Strolling The Fringe

“As you know, some social and behavioral deviants develop subcultures that, like the ethnic and racial ghettos, constitute havens where the individuals can live openly and with mutual support and insist that they are just as good as anyone else… The socially stigmatized individual, by entering a subculture, accepts his alienation from the larger society, and by identifying himself with like souls claims that he is a full fledged ‘normal’ or even a superior human being and that it is the others who are lacking.”

~Tom Robbins Even Cowgirls Get The Blues

Gather round children and listen closely. There is a lot I have to explain, so let’s get to it.

“The fringe is the residence of the Fool, among others. Cast out by society, it’s from there he takes perspective. A perceptive Fool sees what others can’t. So he thinks what others don’t. So he acts in ways that others misunderstand, thus confirming his foolish nature in their eyes. But should society stray too far into madness, should mass opinion deviate too greatly from reality, then it’s the Fool with heft in wisdom.

Nonetheless wisdom is not inherent. A Fool must cultivate it. He ties his bindle and sets off…”

***

Barely warmed up to life on the road, I hitched a ride South out of Auckland. I was a belly-full of minced meat pie, an eardrum thrumming to rapid techno, and an ass smashed into a backseat. And I was content.

The frantic beat of the music seemed so out of place as we drove through scenic North New Zealand. But unless I’m cracking a safe in a rabbit warren, there’s no chance I’d ever ask an Italian to lower his music. So I smiled into the dissonance.

And we rode into Raglan; an Italian, an Aussie, a Canadian, and me. We followed the coast and happened upon Solscape: a view with a hostel built behind it.

That view.

Breathtaking in its vastness. A moving masterpiece of ocean and earth and clouds all fading outwards into what tasted like infinity. In the foreground, green grass disappeared behind a sloping hill, seamlessly merging vista to vantage-point. Down, down and distant a massive caramel beach extended toward the horizon, blending into the ridged coastline, and framing the deep-blue South Pacific water.

The ocean: a continuous stampede of white sea-foam stallions crashing and roaring and tumbling into the sands. Endless more, yet unbroken, galloping eagerly in the swells. The form of those swells, curved and perfectly parallel, dark lines streaking the water as far as the eye could reach, massive ripples in an endless sea.

And above, trains of billowing clouds floated on gentle winds, glowing serenely, as if smiling down with a transcendent calm, in contrast to the roaring tumult below. I felt like I’d collected a shard of pure majesty.

I was enchanted, and smitten. Sure of myself, I committed to spending all my time in New Zealand staying in that place. I scored a job doing laundry for two hours a night which paid for accommodation, a coffee each day, and some food. I bought a surfboard.

And before long I’d made friends with my fellow workers, an international medley of cooks, baristas, gardeners, surf instructors, and cleaning staff. Chilean, Uruguayan, Welsh, Argentinian, Swedish, German, Hungarian, and Canadian.

We often pooled money and cooked together. Left alone, I’d have lived off pasta and eggs. As a part of the group I enjoyed brick-oven baked pizza, Gnocci, and bell peppers stuffed with delicious magic. And on one sunny afternoon, someone mixed a batch of Sangria that looked and tasted and felt like a crimson potion. It was liquid joy.

Some days I worked under the head cleaning woman, a Maori with a regal presence. She was good-humored, content, and wide-smiled. A mother hen, a no nonsense woman with a warm grace. She exuded gratitude for her modest station in life. I pushed a mop. She wiped some counters. We chatted and laughed.

So I spent a month wrestling the longest left-handers in the world, amidst beautiful scenery, for less money than rent back home.

I met a blonde, hirsute giant named Gus while I was there. He smoked flowers in his surf shack. One night I gave a soft knock and received a kind invite. He was rolling a joint, and held a chestnut guitar. It looked like a Ukulele on his lap.

Gus was someone I misjudged. It was easy to slap the air-headed, surf-bum label on him, but in spending time I learned how genuine and perceptive he really was.

Our conversation was frolicking about the airy meadows of travel when he took a sharp turn into dark, dense jungles. His eyes smiled soberly when he asked about the struggles that had pushed me, in some way or another, towards life on the road.

The question caught me off guard.

Sensing my hesitation, he offered this insight: many people who travel continuously are the ones who’ve been chewed up and spit out by society. It is common that the unique characters scattered throughout far flung continents, ones adhering to a transient state, are cast into those roles by the grind of society’s slow chomp. They are the inevitable fringe, and they would exist no matter how society was structured.

It seemed to me a gem of wisdom, and in return I related my own version of melancholic struggle that sparked my wanderlust. And then I passed the joint.

***

Not everyone who wanders is lost right? Well not everyone who runs is fearful. But some who wander don’t know their way. And some who run have fears they’d rather be far from.

I was chewed out. I’m a runner. Not anymore. But I was. It amuses me, now, that the misery I was crushed under for so long would become the catalyst of my escape. And that escape would then come to define me.

Free now from my melancholic past, I genuflect at the altar of rapturous wanderlust. I offer sacraments of gratitude as I stroll the fringe.

It is on the fringe that individuality can be sculpted. Out in the distant regions of eccentric lifestyle treasures of incalculable value lay strewn. Flakes of conviction and confidence shimmer in the riverbeds. Flowers bloom with the sweet nectar of humor, compassion, and good will. The branches of trees sag from the fruit of unimaginable experience. On the fringe, unique style is spun from the finest wool. And freedom permeates the breeze.

And the boring, bleak world of before shrinks to a quaint default in comparison.

So I urge you. Get out beyond your borders. You’ll be in good company.

Thank you for reading.

-C

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