The driving around, that’s my life now. I’m through with sports, through with close, gender-determined friendships, through with nearly all the vestiges of teenaged youth in America these days. Except driving around. My green car, green like the grass, green like my father’s eyes and sometimes his vomit, too, has a bumper sticker that is an irony of ironies: “It’s the Environment, Stupid!” it shouts out. I am too much of a cynic sometimes. I’m not even a witty cynic anymore; I’m just a moody nuisance. So I drive around, wasting the last remnants of the Earth’s resources with an illogical, uncouth sticker plastered onto my back bumper.

Also, I listen to music. I like Counting Crows when it’s really late, like around that time when late at night magically and inexplicably changes into early morning. Weezer is good, too. I drive around, I listen to Weezer, I sing along. Those songs, they are heartbreaking. It is as if Rivers knew me. I sing along to Weezer and Rivers and I are heartbreaking. We are pathetic and lonely and trapped. We wear cardigans and funny glasses and we love Muppets. I am a suburban teenager, and I am relishing my share of disillusionment. Sometimes, though, I listen to violin music on NPR. It is so amazing, oh!, how the bow can strike the strings just right! Oh!, how angry and sad and happy and skeptical you must be when you play the violin, and all at the same time! I curse the fact that I never learned how to play the violin sometimes.

It’s amazing how music can dictate your life, especially if you know nothing about it. My brother Al and I used to drive around late at night, listening to Curtis Mayfield. “Pusherman” was our favorite song. We couldn’t really explain why, except to say that it made us feel cool to listen to it. No one else seemed to understand.

I really think that’s where the whole ordeal started—not by listening to Curtis Mayfield, but this strange, deep-seeded need to be different from everyone else...weird thing. Well, they say, the experts—writers and all, you know—that it’s perfectly normal when “one is in their teen years” to covet the freak title. However, my “coveting” it from an earlier age apparently makes me a somewhat (somehow) more interesting specimen. It’s all crap, if you ask me.

I come from an interesting family. My parents have been living here in the grand ole’ US of A for about thirty years, give or take. My brothers came long before me, and really, we were quite picturesque. I sometimes find it depressing that we don’t all live together anymore. I suppose this is in the same fashion that I find or have found everything depressing at one point or another. I like to blame this sort of things on my brother Al a lot. It’s mostly just easy to do. And somewhere, deep down, I think Allen is so used to it that he’s begun to like it.

I used to have a bunch of friends, also, back in Paterson, where I grew up. Man, we were so cool, and disbelieving, too. We were awesome, running around, wind battering our hair, laughing, shouting—products of a much different urban sprawl—we thought we were invincible. We weren’t bad kids, though, so maybe we were right, to some extent.

But everything changes. My surroundings changed, and gradually thereafter, so did I. Things are just that way and I really don’t think there’s anything we can do about them. Things become more unbearable as time passes. It’s a fact. So now I pass a lot of time in my car, listening to French poetry. Tearfully, sometimes, I think. Driving through the rain sometimes, I think.

I like the rain because it distracts me from thinking. There’s something magical about rain. Somehow, you can go out and get drenched and you’ll be with someone equally drenched and suddenly their eyes are not just plain devices through which they see, but magical, moss-covered earths through which things become more tangible illusions. I think that the sun has it out for me sometimes, doesn’t love me, doesn’t wish for my plants to grow. And yet somehow, I feel equally cursed by the rain sometimes—it’s just so impersonal.

But today will be different. I know today will be different because last night I stayed up and read Nietzsche and I think I know the secrets of life. So today is a brand new day indeed. I learned the secrets of life shortly after Nietzsche. I was driving home, having taken my father to the airport at three in the morning. He doesn’t even live at home anymore, he just sort of pretends to—maybe an attempt to preserve our last remnants of normalcy.
I was listening to music and driving past the lake. The morning is such a strange thing. This is more evident early on. Morning means so many things—despite the bacon and eggs image the word evokes. There is a Counting Crows song, it says, “I step out the front door like a ghost into the fog—no one notices the contrast of white on white.” I feel that way right now.

The lake is smothered in a layer of fog. It seems like God himself is evaporating off of the water. It’s strange. Morning is a woman. She tries to ignore all the captors of the night before, negating their existence like some sort of born-again virgin.

In this way I realized that the morning is a sly creature. The moon shining over the water is a different thing. The moon’s light does not penetrate the water; its diaphanous gleam floats on top like anointing oils, like a dream, like an illusion we hold onto for fear of defeat and disaster. But morning is not so. Morning works its way in, becomes one with the water, like love, like hate, like love and hate—the most fatal of all chemical combinations.

In this way I realized that perhaps I am a morning person, for my victories are like the morning, that cunning woman. My triumphs are all worked in slowly, neatly, perfectly. The biggest secret life offers to us is that the night, the moon, with all that glamour and sonambulance, is just a device by which the morning controls our every deed.

My mother would frown at that. My mother would break out the rosary beads, the vat of holy water (which we once found a bug in—my brother dubbed it the “Holy cockroach.”), and she would pray. I would sit there impatiently explaining in quite a sixteen-year-old fashion that I have no qualms to hold against the Lord our God. She will yell and hopefully use some reverse psychology, which tends to border on the edge of stand-up insanity.

I will then go to my room and do sad things, or at least mediocre things while feeling like a disappointment. (The girl sitting next to me drank a bottle of Jim Beam, twenty-four Smirnoffs, half a bottle of tequila, a “thing” of 99 Bananas, and a “thing” of Peach Puckers. My God, that is a wealth of alcohol...people in third world countries would kill for some of that alcohol, but no, it all gets relegated to one suburban teenager. You wonder what’s wrong with our infrastructure? That’s what.)

There are some things that just don’t change, like my relationship with my mother. There are other things. The obsession with finding patterns in tiled bathroom floors that must have been tiled randomly, the desire of suburban teenagers to relish their disillusionment and create their own strange, quiet rebellion—these things are unchanging. And, oh, so importantly: No one, no one, would choose Sartre for the American Presidency over my friend, my lover, my posthumous and convoluted infatuation, Friedrich Nietzsche.

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