380. A Leonard Cohen kind of day

If you get bummed out listening to Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, or Neil Young, or relentless icy rain on the roof for that matter, and think you can’t get any lower, there is always Leonard Cohen, the Canadian opiate poet songwrier. He’s deadly beauty in commotion that flows out of a bottomless, abandoned coal mine throat. Ghosts and steam rise out of echoing shafts leading from his tortured, half-buried, dying heart. He reminds me of steam grates on a New York City winter day that fumigate passersby in mysterious vapor, where homeless folks try to sleep under funky layers of old newspapers fished out of trash cans… and Leonard is the heat source way down below, brewing bitter beer in Hell. I’d recognize his voice anywhere, “Hello again, Leonard. I thought that was you, man. Come on in.”

I used to listen to Leonard back in college, the early 70’s. If you were feeling edgy or sad, making a noose maybe, he could fix that by totally obliterating any residual hope or joy in just one song. He could kick the chair out from under your dead weight and leave you literally hanging. His song “Suzanne” used to slither through my consciousness and bump into dirty laundry piles of longing and melancholy.  I smoked filterless cigarettes then, having little concern about my health or future or anyone else’s. Leonard Cohen’s songs hung in the air like blue tobacco smoke in a sealed coffin room, permeating the clothes and furniture fabric there. They moved me off any easy rock and roll street I might have been dancing across, away from sensitive singer songwriters who offered love and hope and happiness. Instead, raw, slow Leonard lightning would hit my solar plexus and bring me just short of my knees, dry heaving at his truths… dark truths that would conjure tears I had no idea existed in me. Hauntingly sad, brutal beauty stirred in my guts, deep calling out to deep. It must be the foolish, self defeating Irish in me that sags and lingers over the Pieta or a lonely Corot landscape. I remain enthralled and fascinated by tragedy.

All those guys  come from up north, come to think of it. Leonard & Neil–Canada, Dylan–Minnesota, Lou Reed–New York. Hmmm, Joni Mitchell is Canadian also, and she could toss your soul into a deep well in two stanzas, ropeless and hopeless. I know depression rates rise at you move away from the equator, so consider this observation one more proof of the intersection of psychological pathology and geography. North of  42* N equals longitudinal attitudinal dysregulation. Jimmy Buffet comes from the Gulf Coast. And lots of other rockers came out of L.A., Southern California. I think you see the sunshine pattern, right?

Wet, gray, cold, low pressure days simply elapse like trash fires that smolder all day. Not enough oxygen or fuel to thrive. It’s hard to tell what time of day it is. 10 a.m. looks the same as 4 p.m. so your sense of time is skewed further, even though we turned the clocks ahead Sunday morning. My watch and car clock are still an hour behind. I’ll change them when I’m good and ready, okay? Maybe by default in the fall. I love the old cynical observation that even a broken clock is right twice a day. So even the clown who refuses to set his clocks ahead is correct twice a day? No, I guess he just remains behind. He’s not broken just stupid.

What is time anyway other than man’s feeble attempt to measure and then control nature? I’m sure Leonard Cohen has something to say about time. His song “Closing Time”, as a matter of opinion, feels like battery acid on the tongue and a fork in the eye. The video version is shot in black and white because the lyrics and mood are so not colorful. People and clothes and chairs float across the screen as he moans the fallen angel lyrics. Yeah, there is beauty in brokenness, but you need an unbroken background to appreciate the ruins. If all the world looked like Detroit or Syria, photographers would find other subjects for their lenses. These desolate places can strike visceral chords in us because we have seen pristine beauty, ordered and glorious. A little Detroit or Aleppo goes a long way, thank you.clostimevid

This is true of Leonard Cohen as well. Ruins and ghettos, devastation and devolution have no future. Cold, wet late winter days must yield to pure spring bursting forth Life’s force. It must and shall overcome the doom and gloom of desperation. It’s not any more naïve to believe in redemption than it is to believe in eternal damnation. The bitter existentialist says, “This is it. There is no more. Suck on it.” I prefer to wait and see for myself for what lies beyond. I expect one day Chernobyl will be the name of a nice medium sweet red wine and not a nuclear disaster story.

Then again there is Leonard’s “Hallelujah”, written way back in 1984. It winds through the historically religious use of hallelujah while also moving beyond exclusively religious context. This holy word is given common purpose, affirming the Life force beyond (or is it beneath?) King David, more like his adulterous passion. Leonard mingles the profane with the holy as he moves between choruses of Hallelujahs, claiming there are two versions of Hallelujah, a holy and a broken one. In his last verse Leonard seems to give a proclamation: despite or because of all his shortcomings, he will praise the Lord of Song with his broken hallelujah.

Yeah, and as usual he cuts your heart in two– one auricle for you, one for me. One ventricle for you, the other for me. Wine pumps through one side, formaldehyde cures the other. Leonard, you kill me… but please, will you sing this at my funeral?

Advertisements

355.The Dinner Party; The Force Awakens

You know how it goes at this time of year. Festive festivities pop up like mushrooms after a warm rain, given the necessary fungi enriching  ingredients. We were invited by our hosts to their house on the hill, which hovers above the Falling Spring like (may I say it out loud?) a Death Star. It was the Croquet Bunch from post #303. plus two, but for me it had a Star Wars sort of feel to it. I sensed almost from the get go that a power struggle between the Force and the Empire was about to unfold in the guise of a Christmas dinner party gathering amid gargoylish repartee. Over the hills and faraway I thought I heard Led Zepellin warning me not to cross that fateful threshold. I disregarded my Jedi intuitions and crossed over.

Image result for han solo picturesHan Solo (i.e. Jerry) greeted us at the decorated door. “Welcome. Let me take your coats.”

“Let me get it off, Jerry!! You are neither my tailor nor my urologist. Let go!!”

“I was just trying to be a good host.”

“Then get a good wooden hanger, and stop groping my leather jacket so fetishistically. Gosh!!”

I sensed cosmic tension and made a mental note to stay vigilant against being sucker punched. Time has not been good to Han, I noted. He is shorter than I recall, which is forgivable, but also more talkative, which is not. Also, he was wearing bright orange shorty socks without boots, shoes, or even flip flops. His mood was suspiciously upbeat. I wondered if Jimmy Buffet style free flowing pharmaceuticals had been ingested recently, not out of paranoia but from an over abundance of Jedi caution. I wondered, and still do.

As the other guests arrived, Princess Leia met them and whisked them off to the living room with the formal Christmas tree. Nerdy pictures were taken all around the Death Star as the ladies exchanged presents and pleasantries while the males drank solar brewed beer on leather couches. Han/Jerry demonstrated his dog’s mind control abilities by letting Sadie Dogstar in and out 17 times in 20 minutes, each time rewarding Sadie with a dog biscuit for coming back in the Death Star. Had I been training her, I would have given her the biscuit to leave and locked the door, but it was clear that the dog had Jedi mind meld skills and was Jerry/Han’s puppet master.Toward the end of the demonstration Sadie’s belly was dragging across the threshold and she could not continue, so Jerry went in and out at her almost intelligible bark commands. It was the most impressive set of animal skills I’ve ever witnessed outside of Sea World and Shamu playing chess while blindfolded.

Before we knew it, an intergalactic dinner was served (actually we did it buffet style since the robots and storm troopers had the night off) in the formal dining room. The eight of us ate, and ate eight servings of splendid choice chicken in a perky pineapple sauce brought by Barriss Offee, aka Snarky SueBeeDOOBeeDoo, and an almost too perfect salad presented by Toryn Farr/ SoosannNITRAM, who had been planning a clonespiracy for later in the evening. Not even their husbands knew that these dishes had been dastardly prepared by their brides to weaken the Force’s forces. Truly, we ate in a cloud of ignorance.

Much later, 8 pm on Pluto Central, the Plus Two arrived. By then we had descended into candlelight, setting the stage for what was to come. I sensed the conflict about to begin. My arm hair rose and sizzled with static electricity. It was Zoltran Magyar and his CoCounsel, Nancee WOnton Kenobi. The napkins were thrown down like gauntlets on the tablecloth as Princess Leia served decaf coffee all around.40. Sabe15. Darth Maul

Dan/ 3CPA and his droidmate SoosannNITRAM began the blog interrogation, as if we all did not know this moment was inevitable. Sure, help the hostess wash up and then post-apron kitchen duty throw down the real gauntlet. “So, how is the blog going, Burrito?” Not a hint of entrapment in his voice.

Around the table of ten it went, affably at first. You would not know a coup d’état was in progress. Princess Leia mentioned the Indian restaurant/ belly dancing episode post that she had orchestrated on planet Nasturtium. Hot nervous laughs snorted through clenched teeth and flared nostrils of droids and wookies alike.  Markbaccaman seemed confused at all the flustering. He bellowed baritone yeti growls, possibly trying to warn me of an ambush. Too late. We continued on with way too much interest in my blog and coffee nation world, a utopian land of unemployed men condemned to clean their navels all day. It was suggested that my real job does not exist and my wife simply allows me to live out my harmless delusions, which, like my snoring, I am unaware of. The laughs and guffaws built into cosmic thunder as the poisoned entrée and salad digested out of sight, trickling into neural synapses left unguarded.

I shared the inner workings of the blogiverse, which most attendees did not know well, or pretended so. There was an unnatural focus on my alternate universe. I knew something was wrong. I mentioned how many hits I’d recorded from countries all over the world, and gave examples of my Brains and Potatoes post that brought a lot of Russian traffic. That’s when Snarky SueBEEDooBeeDoo struck like a cobra. “Can you tell how long they stayed on?” she asked in such a way that it implied folks scurried away from Burritospecial as fast as roaches from light.

 SoosannNITRAM’s circuit board overloaded on comic input data and she spewed 12 cubic feet of laughter gas, while Dan 3CPA schnoozled next to her with his belt light blinking and blaring ” AMBER, AMBER. INTRUDER, INTRUDER!!” They were uncontainable disgraces to droidhood.

Image result for star wars characters pictures I pondered my chances of escape from the Death Star. I wanted to save my wife Queen Latifahspanx, but the rest would have to be sacrificed. As my bride got up to use the ladies room on my cue, I turned to Zoltran, who was at my right hand side, and gave him a Jimi Hendrix Jedi handshake at full voltage. The blue arc of cobalt vapor coursed around that unholy assemblage, expanding them for a second and then each one imploded, sucking the glass inward from the Death Star’s picture window. Only Sadie Dogstar and my Queen survived alongside me. We left behind only an incomplete set of Star War plastic figures as we exited the Death Star.

 

318. Pine Street

Related image

I lived upstairs on Pine Street in Richmond for a year or so while I was in my sophomore year of college. That whole block has since been torn down and redeveloped into modern campus buildings. Back in the 1970’s it was a bleak block of row houses. Ours was a wood frame with an add on kitchen out the back. Our kitchen had been built over a sloped first floor roof. The resulting floor was so slanted that, even when quite sober, you’d toddle downhill in agreement with gravity. If you were intoxicated, everything was fine; you just had to lean against the house lean. Simple. The back kitchen door/ fire escape from the death trap led to a steep set of wooden stairs facing due east and busy Belvedere Street. From the top step I’d sometimes smoke a cigarette and laugh out loud at the huge sign over the used car lot on Broad Street. It featured a slick mustachioed sales cad, Mad Man Dapper Dan the Used Car Man and the saying, “I’d give them away but my wife won’t let me.” His face seemed to view all of Richmond, as if he were some Middle Eastern despot watching for moral failures in the populace.

“Dan, you are the man. I trust you, Dude.”

It still cracks me up to imagine an evening in Dapper Dan’s company, cigar in one hand, bourbon in the other, telling tales of great car deals and trips to exotic Roanoke. “Boy, the things I seen and dun can’t be cataloged  by a million monks in a million encyclopedias in a million years. You know, I just love that word, MILLION.” Fading like old black and white photos, my memories sort of bleed into one another as my neural pathways move in together to cut expenses in retirement.

AbandonedHousesFinal

We had no air conditioning, of course, and the Richmond summers were the equivalent of hippopotamuses in weather terms– big, fat, wet, sloppy, and dangerous. The wiring would likely have melted if we’d tried an a/c window unit. So we would climb out on the porch roof facing Pine Street on hot nights and drink a few cheap beers while we listened to music blast from inside. It was often a pathetic portrait of perspiring almost, nearly, slightly, okay dammit-ghetto ennui. Our porch roof aligned with the rest of the row house porch roofs all the way down the block, until the line jutted out to the sidewalk at the up and coming new restaurant and potted palm tree bar called Bruce’s, with skylights in their roof. Well, it was not out of the ordinary for one of my crew to walk down the porch roofs past sleeping neighbors to wave in on the diners through the skylight. Later, the diners might see us as they came out to get in their cars. We were not hassled as much as we deserved to be but merely shooed away like annoying city pigeons. College communities have a high tolerance for the ludicrous, I have learned.Image result for boys scrambling on city roof pictures

Often while listening to Clapton or Hendrix or the Beatles, we could watch people doing things on the street or sidewalk that they thought no one else could see. We had no television and this was in the dinosaurlike pre-personal computer age. One boring rainy night my roomie Jeff and I were in our porch roof positions beneath metal awnings as a couple came out of the above cited restaurant/bar, walking slightly sloppily. It was clear that they were tipsy. The man opened the door of the dark sedan in the rain and his Betty Boop jumped in to the passenger seat, giving me and Jeff a clear view of what was about to go down. The tipsy strange man started the car and the windshield wipers began flapping. The car remained in park while the passengers got into gear.

Jeff was picking along to the Beatles “I Want You” on his black and white Fender and amp as we glommed on to the steamy car action unfolding in front of and below us.  We laughed as the couple began some rather heated making out and mutual fondling. Jeff cranked up the volume and continued picking, “I want you, I want you so bad, Babe. I want you so bad, It’s driving me mad, it’s driving me mad.” Though the impassioned couple could not see or hear us, they complied with clumsy choreography on the beat. It was amazingly synchronized even though this was in the pre- music video era. All live action.i want GIF

Let’s just say that the steamed up couple reached a crescendo as the guitar raged into the curtain of droning summer rain, pounding out an urgent beat on the aluminum awnings above us. Jeff shifted with the bridge to “She’s so heavy, heavy, heavy, etc.” while the wipers worked in time like a metronome.Related image

We thought it couldn’t get any funnier as the song ended and Jeff set his guitar down. We stood up and clapped for their performance. I suppose our dual stand up against the stained yellow light behind us caught Betty Boop’s eye. She lifted her head up and made a most amazing face.

We couldn’t hear the scream but we saw her mouth open and her teeth bared. Obscenities were mouthed through the steamed up window.  In just a couple of seconds the sedan lights came on and the car peeled away without looking any which way. I can imagine it was an awkward verbal ending to a their gymnastic achievements.

Well, that is a great story to tell when folks mention compromising positions, but I feel like Mad Man Dapper Dan when I repeat this double indiscretion. I have no cigar or bourbon, but I feel like a sleazy used car salesman anyway. I suppose that conviction is caused by some decency knocking on my conscience’s door. If I answer it, I might wind up in jail. Just turn the lights out and stay quiet. (In a whisper voice… “I’d give them away but my wife won’t let me.”)Related image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

208. Full Fool Throttle to Nowhere

I don’t think too long about where to start posts. I just go. Extraverts do this:  we get in the car and drive for about twenty minutes before we turn to our introverted spouses and ask, “Hey, by the way, where are we going?” Occasionally we just happen to be headed in the right direction; for instance, if we live at the end of a long dead end road that has no turns for fifty miles or so.  Efficiency is boring sometimes, well most of the time. Racing to a familiar place is too. This may explain why I feel no attraction to NASCAR races. They just go nowhere really fast. If all goes well for all the drivers, they don’t crash, and a couple of hours later they wind  up in the order they left…. Okay, I know there are strategies and fuel stops and tires and little adjustments along the way to nowhere. But the goal is still the same place they have passed 100 times or more while making a continuous left hand turn for a few hours of a chase scene.  I’m surprised there are not more neck injuries in the spectators from whipping their heads in circles for hours. Full fool throttle, yeah, it sounds cool for a movie title or an energy drink, but if you add the small print (to Nowhere), it loses something.

Charlie Sheen comes to mind. Geez, I wonder why. I don’t know if he’s asked anyone for directions in life yet. He’s full fool throttle alright, and there have been plenty of crashes and shoving matches throughout his volatile life in the double zero car.  To begin with, he drives against the traffic, like he’s a Brit driving in the right hand direction. Oh, Charlie!  You may have tiger blood, but  your neurotransmission fluid is a quart low. A pit stop is in order.  Adolescence is a high energy phase of life. It ends, though, does it not? In a crash or a victory lap or just later in the pack. But eventually adult faculties are supposed to take over.

I don’t need to go to NASCAR or Hollywood for another example. I can recall a former friend “Darvon”. He was a couple of years older. We went to the same high school and then college, but I did not meet him until college. Sort of wish I’d never met him. He was full tilt, fool throttle. I guess it was my sophomore year when we met. I was living with three other guys on Grace Street in Richmond. Second floor. I posted about blowing up the gas stove in post 8 However Explosively. “Darvon” was a frequent visitor to our place. He was devious and cruel in his humor. He liked to play mind games with folks and then pretend he knew nothing about the very trap he had laid. For instance, he once broke into a friend’s apartment and moved all the furniture into opposite rooms. Later he acted surprised when Cliff told the scary story.  His apartment was about a mile from ours. One night I let him borrow my car to save him the walk home. Just my luck, a guy who was wasted on drugs or alcohol ran into my car, crushing the left fender and seemingly ruining the hood. My car was considered a total loss and I received a whopping $360 check from my insurance company. Much later on, I succeeded in fixing the fender myself for an investment of $60 and my labor, netting $300, which was a huge windfall for me in those days– 1975 or so.

Streaking had been popular on college campuses, my grandchildren. It was usually done by drunk males at night through a crowd. It died off pretty quickly. One night “Darvon” and various other guys were hanging out at my apartment drinking alcohol of some sort or another. We talked about the streaking phenomenon and how it had come and gone. In the stupidity of sophomoric self indulgence we decided to bring it back. We meaning my roommates and “Darvon”. They ran across the street. Then down the block. Then a couple of blocks over past the home for retired nuns. I pray for their pardon today, but they may have made a nun’s night back then. Who knows?

Funny Nun Caught Smoking -

Well, “Darvon” was competitive and had to be the alpha dog. He decided to streak the governor’s mansion, that would be the governor of Virginia. Fool throttle.

The mansion was about a mile and a half east of where we were domiciled, but “Darvon” was jacked up and ready. He wore only socks and red high top Converse sneakers, a floppy Caucasian afro, and a demonic grin. I know that my roommate Bruce drove the pace car next to him; that was a green Buick Skylark he called “the green snake”. Not sure who  rode along. But there they were at 2 or 3 a.m. putting down Franklin Street toward the Virginia state buildings and the governor’s residence. It must have been an interesting procession under the orange mercury vapor streetlights, only missing the Olympic torch.

I stayed home fully clothed, as I had throughout all of the shenanigans. The boys said I was their conscience or babysitter, or something halfway in between. Anyway, a blind man could see what was coming. As they drove and “Darvon” ran triumphantly onto the grounds of the governor’s estate, armed guards appeared with flashlights and guns. “Darvon” was taken down. A search was not needed. Why on earth Bruce was not also arrested, I’ll never know. He was taken to the police station, though. The next day he brought home a blank incident report that he’d swiped. He filled that out with outrageous details which we kept as a souvenir of the evening. “Darvon” was given thirty days in jail, I believe. However, due to overcrowded conditions, he only served a few days and returned to college to continue his studies in antisocial behavior.

I’ll just stop  here. I think I have supported my odd topic like a jockstrap.

189. cruel renewal

Making all things new again. That’s a tall order, I think. Just making one simple thing new again is hard enough. Refinishing a piece of furniture, for example, requires five times the effort than the original finishing took. Think about it:  you have to strip the varnish or polyurethane with some solvent and a wire brush and fine tools to get into the grooves. Then you have to strip out the stain with more stain remover/solvent. At this point you have to sand the remaining stains or patches of finish to smooth out the original wood grain. Finer and finer grits of sandpaper need to be rubbed carefully with the grain. Then you wipe away the fine dust. Finally you are back to the starting point of new, bare furniture. But that’s what you do to restore the old wood to prime condition so that its luster and deep grain can be seen and appreciated again, or maybe for the first time.

Image result for maple trees pictures

My buddy Clark knows a lot about wood and renewal. He learned about trees as a kid in Patton, PA., walking through the woods to school cuz he’d been thrown off the school bus again and again for being a hyperactive ne’er do well. He was rejected frequently as a kid by humans but not by trees or pieces of wood. He learned about oaks and maples and birch and beech and box elder and walnut and cherry simply walking by them twice a day. He saw pines grow to their fullness and die in his lifetime. However, dead trees simply cross over to lumber for him. He eyes up  trees and looks for unique features that he can use in tables or bowls or just long runs for boards. And then he gets to work creating with saws and planer, lathe and chisels.

A couple of years ago I helped him saw up a spalted maple; that’s a downed tree which has been decaying with fungi but hasn’t rotted yet. The result of spalting is a beautiful array of discoloration, waves and rivulets of brown, red, and black paint spilled throughout the wood. Clark turns hunks of this stuff into gorgeous bowls that appear to be fired ceramic. You have to touch them to believe they are not ceramic but wood, not paintings of deserts landscapes but infected wood transformed into marble. Beauty birthed from death.

Image result for spalted maple lumber pictures

He learned about renewal by living a life full of zest and curiosity… after he was down and decaying like a fallen maple in the leaf mold.  Alcohol was the lightning and tornado that slew him. By age 35 his doctor told him he had a year to live if he did not quit drinking. He said, ” Thanks, Doc. I ‘m tired of living,” and went to the closest bar. He got so polluted on Yuenglings or Iron City beer that the bartender asked, “Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”  “Hell no,” he bellowed and order another. He had one more angry sip and announced, “Now I’ve had enough.” He stumbled out of the bar and right into the path of his beloved daughter and her best friend. (Timber!) No details remain except the pain of shame he saw on his precious girl’s face. Something transformative occurred in that one second. Clark grew on the level of consciousness even as his angry pride fell down face first. He recalls it like Paul falling off his horse on the way to Damascus. Clark went to rehab the next day. That was almost 35 years ago.

Since then he’s been sanding off the old varnish of youth, adolescence and early adult life. The mess of foolishness, the lacqeur of addiction and scars of selfishness. As he does this consciousness raising on a cognitive level, he’s finding more and more to like about himself… compassion, loyalty, a modicum of patience…and an artist’s heart/head/hands package. Late in life, to be sure, but there it is: beauty born from pain and suffering. He is spalted maple through and through, washed by the rivers of alcohol, rejection and rage that are dry riverbeds nowadays.Image result for spalted maple lumber pictures

One story of thousands will have to suffice. Ironic, of course. Up the road from his childhood house was a substantial estate owned by the Five Farabaugh sisters. They were well off spinster sisters. Clark’s dad agreed to be an informal caretaker of the property when the only male child left to run part of the A&P store chain out west. One by one the old ladies died off until there were no more. Still Clark’s father “Bunny” continued the upkeep of the property. When Clark went along to help, his father would say, “Don’t even think about stealing anything. We might be poor but we’re honest, by God.” There were many objects and knickknacks all over this grand Victorian house. In the attic the sisters had a miniature classroom where they had played school as little girls. He remembered thinking, “I could learn here. They would not beat me for being wiggly. They would favor me somehow.” In the old days the sisters had given his dad oranges at Christmas, which was unheard of by working class folks. Only the wealthy could afford citrus fruit in winter. Clark’s family not only ate them but his mom made marmalade from the peels. Then one day that fine house and every object in it burned to cinders and ashes. Nothing survived but memories. Nothing.

Nothing worked out in his life.  By age five he had developed a sense of doom. The spalting had begun. He wondered about the loose ends and unfairness of it all–

“Five old ladies, never had sex or got married or had kids or grandkids. What’s the point? They had wealth and it all disappeared. Just a waste. I shoulda stole something but the Old Man woulda killed me.”

Actually it did not disappear. Rather, it was breathed into Clark’s lungs and memory, spalding his soul. I’m sure if surgeons could extricate his soul and sand it down, it would radiate like his hero George Nakashima’s table tops. Renewed for all to see and appreciate. Nakashima was interned during WWII for being Japanese. That was his sole crime. Poetically, tragically,  or ironically that is where he learned to master woodworking under the tutelage of a master Japanese woodworker. More beauty born from pain and suffering.

So  often we screw up the unstained and painless new and have to claw our way back to a renewal that is soaked in barrels of liquid pain. But that is the difference between grapes and wine, sand and pearls, knowledge and wisdom.