Friday, November 11, 2016
This piece first appeared on the website City Dads Group and I have permission to post it here.
My 11-year-old sons will be home from school soon. We discussed the presidential election this morning. They seemed a little stunned, but I was glad to see they weren’t frightened. They may come home that way, though.
I imagine different scenarios. What I might say to a kid who asks if everything will be OK; who asks if a president can really deport people or ban a religion? What’ll I say to the other when he asks if Mom will still have a job, or if we are going to have to move somewhere?
I will answer them gracefully, I will say important things like, “Your life shines brighter than all of this. Decency, courage, honor, truth, love never go away, they are steadfast. Things will change, a darkness may descend, but the light of hope cannot be extinguished.”
We will hug in the driveway. I will weep for and with them. I will lift their quivering chins and look them in the eyes and tell them they are safe and cherished. I will apologize for my naivete. I will choke back a sob as I tell them I was wrong, very wrong.
I will watch as they throw a backpack down in disgust at the injustice of it all. I will tell them I understand, that injustice cracks hearts and weighs heavy on the soul. I will tell them to stick up for themselves and advocate for others. I will tell them hope is never lost.
Because no matter what side of this whole thing you are on, you can do this: Volunteer. Find a place you can help and call them, go there. This new administration is going to change things, and it may add more misery to millions of lives.
You can donate food or money, support LGBT causes, make sure children are safe and fed, walk a friend home after dark, embrace the homeless, advocate for others. One thing, even one little thing, could help. Helping others is just that, helping others, but, you see, you are an “other.” You need to give that frightened man, that widowed mother, that shivering child, your warm hands, for they are you. Fuck that “there but for the grace of God go I.” No, it is more like “There goes I.” Shining hope into the broken corners of society shows you your own light.
Do the important things — love, give hope, lift others. Let this not be the end of decency. Let this not be the end of honor. Let this not be the end of courtesy. It’s up to us now, let us not be afraid, let our light shine.
Never relinquish hope.
+ + +
The boys came home a few minutes ago. I wait in the driveway as I always do, the bigger boy tosses me his backpack as he often does. The other boy is quiet, as he usually is.
“Hey, Dad, I need to ask you something …”
Here we go, I’m ready. I steel myself, and wait for the scene I practiced all afternoon to begin.
“… what’s for dinner?”
“Oh, and Dad.”
Here it comes.
“I think we are going to start basketball practice next week, the coach’s son is in math with me and he said something about it.”
And they walk into the garage and on into the house.
You see, they didn’t lose hope. They can’t. They are hope. To them it is dinner and practices and friends and difficult math homework and books. It is the good yet to come. They are not innocent and selfish, I don’t mean to say that. No. They are confident and sure in that good yet to come. And, isn’t that hope at its purest? They can’t be distracted away from hope, it is designed into them.
I’ve come a long way from the volunteering thing I mentioned.
Or have I?
The truth is, I am the trembling boy in the driveway, just as sure as I am the homeless, the forgotten, the disenfranchised and broken who have and will need my, your hope.
Remember, we are all each others hope and that hope has a home in the heart. Let it shine. Do not place it under the bushels of fear, cynicism or despair. Let it shine bright in you, from you, aim it toward the others, particularly the children, and see theirs lighting you as well.
Hey boys, head on over to this post if you want to know how I really felt and still feel, about the events of this past week. In other words, wait, there's more, there's always more.
Hey, you're here.
Listen, I'm gonna drop character here for a sec. The results of this election have stymied me, gobsmacked me, bewildered me, stunned me. I feel, well, roughed up a bit. I may have hit my head so hard with my own hand that I'm not sure who I am anymore.
Am I that boy who grew up in the country with grass-stained knees and yellow hair? Surrounded by good country folks whose opinions about others were questionable? Where there was a sameness as dull as milk but not nearly as refreshing?
Am I a teenage football player ogling cheerleaders and saying off-color things, bullshit things, things as untrue as the mustache I tried to sport?
Am I that same teenage boy playing Peter in a fall production of "The Diary of Ann Frank"? Crying real tears as the despair hit me at the end of the second act that cold opening night?
Perhaps I'm that same boy, a senior now, standing in a field, leaning against a beat-to-hell, piss yellow VW Beatle, Rolling Rock in hand screaming "It's only teenage wasteland" to The Who and any Gods that might have been listening?
Am I a college freshman leading a posse of man-boys out into the cold Athens streets into bars and trouble and legend? Or, wait, am I that same kid getting his mind blown by Sartre and Kafka, Ionesco, Williams and that Shakespeare guy?
Am I a lonesome waiter, a boozesome bartender, surrounded by a busyness I'd never known in a city I'd no business being in? Am I taking in every face, every gesture; feeling every emotion, weeping through them; listening to every story, remembering every sorrow?
Am I a fresh start, different place, different faces, the same stories - the only stories, essentials. Am I a thirty year lifer of tables and barstools, winekeys and tablecloths?
Am I suddenly a husband?
Am I improbably a father to twins, to boys?
Yes, yes I am.
But who am I right now, at this moment of confusion?
I'm all those dudes, and scores of others. When emotion and memory entwine, tense is suspended. I can taste that skunky Rolling Rock right now. Every table I've ever waited on, every person I ever laid a bev-nap in front of, are right here. A moment in a wedding, white and good. Two babies laughing. All in present tense.
But what of the real present.
Ah, that's the problem. I've not had time to understand who I am this time.
Should I spew my emotions out here? Get on board the vitriol train which runs both ways these days? It's tempting, but that yellow-haired boy doesn't understand why we have to be so mean.
Should I be more sympathetic to the locker room talk, try to understand the back room racism, be more understanding of the xenophobe because once - now, you see - I was like that? No, because the teenage boy and the college would-be Lothario and the wily bartender will all tell you it is bullshit and we know it.
Should I be the Pollyanna I play so often on my blog? You know, when I speak on love and honor and charity and capitalize them for affect? When I look forward for and with the boys with faith in humanity, with dignity, with hope. Do I mean it? The father looks back at me in the mirror and says "every damn word."
Should I put on my warrior hat, tarnished with years of disuse, and charge into the injustices so many tell me won't come, but will? No, because the me typing these words in not up for the fight, although "Teenage Wasteland" boy says he is.
Should I run towards my gay friends, arms outreaching, only to have them run away as I scream, "No, don't run, it's a happy, hippy, philosopher's beard not a redneck beard!"?
Should I wear a safety pin on my sweatshirt and point myself out as a "helper"? Will any one believe it? Do we need blue and red stars on out foreheads like some dystopian Sneetches so we know who to trust?
Do I stop drinking Yuengling because the owner's a dick? Is that the distribution team's fault, or the truck driver's, or the men and women who designed the logo, or the bartender that pulls the draft?
Does that place with the burgers I like so much not get my business anymore 'cause I heard the investors are Republicans? What of the servers there, the mom with two daughters, the college girl at X? What of their vote?
What if the fireman thinks I'm a Liberal, will he let my house burn down? Will the cop be leery of my old Ford truck.
Do I go back to church where most disagree with the choice I made?
What the actual fuck?!?
I'm scared, boys, because I am unsure of the path ahead.
But, this is the hard part to understand, all those others are. They've defined me so well, shown me who I am so thoroughly that their collective soul, here, alive in me right now is sure of the path.
I can't imagine this makes much sense.
Boys, it's hard to be an adult. Choices are never very clear and there is a lot, a lot, of improvisation and questioning along with every one we encounter.
You know what? I was willing to give myself a place to rant here tonight. I wanted to but my rant confused and contradicted me. I've typed twice as much tonight as you see here. But, I deleted it because it made me uncomfortable. Some of it was hateful, some was violent, some was laced with more expletives than even I am comfortable with. Most of it was a betrayal of myself, myselfs, all that I was and have come to be.
In the middle of one of my more rantier moments here tonight, I lifted my steaming head and looked out into the backyard and saw this.
There is not a one of me that wouldn't stop to look at that.
Yeah, maybe I'll just stick with the Pollyanna thing.
It's late, I've no time to really edit this, which it obviously needs, and the boys will be home from the Xavier basketball game they went to tonight.
Peace, we'll get back to our regular programming next week.
Friday, November 4, 2016
This was on the grocery list a few days ago:
It's cute, isn't it?
There's more, of course. When we were first married, Marci used to put little love notes and smiley faces and such on the list that hangs on the side of the refrigerator, she still does. When I asked Z to put cookies on the list, this is what he did. I don't think he ever saw Marci do it, or saw it on a list before, it just occurred to him.
I'm glad it did.
I've decided to do a thirty-four week "retreat for Everyday Life." It is presented by the Collaborative Ministry Office at Creighton University and is founded in Ignation thought and the tenets of the Jesuits - The Brothers of Christ. It suggests a theme and a path for prayer and reflection and...
...blah, blah, blah...
It's not complicated. I won't be wearing holes in my jeans knees or thrice whumping my chest above my heart or fasting or proselytizing - all laudable - but, I will give it some thought.
One of the bible dudes said something like "pray without ceasing." Yeah, that's a tall order. But, what if our very thoughts are like prayers, every action a folding of the hands, every breath a celebration? If I welcome an idea into my heart with the hope that it will bring me deeper in Faith, wouldn't then every subsequent thought and revelation and fear be but a prayer?
This week tells us to prepare for the journey. This week asks us to be honest and joyous and free. Mostly though, this week asks us to go back in our lives, to think about our young childhood, our adolescence and our young adult life.
"Let's let the Lord show us our lives."
That's some radical thinking, right there. I always look back at my life as a self-guided tour. I feel my own sorrows, I rejoice in myself, I brave the memory of bad times, I celebrate myself for my victories. All, bolstered and lifted by my own damn self.
But what if someone else led the tour? What if God led the tour?
I've been all through my life, honestly. If nothing else, I've always been introspective. My timeline is pretty solid. I've felt the feelings, all that. In my arrogance and sheer smugness, I figured their wasn't much for God to show me. And you know what? I was right.
Except... the light was wrong, or the perspective was off or something. I wasn't the hero or antagonist in this writing. I was not the main character in this narrative, I was in the chorus at best.
This time through, my attention was called to what others - what God, for God is always in others - were doing for me. This kindness, that help, that understanding. Beautiful things and powerful wisdom, enormous love. From parents and friends and family, strangers, lovers, enemies. So much I've missed in my story, or forgotten, really.
It's a great exercise, but I think we are doomed to be tragic heroes of our own stories, I know I am. But...
I was looking at some old photographs from my childhood days, hoping maybe to see something new. Something profound or heart skipping, looking for what God was trying to show me, which one shouldn't really try.
As I flipped around pages, looking at pictures I know well, I didn't see just the trapped moment, this time.
A picture of a boy in a football uniform beside my old school isn't just about me. It's about the dirty split uniforms and scrapes my mother cleaned and mended. It's about trips to and from practice. It's about coaches and community and place. A picture of little Billy Peebles, posing with a football on a fall day in rural Ohio, is, lastly, about me. It is about the respect and honor put - sometimes undeservedly, I might add - towards me. The picture is just a culmination of countless acts of love bestowed on me by others. Sound familiar?
I think I knew all this. Especially now as a parent. It's good to remember that we are lifted along the journey by others. I think I fulfilled the basic intent of this weeks theme, don't you?
But there was something else, something I couldn't grab. I kept, in selfishness, looking at my face in picture after picture. Yes, even when I was trying to see something different I kept searching my own face. Now, remember, I am trying to take the tour, not lead it. Then, why do I keep scrutinizing each expression, trying to read a boy's mind decades ago?
There is a series of pictures taken on an old Instamatic in seventy-two. Black and whites of a shed JB and I built one summer. The shed from this story about Mr. Barnes and us. JB is in some of them. In one he's petting our old dog, Deputy. There is a blurry one of me peering from a window - the window - of our shack, but this is the one that caught my eye:
I flipped back to a few others and it suddenly occurred to me, I wasn't looking at the boy, the boy was watching me. I looked at other pictures and in many I am watching something. Candles on a cake, a brother, my dad, nowhere. Even when I am looking at the camera, I seem to be looking at the person behind it, or even through them and on to the future, my now, now.
I've spent my whole life watching and it all probably started as a kid. I've never thought of that really. That as a boy, as the last of three sons, there was a lot to watch. I grew up in the late sixties and seventies, there was a lot to watch. I grew up around fields and woods and gravel pits and ponds, there was a lot to watch.
I think though, all I did was watch. I wasn't trying to understand, infer, learn. I was just taking it all in, knowing somehow, that I'd have time for that later. And, that has served me well over the course of a lifetime. I didn't then, and I may still not, know the importance of all that watching, but it occurs to me that it might now be that "later" I've been waiting for.
I look at that boy sitting in a shed and see him watching me, a pleasant, expectant look on his face and I hear him say, "You're turn."
I'd like to tell you about a long term plan that has me publishing something here on Fridays about this retreat, each post framed around the theme of the week, you know, sort of as a writing prompt. I won't though, I am really not good at long range things, I can think of a few other ideas I had like this which now lay fallow in the back pages here.
I will tell you this, though. I can't give an honest account of myself without including my journey through Faith. I can't not use words like God and Spirit and, if it's fitting, even Jesus. And, to be honest, I'm tired of trying to work around them, trying to be vague in the hope of not offending those who aren't walking this road. I don't want to be didactic or condescending or disingenuous, although some might see it as such. And, most certainly, I don't want to offend or insult. If I have, or do, let me apologize now.
Peace to you all. So few come around anymore, I appreciate your time, I really do.
It's funny, it pretty much just "occurred" to me to write this today. I was going to write on cuteness.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
I don't look under my foot and find crazily curious or seriously silly drawings and the like much anymore. But, every now and then something does come to my attention. I've had this stack on my desk for a while now. Do you mind looking at them so I can
This was in one of Nick's notebooks for school. That dino is too damn cute to intimidate any thing bigger 'n a bush, in my opinion.
There's this from Zack:
This is, clearly, a Ninja fight. There are a lot of questions one could ask here. Which direction is the carefully rendered "death star" headed? Is Ninja Dude on the right executing a fatal death kick, ducking the star, or falling dead onto his face? Do these dudes know each other? Why are they blind folded, seems hard to duck something with a blindfold on? Why is my favorite part of all this the shadow underneath horizontal dude? What is the damn context here!?
Lets move on to this top-hatted turtle from Nick:
Again, more questions than answers. Is that his natural shell or is it giant checkerboard Jamberry of some sort? Why is he going uphill? Is that a monocle? Why is he hoofed and how can he be holding his cane? Was he finalist in the Monopoly piece competition? Is that Lincoln's Hat? Again, I need context!
Let's try something that makes more sense, like this Maze from Z-man:
Yeah... well, that didn't work
Perhaps this lesson Nick did to study for a test a while back:
Well now, see. This all makes sense, doesn't it... ?
Both of the boys worked on these, the fianl renderings are all, I think, Zack's, but I heard them talking about names and such together. In a perfect world of my own design - fiction, that is - these are names for some as-yet-realized punk-pop-heavy metal-post-apocalyptic-fusion bands. The truth is, they are names for clans - or guilds is it? - they lead or are a part of in a couple of on-line kids games they play. I like the fiction better:
REMiup. A bad REM cover band?
XTOXiC A good XTC cover band?
BiO ToXiC Aren't they a basketball team?
I hate to say it but XContaminated just doesn't work for me... for anything.
I think this is the final logo, XToxicon. I think it's a mash up of all of them... I love that, "The Toxic Keepers".
They did mock up something for a glam rock tribute band.
Sorta just speaks for itself, doesn't it.
So, that's what I found, thanks for taking a look. It's been fun.
I've been doing this a long time now, it'll be five years around Thanksgiving. Four-hundred-and-fifty-two posts, not too far off from my hope of a hundred a year. Sometimes I poke around in the archives. I wince a bit at some, laugh at many, and, even this short ways away from them, I feel the weight of melancholy that hangs on them.
Writing this post, I decided to try to recapture what I did earlier on in this trip, I hope you don't mind. If you write or paint or sing or whatever, I think it's important to look at how you used to do things. It can offer insight, that's true, but it can do more - it can offer a sort of validation. You can say to your former self, "hey, that was good" or "you were right about that" or "I cried again, just as you did when you did this." It can feel good, but there's more: If you recognize and validate the thoughts you once had as good and right, you can rest assured that your future self will probably feel the same about what you're doing now.
As always, peace.
If you are interested, there's tons more of this stuff in the Archives. Try the labels "silly" or "take-home folder" or "paper arts" or my personal favorite, "hairbrainage".
Thursday, October 20, 2016
A while back...
What does that even mean?
I think it means that the writer is uncertain of the time frame, or, is unwilling to face the consequences of putting a thought or memory onto the time-line of a lifetime.
I almost started with "a couple years back..." but I realized the incident only happened, like, four months ago. And yet, it seems like much longer ago. I guess we've done a lot since then, but, honestly, we don't actually do a lot. Maybe it's the seasonal change here, a change that relegates the previous season to a long list of Summer memories, Winter dreams and Fall melancholy.
We were several days into a fine beach vacation with the boys and Marci's parents. There were excursions and laziness and body surfing and dining and the like. The boys shared a room with twin beds and they were snuggled down in them. The sand was washed from them and the smell of soap masked the smell of the ocean, although that salty sea scent lingered deep in their still wet hair.
Nick lay quietly as Zack was falling slowly to sleep. He seemed sad so I asked him what the matter was.
He hesitated a moment and then said to the quiet, "I miss our family home."
I knew then what it meant, I know right know what it means, and, I will know it in the years to come. Was he homesick? Yes. Was he lonely? I'd say yes. Was he - I guess there's a better word somewhere, but not handy - discombobulated? Out-of-sorts? Yes, I know I was.
There's another part to what he was feeling, a primal, tribal part, the sense of place. When I miss a part of my life, past or present, it is with a geographical precision. Memories come wrapped in the place of them, like little shoe-box dioramas of owls or paper models of places to pray. The memory of learning John Prine's "Paradise" is set in a kitchen and I still play it best in one. A fire of driftwood in the mountains can be pinpointed to a place called "Lonesome Lake" on the Mogollon Ridge. The lake was dry, and the wood was as well, and the smoke hung under an indigo blanket of stars. My childhood is in places - the middle and junior high school, built early in a century I've seen end, wax floors and lacquered gymnasium; a home in the country, the floor plan a map of memories; a pine wood there, a creek, the railroad tracks, the Glasses Eating Pond, here, here, here and here; my next door neighbor friend JB's room the summer he cut his leg and we learned to play chess - all of these places open my mind to what has been.
And, that's just the thing- the place of a memory is its door, and we alternately long and are loathe to open it. That door of place illuminates, once opened, the cloud where the memory dwells - our conscience, our heart, our soul, our electrically fired gooey brains - which displaces the latitude and and longitude of it with all that transcends place.
I have, on more than one occasion, walked the length of the rural road I grew up on. I wrote about one such excursion in a piece called "The Man in the Green Reds Hat." I wondered unapologetically down that lane in search of a spot that might show me the lost things of my boyhood. It worked. But then something else happened, I was inundated with detail and emotion all at once. I saw my own self walking toward me. I was both there and here, both past and present. It wasn't the dot of dirty road on the map I was was feeling, it was the dust that had blown up from it and settled in my soul.
We all know that a word has a definition, its denotation, and a connotation, it's... what? Younger kids don't really have an understanding of that. The boys get the concept, but, without an accumulated canon of knowledge, that understanding falls short. I tried to explain it once to Z as "the story of a word." Another time to Nick I said that connotation is the way a word echoes through time.
Think about what Nick said, "I miss our family home." It drips with connotation. Longing for a 'home' places us somewhere we loved, were loved, still love. Home is more than a dwelling, it is a stack of chipped bowls, a sunset in the backyard, a beloved tree, a pet. It is fire and wind up and down the same chimney, it is coziness and comfort, tears and talismans, hearth and hope. The word itself - Home - tells you its story, which is actually your story.
'Family' is different, though, harder. I am older now and understand that it doesn't invoke the same feeling in me as it may in others. I've read the novels, seen the plays, shaken my head at the memoirs, biopics and documentaries. I've heard the word echo through corridors of my life and I can't quite derive what it is always saying to me. But, you see, it's only echoed in the short halls of their life, Nick and Zack that is.
Short of dysfunctional Disney families or a rough, sad family in a book - Harry Potter and the like - they haven't seen that harder side of the word. They've heard it echo softly, sweetly, never a bombastic shout or muffled sob which they've yet to hear. They will though, sadly. I guess a word echoes differently for all of us, each of us hearing our own.
I guess I've been dwelling on this place and memory, family and home thing for a while. It is simple, I think, conceptually to see the associations, the idea of it, but then the words start shouting and the place tells a story and...
Dwelling is a noun and a tense of the verb dwell, the past tense of which is dwelt. A dweller is one who dwells. Dwellings is plural but, if one who dwells on something and writes it down is the result a dwelling? And more than one of these things would be dwellings, correct?
There is also a technical use for the word, I'd forgotten all about that. Do you see how mixed up a word can get?
So, when I use a word, when I speak on family and place in this instance, what does it do to you? I think you can discern my use of a word from someone else's, but I trust you to bring your stories and echos of it along with you. In fact, I count on it.
Autumn is quiet this year, the maples in back are a muted yellow bordering on beige. The woods are dry and crispy and the pine trees are dropping tan needles which carpet the front yard. My mood is muted as well. Life seems heavier than usual, somehow dire. I hope it is the election cycle, which I've already addressed here. It's not, probably, the election, it's more about courage and faith. No, that's not it either. It's about fear and doubt... mine.
In a bunch of years, I might look back on this election and remember being sad and looking out of my family home, dwelling on place and doors and stories and echoes and...
I was, am and will be, sitting right here at 39°16'54.1"N 84°17'34.1"W. I reckon I always will be.
Thanks for coming 'round. I've not been posting as often here, I can't say why, really, I'll only offer a vague "it's getting harder." Peace, as always, oh, and hey, vote.
"... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."
Nick: "I'm playing a game that I am raging at."
Dad: "That's my boy!"
Give that boy a hat to throw down and stomp on... not that anyone does that, I mean, who would, right?
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
I use the word "broken" a lot. Many of the words you hear repeating in the choruses of my meanderings here are intentional. I can't say that for "broken." In fact, I was planning on calling this essay, 'On Brokenness' but it turns out that, well, I already did that in this post, which is pretty damn nice, in my opinion.
In that piece, more or less, I was speaking to a metaphorical brokenness - broken dreams and broken hearts and broken words. The emphasis was on the redemptive power and healing being broken can reveal to us.
But what of actual, tangible, broken stuff - toasters and light switches, pencil tips and easels, transmissions, carburetors, struts and ball joints, eggshells and fence posts, old hats and doorframes, window panes and water pipes, steel strings and twigs, glasses and watches, new playsets and old old guitars - and the stories they can tell? I've faced all these broken things at one time or another. I figure there are three things to do when a thing breaks - fix them, accept them or, throw them out.
All three responses answer the same call, I think. They encourage the story of the thing.
I could write a whole essay on each of examples above, which is tempting, but, ulterior motive (memories for the boys) and all, I'll focus on, say, the last four.
I can't say for certain how many pairs of glasses I've had over my lifetime. A couple dozen perhaps would be a good estimate. When we first found out that the boys needed glasses (a little late I am sorry to say) we went to get them outfitted in their first pair. Our lame-ass medical insurance did provide a new pair for each but the selection was limited.
That's not really true, there were exactly two pairs to choose from, a wire sort with nose-pads and a clunky plastic pair, oval and black. They chose the wire ones which did come in two colors. Again, I'm being kind, they were coated with a color, blue for Z and a sort of purply for N. They were in constant need of adjustment, the nose-pads so flimsy and cheap they bent setting them down, and, the thin color top coat started chipping off the first day. This is what our insurance would cover, really cheap, poorly made glasses. I suppose no one is surprised by that
In the late summer of the following year, the timeline is screwed up in my head, we decided to try something new, something a bit better made and in a style they liked. JC Penny had a sale and they chose a pair each. A black with green trim pair for Nick, and an orange and black pair for Zack They said the liked the first pairs, but I think they really liked being able to see. These though, they really loved them.
Our insurance provider (what a ridiculous word to use, provider) changed their plan and we were able to go somewhere else that showed us maybe four styles that following spring. They chose again, plastic, chunky, again. The boys then started using those originals to play ball in. They broke, these were the color-coated ones, the nose-pads finally giving up, and they went to using the Penny's pair for sports.
Zack's finally broke:
He was sad. "You're not going to throw them away, are you, Dad?"
We become connected to the things we spend time with.
The boys got watches in first or second grade, again timelines befuddle me, and Zack never really took to his, but Nick was thrilled. He eventually wore out and basically outgrew the first one and he saw one he liked, a cheap, pretty much non-functional one he saw at a local store.
He loved it, we was proud of it, he took good care of it and wore it faithfully and never left it anywhere. He was very responsible with it and, when its "crystal" cracked he was bummed but he kept wearing it. Just a few days ago he came home from school a little bummed. I asked him what the matter was and he said his band had broken on his watch. To be clear, it wasn't the actual band, which is getting cracked and wearing out where it buckles, but the the small loopy thingee that holds the band end down after it goes through the buckle. I am not familiar with the lexicon, sorry...
I'd done some research and I showed him a watch online I thought he might like. It was more functional than the "his good watch" as he called the one with a cracked face. He seemed reluctant but decided to go ahead and get it.
He loves it.
Last night as I was saying good night to them, I happened to turn around and look at the top of their dresser. There, carefully arranged, smallest to biggest, oldest to newest, little boy to tween to young man, his watches were lined up neatly, elegantly, tenderly. I thought ran through my mind, an image really, I saw a lifetime of watches, his or mine or yours, lined up on that same dresser. I imagined what a story a timeline of watches could tell. And telling it, Nick was.
It doesn't seem so long ago that my kind and energetic brother-in-law and I built the playset my mother had given the boys. What, seven, eight years ago? It's been a pirate boat, a house, a hobbit hole, a train. It's heard conversations that I could not. It knows secrets and will keep them. It has been a good, happy place for boys to swing and dream.
It's broken now.
It would be presumptuous to try to tell its story. It would be inadequate, inaccurate incomplete. I'll let it tell its own. With the help, I hope, of two grown men who grew up inside it, for whom it got smaller, for whom it pined and wasted away.
I can tell this last story, though, for it is indeed mine.
I broke my guitar once, again timelines are sketchy for me, and I couldn't afford to get it repaired. I'd dropped it right on the bottom of the body. This punched the strap peg into it and cracked the tail block and treble braces. It would've taken a luthier to fix it and I knew it would cost in the hundreds. I had another guitar at the time, a big box Alvarez in a grand auditorium size, so I started playing it more. I set that little dreadnought triple-aught aside and it waited.
The time came and I needed it again. Someone I knew knew, of all persons, a luthier, and I got in contact with him. My oldest brother said he'd help with the cost so I made the arrangements.
I remember going to him in a small shop in an industrial part of Norwood. There was a garage door and another door to the right which led to a little office and desk. I noticed there were curtains on the garage door windows, red checkered and dusty. He sat at an old timey desk, a big clunker of a thing that looked like the teacher's desks in my hometown schools, smoking a cigarette and staring up into the smoke and rafters. I like a man that stares into the smoke and rafters...
He asked to see it and I fumbled about trying to get it out. He finally grabbed the case and just set it on the desk, on top of the papers and bills and nuts and bridges and ashtrays and years old desk calendar. In what appeared to be one savage motion he cut the strings off with a pair of worn-out Craftsman dykes. A hideous "Bloooooong" echoed off the cinder block walls. He grabbed the long end of the strings all in one hand and deftly unwound them in one fluid move and then stuffed them into a gray metal trash bin, acquired, clearly, from the same classroom as the desk.
With a pair of bent needle nosed pliers, he pulled out each peg and placed them in an empty - not clean, empty - ashtray, letting the string ends just land on the desk. With the pad of his middle finger he tapped around the sound hole of the guitar and then around the edges on the box. The sound was satisfying and whole and round.
"I'll give you a thousand dollars for it, " he said.
Now, I was still stunned by how roughly and unceremoniously he'd treated the thing. I thought he didn't like it and just wanted me gone. Now, on top of that confusion he was offering me a lot of money for a guitar I'd paid only two-hundred dollars for just around two decades before - with a case.
"I'd really hoped you could just fix it..." I stuttered.
He seemed to not hear me and started saying things about how it was probably one of the last hand made guitars in this series and that Yairi himself may have handled it and how I was lucky to have it.
At the time I didn't understand.
I do now, well I think I do. Either a famous magical guitar maker named Yairi dude had something to do with the crafting of my guitar and by sheer dumb luck I stumbled upon it, or God had placed it my care.
He softened a bit, finally, and said he could fix it for six-hundred dollars. I said alright and left it to his care.
A few weeks later his wife called me and said it was ready. I went to get it. I entered his office to the ding-a-ling of the entry bell above the door. He stuck his long pony-tailed head into the front room and smiled and motioned me to follow him back.
Now I have been in sacred places, in fact I once dreamed of building one for myself, and I knew this was one. It was about the size of a two-car garage lined with work benches against the outside wall and the back. A long blocky table made of four and two-by-fours, topped with what appeared to be a single thick piece of oak, ran down the middle of the room. The inside wall was all peg-board. Templates and tools and clamps and much more I didn't know what was, hung, hovering on it in wild disarray.
This beautiful disarray was evident everywhere. Guitar cases - twenty, thirty - were lined up in no particular order under the back bench. On the bench itself, I can only guess was a kind of "boneyard," guitar necks and broken spruce tops and large scraps of neck stock were piled high into a jumble almost sculptural in quality. The bench along the far wall had guitars in different states of undress, open, exposed. Clamps and pegs in the bench top held bent pieces of wood and a gentle looking miter box sat at the far edge, supervising.
The center bench was surrounded by industrial style carpets on the cement floor, the black ones you roll out in places of high traffic and over speaker wires and power cables. The surface was much neater than the others, covered in a tan carpet. Two guitars, their necks supported by little purple pillows, sat like offerings waiting for attention.
One notices everything in a sacred place all at the same time. I suppose because we can handle it. The light was not from the industrial florescents above, which one might have expected, but from incandescent bulbs in rusty cone fixtures hanging from the ceiling above, in blatant mockery of the tubes so close by. Clamp lights were clamped to the benches here and there and an old steel utility light like the one my Dad used to work on an old Chevy, shone down on the row of cases. It was as though the room were lamplit, yellow through the tobacco stained bulbs, uncertain, subdued.
Have you ever used a piston ashtray? Mechanics often used them, solid and heavy and true. There were several, full and overflowing, on all the side benches, none were on the center table, but long scars lined the short edges where a cigarette had been left and burned the old oak. The smell of tobacco mixed with a hint of pot smoke mingled with the wood smell of the whole space. The smell was so urgent, like incense, I could taste it, almost see it.
I'd not noticed, but on the outside and back walls, higher up than you'd expect, were a row of glass block windows. It was a wintry afternoon and suddenly the sun burst in, low and angled, and spotlighted the saw dust motes and incense trails. Just off in the far right corner was another door, one of those with a window in it, the glass was painted. I am sure it was a utility room where the furnace lived and a utility sink and perhaps a toilet, but, somehow, at the time, I imagined it as a sanctus sanctorum, a special place.
"I think I've got it right over here, Bill," my host said, leading the way to the cases in the back. I stopped, waiting for him, taking in the room, and him. I was surprised he knew my name right off.
He seemed so different than when I had first met him. His hair was back in a ponytail, streaked with gray. He wore a leather apron, stained and aged, jeans and a tattered flannel shirt. Without hesitation he grabbed the case and carried it toward the center table. There was just room for it on a corner.
"It's a fine little guitar, man." He opened the case. He'd polished it and the new strings glittered in the low light. It seemed different. He pulled it out, put his foot up on a battered two-by-four rail that ran, about knee high, the length of the table. Even through my bewilderment I knew it was there so he could play the instruments he created, repaired, renewed.
He played the harmonics, all of them, in a funny back and forth way that, when done, formed a complicated chord that floated with the dust and smoke. He did a short flamingo flourish, and handed it to me.
"Play something," he said and then smiled as I put my boot on the rail.
I am, and shall ever remain, a mediocre guitar player. I had nothing in my repertoire to impress him, nothing to make this clearly resurrected piece of wood and string sing.
I looked toward him to say I didn't know what to play.
"Play anything," he said, before I'd asked, "You play a ton of good songs, judging from the cheats in your case. Play some Dylan."
I did, Easy Chair, in fact, better'n I'd ever played it. The room's acoustics were lovely, the sound of the strings and my voice together came back to me and I heard myself playing the song as I sang it. I finished and sort of just stood there. Whole, somehow...
"That guitar suits you, suits your voice."
I understood what he meant. He took it from me, played one last C chord and tenderly set it back in the case, careful not to touch the strings. That chord kept ringing, I suspect it is still.
He ushered me out, saying he had work to do. The door played its short, final hymn. It wasn't until I'd reached my truck that I realized I'd not paid him. I went back. The door was locked, the office dark.
He sent me a bill a few days later. It was for three-hundred dollars.
It took a broken pair of glasses to help me understand the beautiful sentimentality in a little boy's heart.
It took a row of watches, one broken, on a dresser to remind me that stories must begin somewhere, and it is often in the heart.
It took an old, run-down and rotting playset to remind me that stories sometimes forget to end because they linger and change in time's crucible of memory.
It took an old cracked guitar to show me redemption, sacredness and Hope.
Thanks for coming around and listening to my long windedness. I appreciate it.
Just now, as I was editing and spellchecking all this, I checked the word "luthier" because the Blogger platform didn't recognize it as a word. I highlighted it and went to check it on Google and this was the first result. Yes, it is him...