566. John Prine & Kindred Spirits

Image result for john prine picturesChatting with Round Bale outside the Good Times dance venue in the weakly wafting breeze of an unseasonably warm night last Saturday, he was conflicted between keeping his paid for ticket appointment with John Prine at Merriweather Post Pavilion or a favorite Blues artist in a local municipality’s Bluesfest. “Can you feel that wafting?”

“Not yet, dude. You may be absorbing all of it. Maybe I lack the ionic magnetism to attract air molecules that have free will.”

“You mean iconic? Let me move. There. Feelin’ it now?”

“Oh, yeah. Nice, you icon of sweaty swing dancers. You are the sexiest white man in the roomba since Barry White passed. Last year’s dance was unbearably hot, remember? In the 90’s.”

“Yep… wait, Barry White was Black.”

“Duh, it is self evident that he was white. Barry…White.”

“No man! It’s like Al Green. He’s Black. It’s just his last name.”

“Are you nominally racist?”

“No!! I have nothing against people of color!”

“A nominal racist discriminates against people’s names. Like Clint Black. Do you hate Pink? The Moody Blues?  They can’t help the color of their last names.”

“Uh, okay, moving on…But you gotta sweat to sing the blues, brother. I want to see them both, but I have to work some time. It’s a time issue not a money issue, so it is.”Image result for old guys sweating outside club pictures (He loves a good  pun too.)

“Sure. I saw John Prine way long ago when we were both young, at the Kennedy Center with Steve Goodman. Two great American song writers in their prime. Back then I had all the time in the world and no money to pay for parking so I had to walk sixteen miles each way, but it was a good show. Funny how that works out.”

“Yeah, love Prine… Illegal Smile, Spanish Pipe Dream, Sam Stone, Angel from….” His seemingly photographic memory reminded me of one of my dearest departed friends.

My mind continued to wander down Prine Street this morning, so I told Alexa to play John Prine while I trod the treadmill. Mmmmm. So many associations built in to each song as the notes and lyrics scrolled backwards in time, skied uphill into the swampy springs of my emotional memory banks. Up comes Mark Craver, who personally thanked me for introducing him to John Prine’s music. He often made Prine lyric references, as I recall. “About Rocky Mountain Time” touched him, though I never imagined why or where back then. Related image

The station was empty
The trains were all gone
I reached in my pocket
And I wanted for dawn

The clock played drums
And I hummed the sax
And the wind whistled down
The railroad tracks
Hey three for a quarter
One for a dime
I’ll bet it’s tomorrow
By Rocky Mountain time

Mark never came right out and said what he was thinking or feeling. You could hang out for hours or days before his needs were un-muddied. Deep waters are like that. In those depths it’s so dark and inscrutable. Funny, the first thing I thought of when we toured the Hemingway house in Key West was Burly, his affectionate nick name bestowed by Jimmy Wilkie. Mark would have been in reverent awe, I’m sure. Kindred spirits do that when they meet. Imagining Hemingway in each room was harder than seeing Mark at the typewriter all night. That was easy for me. Papa fits both men who were bigger than life, stronger than oxen, and unforgettable. The words fail to explain how I wished he was standing next to me on those Hemingway steps.Related image

Your Flag Decals Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore and Yes, I Guess They Ought To Name A Drink After You, resonate as bitter favorites with Mark, but so many still hum happily in my neurons with attachment to a smoke filled apartment living room in Williamsburg…  too long ago to touch. Which sucks another Prine song through the splintery knothole of time into my consciousness…Related image

I hate graveyards and old pawn shops
For they always bring me tears
I can’t forgive the way they rob me
Of my childhood souvenirs
Memories they can’t be boughten
They can’t be won at carnivals for free
Well it took me years
To get those souvenirs
And I don’t know how they slipped away from me.Image result for pawn shop pictures
I don’t linger in pawn shops or graveyards. Though I’m sure they are full of tragic stories, they can wait for my business. I have a green and white Navajo vase with a little cactus in it. Mark’s mom gave it to my wife when he lived with us too briefly before we got in the children business. And there’s the Dire Straits album of his that was mistakenly filed in a Fleetwood Mac sleeve that I have somewhere at home. Along with his books and some emails, these are my cremains of him. The rest are scattered around Walden Pond. Yeah, he was like that: brutally loyal to his values. Thoreauly.Image result for Massachusetts walden pond pictures

Way, way back when I was 17 years old I took a trip to England. I met two Aussies and one English bloke in a hostel in Edinburgh, Scotland around New Year’s Eve. The Aussies I have forgotten, but the other fellow Rob Campbell invited me back to London for the final days before I flew back to the U.S. We rolled our own cigarettes dipped in hash oil and drank bitters at pubs with his mates. He talked American music with me, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Dylan, and others I’m sure. When I got home, I mailed him John Prine’s 1971 album and some other forgotten disc. He loved Prine. Kindred spirits have this thing of getting one another.Image result for london in 1973 pictures

Mark was a good listener as I recall. He never shut me down when I blew my baloney around. “He’d say ‘sure, sure’ and ‘yeah man'” when I’d be talking just to hear myself think. After quitting my job as a proofreader in D.C. at a Big 8 accounting firm on K Street, I was jabbering with my wife in our Vienna, Virginia house. Mark was living with us temporarily. My wife said I should go into teaching. Mark agreed. And that was all I needed to move forward with my first career. Funny thing is that a year or two later Mark did the same thing and became a teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia. He did not need my affirmation, but I sure needed his. Burly was like having a Sherman tank behind you.Image result for man in front of sherman tank picture

Mark could crush you with one hand while petting your dog with the other. He loved dogs, probably as much as he loved people. Dogs don’t betray you. But let me conclude with the chorus to yet another favorite JP song.

Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger,
And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day.
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello.”

Burly was a massive white oak tree in my history. I guess today I just wanted to say Hello in there. Hello.Related image

270. Grateful Migratory Striations

Where to begin?  Whew, take a week off and the shucking pile just gets higher, blogoysters. I have work to do but also a sacred duty to fulfill for my three dedicated (or is it dessicated?) followers. So, though my suitcase remains packed still and laundry is unwashed, billing is yet another pile, emails await responses, voice mails too… I slog on and blog on with Tales of Brave Ulysses pouring out of my generic office speakers as acid reflux threatens my lower esophagus. I will shuck on, searching for the teal blue pearl of blog lore. Keep on shucking, bruthas and sistas. Somewhere in the pile of life’s oysters is that one micro-treasure waiting for you to find her. Pearls, I think, are female. Don’t you agree? Of course you do.  Men don’t wear pearls. Yet the hideous oyster that births the pearl is at best a-sexual. I mean, there does not seem to be any jiggification possible between crustaceous shellfish. It’s just too crusty to even think about. Someone school me here. Where is a marine biologist when you need one?

Stuff goes a-wandering or gets lost, which is not a bad thing all the time. Good stories come from such migrations, I think. I mean, take Ulysses for example. Come on, if he hadn’t run off to the city of Troy, why would we name a dismal U.S. president for him in the 19th century? His Greek name was Odysseus, and certainly all my erudite blogafficinados know an odyssey when they see one. It’s a Honda mini van and a long intrepid journey with no guarantee of safe return. And the adjective odacyious has no definition in Dictionary. com, but fear not: If you repeat foolishness long enough, it becomes doctrine. Just trust me and keep on shuckin’.

Anyway, I was thinking about such things recently and about my old friend Mark Craver. We went to Hayfield High School together and were supposed to graduate in 1974 because our senior rings said that on them. Both of ours were aquamarine stones because our birthdays were hours apart. Anyway, (my second anyway in this paragraph if you don’t count the one in this parenthetical offset (… and why are you counting? Huh?)), I graduated a year early and went off on an intrepid journey, aka odyssey, to Merry Old England to see my former girlfriend in the pre-internet and pre-personal computers era. (See, I didn’t know that she was my former girlfriend until I got there and saw the proverbial writing on the wall.) I’m not saying that we could have broken up 4o years later on her Facebook wall, but most likely it would have gone down like that…

Image result for high school class ring pictures

“I’m like not as into you as like you’re into me, and I have like a line of cute boys at my door, so like we’re so done like mold on burnt toast. Unfriend. PFA. Persona non grata.”

So in 1973 I flew the big aeroplane to Heathrow Airport outside of London and took a couple of buses and taxis to Bury St. Edmunds to be near my former honey bee over the holidays. I was as welcome as the flu in the church nursery. Awkward does not quite cover it. In any event as I settled into the Dickensian Angel Hotel, I washed my hands over an old sink and went to bed, leaving my high school ring on the bathroom shelf. I never saw it again. But shed no tears, my friend.

About 25 years later a letter from England arrived at my alma mater. It was the late 1990’s as I recall. My buddy Mark was teaching English at our shared alma mater, and that almost matters. The principal read this letter regarding a 1974 Hayfield High School ring with an aquamarine stone. This savvy guy recalled that Mark had graduated in 1974, so he called Craver in.

“Hey, didn’t you graduate in ’74?”

“Sure, so did about 600 other folks.”

“Well this guy says the ring has the initials BFS carved in the band.”

“Oh, that’s Burrito Special’s ring. His middle name is Frank.”

“Okay, well, we got that cleared up.”

“You want me to call Burrito?”

“Actually, the guy in England doesn’t seem interested in reuniting the ring with the rightful owner. He just wants to know where it originated, I think. You know those Limeys.”

“Well, okay. I guess we’ll just keep the ironic wrapper and the Boinking Brit can have the candy bar.”

“Um, oh yeah, I forgot that you were a poet.”

So later that year or the next I was told this story from my majestic friend. We had a good chuckle, and that’s what matters. More than some silly ring, I heard my friend’s voice ring in my ear again. I did not know then that I’d lose Mark in just a few years. Now the chuckle is all that’s left of the story we chuckled over, as I exit my bedroom and whisper “Love you, Crave” to the dark room, it’s  a hollow consolation to look at his books and the bookmark with his life dates beneath a whale.  He loved Moby Dick, folks. “Argh, the white whale blows thar off the bow!!”

“Our souls are like those orphans whose unwedded mothers die in bearing them: the secret of our paternity lies in their grave, and we must there to learn it.”
Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Crave identified with that leviathan and the mad whaler captain, with the rough and barbarous places where life is often lived. He was Ishmael and I pray that God’s promise for Ishmael extends to my Burly friend who, when I think deeply about it, was/is the teal blue pearl of the greatest value.
Image result for pictures of a psychedelic echo




195. burly legacies: nakashima, pete seeger and mark craver

Big people cast long shadows in life and even longer ones in death. Big personas are not perfect; rather, they’re landmarks for observant travelers who find existential confirmation from these monumental persons. Like a huge white oak tree in a vast field or an enormous saguaro cactus in the sprawling desertscape, great people become compass points for the rest of us to navigate life by. There is a “foundness” in our fondness for these characters. We feel safer, stronger, and braver in their presence, whether it is through direct contact or not.

George Nakashima was a great man who spoke through wood. His biography/philosophy of life, The Soul of a Tree, is worth reading for inspiration. He was a man of many countries and influences, and ultimately a great artist. An educated American architect with a master’s degree from M.I.T., nonetheless he was interned for part of WWII because he was also Japanese.

“Nakashima’s home, studio and workshop near New Hope, Pennsylvania, was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in August 2008. One of Nakashima’s workshops, located in Takamatsu City, Japan, currently houses a museum and gallery of his works. In 1984, George Nakashima had the opportunity to purchase the largest and finest walnut log he had ever seen, and sought to use the immense planks to their fullest potential. He dreamed then that if Altars for Peace were made for each continent of the world, as centers for meditation, prayer and activities for peace, the world would be a better place. Over the past decade, his furniture has become ultra-collectible and his legacy of what became known as the “free-edge” aesthetic influential.” Wikipedia entry.

Simple beauty. He worked with the wood’s natural knots and burls.

Pete Seeger is a legendary figure who outloved his enemies. His banjo motto said, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender”.  He maintained a singular focus for nine decades of life, always affirming life and freedom. I can’t even begin to outline the achievements of this great man. Funny how he was a peacenik and a believer in the oneness of humanity, and the sanctity of nature and human life. He used words and music like George Nakashima used planes and chisels.  Maybe you’ve heard a few of his most influential songs.

“Whose Side Are You On?”

“Goodnight Irene”

“If I Had A Hammer”

“We Will Overcome”

“Wimoweh, The Lion Sleeps Tonight”

“Where Have All The Flowers Gone?”

“Turn, Turn, Turn”

“Worried Man Blues”

It’s ironic that he withdrew from Harvard after failing a class. Consequently, he went on the road to educate himself about American people, music and life. Like Nakashima, his life was interrupted, twisted into knots, thank God.  He did not have his  freedom taken from him; instead, he grabbed for it and gobbled it down.

 Like Nakashima Pete Seeger’s patriotism was tested. He was a communist at one time, which sounds odd… an American Communist.  I believe he evolved into a humanitarian and left the political theory behind him, outliving Joe McCarthy at the House Un-American Activities Committee and J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI. Great men have plenty of haters, but heroes must have villains to overcome, right? John Lennon’s line, “Time wounds all heels” comes to mind. Whose legacy is worth reading now? Not the haters and fear mongers. Who winds up on the right side of history? You don’t know until it gets here. Still, some folks seem like clairvoyant soothsayers. Perhaps that’s because they hold to truth and beauty. Their view of the future is not so different from the best of the past.

Mark Craver was my friend from high school days. He cast a long shadow in many lives, as a student, a friend, a teacher, a writer, and just as a human being. His nickname from the days of Lew Welge, Sam Ray, and Jim Wilkie was “Burly”. I think Wilkie tagged him with that name. Funny that the concept of burls fits well in each of these guys’ lives.

“A burl is a tree growth in which the grain has grown in a deformed manner. It is commonly found in the form of a rounded outgrowth on a tree trunk or branch that is filled with small knots from dormant buds.

A burl results from a tree undergoing some form of stress. It may be caused by an injury, virus or fungus. Most burls grow beneath the ground, attached to the roots as a type of malignancy that is generally not discovered until the tree dies or falls over. Such burls sometimes appear as groups of bulbous protrusions connected by a system of rope-like roots. Almost all burl wood is covered by bark, even if it is underground. Insect infestation and certain types of mold infestation are the most common causes of this condition.”  Wikipedia entry.

So, if you are following the analogy, Blogestations, things of beauty are born out of deformity, dormant buds, crushed dreams, even malignancies. If you’ve ever seen a good burl in the woods, it resembles tree cancer. Yet, this is where wood artisans find the material for gorgeous swirls and crazy patterns in their work. It’s hard to work on a lathe when the grain cyclones through a hunk of hard wood, but that’s where the jackpot is.

Mark absorbed pain, I think, just as he absorbed knowledge and beauty. His photographic memory contained many unforgettable uglies right alongside sterling moments. Mark speaks in a low voice in my memory banks. He died in his sleep ten years ago. I recall the memorial service at George Mason University. Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, academics, young, old, bikers, fishermen, farmers, men and women, straight and gay, artists and audience were all there, maybe 400 folks who loved Mark. On the drive over to his sister’s house, which was further west, I drove into the glorious winter sunset hoping it would not set, that the darkness would not come. Like Dylan Thomas’s voice urges his dying father,

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on that sad height, Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Yeah, well Crave, Pete, George,

Fellas, that light does indeed die and we all go into the good night.

Thanks for your legacies.

172. Reunions like Raw onions will make you cry

Image result for crying onion picturesSo I got a letter in the mail asking me to save the date next year for my high school’s 40th reunion. That’s right, Bloggapillars, 1974 was 40 years ago. I have not been to one since my fifth year reunion, which was a loud dud. I recall a couple of loud mouths and a couple of very drunk losers who seemed to be on a long losing and drinking streak. I took my girlfriend of the time, who is now my wife. She was unimpressed as I was also. I think we left early.

Image result for formal invitations pictures

And now an invitation comes in the mail. “The class of 1974 wants you…” I don’t know how they got my address, though in the era of Facebook, Google maps, and the NSA there is no privacy. I put the letter in the trash. My wife fished it out. “Let’s go. It will be fun. We can dress up and dance.” I wished her well and encouraged her to have a good time. She could tell my forgotten classmates of my untimely death and perhaps get a few phone numbers. But she was not easily dissuaded. (Oh no, I thought, let’s not make something that does not matter as much as a worm’s whisker into a showdown about what’s good for me.) “It will be good for you”, she nudged.

“My high school has never contacted me for a reunion”, she added, as if that gave her justification for forcing me to attend my 40th high school reunion. I thought back… I didn’t even graduate from my high school, technically. I received my now misplaced diploma from there, but I actually graduated from the county night school program at Thomas Edison High School. Maybe I should look up the green card Guatemalans in my night classes or the stoners I rode back and forth with. Hmmm, we smoked on our breaks and chattered about concerts and beer. The long and short of it was that I disliked high school so much that I went to day and night school to get out of there a year early. Now I’m supposed to go back to celebrate something I despised to begin with? No way. Plus there was my brother’s experience at the last one.

My older brother Steve looks a lot like me, only younger, which is not right. While I taught in public schools and grayed under stress, he worked for the federal government and did not. Once, at a restaurant in Frederick, Maryland, we were exchanging kids for a week away from their homes. We had dinner and he and I both went to the cashier to pay the bill. I said, “Let me have it.” He insisted and held the check. The cashier said, in front of my daughter and niece, “Oh how cute. You want to buy your dad’s dinner.” Well the girls laughed, no, screeched at the irony. My brother called me “Pops” and the story became part of our family lore. Anyway, he married one of my classmates, Michelle, who faithfully attended all the reunions over the years. A few years ago Steve told me that a slightly drunk and angry woman came up to him and blasted him for my sins. Fortunately for him, he explained that he was not me. Sadly for all concerned, I have not the faintest recollection of this girl/woman. So there’s one more reason not to attend a function I had no desire to attend without handcuffs and straight jacket attire while under the influence of rohypnol.

Image result for disunity pictures

Union comes from “uni” which means one and is the root of “unity”. I had a lot of experiences in high school. Unity was not one of them. There was no oneness among 650 students per class. Funny, though. Many years later my buddy Mark Craver was teaching at our high school when a letter arrived from England inquiring about a high school ring from 1974. The writer wanted to know if this was the home of the Hawks, and if someone could verify that the ring did in fact come from that school. The principal called Craver down and showed him the letter. Mark said, “C’mon Man. Over 600 kids were in our graduating class!” Then the principal read the next page that gave my initials carved on the inside. Craver said, “Yeah, that would be Burrito Special.” However, no one in that story was interested in getting my lost ring with an aquamarine stone back into my rightful possession. Okay, add it up to global karma.

You see in 1973 and into early 1974 I had traveled to England and Scotland. I had lost my heart to my first girlfriend, who had moved there after junior year. I went over to visit her and resurrect a Daffy Duck sort of love. I’m thinking of the episode when the hunter tried to bake Daffy in an oven that needed a match to light the thing. Daffy kept blowing out the lit matches. I would have been the hunter and my girlfriend would have been Daffy. There was no hoped for reunion, my aghast readers. I know, her unending loss. She could be famous now as Mrs. Burrito Special. Loved by all and envied by many.

Image result for daffy duck in oven  pictures

Oh, well, it was a life changing trip anyway. I lost a lot of things in England and gave away other things willingly, never expecting to hear a word about any of them. But, wow, that was a reunion without any material connections to it. I liked the story more than that foolish ring. I do remember taking it off to wash my hands at the Angel Hotel in Bury St. Edmunds. Charles Dickens had written something there above a toilet, “It was the best of hotels. It was the worst of hotels.” I recall being so tired and jet lagged that I fell asleep in my lovely steak dinner after I had washed my hands and face. I was 17 and as dumb as Greg Allman. I was not drunk, I just hadn’t slept for 40 hours.

Oh, no, no, no. No reunions in the flesh. If Craver were there with my ring on his pinky like a mafia Don, well maybe I’d go. For the moment I’ll stick with trying to find unity in what I do know. You can’t cook a duck that won’t cooperate.

Image result for daffy duck in oven pictures