Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"Stuff That Holds Up"

I've a lot of stuff to get through today.  Here's a list:

Yes, thank you, that is my introduction.  I had something cleverer planned but it didn't work out... I don't have a backup.

The few of you who've been following me here over the years know I used to talk a lot about baseball.  I don't so much anymore - although I did just in March - and I wondered why that was.

The Reds are destined to have a bad season this year, is that it?  No, I can still find the stories in the pitches and plays, players and duels, hits and catches.  We'll still watch.

The boys are playing on a great team this year.  Good old-fashioned "rec" ball, playing against kids they know.  Really as close as they'll ever get to a game of pickup with ghost-runners and right field out.  I could tell a hundred stories about boys on playing fields, pitches and courts.  No, that's not it either.

A couple weeks back, Zack snagged a fly in center.  He fell catching it so it looked like he dove... he tripped over his own big feet, which he smilingly admitted in dutiful self-deprecation.  The crowd loved it and it ended a tight inning.  Nick ended the same game when he stole home on a wild pitch and a lackadaisical catcher.  His coach did not tell him to, but, it was cold and drizzly and I think Nick just wanted it over.  The crowd went nuts and Zack was the first to greet him.  His teammates let go a chant of "Nick, Nick, Nick," as he led the way around the bases for a victory...

And, here lies the problem.  These are their stories to tell, to decide on the details, add the players, decide on the beginnings and the endings.  These are their stories to curate now.  These are their stories to tell, perhaps as old men conjuring up a memory of a long-forgotten baseball game from an oft-remembered childhood.  Or, maybe, they'll never tell it.  Maybe, they'll just hold it close, keeping the joy and pride and happiness for themselves, bringing it back and adding to it as their good times pile up and into themselves.  Or, in my perfect future tense, they'll read the paragraph above and remember.  I hope for all three.

(Yes, I do see the inherent irony in my telling a baseball story to make the point of not telling baseball stories because it is not my place to do so...)

Let's move on.

I opened my Spotify account the other day.  The account I share with the boys.  Kidz Bop; The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary; Saturday Night Fever; Hymns for Hipsters; Tennessee Ernie Ford Gospel Classics; Saint Motel Extended Remix, Selena Gomez and The Who.  I can't imagine an odder mix.

It's a popular notion among parents that we can actually shape our kid's musical tastes, or, worse in my opinion, tell them how great our music was and how much theirs sucks.  Pop music is fine, and has a place.  My music is pretty good, too, but, they need to find that out on their own.

Sadly, I thought there might be a story in these weeping lilacs bent under the weight of the rain and wind:

Or in this image of sunset orange and red tulips about to lose their petals relinquishing the beauty of the blossoms to the better story of rebirth and time:

I was wrong, maybe some other time, yes?

I had hoped originally that I might conclude my thoughts on the whole "boys-are-men-are-boys" thing I've been working on in two previous posts, On Boyness and Green Scales Still Fall.  I was wrong again, mostly because all this other stuff is in the way.

I worked long and hard in the restaurant business, from my mid-teens to just a few years ago.  Back when I was managing them, there were what most places called "Shift Books,' a notebook of some kind in which were written the days events and the like.  Usually they were just short paragraphs from a tired manager, scribbled at the end of a long shift, about sales and the special, what sold, what didn't, who was late, who left early, problems in the bar or with guests, that sort of thing.  However, when I wrote them, I, well, got a little more creative.  I'd tell stories about peculiar guests or funny incidents.  I was famous for them and it was the first thing most mangers looked at when I'd closed the night before.

Sometimes, I look on what I am doing around here as "shift notes."  I could just give the facts and show the images and all that, but, for some reason, I wanted to make them more interesting, deeper.

I liked turning those nights closing bars and taverns and dining rooms into stories.  I could tell you dozens and may someday, but here, right now, they don't seem appropriate.  Yet.

Nick loves to watch television shows, Disney shows and Animaniacs and popular movies, whole binged-watched series no longer on the air whose stars now have fallen or burn in more mature venues.  I have to admit that I found it annoying, especially when he'd watch shows he'd already seen many times, for instance Looney Tunes on a DVD we've had forever.  Recently, I figured something out, something that took me a very long time to come to - you've got to learn the ways a story can be told.

I'm pretty sure that's what Nick is doing.  His count for the books he's read this year in a reading challenge at school is well over a hundred - a hundred and forty, actually, but I won't mention that - but longer books are counted as two.  He doesn't read crap, either.  I've read several and they're really quite good, far better than the silly sports and good friend and unflinchingly didactic boys novels I read at his age.  We talk about the things he's read.  He's a good reader.

There is more to reading than the stuff we we are told to look for - the tone and tense and meter and pace and plot and characterization - and a careful, smart reader knows the secret to all of that, contemplation.  Nick thinks about books.  He may tell me something he thought of about a book he finished months ago tomorrow.

Good stories linger.  Good stories give for a long time.  Good stories go and return and rekindle in our minds.  But you gotta know one when you hear it.  I think that's why Nick likes a good Disney movie or old episode of "Good Luck, Charlie."  I think that's why I do as well.  You see, we are always learning to hear a story, sing a song, unspin a yarn. And, in so doing, we are learning how to tell them as well.

"Zack and his jumping."  I'll just leave it at that, knowing when I read that phrase in twenty years I'll remember watching him run down a hallway, arm up, leaping for the door frame, ceiling fan pull chain or just in general.  I'll remember him sitting at dinner and suddenly getting up and in one fluid movement jumping for the opening between the dining room and the living room which he can get well above now.  I have him wipe the jelly and gravy and bbq fingerprints off the wall, mostly because I can't seem to get him to stop jumping, which for some reason irritates me to no end... I'm trying to let it go.  If a boy leaps through childhood, joyfully jumping and happily reaching up, further and further, well, there are less apt metaphors.

Marci and I sometimes, when the boys are goofy and silly and sweetly annoying, say to one another, "Damn happy kids."

I am supposed to tell a sad story about some gophers I know.  We call them woodchucks around here.  It's about a she-chuck and her three playful kits in the front yard and an ominous thud in the street, a garbage bag and a shovel, and later a hawk in the back yard and talons and fur.  And, a few tears.  Mine

I don't want to.

I'll tell this one instead.  There are numerous rabbits in the back yard... as happens with rabbits. I was watching a couple of young ones, bucks I'd guess no longer kits, out under the maples.  They were chasing and annoying each other, getting into mock fights, rolling around running madly to another spot and basically turning and taunting the other guy.  They reminded me of something, I can't imagine what?

At one point, one of the brothers - because I can only assume they are - leaps up out of a tussle and runs straight towards the fence line.  Now, our fence is what I grew up calling "page wire," a wide, rectangular wire weave often, in the fields around my childhood, topped with a single strand of barbed wire.  Our fence is a split rail one with three horizontal runners between wood posts.  To keep in pets - but not wildlife - from top to bottom runs the page wire.  Back to the rabbits.

The one is heading for the fence.  I'm figuring that he knows a way under it and I'd guess his playmate did too.  No, he runs for that fence, full gallop, gracefully jumping towards the gap between the bottom rails and, well, hits that fence so hard the wire rings, poor little myopic dude.  I gasp at the surprise of it.

He falls back hard on his haunches and sort of sits there stunned and shaking his head, confused at this new reality, this force-field, his little mind baffled at this sea change.  The other one is a few feet behind him and, as God is my witness, is rolling on his back laughing his little head off.  Literally, rolling in mirth at his brothers expense, and, I have to admit, it was pretty funny.

Once he regains his senses and sees his buddy laughing at his expense, he charges full out, leaping at the other guy who is still contorted in laughter, pins him down and, I swear, bites a chunk of his ear off.  He jumps and runs away under the fence, in pain I am sure.

I week or so later I saw a few rabbits grazing in the evening twilight.  One of them had a visible nick out of his ear.  Another had a on a little pair of black safety glasses.

Oh, did I mention we are reading Watership Down?

(You're at seventeen-hundred-and-seventy-two words.  Have you prepared a summation?

Shut up, Other-one-me! 

I'm just tryin' to help.

Well, don't.  And why do you always insist on writing out numbers? 

It uses up your precious word count.

Go.  Away!)

The boys did a "Reduce/Reuse/Recycle"  art project for school.

Zack took apart an ancient - like, 1980s ancient - VCR and a couple other defunct electronics and imagined a cityscape with the parts he'd scavenged.  It's pretty clever.

Nick made a sculpture out of old boxes, cutting and taping them together into a form he liked.  He used a flour and water papier-mâché to cover it and painted it with old cans of spray-paint I'd never use.  I helped him with some techniques and with the somewhat tedious task of covering it, really tedious actually.

And, I'm done.  Except for one thing.

Guy Clark died last week.  He was a personal hero of mine.  Short of Bob Dylan, no other singer/songwriter influenced my style as a singer of songs.  When I first started working on this post - which was longer ago than I'd care to admit - I'd decided to call it, "Stuff That Holds Up," which is a line from a song I play of his, one I included in this post.  I remember thinking that the small little stories and memories here today were just a big pile of stuff in a way, not always so important or life-changing, but certainly, to quote the chorus of his song,

Stuff that works, stuff that holds up
The kind of stuff you don't hang on the wall
Stuff that's real, stuff you feel
The kind of stuff you reach for when you fall.

I thought that the memories I'm laying down here, archiving here, stealing from them, perhaps, are indeed, "stuff that holds up."

That was the day before he died.  Godspeed, Guy.

There at the bottom of the note it says:  "Stuff - words repeated intent - affect."

Yeah, I don't know either.

Thanks for coming around.  Peace to you and, if you're a fan, give a listen to this tune, The Randall Knife... for Guy.

Peace to you.  Here in my hemisphere Summer is coming.  I might not be around here as much for a while.  I'd say that is because I'm busy and focused on the boys this time of year and that might even be part of the truth.  But I need sometimes, some time.  Some time to listen and watch and taste and feel the stories around me - which come like memories, or are memories - as they unfold like old maps, unfurl like vellum and ink, float like forgotten words in the winds of melody or linger in the air like tobacco smoke and incense and gather in wisps on the ever-descending ceiling of time.

Goodbye for now...

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Vimeo Test (Private)

Bill thinks he marked this private.  He is wrong.  I just hit publish.  You see, he posted that ridiculous Hand and Bolt thing Friday after I left.  He knows we are trying to get away from that style, trying to distance ourselves from the story of these boys, he knows that he must move on.

He doesn't want to.

We have to. 

(The video is close-captioned.)

I do feel obliged to tell you that he did have a very nice piece on faith and fatherhood published on City Dads Group.  He's not nearly as good as the writers he's been thrown in with.  Ones who wouldn't end a sentence with not one, but two, prepositions.

Here's a link "Teach Faith to Children So They Can Find Their Own Prayer"

Peace to you all,


Friday, May 6, 2016

Hand and Bolt

This was in Nick's sketchbook.

I told him it was sort of interesting and he said I could use it here.  I let him do the photo-editing on Picmonkey and this is what he came up with.

I'm not sure why this fascinates me so...

Something about the creative mind, but, I could write a thousand words or just stop here.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Green Scales Still Fall

This is supposed to be the followup to my previous post On Boyness.  It is not.

I had a lot of great ideas for it, though.  I'd outlined a few stories to tell, stories of times when I see the man in the boy - a determined pitcher, an understanding sibling, a courageous helper, - moments when the reverse of my "men are boys" thesis becomes apparent.

But, you know, fate's a funny, fickle fucker and, well, I think I got filibustered.

Sometimes, before I start to write, I like to get out my guitar and sing a few songs just to get things going.  So earlier today I lit the "focus candle" and started a song I play all the time and, the truth is... I wasn't really into it.  I remembered a faded orange file I'd found a while back filled with most of the songs I used to play but don't anymore - songs gone out of fashion, song that folks would laugh at if I played them now, songs with difficult fingerings, songs from the American Songbook, songs I'd written and forgotten and remembered and forgotten.  Yes... songs forgotten sums it up nicely.

I'd already fished in it before if you remember, so I knew there would be something I might like to play.  I do a game when I practice sometimes, I mix up my music and just grab a song and play it.  I call it "Ya git what ya git."

First song I picked out was "If I Were a Carpenter."  Tim Hardin wrote it and sang it at Woodstock, I learned it from a June and Johnny Cash album that was floating around, like the words to the song, in the wind of the seventies.  A girl I didn't know - at the time - sang harmony to it, June's part, in the dark, beyond the halo of a campfire somewhere around '78 or '79.  One song, a whole damn story.  One piece of paper and I'm sucked up and onto a memory road I'd not been on in years.  Save my love through loneliness / Save my love through sorrow / I've given you my onlyness / Come and give me your tomorrow.

Second song, Rocky Raccoon.  In high school and college everybody was singin' this tune.  I played it and remembered that I'd never really done it very well, kind of stumbling through the first spoken part.  However, in the dorm rooms of Athens alone, I probably played that song a hundred times.  We were so young, boys really, singing and carryin' on so freely and joyfully, finding a wildness we'd not known was in us.  Again, only a piece of fading paper, awkwardly typewritten words and chords scrawled in red - usually in the wrong place - and tobacco stains and beer can rings, but it lifted me back to a time that so shaped me.

Alright then, Let It Be is on the flip side.  This was a song that everyone wanted to hear for a while.  I've only managed once to do it justice.  Not on a bar stage or a summer bonfire or a winter kitchen with friends all around, not there where others would have seen it, but, in a meadow in the mountains of Arizona just east of Payson.  I was camping, alone and... you know what, that's a long story, one I like to be reminded of but am not yet ready to tell.  I suppose that's because it hasn't finished quite yet.  ...speaking words of wisdom, indeed.

Truth is, I suck at Beatles songs.

I pulled out a paper-clipped set of five or six sheets of paper.  One I used in the post I mentioned earlier.  Songs of angst and hope with titles like Pink Skyline of the City and Goin' Round in Circles and Dreaming (of Being with You).  Could I make that up?  I play a couple, or try to, at least.  Melodies are gone or vague at best, chord changes lost, but... the feelings aren't lost.  I wrote them when I lived in NYC in my twenties.  As I sing them I feel like I am saying hello to an old me, and, somehow as if he is waving back through echoes and premonitions.

Since there are five pages here, in the spirit of the game, I play them all.  On the last two pages are three songs by a college roommate, hepcat, friend and, briefly, band mate.  Mostly, really, he was a fellow sojourner, someone I still admire to this day, who may be reading this now.  Hey, dude.

The songs are Leavin' Me Now, I'm in Love  and Heather's Into Leather.  The first two, it occurs to me, are really sort of the same song, same keys, chords reversed. They are two parts of the same story, an ancient story, a modern story... my story, your story.  Our story.  I tried to play Heather but, being rock-n-roll impaired I never really did it well, power chords and a punk beat were never something I was good at.  Good memories, though, good times, I guess people say.

I play Sunshine, you remember, I'll be damned if he'll run mine, and a Jim and Ingrid Croce song called Say What The Hell from the only album they did together.  I pull out Sister Golden Hair and the Lighfoot classic If You Could Read My Mind, Love  and John Prine's Flag Decal.  Songs I learned in late high school, early college.  Songs that remind me of a crush I had on golden haired Renee - or Melody, was it? - songs I learned for friends or family, songs that really, really mattered to me, songs that the story was in the learning.

My fingers were getting weary and you might remember I was about to write important stuff about big themes.  I decided to pull one last song, I got one I'd learned when I was maybe twelve, only a little older than the boys are now, Puff, The Magic Dragon.

I found the fingering and remember the capo and started singing it.  I'll tell you what, I'll play it now for you.  This isn't when I played it earlier, just now as I am writing this up.

I didn't know I'd cry this morning, but when I came to the words a dragon lives forever but not so little boys / painted rings and giant's wings make way for bigger toys I choked back a sob and then had to stop playing and let the tears come.  I'd mourned Puff so many times as a kid, felt so sad for him, but, I'd never cried for little Jackie Paper before.  Never cried for his mighty loss, never cried for his missed make-believe journeys, never cried for his lost innocence.

As a boy it'd never occurred to me.  Poor Puff who could no longer be brave, who slowly slipped into his cave.  But now, now, I was Jackie Paper and I was his father.  I was Schrödinger's kid, both boy and man at the same time, experiencing the song both now and before.  It was as if the boy that was me sensed this day would come and gave me this song for the time I would come to mourn my own sons' fading innocence. 

So my desk looks like this...

... and I am no closer to defending my boys are men idea, which is where this all started.

Or am I?

The men that I see in my boys, the man I see in pictures of myself at their age, the boy I watched just today, learning a song in basement bedroom so many years ago, the men they will become, seem just as formed as the boys they appear to be.

Is manness simply innocence rekindled?

Thanks for indulging me, again.  Remember, most of what I am doing here is for another time, it is for the men these boys will become, or, as you are right now, right boys?


This is the fourth piece in my accidental "Green Series."  The first was "Green Ball of Gratitude," the story of a forgotten ball and hope fulfilled.  The second is "The Frayed Green Rope" about a rope I bought a long time ago that's still telling me stories.  I wrote "The Man in The Green Reds Cap" after I met myself on rural road I grew up on.  Check them out if you'd care to.

See you next time...