Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Let Go and Let Larry

I don’t remember exactly what I did for entertainment when I was seven years old. I imagine in my time it had to do with a lot of television. In 1959 if we weren’t hiding under school desks waiting for the Soviet Union’s big one to mutually assure our destruction, we were watching the boob tube. There were no videos, no computers, no ipods, no motorized scooters and no money to spend on any of those things even if they had existed; at least in my neighborhood. The promise of each day began with the words “For God’s sake! Go outside and play!” How generic can one be? How impossible would it be for children now if their mothers said “go out and play” and all they had to their names were a few longish sticks and some stones that looked like tiger’s eyeballs.

Actually, we did have a little more than that… we had bikes. Pretty much every kid had a bike and would ride it pretty much any and everywhere. By seven I was a reasonable rider. I had few open wounds, most of my teeth and a firm grasp of the concept of balance matched by a healthy fear of the substance called “sand”. Nowadays I’m guessing bike riding done by most children takes place within the view of their parents, but then it was ordinary to leave the front yard while traveling on two wheels at dawn, and not return until dinner time. So I’m sure my mother thought nothing of it when Larry Schmidt and I left the corner of 86th and Washburn at 8 AM. She probably figured we’d cruise down to Lincoln High and watch the football team do early season calisthenics, and then whip over to the convent to see if the nuns had any chores to do in trade for cookies and milk. I’d guess it didn’t occur to her that we’d actually go anywhere beyond “mom whistling range”. She had no idea that Larry had told me that he knew the way to his dad’s farm market, and that the building was right across the street from a real live airport where planes took off and landed all gol-dang day!

A child has no concept of distance. Much like dogs probably think, a kid can see where he is and where he wants to be, and anything in between is just a nebulous space that means nothing; a nebulous space that needs to be traversed, “so ya may as well get started.” (Men have much in common with children. They only know where they are and where they want to be, and seldom recognize their shortcomings; those that may come between those two places.) Had I known then how far it would be to the Schmidt Market, it wouldn’t have stopped me. Ten miles isn’t comprehendible at seven. “Same distance as it is to grammas” might have given me pause, but there was no muse handing me analogies at that age. So off we went, up and over the giant ridge a block from our homes and down the windy, freshly tarred road that swept through the Highland swamps.

It took hours to relieve ourselves of traffic and the constant barrage of salt box and ranch homes in pastel colors, each sporting a garage, a manicured lawn and a street side mailbox. Larry must have had quite a memory to have led us through the exurban maze that led to Pioneer Trail. I just kept my eyes on his rear fender and tried to keep up; he was much stronger than I, my being an intellectual and he, an inferior laborer.

Eventually we reached the country, where giant willows are allowed to overhang narrow roads, where dogs and cats roam freely, and visit passersby regularly, and where lunch waits patiently for kid’s stomachs to growl. My father had grown vegetables in our back yard, and surely we’d driven through farm country on a Sunday outing, so I well knew what sweet corn looked like. But the driving past produce at 55 makes a hundred acres seem like a postage stamp, while riding through it at “spoke” speed conjures just the opposite. It seemed the world was made of corn, and that all the world’s corn was ours to take; so long as we shared with any critters that happened by during our picnic. And so we stopped for free refreshments and to partake in that timeless boy pleasure; outdoor urination.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. One ear of uncooked sweet corn is plenty. Two will create enough gas to power a small cube truck, and three will bloat one’s stomach to Santa proportions. It was likely an hour before the bloat subsided enough to remount the bikes and continue on toward the market. Even though I was a bit green gilled, I was hoping by then that the Schmidts had the good sense to have a refrigerator at their place of business, stocked with things like lunchmeat and white bread, cookies and Kool-aid. All the corn had done was to remind me of how much I loved food; real food, the kind kids ate.

We stopped after every couple of miles. We were beginning to tire and needed to catch our breath here and there. Besides, we had world problems to solve, and to do so properly we would need to prop ourselves against a large tree, pluck a long stalk of grass and deposit it between the appropriate pair of teeth, and ponder a spell before spouting our learned opinions on the important topics of the day. Then, after a good spit and a light buttscratching, we’d be on our way again.

It was finally made obvious that we were getting close to our destination. Not only could we hear the constant whoosh of cars parading down highway 169, but we had spotted a single engine airplane off to our left; one that seemed to be so low that were we closer to its path we might have been bonked on our minuscule heads by its massive landing gear.

Then, the corner appeared; the intersection from hell where the tiny rural road met the endless bludgeoning of commerce, where the gentle sounds of chirping birds and the whispers of wind blown grass were hammered into submission by the roar of trucks the size of Godzilla followed by smoke belching, rod knocking, mildly muffled cars of all shapes and colors. We scurried across Pioneer Trail like field mice leading a cattle stampede. Larry pretended that he wasn’t fearful. “Don’t worry, I’ve done this a thousand times” he said. Even at seven I could count. Larry had only been alive a couple thousand days; there was no way he’d spent half of them riding a bicycle in the gravel and sand alongside a major highway. But I “let go and let Larry” in any case. Sometimes one’s head is just not big enough to wrap around everything one needs to absorb. It’s at those times, faith in someone other than yourself is absolutely necessary. Later, I would experience faith in God; for the moment, it was in Larry Schmidt.

It was nearly impossible to ride the last mile. My head was dancing on my shoulders, partly due to the bumpy conditions found on an unpaved shoulder, but mostly because there was just too much visual stimulation for a seven year old boy to handle. Planes were crossing our path, one after another, so low I swore they would crash through the sides of speeding cars. I had to stop more than a few times to take in the wonder of flying tonnage. My heart was racing so fast I couldn’t grip the handlebars without shaking my front tire until I was out of control. At that moment I became a pilot in waiting; I would never lose that initial thrill and would forever plan on becoming airborne one day. (One of the only childhood dreams I ever had, and finally accomplished)

I can still see the Market though it’s been long burned to the ground. It was a one story affair built of plywood and tarpaper, an open air grocery filled with fluffy, leafy, lumpy and clumpy things in all the colors of the rainbow. The Schmidts themselves were a bit unnerved to see us coming. Mister Schmidt in fact did that dad thing, stepping within our path, hands firmly on his hips, scowl boring through our skulls. Apparently Larry wasn’t supposed to actually ride to his parent’s market. He was supposed to be home with the babysitter; the one that had just called the market crying because Larry had disappeared! I didn’t see where Larry and his father wandered off to, but I did hear a bit of thrashing and screaming coming from somewhere near the bluff overlooking the Minnesota river. It seemed such a dichotomy to have torture committed within range of such a beautiful view. Had it been my dad I’m sure he would have taken me into a cave or something before beating me senseless.

But soon the punishment for premature exploration had been completed, and I had the guts to ask Mrs. Schmidt if she happened to know where a seven year old boy might get some lunch that wasn’t raw corn on the cob. She laughed. She always laughed when I talked. She thought I was quite funny, which was a good thing; especially when I needed a sandwich or a handful of cake. Lunch was served, even to Larry though he ate his standing. Within the hour we were driven home, bikes in the trunk, chins on our fists, two boys in the back seat wondering if what they’d just done would be recorded as an accomplishment or a black mark on our immortal souls. I am sure my mother had been called and apprised of my situation, but for some reason I remember nothing about a punishment of my own. In fact, I don’t remember her even reacting to the news. 

Once I’d been dropped off and Larry had been dragged kicking and screaming into his house, I just sort of hung out outdoors, shouldering a bit of gloom and doom but pretending that if I were to ignore the world crashing in on me, it would ignore me as well. It did as I recall, nothing was ever said, my head was never whopped and I served no time in any corner of the house for my indiscretions. Perhaps my mother was already suffering in her illness, preoccupied with the neighbor women and my father’s likely designs on each and every one of them. Or, perhaps she understood what an exceptional child I was and knew that a ten mile ride alongside modern highways was nothing for this seven year old boy. Had I the choice, I would choose to believe the latter.

No doubt one might wonder what this tale might have to do with Moorsby Watch. (At least those that have a clue as to what Moorsby Watch is in the first place) Well, it was this experience that set my personality in many ways. I discovered that guts were simply a lack of common sense, and that common sense was overrated. I found that the darkness of the unknown, as scary as it was, always, harbored the most fascinating adventures if one would simply take the chance and walk into its all enveloping embrace. It occurred to me that as much as I was “of the city”, I longed to be countrified; as much as I loved the noise and blur of a population in full scurry, I adored the solitude, the spirituality of the act of watching grass grow, of picking out the scratch of each individual cricket in any given glen. 

I was handed the notion that while my life would likely be spent twixt tall buildings and upon concrete roadways, my love would sparkle elsewhere; in the silver-green grasses and sneeze creating weeds of rural Minnesota. And I learned the most important lesson of all. That vegetables, even though they’re good for you, actually taste pretty damned good too. Particularly the vegetables found on the naughty boy’s luncheon smorgasbord at Schmidt’s Market.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Starshine and Moonbeam Day

It was October 10th, 1983 when last I had one of those days when everything clicked. It technically stared a day earlier, but only because I went to sleep 18 hours before, and sleep is one of my favorite things. Usually I get 7, I need 8 and I lust after 10; so as is obvious, I was in heaven for an extra 8 hours of choking and gasping in my apnea burdened, emphysemic way. And then, upon the opening of my eyes, my lovely wife du jour Marie performed oral sex, on me of course, as we had only been married for a few months and it would be months yet before she’d found greener grass.

Suddenly I heard the clanking of dishes coming from my kitchen. It was hard to imagine my dog Nikky whipping up breakfast, so I asked “who might that be? Surely not your mother who hates me above all others?”

“Why no” my beautiful companion answered; “It’s Martha Stewart! She’s thinking of starting a television show and thought she could get some practice cooking for the plain folk.”

“How would you like your eggs Ronnie?” I was stunned naturally. Here she was in my own house, as cute as she looked on TV, asking me how I’d like my meal prepared! I could almost forgive her for using the name Ronnie. So once explaining to her that I would slap her silly should she make that mistake again, I said “basted soft please!”

Well, as she sauntered back to the pots and pans in her Martha way, I jumped up to run to the bathroom so I could soak my head in the sink and make my hair lay down rather than stick straight up like a clown’s. (I didn’t want Ms. Stewart using my morning hairdo as a favorite humorous anecdote once she’d started her reign on daytime television.)

The moment I stepped into the space I was stunned by the changes that had taken place while I was asleep. Where once there had been a simple tub and window, there was now a Jacuzzi and bay; and over the newly replaced marble sink, with gold handles and drain, was a compact shower head, perfectly suited to addressing Bozo hair!

“Wha” I said as I turned towered the ever perfect Ms. Wife-o-mine.

“Oh I forgot” she informed me; “Bob Villa was here last night while you were sleeping. He’s thinking of leaving This Old House and starting his own show, so he thought he could practice his impossible renovation technique here!”

“Bu” I tried to inject a question yet she sensed my query and answered it before I could finish the syllable.

“It was all free” she rambled; “once he found out Martha Stewart would be here to cook him dinner.”

Well, I couldn’t believe my luck; but I really had to pee. So I shooshed my wife from the room, took care of business (leaving the toilet seat up as I had a perfect right to) and then rinsed my head in the wonderful miniature shower. It was amazingly warm and soothing; the jets were just strong enough to massage my cranium and the ever so slight cigarette smoke headache that loomed was washed away along with my cartoon character appearance. In fact, when I finally finished and combed my hair into its regular style, I could swear I had actually grown a few follicles in my sleep! Good Lord what a day!

Breakfast was grand! Just like Gramma B used to make me when I’d mow her lawn and trim her shrubberies. Martha’s a hell of a cook if you ask me; it’s no wonder people give her inside trading information!

Still reeling from the outrageousness of my morning so far, I was loath to pick up the phone when it rang. But dutiful husband that I am, it was my responsibility to tell off telemarketers, so I answered. Of all people, it was my boss on the phone!

“You don’t have to come to work today Ronnie, and we’re paying you double anyway because we like you so much!”

Holy Crap I thought! Paid to screw off? Overtime hours? I thanked him profusely, after of course I’d warned him of the corporal punishment he might suffer for using my toddler name. I only wondered, what would I do with the day?

Just as I was pondering my freedom, my then partially committed mate hauled me off into the bedroom for another round of you know what. I had barely had time to catch my breath when the doorbell rang.

It was a local car dealer. He explained to me that my father had so admired my work ethic, my incredible responsibility and my having turned out such a near perfect man that he’d bought me a new Corvette! Wow! You can’t imagine what I was thinking! My dad liked me! Who would have thought!

I figured I might as well go for a ride so the woman to whom I was once legally obligated and I jumped in the Vette, and after dropping Martha off at the airport we went for a little cruise in the countryside.

There was a frightful moment when a deer jumped from the ditch and ran right in front of us, but suddenly an otherworldy gust of straight line wind shot out from the western side of the road and lifted the deer right up and over the top of the car! I’d never seen anything like it, and if I had to guess, I never will again!

Shortly afterward we rounded a corner and there was a purple limo on the side of the highway with a jack under the right rear wheel. I stopped as I always do for those in need, and to my surprise this little black guy gets out of the back seat and smiles. It was Prince! Well of course we’d met before since he’d worked for me when he was a teenager and not really Prince yet, so he says “Hey Ronnie! How’s it goin?”

Well, after I’d reminded him about the Ronnie thing and he’d apologized, I helped his driver fix the flat tire while Prince and Apollonia sang their greatest hits a capella. Once I was finished he was so grateful he gave me all the master tapes of his latest recordings and said “Ya know, I don’t really need these songs so why don’t you have them? Store them in you garage or something and listen to them when you’re old and lonely and in need of a lot of cash.” Naturally I said “Hey thanks Prince!” And we parted company.

An hour later we were just driving along when suddenly I noticed we were being followed. I pulled over and waited for them to pass, but they pulled in right behind me and one of the guys jumps out and runs up to the Vette and says “Hey! I saw you guys go by us and thought what an almost perfect couple! I’m a talent scout and the company I work for is doing a demo of a new TV show. How’d you like to be in it?”

I could hardly refuse after he’d been so nice and all, so we followed him to a local studio where they’d made an uplink to the master suite in New York, and who do you think comes on the monitor? Regis Philbin! That’s right! He was the MC for a show called “Who wants to be a Millionaire” and I was gonna be the first experimental contestant!

I said “You bet let’s go!” just after he’d said “OK Ronnie, you ready?”, mostly because while I’d loved to have whacked him upside the head he was in New York, and since I was on TV, even though it was just a pilot that would probably never be shown, I didn’t want to look stupidly vindictive; so I let him Ronnie me for the half hour.

Wow! What a half hour it was! It was touch and go for a while, but luckily I knew a few people to call, so when the question about India came up I called Indira Ghandi’s daughter, who I’d met at a revival of the play Hair. And when the question about money came up I called Paul Hewson, this Irish guy I’d met in a pub in Paducah Kentucky who told me one day he was going to own half of Dublin. And it was amazing but I happened to have known the answer to the last question… “Who will one day in the future be a symbol for terrorist organizations, that will bring thousands of children into their theological construct?” Well once I’d deciphered the really badly worded question I knew there could only be one answer.

“MICKEY MOUSE” I screamed! And the ceiling opened up and all these 20 dollar bills came floating down like confetti and I was told if I’d want to pick them all up they’d all be mine! But then I noticed Bill Gates standing there looking bored, and I figured he was great at collecting money, so I made a deal with him that he could keep 10 percent of the cash for his garage fund if he’d pick up the dough and bring it to me later. AND HE AGREED!

I couldn’t take it; I was so tired I just had to get home and take a nap for 20 hours or so. The woman who was once my true love drove as I waved at people on the street and they waved back as if they knew who I was and cared deeply about me. At last we arrived at my address, but lo and behold there was a brand spanking new house on my lot!

Well standing in my new driveway was this weird lookin hippy type guy who called himself Ty Pennington, and he said he had this new tv show he was trying out called “Extreme Makeover” and he happened to be driving through my neighborhood and saw my house! He thought it’d be a perfect home to practice on so him and his buddies tore mine down and built one three times as big on the same property!

I did all my thank you’s, though I did demand that he change the mailbox inscription to say Ron J instead of Ronnie, but as indebted as I felt I was just exhausted, so I excused myself and the lady who once pretended to love me and I went inside. There, she gave me you know what again, and I went to sleep, or at least to snoring and wheezing and coughing like I always do.

And that was the day that everything clicked! MAN I love it when that happens!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hail the Gods of Grape Juice

It’s been a few millennium since monsters plied the seas
since the world was more a pancake than a ball
Then lived gods of every discipline, of pointed expertise
every pantheon appeared a cattle call

There were gods of grape and orange juice, and gods of golden toads
there were deities with several arms and legs
every country had a god of war immortalized in odes
penned as offerings from its own mortal dregs

But now within our modern world we have but two or three
and an argument that they might be but one
What happened to the others? Are there piles of god debris?
Don’t they know that having lots of gods was fun?

If you had a thing for oceans, say, Poseidon’d be your guy
not a generalist that covers all the bases
It was cool to have the Valkyries come calling when you die
not a chanting cleric mumbling of God’s graces

It’s the wonderment that’s missing, there’s no drama to be had
there’s no plotting and conniving in the heavens
It’s just “happiness and gaiety, rejoice! Let’s all be glad!”
Never “Zeus kills Aries! See it at eleven!” (s)

There was something grand in worshiping a multitude of gods
disillusionment in one was no big thing
you’d just dump the hack and choose anew from bevies of old sods
having faith was less “one spouse” than “summer fling”

Yet in this present century the pantheons have fled
here the “one true God” is claimed by each in turn
And too many of those followers will make the streets run red
on the notion that non devotees should burn

It’s a bitter pill I swallow, one devoid of candy coat
to believe today means everlasting love
I have lost my own ability to honor and devote
I am dead within the singleness above

Monday, April 11, 2011

Grollig's Lament (a little prompt fiction)


Genre: Science fiction
Setting: island
people (if any): 4 (no more, no less)
restrictions: no romance


The dictionary in case it's not clear
 
Floppy=tongue
Slather=drool
Shards=teeth
hu-mans=residents of the planet Earth
Slathery Vitriol=spitting anger
Gloop=slather en masse'
Octagonal orifice=mouth
Splurgy Squoosh=funny noise akin to fart pillow
Headpod=head
adamantite=metal used in silly scifi and fantasy as well
Blurg=godlike creature whose name is often taken in vain
Schridling=Alienesque creature/Starcraft swarm inspired
Fecal matter=alien poop
quarkslon=whole bunch, like billion only bigger
Spawnday=day of creature birth
grapple=tentacle like thingiedoobob
grapple bar=tentacle like thingiedoobob's target
microns=teenyweenie time period
oogmutt=just a food item, make up what it looks like if'n you want, I was just typing letters and that's what came out
heirarchs=the guys and gals atop the "hierarchy"
Slatherables=those body parts used to produce and fend off the effects of "slather"
Degleck=sugary delicacy that produces excess slather on those susceptable to its taste
Sweetshard=the reason all Schridlings need to avoid Degleck or suffer premature obesity



The Product:

"Six years your majesties, I've been 6 years in your service". I had to stop at that point and wipe the slather from my shards before it plopped to the green marble floor and melted an unsightly hole into its well polished surface. The hu-mans had a better physiology in some ways; they could drool to their heart's content without so much as lighting a single blade of grass on fire. Of course at this point, hu-mans were only a smallish chapter in a dusty historical tome.

"Six years it is then master Grollig, and time to face the pipers at last. Your accusers stand ready to tear your tale verb from noun; the court only hopes you've had sufficient time to practice the telling of your defense lest you bore us into cutting your floppy from your octagonal orifice well before you've finished".

"I hate my life, I hate them all"! Chanting the silent mantra while the Supreme and his mate giggled over my impending doom was not helping my memory, but it served as an aggression inhibitor. I was good and ready to fascinate the court with a retelling of the events that had brought me to this sad state; by Blurg you'd think after 6 years I'd have a handle on what happened. But were my emotions to run wild, well, an outburst of slathery vitriol would ruin everything, not to mention pit my chitin by spraying gloop while I was shouting my contempt. So my emoticore needed a leash, and utter hatred would have to suffice.

"I am ready" I said with a deep bow as is the custom. And leaning back on my ample tail with a splurgy squoosh, I proceeded to unfold the excuse of a lifetime.

"Yes yes, I was scheduled to be on that island with the rest"! Already I was losing the control battle, emotionally defensive within the very first sentence. I squinted my eye forcing my focus into a pinpoint of dim light. If I were to just erase my view of the audience, perhaps change my approach, less a whiner, more a narrator...I twisted my right headpod and cracked each vertebrae in turn. With a new resolve and modified plan, I started again.

I was sick, it wasn't really my fault. The ship surgeon couldn't help me and had only tossed me into the slather-resistant chamber where I chucked for hours on end. The only effect my imprisonment had was to make me even more ill, the scent of regurgitated slather and melting adamantite combining into a pungent brew that set off the ship's toxicant alarms again and again. It wasn't like I'd wanted to piss off the captain, I wasn't chucking on purpose!

Less whiner more narrator, less whiner...

Of course it took the three chosen more time to prepare the island without me; by the time we were hovering over the hu-man planet I was too weak to function. The motion sickness had passed but my shards were so weakened by my own slather that I could barely chew much less mix epoxy and carry reinforcing rod. So I sat on the ship telepathing encouragement to my comrades in cold suits while they slaved over their task throughout each dark turn of the sun.

Why the scientists had chosen this Blurgforsaken planet was beyond me; it was so hot that we couldn't live outside of our protective gear save within a few kilometers of the planet's poles. And the water...there was water from horizon to horizon, enough to give any Schridling nightmares.

Why a messmate had fallen overboard one afternoon while dumping fecal matter and the moment he touched the surface of the sea, his body exploded into a quarkslon pieces. It may have been my dreaming this very end that had brought on my sickness; the days peering from the windows as we traversed the ocean in search of our target, and the communal shivers experienced while each of the crew imagined what horror would ensue if anything went wrong with our seldom used gravitons, forcing a splashdown into the big untidy.

But enough of the water, the tale had to do with a small piece of land within the great pool of death, and our attempt to use it to make the planet habitable to all of Schridlingkind.

The three had taken twenty turns of the sun to sink pylons deep enough, and another ten turns to fashion grapple bars atop them, strong enough to withstand the pressure of the tug. Had I been well enough to have been with them on the surface, the task would only have gone a little faster, but the result would retell no better.

We all had high hopes once the grapples had snaked from the belly of our craft and wound themselves into the sympatic slots carved into each grapple bar. Even the tug seemed to be on the mark as a loud pop was heard through the hull of the ship, and the three still on the island waved and cheered their approval, rolling their floppies in and out of their orifices like children at a spawnday party.

My guess, based on my limited scientific schooling is that our species' aversion to heat forced our scientists to deny the existence of the planet's molten core (increasingly neurotic beasts that we've become over time), and so they'd never contemplated the result of our flooding a mammoth metallic inferno chamber with frigid seawater.

But I can tell you that it was quite a sight for the first moments; the island lifting off the surface of the sea, its long triangular spike of stone trailing as we pulled it from the ocean floor as if it were a stalk of corn.

The start of destruction wasn't but a few microns after the whirlpool began, the formerly gentle Pacific swells vanishing into an ever larger blue-black hole as a plume of steam shot from its center, on track for the fourth planet in the system.

I thought to wave as my should have been workmates passed the ship's windows while on the front edge of the towering plume, swept as they were from where they'd been triumphantly standing; on the now disintigrated island. But they'd vanished in the blink of an eye, well before I could unfurl my floppy to properly salute their accomplishments. And so it goes, every time I try to be nice something......

Less whiner more narrator, less whiner...

Yes yes, we took off in a blaze, barely escaping the gravitational pull of the collapsing orb. Yes perhaps we should have stayed long enough to have reversed the process if it were possible. But I really don't think we had a chance once the plug had been pulled, the damn tub...err...sea was going to drain like it or not and nothing we could have done would have changed our bad luck.

"I would be happy to join another expeditionary force" I muttered in conclusion, knowing that there was really no point in offering a known failure's helping hand. But once I'd refocused my eye on the audience I knew I was doomed so I had little to lose through patronizing my heirarchs. There wasn't a dry eye in the house, all my blather had done was to have rememorialized "the three who vaporized", and remade myself into "the one that got away".

Thank Blurg I'm the best oogmutt chef in the 6 planet system or my floppy would have long since seen the bottom of a circular file and my shards would have been tinked from my octagonal orifice one by one. As it is, I have all my slatherables intact, and if it weren't for the slotted and pinned shackles on my tail, I'd be living a fine and free life.

It wasn't my fault!! But of course, you know that. Oh, and pass the Degleck please, my sweetshard needs a fix! I always get hungry aften spinning a tale.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Another Cog in the Grinding Gears of Life

I’ve always struggled with what I do becoming too much of who I am.

It wasn’t an issue when I was young. Until I was 23 I was just trying to keep up with eating and shelter and gas and the occasional drugs. Well ok, the drugs stopped when I turned 21 but then I got married and one money sink turned into another. I worked out of necessity, romance was for getting laid not ordering life. I guess I took some pride in my cab driving. I had guts at least, working overnights and in the worst neighborhoods in town. Honestly I’m not sure guts were involved. I wanted to believe I was putting my money where my mouth was, that I was walking the walk, doing for the poor and the minorities what no one else would. But at this late date I wonder if I just had a death wish, that my lack of fear was just a replacement drug for those chemicals I would no longer do.

The rest of my youth was spent on whoever would grant me payroll. I washed and I cooked and I cleaned furnaces and I took care of horses and I shoveled shit in oh so many ways, and each one I romanticized a little but only to make them palatable, so I wouldn’t choke on the knowledge that I was nothing; just another dirtbag in a world of replacement bags.

And then I took my one chance out of the malaise, trade school, a job that required no heavy mental lifting but only a vocal gift and a smooth delivery. Though the finances were hell and my work life at the time worse yet, I sailed through school, graduated early and got my first job in a middle market, unlike most of my co graduates who found themselves in towns that couldn’t be found on a world atlas.

Without adding the boring details too many have already heard, things didn’t go particularly well for me, except for what was most important. I thought I was really good. Sure, I fought the feeling and I had plenty of reason to as I generally compared myself to the best in the country so I always came up quite short; but on those rare occasions when I could be honest with myself about my time in grade, my current place in the universe, I could be momentarily struck by euphoria.

Perhaps you won’t know what I mean when I say it’s hard to explain what discovering you could be something when all you ever knew was you’re nothing, did to me. When I was simply another mule in the train there were no self esteem issues, my mind was completely free to daydream about life as a superhero or a crossbowman in the army of Jean D’Arc. But when I started to hit the jackpot, attract attention, raise my sights, I opened up a gaping hole in my defense system. Suddenly, who I was had more and more to do with what I did, and whether I was a hero or a bum actually made a difference to me. So naturally, the wheels came loose as the imperfections piled up and eventually I gave up trying to pull a trackless train through the mud.

As luck would have it, just as I was rolling over to play dead, a job was opening within my eyesight that was made for me. The applicant couldn’t be too smart, would need to be willing to take plenty of verbal abuse, and be happy with not enough pay to cover his expenses. I was talked into applying after arguing against it for hours, and that same night I was sitting in a recording control room trying to figure out just what the hell had happened.

We’ll skip the historical minutia, but a few things are important. In spite of the fact that I didn’t really have a clue as to what I was doing physically, my work won four national award within the first six months. I had taste I guess, instinct maybe, more show than go. And over the next 26 years I used the exact same “talent” to get me by, virtually ignoring the science, muddling down the road with my shoes tied together and with a straightjacket for a waistcoat.

I ran a business. I wasn’t good at it as businessmen go, but I did afford many talented but unsung people a chance to test their dreams on someone else’s dime, and I took a lot of pride in that. Too much no doubt, as those that were recipients of what I considered my small scale benevolence would tell you. Whatever it was, was never enough; but I had this vision of myself as a good guy, a conduit, a step on the stairway to heaven, and that sustained me when others were intimating that I should be thinking as I once had, that I am nothing, only a new and improved version of it. Only, no fantasy lasts forever.

I had a love/hate relationship with my career. Imagine yourself thinking you’re a dummy really, a cog in the grinding gears of life, and suddenly you come out as a quite impressive man, a master of a craft. Yea, it went to my head. I bought my press, until people reminded me that I was just helping corporations sell more widgets to widget overstocked warehouses, and not actually creating art like I’d have loved to have thought.

I cowrote and created 70 some songs in that time period, not one of which I’d play for you today, not one that wouldn’t make me cringe at this point. But you should have seen me then. I was in the zone. I could write, lyricize, arrange, staff and produce a working piece of music from nothing in 24 hours, and never once was I told to change what I’d done. It was my moment of glory, even if I was the only person to have recognized it. I was somebody, even though I had help, and sometimes a lot of it, I was still in charge, I was still the engine of the train. My father, my siblings, most of my friends and even myself for the better part of my life… all wrong. It was an amazing time, made even more amazing by having people hire me for my talent in SPITE of my edgy personality and bad habits.

And then, it just faded, like dreams do; the morning came, I opened my eyes, and the sunlight drove out any doubt that the real world was back.

When Lyn and I decided to downsize as health was making our lifestyle too expensive, we rented a huge dumpster. There would be no space for what was, only for what would be. I had a basement full of magnetic tape. Interviews with jazz players and blues legends, mixes of video tape parodies masquerading as serious attempts at corporate sucking up, and stacks of 2 inch, 24 track tapes of songs produced over a 26 year career. It likely would have filled an average closet top to bottom. In the pile were gallons of forehead blood, shed for the cause, a million and one laughs and a few dozen hugs both grateful and elated, a boxful of my talent multiplied by my eccentricity, and pretty much every ounce of self pride that was available to me at that moment. In retrospect, it was not much; at that moment, it was who I was, not what I did, not a cog, but a wheel unto itself.

I didn’t sweat over it. I didn’t cry, I didn’t pout, Santa’s just fine with me. I really had no choice. I chucked it all. My two divorces had forced me to toss away years of my past, these were just a few more. I saved one cassette tape, and had the good sense once I got here to duplicate it onto a hard drive. But it’s just a representation of a few decades of concentration, just a handful of sonic photographs.

I sometimes think about it, my identity riding in the bottom of a steel container on the way to a landfill somewhere. I suppose I feel melancholy about it, as in I wish that dream had gone on and on. But I wish my superhero dreams would go on and on too. Or that one about me being elected president of the Dementia Bard’s Guild. It’s sort of an apples to platypus comparison I guess, a real life against taking the form of a fantasy character, but sometimes when life hands you lemons, you have to make a replacement defensive shield, so you don’t get citric acid in your eye. Or something like that…

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Lilla Röd Kyrka

Like a Carl Larsson painting but 300 years before his time, the wedding party gathered outside the little red "kirka" for the post nuptual celebration; these 28 families who had come to honor a new life, the solemn pairing of two of their own.

The couple stood centered amongst their friends and family as kisses, handshakes and gratitude moved from guest to guest; the receiving line more a clump than a queue, a group needing to stave off a bit of the early spring chill.

A dozen children wound around the churchyard maypole, each holding a streamer attached to the finial of the post, and dancing this way and that...over and under and over again, braiding the multicolored ribbon into a rainbowed canopy that wedding gifts might be protected from an unexpected spring rain.

A roaring blaze, a cooking fire, a handful of smoking pipes kept fingers and toes from turning blue while the ladies of
Karlstad church moved foodstuffs from individual cabins into full view of a hungry and cheering audience. They surrounded the long table, soon laden with pickled cod and roast pork, fresh herring and fruktsuppe; and flatbreads baked that morn by the elder women too excited to leave their hands idle.

A punch of lingonberry, cloudberry and currant bubbled in its cast iron pot, hung carefully over stacked coals the color of autumn maple leaves. And quite nearby, the bride's grandmor stirred her gift of rommegrot, her sour cream pudding topped with sugar and cinnamon that would signal the end of the feast and the beginning of the couple's first sleigh ride as man and wife.

While the smorgasbord was prepared the manfolk moved within their Sunday homes as well, each returning with handfuls of tools and furs, molded lead nails and blown glass trinkets, and handcrafted furniture built weeks in advance as offerings to the 29th family born of this clan.

They ate and sang and laughed the afternoon away, the temperature dropping each hour that passed, turning dripping thaw into sturdy, glittering icicles that reached to the ground from the eaves of the church.

As desert was spooned into steaming mugs, the talented chose their weapons and music sprang from plucked psalteries and hardanger fiddles, the children slapping a prone, hollowed log in accompaniment as if Viking drum masters calling the oarsmen to time each stroke.

A round ensued, a traditional Swedish dance with multiple raised knees and flailing skirts of powder blue and yellow; clapping hands and wide smiles moving the participants to give their all to properly entertain the wedded couple now stepping into their horse drawn sleigh.

The ride was nigh, the
Lake Vanern ice tested and its covering of snow moved aside for the grand circle; a victory lap if you will, a custom practiced for as long as the elders could remember.

The sleigh moved out followed closely by the revelers, a pied piper affair with musicians still playing, children running alongside and older couples dancing in wide flourish to keep up with the train now jingling a few hundred yards from shore.

As this was in the early 1600's and I am simply creating a picture of a story once told me, I can only imagine the sound of splintering ice and the frightened screams of all within its range. The four heavy set men who'd earlier tested their weight against all odds were no balanced match for two horses and sleigh, and the newlyweds it carried.

The placard says 64 people died that day, elders and children alike, as well as the couple in whose honor the parade had been held. But this tragedy and the rich, beautiful and endearing custom that had precipitated it would never have been written of, if not for a happenstance some 200 years later.

In the late 1800's a fisherman, dragging the bottom in search of a big fat catch, snagged a wire crown. As it was only a few hundred yards from the now expanded church, he quickly rowed to shore and called out for the minister in hopes of an explanation or at least, an educated guess.

Running to the church vault, the two poured through records searching for what the pastor knew he'd seen mention of while browsing church lore one boring day. And lo and behold, a drawing of this very crown sprang from the tattered and dusty tomes.

A pewter wire braid with 5 slight, pointed peaks; and dangling from each peak, a tiny pearl, drilled through and tethered by single golden strands. The wedding crown, made for the church faithful by a clan artisan, worn by every bride to take the altar in the little red wooden church surrounded by the 28 scattered Sunday homes from the time of its raising, until the day the ice would no longer hold its celebrants.

It sits in a glass case, now polished and primped and protected from the elements within the oldest portion of this centuries old building. It's well off the main road, and hardly noticeable to any who are not actively seeking history as my father and I were some 15 years ago.

Just a slightly bigger, but still little red church; a sparse but tasteful garden adorning its face and a crumbling graveyard to its rear that spreads its moss covered granite stones and rusted cast iron crosses right to the edge of Lake Vanern in central Sweden.

A pretty picture outside; A truly tragic...but somehow still incredibly sweet story inside. I could damn near see her freshly scrubbed face below the crown; the long blonde braids and twinkling blue eyes; her radiant smile and the sound of a muffled giggle as she took her place as Lara next to her Zhivago and snapped the horses to attention. Two lovers...together...to the last.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Love and Other Oft' Times Meaninglessisms

Meaninglessness is a nearly meaningless word on its face of course.  It’s based on opinion, conjecture, a certain sanctimonious arrogance. Something that might be meaningless to you may mean everything to me and vice versa. But there are contexts in which the word meaningless has an abundance of meaning, and one of them is in people’s use of language. For this example I’ll need to use English, or at least the American version thereof; not because I consider it superior or more well suited to exemplifying a lack of meaning, but because I’m uneducated and can only count to ten in a dozen non English languages. While it might be entertaining to find meaninglessness in the connection between the English word “sex” and it’s Euro counterpart, the number six, it would be a very short paper indeed unless we explored the possibility (for instance) that the use of the number 69 as a naughty slogan had some secret relationship to a Norwegian girl named “Nio”  who’s schoolmates thought she was a bit too “Sexty” for her own good and thus wrote a folk song that talked of Sexty Nio which, because of its complex and unplayable melody became less a song and more an oral history, thus adding the “oral” dimension to the phrase’s conceptualization; and then once translated the longhand description of sexty girl Nio's oral proclivities turned into the shorthand number sixty nine and forever the two were conjoined.

Now granted, some scholars would argue that the joining of nine, six and sex is due only to the visual imagery conjured by the scribing of said numbers in sequence; that is: 6 and 9, as in 69. They would offer that the big round circles on each of the figures represent the rather large buttocks of the common American (or so they would since they need to use someone as examples and Americans are the biggest targets), and that the elongated portions of the numbers appear to be graceful necks, like those of Asians perhaps, or those African women who wear rings around their Adam’s apples. If they are right in their observations, say many who take issue with that line of reasoning, that would mean that the numbers 6 and 9 in combination represent fat people sniffing each other’s butts, thus leading one critic of the theory of sixty nine snifflism to cry out “I am not an animal! I don’t sniff butts!” As you know, the last portion of that angry diatribe was discarded by the press, and then its origin was forgotten until Michael Jackson, the American pop singer and child lover extraordinaire bought the bones of a man with a serious disease and when people speculated he had purchased them to chew on them he proclaimed “I am not an animal!”, or so say some reporters for the English newspaper “the Guardian.”

But wait! I’ve gone far afield! This paper was created as an expose of the misuse of language unto it’s meaninglessness, and though I may have already put that puppy to bed many times over I will step further yet into the realm of the human wasteland of worthless words and phrases. To whit…

“This will hurt me more than it will you.”

There are few more meaningless phrases than this. In anecdotal context, my behind stung “like a mother” (another meaningless phrase, but being somewhat colorful lessens its vapidness) when you spanked me, and while you might have been sad, you could turn that emotional crapola off like the tv set; I, on the other hand, couldn’t sit down for a week! Now explain to me how it hurt you worse!? Nuff said.

Another pile of meaninglessness is found wandering around live journal and its assorted socially networking brethren. It’s a well intentioned pile, and I’m only making example of the pile and not its pilers as I’ve been known to pile quite a pile myself at times so I can hardly stand in judgment of people who pile, but only the process of piling…. as exemplified here in a recreation of a commonly used preface to a writing group entry:

“The story that follows is really a piece of crap. I didn’t edit, it sucked so bad I couldn’t even proof it without getting vertigo and puking all over my history notes and my dog Fluffy. I wouldn’t have posted it here but you said I have to post or die and dying scares me cuz I have no idea what the dress code is in Hell. I know you won’t like it, it put my mother to sleep while I was reading it to her over the cell phone while she was driving her car and she crashed into a tree and died! But please don’t be mean. Thanks a lot!”

There is a possibility that the person that wrote the above meant exactly what they said. About the same chance as a frog becoming a prince; or of my writing a sentence without at least three punctuation symbols, intimating that I actually do know what I’m doing even though… I haven’t a clue.

It’s more likely that the author of said “story of crap” actually kinda likes the tale and hopes that no one will notice so long as they talk it down in no uncertain terms. The idea is that if they like it and someone slams it, they will have verification that they are actually the scourge of the earth and need to be removed from the planet for the good of all humankind, and Lord knows while we all feel that way much of the time, it’s oogy, and therefore, to be avoided. The same paragraph might be more truthful (and so, more meaningful) written thusly:

“I like this story or I wouldn’t post it duh! But I’m kinda afraid that I’m in my own little world and don’t really know it;  and what I like, no one else does. So I’m going to set the bar as low as I can so once you turn the page and begin to read you can only look upward. Then if you really like it you’ll hug me until I can’t breathe, and if you hate it, you can at least congratulate me on having the good sense to have known it sucked in advance, and because you can read between the lines that I’m an emotional cripple and you don’t want to risk having me blow my brains out if you try to be constructively critical in a negative fashion. Either way I rule!”

But let’s get to what can be the most powerful of all meaninglessnesses… the oft overused phrase “I love you.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love the words “I love you” when they actually mean something, but in many, perhaps most cases what they mean is “I want you to be there for me on a moment’s notice, and I’d like to offer these meaningless words in trade”.

Now I can only deal within my own experience and I’d admit, my results are mixed. When I was young “I love you” might have meant I was about to be smothered in gramma’s breasts as she hugged me until I turned blue. Or, as in a previous illustration dealing with “hurt me worse”, “I love you” might mean I was about to get whacked upside the head and the whack-er wanted absolution for their deed before the whack-ing. Many times I found “I love you” to mean “you are the last person on earth I can trust, please don’t leave me”; an interpretation I was well able to parlay into a lifetime of martyrdom.

“I love you” might mean “thanks for the really expensive present” or “C’mere, I need an orgasm” or even “I’m about to ask you a really big favor so be aware I know how to use guilt to my advantage.”

Again, scholars might argue that having a meaning other than the actual meaning of the words in their contextual combination, is not at all “meaningless”, but only “meaningful in a special, secret way”. But those that love language as I do know, “I love you” means “sure honey, I’d be happy to get you a beer, all you have to do is ask.” So if the intent behind the phrase isn’t backed up by a trip to the fridge, “to love” is meaningless, much like the phrase, “let me check my schedule and I’ll get back to ya.”


Love’s Behest

It's less my ears that know the truth,
as words of whispered love you've spent;
Sincere in every fashion but the one that moves an inch
You've sung me other's lyric
as if written at your love's behest
but asked to prove one stanza, not a note will leave your clinch

It's less my eyes that spot your mood,
(indifference has no special look;
you're worthy as an actor, may an Oscar find your hand)
I note the signs of boredom
like a written wall between our lives
Our kingdom and its castle, made of quickly drying sand

It's more my heart that has the skill
to read between each scribbled line
It tells me we've but moments left, and warns me not to cry
It's I who leaves this sinking ship
that you might steer the deep alone
I'll not be turned to willing ghost, before your vacant eyes