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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

Opposite Poles

8 May

Opposite Poles

 

I had two related but poles-apart experiences today.

Experience One:

I read a post on Facebook that featured a picture of a rather large person tending one of those huge wood grill thingies where it looked like dozens of chickens were barbecuing. The gist was this is representative of Western North Carolina people.

The comments were varied to the extent those with something to say said the same thing from a different perspective. Red-neck came up often, along with colorful castigations of who the photo was being used to represent.

The Basket of Deplorables, no doubt. Those ignorant, overfed, racist North Carolinians. You know, the Andy Griffith type. Farmers. Factory workers. Hard-working people with bad teeth who like country music, apple pie and fly the American flag year-round, and not just on the 4th of July.

Why that grieved me so I’m not certain. I only have a college education — a bachelor’s degree. Plus I attended a summer class in screenwriting at NYU in NYC. And got my lateral entry teaching certification at Lenoir-Rhyne. You know … one of the ig’nant North Carolinians. Don’t have a Masters Degree. Don’t have a PhD.

Their bumper stickers read “My red-neck son can beat the hell out of your Honor Student.” Confederate flag covers the back cab window of their big-wheeled Hemi Dodge truck — a gun rack perhaps suction-cupped to the glass.

It grieved me. But no one else on that post, apparently. It was gang-tackle, pink-belly time. Dare I say it? Kind of a mob mentality.

Better than. Smarter than. More deserving than. Glad we’re not them.

Experience Two:

I went in for a weekly booster to help with my low iron counts. A very remote internist’s office in the North Carolina mountains where the physician (from Tennessee) and his PA take time with their patients, and know them by their first names. I sat across from a lady who preceded to hold church.

“I’m so glad I’m saved!” And went into great detail about her experience, down to the place (Pentecostal church), month, day, and nearly the time when she “died and came alive again! I ain’t been the same since!”

I had no reason to doubt her.

She flashed an eye my way and said, “God knows how many He is going to save before the end time.”

I’m thinking, but not saying, “144,000?”

“I’m so GLAD I’m SAVED and am NOT going to HELL, Amen?”

The others in the waiting room echoed, “Amen!”

She sounded like a familiar character out of a Stephen King novel. There’s one in each of his stories, if you hadn’t noticed.

Mercifully my name was called and I went into the back where I rolled up my sleeve for the stick.

“We were having church in the lobby!” I grinned.

The nursing assistant, pinched my upper arm skin and preparing to stab me with the needle, said, “That’s Mrs. Praise the Lord!” And she laughed. We all laughed and winked, then hushed ourselves so as not to be heard from the waiting room.

I did not fully recognize I was doing pretty much the same thing that was accomplished by the earlier post I had read on Facebook.

Better than. Smarter than. More deserving than. Glad we’re not them.

On the way home, it gradually dawned on me. And I grieved again — for different reasons.

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

 

Breaking news: The Great Beach T-Shirt Metaphor

4 Feb

BREAKING NEWS!

THE GREAT BEACH T-SHIRT METAPHOR!
(Or, what’s a meta for?)

image

Several years ago my DIL did a whimsical thing and designed a T-shirt for our annual beach trip during the week of the 4th of July.

What a great idea!

We all LOVED the shirts, which had a drawing of our cottage on the back, and other really neat stuff.

So, we meet at the beach, and my DIL passes out the shirts, and we wear them on the beach.

“Hey! Where’d you get THOSE?” asked a member of the extended family. (You see, I’m one of four children, and each of us have added children, and many of those children, children … so the number has grown exponentially over the years).

Oops!

An innocent oversight. We forgot to include about 40 others.

Sooooo, the NEXT year we INCLUDED everyone, and the design was somewhat generic and all names were stamped on the back and so forth and so on.

What began as my DIL’s fun, fanciful and serendipitous project had become, in the words of the somber and serious: AN INSTITUTION!

I can hear Zero Mostel singing “Tradition!” in my mind.

Fast forward a couple of years. We’re coming around Winter’s corner and will soon be springing through to summer, where all — with some additions — will once again gather at the beach during the week of July 4th.

I put out a letter to my siblings, asking if there is any interest in a T-shirt.

One of my daughters, who had told me months ago that she and her cousin wanted to design it this year. I had forgotten that one of my son’s had put in a bid as well to design it. Apparently, design it is a big deal. My GKs designed last year’s.

Last year 53 relatives showed up to suntan and play bocci and ladder ball for a week. Not in one cottage, mind you.

So my daughter said she really didn’t want to do it, but I should contact her cousin, which I did to no avail. Still forgetting my son wanted to do it, I began the process. The picture is the design. The line across the belly actually is supposed to go down the right sleeve. CustomInk doesn’t have a template to show that, however.

I sent out a request for sizes to my family portion (those of my branch). One of my daughters said she did not want a T-shirt. Ba-dum! Somewhat hurt, I asked if anyone else did not want a shirt.

You know that phrase, “If you build it …?” Well, it also works for “If you ask it, they will answer.”

Rapid-fire semi-automatic responses. I’m ducking left and right, pretending the wounds are only superficial, but am both surprised and hurt by the unexpected reactions.

So, I do bleed if scratched!

There is a flurry of back-and-forth texts. “What if we tweek the design?” “I don’t want to wear a line of type across my belly.” “I hate the shirt style.” Yadda-yadda-yadda.

Then, in the midst of the firefight comes an aside from one of my SIL’s (actually, he’s the ONLY SIL I have … so far):

“Let’s fix this T-shirt and make the beach trip GREAT again!”

You could hear the drum beat. Budda-bum!

There it was, in all its glory: the beach trip WASN’T the great experience everyone in the family pretended it to be. It was in bad shape. It wasn’t the T-shirt at all.

It was the fact that something I looked forward to as a kid — spending time on the beach and building sandcastles and cleaning blue crabs we had netted at Southport, and going down to Myrtle Beach to ride the rides and then throw up — all of that had morphed into a tradition.

My kids will tell you they love the trip because it’s the only time they get to see their cousins. But has it run its course? Has it lost the old zippety-doo-dah? Is the salt in the air a bit less salty. The waters filled with more sharks than before? The Calabash dinners a bit more oily?

Like the T-shirt, it seems to be something to do because we’ve always done it. Something to look back on. Building memories.

MayBE like the government. “Well, we’ve always done it this way …”

Until someone said, “Make the beach trip GREAT AGAIN!” no one stopped and thought about it and said “Wait! What? It’s NOT great?”

You need to know that the next generation beyond my siblings and me is, for the most part, politically liberal (“Oh, jeesh, Edith — did you HAVE to say THAT?)

You would expect some exciting and different ideas about how to get the extended family together periodically.

Like, a reunion? And maybe not for a whole week? But a long weekend? Maybe in the mountains? Or somewhere else.

AND, we could have a commemorative T-shirt!

Budda-bum!

The metaphor.

OR, mayBE, not have a T-shirt, at all.

Give Till It Helps

6 Dec
Hair loss is one of the effects of chemotherapy. It is the most benign effect. Photo by Joe Rodriguez

Hair loss is one of the effects of chemotherapy. It is the most benign effect.
Photo by Joe Rodriguez

 

 

Give Till It Helps

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

I’m watching the Duke v. Florida basketball game, a part of the Jimmy V Classic. The background story, of course, is the Jimmy V Foundation, which raises money for cancer research. If you are unaware of the Valvano story, you are living under a rock.

Those of you who know me and my son, Graham Marsden, know he was diagnosed with ALL the summer before he turned 3 years old. ALL is Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. That story is chronicled on my writing website, http://www.skipmars.com, under the title, Graham’s Story.

Today, Graham is probably in Sidney, Australia, in the middle of a multi-country trip that combines business (Entrepreneurs Organization) with his passion of Pokemon hunting (no Pokemons are harmed during this activity).

One of the most important things that his diagnosis did for his mother and me was to focus us on what is important. Not the job. Not the money. Not the possessions. Not the power. Not the prestige.

Perspective, I believe. It put things into perspective. I’ve known many, many coworkers, friends, acquaintances and family who have fallen to various forms of cancer.

But since Graham’s diagnosis, tremendous strides have been made in battling the disease and successfully treating its victims. Tremendous strides. NOT because of the government. Because people like you, who have tasted from its bitter cup, and who are giving to organizations like Jimmy
V and others to stand and fight.

Please keep it up, friends. It’s only money.

 

Graham and his wife, Sarah, at the 2016 ACC Championship Tournament in Washington, DC

Graham and his wife, Sarah, at the 2016 ACC Championship Tournament in Washington, DC

9-11: A Memory

11 Sep

9-11

A Memory

It was an extended moment — dragged on and caught on live television for hours. Yet another occurrence that would inevitably be the prompt for the question, “Where were you when …”

For me, it was added to a long and growing list of “where were you when …”

  • John Kennedy was assassinated
  • Martin Luther King was assassinated
  • Bobby Kennedy was assassinated
  • NASA’s Challenger exploded

With the exception of the Challenger explosion, news of the other events filtered through the news networks, along with photos and some video.

Not 9-11.

Two jet airliners smash into the Twin Towers, the first images not captured live on TV. Another jet airliner crashes into the Pentagon, and still another falls out of the sky to crash in Stonycreek, PA.

Like waves.

The effect was dumbfounding. Disbelief. No mental capacity to comprehend the why of it.

Who would shoot the President?
Who would shoot Martin Luther King?
Who would shoot Bobby Kennedy?
How could the space shuttle explode in midair?

At the time of 9-11 I lived in the sleepy town of Hendersonville, NC and was married with three children living at home.

Those videos and images and live television feeds were still able to find me, despite my insulation from the scenes of disaster. I was nearly 11 hours from Manhattan, and 7 hours from DC, yet unable to remain distanced from the events of that day.

In the afternoon, my wife and I walked down to a peaceful park near our house. A half-mile walking trail coursed around the large soccer field and basketball courts. The park was deserted.

It was late afternoon. The sun had begun its descent and was no longer visible. As we walked, I took note of the western sky. It was an incredible site.

Moving from south to north was a huge cloud formation — like a flowing gown that tapered on the north end into the shape of an angel. The hues were purples and pinks and glints of gold. Like Gabriel, I thought, mournfully steering northward, weeping. The the angel’s wings and train of the gown spread to cover the southern sky in growing darkness.

At the time I took the cloud as a sign of God’s exceptional grief over the day’s tragedy, as well as a commitment to cover all of the destruction and loss and pain with a new day hours hence. I’m not given to spiritualism per se, but this was without a doubt a supernatural and spiritual response from the heavens for all who had the good fortune to look up at the setting sun that day. It will remain forever in my mind’s eye, as will those other images from earlier that morning. I wonder if anyone else saw it.

I also wonder, does that cloud of hope or comfort continually wing its way across each and every tragedy around the world?

Why NOT me?

7 Aug
Photo by L. Stewart Marsden

Photo by L. Stewart Marsden

Why not me?

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

One of the dubious advantages of being my age is you have a much longer perspective from which to draw conclusions.

Examples:

  • If you don’t die, you get older.
  • If it’s too good to be true, yep — it is not true.
  • How to tell if a politician is lying? (You know the answer.)
  • And these and more observations become truer and truer.

You respond with an affirming nod at certain things, like when the priest in the movie Rudy says, “Two things I have learned in life. There is a god, and I’m not Him.”

At my age, you appreciate that kind of wisdom.

I think nobody is looking to be singled out for something bad. Am I right? Do I get an “Amen, Brother?”

But life is pretty arbitrary about how it deals the cards. I mean, while there may seem to be Jonahs and Sad Sacks, pretty much everyone gets dealt a card that makes them respond, “Why me?”

Other responses include but are not limited to:

  • “Why now?”
  • “WTF?”
  • “What did I do?”
  • “Why do you have my number?”
  • Inherent in the responses is the inference that someone is doing some thing to somebody, and that somebody doesn’t know why.

You ever been there?

I’m moving to the mountains. I’ve been in the process now for about 4 weeks, if not mentally longer. EVERYTHING has been moving like a precision-built BMW so far.

Then, out of the blue:

  • My dog gets bit by ants, reacts to the ensuing itching and nearly eats his hind rump off;
  • Someone steals my iPhone at a Lowes Hardware Store, and we (my daughters and I) watch the culprit abscond with my lifeline on Find My Friend app using GPS. EVERYTHING of informative value is on that phone!

Hoody-doody! WTF is going on? Why me? Why now?

And to top it off, my Panasonic wall-mounted flat-screen doodley-obeldy television set has given up the ghost!

DAMN! (And other appropriate seaman epithets).

Again I say unto these hills: WHY ME?

Did I tell you I can see Grandfather Mountain from my upper deck where I live?

Did I tell you that an intermittent rain has been dampening sound and fury the day long?

Did I tell you that over the years I have weathered far worse times in my life?

My infant daughter choking on an onion skin she picked up off the kitchen floor?

My first-born son, diagnosed with childhood Leukemia just months before his third birthday?

The dissolution of two marriages?

WHY ME?

Nearly at every turn.

So, Grandfather, in his infinite wisdom, gleaned from tens of thousands of years staring upward at the sky, says,

“Why NOT you?”

Wait! What?

“Why NOT you?”

The true answer is that I always thought I was special. That I deserved better.

“Why?”

I don’t have an answer for that. Why have I always thought I was special and that I deserved better?

Let me think.

Ah, because my dad told me so!

“But most dads tell their sons and daughters so. But does it make it so? Does it protect you and barricade you from the sting of life. Or worse, the sting of death?”

I know everyone dies. I know that, but I want to believe otherwise. Especially at my age.

WHERE WILL YOU SPEND ETERNITY? shout the evangelists.

So, I listen to the mountain. He stares upward at the darkening sky as I sip my gin.

“Why NOT you?”

I can’t give an answer. If I knew my Bible better, maybe I could mumble something spiritual, and thereby feel better. But I don’t and I can’t. I don’t have an answer.

So that thief who stole my iPhone is off counting his money, and preparing to waste it on his drug of choice.

And that ant that bit my dog has probably cycled through his meagre life cycle existence.

And my onionskin-eating daughter is married, with three kids of her own.

And my son, who survived nearly five years of chemo, is married and working on his bucket list, somewhat fatalistic.

And those two previous wives are now in pursuits of their own that don’t include me anymore.

And I sit on my deck and cannot see Grandfather, yet I know he is there.

Why not me?

WTF: Is there NO ONE out there?

20 Jun

WTF: Is there NO ONE out there?

By L. Stewart Marsden

So I’m sixty-six. A 1968 high school graduate. A private school, to boot. Plus college.

Sure, I’ve been married twice before, but you’re not perfect either.

And I’ve got five kids and three grandkids.

And they span the generations. The oldest is Forty-something and the youngest will be 13 at the end of August 2016.

Am I perfect?

No.

I’ve been married most of my adult life, but not to the same woman. Two Mrs. Exes.

Glad to tell you about both. But remember, it’s from my perspective.

I have a lot of incredible stories to tell. You won’t believe them. That’s why I’m a writer. I can write about them and you will then give them credence.

At the same time, I recognize there is a diminishing amount of time I have left on this earth, and wouldn’t it be nice it I could spend them with someone I liked?

I’m not an orgre.

People tell me I’m actually a quite likable fellow. Like Professor Higgins in “My Fair Lady,” for example. Although I’m not British, and not a professor.

I kind of wish I had more to recommend me. But I don’t.

I’m a writer.

That, in and of itself, is a negative I think.

And, I write about weird stuff.

Oh, God!

Plus, I’m overweight.

Seems that’s okay if you’re a woman. But not if a man.

Does it bother me?

Sure it does.

I was once a lithe and agile young youth. Had ribs stretching my skin.

Not now. Now I struggle. Like Oprah.

In my mind I am youth and virility and all things good.

In actuality? Not so much.

But is there credit for good intentions?

You there.

You’re looking for someone intelligent, yes?

I fit the bill.

You want a challenge?

Again, me.

You want someone to bump hips when the music’s hot, and to roll and laugh!

Right?

That’s me.

But I don’t want to be changed.

I don’t want somebody that wants to make me into something I’m not.

That’s a deal-breaker for most. And especially for me.

So I will resign myself to the fact that there is probably no one out there who I can match up with.

I’m just not there.

I’m a moment away.

I wish you could see what I see.

From where I’m sitting, it is a spectacular view!

I wish I could play a song for you on my guitar. Let the view and the music carry you away.

I wish I could hum on my harmonica, and let the tune play in the wind.

It would be only for you.

But I think, sad to say, that you are not listening, and do not have eyes to see, and you will miss me.

And I will miss you.

C’est la vive!

The altogether obvious parallels between finding an online match, and securing a publisher

19 Jun

The altogether obvious parallels

between finding an online match,

and securing a publisher

By L. Stewart Marsden

I hadn’t thought about it before. But after a solid string of “thanks, but we’ll call you …” responses from potential matches through an online yenta (that’s really all it is), and the billowing stacks of “thanks for your submission, but it doesn’t fit our current needs” from literary agents and publishers, I’m convinced the two separate endeavors are equally difficult.

I really enjoy writing. What I write is a bit on the edge — you know, a bit creepy. My preteen daughter keeps asking why I can’t write something normal? This from a kid who is glued to her iPhone and uses Instagram 24/7.

As far as the online dating — okay, I’ll admit that I’m far from the ripped abs and rugged good looks of too many men out there who are prowling the internet. I’m an old fart, and pretty set in my ways. So right there the pool of possibilities shrinks to the size of maybe a foot bath.

And the weight. God, the weight! I think there’s some double-standard at play here. Now super-sized models are adorning more and more magazine covers. Women. Not men. Where are the super-sized men? Can I even say that? Good think no one but the government knows where I live.

So I’ve embarked on a get myself down to a weight through changing my lifestyle. God, if Oprah can do it …! I think the only profession I could pursue where weight is not an issue would be stand up.

As far as the writing goes, I consider myself to be a halfway decent storyteller. Can’t get anyone to critique on my blog, though. It’s the Facebook curse of “likes.” I like that people like what I write, but I”D LIKE TO KNOW WHY YOU LIKE IT!

I know. It takes too much energy to think about it. You read something and say to yourself, “Eh, that was good!” But you can’t figure out why you like it. Your brain might explode if you have to think beyond “Like” or “Dislike” (even though dislike is not an option — at least for WordPress and other blogs).

This is a really short complaint. It comes only moments after the creation of a really nice poem. THAT’s what writers are like! We’re up one moment, and down the next. There’s a diagnosis for that, but we don’t like to bring that subject up.

I think of Fiddler on the Roof. Yente makes her living matching up couples. “It’s a match!” I need her. For my writing, and to find that someone who will watch the sun set with me.

I suppose I’m a project. I told someone today who has dozens of rejections from publishers, “Add a line at the conclusion of your query: Don’t be the agent/publisher who is the last agent/publisher to reject me before I am discovered and soar to the literary heights!” I thought, it’s worth a try.

And to those reluctant love matches: don’t be the last to reject me and suddenly I become a famous writer and trim down and get a face lift and a tummy tuck and get ripped!

It’s worth a try. Right?