Friday, April 24, 2015

Scrapel Guy

Some stories want to be told, are eager and willing to be let out into the jetsam of other words and images and sighs and shouts and whispers and wind. Some are more reluctant.

This was at the bottom of a pile in my window sill.  Those are the last two roses of last summer.  The "Seek your happiness..." stamp fell out of a book that hadn't been opened in over thirty years, at precisely the moment I needed it to.

I moved to NYC in the late eighties. I was tending bar downtown and hoping, basically, that I would fall into an acting job. I didn't, but I met an absolute circus of curious folks. As surprising as at it seems to my "now self," I was once the kind of guy that said "yes" to whatever the plan might be.

Party in Brooklyn, two hours each way on a train. Sure.

A bar with a bunch of guys from the restaurant I worked at. I'll go.

A very gay bar. No prob.

A dilapidated shack in Belmar, New Jersey for the summer. I'm in.

A corporate service trainer for the company I worked for, traveling around the East Coast training new staff and, well, waitresses. Yes, thank you.

A Trip to Europe with a girl I barely knew. Why not?

So when Guy Norton, a regular at the bar I tended five nights a week, suggested I come up and party with him at his house in rural Maine, I said sure. I took a train up there, early on a Saturday. I vaguely recall a subway ride. Back then there were two main train stations, Grand Central and the ugly underground one. The train, Amtrak I'd guess, left from the ugly one.

I carried a guitar case and a knapsack sort of thing which grew heavier and heavier as I continued through the dank tunnels. I'd packed some clothes, not much, and two large bottles of whiskey - I wasn't sure how rural "rural Maine" was. I wore mostly white shirts and Levi's back in those days and I can see the jeans in that pack, a bottle in each leg, the shirts stuffed between them.

Guy met me some hours later at train station in Maine. Not coastal Maine, no, more like foothilly Maine. I do not know where it was, truth. He had a wonderful old International Harvester four-wheeled truck, probably from the sixties, and we bumped and banged our way through forest and little farms. Funny, just now I remember it was fall.

His house was in a pretty little cove of buildings and barns and bucolic outbuildings. There were maybe fifteen other houses - cottages, really - and a sort of party house and a pond out beyond with a dock and rowboats. Maine smelled like home, Ohio, and I liked that.

The place had been a summer retreat and camp in the early part of the century but had evolved into a bunch of different families coming and going all summer and fall. All the little cottages were stuffed full of interesting people and I'd say there were perhaps a dozen people in Guy's alone.

I didn't need the two bottles on Canadian Club I had in my pants. It's a good party if you end up not needing two bottles of booze. It was a hulluva weekend. I could go on about it but another memory comes to mind, a bit softer, more delicate... weirder.

I do need to back up a little. I have spent a life being naive, I'm used to it. I end up on dates I didn't know I was on, in places I should not have been; I bought a bag of moss once - and damn near smoked it, I even ate chicken feet. So, it actually came as no surprise when, about halfway through the rolling hills of Maine, I realized I was the hired help for the weekend, the bartender and helper guy, to Guy. Yeah, I should be embarrassed, but, hey, at least I figured it out there in the end. Guy was nice about it, he said maybe he hadn't been clear. I mean, we were friends and all, but, in retrospect I guess I should have wondered why a big time ad exec would invite me, a boy bartender from Mason, for a weekend at his Maine Summer house. Alright, maybe I am a little embarrassed, but...

There was a big party Saturday night, the first night I was there, and a more intimate gathering on Sunday during the day and early evening. Truly, I don't remember all the details, but what happened in the morning on Monday was pretty unforgettable.

I woke up to a pot of coffee and no food. I was standing in the kitchen drinking it black and I looked back off behind the house, past a fire pit, just where the trees began to get thick again, conifers and wildly red and yellow maples. Guy was standing in a pair of pajamas and a robe talking. Now this was in the days well before cellphones and bluetooth so I wondered what he was doing.

He came back up and I asked him what he was doing and he said he been talking to a moose. Well, this didn't surprise me that much. You see, he had a dog, a mixed sort of Golden retriever thing who he called "Dave Norton" like it was one word, Davenorton. It seemed natural that a man whose dog had a last name would talk to moose. I asked him what the moose had said and all he said was: "Scrapel."

I was hungry and immediately thought of the pork and oats breakfast meat. I was way off. Well, sort of...

It turns out Scrapel is a sort of mock apple pie treat invented up there in the woods of Maine some thirty or forty years ago. At it's most basic, I gathered it was torn up bread, apple sauce and milk in a bowl. Understand, I knew none of this at the time.

We were not going to have "basic Scrapel."

He has returned in jeans and a red flanel shirt.

"Let's go Scrapelling," is all he says.

All I’ve got is a getting colder cup of black coffee, an empty belly, and a whole morning to occupy before we head to the train station in... (I thought if I snuck up on it I might remember the town in Maine.)

"Alright," is my response, "let's go."

"First to The Widow Hazel's cottage, she should have some bread."

"The Widow Hazel's it is..."

The summer camp is set in a circle on a well-worn gravel road. The buildings all face an open meadow with a few trees and an old flagless flagpole, the top pulley dangling and bumping against it in the wind making that funny, difficult to discern clang all flagpoles make. The bigger main building is sort of in the center of the loop, facing the drive as it comes in, the pond behind it.

Instead of going across the green, Guy and Davenorton and I go out the back door and scurry through back yards and end up at the widow's back kitchen door. I'm catching on that all the cottages are the same. The Widow Hazel is maybe fifty or so and comes to the door in a robe and little else.

"Why, Little Guy and that cute young bartender from your party and Davenorton. Which Davenorton is this?" she says patting the dog while eying me uncomfortably.

"Mom thinks six," Guy says. "Listen, we're Scrapelling this morning and I was wondering if you had some bread."

"Scrapelling!? Well, I'll be damned.  Did you see the moose? Yes, I have a few loaves in my freezer. Why don't you come in and get it for me sweetie?" She is looking right at me.

"I wouldn't if I were you, " Guy whispers under his breath. The widow laughs and sort of coughs a bit and turns into the kitchen. "The Widow Hazel has been trying for years to get a young man in her kitchen, we were always told to not go in there. But, she always makes extra loaves of oat bread when she bakes and freezes them."

"Uh, for, uh... Scrapel, right." I'm new here.

"Yes, of course."

Davenorton barks as she returns with two big stainless steel silver bowls each holding two loaves of frozen bread. "Have fun," she says, "Old man Templeton should have some chunky sauce, his sister made some just last week, I could smell it."

We head on down the cottages, passing maybe five or so. Neighbors wave, some smile, a family of four gives us a thumbs up and someone says something about The Big House.

We come up on a porch behind a house and knock loudly. An older man, seventy, eighty, comes to the door in a plaid bathrobe. A cigarette jumps in his hands and his face is a little contorted, a stroke I guess correctly.

"Hey, Mr. T," Guy says loudly, Davenorton barks again. I am under the impression that the damn dog knows what's going on better than I do.

The old man looks at that dog and says, "What can I do for you, Davenorton?"

"We need some chunky sauce and The Widow Hazel said your sister made some a while back."

"Are ya Scrapelling?"

"Indeed." Guy says, smiling. I swear the dog nods his head.

"Well, lemme see what I got, Davenorton..."

He returns with four Mason jars and puts them in our bowls, two each. Each has a hand-printed label that says "CHUNKY Sauce: for SCRAPEL. Fall '86"

"Now remember, Davenorton, there's no damn nutmeg in that. If you want nutmeg just a little right before ya eat it. Nutmeg don't cook well and gets in everything."

We wander on down, off the porch and towards the pond.

"Mr. T is, well was, the caretaker here. He was a strapping man when I was younger, he organized the games and parties and all for years. He's had a couple of strokes and sometimes gets a little confused, his sister's boys look after things and he winters in Florida these days. He never married, lots of stories about that. He named my first dog Davenorton, man, forty or more years ago. He says he invented Scrapel, but then, so do all the oldtimers."

I am lost. I wonder if I am on a Snipe hunt, or if this is an elegant practical joke or what. But, I like Guy, I like the people here, I like the mystery of it, the silliness of it.

"What exactly is Scrapel," I ask.

"You'll see..."

It gets weirder.

We put our big bowls on the dock, in the sun, and head out down beyond the pond to a fence.

"Ayup. If it ain't Guy Norton and his dog. Who's this young feller with ya?"

"Just a friend up from the big city, Mr. Ambrose."

"Ayup. I heard you was a'Scrapelling. Here's four quarts a'cream I milked just this morning and some fresh Braeburns. I'll head around in a bit"

He hands over the fence an old wire handled milk carrier, circa 1939, complete with glass bottles with those clippy tops, like Grolsch beer used to come in, and an old box with maybe eight or so large, fragrant apples in them.

We cross the grass, our feet wet, Davenorton wet and smelly and happy.

I still don't quite get it. We go to retrieve the bowls and bread and "chunky sauce" but, before we do, we go out on the dock and watch the mist come off the water for a half hour or so. A slow commotion seems to rise in the main building behind us. A couple of cars roll up, kids are running and laughing, dogs without last names bark and run.

"Well, it's time," Guy says, "Let's head on up."

"For Scrapel?" I ask. Still confused.

"Ayup," Guys answers.

The main building has a big deck behind it and we climb steps up to it. I notice smoke fills the early morning fall air as it billows out of a chimney. A set of old French doors is open and we walk in awkwardly with our bowls and jars and boxes and bottles.

"Davenorton!" Everyone cheers at the same time. And by everyone, I mean everyone.

"Soon as I heard I put the flag up," Mr. T tells Davenorton.

I am beyond bewildered at this point, but, the whole thing is beyond me... not for me.

A Mr. Evans says he's got the syrup, "fresh this spring" he says. Mrs. Thompson has honey and there are walnuts from trees right here in the complex. A table is laden with crockery bowls and spoons and more loaves of bread and gallons of milk and berries and yogurt and flowers and coffee urns and a pot of hot chocolate and...

Somehow, sometime in the history of this little corner of Maine, on a Monday, a family didn't have anything for breakfast. A little boy wanted apple pie. A neighbor had a stale loaf of oat bread, another a jar of chunky applesauce, another some fresh cream. It was decided that they'd gather whatever they all had and "Scrapelling" was born. Some years later a flag was made that went up whenever it was a Scrapelday.

There were good-natured feuds, syrup versus honey, nutmeg or not, nuts or plain, berries or peaches or fresh, thinly sliced Braeburn apples still cool from the night wind.

So, basically, you tear up some hearty bread, put it in a bowl, add some "chunky sauce" and cream. I had mine with maple syrup, apple slices and walnuts.

Mr. T grated some nutmeg on right before I ate it. He was right, it was the only way to do it.

I learned a lot that day. I learned about tradition and community. I learned about love and respect. I learned how something silly and trivial can become something big and important.

I stood there, bowl in hand, The Widow Hazel standing next to me, trying to lure me into the kitchen and said, to no one in particular.

"This would be good with a chunk of cheddar cheese..."

A groan went up from the crowd. The widow actually hugged me, something she'd been trying at for an hour or so already.  How had they never thought of that? A mother sent a young boy to a cottage nearby and he came back with a perfect triangle of sharp Vermont cheddar.

I hope when that flag goes up, somewhere in Maine, that that beautiful, perfect tradition now includes a chunk of cheddar. I'd like that...

So, two stories, the first hard to tell, so, I'll just let it wait for another day.  The second?

Well, there's a little more to the second story.  There's a lot more to it actually... or, well, there could be.  You see, I made it up.

Well, why the hell would I do that?

It all started innocently enough.  Some folks were talking about strange things to eat on FB the other day.  One of the guys from Plaid Dad Blog, a newish blog with a lot of enthusiasm and character, wrote this:  "Scrapel. My father used to take a piece of bread, crumble it into a bowl, and mix it with milk, applesauce, and maple syrup and call it poor man's apple pie."  I commented "that is the best 30 word story ever told."

And, I couldn't get it out of my mind.  I actually made some Scrapel with a butt of a demi-baguette, apple sauce, honey and milk.  I added walnuts.  It was pretty good, but, I wanted to make it better. 

On the original thread I'd goofed around with the idea as a children's book.  I said:  "New title, "Scrapel Guy." Guy Norton and his dog Dave - Dave Norton - travel through rural Maine gathering ingredients for his "scrapel" from colorful locals including, and not limited to, a talking moose, a fingerless farmer, a hapless bachelor and a innuendo-riddled widow. I think there's a duck, too..."

Well, I left out the duck.

So, that's one reason I did it. 

I hadn't written any fiction in a while and I thought it might be fun.  I've written a novel and a half and I wanted to revisit that feeling, if that makes any sense. 

But, there's a deeper reason I did it.  You see, I am trying to figure out where to go next around here.  Don't worry, it won't be silly non-sequitur fiction like this, but it may be stories from my past written in a memoir style and that, that, is what I wanted to confront.  It is easy and tempting to make up a past, especially when you are older.  No one is around to fact check me.  There is no way to know if any of this is true.  Except for one thing.  I'm not doing this for me, or you, I'm doing it for Nick and Zack.  Oh, I know, yes, I enjoy an audience right now, and, frankly, writing this was a ton of fun - more fun that writing the truth, perhaps.

So, I want to say this.  As I go forward, and back, as I tell my stories and continue to tell theirs, I promise to tell the truth, as best I can.  Can I guarantee every fact?  I can't.  But, I can try.

The sad truth is that anyone writing in this medium can lie.  Some have been busted for it and I often find myself doubting the truth of many who write blogs, even folks I know.  This is a freewheeling forum, anything goes and I understand that.

I was watching an indie film on PBS, Independent Lens I think the show is called, about a Chinese dissident artist.  The filmmaker asked him why he didn't just lie to get some permissions or licenses he needed for a large installation he was working on.  "I'm fifty-four years old, buddy, I don't have time for lies."

And neither do I...

Thanks, I kept you too long again.  Oh well.  Peace to you.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Arbitrary Good and Evil

It's "Wordless Friday" right?  Or is that Wednesday?  No, Wednesday is "Post What You've Already Posted" day, isn't it?  No, that's Thursday.  Maybe it's "Silent Sunday" but isn't that the same as Wordless Wednesday, I mean Friday?  I know, Wednesday is "Words on Wednesday" and Tuesday's "Twofer Tuesday" and...  I can't keep it straight.  Maybe I'll just wait until tomorrow, Saturday isn't anything yet, is it?

I was going to just post some images and go.  It's nice and there's yardwork and housework and stuff to do.  (Did you know that housework is a word but yardwork is not.  Is this something I should become outraged about?  I can't figure what I'm supposed to get upset about these day.)  So, I was going to lay some images out here and go...

... it seems I am incapable of that.

This was, honest to God, crumpled up on the floor under the boys' dresser.  I was dysoning (not a word) and was getting the corners with that little tubey (ibid.) thing and this shmucked (nope) up into it.  I uncrumpled (really, that's not a word?) it and, well, wondered.

I know you've seen this concept before.  The boys like a show called "Brain Games" and this was one of the many 'lusions (not a word but the apostrophe makes it so you don't have to figure if you need allusion or illusion ) the show has shared with us.  But that's not the point.

I found this among a stack of papers on their dresser.

I could, of course, tease about the spelling of "forest" which is right, but I thought it was forrest, or wonder about the castle on the hill and the shadow doorway there on the left.  And that font...

But, that's not my point either.  I turned this over when I scanned it and this dapper dude was on the other side staring me down.

I might now wax poetic about self-perception, or ties, or patch pockets, but, hey, I don't know this guy.  I had no idea he even existed until just now.

And that, that is my point.

Slowly, unperceptibly (ibid.), we get to a point where we don't know absolutely everything about our kids.  I understand that I miss a lot when they are at school, anyone whose been around here before knows I've been inexhaustibly pleased with the surprise fodder that comes home from school, in fact it's a label in my Topics Cloud Thingey, Thingee, (nope, neither one words).  However, when they are here I usually know what they are up to.  I'm famous for listening around corners as they draw or play, they tell me their stories and I mine before bed, I watch from the window as they run and imagine and silently shout through the back yard.  I don't spy on them, really, I just... yeah, nevermind (how's that not a word?).

"My nearly seven [eight] (now nine) ((now ten)) year-old twin boys concoct, devise, arrange, invent, write, say, imagine and dream the damndest things."  That's a sentence from the explanatory blurb right up there at the top of my page here.  (You're right damndest is not a word either.)  When I wrote that nearly four years ago, I naively thought that I'd be privy to all of it.  As they grow up - and out, really, in a social way - I find I know less and less of their business, if you will.  By that I mean their daily affairs and plans and such, not more personal stuff...  well, I don't want them to not tell me stuff, so I'd welcome hearing about their personal stuff - struggles and angst and unrequited like and not fitting in and...  I know about that.

It's stupid that I didn't see this coming, it's a natural step in the march that is childhood.  These guys are marching out of our lives, that's their job, and mine, mine is to show them the damn way.  I have to understand I'm not always going to know everything about them.

I hope I know enough.

I sorta messed up.  You might remember that five-hundred-and-ninety one words ago I said I was just gonna post some pics and dash.  Yeah, well, by blathering on here - as I do - I've only managed to use three of them... I had, like, six.  Their fate is unknown for now, but, I'll keep 'em on my desk for now.  One is a strange apology and the other a strange 'lustration (I know, but I thought I'd try it).

From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

"If you stick your butt in my face, I am going to smack it."

That should probably be an algebraic axiom...

It's funny, the other day I said I'd be bothering you less here as things move forward.  I guess I lied.  In my defense, this was meant to be brief, but brevitiness (dammit) is not my strong suit.  Thanks for coming by.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I've Got Skidders

Our fenced backyard is surrounded on all sides, four neighboring yards, by dogs.  They range from tolerable to annoying - although I like Red, even if he is the third in a long line of dead Reds - but that's not my point.  Critters like our backyard.  If moles and squirrels were good to eat I'd be golden.  We've rabbits, a resident gopher (Gus perhaps?), an occasional chipmunk, a happy family of shed mice and even an occasional vole or vagrant duck.

And, maybe something else.  Skidders.  You know, those mythical, other realm, Middle Earth, sort of Narnian critters.  Maybe you've never heard of them.  They are a bit overlooked.  Left out of most of the great battle stories and magical histories because of their indefatigable joy and playfulness, they've none the less been around since anyone can remember.

Here's how I first suspected that I might have some:

A poorly camouflaged pile of pine cones.  Skidders, often called "Skids," like to fling them at one another and laugh maniacally into the wind.  It is fairly well-established that this a ritual celebrating victory over some Kingdom eons ago, either that or it's just damn silly to throw pine cones at each other.

 They like to pile them up along a fence-line.

I was checking out the yard before I mowed when I saw a couple of these piles.  And then I noticed a couple other things:

There was this little trampled circle of footprints in the grass:

And then I remembered another older patch that I might not have recognised for what it was a couple of years back:

Out of the corner of my eye I saw this:

Yep, a gouge in the turf.  You might call it a skidmark, it is technically called a "slidemark" and where there is one there are usually several.  Now, Skids are all limbs and knees and elbows and butts, it is told, and they make these marks in various ways.  The one above is most likely a knee.

This one could be a done by a foot.  They do not go barefoot, as was long suspected, but rather wear something they call "muddyshoes," primitive tie on shoes, worn out, split and dirt crusted.

I mentioned before that there were probably more.  It wasn't until I mowed that I saw them all.  Forty-three, by my count.

There were doubles:

And some real classics.  I think this is shoulder slidemark:

I still can't get over how many there are:

They are literally everywhere.  There isn't really a consensus on why Skids do this.  Many think it has something to do with a gloved ball game, some think it may be from ducking and avoiding incoming pine cones.  Others think it might have to do with trying to put a ball through a net at ground level, others believe it has to do with the flying discs Skids love to play with.

I think it has something to do with sticks.  If you look around enough, if you suspect you have Skids, you will nearly always find an arsenal of sticks.  Just as I found two piles of cones, I found two caches of sticks.:

I reckon I've got two Skids.  In retrospect, I'd guess I've had them for a while.  Here is a hole, once a bracken-filled ditch, that's been around for five or six years now:

Young Skidders like to ditch and dig holes and trenches.  I suspect this is an old one as well:

I'd guess my Skids are ten or thereabouts, most likely male, but there isn't much research on that.  By all accounts a Skid is a Skid is a Skid, they all act pretty much the same.  After doing some research I started looking for some other evidence.  For instance, they have a strange tradition of picking flowers for their loved ones but leaving one flower "For God to see."

In their wildness the tend to break things, like playsets:

And landscaping:

They also like to climb and have even been known to add ladders to the trunks of trees:

I like having skids.  They remind me to be wild and happy and free and playful.  They are sweet and right and wholesome and strong and remind me what I once was... and can be again, I just wish they'd close the damn gate...

I am glad you stopped by.  See ya again soon.

From Marci's Bill's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat pick up off of the floor..."

Um, well, we don't have any fish, at least I think we don't.

I gotta go...

Friday, April 10, 2015

Synchronous Serendipity

I take the bits and pieces of life - the hopes and dreams and responsibilities and commitments and all - and try, desperately, to order them, "rowing ducks" I've called it.  It's planning and prioritizing and playing odds and thinking about contingencies.  It's dinner and bacon and bananas about to go bad.  It's shorts not jeans, baseball not basketball, sunsets not sunrises.  It is all manageable, quantifiable, tractable, straightforward, though increasingly complex.

I get it.  I do it all everyday.

But there are moments or events that I do not see coming.  Not tragedies or hardships, I understand that these are a part of life.  Not the coming of understanding that springs from Faith, the unexpected  tears on Good Friday nor the relief of resurrection, that is simple Grace.

No, there are moments and events that just seem so well-placed.  Some are fleeting - the phone call from a friend just as you were thinking of them, a bolt that lands in your pocket as you work under a car to switch out an alternator in the snow.

Sometimes these moments are huge, unfolding over time involving dozens of characters and places and things.  Five teenagers thrown together in college dorm, each perfectly suited to a spot in the group, this one giving this song, another adds this book, another a story, another a center, another a spoke.  Decades later, still in touch, still marveling at the perfection of a few years of flawless synchronicity.

And then there is the sheer damn luck of it all.  How, possibly, could a cat wondering into an apartment - my cat, Marci's apartment - lead me here, raising up twin boys, happily married, safe, contented, something I never thought I'd be?  Serendipity?  Good fortune?  Divine intervention?  Or, as I said, sheer damn luck, the good kind.

Two weeks ago I posted a piece here about how I encountered music when I was coming up in the late sixties and early seventies.  I bemoaned the lot of N and Z not having the very visceral experience of vinyl records and paper sleeves and liner notes and poster art.  I was hard on myself for not introducing them to piles of music.

My brother and his daughter came into town to visit.  My niece said she had a gift for the boys' birthday.  She seemed pretty excited about it.  She's a pretty cool chick.

Yes, a portable record player, a stack of old 45's and some classic LP's.  Now, understand this, she did this well before I wrote the piece about records and such.  She sought out the player, selected the albums, made this all happen, without knowledge that I was even thinking about this.  Coincidentally, co-incident-ly.


There's more right?  Yes, thanks for asking...

You probably see Art Garfunkel's upside down head there.  That's Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits album, one I know so well I could sing it to you start to finish with little prompting.  That's just one of the odd little stack of albums she gave them.  There's some vintage The Ventures - you know, the "Mission Impossible" and "Hawaii Five-O" dudes.  There a 1971 pressing of J.S. Bach Brandenburgisches Konzert F - dur... yes, the gateway drug of orchestral music, in German.  There's a Jazz Immortals album, it's old school - Charlie Parker and Dizzy and that crowd.  There is also a curious thing called Space Songs: Ballads for The Age of Science sung by Joe Glazer.

I told you it was an odd lot, an oddly appropriate odd lot.

There was one other album.

This one:

I opened up that turntable when the boys went to school and played it.

It was fun.  The needle hit the platter and the sound was so familiar it took my breath away.  I quickly regained my ability to read the print as it spun,  "Rainy Day Women #12 & 13."  The loud, raucous horn section starts... You know the song, "Everybody Must Get Stoned," yeah, that one.  An influential song, an unforgettable song and a remarkably clever one as well.

This Greatest Hits album was released in 1971, I probably got it in '73 or '74.  I'm guessing.  To say I know this record would be understating.  I said once before that we "choose the soundtracks of our lives" and this is a part of mine.

The second cut is "Blowin' in the Wind," the quintessential Dylan song.  I'd say it was easily one of the first twenty songs I ever learned to play and sing.  I played it just Sunday, sitting on the porch as the boys made LEGO models... and sang along.  And, and, two days later the song literally lands in my lap.  Out of the shear damn blue.

"The Times They Are A-Changin" follows.  There is a scratch here and it adds another layer to the staccato strum that accompanies words I didn't understand people could say.  Not allowed to say, and these lyrics pushed some serious boundaries, no, could be said.  When I first heard this song, and then later as I went on to learn it, I was flabbergasted at the boundlessness of human creativity.  I've come to understand that as an adult, but man, that first glimpse at our collective potential is electrifying.

Come mothers and fathers, throughout the land
And don't criticize what you can't understand.
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand,
For The Times They are A-Changin.'

I mean, who gets to write that, who is chosen for those words?  The words, as beautiful and carefully hewn as they are, aren't what impacted me.  The fact that this sort of inspiration can be available to us, to me, blew me away.

"It Ain't Me, Babe" is next.  A lament?  A defense?  An attack?  I've never known.  But at thirteen or sixteen on twenty-one hearing the words "It ain't me you're lookin' for, Babe," is a bit of foreshadowing worth noting.

Side one ends with "Like a Rolling Stone."  Another song I know forwards and backwards and still it still draws me in every time I hear it, no matter who sings it.  I forget it is a story song, a redemption song.

There is another whole side to go, wait...

I remember this moment, this intermission that every album offered.  I had forgotten it until I had to do it again.  A time to reflect and discuss and get a beer and wait, a time to anticipate.  What a gorgeous idea, an exquisite device - stop and savor and wait in the middle of things.  When do I do that anymore?

Not often enough.

I won't take you all the way through the second side.  It begins with "Mr. Tambourine Man" another song I still play, another song where the words seem so impossibly clever.  The side ends with "Just Like A Woman" with those haunting words "...but she breaks just like a little girl."

What does he mean by that?

What do I mean by this?

This album came back to me at precisely the right moment in time.  I didn't need the songs or the words or even the album in my hands.  No, I needed the event.  I needed to go through time with it.  I had to thank it with my time once again.  We, I, must study the things that move us, contemplate the ideas that stir in us understanding, curiosity and, perhaps, wisdom.

I started a journey with this music when I was ten or eleven.  Mind you, this is a "greatest hits" album, the music was released well before 1971 when it came out.  The vast majority of these songs had floated already into the zeitgeist of radio music and into the living rooms of booming families much earlier.  And, still they float.

Nick and Zack recognize nearly all the songs on this album.

I like that loop.

I like seeing continuity, seeking continuity.

Bob Dylan's words and melodies have been more than a soundtrack to my life, that would underplay it.  Dylan's music opened my eyes and ears and heart in a way nothing had in my life.  I've fashioned my vocal style after his.  I adore drawn out vowels and alliteration piled in precarious pillars, perfectly placed.  I love lists and details and difficult references.  Nuance.  He led me to an understanding not only of potential but of success.  I am right because of Bob Dylan.  He helped show me who I am, not as a role model, not necessarily as a hero, no... he was - and still is, I'm coming to understand - my Teacher.

I am tempted here to tease myself, poke fun at my melodramatic prose.  I don't think I will though, mostly because I feel I've learned something of myself.  Also, there's one more little bit...

The album came with a poster inside.  My niece unfolds it and I instantly recognize it and I nearly fall in the wind of images and places and people.  A dorm room, a childhood bedroom, a lover's bed, a living room, old friends, lost friends, New York City, rural Ohio, a Parisian bookstall, a dank basement, ping-pong tables, smoke, smoke, dreams and smoke.  All at once...

It is hard to impart to you how unexpected all of this is... was, will be.  (Fuck tense, I can't get a handle on it.)  And how arbitrary it is.  And how profoundly necessary it is, was, shall be.  (See!)

I've kept you, haven't I?  I'm sorry, this all sort of snowballed.  I hope you'll come back again.  I may not be asking you in as much here in the coming months but I'll holler when I do.  I've got chores to do, baseball games to think about, memories to sift through... and two boys to watch turn into men.

Peace to you...

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Rowing Ducks or Crepe Paper Thumbs

I pride myself on a good title and I think this is a good one.  I don't do it right.  Apparently, I should be putting in keywords - something about "search engine optimization," I don't really get it  - so more people might come and visit.  Oh, well...  I'd really rather title something what I want to call it rather than what might get people to come and look at it thinking it was really something else, yeah, still don't get it.

We are in the middle of Spring break around here.  It is hard to find large chunks of time to devote to writing.  In fact I am not writing today.  It's "Throwback Thursday," yet another thing I don't really get around the social media world.  But, since today it works to my advantage, I'll go with it.

I wrote this piece awhile back for the Dad2.0Summit blog.


Crepe Paper Thumbs

You know crepe paper, right? In recent years, it has been replaced with a sort of plastic substitute that is stronger, more colorful, and, importantly, color-fast. It is vastly improved over the crap I used as a kid, but there was something about the way the original felt, a unique roughness.

I smiled as I saw it outside the gym where my 9½-year-old twin boys practiced at basketball in a school built in the 50s, a school exactly like the one I’d gone to 45 years and 15 miles away from this one.

The paper was white and red, framing a holiday-themed bulletin board, pine trees and snowflakes and wishes. It was January, and the display was tired. Situated next to an old porcelain water fountain, one edge had been spattered, and the red paper had bled into the white in Pollack-like patterns. I reached up and pinched it between my fingers and rubbed slightly. My thumb came away pink.

My dad is hunched down, flat-footed, knees fully bent – a “hunker,” he calls it. I am on one knee, incapable of a hunker. A 70s-style bike, banana seat with a sissy bar, long fork in front, you remember, is between us. We are weaving crepe paper around the spokes, decorating the bike for a parade my small Ohio town has each summer, “Community Unity Day.” I am weaving blue, and he is weaving the red in an alternating spiral.

“Dad, why don’t you ride your bike in the parade? Lots of parents do, and the guys in the Grange, and the teachers, and even Father Jim and Reverend Silven.”

My dad thinks about that for a moment. He finishes the wheel with his paper, straightens up, and peers at me above the swoopy, vinyl seat.

His tender eyes say it before he does, “If everyone is in it, who’ll watch the parade?”

His fingers are pink.

It is an important memory to me, and I still believe in the lesson he taught me, as I focus a great deal of time and energy watching the parade of my sons’ youth. But, that is not what I’m getting at. No, it’s the damn crepe paper; every time I feel it, I remember the story of that day, when I was 10, and his fingers were pink, and his soul was sweet.

Two wooden screwdrivers, dented and dinged with red handles, sit in my toolbox. The boys couldn’t be without them for a few months when they were toddlers.

A story.

Two teeny baseball gloves sit in the bottom of the baseball duffel. I know I should take them out, but when I find them, touch their smallness, I remember.

A story.

Two backpacks wait to be thrown away but never are. Two years of preschool and one of kindergarten were carried in them.


I hide little things like this away frequently. A pair of sweatshirt jumpers—one blue, one red—are in the rag drawer, but I’ll never use them to polish my truck or dust the shelves. A diorama of an owl’s habitat, a crazy computer made of paper, outgrown soccer and baseball socks, two candles they made at school, a notebook of homemade trading cards, six small cups they’ve used for every meal they’ve ever had here at home.

It is not the things I am holding on to. No, it is the memory they will serve me, the stories they will give me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing the little toothmarks in the screwdrivers, the scent of those socks and jumpers. I can recall the hours spent making those owls and trading cards, each detail still bright. But the markers fade, the paper crumbles. I’d love to light the candles, but the stubs would seem so sad. And God, those cups. Every meal and spill and tears and laughter filling them. I hope I have them forever.

To tell me their stories.

We are the curators of childhood. Whose, I am not sure, I get mine mixed with theirs sometimes. Most times. We tell the story of their parade.


I wonder what I meant by "rowing ducks?"

Oh, I remember.  I've been trying to get my ducks tidied up around here.  I feel things blowing differently around here, the winds of change, perhaps, maybe it will even blow my candle out here.  I don't know.  I do know that I want what I've written all in one place.  And, I think that place should be here.

I've no faith left in Face Book, I'm only a pawn in their game and I don't know how much longer I'll be staying at young Mr. Z's party.  Consequently, I don't want to write anything particularly clever there for fear he'll want to charge me for it later.  I've had some pretty good conversations on the FB chat thingee, I've been capturing some of the things I said on those and pasting into my journal.  Might be some good topics for posts in there, I don't know.

The vast majority of bloggers have Twitter accounts.  I opened one, looked around for about ten minutes and found it to be salacious and mean and incredibly self-serving and, well, have you ever known me to get anything said in a few words - not my style.  I couldn't figure out how to close the account so I... well, that's not true, I forgot the password and didn't feel like jumping all the hoops to figure it out.  Oh, well.

Here's the hard part.  I like writing about the boys, I really do.  I like knowing I am writing the stories down I will want to remember in the future.  Up until now I've felt comfortable telling them to you.  This week alone I can think of four stories I wanted to tell that, after some thought, I decided I shouldn't tell - for fear of embarrassing them.  I don't know what to do about that.

Well, time's caught up with me as I knew it would today The boys will be ten on Easter.  I wanted to write a post about that... I didn't.  This week is Holy Week.  I'd intended to write a bit about that... I didn't.

Maybe later.

Maybe never.

Wait.  It's Thursday and I can post pictures and stuff from another time, right.  Baseball season opens on Monday.  Here's an image of the boys and I watching a game a few years ago.  It's a cute picture:

Thanks for stopping around again.  It's been sort of hit or miss around here lately.  I'm not really very good at all this, really.  Or, you know, maybe I am...

From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

"I don't care if it is pink, I like it."

*slow clap*

Remember I mentioned there were several stories I'd considered telling you this week about the boys?  This is the end of one of them.

This is the end of another, one that is perhaps not mine to tell.

 Thanks, Nana.