And Now a Word …

23 May


 

And Now a Word …

By L. Stewart Marsden

I’ve been amazed at the quality and production value of TV commercials over the past few years. Especially the ones aimed at the national marketplace — though it’s difficult to tell, sometimes.

It used to be that various industries dominated the airways in attempts to bend my mind to buy their products. As a kid, that didn’t work so well. Most were aimed at Mom and Dad. Dinah Shore and Chevrolet (Burt must have liked those). Speedy, the animated drug pusher (although the Drop, drop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is part could have been used for a laxative product as well). Madge and her green “you’re soaking in it!” reveal. The incredibly mesmerizing Comfort Fit bra commercials (as close to skin as it got in the day and much better than National Geographic).

For me they were real bothers (other than the bra commercials), especially if the Lone Ranger was about to ride Silver into a canyon where there were about a hundred bad guys lying in wait. The cliff hanger.

And now a word … That part hasn’t changed. Then, no remotes to click on the “Last” button to toggle to another show. But even that has been taken into consideration today in a last-ditch effort by Madison Avenue, and most of the commercials seem to be synchronized to begin at the same time. I’ve actually surfed through several stations at commercial time and landed on the same commercial, milliseconds separation. Technology!

The only commercials I paid attention to were the rough and gruff cowboys who rode off into the sunset with a Marlboro stuck to their lower lips, the ash about 3 inches long (symbolism?). Or the Chesterfield commercials where doctors told me smoking was safe (https://youtu.be/TOKc6TNwlj4). At the time, a pack of cigarettes could be bought for a quarter from the cigarette vending machine tucked into the Men’s room of a local gas station.

Today, commercials are full of comedy, action, good writing and incredible acting. There are two times a year I look forward to a barrage of commercials willingly: the Super Bowl, and the Clio Awards. The first is an all-out competition between brands to wow and spin us about with ad producers’ incredible creativity and artistry. The second is an industry pat-on-the-back of its blatant efforts to seduce and manipulate.

My current favorite is the All State commercial where a teen enters his parents bedroom to admit a fender-bender (https://youtu.be/zBYTIklIodE) incident. I can identify as both the kid as well as the adult.

The arrival of the industry to this level of entertainment wasn’t overnight. Coca-Cola has been striving for years for the emotional prod for a long time. “I’d Like to Teach the World to Singhttps://youtu.be/ib-Qiyklq-Q” is iconic –– as well as the Mean Joe Greene commercial https://youtu.be/xffOCZYX6F8. If you don’t know of these, you are too young and need to be spanked and sent to bed.

There have been ads that leave you puzzled, like the EDS commercial Cat Herders (https://youtu.be/vTwJzTsb2QQ) An example of the medium overwhelming the message. It was banned by somebody or organization for some reason. Probably cat lovers. I don’t remember seeing a disclaimer that no cats were harmed or branded during the production of the ad.

While the tugs and pulls at our senses, sentiments, and savings haven’t changed, I’m glad the commercials have. Launched quite a few acting careers as well, like the I’m a Pepper guy (https://youtu.be/jvCTaccEkMI) who later starred in the best werewolf transformation film ever (albeit the budget must have caused the director to stop the film without the typical beast resolution — https://youtu.be/E7BmQc5QKVs).

There was a time TV was “free.” Of course it was underwritten through advertisers who used the programs to siphon from America’s money gas tanks. But still, it was free to the consumer. Now, alas, not so much (I recently begrudgingly wrote out my monthly cable service fees).

Commercial sponsors once ruled the day, and provided America with much-needed diversion from the day-to-day grind. Now we’re content to spend the big monthly bucks to see our fare without interruption. Or, as the Romans might have said, continuatam scilicet entertainment. And that decision has dire ripple effects:

  • On our bladders.
  • On fewer trips to the kitchen, hence less consumption of various foods (chips and sodas, which constitute two of the five major American food groups. Pizza and McDonalds and ice cream are the other three).
  • On our social interaction skills. There are also other entities currently mastering this demise: Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • On our ability to discern between night and day (if binge-watching).
  • On the advertising industry, which will be forced to lay off thousands of writers, directors, producers, actors, and Best Boys.

The result will be that whatever “free” TV remains. The commercials will be local, and you know what that means, right?

https://youtu.be/Gl6F12DWI7o.

Or, https://youtu.be/HqGsT6VM8Vg.

Sorry about that. Too much uninterrupted binging on The Walking Dead.

You get what I mean.

Don’t be a putz. Let’s save the TV commercial industry by giving up those expensive cable TV contracts. And by doing that, save the many careers that will inevitably be eliminated. And if they are, the only commercials we will see will be like the following:

 

 

 

 

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It’s Just Music

21 May

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Just Music

By L. Stewart Marsden

At the risk of coming across very ego-centered (as opposed to plain ego-centered), sometimes I surprise myself in a good way.

Much of my married life I was told I am dysthymic. For those unfamiliar with the term, it basically means you live just below the surface of the water emotionally. Like Eeyore, Milne’s classic character of Winnie-the-Pooh fame. In fact, my Ender Wife presented me with a stuffed version of Eeyore, which I still have. I let the dog chew on him.

I’ve always thought the hyperbolic ups and downs of some people I’ve observed were good reason to maintain a more steady disposition, albeit just below the water’s surface. How they are able to tolerate the ups and downs of their emotional roller coasters befuddles me.

They are the Hare, and I am the Tortoise in that way. Yup, yup.

In addition to being dysthymic, I’ve been told I’m an avoider, and a procrastinator. But we can get to that later. None of the labels is very heartening, though.

My retreats are basically three-fold:

  1. I play Spider Solitaire and dive into imagined scenarios and conversations during play.
  2. I write and/or research for my writing.
  3. I play my guitar.

That’s it.

I get no personal satisfaction from playing solitaire other than the brief high from winning — which is not very often (I don’t play the easy versions). My mind tends to run the ravines of what I would like to say or do if I only had the courage. It gets a bit tiresome.

Periodically I write something I am somewhat satisfied with, knowing that ninety percent of writing is actually in the editing and cutting of stuff (boring as well as ego-painful). Writing is never complete, like learning.

But, when I pick up my guitar … something happens.

I absolutely lose myself either in a song I am learning and trying to perfect, or in random rifts with slight variations in notes and chords.

When I was a kid, I used to do the same sort of thing, except on the down-sized ebony Mason & Hamlin grand that was in the living room. I could sit and pluck out tunes and chords for hours.

In the flow of the music it matters very little how good I actually play. I don’t criticize myself on those counts. I am too deeply embedded in the song, whether playing my arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah (Jeff Beckley did not write it); or Georgia on My Mind by Hoagy Charmichael (neither Willie Nelson nor Ray Charles wrote this); or reliving my teen years playing America (Simon & Garfunkel).

I imagine sitting alone on a stage, a single spotlight illuminating a circle on the floor that encompasses me, and all else dark. I can’t see the audience, but I know they are there. I bend notes and gruff out a lyric with an impure voice — gravelly and frayed on the edges. Every line — every word — has meaning. All I’ve ever learnt from love … Other eyes smile tenderly … “Cathy, I’m lost!” I said, though I knew she was sleeping …

It’s not a high. There isn’t any euphoria. But it’s a damn good place for me, and when I emerge from however long I’ve escaped, I am ready to face reality, and being dysthymic, or emotionally frail, isn’t the portentous thunderstorm on the horizon that it once was.

Plus this process is thousands of dollars cheaper than years of counseling, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Do you have an instrument?

Do you have a song?

Do you have a place you can curl into (not a fetal position, mind you) and feel safe and snug? One that allows you to empty yourself and to breathe in renewal?

Sounds Zen, doesn’t it?

But it isn’t.

It’s just music.

 

 

 

On Death and Dying … a Conversation

18 May

 

 

 

 

On Death and Dying … a Conversation

By L. Stewart Marsden

“Are you afraid?”

“Of dying, or death?”

“Of either.”

“Of dying — well I’m a little wary of that part. I have a low threshold for pain, you know.”

“What about death?”

“That’s the easy part. Everybody before me, and everybody after me has and will do it. I think we have it wrong, though.”

“How’s that?”

“Most are convinced it’s a final destination. Like the beach.”

“The beach?”

“Sure. You think about your trip for months on end. You imagine the warm sun and the calming surf and the lack of hurry or care. All of that anticipation.”

“Ok.”

“You pack your car with everything you’ll need, and map out your route, then jump in and start the engine.”

“Right.”

“Along the way you might hit traffic, or a detour — maybe even a wreck or two along the way.”

“Uh-huh.”

“At some point you begin to smell it in the air. The salt. That first indication you are very near. And you get impatient to get there. Or to be the first person in your car to see the ocean.”

“Yes.”

“You arrive, and you get together with your family, who’ve all arrived from different places, traveling different routes, and you mill about and greet one another. Then the inevitable question: how long did it take you to get here?”

“I see.”

“Yeah. So in a way dying is like your trip to the beach, and death is arriving at the beach.”

“Does everyone make it to the beach? You mentioned wrecks along the way.”

“You mean the heaven or hell thing?”

“If you like.”

“Kind of where the metaphor breaks down. So the way I see it, the beach isn’t the destination.”

“No?”

“The better metaphor –– at least the way I see it –– is labor and birth.”

“Why?”

“Labor is what we conceive as our life. In labor, we ease down the birth canal, and there are trying times along the way. We are distorted and pushed on every side. It’s cramped, dark, and –– frankly, uncomfortable most of the journey.

“Then, towards the end, we begin to see a little daylight ahead, and that daylight gets brighter and brighter. So does the pain and the difficulty. Again, maybe we get stuck. But you see we aren’t with anyone else. It’s just us. Just me. Just you. Our individual gauntlet to face and bear. Finally, we emerge –– to the applause of those waiting our arrival. We are swept up and held close and cradled in the arms of Someone who has been patiently anticipating us.”

“And who is that Someone?”

“You want me to say God, right?”

“I want to know what you think. You can say whatever you like.”

“I don’t know the answer to that, only that I’m excited to find out.”

“So you aren’t afraid you’re going to end up in one place or other?”

“Let me ask you something.”

“Okay.”

“You believe in God?”

“I do.”

“And is God male or female?”

“I don’t know.”

“Loving or strict?”

“I’d say both.”

“So there’s room in God’s lexicon for the two to exist juxtaposed?”

“Juxtaposed isn’t a word I would use, but, yes.”

“So a loving and strict God can appoint my afterlife to either a heavenly or hellish eternity?”

“Are you afraid of hell?”

“Do you mean, am I sure of my eternal destination?”

“I suppose.”

“For a complicated and unknowable God, that question seems too simplistic.”

“Well, how do you see it, then?”

“More complicated, of course. I’m not so sure our heavens and hells are after we die, but before it. And I’m not so sure we have only one life and death.”

“You believe in reincarnation?”

“Not in the sense I come here as human, live and die, and come back as a caterpillar.”

“Then how?”

“Have you lived a perfect life?”

“Of course not.”

“But a good life?”

“I try.”

“Why?”

“Why try? I suppose it’s in my nature to do the best I can.”

“Is it enough?”

“Enough for what?”

“To get into heaven.”

“To get into heaven you must be born …”

“Again! Exactly!”

“It’s a spiritual rebirth. Not a physical one.”

“Are you sure?”

“I –– we’re talking about you, not me.”

“I’m absolutely fine with the rebirth thing. It makes sense to me. I was, I am, and I will be. Even the Bible says ‘you are gods.’”

“That’s not what it means.”

“No? Are you sure? When Christ said, ‘It is finished,’ what did he mean by that?”

“He meant that the battle between good and evil was finished. That his death –– his blood and his body –– were the atonement for the sins of Man.”

“And you believe that?”

“I do.”

“So it was a done deal?”

“A done deal.”

“Then why hell?”

“Beg your pardon?”

“That’s why I’m not afraid of death. God has something far more wonderful for me than I can ever imagine. IF what you say is true.”

“So you do believe in God?”

“What I believe … will it change anything?”

“In what way?”

“In terms of me living or dying. This body of mine is going to wear out. Built-in obsolescence.”

“It won’t change whether you will die or not. It might change how you live, however.”

“But, everything I’ve done up to this point in my life –– none of that will be undone? I can’t take the bad things back, right?”

“Right.”

“What if I could? What if this life of mine is like a slinky toy, and it spirals slowly, each circumnavigation a lifetime?”

“A slinky is analogous to reincarnation?”

“Crude, I know –– but it serves my purpose. Let’s add another element. Do you believe in the laws of physics?”

“What I understand of them.”

“Well, gravity is the easiest, I suppose. The apple from the tree thing. Are you familiar with the Law of Conservation of Energy?”

“That energy always exists in some form or fashion, never diminishing?”

“Close enough.”

“It’s a theory, I believe.”

“Ah, like heaven and hell? But you understand heaven and hell to be spiritual absolutes, and Conservation of Energy is an absolute scientific law.”

“What’s your point?”

“My point is that I –– me –– the energy of who I am –– will not dissipate nor diminish. Not ever. Not one iota. It may transfer to a different form, but it won’t be lost.”

“So you think you are eternal?”

“Have been for a very long time now.”

“And by that you are equal to the god who created you?”

“Didn’t say that. I am the product of whatever caused me to be created. I am energy. Like everything around us. By virtue of that, I –– or my energy –– will be forever.”

“Namaste.”

“Don’t be sarcastic. If you think about it, it’s hard to argue against.”

“So it’s black and white with you, then?”

“Explain, please.”

“Science and what you call incontrovertible fact or theory, versus the existence of an all-knowing, supreme being.”

“I didn’t say that. I’m certainly open to an omniscient being. But I’m also open to the thought we could be in the bedroom of a four-year-old who is controlling all of this! Which is less absurd?”

“You compare God to a four-year-old?”

“It’s the Old Testament/New Testament contrast. To me, after all of the stuff in the Old Testament, God grew up a bit. Like that bit with Abraham and Isaac. He didn’t know Abraham was going to be obedient and would actually kill his own son? How’s that possible? Was that for Abraham’s sake? Or did he figure The paparazzi was going to start showing up at these events? So he learned from his own creation, and looked over and chose his son to come down and make things right.”

“Hush your mouth!”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to offend. I mean, how could God ever learn something from his own creation? Is that outside the scope of possibility? I thought all things are possible with God.

“Seems to me there’s enough evidence –– especially over the millennia –– that humankind has been going through this very slow slinky toy evolution process. We are learning that our impulses for power and dominance over each other and the world we live in are not the ones to guide us –– especially if one rejects the concept of survival of the fittest –– which has usually meant the most physically powerful and aggressive.

“What if survival of the fittest meant mentally and emotionally and spiritually fit? What then?More and more of us are rejecting how things have been, learning from the results of those base and instinctive primitive impulses. Fear and hate of those different from us. Clear-cutting and ravaging the land and its resources.

“So you asked am I afraid of death? Just the dying part. Mostly because I’m a wimp. But to me, being dead is either going to be mental oblivion, or rebirth, and a chance to continue that progressive evolution trend towards something bigger and better and kinder and more satisfying. I can die with that.

The Country Needs An Attack By Aliens From Outer Space

12 May

 

 

The Country Needs
An Attack By Aliens
From Outer Space

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

I’m at the point with the verbal assault and battery going on in the US between various factions I’ve begun to look skywards and pray for an attack by aliens from outer space.

And you know why, I think.

Whether you are Conservative or Liberal, pro- or anti-gun control –– whichever and whatever niche you have found yourself or those you know (some of whom you love) cudgeled into –– enough is enough!

I’m wondering why we haven’t heard God’s booming voice from the hinterlands warning, “Don’t make me come down there again!

So, in lieu of a Biblical Armageddon, or the Rapture, or whatever else is portended by gurus and mystics and the Jimmy Bakkers of the world, why not have one of those Independence Day invasions? You know, where spaceships the size of New Zealand hover above all the really big population centers in the world (that’s why I live in the mountains, by the way). Where the President says “Zounds! What’re we gonna do?” And the twenty-two star general with the square jaw and skinhead crew cut shouts “Blow the holy HELL outta them!” Where the US and Russia and China and the Middle East and all of the various other countries stop killing themselves and each other to redirect their angst towards the really, really bad guys?

Seems we need things like real/imagined enemies to keep us focused on something other than ourselves. As wonderful a thing as

Ahhhh! A Giant Alien! Run!

the dismantling of the Berlin Wall was, it has left a huge chasm between ideologues and their extreme points of view (called, opinions, not necessarily facts). It was the focus of Truth, Justice, and the American Way, and everyone (well, maybe not everyone) was glad when it fell. But at least those on either side of the wall focused their attentions on IT, and when IT fell, and when Ron and Nancy rode off into the sunset, there was this void.

Sorry, I saw a rabbit hole.

Anyway, it doesn’t really have to be Martians. It could be Rodan, or Godzilla for that matter. You know, the nightmare beasties that arose from the aftermath of “winning” World War II? Tiny organisms feeding on nuclear soil and water, growing to gargantuan proportions and reeking ironic havoc on the very nations that had a hand in its coming to be in the first place?

My gut feeling tells me that we’ve already seen the beginnings of a different sort of invasion. It hies back to Walt Kelly’s famous words of Pogo: We have met the enemy, and he is us.

Similar to the simple solution to the aliens of H.G. Wells’ mind: lack of immunity on the part of the aliens to earth bacteria.

Our “aliens” have already landed. Thousands upon thousands of years back in time –– who really knows how long ago? And those aliens found the earth rich with possibility. Plenty of space, food sources, fresh water and clean air. And unlike the various creatures they found here that fell into extinction, they were able to adapt to changes in seasons, and move with the availability of sustenance. Then there was plenty of room to move onto once all the trees were cut and the rivers harnessed for commerce and energy.

They populated and expanded and became diverse. And like the first ovum fertilized by a single sperm, divided and multiplied ad infinitum. Except in this case it wasn’t really infinite.

Eventually our earth will convulse and spew those aliens into oblivion and extinction –– those who never applied Dr. Ian Malcom’s famous thoughtful maxim of consideration, we can –– but should we?

Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!

It would be far better for us as a species, however, if we had to battle an invisionary force from twenty billion trillion light years away. For that conflict, perhaps we would throw away our pettiness and unite. Redirect our frustrations from each other and towards something we could all agree was truly evil and threatening (from our perspective, of course): the threat being our extinction as a species.

Everyone could do their thing to the maximum. Shoot, kill, pray, scream, run in reaction to one centralized threat –– either towards it or away from it. Wouldn’t matter. Pro-this or pro-that, anti-this or anti-that would become trite and unnecessary.

As it is, I sadly fear we will succumb to our innate nature and Nature will eventually expel us –– the true and most deadly aliens –– from the planet.

I wish we had a choice, but it seems a bit late now. I’d choose the attack by aliens from outer space.

How about you?

 

 

Reprise: That Lion There

11 May

 

That Lion There

 

My dad often made the statement we’ve got this retirement thing bass ackwards. He worked hard all his life, and when he retired and was ready to travel, his body was worn out. The things he might have done, like scale mountains, were no longer within his range of possibility.

On that note, having reached the edge of that downward precipice myself, I think I have to agree. But not only because of the physical ability at stake, but the incredible resources of our lions and lionesses now wandering about the world –– bored and feeling useless.

Is that all there is? sang Peggy Lee.

What a waste, if only from the standpoint of experience and wisdom! Less likely to make the mistakes of youth. Things like rash decisions and impetuous reactions. Weighing the pros and the cons, and not so entangled in the jot and tittle of minutiae.

Imagine old farts like me, with nothing to lose, donning combat fatigues and armed with the weapons of war and replacing our young people on the battle fields? Conflicts might take a little longer, and a charge up a hill might need to be rethought, but at least our youth can still look forward to a long future.

It’s worth thinking about.

 

That Lion There

by L. Stewart Marsden

That lion there,
the one with splotchy, mangy hair
who lies in shade far from his lair
and pants last labored breaths of air —

Once was bold and fierce and strong
and where he walked the wary throng
of meaty prey gave way and long they
watched lest he should charge their way.

He once was young, a cub just born
who clung to mother’s teats and wore no
caution nor no wisdom yet —
essentials that would help him get to lionhood.

And if he could, that lion there
would soon return to those times where
his strength and youth were fresh and fair
and he could do whatever he would damn well do.

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 25 March, 2014

 

 

 

 

Matter

9 May

Matter

By L. Stewart Marsden

Oh the chatter
And the clatter
About that which does not matter!
All this massive energy
Makes me much prefer the Hatter.

God’s Farm … A Story. Five.

3 May

 

 

 

God’s Farm … A Story

Five.

Chandler pickup up Billy for the meeting. Along the way they caught up. They had once lived next door to each other, and were like Yin and Yang as friends. Chandler was more athletic — always the aspiring quarterback type; Billy was less agile, bulkier, and more the grind-it-out lineman type. Chandler loved the beach — Holden and Ocean Isle. Billy, some lake in upper New York where the swimsuits were skimpy.

Even though Chandler’s parents were from Minnesota, he was a Dixie boy in the sense everything he saw on TV, like The Rebel and The Gray Ghost, which romanticized the South and vilified the North and the Yankees. He made no connection at the time with the horrors of slavery.

Billy’s father traced their lineage back to William Tecumseh Sherman. Chandler bit his lip whenever his friend brought that up. And he kept mum that his own father alleged their heritage traced back to Ulysses S. Grant. The alcoholic president. A Yankee.

But they were pals despite the differences, and it felt good to Chandler to reconnect. Billy understood Chandler’s need to do something. He had also mildly protested on the campus of Guilford College in Greensboro, where he was a freshman. He had repeated a year at Randolph Macon Military Academy prep school, otherwise he and Chandler were the same age.

“So what’s your plan?” asked Billy.

“I don’t really have one. Figured we’d go to the meeting and see what’s going on. You remember Alice Price?”

“Not really. A vague memory at best.”

“Her dad’s church bought the house I used to live in before I moved next door to you.”

“Yeah? She a babe?”

“Not that I can remember. Studied a lot. Wore glasses.”

“Oh. About my speed, then.”

Chandler laughed as they pulled into a space in the St. Mary’s Episcopal parking lot, and wandered about the church until finally being directed to the sanctuary. The meeting was already in progress. As they entered and the doors closed with a loud click, all eyes momentarily turned toward the duo. Chandler and Billy quickly found seats and the meeting continued.

“I will need to know by Monday who can commit to the trip. We will either provide the church van for transportation, or if there is overwhelming response, which I truly hope there is, we will charter a bus and there will be a charge for that, which would be more than the expense of the van, of course.”

A slim blonde, wearing thin-rimmed glasses, addressed a handful of people seated in the pews in front of her. Chandler recognized her to be Ann Price. Other than her living in his old house and the time he showed up on the doorstep of the Colonial residence to see “the old place,” he had not had much contact with her. During junior high he had never considered her or regarded her to be more than a studious and dutiful preacher’s kid. He was a bit surprised at her organized and officious manners, though she was still a bit stiff, he thought. He didn’t recognize any of the people gathered.

Off to the right, somewhat isolated from the main grouping of people, sat a balding man, dressed in shirt and tie. He was flanked by kids Chandler judged to be about his age, or perhaps younger, and dressed in a way he knew they were not from Emerywood. A teenage girl with long blonde hair, a skinny curly redhead, a black kid with an Afro and another burly kid with bushy hair comprised the band of obvious tagalongs.

Chandler raised his hand.

“A question? Oh, hi, Chandler!” Price recognized him. He stood nervously.

“Hi, Ann. What’s the purpose?”

She smiled patiently. “The purpose of what?”

“Of going to Washington. I know I came in late, and maybe you already covered that.”

Obviously a little irked at the interruption, Price gathered her thoughts.

“It is to demand that our government address several very important issues. Being there in person will help to flesh out the reality to our elected officials that we cannot as a nation continue along this path.”

“Which path?”

“You don’t know? Where’ve you been? The path to peace in Vietnam! The path to peace in the rights of black Americans! The equalization of women to men in terms of opportunity!”

Ah, he thought. The very triumvirate he had highlighted in his Shakespeare final exam.

“And you expect the politicians in Washington to even listen, much less respond?” Chandler’s father had at least taught him that politicians were in it for themselves. Less government the better. His dad’s favorite quote was Mark Twain’s: Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason. He had struck a chord with Price, who was now more than a bit flustered.

“Do you have a better way? I mean by going to Washington at least the media will cover it. What bright plan do you have?”

“Well, it strikes me that you can’t have peace in the world, or peace in the country, until you have peace in the community.”

An uncomfortable pause filled the sanctuary.

He continued. “Look, I watched the protests on my campus this year. What has changed? We’re still in ‘Nam. Whites and blacks are still alienated. And the only thing the bra burning did was to pollute the air — which seems a bit ironic if you ask me.”

“Nobody asked,” Price said louder than she meant.

“Spend your energy organizing efforts to bridge these gaps here in High Point.”

“And how do you propose we do that?”

“I don’t know! I’m new to this.”

“Obviously. Well, Chandler, I’m sure we all appreciate your thoughts and wisdom on the matter, but the fact is, we are going to Washington. We don’t have the time nor do we have the inclination to sidetrack from our original goal, which is, to go to Washington. Other than going to Washington, we will not be getting involved locally.”

Each time she said “going to” or “to go to” Price slowed down and enunciated the words, so that Chandler might understand that Washington was the intent. Chandler sat down, effectively put down.

In his defense, Billy stood and said a few choice words in the direction of Price that were more than angry, then sat, satisfied he had at least exercised his coveted right to express his opinion.

“Well!” she responded uncomfortably, “If there is no more discussion,” where she paused, and there were no other hands raised, “get back to me ASAP regarding your plans to go to Washington’ — (again with exaggerated emphasis) — and we will see you soon!”

Before Chandler could get to her to apologize for his disrupting the meeting, Price disappeared among the group that milled about her, perhaps to protect her, he thought. He and Billy stood and shrugged at each other as the balding man and his motley entourage approached. The man stuck out his hand to Chandler.

“I’m Tom Kirby,” he said, and Chandler shook his hand.

“Chandler. Chandler Wilson. This is my friend Billy.”

“Hello, Billy.” The man shook Billy’s hand.

“Hi.”

“Chandler, what you had to say today is very interesting to me. Ever hear of the Kum Ba Ya?”

“I know the song.”

“I’m the director. We have an outreach ministry to the community that normally no one cares about. Kind of like what you were talking about in the meeting. We’re down on Greene in a warehouse the city lets us use. Think you can drop by some time? I’d like to talk to you about your ideas and where you’re coming from.”

“Sure.”

Kirby handed Chandler a business card.

“Give me a call soon and we’ll set up a time, okay?”

“Yeah, okay.”

“What about you, Billy? Interested?”

“Nah, not really. I’m here for moral support. I’m the kind of guy who would go to Washington to listen to the music.”

“At least you’re honest. Which is a rarity in Washington, by the way. See you guys.”

Kirby passed by and out of the church with his band of follows. The blonde girl had the redhead boy by the arm and was whispering nonstop in his ear. The redhead laughed out loud and turned back to look at Chandler, then winked and laughed again.

Later Chandler found out what the girl had said to the redhead that made him laugh.

“That’s the guy I’m going to marry!”

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God’s Farm … A Story. Four.

27 Apr

 

God’s Farm … A Story.

Four.

 

Chandler hoped his confession would go much better than he could imagined. It always had in the past. This was not the first talk he and his father had had.

The earliest he could remember was when he was a child, and the family lived in a large two-story brick home on the sloping side of Colonial Drive. He could not remember what he had done, but it was the final straw for his mother, who had uttered the dreadful decree, “Wait till your father gets home.”

He figured she said that because, with him, her next disciplinary step would have been murder. Scoldings, spanking the hand, then the bottom, and finally whipping bare legs with a switch torn from the bumblebee bush outside the kitchen door comprised her repertoire of behavior modification. Plus, there were three of us, my two older sisters and younger brother, although Daniel was only a toddler.

He sat in the sun room “to think about his sins.” He didn’t really know what a sin was, except it must be bad, because the word echoed about the huge stone sanctuary from Dr. Watt’s on Sundays.

His friend who lived next door, and whose family was Baptist, said a sin was a kind of fish. He thought that because once he had looked in the baptismal pool where peoples’ sins were washed away, and noticed what he thought were fish in the water. It later turned out it was algae, and after several years of baptisms, people began coming out of the water only to develop severe skin rashes. The pool was finally drained of the sins, refilled and chlorinated against further sin infections.

Chandler and his family were Presbyterian, and members weren’t dunked, but sprinkled. If you were sprinkled as an infant, the baptism “stuck” for the rest of your life. There was no danger, therefore, of getting infected by sin, because you weren’t put in the font, and Dr. Watts towelled your head off afterwards. Chandler figured the worst that could happen to you was maybe head lice.

So he waited for his dad to come home, and when he heard the loud roar of the Corvette pull into the drive, began to get nervous.

“He’s in the sunroom thinking about his sins,” he heard his mother say when his dad walked through the front door. No hug or kiss. Just, he’s your problem now.

Chandler loved the way his dad smelled. It was a mixture of cigar and aftershave. So he had mixed feelings when the door opened to the sunroom, and his dad peeked in.

“Maybe we ought to do this in my office,” he said, lips pursed.

The office. Chandler had been to the office of the principal on his very first day as a first grader. He and his older sister Leigh (who should have known better) were late walking to school, and crossed the final street without the help of a crosswalk patrol guard, a Sixth grader with a white safety patrol belt strapped about his torso.

“Hey, you two! C’mere!” And they were hauled off to the principal’s office, whimpering along the way. He discovered that the rumors Dr. Dingman kept a large paddle hung on the wall next to his desk were true. Also true was the lettering on the paddle: Board of Education.

Chandler’s dad closed the door to his office and pointed to a chair, where the young boy sat obediently. He asked the offense Chandler had committed.

Chandler told him.

“Are you sorry you did it?”

Yes.

“Will you ever do it again?”

No.

Now for the punishment. Chandler sat up straight, prepared to take it like a man.

“When I smack my hands together, I want you to yell and scream, okay?”

Wha –– ? Okay!

“Do you think you can make some tears?”

Think so.

His dad slapped his hands together, and Chandler wailed loudly. This went on for about thirty seconds, and his dad stopped, then opened his arms to Chandler, who hugged his hero for several precious minutes, really crying now.

Chandler’s dad was an only child. His father had died in the Great Flu Epidemic of 1916. At the time they lived in Luverne, Minnesota, near the southwest corner of the state. His dad’s father contracted the flu in October, and his condition worsened as he did not respond to treatment. Actually, he did respond, because the treatment killed him. It was believed that fresh air was part of the cure for the flu, and the windows of the bedroom his father lay ill in were kept wide open. He died in November of pneumonia, brought on by the flu and exacerbated by the freezing Minnesota “fresh air.”

Chandler’s grandmother, Bapa, was pregnant with his dad at the time, and moved in with Great Aunt Vi, the matriarch of the Wilson family, a widower whose husband had owned the town bank. She inherited the deeds and titles of nearly all the farmers in Rock County, and was more than glad to raise Charles Chandler as her own –– conditionally, of course. Bapa was a school teacher at her husband’s death, and Great Aunt Vi secured her pledge not to remarry. The payoff? Charles C. Wilson, II would become her sole heir to a considerable estate.

As a result Chandler’s dad was reared (the correct term, his grandmother insisted. You raise chickens and cows, you rear children) by his mother and great aunt. There was no male present in his life at the time –– other than his friends.

He had no idea how to rear a son. And, as his nature was in the more lenient direction, he abhorred the thought of striking any of his children, and all were coddled by him, much to his wife’s consternation.

Chandler uncapped a green bottle of Coke, and pried the top off a can of Charles’ Chips to eat as he awaited his father’s return home from work. He had avoided any conversation about his impending confession to his mom, murmuring things like “fine,” and “okay drive” and “I’m bushed” to her questions. He had already dumped his duffle crammed with dirty clothes in the laundry room, and Virgie Mae was busy starting loads of laundry.

He heard the garage door below open automatically as his father pulled into the driveway in the Stingray. He heard it close. He heard his father’s heavy steps on the wooden stairway thumping up to the main floor of the house. His father was whistling Oklahoma, one of his favorite musicals. When he came through the door at the top of the steps, he saw his son sitting with the can of potato chips in his lap.

“Cee-Cee!”

Chandler put the chips and Coke down and stood.

“Hi, Dad!”

“God it’s great to have you home! How long did the drive take?”

No matter where they went, family always greeted each other with an accounting of how long it took to get wherever, like the beach.

“Took me three and a half hours.”

“Not bad! Not bad at all!”

“Dad, I need to talk to you about something.”

“Can it wait till after dinner? Haven’t hugged your mom and I’m starved! Where’s Daniel?”

“Next door I guess at the Lynch’s.”

“Can I fix you a G and T? I mean, you are a college man, right?”

“Sure, Dad. That’d be great.”

Which was the way it went for two days –– his dad putting off the talk because of this or that, which was perfectly fine with Chandler. He began to think he might be able to get away without any kind of confession until his grades arrived in the mail. But even then, since he was expecting the grades and knew when the postman came by, he could intercept them. Perhaps it would be better for all concerned if his kept this bit of news from his parents for a few years –– say ten or twenty. Then he could bring it up in a laughing manner, as if looking back into the past at everything he had done they didn’t know about.

“What you don’t know can’t hurt me,” he thought, realizing that was not exactly the way the phrase went.

On the third day, he opened the High Point Enterprise, and drifted through the various sections. World News, local news, sports news, social news, and finally, community news.

A photo of a girl he knew was featured, with the headline, Price Organizes Local Group For Peace March on Washington. Alice Price! Her father was a minister, and the church he was pastor of had bought the two-story brick Wilson home on Colonial years before.

“This is fate!” A box at the end of the article gave the day, time and location of the organizational meeting. He tore the item from the paper, folded it, and put it into his billfold, then walked quickly to the phone and dialed.

“Is Billy there? Hey, Billy, what are you doing this coming Thursday afternoon? There’s a meeting about organizing a group from here to attend the Washington peace rally this summer. Want to go?”

He and Billy chatted a bit, then Chandler hung up. He was psyched! He was going to actually do something to make up for all of his sins.

“This calls for a beer!” And opened the refrigerator.

 

 

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God’s Farm … A Story. Three. Point. Five.

25 Apr

 

 

God’s Farm … A Story.

Three.Point.Five

Chandler jammed on the breaks, at the same time shoving in the clutch and downshifting to 2nd gear when he saw the bright red brake lights suddenly appear in the fog. The Firebird skidded slightly to the right towards the curve rail on the road, but he managed to bring the car to a stop before hitting it.

“Damn!” he said, holding his arms locked straight, close enough to the back of the semi trailer to read the mud flaps.

He had driven nearly ten miles without being in conscious control, lost in his memories and worries.

A hand appeared out of the driver’s side of the semi with thumbs up, either in a gesture meaning either “you need to drive stock cars,” or, “I’m okay –– you okay?”

Chandler flashed his lights “I’m okay,” and the truck continued forward slowly, navigating around a large boulder that had apparently fallen into the road and come to a rest in their southbound lane.

Both vehicles crept forward, emergency lights now flashing. Chandler hoped the truck driver radioed the nearest highway patrol station about the rock, otherwise some other fool might come speeding down the grade and not be so lucky.

Highway 52 was the best –– meaning quickest –– route to and from Blacksburg, and Chandler had driven it dozens of times in the past. He had no memory of passing through what he called The Slaloms –– a stretch of the steep two lane road that swooped down in hairpin curves just below Galax.

“Damn!” he repeated, and turned on the car radio, forgetting he would find nothing clear where he was in the mountains. Still shaking, he flipped off the radio  and reached an eight track tape of Crosby, Stills and Nash, shoving it into the tape player mounted under his glove compartment.

Our house
Is a very very very fine house
With two cats in the yard
Life used to be so hard
Now everything is easy ‘cause of you …

He and Teri had sung the lines at the top of their lungs not over a year ago. Sound turned up and windows rolled down; the wind in their faces and their hands tightly gripped on the console –– everything was easy ‘cause of her.

O wha tafoo liam.

They met on a blind date. He was home for spring break from Woodberry Forest where he was a junior. His childhood friend Judy Sloan had arranged the date, and she paired up with Sandy Lyle, Chandler’s best friend from school.

They went to see the movie In Cold Blood in Greensboro. Teri, who reminded Chandler of Sophia Loren, gripped his hand during the entirety of the film. Later, on the drive back to High Point, he and Teri snuggled and kissed in the back seat while Sandy chauffeured and chatted with Judy.

Teri Carson was his first love. While there were problems to overcome if the relationship was to grow, their love could handle anything.

He lived in the posh section of High Point, called Emerywood. She did not. He lived in a huge home with air conditioning and a two car garage. She did not. His father was a successful businessman making lots of money –– enough to send him off to private school where public school integration would not be a problem. Her father was an upholsterer for a small shop that renovated cars. Her mother sewed handbags in the basement of their small two-bedroom house using the vinyl fabric from discarded end rolls from her friends who worked in upholstery businesses and grabbed remnants for her at the end of the day.

Teri was, his father had hoped, a passing fancy.

But Chandler was slain by her. Smitten far worse than he had ever been smiled before, he liked to tell her. He even invited her to the Senior Formal at Woodberry that next fall. Woodberry Forest was and remains an elite prep school in the southern drawl area of Virginia, replete with acres of wandering rural grounds, the best education afforded south of the Mason Dixon, and steeped in a tradition of Southern aristocracy.

When the seriousness of the relationship became obvious to his mother, she nudged her husband to “do something about it.”

Chandler’s father invited Teri and him out to dinner on the occasion of her 18th birthday.

“We’ll go to the Plantation Supper Club,” he said.

Located on the edge of Jamestown between High Point and Greensboro, the club offered good food and dancing to live music. Not exactly a club per se, it was still somewhat exclusive, and offered brown bagging –– a requisite for success in the city limits of Jamestown, which had not yet voted in liquor by the drink.

On Sundays, the club served a ridiculous buffet, with meats and fish and all sorts of upper end dishes and desserts. Sundays were Family Day. Years earlier Chandler remembered that children were invited by the band leader to come up and direct the band in order to earn a huge, multi-colored lollipop –– one as big as a dinner plate. Chandler and his older sisters were prompted by their parents to go up, and Carrie and Leigh took turns swishing the baton in the air while the band played a popular tune to a beat not even close to their arm waving.

At Chandler’s turn, he asked if he could sing a song instead of leading the band.

“What song do you want to sing?”

Jesus Loves Me.

The diners and the band leader laughed.

“Well, that’s fine with me. Do you boys know the song?” He was pretty sure it was not in their repertoire of favorite music. They grinned back at the leader.

“Okay, then. Jesus Loves Me it is. Hold this mike close to your lips, son –– and sing away!”

The diners laughed again.

Chandler began softly.

“Jesus loves me, this I know …”

His mother often recalled the moment that this sweet little angel of a voice began, a bit nervous at first, but in perfect pitch.

“For the Bible tells me so …”

The band, still trying to figure out the tune in the background, was hushed to silence by the band leader, and Chandler continued a cappella.

“Little ones to him belong,
They are weak and he is strong …”

Then the diners began to sing along, like a congregation at church in accompaniment to a church soloist on the chorus.

“Yes, Je-sus loves me …
“Yes, Je-sus loves me …
“Yes, Je-sus loves me …
“The Bible tells me so.”

Chandler’s dad said you could have heard a pin drop, and Chandler’s grandmother, who was with them, pulled out a handkerchief to dry her eyes.

Grabbing the lollipop payoff, Chandler hopped down the steps and ran back to the table.

It was this same location Chandler’s dad took Teri and him for her birthday dinner –– though not on a Sunday afternoon.

A band played various tunes onstage, again led by the now aging band leader. The maitre d seated them close to the stage. He handed out menus and asked for their drinks. Teri and Chandler were not of legal age, but Chandler’s dad requested a chilled bottle of Chardonnay and glasses for everyone.

“Not to worry,” he said. “This is a private club and the police know better than to raid it!” He winked at Tina, who blushed.

They ate their dinner, chatting nervously about practically nothing, except for his dad. “So, Teri, what does your father do?” And “Teri, do you have college plans?” And “Teri, have you been to Cozumel? We went last winter. A great place to escape the cold weather here.”

Teri found it difficult to respond. Chandler seethed, trying to make eye contact with his dad to get him to stop the embarrassing grilling.

Suddenly the band leader broke off the music and, stepping forward to the edge of the stage, announced in circus barker style,

“La-dees and Gen-telmen! Now for the main attraction of this evening’s entertainment, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! From the lurid lairs of New Orleans, where legs and hips and other feminine parts gyrate and leave you nothing to speculate! Please welcome in whatever manner you wish, the bump-and-grinder who has come to remind you what a measure of pleasure is all about, from Winder, Georgia where –– truly –– nothing could be finer! The quintessential snake dancer of sensuality … Miss LAVI-TAAAAAA … HOT!”

The band launched into bump and grind mode as a spotlight focused on the side curtain of the stage. A net stockinged leg slowly emerged — like a writhing snake. Chandler suddenly realized that Tina was the only woman in the club, and the other tables were occupied by delighted and overly tippled men. He and his father were the only ones wearing ties and jackets.

Out squirmed Miss Lavita Hot, dressed only in a lacy bra and panties, plus the net stockings held up by a black garter belt. About her shoulders she held outstretched a see-through shawl. Her assets rippled with each step, and her more-than-ample breasts swayed like pomegranates in the wind as she wriggled onto the stage under the spot light.

Later at home, an enraged Chandler screamed at his father, who seemed as surprised as both he and Tina at the striptease that ensued a mere feet from their table.

“YOU PLANNED THIS ON PURPOSE!!! Oh, God, Dad! And TOTALLY like The Graduate, too! Jeesh! What the hell were you thinking?”

His dad’s sheepish responses only added fuel to his rage. Still, Charles C. Wilson, II held on to his insistence that it was all a horrible mistake, and he didn’t mean to embarrass Tina, and yes, he liked his son’s girlfriend, and not to worry –– this, too, will pass.

“I’m the victim of circumstance!” he pled to no avail.

Owha ta foo liam.

As he neared High Point, Chandler could feel the blood beating a pathway up his carotid arteries to his brain. He gripped the wheel and tried to calm himself. After all, the roles were about to be reversed. Instead of his father being the defendant, Chandler was about to go before his father and plead nolo contendere, except in this case, the guilt was not in question –– only the sentence.

He had eventually forgiven his father (who never confessed), and hoped that he would receive his father’s compassion for his own stupidity. His mother? She was another story. She had never denied help to plot to rescue her first-born son from someone she saw as an adversary. On the other hand, Chandler knew better than to ask his mother regarding her complicity. Plus, her rule of thumb was if you aren’t asked, don’t tell.

As far as her punishing him, she would simply say she was “disappointed” –– which was far worse than forty lashes.

All to quickly he found himself turning up the driveway to his house. He hoped his father was at work, or better, was away on business. He parked the car and set the hand brake. He hesitated, breathing a prayer.

“Lord, if you are there, I’m asking for your help.”

This is getting to be a pattern in my life, he thought.

 

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God’s Farm … A Story. Three.

22 Apr

 

God’s Farm … A Story.

Three.

The drive home at the end of the quarter was a time for reflection and self-castigation. Chandler remembered a skit performed during his time as a junior counselor at Camp Cheerio during the summer. Camper volunteers were selected to join The Secret Society, and were lined up in front of the camp in the dining hall. They were told once they figured out the significance of the secret chant, they were to whisper it in the ear of a counselor and could sit down.

“Here’s the sacred chant. Repeat it very slowly after me, with awe and reverence,” one of the counselors directed them. “O-wha …”

“Owha,” the campers repeated slowly.

“Tafoo …”

“Tafoo.”

“Liam.”

“Liam.”

“Now, say it again, only quicker.”

“Ohwha-tafoo-liam.”

“Quicker!”

“Ohwhatafooliam!”

And, one by one, the campers began to realize the significance of the chant, they whispered it into the ear of the counselor, beet red in the face as the rest of the camp began to titter and laugh aloud.

“Oh what a fool I am!”

That’s me, he thought. A big, fat-ass fool!

He groaned and shook his head with remorse during the entire trip as he recalled his parents’ expectations and his failure to measure up. How Hump Day, which first began on Fridays, gradually slipped back to Thursday, and then Wednesday. How the fraternity had become the hub of his existence, and school and studies an inconvenience that loomed on the periphery of his consciousness.

Gotta paper to write.

Have another beer!

Gotta important class early tomorrow morning.

Have another beer!

He vaguely remembered house-hopping one night in the middle of the week after a $2 all-u-can-drink keg party. What he couldn’t remember at the time was what was that phrase again? Beer after whiskey, mighty risky; whiskey after beer, never fear? Or was it the other way around?

Have another beer!

Someone poured him a large Dixie cup of straight vodka and dared him to drink it in one gulp. “Never dare a daredevil,” he replied. And to the cheer of blurry and bleary-eyed spectators, he drained it. Then someone handed him another Dixie cup.

Have another beer!

As he staggered up North Main Street towards the Delta Pi Zeta frat house (aka, Zeta Zoo), Chandler noticed a harvest moon rising in the black sky above, and tilted his head back and howled like a wolf. In his stupor, he imagined he was a werewolf, and his timing was incredible. Wednesday night services at the Main Street Baptist Church had just let out, and very prim and proper and perfect parishioners streamed out of the front door.

Ha-woooooo!” he wailed loudly, the eyes of every church member drawn to his direction.

Snarling, he leapt over a picket fence and ran though a yard to escape what he imagined was the angry mob chasing him. Dogs began barking as he caromed off bushes and sheds and clotheslines in his frantic efforts to find his way back to the fraternity house.

Owha ta foo liam, he muttered to himself at the memory.

Then there was the time he and Joe, a fraternity brother, were walking at night from the Zoo to another frat house. It was winter, and snow had fallen, and he and Joe reeled and slipped in laughter up the sidewalk.

“Watch this!” Joe said, and scooped a handful of snow which he packed into a perfect snowball. A sputtering Volkswagen bug was struggling up the hill, it’s rear wheels spinning in the snowy slush. A southpaw, Joe cocked his arm and let fly a perfect throw which smacked the driver’s side window. The bug’s breaklights glared as two huge men crawled out of the tiny car. Each wore a Virginia Tech football letter jacket, and as they approached, one angrily shouted,

“Who is the fuckin’ moron that threw that snowball, ass holes?”

Joe and Chandler looked at each other, then around. They were the only fuckin’ moron ass holes to be seen.

Chandler stepped forward. He wasn’t small, but he was nowhere nearly as big as the jocks bearing quickly down on them.

“It was me,” he confessed. “You guys know Rod Caughlin?”

“Who the hell is Rod Caughlin?” growled the bulky driver, his grizzly-sized paws balled into iron mallets.

“Rod’s a freshman who plays for the Hokies. He and I played football together in high school.” Chandler hoped the association would somehow get him and Joe a reprieve. As he remembered the scene, it struck him, along with his Dear Professor Calloway letter, he was in the habit of doing things like that.

“Don’t know no fuckin’ Rod!” the grizzly bear snapped, poised ready to knock somebody’s head off. His passenger, not quite as big, but no less imposing, grabbed the bear by the sleeve.

“Wait a minute, Larry! Let’s think this through.”

Chandler immediately liked the other guy.

“You know what Coach told you. Let it go. They’re punks.”

“Ass-holes,” Larry corrected.

“Ass-holes. We gotta party to get to.” Then he turned to us. “Let me advise you guys to leave the snow on the fuckin’ ground, and to quit while you still have your heads.”

Chandler was about to say, “Don’t you mean quit while you’re ahead?”, but thought better of it.

When he and Joe reached the other fraternity they began to boast about the snowball incident, including the fact that “Larry” had backed down because of his friend’s intervention. Someone in the know countered,

“That’s not why. That Larry is Larry Creekmore, a starting defensive lineman who got in trouble last week because he broke into a store on Main when he was drunk. Claiborne threatened to put him on the taxi squad if anything else happened. Otherwise, you would both now be bloody pulp.”

Owha tafoo liam.

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