Putting our Heads Together

Putting our Heads Together
I don't think he sees me

Sunday, July 21, 2013

I’ve Got the Music in Me

My body swayed to the music only slightly more stiffly than the arm of a metronome. My feet and fingertips tapped so badly out-of-time that even my broken wrist watch could make no sense of it. Rhythm is not something I was born with, nor is it something that visits me any closer than two shuffles and slide step away. My lack of rhythm and even my difficulty in carrying a tune does not change the fact that I love music.

Saturday my wife and I (thanks to an invitation from our neighbors, Lenny and Deanna) spent the afternoon at Blues Under the Bridge in Colorado Spring. Overhead the thunder of cars traveling down Colorado Avenue went unheard. Behind the bandstand rumbling BNSF trains would elicit only cheers from the crowd. On the bandstand blues band after blues band plied their trade to our delight. There were slide steel guitars, acoustic guitars, drums, basses, and one talented band lead alternated among an acoustic guitar, an accordion, and a banjo. I loved it all.

The sound was like catching a familiar scent or feeling a familiar texture. It brought to mind that everyone has a journey with music in life. For some the path is straight with few variations (no pun intended), for some it winds wide afield straying to ever more new and interesting ground. For me the journey is winding and self-referential.

My first recollection of music is of my father singing songs from Gilbert and Sullivan operettas to his children. Then it was listening to him play a variety of music centered on but not limited to classical. My father gave me Simon and Garfunkel, and as I type that I can hear in my head Scarborough Fair, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Sounds of Silence, and Mrs. Robinson. He played the Carpenters frequently, and I did not realize how much I loved that music until years later when I heard that anorexia had claimed Karen Carpenter and I cried. There was even an album recorded by my father’s Central American cousin entitled With Love from Lydia. Whatever happened to that?

My brother Chris contributed greatly to broadening my musical taste by his purchases of albums by Bruce Springsteen, Thin Lizzy, Barry Manilow, and the obtuse and satirical Steely Dan. He gave me courage to buy Rush’s 2112 which paid homage to Ayn Rand’s Anthem, and to stray over to Kiss not in spite of Beth but because of it.

College further deepened and broadened the channel music which was dredging through my life. I banded together with some local runners at Clemson to form the Outta Control Track Club and when we weren’t running we listening to Springsteen it seems. If we had an anthem at all, it would have been Rosalita, which we would often celebrate after a night of beer at the Study Hall Bar by singing it loudly, off key, and playing lead guitar on outstretched legs in the street. Clemson also made me aware of Southern Rock. No one played anything other than Lynard Skynard for the first week in the dorms (double points every time you played Freebird). After that, the music was wide open but during that first week, it was church, it was sacred. My love of Southern rock found me listening to 48 Special, The Almond Brothers, Marshall Tucker, Molly Hatchet, and more (I actually don’t think I missed a live performance of Molly Hatchet in South Carolina during the four and a half years I spent working on a four year degree).

The end of my freshman year witnessed the birth of MTV. I was mesmerized, MTV’s whole first decade was much more about the music than the schtick. Visual was added to the music and words that helped extend rather than limit the imagination. The vision of the artist could be seen and not just interpreted. I can still see the images from Peter Gabriel’s Sledge Hammer in their claymation glory.

Time has a way of fast forwarding through all things and fads. Technology which began its landslide in the early twentieth century with the car, the plane, the radio, and television didn’t and hasn’t slowed down, in fact its speed has increased to the point that we not only take it for granted, we feel each new advance is late in coming. The internet has forced MTV to become a gimmicky caricature of itself. My albums and eight tracks were swallowed by cassette tape then CD’s. In turn my CD’s have been swallowed by Itunes, cell phones, Ipods, and mp3 players (but when I peak around the corner I am more than a little self-satisfied to see vinyl making a fringe comeback).

This onslaught that has claimed and given rise to new and different media, new and alternative forms of music, became a clamber so vast I could not take it all in. I collapsed upon myself musically. I stopped listening to the radio save NPR, I retreated to my father and delved into classical. I marveled at the symphonic depths of Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Bach, Litz, Bartok, Vivaldi, Verdi, and so many more. I reconnected with Gilbert and Sullivan, and I have explored my new found love of Choral music (for why simply listen to Carmina Burana, Missa Papae, or O’Regan’s Threshold of the Night).

One’s roots are often where someone goes to ground, either to feel safe, or find themselves, or simply seeking something to share, to start a conversation with. This last was the case when I started singing Gilbert and Sullivan to our youngest daughter, Louise. When I came into Jean-Marie’s life, Haley and Michael were already too old to sit still for my singing, but at nearly nine Louise was still young enough that I could tell her of my childhood. I did this through singing songs from the Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore, and the Mikado, and explaining their humor and brilliance to her. I let her know the high comedy of bellowing out the lines “NO SOUND AT ALL, WE NEVER SPEAK A WORD, A FLY’S FOOT FALL WOULD BE DISTINCTLY HEARD!” In doing so, I could tell her my father would sing this to me, my father gave this to me, now I give it to you. It is a joy to pass on the smiles of my past that are the basis for all the smiles since, and I took this opportunity when I had it with not only Louise, but with my grandson Russell as well. It is a gift to them that ends up being as much of a gift to me.

Fleeing from the wild expanse of contemporary music was not the safe haven I thought I was fleeing to, it turned out to be a broad and fertile landscape that even now I have only tasted portions of. My retreat taught me that there is no retreat in music, there is only exploration, discovery, and self-discovery. I can once again listen to the radio, and I find I like today’s pop music, some of its hip-hop/rap, for sure its new R&B. I am again adding to my catalog, which is to say I continue to add to my history and myself.

For more info:  Winking smile

2Cellos – Benedictus

Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah

Buckwheat Zydeco - Hey Good Lookin'

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Vinit, Vidit, Vicit


Words come haltingly, searching for their proper order. A friend of mine separated by years and the distance across the globe passed in May. I don’t know how he died, if it was from age, disease, accident, or violence. He was Kenyan, so it could easily have been any of those. His name was Julius Ogaro and we went to college together at Clemson University back in the early 1980’s.
You might be inclined to rule out age as a cause of death, but when I knew Julius, he did not even know his own age. I remember seeing a blurb about him in Runner’s World magazine about his track and field accomplishments at a junior college in New Mexico he attended prior to his matriculation to Clemson. That article said that he was thirty-five years old at the time, but who knew, he could have been seventy by now. I just know that I miss him and he is dead.
Memory is a funny thing; it is like a glass of ice water. Older memories, the more ephemeral ones comprise the water in the glass. More recent memories, more firm in detail are like the cubes floating and intermingled in the glass. No order, simply whole in their individuality. As remembrances fade, they run in rivulets of condensation on smooth glass that cannot retain, cannot keep. The ice eventually melts, memories soften and merge. My memories of Julius are melted ice,
When did I meet Julius? I don’t know exactly. He seems someone I knew all along. He was a major character in my collegiate life so full of personalities and characters. However we met, we met through running. Running was the transfiguring activity in my life that seemed destined to be one of shyness.
I was an overweight youth (now I am an overweight adult). Because my father led me to running through his love for running, I was able to use that as the fulcrum to lever the weight that kept me in self-imposed docility. Through running, instead of stepping out of my shell, I stepped into a self-surety and into a community that dragged me along in a riptide of shared endorphins. Running showed me that there was something I could call my own, and in showing me that I found other things that had been there all along that I could claim and be proud of.
Julius was a scholarship athlete on the cross country and track and field teams at Clemson, so when we met it was because we were both runners. Julius in appearance seemed all legs that moved in fluid strides, and those strides carried a smile that he gave easily and whole heartedly.
His presence was felt in cross country where in 1981 he was the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Cross Country champion. In 1980 he was the ACC Most Valuable Track Performer in large part for his winning of the 5000 meter run, 10000 meter run, and 3000 meter steeple chase at the ACC Track Championship Meet that year. During his two year career with Clemson, he set the school’s steeple chase record and held the school’s second fastest 10000 meter time.
Statistics are impersonal and define the denuded skeleton of accomplishments, but they don’t tell the story. There are stories here in his stats and in his time at Clemson that make me smile, but more importantly add dimension to the man.
When he won his ACC cross country title, there was a Dutchman on the team by the name of Hans Koeleman. Hans was an intense competitor and athlete. If memory serves (and there is some doubt in that as a generalization), Hans was the Dutch national champion in the steeple chase. On that day of the cross country championships in 1980, Hans and Julius shared the lead. Hans turned to Julius as they glided effortlessly and without challenge over grass that was a pristine green asking Julius if he wanted to tie, if he wanted to be co-champions. Julius kept pace but said nothing, Hans took this as assent. I don’t know if Julius heard Hans or not, but with a hundred meters to go he put on the afterburners and beat Hans to the tape. I also don’t know how Hans felt then, but I do know that Hans has been the staunchest supporter of Julius being inducted into Clemson’s Hall of Fame (which he was just recently named to) over the long years since college ended for the both of them.
My favorite story of Julius as a track athlete involved a spring break trip for the track team to Florida. Julius was out of shape and didn’t care. He had his own joi de vivre that nothing could penetrate. He spent the first part of his time in Florida playing in pick up games of soccer, a sport hat he loved. He once told me of a talented Nigerian friend of his who played for Clemson soccer that “he could kill you with his feet.” This was said in an awe toned high praise.
When the meet got close, he trained like a man possessed. Still being Julius, he did go AWOL in the team van the night before the meet in search of “Kentucky Chicken.” Come the meet, the out-of-shape, last-minute-trained Kenyan nearly won the 10000 meter race had he not miscounted laps and stopped one lap early. If he hadn’t stopped and had to pick up the pace again, he would have accomplished the impossible instead of just the improbable.
Julius and I talked a great deal about running. I was eager for the opinions and knowledge of such an immensely talented friend. On the subject of stretching (a holy topic to many runners), Julius told me he did not like to stretch, particularly after an event. He told me, “Teever, when I am done, I am done. I do not want to stretch after the race.” This man with so many national accomplishments to my eyewitness could not come close to touching his toes.
On one of my many training runs with Julius when it was summer and he was my roommate for summer sessions, we were running old logging trails through the woods. He was light and effortless in his tapping steps along the trail, and I was pushing to keep up. I was much more an engine of effort compared to his light steps. He said in the woods to me as we ran, “Teever, you are running so fast, I can barely keep up.”
When we finally got back to campus with barely a mile left to our run and moving side by side, fat raindrops began a sporadic decent from the clouds. Julius who hated rain took off. This man who claimed to have been struggling to keep up with me practically left a trail of molten asphalt for me to follow back to the dorm.
One weekend, I went to Toccoa, Georgia, to run a race that went from the base of a local mountain to the top. Julius did not want to compete but he did come to cheer me on. He did this by driving ahead of me to different points along the hill climb to offer encouragement to me such as, “Teever, run faster! You can beat him! Aieeeee why are you running so slow, Teever!” I was not able to beat that runner I followed so long up the course, but I finished in the top five. Still I wondered in frustration how I could have met Julius’s expectations of me.
To my amazement, this lanky man on stork legs was a “chick magnet” of sorts and enjoyed the company of women. Yet he had an innocence about him that was hard to define and led to some very interesting conversations and experiences in our friendship. Understand, that for much of the time I knew Julius in school I had never been on a date in my life much less kissed a girl. I was certainly no expert for him to turn to.
There was the time I went to Julius’s dorm to meet up with him and go to lunch. He was at his door wide eyed and told me he had been to a friend’s room and they were watching a movie (a porn flick) called “Doctor Feel Good.” He asked me in dazed earnestness “Teever, how could he put his mouth there? He does not even know where she has been!” How do you answer that?
Once this man who I knew had known women intimately had asked a co-ed out on a date. He was panicked. He fretted to me. In the end he begged off the date in his extreme anxiety. He had known the private company of women, yet he had never been on a date.
I can still picture the dorms where Julius and I were roommates but no longer know what they were called, their name lost to the sweating glass and melting ice of time. What I do remember was the end of one of the two summer sessions. It was exam time, and I was stressed with the classes I was taking (I believe they were Calculus III and Physics II). It was a large chunk to bite off for the condensed heated summer session of work. I had an exam the next day, and Julius received a call in the dorm room from a family member or friend, I can’t recall. What I do remember is that it was long distance, and he was speaking loudly in Swahili to be heard over whatever vastness was between his phone and his caller’s.
I could not take it. I was tense, unnerved, and now deprived of sleep by a phone conversation in tongues. I picked up my blanket and my pillow and made for the closet. I didn’t know what else to do, I was tired and anxious.
Shutting the door I laid down, bundling myself on the cool industrial tile and laying my head to rest on the pillow. I lay there angry in a disoriented search for sleep when I heard Julius finally hang up the phone. I wouldn’t get up though, I was committed to my exam induced insanity. This is what ensued:
Julius knocks on the closet door and says, “Teever, what are you doing in there?”
“Leave me alone, Julius! I’m trying to sleep!”
“Teever, get out of there.”
“No, Julius! Leave me alone!”
Silence for a few moments, then, knocking. “Teever, get out of there.”
“Julius, leave me alone. I have to sleep!”
“But Teever….”
This went on for some time, but I can no longer remember the resolution. It is, however, something hilarious to me in its remembrance.
There are more stories of my friend, Julius, but those I will save and remember as I mourn. I don’t know if I will share them ever or simply absorb them and lose them in the slack of age. For now they are what I have of him, all I have left of my friend.
Julius, I will miss you. Not just because we have shared time together, but because you were unique, caring, and childlike in many ways. Goodbye, Julius. Even in the eddy filled current of my fluid and diluted memories, I will never forget your smile, the way you said my name, and the image of you trying to touch your out-of-reach toes.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

An ERA to Remember

There are some dreams from our youth which are so innocent and pure they return at the barest nudge. Spring is finally here and the flowers color a brief and fragrant period before summer brings a survivalist mentality to all things striving to be green and alive. The lawn is awake and mowing is the weekly homage paid, leaving the grass blades neat and even.

As I was walking in the yard after the day’s labor of ritual beautification, the feel of the grass beneath my work shoes brought my memories immediately to a time when I was young and the grass beneath my feet was not of my yard. The feeling of transubstantiation from present to past was as long as a dream, lasting only an instant. I was ten years old again and my tender young feet were in cleats, there was a glove on my left hand, and my head was clouded with visions of being a major league ball player. When I was little, I wanted to be a short stop just like Bert Campaneris of the Oakland A’s. It is such a natural thing for every boy to want to be something most boys could not be.

I was not a very good ball player. I knew that then, and I know that now. I was a little too timid to be a good batter, I was too slow to be an agile base runner, and I was and ever will be cursed with a weak throwing arm, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was the fun of being part of the game. During my brief little league time, I played whatever position I was told to. I was a catcher (ordered not to attempt to throw out a runner because it was hard enough for me to get the ball back to the mound), a short stop, and a second baseman - my arm being so poor, outfield was usually not a consideration. I didn’t care about any of that. I was a member of a team playing the greatest sport I could imagine.

Anyone would admit that baseball is a game of infinite statistics. Those of us that love the sport cling to the statistics, embrace them, marvel at each new nugget mined by the statisticians and reported through the announcers telling us that such-and-such player has a 0.350 batting average against pitchers whose name end in a silent “e” during months with 31 days when playing a Wednesday day game. We can also tell you at least one statistic from what constituted our time spent on the diamond - whether it be high school, college, or (for me) Albergotti Park. In the dugout or on the field I never felt inconsequential or below average, I was simply part of the game.

My thoughts tumble easily back to playing little league and having my father as coach. I don’t think my dad knew that much about the game, but he was willing to give his time always to his children. When providing instruction, his swing and throws were awkward, and though it pains me to admit, this made me embarrassed. I loved him and was proud of him, but I should have realized then what I know now, his awkwardness was a badge of his strength.

On one occasion it was late in the game and our starting pitcher was flagging. I was on the bench anxious to see the field in any capacity. With one out, my father looked to the bench to send in a relief pitcher. He must have seen something in me, because he picked me to go out and take the ball. Me! I had never pitched in a game before and my father (one in constant fear of the cry nepotism) still picked me to go to the mound. I took the ball and accepted my charge.

Needing only two outs, I looked to my catcher. The first batter came to the plate, and through luck more than prowess I struck him out. Confidence swelled up until the second batter entered the box. He was a lefty. Really? Who bats left handed so young? I was shaken. Four pitches later, he was at first and I was having doubts. Batter number three came up and I could swear he was swaggering. Heart in my throat, I went into my wind-up and threw. Contact was made, but it was a grounder to the short stop (someone with a better and more accurate arm than I would ever have) and the inning was over.

My father must have seen something in me, something in my performance on the mound that gave him no hesitation about the position I should play. I never pitched again. But you know what? My statistics to this day showed that I pitched two thirds of an inning, gave up no hits, only one walk, had one strike out, and an earned run average of 0.00. No one can ever take that away.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mother's Day

We first live inside our mothers
Their womb dark warm security
Their feelings our first taste of pure love
Before there is a heart to beat

The nurturing and love unending
They follow, guide, surround
Amniotic fluid of our external lives
Metaphorical womb we can always return to

Your love defined my love
Your gentleness, my emotional guidepost
Your presence is ever with me
Your life gave me my life and I love you

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Splitting Hairs



Finally after too many weeks, I had time today to get a hair cut. It is not one of favorite things to do; it used to be, but not anymore. For a man with straight hair combed to the right (and yes I had to check that as I wrote this, my perspective of my hair comes from visits to the mirror which always leaves me turned around), I don’t need a salon to wash and rinse, style and set, massage tight shoulders, or even a latte while being primped by professionals. I just want my hair cut. Too many places are around that offer too many options; I am a man of simple needs.

As a little guy in Orangeburg, my mom took me and my brothers to Mr. Boyds Barber Shop. It was a small shop at the old Orangeburg Mall with two chairs equipped with leather strops; hair strewn warped linoleum floor, big mirrors, and the smell of talc. I remember going there from when I was little, and Mr. Boyd would slap down a board across the arm rests to raise me to cuttin’ height, slip the bib around me, and start cutting, talking all the while.

When I went away to Clemson for college, I found several barbers within easy walking distance of campus. I quickly learned on my only visit to Clint’s to tell the barber that I am not ROTC before he starts in with the clippers. It did not take me long to settle on Charles and Al’s as my regular barbers. They were happy men with sure scissors. They were also only two doors down from my favorite bar, and the meeting place for the Outta Control Track Club.

On my own; adult male at large, I moved to Colorado and engaged in a long and at times desperate search for a proper barber. After seven years, I stumbled upon Tom’s. Tom will always be the barber by which all other barbers are measured by for me. He was a round, congenial Hispanic man in his late sixties with thick graying hair and an infectious smile. I don’t think there was ever a time that I didn't go into Tom’s and find the visitor chairs populated by a few old men jawing among themselves and with Tom. They weren't waiting for haircuts, they were just there to gab and play checkers. Walking into Tom’s past the striped barber’s pole was like stepping not back into time, but outside of it, away from the world into a nexus of manly peace. As he cut my hair over the years, he talked, Tom loved to talk. I learned he was a divorced man whose girlfriend was his ex-wife – he said things worked better that way. He talked of the blizzard of ’62, of his first wife dying from an asthma attack, of how when he was a young man, he and his brother brought a cousin across the border and up to Colorado where they hid him in a barn. The capper was that this jolly man was also a motorcycle enthusiast who rode with great pride and as often as possible a blue Harley. Seeing Tom, I felt as if I was being groomed by history in thirty minute increments. He passed fifteen years ago, and I am sure he is missed by more people than just me.

In Tom’s wake, I have found no one. I tried a barber downtown but he was soulless and worked by appointment. Most other shops I try are operated by immigrant women who cut hair with acceptable skill, but the atmosphere is more foreign to me than their accents. My hair has now become a whore for sale to the cheapest bidder - $12 at Fantastic Sams, $15 at Cost Cutters, $8 at the shop I went to today (ten minutes start to finish by a stoic and somewhat rough Korean woman).

When I think of barber shops, I think of Floyd’s on the old Andy Griffith Show. It was not a caricature or an ideal, it was how barber shops were. I grew up with one version or another of it, following the form well into my adulthood until the trail went cold. How do I share this with my grandson? How do I even convey to him that at one time manhood began not with football, sports cars, or the latest Nikes, but with a kindly man placing a board with grey chipped paint across the armrests of his chair to trim your hair and tell you a story?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Humid Beings


The Colorado Springs night sits cold and quiet, attended by the moon and stars. Snow patches glow softly, muted reflection of lights both heavenly and man made. The frigid air that is dry to the touch, cracks skin and chaps lips. That arid quality is a constant through the seasons here, and something that drive my thoughts back to humid life in my native South Carolina.

I eschew the hallowed "dry heat" of the West. Its status shilled by snake oil salesmen marketing this starkly beautiful, rugged, and parched land. The dry breezes, the dry heat, and the dry cold are all odorless and impersonal, leaving seasons incomplete, lacking some essential element of their personalities.

Seasons are distinct in the South because of humidity. In the winter she seeps through layers of protection; transfiguring simple cold to something more personal assuming residence in our joints. In spring she moistens the new life that honors her with vibrant colors. In the summer she carries the heat deep into the shade, into every crevice of the day. In the autumn she is like some transformative Hindu goddess, easing the natural compost of life into reincarnation for spring rebirth.

Humidity in the South is synonymous with the land’s context and inseparable from its holiness and hospitality. Humidity is protector, companion, and lover. Her presence is a shield thwarting an onslaught of Yankee immigrants, Northerners who believe our air oppressive and somehow worse than the polluted humidity of their great cities. Their stifling confines are too real and definable, while our moist and fecund world is of mythological and romantic proportions.

She greets us in the morning as we step from our homes, imbuing the air with the day's scents of decay and growth, of grass and pine, of pluff mud and swamps. She lazes about the day slowing our motions and greedy fervors, settling us into a more languidly paced life. She settles in the night as we retreat to the regulated comforts of our homes; waiting just outside, prepared to accompany us when the new day begins.

Humidity is a special intimacy that we are sanctified by each day. She draws us in with warm embrace, clinging with sensual desire, caressing the body with eddies of damp heat which flush the skin with pleasure, and curls and kinks the hair as if we were coursing with the raging hormones of youth. Moving within her constancy stirs some primal part of our brains, recalling the amniotic womb that sheltered us when we were nameless, infinitely dependent, and at our most vulnerable.

Humidity is the continuum of which all things are inexplicably bound in the South. She is a palpable ether, subtext, and lead character to the people that “speak right,” remember manners, and savor the counterpoint of ice cold sweet tea to the hot heavy air of a summer’s day. She is an anthem to my spirit, and a persistent siren call for me to return to my roots.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Radio Days

Smaller than a tissue box, it sat on the nightstand between our beds. It was hard green plastic with a black face and cardboard back. The dial glowed in the dark with soft, warm light. It held the interest of two boys who should have been asleep but were captured by voices broadcast from near and far on the AM band.

My brother and I connected through the radio to both the broader world in the night beyond our bedroom walls and to each other through its magic. We listened to sports, music, radio drama, and talk radio from local WDIX in Orangeburg to far flung WLS in Chicago, the dial was open territory and all was fair game.

We would listen to the incomprehensible hockey games of the Fort Wayne Komets on WOWO and the Philadelphia Flyers on some long forgotten station out of Philly. What did we Southern boys know of games played on ice? We became die-hard Braves fans as Milo Hamilton and Ernie Johnson guided us through many losing seasons. Still we were thrilled by Hammerin' Hank Aaron, Ralph “the Roadrunner” Garr, and Knucksie Phil Nekro. We would even dial into Philly games because we could never get enough baseball. Our basketball thirst was satisfied not by any pro team, but by the heroic efforts of Mike Dunleavy and John Roach who played for the Gamecocks under the near mythical Frank McGuire on WIS in Columbia.

I’m not sure of Chris, but talk radio really drew me in. When I was young there were such characters that roamed the airways. I remember Larry King before he was tainted by television. I listened to one host that instructed me to go outside beneath a full moon with outstretched empty wallet, turn around three times uttering "Filler Up" with each spin. Another distant regional personality continually claimed that Montana did not exist, because whenever he passed over it in travels it was night and therefore never any proof of the pilots assertions "We are now flying over Montana." I checked an rechecked maps, it certainly seemed like Montana was there to me, but how could I know?

It was the onslaught of the TV era when we were hooked on night time radio, but CBS radio still put together its weekly CBS Radio mystery theater, hosted by the wonderful voice of the venerable E.G. Marshall and produced by Hyman Brown. They performed adaptations of classics like Poe's The Black Cat, The Hand by Guy de Maupassant, and The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs, as well as their own original radio plays. My brother and I were chilled and delighted by each broadcast. I loved these so much; my friend Jim Albergotti and I produced our own hilarious shows (at least to us!) recorded on cassette tapes.

Chris and I also would listen to music, not a lot but some. It was far from our main fare. For some reason the only song I can remember hearing from that blessed box in those days was Windmills of my Mind. Curious.

There were nights upon nights that Chris and I made these nocturnal excursions while never leaving our beds. Flights of imagination piloted by voices deep and resonating that would take us to the very edge of our dreams each night. I clung to my nighttime radio habit many years beyond when my brother and I got our own bedrooms.

Sadly as is the way of progress, shows went away, regional personalities gave way to syndicated ones, and airwaves became too crowded for my radio to reach out beyond the boundaries of South Carolina. I miss all those programs. I miss the endless variety that haunted random and magical points on the dial, and I miss Chris in his bed and I in mine listening to the static tinged world so vast beyond our walls.

Monday, April 15, 2013




It is a different world
Without you, Dennis.
Leaving us to wander in the wake of why

It is somehow wrong
That the sun still rises, the earth
Still turns relentlessly night to day to night

You were so strong
A lanky smile beneath
Your shock of thick perfect hair

Your daily toils
Honest and of the earth
In gardens that bent to your tending

Your humor irreverent
Enduring beyond your health
A salve to others, a shield to youself

The memory of how you
Turning your wasting into
A gaunt pale grace to ever be a legacy of how to live

We go on trying as you run and poise in eternity
To cling to your shadow, your earthly taunt and remain
Catching nothing in our futile grip, missing you then missing you

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Pre-Cancer Man

(Spoiler Alert! I wrote this after I had my first colonoscopy two and half weeks ago. At the time, I knew the doctor was able to partially remove a polyp and it was likely pre-cancerous. I now have the results back confirming its pre-cancerous nature but did not contain any malignancy. The remainder of the polyp will be removed some time around my birthday – oh joy! So I am fine, but tinged by this to be more careful in terms of my health and quite thankful to Jean-Marie who insisted I get the colonoscopy in the first place)

Cancer has become a dark shadow that crosses all our paths in one way or another. I have lost my dear friend Dennis to lung cancer, there is my friend Ian who struggled indomitably and successfully through rectal cancer, my friend Jim who lived longer than the odds allowed with melanoma, my father who had prostate cancer that could not save him from the degradations of Alzheimer’s, my beloved brother-in-law Matt who survived Burkitt’s lymphoma, my mother-in-law who had several different types of cancer that wasted this dominant woman, and their are others. We all have our lists. It is a disease that holds no regard for anyone and respects no boundaries. Now is the time for my personal scare.

Just a few days ago, I underwent my door prize for turning fifty – a colonoscopy. I had no expectations going into the procedure; my digestive acumen and cast iron stomach were (at least to me) things of legend. The new anesthesia is miraculous, I was out one moment and alert the next, no time for groggy, no place for incoherence. In recovery my wife and I sat and were greeted by the a nurse who said words we all make fun of but are never thrilled to actually hear, “I have good news and bad news.” She said that the preliminary results were that the polyp (four times larger than the average) which was found and biopsied was likely pre-cancerous. Because it was a flat multi-lobed polyp they were only able to take half of it at this time without risk of compromising the bowel. The rest will be removed later.

Still while the phrase “pre” was absorbed readily, the term “cancer” hung like the big elephant piƱata in the room, ungainly swaying back and forth, the sudden ugly and unwanted center of attention. Questions were asked and answered, the gist of which is that the biopsy results will be back in seven to ten business days, and the results will determine when I go back for another scope to remove the remainder of the polyp which is taking up too much room in my life right now. There is the slimmest possibility that surgery would be required but the chance is so remote and not worth my attention until the report is in.

The benefit of the prefix ‘pre’ is that there is far greater breathing room than afforded with it than without it. But the damage is done and the baggage has been placed at my feet. There will not be a doctor’s visit no matter the reason without the echo of that word in the primal recesses of my brain. I cannot remove it from my sweet, sweet wife’s thoughts and vocabulary.

In one instant of time I have become the pre-cancer man. An internal label given by me to a mental image of Dr. Jekyll hoping there will never be a Mr. Hyde, or a rising hominid hoping not to devolve into some destructive ancestor, but I have never done well at worrying about myself, I am much more wired to worry and care for others. It is difficult for me to see beyond the practical implications of the results I have been handed and will be handed. I will adjust my diet; I will drink less whiskey (and this is said with a truly heavy heart) and enjoy more water, I will take care of myself with this too close brush with fate, and that will be that. I cannot, however, not worry about the effect that word has or may have on my wife, family, and loved ones.

Cancer (even the insinuation of cancer) is a pebble that makes large unending waves once it is carelessly tossed into life’s pool. The concentric waves reflect and return to me from my wife and children, from my friends and siblings, setting up a silent and persistent echo in my head. So I present the warning and wake-up call I have received to all I know. I encourage you (as Katie Couric did a dozen years back – only without the video tape) to stay vigil, listen to doctors, and undergo whatever preventative screenings they recommend. It keeps the waves as small as possible.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Day Follows Night Redux

The sunrise comes as no surprise. “As day follows night” the saying goes and proves its truism each morning. From the eastern horizon the sun threatens, rays lighting it and spreading west. The light in these brief moments of dawn is transfigured crossing the prairie to cast a coral glow on the rise of Rockies. Such a contrast, landlocked mountains painted the color of sea life, bringing together ocean and mountain, ephemeral moments, blink and it is gone. Gaze upon it and drink it into your soul before the sun at the start of its brazen passage whitewashes all with its naked stare, claim this daily miracle for your own while it last.

Mile markers and mountains race by as I head south on the interstate. I long for there to be silhouetted Saguaro about me, frozen arms outstretched in acceptance or submission, but not here, there are only walking stick cacti to see in Colorado. Sad stand-ins for the quintessential quilled plants that inhabit our image-ridden imaginations. Still walking sticks are something, as cacti are succulents of myth and lore in my native South.

As I look over the hood of my car, the blacktop goes by and beneath me. Years on this circuit have imprinted upon me, and I can gaze about freely in the knowledge that my car knows where it is going. Amid the stark, arid beauty of these barren plains that abut the Rockies, people I pass and that pass me seem oblivious with eyes on nowhere and cell phones nestled against their cheeks. How can they not see, how can they not think of God instead of the microcosms of their lives?

At seven thirty in the morning (or the A.M. as might be said in the masterpiece of a movie, Raising Arizona), they are talking on their cell phones. Who is on the other end? Are they talking to other commuters, reaching out for kindred spirits with whom to hide from the braking dawn and its majesty, or someone at home who tugs at their hearts in a life that seems more commute than anything else? I don’t know, but I wonder. I have no one to talk to that early, and wish no one to talk with. They need their sleep or start to their day, and I need to commune with the visions about me to assure myself that I am part of the coming day. I see exits familiar in number and name, and locations marking my progress, a self-congratulatory pat on the back that one meager morning milestone after another is passed, each milestone taking me further along from bed to work.

My mind is a transition as well. I process dreams, think of home, and then accept work and its list of things that cry for my attention. These last thoughts nurse me along the final miles to the office so that the beginning of my work day builds upon the foundation of my thoughts.

Returning home reverses the imagery of going to work. I take the drive to unwind and drink in the surroundings, to numb the thoughts that are best left to my desk and tomorrow. The mountains take on a different quality as I work my way north. The sun having dipped behind them is still lighting the world, and leaves the mountains in relief to such an extent that they appear cut out of cardboard. Layers of mountain shapes shown in two dimensions to the thirsting eye.

I leave the work behind and settle into the home ahead. I plan what to fix for dinner, I scan the mountains and the prairies. I see different faces in adjacent cars doing the same thing as their morning counterparts – talking into phones, ignoring the world, absorbed and self-absorbed.

Home is the boon I unconsciously await all day. It is the gift afforded to me by trial of a fifty mile each way commute. I relinquish home in the morning, knowing I will reclaim it at night. Returning to my wife and our dog, to cook dinner, to relax together and taste each others waters of the day.

It is at the end of this routine that bed waits, that sleep dreams for my return as the price of a new dawn. I know not where the dreams will take me, though I try to be the boatman of it across my private river Styx. I have some say at times how I enter, where I tread, but never the whole of the whole. The true boatman is my subconscious and goes by the name angst. My dreams are the very definition of worlds colliding. They are linear feed and juxtaposition of past and present and mist enshrouded future. I embrace them as such; I groom through them for insight, and take them at face value.

When morning comes, I walk free of the dreams and must rise from the bed trailing a longing glance back to my sleeping wife. I partake in my morning ablutions and return to my car and my commute, the cycle repeating as cycles must. My day is under way and the sunrise comes as no surprise.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Our Resin Lord

Roadside monument to someone passed
Crucified replica lord hanging amid weeds
Driven into cracked and arid hardpan
Mourned by wilted silk flowers at his feet

Plastic savior, eternally upturned face
To uncaring sky, and unresponsive heaven
Riveted through stigmata to metal frame
Silently suffering the elements, unheard by saints

Mocked by dust devils
Ghosts that come and go in time with gusts
Turning in fleeting dance
Chaotically about weeping silks and foot of the cross

Frozen agony searching, mutely asking
God, why have you forsaken this traveler
Whose life was robbed too soon
On asphalted road between Sodom and Gomorrah

Our Resin Lord
Caught between life and death
Upon the cross on foreign Golgotha
Not even thieves to keep him company