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Time –– It’s All Relative

19 Oct

Time –– It’s All Relative

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

I wrote a poem years ago entitled “All the Clocks Are Broken.” In its simplistic rhyme and meter, it playfully touches on time and how fickle it is. For example, in anticipation of a great event, like a birthday or Christmas, the clock slows down to a crawl, making your toenails itch.

Or, the opposite, during an exam, the hands fly about the circular clock face.

Anything requiring the passage of time can teeter or totter, almost arbitrarily. Turning old enough to be able to do something:

  1. Join a club, team, or participate in age-related extracurricular
  2. Drive a car
  3. Graduate high school
  4. Buy alcohol or cigarettes (although the latter isn’t as popular as it was in my day)
  5. Get a body piercing
  6. Get a tat
  7. Vote
  8. Go to college
  9. Graduate
  10. Go to post grad school
  11. Graduate
  12. Go for a PhD
  13. Graduate
  14. Get a job
  15. Get an apartment
  16. Lose the body piercing
  17. Get a J.O.B.
  18. Get another tat … and more piercings
  19. Get married
  20. Buy a house
  21. Have children
  22. Feed, house and clothe the kids
  23. Take them to clubs, teams, and other extracurricular
  24. Get them a car
  25. Go to their high school graduation
  26. Sign the permission form for their first body piercing
  27. Move them into their freshman dorm room
  28. Smile weakly in reaction to their first tat
  29. Offer them their first glass of wine
  30. Attend their college graduation
  31. Co-sign for their first apartment
  32. Attend their post college degree graduation
  33. Co-sign their student loan for their PhD
  34. Celebrate their first job
  35. Take them and their fiancé out to dinner for the first time
  36. Go over the budget for the wedding
  37. Cry at the wedding
  38. Go on a cruise
  39. Downsize to a condominium
  40. Take pictures of the first grandchild
  41. Announce your divorce
  42. Move to an apartment
  43. Retire
  44. Move to a senior living facility
  45. Meet with the lawyer and finalize the will

Numbers one through 14 pass slower than molasses going up hill on a 20 degree day with a 45 mile-per-hour headwind.

Fifteen through 45 happen quicker than the snap of a finger. The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate finger*.

After a bit of time had spilled down the drain, I noticed something. The years aren’t like some straight roadway that disappears in the desert at some unseen infinite point. The years are more like a Slinky, recurring coils where the four seasons have claimed a spot on the circumference of each coil. Depending on what is going on, the Slinky of time stretches and compresses. For the first million or so years of the planet, for example, the slinky is stretched nearly to its limit. As life developed and evolved, and as humankind (oxymoron) grew in number and impact, the coils compressed.

Today, the Time Slinky is tightly compressed, almost to the point of the annual coils melding into one another.

That’s comforting to some extent. It means even though Time is zipping along at breakneck speeds for me, we will make it through this particular phase of time, and perhaps the coils will then relax, and begin to stretch out again, the tension loosen.

I hope so.

*The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award was a commentary staple on a popular television comedy show that ran in the late 60s through the early 70s – Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. More like a pfft on the Time Slinky. I always thought the finger on the award should not have been the index finger, but one over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Binary Coding and Letter Writing

29 Sep

 

Binary Coding and Letter Writing

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

It’s probably just me. Dailey I text my children – or at least try to – in the morning. I’m a bit verbose. But then I am a writer, and words are my medium to express a myriad of thought and feelings.

Lately I’ve begun to think I’m talking to myself – or at best, to thin air. I blather on about all sorts of things.

My children, on the other hand, respond in cryptic one-word responses, like, LOL, IDK, LMAO, or Ha! Sometimes only with emojis. A picture and a thousand words sort of thing.

Because of the timing of responses, it’s difficult to figure out what part of my monologue a particular response is meant!

Like the classic, “Do you like your eggs fried, or scrambled?”

Yes. In this case, a thumbs up emoji.

Frankly, it’s the kind of thing I’m known by my kids to do habitually, so I suppose Karma is at work, and I shouldn’t complain.

The other nagging thought is my kids are so much on the fly that they don’t have time to stop and give a thoughtful response. Too busy.

A reverse Harry Chaplin thing.

Oh, yeah … we’ll have a fine time then.

I don’t mean to be self-absorbed. Well, maybe just a little. Okay, I’m damn-well feeling sorry for myself! Satisfied?

Sorry. (Insert sad imoji here)

Everything we do nowadays is driven by the binary system. Ohs and ones. Simplification. But translate this one for me, will ya (NASA computer engineers NOT eligible)?

01001000 01100101 01101100 01101100 01101111 00100001

01001101 01111001

01001110 01100001 01101101 01100101

01101001 01110011

01010011 01101011 01101001 01110000 00100001*

It was only a matter of time that writing would devolve into the merest of notations and scratches. Abbreviations. Short answers.

I have a T-shirt that illustrates this pretty well:

 

THERE ARE TWO TYPES OF PEOPLE IN THIS WORLD:

1. THOSE WHO CAN EXTRAPOLATE FROM INSUFFICIENT INFORMATION;

 

Wait for it …

Music up: Age of Aquarius

Here’s how it went chronologically (really depends on what you mean by the word “it,” but in this case, “it” stands for devolution of writing):

  • Marks on a stick
  • Crude drawings on a cave wall
  • Stone tablets with hieroglyphics
  • Papyrus scrolls with hieroglyphics
  • Paper with hand-etched lettering
  • Block letters
  • Cursive
  • Written letters (e.g., Dear John …)
  • Books
  • Radio
  • TV
  • Computers
  • Memos
  • Sticky notes
  • Hand-held mobile phones
  • Cell phones
  • Text
  • Twitters
  • Abbreviations
  • Emojis

So, with one little pffft! in the very short timeline of communication, we have been sucked into a not-so-great eddy of simplification. That’s either because we have no more time left to communicate verbally or by written word, or, we have nothing to communicate.

Your choice.

* https://www.sciencefriday.com/educational-resources/write-your-name-in-binary-code/

The Cabinet, or, Better Living Through Chemistry

18 Sep

The Cabinet

or

Better Living Through Chemistry

by L. Stewart Marsden

 

I know I put them in here … somewhere
Underneath the whitening tooth gel;
Crammed beside the fat-burning oil;
Above the No More Wrinkles, My Friend;
Or the Gradual Gray-Away Hair-Coloring Brush;
Between the Sleep Deep Tonight and the Stay-Awake capsules;
Or the Breathe Through the Night Guaranteed nose spray;
And the Psoriasis Cream; or the Pain Go Away hot and cold bags;
Near the Gas-Away tablets, and the Warts-No-More stick-ums;
The Breath-O’-Mint gargle, and the NuHair in the Morning rubbing salve;
The ear-wax drops and the nose-hair plucker;
The Intimate Hair Begone; and the No-Leaks, My Lady underwear pads;
The No Sweat – You Bet underarm roll-on; or the Flab-Away Arm and Leg Lotion.
Where the hell are they?
I know I put them in here … somewhere.

 

 

Get the shopping cart into the correct place … Dammit!

2 Aug

 

Get the shopping cart into the correct place … Dammit!

By L. Stewart Marsden

A post on Facebook this morning got me to thinking. I know, thinking twice in one month is rather astounding for me. And painful – like a brain freeze.

It focused on people who do and don’t return their shopping carts to a cart station in the parking lot (perhaps, even, to the front area of the store). You’ve seen those people who don’t return theirs. They tend to smoke and drive big pickups and have Confederate flags on the rear windshield and have mud flaps with a chrome naked woman and spit on the pavement and wear greaser T-shirts and probably voted for 45. They shoo their carts and let them drift aimlessly in the vast parting lots like maverick cattle, creating chaos and confusion. Shameful!

The writer asserted – with admittedly no science to back his thesis – that successful people tend to return their carts, and the lazy bastards of our culture (see above) don’t.

I’m not sure this doesn’t fly in the face of what might be more accurately deduced. For example, the shopping cart returners seem to me more like Stepford Wives than successful entrepreneurs. More like the vast crowds who shift and turn based on the movement of the masses – unthinking and mechanically reactive. Like those schools of sardines you see during Shark Week, rippling through the water en masse. And, sad to say, I’m in that vast population.

I’m not advocating total chaos in the parking lots of America, mind you. And while the data are truly lacking*, this is also one of my peeves, although not a pet one. Mine is more unrestrained and feral. The point is whether you return your cart or not, I don’t think it’s an indicator of much of anything success-wise. But the post – like I said – got me to thinking.

Today there are at least two sizes of carts at most stores (Dollar General is the exception – and Aldi’s): the hunka-munka-I’m-here-for-a-whole-s**t-load-of-stuff cart, and the dainty-just-gotta-grab-one-or-two-items cart. (I normally use the latter cart, then cram it full of oh-I-need-thats until it looks like one of those commuter buses in India where passengers are literally hanging off the sides.)

Which brings up another pet peeve (squirrel!): going through the Express check-out with more than “about 12 items.” But I’ll leave that for another day.

So I get my stuff; wheel the cart through the parking lot with the one wheel spinning uncontrollably; unload my stuff in the trunk (cold stuff near the door, non-perishables in the back of the trunk); and turn to put my dainty cart in the cart station.

Again, there are usually two lanes of carts in each of these stations. Now at Lowe’s Home Improvement, one of those lanes is for the flatbed carts, and is much wider than the one meant for the regular carts. But at the grocery store, the lanes are the same size! AND, horror of horrors, the dainty and the hunka-munka carts are MIXED TOGETHER!

AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!

So, I spend time fixing the mess, pulling out the two sizes of carts and putting them together in correct sizes, and rolling those cart trains back into the cart station lanes, nice and neat. I even wait in my car a bit if someone who has just rolled out and emptied their cart to see if they are going to screw up the order! If they do, I don’t normally roll down my window and yell, “Hey! Asshole! Put that shopping cart in the other lane!” But I sure do think it.

I’m not sure this qualifies me for anything other than the Coo-coo’s Nest Elderly Care Retirement Home located on a dead-end street marked at its beginning with a sign that says, “No Exit.”

But it might.

–––––––––––––

*I understand the Federal Government is funding a $2.6 million study on this very subject.

Compromise

26 Jul

Compromise

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

I love T-shirts. The kind with witty sayings. Over the last year or more I’ve become a sucker for eye-catching, cleverly worded cotton and polyester tees.

My favorite T-shirts are: “Irony: the opposite of Wrinkly”; “Hyphenated. Non-hyphenated. The irony.”; “You Matter, Unless you multiply yourself by the speed of light … then you Energy.” That last one might be perceived to have some racial undertones, so I’m careful where I wear it. I also have a neat yin-yang guitar design T, and one bearing the image of Eric Clapton. I wear those whenever I play my acoustic, or practice my mandolin.

T-shirts arrive where I live almost every week. I got Tees for all my kids. You know, “I’m the oldest child – the rules were written for me,” “I’m the middle child …” And I got them the “Thing I” and “Thing II,” ad infinitum tees. Ask me how many kids I have and I’ll answer “Five … that I know of.”

They rarely wear them. I don’t know why. Certainly not at the same time, which is what I wanted in order to take a group shot of the kids in their tees to put on a T-shirt.

I saw a T-shirt advertised on Facebook from my alma mater, High Point College, where I graduated back in 1975. The type read, “Never underestimate an Old Man Who Graduated from High Point University.”  (The school added some post-graduate degrees in an effort to separate from all the other small colleges that abound in North Carolina.)

Apparently I wasn’t the only disgruntled grad, and I added my comment of disdain: I’m an Old Man (nothing about women, by the way), but I DID NOT graduate from High Point University! I graduated from High Point College!!!

I also might have added some colorful commentary about how the school seemed to have lost its way, clear-cutting beautiful areas of 100-year-old oaks, in order to grow. Whenever I go back to High Point, nothing is the same. I think of the folk tune Greenfields, recorded by the Brothers Four back in the 60s:

Once there were greenfields kissed by the sun;
Once there were valleys where rivers used to run;
Once there was blue sky with white clouds high above;
Once they were part of an everlasting

The changes on the campus, going from a quaint college in a quaint town, (although some believe them to be good as well as progressive), to a super-modern, luxury campus, have signaled the end of an era to many others of us.

And so I refused to buy the T-shirt. Whenever I scrolled across the ad for a High Point University wearable, especially if it used the words “Old Man,” I would comment.

Like talking to a wall, I thought. No one is reading my comments. No one cares. The world is slowly draining down the eddy of a toilet flush. Suck … suck … suck go the old ways and memories down that drain. A forgotten man from a forgotten era.

Then, to my surprise, a new ad. The tune was the same, but the lyrics were changed! “Never Underestimate an Old Man who graduated from High Point.” Period. Not High Point College, but not High Point University, either.

While not perfectly what I wanted (and I don’t dare step into the area of coeds), it was … it was … compromise!

I know a little about the T-shirt printing process to realize that the manufacturer was going to have to burn new screens in order to replace the word University with College. So, why not merely cover the word University and avoid the added costs? After all, no telling how many Old Men who graduated from High Point were still alive, or how many of those curmudgeons, codgers, or skinflints would order a T-shirt?

Compromise!

In this day and age – what a concept! I think of Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood), sitting down in his button-down sweater and smiling to the camera to calmly say, “Can you say compromise, boys and girls?

I almost had to look it up in Merriam-Webster. I had forgotten the definition, as have many others, apparently.

I didn’t get exactly what I wanted, but what I got was better for me than what was being originally offered. A win-win solution!

Where are the Richard Rogers when you most need them? Can you say compromise?

I bought the new T-shirt, by the way.

 

 

Breaking News!

25 Jul

Breaking News!

Five historical (hysterical?) headlines, delivered à la ABC News Anchor great, David Muir, posing intently before the camera, wondering what did he know, and when did he know it? Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and Charles Kuralt,  rolling in their graves, eating their hearts.

Athens – 490 BC. Running to tell Athenians of the great victory over the Persians at Marathon. Traveling more than 26 miles full out. Pheidippides, uttering “Joy to you, we’ve won!” Falling, dying exhausted. “We should commemorate this day,” suggests Greek statesman. Looking back, historians wondering, What did he know, and when did he know it?

Wittenberg Castle – 31 October 1517. Nailing list of ninety-five shades of gray areas re the Catholic Church. Calling for the Pope to use his own money to build cathedrals rather than tax the poor. According to cousin Lex, idea for protest comes to Martin while sitting on the chamber pot. The Pope, dismissing the list as a “passing fancy.” Parishioners wondering about The Pope –– What did he know, and when did he know it?

Montana Territory – 25, 26 June 1876. Leading a battalion of 700, General George Custer, feeling confident. Crazy Horse and others, lying in wait sneakily, ambushing good American soldiers. More than 260 dying, including Custer. Boston hairdresser, mourning the loss of his favorite client, saying, “He was larger than life!” Grant, wondering “What did he know, and when did he know it?”

Pearl Harbor – 7 June 1941. Japanese air attack surprising US Naval ships on an early Sunday morning. Sinking ships under exploding Japanese torpedoes. Addressing the nation by radio, FDR, branding the attack “infamous.” Declaring war on Japan. What did he know, and when did he know it?

The Moon – 20 July, 1969. Landing the lunar module Eagle at 20:18 UTC. Stepping onto the surface, Neil Armstrong, commenting something about his small feet. Joining him later, Buzz Aldrin, remarking “Wonder how far I could hit a golf ball up here?” Congratulating the Apollo astronauts, Nixon, talking via the mystery of satellite. What did he know, and when did he know it?

 

 

 

Charley’s Angles

27 Jun

Charley’s Angles

By L. Stewart Marsden

Part 1

Charley and me were twins. Not identical twins. Fraternal. But you would never know that in a million years. He and me was different in every way. I got the looks and the athletic body and all. What’d he get?

The brains.

Charley was smart as a whip. Beat you in chess blindfolded. Tell you the capital of every country in Indo – Indo – well, everywhere. Could talk his way in and out of trouble without you ever knowing what was going on.

Dad said we was so different he wondered did he need to check the woodpile. I never knew what he meant by that, but Mom would look at him with the awfullest sneer whenever he said it. And he said it a lot.

“It’s possible to have the children of two different fathers conceived at two different times and they be born at the same time,” Charley said once at breakfast over a bowl of Cheerios and bananas.

“I don’t see how,” said Mom, that look on her face again.

Charley looked at her and grinned back innocently, “Everyone doesn’t understand electricity, yet that doesn’t keep us from using it.”

Even I knew what he was doing, and had to bury my face in my napkin.

Once Charley said something like that when Mom had a pan of biscuits fresh from the oven. He learned never to tease her again when she was armed. The pan missed his head by inches.

But Charley was ugly. It was bad enough to be smart, but to have ugly piled on top of that was just about the cruelest thing God could have done him.

His face was skinny and his hair moppy. His ears looked like radar dishes stuck on. He was missing two teeth that never developed – from Mom’s side of the family (or the woodpile, Dad would say).

He was also sickly all the time. Allergic to just about everything, and caught anything that came along at school. Flu? He caught it every time. Measles? Mumps? Chicken Pox? Them, too. Even had rare diseases, like scarlet fever. He was a mess.

He was older than me by six minutes. That was one thing he had on me other than smarts. He was my older brother.

“Good thing we don’t practice primogeniture or you’d be stuck with nothing when Mom and Dad die.”

Well, first, I didn’t know what primo – primo – whatever – meant. And second, I thought it was terrible to think that Mom and Dad would ever die – much less talk about it.

In spite of everything we didn’t have in common, we loved the hell out of each other.

All through school Charley was the butt of bullying and teasing. He got tripped going up stairwells, and had his face pushed in more than one bowl of apple sauce at lunch. So I became his protector.

He only made things worse whenever he tried to use his smarts to keep him from getting beat up. Nobody understood half of what he said, and he said a lot. Big words. Words with more than two syllables.

“I suppose because of your inferior intellect you feel overwhelmed by mine, and must compensate by resorting to your instinctual and Neanderthal brutishness.”

WHAM!

And he was flat on the ground with several guys diving on top, swinging their fists.

I would come running up and clear the bodies off him, threatening sure death to the rats as they scrambled away in fear.

He would smile up at me, him flat on his back. “Thanks, Brother!” I’d pull him up and we’d go on our way, arms draped over each other’s shoulder, and I would give him my advice.

“You gotta quit talking like that, Charley!”

As we grew older, Charley played Ying to my Yang. I was a star running back on the football team. He was the team manager. I was the hot power forward on the basketball team, and he was the team statistician. I was the slugger who batted cleanup on the baseball team, and he was the bat boy and kept the inning by inning score chart.

If it hadn’t been for Charley, though, I’d never have made it through high school. He kept me eligible for sports by doing most of my homework. That kept my grade average up in spite of my test scores, which he couldn’t take, of course. He always said it was too bad we weren’t identical twins.

“I could take your tests, too, if teachers couldn’t tell us apart!”

I knew there would be advantages for Charley if we were identical; those he could only fantasize about: girls.

∫ ∫ ∫ ∫ ∫

 

Part 2

 

“So what’s it like?” he asked me one night when I came back from a date.

“What’s what like?”

“You know. Being with a girl?”

“I don’t know! Like being with anybody, I guess. I never thought of it.”

“From what I hear, thinking has little to nothing to do with being with a girl.”

“Oh! You mean what’s sex like?”

“Yes!”

He sat up on his bed. He was all ears – which he was anyways. We shared a bedroom on the top floor. Our beds were separated by a table with a small lamp and wind-up clock on it.

I unbuttoned my shirt and threw it on the floor for Mom. Then turned my back to him and slipped my pants off and hopped quickly into my bed.

“You want to know what sex is like?”

“I do.”

“Well, one day you will know.”

“No I won’t. And you know that.”

“Yes you will! What? You gonna get some strange disease and die before you make it with a girl?”

I remember he sat there with the strangest look on his face. A sad smile and big eyes. Like our Golden Lab, Delbert. Like he knew something I didn’t – which was always the case.

“Sex. What’s it like?” And he waited, his head cocked to one side like Delbert when we were eating at the table and he begged for a taste. I could never resist feeding Delbert from the table either.

So I told him. I told him about Betty Sue – who was my first. How I slipped my hand under her blouse at the Center Theatre and she didn’t stop me. How she responded by putting her hand in my lap.

No!” Charley said in amazement, sitting up straighter.

How we awkwardly left the theater before the end of the movie and hurried up the dark aisle, all my buddies giving me the thumbs up and their dates grinning over big cups of Coca-Cola and boxes of popcorn. How we drove out to the lake. How I pulled a blanket from the back seat and kept the car radio on.

How Gary Puckett sang “Young Girl” just as Betty Sue slipped out of her blouse and unhooked her bra, displaying all her glory by the light of the waxing moon.

“Time for bed, Charley. Sweet dreams.”

Wow!” was all Charley could whisper.

I turned the light off.

The rustle of his bed sheets for several minutes told me Charley would indeed have sweet dreams – and more.

∫ ∫ ∫ ∫ ∫

 

Part 3

 

“Say that again, Charley – slowly.”

I was distracted when he first said it, trying to reach a lone fry at the bottom of my bag of food from McDonald’s. Charley said it so casually just before he clamped down on his Big Mac as he sat in the passenger seat of my car.

“Leukemia,” he repeated, picking sesame seeds from between his teeth.

“What the hell is leukemia?”

“It’s a disease of the blood. The bone marrow, actually.”

“The what!?”

“It’s inside your bones. It’s where new blood cells are made.”

Rain splattered against the windshield of the car where we had parked. A sudden storm came out of nowhere with driving wind that shook trees and bushes around us. Customers made mad dashes out of McDonald’s to their cars, holding their shirts and jackets pulled over their heads in vain to keep dry.

“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

“I didn’t know for sure. And Mom made me promise not to.”

“Why the hell would she do that?”

“Well, finals. She said it would devastate you to the point you would blow it. If you don’t graduate, the football scholarship isn’t worth anything.”

“God!”

“No – it’s okay! Really! I completely agree with her. Look, it’s not her fault. No one’s fault. These things happen.”

“But why you? Why not me?”

“Why not me? Look, please don’t tell Mom I told you!?”

“Jeesh, Charley! I’m the only one in the family who doesn’t know this? Because of a lousy scholarship? How – did you catch this from somebody? Who else knows?”

“I didn’t catch it. And nobody else knows. Even Dad.”

“What!? Dad doesn’t know?”

“His heart. You can’t tell him either.”

“Yeah. Yeah that makes sense. So what happens?”

“I have some time. There are treatments we’re going to try. Doctor Slate told us to go to Duke. They’re on the cutting edge of most medical conditions.”

“How long have you known?”

“Two days.”

“That’s where you and mom were, when you went to Duke?”

“Yeah.”

“I thought that was to interview to go there. This is so – so crappy!”

“I know.”

“Are you gonna die?”

“Everyone’s going to die …”

“–You know what I mean!”

“Don’t know.”

I pounded the steering wheel in anger, and the tears came – suddenly, like the rain.

“Oh, Charley!”

“I know.”

“I wish I could do something! I mean, it should be me, not you! I’d do anything to help – you know that.”

“I know.”

The rain and wind continued to beat down around us. Curtains of water swept across the parking lot and the streets. The car began to shake with the storm.

“There is something you could do for me. But, nah – I shouldn’t ask –”

“No–no–no! There’s nothing you can never not ask me! I’ll do anything to help! Honest to God, I will!”

A flash of lightning startled us both, and thunder rolled off into the distance. Charley was reluctant, and had trouble telling me what was on his mind.

“Honest, Charley! Anything!”

Another distant rumble.

“Remember when you told me about you and Betty Sue at the lake?”

It was the furthest thing from my mind, but not hard to remember.

“Yeah?”

“And remember how you said one day I would know what sex was like and I told you I wouldn’t?”

“Uh, yeah.”

His look came back to my mind. That strange look on his face. The sad smile and big eyes. Like Delbert at the dinner table.

“I was right. I won’t ever know what sex is like.”

“You knew about this back then?”

“I didn’t know – I had a hunch. An instinct. I had been feeling exhausted lately.”

“You’re always exhausted …”

“Worse than usual. And I was bruising in strange places on my body, and didn’t remember being hit or bumping into anything. No bullies lately, thanks to you.”

“That’s leukemia?”

“That’s the lack of platelets.”

“What?”

“Simply, you bruise easily. And I was. So I looked up the symptoms in the school library, and I matched up with most of them. I told Mom, and that’s when we went to see Dr. Slate. A few tests, and …”

“So it’s for certain?”

“I can’t tell you that. Duke ran different tests to find out conclusively. But it doesn’t look good. I have to decide what to do. Do I go to Duke for treatment? Mom mentioned St. Judes. But, like I said – looks like I won’t ever know what sex is like.”

“That’s sad, Charley. Very sad. God, I hurt for you.”

“But, that’s where you could help me out.”

“Whaddaya mean by that?”

“Betty Sue.”

“What!?”

“So I don’t die without that experience! Like you said, very sad! And, like you also said, you would do anything for me, right?”

And it dawned on me what Charley wanted. I was so confused by the news of his disease! And it truly was sad that he could die without experiencing sex. And even if he didn’t die from it, who knows how it would effect his ability to – well – perform? And I could probably at least do something about that for him – if nothing else. It was a brother’s obligation, after all.

As if a sign of confirmation, the rain stopped as suddenly as it started. A shaft of sunlight pierced through the dark clouds and illumined the steeple on the First Main Street Baptist Church across the street.

It was the closest I ever came to having a real spiritual event, and was as if God himself had said through that shaft of light, “Go thou, and fetch Betty Sue for thy brother’s sake.”

“I’ll call her tonight,” I told Charley.

A big missing-tooth smile broke out over his thin face, and his large ears even seemed to wiggle in appreciation. I thought he was going to join me in a flood of tears.

“God bless you, Brother!” Charley said to me, gripping my shoulder with his trembling hand.

∫ ∫ ∫ ∫ ∫

 

Part 4

Betty Sue was talented – in many ways. She played a mean trumpet in the band, and boy could she blow (if you know what I mean)! Not so bad in the classroom, either. She wasn’t exactly the girl you bring home to mother, but she was the experienced woman in our class.

She could drink any guy under the table, take the pot at poker every time, and smoke a cigarette and chew tobacco at the same time without turning green and puking.

I thought she looked like those posters of Rosey the Riveter from World War II.

I didn’t know what she would say when I called her about Charley, but I knew she had a big heart. She was a sucker for sappy stories, Golden Retriever, and little kids.

She didn’t disappoint me.

“Oh! God! Of course I will! When do you want me to come over? Tonight?”

That surprised me. It was ten o’clock when I called her. Of course, time was of the essence for Charley, and he nodded his head insistently when I replied, “Tonight? I don’t know …”

His ears, now burning red, flopped back and forth, his eyes wide open.

“Yeah, sure! Tonight’s fine. Say, midnight? That way Mom and Dad will be asleep. Can you climb trees? We’re on the second floor and there’s a big water oak beside the window. Not afraid, are you?”

“I’m not afraid of much. What’s your address?”

I gave it to her, and she made a kiss sound over the phone before she hung up.

Charley was beside himself with excitement and anticipation.

“Should I take a bath? Yes! I should take a bath!” And he stripped off his clothes on the way to the bathroom down the hallway. I walked in a few minutes later and lavender bubbles were creeping over the side of the tub as he completely sudsed himself. I laughed.

With a mound of bubbles peaked on top of his head, Charley stopped and nodded at me.

“I owe you big time. Thank you for doing this!”

“That’s what little brothers are for.” And we both laughed.

“I figure you don’t have protection,” I said as I squeezed my hand into my jeans and pulled a plastic packet from my front pocket. TROJAN was printed on the packet. I tossed it to him and he missed it, scrambling with his hands through the suds to pull it out of the water and look at it.

“Doesn’t using one of these take the sensation out of it?” he asked.

“Peggy Sue requires it. She doesn’t want little Charley’s running around pulling at her apron, right?”

“Remember when we were young and I found one of these in the woods behind Grampa’s house?”

I did remember. Neither of us knew what it was, but Charley opened it.

“Eeeyew! It’s all slimey!” he said at the time, holding the wound rubber up with two fingers. “It’s a balloon!”

We took the “balloon” to the city pool, and Charley unrolled it, and blew. He blew and he blew and he blew. It was off-white in color, and grew to an incredible size.

“Hey, Charlie! Where’d you get that?” asked one of the older kids, laughing.

“I found it at my Grampa’s.”

Everyone laughed.

Charley dried off as the tub drained, and combed his hair back. He brushed his teeth twice and rinsed with Listerine. Then he coated his underarms with Ban deodorant. He carefully popped the most obvious zits on his face, and squeezed out a few blackheads. He literally showered himself in Canoe, all the while staring at himself in the bathroom mirror, posing to the side and trying to look sexy. I could hardly keep from laughing.

“I suppose I’ll turn out the lights when Peggy Sue and I – you know.”

“Might be wise,” I grinned.

“Should I wear pajamas?”

“No. Underwear and a T-shirt.”

“Could I borrow a pair of your boxers?” He only wore tidy-whities.

“Long as you wash them.”

Back in our room Charley began to straighten up. He even made my bed, which I normally did myself at least once a month. He took down the Miss May fold out and stashed it in the bed table drawer.

“I don’t think Peggy Sue would mind the picture.”

“I mind. I don’t want her to think I’m that kind of guy.”

“What kind of guy?”

“You know –” and pumped his fist a couple of times. “You didn’t tell her I’m a virgin, did you?”

“Charley!? That’s the whole point of her agreeing to come over tonight!”

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, that’s okay.”

He was really nervous, and kept picking up the windup clock to check the time.

“You know what they say about a watched clock.”

“You’re right. Can I play your stereo? When she gets here? I’d like to play either your Johnny Mathis album or Dionne Warwick. Which do you think? Which will be best for the mood?”

I began to have second thoughts about this. I mean, Charley was a bit – I don’t know – over the top?

“Charley, relax! It isn’t like this is anything special for Peggy Sue! She’s not going to wear your ring or anything like that afterwards. It’s a one-time thing. You don’t have to impress her, or worry about what you look like, or how you smell, or your breath or anything! She’s coming here to bang you, man! That’s it. Nothing special for her.”

Charley slumped on his bed. I regretted the words almost as soon as I said them.

“Look – I didn’t mean it isn’t special. It is. For you, I know. And for Peggy Sue.”

“Right,” he said without feeling.

“Look, don’t play Mathis or Warwick.” I got up from my bed and went to my stack of albums and rifled through them quickly, pulling one out, which I handed to Charley.

“Your Led Zeppelin? For mood music?”

“Stairway to Heaven,” I replied. “Mood beyond mood.”

He looked at the label, flipped the album over and looked again for the song.

“It’s only eight minutes long!”

“Kiddo – that will be plenty of time, believe me.”

A tap on the window interrupted us. It was Peggy Sue, straddling the thick branch of the water oak that was closest to the window.

It was midnight.

 

∫ ∫ ∫ ∫ ∫

 

Part 5

Peggy Sue had gone all-out for Charley, and I was so proud of her and glad for him. She wore a halter top tied in the front, and form-fitting satin pants. It was obvious she wore no bra, and I wondered if she had no panties as well.

Her long blonde hair was wavy – like she had rolled it. Later she told me she had. Plus she had taken a bath and powdered her body with Baby Powder, painted her nails and toenails. She smelled delicious, and I was a bit envious of the experience my brother was about to have.

Peggy Sue pecked me on the cheek with her deep red lips, and smiled. “You staying?”

“Oh, no! No, I’m leaving,” and she ushered me out of the room. Just before she closed the door I caught my final image of Charley as a virgin, sitting on the edge of his bed dressed in a white Hanes vee-neck T, and a pair of polkadot boxers that were way too big for him. The look on his face was priceless.

Peggy Sue closed the door quietly, so as not to wake my parents, who were long asleep in their room at the end of the hallway.

I turned and sauntered to the stairway, stopping halfway and pausing until I saw the bedroom light go out from under my bedroom door, and then heard “Stairway to Heaven.”

I was incredibly proud of myself, and grabbed a blanket and pillow from the downstairs closet, and curled up on the livingroom sofa for the night. Periodically I could hear footsteps crossing the floor upstairs, and “Stairway to Heaven” begin again.

Damn! I thought.

Six times the song played.

And on the seventh, all hell broke loose.

 

∫ ∫ ∫ ∫ ∫

 

Part 6

Know how there are those times when you are listening to good music and you become “one” with it? How things around you kind of disappear, and how you swirl with the beat and the tune and you have no consciousness of anything around you? How, for example, the loudness of the music doesn’t register with you? Or you aren’t bothered by repeating that tune over and over and over again?

That’s what happened to Charley and Peggy Sue. Every time he got up to reset the stereo stylus to “Stairway to Heaven,” he also bumped up the volume a bit, and on the seventh time he played the song, the volume was full blast.

Neither one of them heard Mom complaining from her and Dad’s bedroom, “Turn the music down, please!”

Then, “TURN the music DOWN, please!”

“TURN THE MUSIC DOWN, PLEASE!!!”

“TURN THE GODDAM MUSIC DOWN – AND DO IT NOW!!!”

The couple, leg-locked and totally naked in Charley’s bed, were also totally lost in each other and the music. They never heard Mom’s vocal complaints. They didn’t hear Mom jump up out of her bed and stomp heavily down the hallway toward our bedroom. They were completely oblivious of anything else but the music and the moment.

Until Mom swung open the door, turned on the ceiling light and screamed at the top of her lungs,

“CHARLES FISHBURNE MILLER!? WHAT IN GAWD’S NAME IS GOING ON IN HERE?”

That scream awoke me from a very sensual dream that happened to star Peggy Sue, and it took me a few seconds to realize what was going on. Then I heard Peggy Sue and Charlie screaming, and Mom screaming, and Dad come out of his bedroom to join in the screaming.

Not exactly sure what to do, run or rescue, I chose to rescue, and bounded up the stairs to my bedroom.

Mom was in the middle of the bedroom flailing her arms at Charley and Peggy Sue, who were cowering behind the top bedsheet on his bed, and Dad was behind Mom, not sure where to look.

I walked in and Mom turned to me, possessed by a demon.

“WHAT IS YOUR PART IN THIS, YOUNG MAN?”

Not good. Her saying “YOUNG MAN” was not only high drama, but meant I was in deep doo-doo. But once again, as when Charley was being crushed and pummeled under a stack of bullies, I stepped in. Captain Rescue.

“It’s my fault, Mom. I set this up for Charley because of – well, (I looked quickly at Dad) – you know …”

“NO! I do NOT know! Because of what?”

I kept nodding my head toward Dad, not wanting to stress him with the revelation.

“You got a tick, Boy?” Dad said, his eyebrows arching close to his widow’s peak hairline.

“BECAUSE OF WHAT?” Mom demanded.

I looked over at Charley, who had closed his eyes and was slowly shaking his head.

“BECAUSE OF THE LEUKEMIA!” I exploded, tears bursting from my eyes. Peggy Sue also began to cry while Charley slowly crawled under the sheet.

“LEUKEMIA? WHAT LEUKEMIA?” Mom and Dad shouted in unison.

Then there was the pregnant pause.

My parents looked at me, and I and Peggy Sue looked at Charley, who was now bent over on his knees on the bed, covered by the sheet – except for his white behind, which was partially uncovered. That struck me hilarious in the moment, and while the seventh repetition of “Stairway to Heaven” ended and the scratch, scratch, scratch of the needle on blank vinyl began to repeat in the background, I started to laugh.

“Your ass is showing, Charley,” I said, a fit of laughter overwhelming me, so contagious eventually everyone in the room was bent over.

Somehow over the next few hours, after Charley and Peggy Sue had dressed themselves (she in the bathroom, and he under the covers), the truth unravelled. Only Mom and Dad were innocent. And, thank God, Dad didn’t keel over with a heart attack when he heard the word leukemia.

 

∫ ∫ ∫ ∫ ∫

Epilogue

All of us survived the experience, although Dad did finally drop dead on his desk at work a few years later. Mom remarried when she was older. A nice guy. A vegan.

Peggy Sue graduated high school, worked her way through a local college, and ended up running an auto tire place and making very good money. She married and had six children – all girls. I wonder if they were anything like she was. One can only hope.

Me? I fractured my hip during my sophomore year of college in a game against State, and paid the rest of my way through college making pizzas at Dominos. I ended up selling insurance, and doing pretty good. I’ve got a daughter and two sons, and do the “dad thing” – ball games and proms and – well, you know.

Charley? Charley was like the ugly duckling who transformed into quite a handsome guy in his 30s. He went to Duke on scholarship, and ended up on Wall Street, where he cleaned up, financially-speaking. He lives on the Upper East Side with his wife and one son. I think his skill at coming up with angles benefitted him and kept him in such good stead that he came to the attention of one of the biggest money moguls in Manhattan: a guy named Bernie Madoff. He has done incredibly well, and keeps begging me to come to New York and work with him.

As yet, I haven’t done so. I don’t know, maybe I’m not smart enough – and maybe it’s dumb not to take him up on it. But after that experience with him and Peggy Sue? I’ll stay here and be content with what I got. Besides, a Southern Boy in New York City? Nah. I’ll leave that to Charley and his angles. He’s more suited to the big city.

By the way, have you looked at whether or not you have enough insurance, lately?

 

The End.

New Instruments — Part II

23 May

New Instruments — Part II

The piano. The trombone. The harmonica.

The Piano

Well before, and sandwiched in between my learning to play the baritone ukulele or classical guitar, were the good intentioned desires of my mother that I learn to play the piano.

I was probably somewhere between five and seven years old.

Dad had bought a mid-sized Mason & Hamlin grand piano from a friend who needed the money. It sat in the livingroom and occupied a corner. Whenever my sisters and I played tag or hide-and-seek, it was a favorite place to hide, sitting on the thin carpeted floor underneath. Many times I dashed around the corner and banged my head on the underside of that piano.

For a short while I would walk a couple of blocks to the home of a piano teacher, who, in vain, tried to give me the fundamentals of piano. I’m convinced had ADD been a diagnosis at the time, I would have had it. I had no patience, and my lessons were short-lived. I rue that to this day.

Instead, I would spend hours seated on the piano bench, tapping out my own music creations, and playing with the foot pedals for effect.

Dad also had a Hammond electric organ, which he would play infrequently. He only knew a few songs, and those were mostly from “South Pacific,” his favorite musical. Of course. It was about the war, which had impacted him so very much.

Through the years the piano went through some transformation. At one point my parents had the black glossy finished removed for a softer, chestnut-colored stain. For the majority of its life, it remained unused and out of tune.

My sister took the piano and used it primarily for a lamp stand. She said she intended her children to learn to play, but that never happened.

Years later I bought it from her, and commissioned a person to refinish the instrument. She was glad to have the piano stay in the family, but more happy with money to use to go on a trip.

Of the family, only my first daughter flourished as a pianist. To this day she plays fluently, and teaches chorus in public school. She has a white enameled piano in her house.

When I separated and divorced from my Ender Wife (I had two: a Starter Wife and an Ender Wife), she got custody of the piano. To my knowledge, it is still in pieces from her move to another city, stacked among other furniture that awaits final resolution and use. She does play the piano, and had an old church upright for a time when I first met her.

Like any instrument, I believe, pianos are only happy when they are played.

The Trombone

In high school and college, my dad played the trombone. He had a silver-finished simple slide trombone that sported a small bell. I saw an ad featuring a trombone brand — King, I think — endorsed by the great Tommy Dorsey.

The summer between elementary school and junior high school, I decided to learn the trombone, and to play in the junior high band. Dad proudly presented me his to use. By that time, what might have once been a shiny silver lacquer finish, was now more like a dull gray pewter.

I sat in a row with other trombonist would-bees, with their very shiny Conn trombones sporting HUGE bells, and the fuse of my continuing sense of inadequacies was lit. Their slides slipped effortlessly along the double-tubed track. Mine? It slid like a rusty screen sliding door — jerky and unpredictable. I hated my trombone?

“What’s wrong with it?” my Dad asked. In his day it was probably the finest instrument money could buy. To me it was like comparing a Model-T to a Corvette Stingray. He made it more difficult to explain when he told me that Dorsey had come to his fraternity once at the U of Minnesota and actually played the thing. I thought of the sappy story about an old violin being auctioned off. Do you know that one?

  • “Let’s start the bidding for this violin at $10,000.” No bids.
    He dropped it by half to $5,000. Still no bids.
    Once again, he dropped it to $2,500, and then to $1,000, and then $500 — until in exasperation he had reached $10 for the violin.
    “Wait!” shouted someone in the back of the grouped bidders. An old bent man shuffled forward and took the violin in his hands, tucked it under his chin, and drew the bow across its strings.
    The result mesmerized the room. It was beautiful, and the violin sang like a Stradivarius. He handed the old violin back to the auctioneer and disappeared among the amazed bidders.
    “Who will offer $50,000 for this violin?” said the auctioneer.
  • Yeah, well I was no expert, and still wanted a bright, shiny brass like-silk sliding trombone.

The trombone is a dirty instrument, in my opinion. To get a sound, you have to basically spit through pursed lips into the mouthpiece. After a time, enough saliva collects in the slide tubing that the “voice” of the trombone gets very gurgly-sounding. At the end of the slide is a spring valve that the player opens and blows hard — which forces the liquid yuck out. Next time you see an orchestra, watch the trombone players. They will quickly lean forward to empty the slide of spit onto the floor area next to their feet.

As with nearly every instrument, learning a brass instrument comes with a painful learning curve — painful to listeners as well as the player — who wants to sound just like Dorsey, or any well-known instrumentalist. Tone and pitch are nonexistent in the learning months. And practice? Well, my ADD tendencies didn’t allow for much of it. I did find that the acoustic reverberation effects of the bathroom made whatever I played sound much better, though. And louder. You were out of luck if you needed to go and I was playing my trombone.

To complicate matters, I wore braces. Pressing my lips to the mouthpiece to get a sound ravaged the insides of them. And so my career was short-lived. Plus I played football (better suited to an ADD kid), and so couldn’t march in the band.

My band teacher was great, though, and all the band members were fun. We were herded into the same homeroom so that we could be in band class. Teddy Harris, a tall, skinny guy, played a mean drum, and in home room, all of us pounded our desks to the beat of a favorite rhythm. Our homeroom teacher was a saint. Or should have been.

And who doesn’t like a man in uniform? Blue and white swirling down sleeves and pant legs. Stove-like hats with a plume shooting up at the front, and a shining black visor. Brass buttons. And you got to march down Main Street in the Christmas Parade! Although we were always positioned just behind a group of gaily-dressed cowboys and cowgirls riding Palominos who definitely had digestive problems.

While my skill levels and interest in continuing trombone definitely plateaued in junior high, the experience was great. AND, the strangest thing happened forty years later.

I was working at a hospital in Western North Carolina in public relations and marketing. One morning I received an email from a guy who had also played in the band back in junior high school. Back then he called himself Steven, and was kind of a squirrelly kid with big eyes and curly hair. He played trumpet. We will call him Steven C. Now, he addressed himself as Steve C., and he attached a photography of himself with his family.

Steven had grown up. He looked like a male model. His family looked like a perfect group. And Steve’s wife? Her name was Lisa, and she had played the part of Blair in a TV sitcom called “The Facts of Life.” He was now the music minister of a mega-church in California.

Imagine that?!

Within the year the couple were in the news — news like ET and such — as things unravelled for them. All the time I watched thinking, “Gosh, this will really help when I play Six Degrees from Kevin Bacon next time!”

The Harmonica

There was a time, when as a student in college who was majoring in fraternity, I came to my senses. It was such an about-face for me that I literally turned from everything I had known to that point.

I had grown reasonably adept at my guitar (Part III), and had begun to write songs. Lots of songs. Christian-oriented songs. Thank You, My Lord, For the Day came into my head while driving to my college apartment. You’ve never heard it, unless you knew me back then.

I even rewrote the lyrics to Killing Me Softly:

We met beside the water,
My life was ebbing low,
And I could go no farther
Till He began to show,
A way of quenching dryness,
The cup of Life
And he was … (Wait for it)
Filling me softly with His love,
Filling my life from above
Filling me softly with his love
Forever giving me new life
Now I am living his new life
Filling me softly
With his love.

The Jesus Movement. But not a lot of Christian groups at the time. Then came the 2nd Chapter of Acts and others.

So I had written all these songs. My father, always the fan but never the critic, encouraged me and another song-writer, Ken, to record an album he and another of his friends would finance.

Ken WAS a musician. Up through the southern beach music tradition, he too had turned from all he knew. And he too had written a lot of music, and had formed a Christian band.

So we recorded an album in a local studio. Jubilant Feet. You’ve never heard of it, unless you know either me or Ken.

The very first track of the album was a harmonica solo. You were waiting for me to get to this, right? A guy from California named Steve Humphries played it. Foot-stomping and lively. His rif bent notes and wailed as he literally provided drums with his feet. Hence the title of this song and the album.

He would sing between playing.

Well I ain’t been to heaven but I been told
Streets up there is lined with gold,
See me walkin’ down them golden streets
An’ dancin’ to da Lord with the jubilant feet!

The harmonica craze hit our little Christian hippie group like a hail storm, and everyBODY went out and bought a Hohner Blues Harp in the key of C and began huffing and puffing, trying to coax music out of that small reed instrument.

Kind of like the baritone ukulele craze.

Yeah, I got one too.

But one of the guys, who played drums on the album, and had come to Jesus from a time of drugs and hard living, did something with his. Not at first. At first, everyone begged Terry to quit the harmonica and stick to the sticks.

Terry traipsed off to Nashville, still blowing that harp of his the wrong way (he held it backwards from the way you are ‘sposed to play it). He ended up being — I think — discovered at an open mic at Roger Miller’s restaurant, and became one of the most sought-after harp players in the town. He rode with Jerry Reed and played on Ronnie Milsaps albums, and others, like JC (do I have to tell you?).

My harmonica sat in a drawer. Then, maybe twenty or thirty years later while checking out of Cracker Barrel after a meal with my family, I spied the familiar Hohner blue boxed harmonicas they had for sale, and bought another one.

I have played mine at a few places. But I have never bought a harp holder and played my guitar like Dylan did. I prefer the single-note tunes, like Moon River, and such, where I can create dreamy vibrato.

I think of Terry whenever I pick my harp up. Even wrote a story about a kid and his harp, based ever-so-loosely on Damn Yankees. You’d have to read it to understand.

Terry’s no longer here, but his music is.

Perhaps this love of new instruments and music is because of Terry’s legacy: music lives on. It’s eternal.

 

Part III: The Martin. The Acoustic. The Mandolin.

New Intruments, Part I

10 May

New Instruments – Part One

Anticipation. Disappointment. Delight. Devastation.

In my early teenhood, a fad swept our little southern town: the baritone ukulele. The baritone is a size larger than the small Hawaiian instrument known then for playing those island tunes, and little else.

Kids around the town were popping up as groups — some rather large — to play the popular songs of the day, which happened to be folk tunes. Peter, Paul, and Mary; Joan Baez; Bob Dylan; New Christy Minstrels. Songs like “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “Five Hundred Miles,” “Black, Black, Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” “Green, Green,” and so forth and so on.

I wanted a baritone ukulele. Badly. It’s the one on the far right of the picture showing ukulele sizes.

So, Christmas Day found me — like Ralphie — shoving my younger brother aside under the tree among stacks of painfully-wrapped presents for that instrument.

It was not to be. Oh, there was an instrument, alright. A ukulele. A little small Hawaiian piece made from blondish woods with four plastic strings. The one on the far left of the picture showing ukulele sizes. Little more in my estimation than those plastic guitar-shaped toys with the crank jutting out of the end of the sound box.

Disappointment didn’t begin to describe my reaction. Mom and Dad couldn’t imagine why I was not overjoyed.

After the holidays, my dad righted the error and took me with him to the music shop, where I picked out a real baritone.

If you are a golfer, you know the sign of someone who is more than a duffer is when you shake hands, and you feel the rough callouses gloving their hand. They are players!

So it is with anyone that plays a stringed instrument and has to practice and practice and practice. The tips of their fingers blister to the point of agony if they are as avid as I was. From the time I got home from school to deep into the night I was strumming and fingering cords and learning songs. My sister, whose bedroom was adjacent mine, would pound on the wall and tell me, “SHUT UP!!!” repeatedly to no avail. My finger tips were toughening.

I took my baritone everywhere. I even made a protective case for it using thick mil plastic and sheets I cut up, which I sewed together. Strap, too.

Every song I heard was a project to master. Over time, my ear for chords and progressions developed, and I could hear a song and KNOW what the chords were. It really didn’t matter that most popular songs were little more than three standard chords. All rock and roll songs basically use the same chords.

After a while, I grew weary of the baritone with its tinny sound, and began to eye the next step up: a full guitar.

This time Dad knew well enough to take me with him when he shopped for the instrument.

It was a beauty! A Terraga classical guitar! Six strings a bit more difficult than the four-stringed baritone, but, once again, I was determined. Nearly all of the popular songs on the radio were folkish in nature, AND, they had song books with the chords and everything!

I went away to school in the tenth grade. My guitar was my solace for what I thought was punishment for some of my, shall we say, less-than-perfect behavior. Only knew one guy at the school who was also from my small southern town. Walter. Glasses. Skinny. Yep, I was one of those who shunned the early nerds before they became kings of the hill.

I and my guitar gently wept that first semester of school. I was homesick and hated being at the school. The seniors on my dorm were Dylan fanatics, and played their albums non-stop. I began to hate Dylan with his nasal talk-singing style. Never mind he was the guy who wrote nearly all the songs I loved that were recorded by other artists who could sing and play their instruments correctly. Who would have thought Dylan would one day win the Nobel Prize for Literature? Not me.

It happened just before Christmas holidays. A guy who lived down the hall came running into my room laughing and giggling about something. Time slowed to a frame-by-frame recording. John Rust (not his fake name) was a portly lad with curly blonde hair and was always red-faced. Anyway, he ran into my room with a bound, and leapt onto my bed. On the bed was my Terraga classical guitar. As his arch peaked, I could see his expression of hilarity turn into horror. His landing was pin-point.

The destruction of the Tarrega classical guitar was complete.

“Oops!” said John’s body language.

He managed to get out of my room before I killed him.

Barely.

 

 

Part II: All is not lost and it is well with my soul

BREAKING NEWS … !

20 Apr

BREAKING NEWS: Animal Federation employs MOAB* to send message to imminent domain residents.

SUGAR MTN, NC — The Western North Carolina Chapter of the Wild Animal Federation sent a definite message to residents of Chestnut Ridge in Sugar Mountain last night.

The message? GET OUT!

“We were here first,” said chapter spokes-“person” Pogo, an opossum elected by the Wild Animal Federation to represent their complaints.

“These interlopers, not to be confused with cantalopers or antelopers, forced their way onto our reservation without so much as a how-do-you-do. It’s gone on way too long. We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to put up with it any longer!”

Bud, the bad-ass black bear who is the Enforcer of the group, volunteered to do the deed, which was under the cover of night.

“Sure, come sneaking up in the dark. Pretty cowardly if you ask me,” said one of two year-round residents.

“Fine with me,” said the other year-round resident, who asked to remain anonymous. “I got my 30-ought-6 loaded and at the window if they want to test me!”

“It’s not only the bears,” said the first residents. “Deer, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, and crazy-ass Robins have colluded to make this serene and picturesque area a place of potential carnage! What we NEED is a wall to keep these critters OUT!”

Both sides have been reluctant to come to the bargaining table.

“Just look at me!” complained Bud, the alleged perpetrator of last night’s melee. “I’ve put on 183 pounds this month due to all of the sugar and fat these humans have tossed! It’s not only unHEALTHY for ME, it’s a cruel kind of baiting I think has got to stop. Look at all the damn bird feeders, for crissakes! There’s not a wren or a titmouse for miles around able to fend for themself anymore. They’ve all become dependant. It’s like — here’s some free and easy bird seed — come and get it! Then, in the winter, these snowbirds fly south and take their birdfeeders with them! That’s as bad as giving away a free hit of heroine, if you ask me!”

The decades-old battle between squatters (how the animals refer to the humans) and animals is not likely to find resolution any time soon.

“They are just not like us,” murmured Bud under his garbage breath.

“Animals is what they are!” replied one of the year-round residents.

*Mother of all Bears

 

Garbage carnage as a result of MOAB attack during last night’s raid