Good Enough for Rock n Roll is Good Enough for Harvard

Thirty-four years later Harvard picks up the mantle of Southern Rock!

Bands were, and continue to be, a classic example of collaborative burnout. I’m not sure if this is an example of cross-cultural contamination, wonderful insight or simple irony. Or if someone in graphic design went through their parent’s vinyl collection and went “Aha!” Regardless, I got a history flashback standing in line at Whole Foods. Who says plagiarism at the college level is a myth?

Turn it up, Harvard! And straighten your tie…

I’ll Have a Malibu

“Saw a man die in here the other day, Neeko.” Lamar picked some more pretzels out of the bowl of ChexMix that was sitting on the bar in front of him, popped a couple in his mouth.

“You have an appointment or something? Bars aren’t your thing, Lamar.”

“Some kid architect, due any time. Art Deco restoration.”

“He think you were around for it the first time, or what?”

“Prob’ly. You not hear me?”

“I heard. You saw some guy die in here. Kind of a weird place to kick. Low stress, not much light, limp music.”

“Yep. Sittin’ right over there where the fat guy is sittin’ now. One minute he was there, next minute he was on the floor. Why I fuckin’ hate bars.”

“For a guy hates bars and saw a man croak out you’re back awful soon.”

casablanca1“People have to do meetings in these places now. Used to be restaurants, but they got too noisy or somethin’ I guess. Stock in martinis went up a while back, too. Posers, mostly. I’m waitin’ on fedoras to come back. Everybody under forty’s Bogart or Sinatra.”

“I thought it was the black and white version of Sean Connery they were after.”

Lamar let out a choked laugh. “Yeah. Pussy Galore is out there drinkin’ wine, three and four to a table somewhere, and these cats in here playin’ solo big boy. Fools. Women an wine are a lot more fun than hard liquor and business bullshit.” Lamar made a quarter turn on his stool, looked at the floor by where the fat man was sitting. “He coulda just gone out, you know. Quiet. Peaceful. Man was anguished.”

“You talkin’ the dead dude now?”

“Yeah.” He turned back to the bar. “Do I look like a priest?”

“Not so anyone would mistake you.”

“Dead guy sure did mistake me for one, going on. Confessin’ his life to me. Bartender said he’d been in here four, five hours that night. Wasn’t drinkin’ hard or nothin’, knockin’ back a few expensive scotches. Older guy. Nice suit. Had a job, accordin’ to his wallet. Company plastic, business cards. The emergency boys opened up all that, waitin’ for the cops. Not an Arab oil or age or salary downsize casualty. Makes you wonder.”

“Not really. I see it all the time. Probably divorced, or nobody to go home to, anyway. Or nobody he wants to see when he gets there. Burned all his gas and bridges getting to here, home life is worse than work for some guys.”

“That’s fuckin’ sad, Neeko. Nice lookin’, well dressed successful guy, sittin’ in a goddam bar five or six hours of an evenin’, payin’ retail for liquor. Bartender said he’s been a regular for a while now. No trouble ever, left the waitresses alone. Said he’d talk if somebody sat down, kept to himself otherwise. I know he wasn’t here to watch captioned CNN on four different screens and groove to that Pandora easy listening crap the bartender’s pullin’ off his phone.”

“Maybe he was looking at retirement, or somebody died. Wife, maybe. Maybe he got popped with a girlfriend, no place safe left to go. Maybe everybody at home, including the dog, was just tired of his shit.”

“Maybe. I don’t think so. Guys like him, you’d think he’d have a country club or somethin’. Somewhere besides a bar in the basement of a downtown bank buildin’. Someplace with some friends, other suits and briefcases. Loud nylon shirts and checkered pants, cigars. He was a local they said. And he was in big pain. Man pain, you know? Been carrying it a lifetime, sounded like to me.”

“You said anguished before. Now he’s got man pains? So you have something to say, amigo, or are we gonna sit here and wonder about his dead ass till your appointment shows?”

“‘Third rate.’ That’s what he said. ‘Third rate.’ Layin’ there kind of cross-eyed, man knew he was dyin’, kept sayin’ it. ‘Third rate.’ I was bent over him, getting his tie a little looser, everybody else standin’ back. ‘She said I was third rate. I was a fool to think I was anything else. Third rate. I’ve been proving I wasn’t for so long…I’m dying, right? Gaw-awddammit. Tell her I wasn’t third rate. If I was, then tell her I got over it.’ Grabbed my shirt when he said that last part. I couldn’t believe he kept saying that to me. ‘Third rate.’”

“Third rate? Like a loser third rate, or a has been? You sure it wasn’t ‘third base’ or something else? Him laying on the floor dying like that, you hanging over him, he coulda been looking up at your ugly old ass saying ‘turd face,’ Lamar. You have that effect on some people.”

“Nope, Neeko, it was ‘Third rate.’ He said, ‘She stood there on that porch, smiling, then followed me down to the driveway, told me my car was third rate, my dick was third rate, that clown standing right there with her, and I deserved it, however bad I felt. I was a loser and always had been.’ So I said to the man, ‘Bad divorces happen. People say things. They change their minds, we fuck up, shit happens. Ain’t the end of the world. Don’t mean you’re a loser or third rate or a quitter or nothin’. Just hang on.’ He said ‘Hang on? What for? I fucked my whole life up since I was a kid proving to some girl who’ll never even know that my third rate dick got promoted, or that I spent my life in hock up to my ass driving cars I couldn’t afford, all because of her.’ He was fading about that time, going in and out. I was keeping up CPR on his chest all this time and he grabbed my wrist, told me to stop. Said it hurt worse than dyin’.”

Lamar was slowly twirling a baby pretzel on the bar, a million miles away. Neeko let him sit, let Otis Redding and the clinking of glasses behind the bar wash over them, prayed the bartender’s Pandora didn’t let “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” sneak in like they did on every channel. He didn’t want to hear Lamar go off on that shit, not at the same time he was in the middle of feeling the pain of some stranger’s third rate dick, anyway. “So that was it? Lights out?”

“He was whisperin’ it by now, you know?” Lamar was still twirling the pretzel. “Quiet. Squeezin’ the shit outta my wrist. I know why they call it a death grip. Man was hangin’ on till he unloaded all his pain. He said, ‘No matter what a woman says to you, how young or old you are or how much you think you’re in love, let it wash. Don’t carry it around.’ He went out some then came back sayin’ ‘I’ve been so pissed off, for so goddam long, it was just part of my life. It got in the way of everything. Couldn’t enjoy what was right in front of me.’ I told him ‘Man, women have said some shit like that to me, and maybe they were right, maybe they felt justified some way sayin’ all that. 55f1f65c2c00004e00aaf755Some just walked away and didn’t say a word. Those are the worst, when you don’t know what you did wrong.’ I tried to smile, lighten him up a little. Told him at least he knew her problem, and if he was to see her again he could show her his car and how he’d worked out that third rate dick problem. Maybe show it to her goin’ through the car wash in his fancy ride. Like I was jokin’ with a dyin’ man about women. That’s some shit, right? He said he finally realized he’d let her give him a third rate life by not letting her go, letting her get in the way of everything, be a part of everything he did. He was cryin’, then, I think. Eyes were waterin’. ‘Third rate,’ he said. ‘I fucked my life up over a gold digger tellin’ me I had a third rate car, and a third rate dick? How fucked up was that for a life?’ I said I didn’t know and he said ‘I hope there’s a heaven. I hope she shows up one of these days so I can ask her what the hell? Third rate car. Third rate dick. What the hell? Huh? What…the…hell…’ That was it. Gone. Successful. Nice guy, so they said. Bet he had a hell of a car. And miserable. Just plain miserable, layin’ there that way. All down to how he caught one from a woman that left him sideways. Can you imagine, livin’ your whole life believin’ you’re third rate because some girl got over on you when you were young, rantin’ on your car and your dick? Jesus, man. ‘What the hell’ he kept askin’ me. That one question of his, how messed up a life was that? Hard to answer that one…I keep tryin’ but I may never, you know?”

“Sorry, Lamar, but you need to let him go before his pain gets to you. He’s not hurtin’ anymore, that’s for sure. Looks like your appointment’s here, bro. Stay out of bars for a while. Make them meet you for dinner, forget their martinis. Fedoras make a comeback you should buy one. Us old guys look better in ‘em. They need a face with some character underneath. Like give DeCaprio Bogart’s or Harrison Ford’s fedora? No way. Swing low, aim for the deep bleachers, buddy. I’m gone.”

“You got it, Neeko. Stay loose.” Lamar turned back, looked at the young guy standing next to him. “Evening, Angelo. What’re you drinkin’ tonight?”

539fcaa55c511_-_cos-09-martini-recipes-de-mscn“I’ll have a Malibu, please, Lamar. Pomegranate and pineapple juice martini. Been here long?”

“Not long. Eatin’ pretzels, waitin’ on you. Fuckin’ hate bars, you know that. Saw a man die in here the other night. Sittin’ right over there where the fat guy is now. Next time we do Corner Bakery or La Madeline to talk Art Deco if it’s okay with you. A Malibu? What’s wrong with you, Angelo? Some kind of fruit juice martini? Next your gonna tell me you’re shavin’ your nuts and readin’ Cosmopolitan to keep the women happy.”

“Maybe I should, Lamar. My GF just walked. Told me I had a piece of shit for a car and a third rate dick and she’d already found a better one, I’d never amount to nothing and I deserved being in business for myself and by myself because nobody else would have my sorry ass. You believe that? The shit they say when they leave?”

“Yeah, I believe it. That they say it, anyway. Don’t you hang on to it, though. Let it go. Words like that, carry ‘em around too long and the weight of them gets to be enough they can kill a man.”

“Not me. I say the hell with her, she feels that way.”

“Good. ‘Cause I saw a man who forgot to say that die in here the other night. Malibu. Jesus, Angelo. Like the car or the beach?”

Prelude 3 – Careful What You Wish For

Palm Sunday, 1974

It was a sunny Palm Sunday in Oklahoma, and he thought she might be listening. He sure hoped she was. The little chapel in the old St. Mary’s Cathedral seemed like the right place. He took all the money he’d gotten in his last paycheck from the restaurant that fired him, five dollars even, folded it and put it in the slot at Mary’s feet. He lit a candle and touched her feet like he’d been told, crossed himself like a good boy. He hoped she knew he was serious. He’d thought about bringing flowers but a friend said not to go all overboard buttering her up because she could spot that sort of thing.

“All I want is to be cool,” Jackson said, squeezing his eyes closed as tight as he could. “And a girlfriend that’s special and different, just for me.” That had better work, ‘cause it was the best he could come up with. How hard could it be? Mary was like Super Mom. She could pull it off.

Jackson was just the good side of being an intolerable smart ass. He was awkward with girls, got a ticket every time he started his car and wrecked it every time he tried to show off. His grades were good, he wasn’t stupid, he was just foolish, loud and a little too profane. “Nothing,” his mother said, “that couldn’t be fixed by a good old fashioned ass whipping.” He hoped Mary worked her miracle for him over the summer. He was tired of being a punchbowl boy, wanted cool and the girlfriend to kick in as soon as possible.

***

On that same Palm Sunday in St. Anthony’s, the oldest Catholic Church in Wichita, Kansas, a few scattered clouds cast occasional deep shadows in the corners of the sanctuary. In one of those corners, a pretty young girl in self-exile named Deanna took all of her money from not eating lunch for two days, three dollars and seventy-eight cents in change, and dropped it in the slot at the feet of another Mary. She made a face while she waited for the noise to subside and softly closed her eyes.

“I want someone who will think I’m special, just me, just who I am, who will love me forever. Please.” She lit her candle, crossed herself and really, really hoped Mary had heard her. Mary was a girl, so she understood.

Deanna was a good girl. She studied hard and tried to make people happy. She was smart, athletic, and just a little skittish. Her mother said she could be difficult, demanding, obsessive and hard to get along with, but other times she could be the sweetest girl. She just couldn’t seem to put them all together.

Deanna had been frightened, angry, and fed up. So she left Oklahoma to live with her aunt in Wichita after Christmas her sophomore year. Her parents said she could come home whenever she wanted, so when school was out that spring, her semester in Kansas exile was done. She’d go home for the summer, and start over in a new school somewhere in the fall. The sooner the better would be nice on that guy who thought she was special.

Prelude 2 – The Hot Girl

“Jackson. Mis-ter, Jackson, come on. Get up out of there. Jackson! Move it!”

Jackson was bent over under the row of seats in front of him in the Roosevelt Junior High auditorium, trying to pick up his science book, notebook, pencil and the single page mimeograph doodle sheet containing the synopsis of the 16-millimeter science film of the day. He’d dropped them when the girl on his right whacked the shit out of him unexpectedly while his back was turned. He’d figured out why but now it was all downhill, in a bad way. His pencil may have been downhill all the way to the front of the auditorium.

“He dropped everything when she hit him, Mr. Stephens.” It was Janice, the girl on his left. He’d been talking to her when the other side girl exploded on him.

“I don’t care, Miss Hurst. Jackson! Get up!” Mr. Stephens was leaning into the aisle, hands on the backs of the seats on either side. If the damn Hurst girl would get out of the way, he could grab him. “Jackson! Miss Howard, stop hitting him. I’ll take care of this.”

“He better never, never, never, ever, ever, ever do that again.” She hit Jackson on the back again for punctuation. “You butthole!”

“Miss Howard, that’s enough. Jackson!”

He had all of his stuff. He knew when he sat up Stephens was going to drag him off and get out the paddle. Stephens was his homeroom teacher and gym coach. Jackson had taken Stephen’s laundry to the cleaners across the street every Wednesday, picked it up on the following Friday, every week for a year and a half. Stephens handled his own discipline, so at least this wouldn’t go to the office or his mom. Shit, if his mom found out he’d poked a girl in the boob with a pencil, even the eraser end, she’d kill him. She’d never believe it was an accident, either. Shit. He sat up.

“Jackson, what is this all about?”

“He poked me in the, he poked me with his pencil in the…” Connie Howard was trying to get it out, just couldn’t find the girl word she wanted for boob.

“It’s my fault, Mr. Stephens.”

“Janice? How is this your fault?”

“I asked him could I borrow a pencil, and then it happened.”

“Somebody needs to tell me what happened before I yank all of you off this row. Now.”

One row up, one seat over from Connie Howard was the Hot Girl. Deanna Collings. Cheerleader, president of everything, queen of what was left over. Jackson thought they gave her awards for breathing. Every other week she did something award worthy, trophy worthy, announcement worthy.

“Mr. Stephens, he didn’t mean to do it. Really. I saw it.” Even the gym coach who started 16mm films for eighth-grade science class every day listened when the Hot Girl spoke.

“Janice asked Jax if he had a pencil she could borrow. He said, ‘No, but Connie always has some.’ When he said that he pointed at Connie with the eraser end of his pencil, like this,” she turned her hand and demonstrated Jackson’s boob poke, “and poked her here.” She pointed to the side of her left breast. “He wasn’t even looking at her when he did it. It was an accident. Really.”

“That’s true, Mr. Stephens,” Janice said. “He was looking at me when she started hitting him.”

“Jackson?”

“Mr. Stephens, my mom would kill me for that, poking her in the boob. Connie’s a friend, I’d never do that on purpose.”

Mr. Stephens held the laugh that was building. “Can we all agree that this, uh, ‘episode’ was an accident? Miss Howard, I’ll take him with me or send him to the office if you think he did it on purpose.”

“Connie, you know it was an accident. I’d let him go if it was me.” The Hot Girl flashed him and Connie and Mr. Stephens the Miss Popularity smile that turned just about everybody but Jackson to mush. He’d told his mom all about her, wondering how one girl could be so much girl. She’d watched Deanna after school one day waiting for the car pool to load up, told him the difference between a real smile and the smile a girl like that had for everybody. His mom had been a model for a while in New York when she was sixteen, so he believed her.

“It’s alright.” Connie still had her lower lip stuck out a little. “I’m sorry I hit you, Jax, but you’re still a butt hole. Janice,” she leaned across Jackson and smashed her recently indignant left boob right into his chest and handed Janice a sharp, new pencil.

Mr. Stephens walked back down to his projector shaking his head, crepe soled wingtips squishing all the way. The other side of the auditorium had erupted in paper airplanes while he’d dealt with Jackson’s distraction. Poor kid. Completely surrounded by thirteen-year-old estrogen and nowhere to hide.

Jackson reached long, careful to stay way out in front of his neighbor’s boobs, and tapped the Hot Girl on the shoulder. She jumped, looked back at him. “Thanks, you know. Really.”

“You’re welcome.” She smiled a different smile that did turn him a little towards mush. He’d never seen her look anything like confused or something before, either. Girls were complicated. The complicated girl just thought he was kinda cute. Only just kinda.

After science class she waited in the hall outside of the auditorium and grabbed his shirt sleeve when he walked by, an action that threw a big wrench into the usual hang with the Hot Girl crowd. “I know you didn’t do it on purpose and it’s just not fair how you get in trouble all the time for nothing.” He thought he might pee his pants if he talked to the Hot Girl. “I’m in your home room this year, sorta,” she said. Stephens had kept him in gym homeroom in spite of the yearly homeroom shuffle, probably for his laundry duty.

“Yeah, um, girls on one side, us on the other. Kinda the same but not really.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow.” She was starting to vanish into the crowd around her. “No I won’t, it’s Wednesday!” By now she was walking backwards, almost shouting. “Where do you go with that big blue bag on Wednesdays?”

He didn’t have time to tell her. “Later. Thanks. For real.” She was gone, swept away in a sea of popularity. This was the worst day of his life so far. Poking a friend in the boob by accident. Everybody, including the Hot Girl, watching then rescuing him. And then talking to him. What did he say to her? Something stupid probably, him and girls. She sure was cute. More than cute. His mom had said, “Peaches and cream and big bright eyes. You should be so lucky, Jax.”

He didn’t stand in line to talk to her before school, or be part of the crowd when the two gym teachers decided to give them ten minutes of co-ed every day. Why bother? She was pretty much sold on Matt, the guy with a few years too late Beach Boy haircut, flip in the front and all. He’d told some of the guys his sister helped him put Summer Blonde streaks in it. All the girls thought he was cute, Jackson thought he was a wuss, but he seemed to be by himself with that opinion. Him and Mr. Stephens, anyway.

***

Roosevelt Junior High, February Eleventh, 1972

Everyone at Roosevelt had been encouraged to bring their Valentine’s Day cards on the Friday before Valentine’s Day because the Pep Club Valentine’s dance was set for that evening. Jackson wished he was a cheerleader like the Hot Girl. He wanted to jump in the air and shout something stupid because his Friday laundry duty got him out of all the standing in line card swapping and waiting for the extra line of “special for you” Valentine card bearers to clear on the Hot Girl. Word was she’d dropped on Matt for the dance already so she was just letting those guys and their dollar-fifty Hallmark’s look stupid for no reason. Some things were so predictable. Just like what happened to him at the dance.

Jackson had gone with a girl named Mary. Who, like every girl he’d gone to a party with since sixth grade, dumped him to go make out with somebody else. He always ended up sitting with the girl or more than one girl who got dumped like him for the make out festival. Sometimes they cried, sometimes they complained, sometimes they sat there dejected, all of them asking him what it was guys wanted. He said, “A lot of guys just want to make out.”

“What about you?”

“Making out is cool,” he’d say, wishing he was or could or even had the option. “But sitting by a pretty girl, talking to her, that’s okay too. You can’t make out forever.” Deep bullshit for a guy who hardly made out at all and didn’t know what to say to a girl. He did love to look at girls, though. How they wore their hair, how their dresses fit, girls with freckles and suntans, girls without either one. Girls with sideburns kind of creeped him out, but mostly all girls were fine with him. He’d follow a girl with the right perfume down the hall past where he was supposed to go sometimes.

He was tired of being the dumped girl babysitter at the Valentine’s dance, tired of being the dumped guy as well, decided screw the rules and opened the door at the driveway end of the school. There she was, the Hot Girl, sitting on the old, cold concrete steps to Roosevelt Junior High. He had the urge to pee again but sat down anyway and found some nerve somewhere.

“Hey. What’re you doing out here?”

“Waiting for my brother to come get me.”

“Aren’t you cold?”

“A little, I guess.”

“Here.” He draped his jacket over her shoulders. Now he was cold. They failed to mention that when guys did it in movies.

“Thank you.” She had the telltale puffy eyes just like the other dumped girls. Only an idiot would dump the Hot Girl.

“What happened? I thought you and Matt were —”

“Were what? Were what, Jackson? Huh? What were we?”

Wow. She was pissed at Matt and she remembered his name. “Having a good time? Maybe?”

“No! Not a good time at all. At first, but then he got, well, he got…Never mind. I should have stayed home, that’s all. I need to go home.”

He couldn’t think of what to say so they sat in silence for a while. You didn’t say “that sucks” to the Hot Girl or insult her by saying he thought the guy was a serious wuss with his Summer Blonde hair and surfer’s cross he had to keep tucked away or a teacher would yank it. She was drawing invisible somethings with her fingers on the concrete by her feet when she snuffled pretty big. He knew it was a leftover from how crying sometimes got your nose all into it. He almost told her about how his dad had called his little brother a “screaming snot machine,” trying to be sympathetic, pulled it at the last second. He found some more personal conversation nerve.

“Can I tell you something?”

“No. Well, maybe.”

“He draws his hair on, up the side. His sister dyed his hair, you know. Messed it all up.”

“I know. Some came off on my hand when I slapped him.” She laughed a little. “You don’t like him, do you?”

“Not really.”

“Tell me why? Please?”

“He’s a fake. I mean I know girls think he’s cute, but you’re a beach boy surfer or you’re not. And he’s not. Not in Oklahoma in winter, anyway. It’s just kinda stupid, I think. Sorry.”

“It’s okay. My mom told me not to. Go with him I mean. Some guys in my homeroom didn’t ask me or even give me a Valentine. I thought you had to in homeroom.”

“I didn’t know that, about Valentine’s cards. Is that still true?”

“Yes. Didn’t Mr. Stephens tell you?”

“Maybe, but I might have been across the street. I’m not there all the time on Wednesday and Friday. I take his laundry to the cleaners.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s dirty, I guess.”

“No, I mean why do you get to leave?”

“He told me he knew I was smart enough to handle it and I wasn’t so stupid I’d forget to come back. So he kept me in gym homeroom for both years. Sort of like I flunked homeroom.”

“That’s silly, Jackson. You can’t flunk homeroom.”

“I could be in a regular homeroom with girls if I hadn’t flunked.”

“There are girls in your homeroom but you have to walk across the gym to talk to them and you’re supposed to give them a Valentine.”

“I owe you one I guess. A Valentine, I mean. I didn’t know.”

“I guess, huh?” She gave him a smile that seemed to confuse her face for a second. “Deanna, with two n’s. Here’s my brother, and here’s your jacket. Thank you for sitting with me. It was, well, I didn’t like it out here by myself.”

“Thanks for, um, letting me. You know, sit. Sorry ‘bout Matt. And everything.” He wanted to say he was glad she didn’t stay home, but he’d run his nerve reserve way down already.

Her brother unwound from the car like a bear from a cave. “Is this him, little sister?”

“No, Jax just waited with me. Really. So I wasn’t outside alone.”

“Yeah?” Jackson’s hand disappeared when her brother shook it. “You know the guy that did whatever, pissed her off? Think you could kick his ass?”

“Yeah, probably.”

“Give it some thought, man. You did the right thing, hangin’.”

Jackson was half blind from the headlights, her brother a giant shadow in jeans. He saw that much. She slapped Matt, huh? Wonder what he did? Jackson knew he’d never get close enough to get in that kind of trouble with the Hot Girl and let it go. His jacket sure smelled good, though. Wait till he told his parents what a gentleman he’d…Shit! Valentine’s was Monday! Now he had to go get the Hot Girl with the double ‘n’ a card. Where did you get a Hot Girl Valentine card that didn’t come in a package with thirty other ones?

Prelude 1 The Fairy Tale girl

Mid-Summer, 1994

Jackson was sitting on the porch of his mostly remodeled craft house, if you didn’t count unfinished bathrooms, staring at a week old, two-foot square slab of concrete next to the curb thirty feet away. He heard the storm door close softly behind him, knew it was his daughter. His wife would have banged it open with her butt, folder in hand and started talking, or banged it open with her butt carrying two cups of coffee or half a sandwich. No matter what, she would have banged it open with her butt, not sneaking up on him.

“Dad, what’re you doin’?”

“Thinking about building the mailbox, Amrie. Pull up a step. What’re you doing?”

“Nothin.’” She dusted the step with her hand and flumped down next to him. “Are you gonna think about it or build it?”

“You’ve been talking to your mom.”

“She says it’s already built in your head, and you can see it. The problem is gettin’ it out an puttin’ it on that place.”

She was eight and her mom all over again. “You tell her it’ll be there before the sun goes down. I have lots of help coming.”

“She says it’ll be a Morisè company party, and nothin’ will get done.”

“She’s part of that girl-power thing they have. They won’t do it, but I’ll get it done with the guys.” He couldn’t say mom was part of the smart, pretty, pain in the ass hot girl thing to her. Yet.

“Kristen from school? Her mom and dad got a divorce. She’s comin’ back next year, but her dad isn’t at her house. She cries a lot at school.”

“Yeah? She told you about it?”

“She said they yelled a lot every night for a long time before.”

“Too bad she had to hear that. Is she okay? You wanna invite her over this afternoon? Feed her a dad burger, get her out of the house for a while?”

“Can I?”

“Sure.” Just like her mom used to be, dance around it. “Amrie, spit it out.”

“Are you and mom gettin’ a divorce?”

“I don’t think so. I’m not, anyway. Why?”

“She’s been yellin’ at you every night.”

He thought about the free standing garage in the back. What sort of backyard beer and burger bribery was he going to have to put up to insulate and soundproof it?

The door banged open this time. “Jax? Sweetie? How about this, if I say…Oh. This looks serious.” She took three steps, sat down on the other side of him, squeezed his leg. “Good morning, husband. Today’s the day, huh?”

“Yeah, your mailbox gets built today. Your daughter Amrie has a question for you.”

My daughter? You two were supposed to decide which of her big girl names to use. How long has that been?” She leaned forward, looked across him. “What’s your question sweetheart?”

“Are you and daddy gettin’ a divorce? You’ve been yellin’ at him every night just like Kristen’s mom and dad and they’re divorced.”

She made a wide-eyed what-the-hell face at her husband. He returned an ironic smile. “Is it time for the talk?”

“I suppose so. Will you fix the garage for us?”

“Yeah.”

“Soon?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. Little Sweetie, I’ve been yelling at your daddy like that for what, twenty years? 1974?”

“Well, seventy-five is when you started on this, but seventy-four is okay. You yelled about other things. You took three years off to get smarter, but that’s about right.”

“Stop it.” She tapped his arm with the folder. “It’s your daddy’s fault. He told me I was full of crap when I was sixteen and thought I knew it all. He sent me to your mean Aunt ‘Manda and we’ve been yelling like this ever since. We’re really not yelling, sweetie. I’m using my big girl voice, and your dad is helping me get ready for a presentation I have to make, that’s all. You must have just slept through us all this time. The last time I yelled at your daddy for real was about the hole in the kitchen floor.”

“No, I heard you. But I didn’t know it meant divorce and dad was leavin’.”

Deanna looked at her husband with some theatrical seriousness. “Big Sweetie, are you leaving?”

“Going to D.C. with you in a couple of weeks,” he said. “Should we bring her, let her see you yell?”

“She’s old enough to behave. If you can get her out of cutoffs and ballet tights at the same time. Maybe get her to wear a dress and use a napkin.”

“Me? You’re in charge of girl stuff. I drive her around and clean up after her. Like somebody else I know.”

“I’ll wear one mom, promise. Can I come? Really? The Grammas can take me shopping with Aunt ‘Manda. I’ll get a nice one, promise.”

“If they take you to Dallas again without telling me first, I’ll kill all of you, do you hear me? Okay. If you wear a dress, you can come. Jax, are you going to tell her about us? I have work to do.”

“I’ll tell her.”

“You watch what you tell her. I can still hear. If I hear any ‘your mom was this or that’ I’ll come set her straight, understand?” He heard the door close and the big window open.

“She’s really not mad at you?”

“No. I’m not mad at her either.”

“When mom gets mad at you does she use all your names?”

“No, I just have one name. She just says Jackson one of those ways she does so I know.”

“She says ‘Celeste Anne-Marie Jackson you git in here ryat this minute.’”

He laughed. “That’s pretty good. How about this. ‘Deanna, would you like me to bring you some lunch?’ What’s she say?”

“Hail yayus.” They high fived.

The window spoke. “That’s enough you two.”

Dad and daughter both got the grins. “Dad, when you say ‘Dammit Amrie would you please pick this shit up?’ Mom says, ‘Welcome to the club. My name is really Dammit Deanna.’ Is that true?”

“Yep. Dammit Deanna. She has some others, but I’ll get us both in trouble if I tell you.”

“Her big girl name is ‘What kinda shit is that, D.C. Collings?’”

He let that one go, knew he really needed to fix up the garage.

“Which of my big girl names are you gonna use? I’ve been Amrie forever.”

He wanted to say six and a half years, give or take a little, isn’t really forever. He let that go, too. “Well, if I were your boyfriend I’d call you Anne-Marie. It’s musical and it sounds just as pretty as you are. I’d feel all goofy every time I said it. The boy who isn’t afraid to call you Anne-Marie, he’s the one.”

The window spoke again. “Jax, she’s eight years old. Jesus.”

“It’s never too soon to be watching for that sort of thing. I’m your dad so I’d just call you Marie because it’s short and bouncy and fun like you are. Celeste is a good name if you’re ever going to be a night club singer. You could add all of Aunt Alix’s French names to it. You could be Celeste Alexandrie Anne-Marie Juliette Moreaux Jackson. You’d have to say Jackson with a French accent, Zhock-zone. Your business card would be as big as an envelope. You could keep your hair all in your face like you do anyway and wear bright red lipstick.” He reached over and messed up her hair a little more than it had been.

“Stop it, Dad, I do not. Celeste is Aunt ‘Manda’s pretty name she doesn’t use, and Anne-Marie is aunt Alix’s.”

He raised his voice a little. “So who is this girl who’s not your daughter?” He checked his daughter, smiled. “Marie? Close enough to Amrie?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“You wanna hear a story?”

“Okay.”

“You sound just like Eeyore or your mom. It’s not a boring dad story. It’s a love story about a beautiful princess in hiding who’s just a tiny bit nuts.”

“Jax, I heard that.” The voice from the window seemed to be losing its sense of humor.

“Does she meet a boy and fall in love?”

“Oh, she tries out a lot of boys. All the wrong boys but she keeps trying. Then she meets the one boy who knows her secret. He steals her heart away and won’t give it back until she learns to behave like the princess she is.”

“Okay, Jackson. It doesn’t go exactly like that.” The voice  from the window had some velocity this time.

“See? Did you hear that? That’s the way she says my name when she starts to get mad. Let’s get off the porch. I’ll tell you about the princess if you’ll help me start on the mailbox so we can get it done today. You know the princess looked a lot like you when she was little. I’ve seen pictures.”

“Really? How?”

“You know how dads know about stuff by magic? That’s how.”

“Alright. I guess.” She looked at him, wondered if he really had seen pictures of a princess that looked like her, decided he probably had. Dad spent a lot of time in California, where a most princesses she knew about seemed to come from. Probably because of Disneyland. “Mom says you’re really full of stuff sometimes, but I believe you. Do I really have to wear a dress if I come with you?”

“You promised your mom. You ready to argue with her about it?” He could see her chewing her lower lip. “No?” He grinned at her, offered her a low-five hand. She smacked it, hard. “I didn’t think so. You make your mom a promise, kiddo, you gotta keep it. Trust me.”

Women Don’t Talk Enough

I’ll take the heat for that. It could have read, “Women don’t say enough when they talk.” And that would be true as well. Now I admit, there’s a stereotype qualifier and it is this; all of the Betty and Suzie and Julie and Crissy and LaTeesha too, and all the stupid and wonderful and awful and competitive bitchy things they do is, well, what it is and for the most part out of this discussion. Also out are the discussions and the Pinterest pins and the websites where it would be so nice to remodel the kitchen with one having slightly more square footage than the footprint of the entire house. What is in this discussion is asking a woman about pointed, personal history, and how we have to pry that out. Even when we do, what we get is female haiku. If you slow down and really listen to it, that’s almost enough.

In a relationship, we, as men, are expected to expose ourselves. “Who was she? What was she like? Why did you/she break up? Did you ever go here/there/anywhere? Have any fun? Beat her, get arrested, wreck her car? Well there was some reason you were together.” Women drill down for detail.

“Where did you go?”

“I stopped at the store for lettuce.”

“Oh? How was that?”

“I dunno. Like buying lettuce?”

“That’s all? That’s it?”

“Uh…” So we invent an emotional and experiential travelogue or shrug and slump away lost like there’s more to shopping for lettuce that we missed and somehow we’re stupid for missing it. However, even a busy woman will answer;

“Well, first I had to move the man with the all the vegetables on the cart, and that took forever because he didn’t speak English but that’s okay, he smiled and I finally got him moved but then the stupid sprinkler thing with the fake thunder? Well, it went off and if he hadn’t been in the way I could have just grabbed the lettuce first and I wouldn’t have a wet sleeve. And they had the cutest cookies. Little round ones with strawberry filling? I got some for the kids when they come over next time. And you wouldn’t believe it. The snottiest girl in the world was checking on express. Would I like a bag? Like I want wet lettuce rolling around in my car. Really? Just put it in the bag, silly girl. So she had to drop it two feet into the bag but by then I was tired of dealing with it. And that parking lot is the absolute worst. No one knows how to drive anymore. They’re all messing with their phones, they don’t look, they just point and go…”

When I bought lettuce, maybe all that happened, but I didn’t care. I got lettuce, got out, maybe gave somebody in the parking lot the finger, got home, got the third degree, let it go. Lettuce, in the bag. Done.

That was facetious on the face of it, but pretty accurate. My point is, if that was buying lettuce, then the next time your wife, girlfriend, significant other female glosses over a question, call her on it. Find a picture of an old boyfriend, her prom, some picture of a beach in an old book she has in the closet, ask her about it. “Oh, that was awful. I hated that trip.” Done. Next. Whoa. Why? “I just did. You know what happened after. He was a real jerk.” No, I have no idea what happened. Why? Exasperated we hear, “What is it that you want me to say?” Okay, right here is the break point between men and women. This is where a guy will say, “She was crazy, she was lousy sex, she cried all the time, her cat peed on my shoes, she was jealous of her own shadow, she was a kleptomaniac, insomniac, nymphomaniac, alcoholic, shopaholic…” We will invent things to say just to get off the topic. Women? Ask them why was it awful? “It just was, alright?” Female communication haiku. Maybe they’ll tell other women a whole story. Us? No way.

So I learned, after a very long and difficult time, to read the novel between the sparse words that women say about things that hurt, or were embarrassing. Things they’ve “forgotten.” I’ll buy some of that, but I’m no genius and I remember things. Good and bad and embarrassing. This is where I go back to that ladies lettuce moment. They have some stories in there and unless estrogen automatically shreds memory after a given amount of time, we’re not getting the stories. Because they don’t want to let go of them. They aren’t part of their lives anymore, they aren’t relevant. I say they’re wrong. Anything formative, anything that makes or made them who they are is important. Not just the fun and funny things, but the embarrassing things, the foolish things, the things they want the kids, and us sometimes, to believe they never did.

One afternoon not long ago I leaned pretty hard on a grown woman with three college degrees when, after about a tenth of a story, I got an “It’s not important.”  Headlines. No substance. Like the female mastery of soundbites and verbal haiku was enough for the simple minded male. She fought me all the different ways I tried to ask, and I was being one of those psych profile tests with a heartbeat so she was having to work. It was maybe half an hour before she finally said, “We’re all girls like that once, alright? All of us. For a summer, for a semester, for a month or a year or at some party summer job we had maybe, and any girl our age who tells you she wasn’t is lying. Alright? Jesus. Are you happy now?”

Hell yeah. No details, okay. Access to the female mindset? Priceless. Because I thought there was a magic word or phrase or coolness factor and I find out they’re just people. And they hate to give that up, let us know they’re human. To give us a chance to know a little more about them, so we can care a little more about them.

Why should we care? Because women and their stories are valuable and they sell themselves short with all of the dodgy answers. Because they think we’re men and we don’t or won’t get it and there’s something judgmental or Neanderthal going on in our heads when they talk. Like if they’re talking about Twelfth Century poetry we’re thinking about beer and booty and that red bra in the top drawer. Not always. Personally, I love to hear my wife talk when she has something to say because there’s music in her voice. Beer and booty is saved for all that office politics and people you never heard of and their cute babies and so-and-so’s such a bitch stuff. Then? Yes, ladies, we surf our brains for pictures of you naked, or at least in that red bra, so we don’t kill you.

***

Something that I found almost always inextricably linked to women and their stories is their mothers. I have no idea why, but if you’ve ever lived with a mother-daughter combo you’ve seen it. If you’re smart you stay out of the middle of it. I don’t care if a girl’s mom was a crackhead or a dentist or civic leader or a man-chasing drunk. She’s mom. I asked some women when I was doing research one time to tell me about how they got where they were, what happened. All of them, mom was in the picture. “Mom died, my family imploded and I got lost.” “Mom decided she wanted to re-career and moved us, and decided against it, and then moved us back and I felt kind of lost.” “Mom did this when she empty nested, and when that happened to me, I followed her.” “Mom did me a favor when she committed suicide. Because my sister and I didn’t need what she’d become in our lives. I don’t get mad, I thank her for that.” “Mom let my brothers feed me dog food so I’d learn not to listen to everything a man said.” “I live with her now, she’s on disability with cataracts. She was messed up a lot when I was a kid, but we always lived someplace okay, she made me go to school and she never made me do anything weird or be like her. She was a good mom.” “I wish my mom had known what to do with me.” “I wish I still had my mom.” “I wish I could ask my mom what to do sometimes.” “I really miss my mom.”

I was asking questions of grown women roughly my own age because I wanted to know what made a girl tick. I’m not one, so I had no idea. Every one of those answers, even paraphrased as they are, contains a novel in between the words. When you can get in between them, the words and the fences around them, there’s beauty and wisdom and insight and laughter and tears. If you look closely there’s an entire story in every one of them. Hopefully not many about desperation and loneliness because I found a few like that, along with the headstones of the women those kind of stories belonged to.

***

Women, for the most part, seem to be blessed with a “now” gene that somehow supersedes memory and pain and even us men and puts the immediacy of what’s important now in their lives right in front of them. It makes shopping for lettuce more than a couple of plastic bags and transacted commerce, makes a weekend  with the grandkids a return to being three years old instead of just bruised thighs, bad TV, a sore back and unknown but colorful sticky stuff on everything. It makes what they want from life and for their kids more important than flowers and poetry and romance. It’s amazing that they can manage all of that, be all of that, with whatever suitcase of blues they keep in their attics. It seems simple from the outside, like if they are loved and allowed to love they flourish like flowers, often in spite of the quality of the soil. Their answers may sound simple as well, but they are actually very poetic, and tell remarkable tales.

So make your girl talk to you. Dig out the real story. You might have to work for it, you might have to listen to her , but you’ll learn something fascinating about her you didn’t know. Something that might make you smile, maybe make you a little jealous or even really proud of her when she shows you where her strength, her humor, her judgement and her heart came from. What made her who she is. That for sure trumps hearing about what that bitch Audrey did at work today, right? Or that bag of lettuce and kitchen remodeling you don’t want to talk about. Some more.

 

Way More Than MIDI

For some reason, MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) seems to be getting more attention on its thirty-second birthday than it did on its thirtieth. I’ve read more misinformation than I thought possible until I realized I was reading things on the Internet. Did you know, according to RedShark, the Yamaha DX-7 was the first synthesizer to support MIDI? Strange. For those of us lucky enough to be standing in the Sequential booth at the Anaheim convention center to see it work for the very first time we saw a Sequential Prophet 600 and a Roland JP-6 play each other, and miscommunicate program changes by one number. That’s not what this is about, though. This is about celebrating more than MIDI. It’s about celebrating a little company on North First St. in San Jose, California that could see into the future.

On MIDI’s thirtieth birthday I sent Dave Smith a note telling him I’d just purchased a MIDI interface for my iPhone, and how cool was that? That same 5-pin DIN plug hadn’t changed. Of course, the 30-pin on my iPhone was doomed, but not MIDI. Dave reminded me that MIDI was still at rev 1 after all that time, and that hardware was more fun than software, cheers. And that is one of the legacies of Sequential. The resiliency of good design. When something works and people can use it; when it’s simple and elegant and deep enough to hang for a long time, particularly in the world of technology, it’s a good idea. Look at Dave Smith’s instruments now. They are sleeker and faster than the originals of 1977, and incredibly similar. Dave has always designed and built performance instruments, and thirty-two years ago MIDI was designed primarily so that physical musical instruments could discuss making music together. Yet MIDI is the defacto standard for hardware and human interfaces to discuss the making of music with pretty pictures of instruments captured under the glass of a computing device’s monitor. It doesn’t matter if it’s a USB cable or that thirty-two-year-old 5-pin DIN, the language spoken is MIDI.

In 1982 when I’d walk by and see Dave in that corner office with reams of green-bar paper and teletype pages covered in hex I had no idea. I don’t suspect that he did, either. Or he might not have given it away. That’s right, the MIDI protocol is free. A very Northern California concept. Hippie engineers making the world a better place for synthesizer players, free. Imagine. MIDI was conceived to foster a sense of modern musical community. That’s some pretty serious save-the-future tree hugger engineering for you right there.

Now for the other really important “seeing into the future” thing that rarely gets mentioned. Barb Fairhurst. What? A female vice president and business manager in 1977? In a couple of male dominated businesses? Not just technology and engineering, but the music business as well. Back in the old cigar smoke, big talk and “what can I do for you, little lady” times. Back when women were usually the vice presidents of the laundry room and the grocery store run, at Sequential we had a lady boss. Who gave this long haired kid from Oklahoma a shot at seeing the future, a coffee cup with my name on it, and made us sign things in a specific color of ink as a “standard.” Barb dealt with the business end of things, the banks, the vendors, the dealers. Us. She even handled the great “we’re not galley slaves” revolt in manufacturing when it was decided they should use anti-static wristbands that were attached to their workbenches. Walk from the “carpet” to the “tile” at Sequential back then and you got an earful from someone about indentured servitude until Barb calmed the waters.

Sequential was the heart of a romantic music-meets-technology ideal in a pragmatic world, and, as a result, is no longer with us in that little building on North First Street, but it is still with those who make modern music every day. I would like to suggest that instead of just wishing MIDI a happy thirty-second birthday we also celebrate the programmable polyphonic performance synthesizer, vector synthesis, multi-timbral workstations, the insight and wisdom of female executives and the spirit of a global musical community that rides for free on the three hot wires of that 5-pin DIN plug. That’s the real reason to be nostalgic and celebrate Dave, Barb and Sequential. To celebrate the little company so small and long ago that showed us the future.