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…

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“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.
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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.

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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.

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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.