Cat Show

Lamar pushed the wicker mold plastic bowl to his left. “Neeko?”

“No thanks. You could eat the ChexMix, Lamar, ‘stead of digging out the pretzels. They reload that and you’ve been digging through it. You wash your hands after you took a leak?”

“Pretzels and you are the only reason I set foot in this place, Neeko. I wash my hands before ’cause I know where my dick’s been. My hands, before they get ahold of it, that’s another story. Shake hands with a man, who knows if he just did a reach and rearranged his junk, scratched somewhere dark. So I wash them first. Lamar junior hasn’t got any funk. You think my DNA all over these puffy baby Triscuit looking things is a public health hazard?”

“Not knowing if you had some splash guard like they put on gasoline hoses, I’d be suspect of that entire bowl.”

“How do you know it’s a gasoline hose? Somebody tellin’ my secrets?”

“Even if they had been I’d know they were lying. Only reason your wife keeps you is you can cook. Saw her at the store the other day, she was looking fine as always.”

“She does look good. That’s a woman thing. Even if she looked like hell you’d say she looked good. That’s Neeko’s glass is half full philosophy right there. If you saw me and then somebody who hadn’t seen me in a while you’d say “I saw ol’ Lamar the other afternoon. He looked good.”

“Does that make me a bad person? Telling people we’re all looking good?”

“No,” Lamar sort of laughed. “It makes you about a lyin’ motherfucker though. Not all of us have that magic that women have these days. I watched some old black and white on TCM the other night, and the way they showed old women, and I mean old women who were way younger than our old women, they looked like old women. Like those National Geographic pictures of Russian women hangin’ out laundry in the Sixties. Boxy dresses and that old woman hair, figures like whiskey barrels with tits. Not anymore.”

“I remember in some of those TV shows how old the women looked, and you Google it and they were thirty-four. Going on a hundred. Like once they hit about thirty they looked the same. They got that helmet hair and the whiskey barrel you were talking about and turned into nanny’s and housekeepers. Our women look better now than a forty-year old housekeeper on TV in the Seventies. Or a thirty-five-year old nurse in the Fifties. I think it’s down to the hair.”

“More than that. They work out, have organic hair dye that looks like a color found in nature, hormone therapy. We don’t get any of that. Used to be men looked distinguished when we got older, and being ‘robust’ was a sign of success. Now the doctors want us to weigh what we did when we were twenty, hormone therapy will kill us and all that hair junk for men looks like shoe polish. If we have enough hair to use it. I don’t care how chiseled a look you put up, even Clint Eastwood would look messed up with his head shaved or with jet black hair. I say wear what you have how it is. If all you can grow is ear warmers and a collar cover, let it be. I see men with that skin skull cap and a wispy gray ponytail and I want to smack ‘em for making us all look stupid.”

Neeko hit his iced tea, shot Lamar a sideways glance. “I thought about that hormone therapy for men. Actually looked into it. You get a shot every couple of days or some implants or cream. It might make you crazy before it killed you, but what a way to go. Walk around with a coat hook in your drawers like you were seventeen again for a couple of days before your heart exploded. Go find a couple of hookers I could wear out. Like a personal holy week of testosterone before you check out.”

“Your wife has been gone these ten years, rest her soul,  and you’re still banking on hookers? You’d need to find a couple of ’em drunk enough to take your money, Neeko. Speakin’ of bein’ seventeen with a whopper, I was sittin’ at a light the other day and next to me was this girl in a little maroon Mazda needed a paint job. She was a carbon copy of Jaclyn Werther. Down to the hair. Hadn’t seen or even thought about her in forty years. There she was.”

“She have a tribe of guys following her like Jaclyn used to?”

“No. Car wasn’t daddy issue, either. Shame, a girl like that drivin’ around solo. I don’t think they talk to each other these days, Neeko. Like in this place. They get jobs and if the college romance doesn’t stick they stand around and pose because they forgot how to talk to each other without a phone in their hand.”

“If you recall, we didn’t know how without a bong in our hand.”

“At least we were in the same room talkin’. Since you started this with that seventeen-year-old coat hook, and me seein’ that girl looked like Jaclyn, I heard from Fontaine the other day.”

“Fontaine? Damn. Now there’s your real half-full glass man.”

“Yeah. We went back and forth a little. Jaclyn came up some.”

“Bet she did. Bet y’all came up some talking about her. Long time down the road for all of that. What’d he say?”

“Sounded like you, Neeko. He sees somebody, he says they look good. Now I know for a fact Morton looks like hell and went through two rough divorces, with a handful of near-grown kids in there somewhere. The last wife of his, that woman was a hurricane of bat shit crazy. Fontaine says ‘Saw Morton over the weekend. He was looking pretty good.’  That’s some shit, there.”

“Not that I don’t care, but fuck what Fontaine had to say about Morton. I heard something about Jaclyn?”

“You’re still snowed over that business, huh, Neeko? Said he saw her, thought maybe she even got a divorce and she was still gorgeous. Must have been about fifteen years ago.”

“Well hell, Lamar, I looked good in my forties. So did you.”

So we did. But you were never gorgeous. I’d heard she got a divorce myself. Fontaine said he figured no matter how good looking you are or what you got going on, a couple of kids and a divorce had to tear your heart and your life up just like she was one of us.”

“I wonder sometimes about people like that, Lamar. How their dreams went. What they wanted, what they got. If they had a script, did it play as well as it read, or feel like it was supposed to going down? Was it as smooth as an Italian highway and full of poetry or all fucked up and broken in the middle like a Texas Interstate? Did they make it or give each other the finger and throw in the towel. I’d like to meet a few of them in here some afternoon, ask them what kind of ride their dreams took them on. Jaclyn’s one.”

“Well, Jaclyn’s dream took her to a cat show. That’s where Fontaine saw her.”

“No shit? What the hell was Fontaine doing at a cat show?”

“Showin’ some lady his domestic compatibility side. He said the woman loved cats and was looking. They breed those things, did you know that? They don’t just show up under the neighbor’s house and end up in a box in the front yard that says “FREE KITTENS.”

“We had a cat one time, Louisa and the girls had to have one. That cat shit like an eighty-pound dog. And left it on top of the litter box like she was proud of it and we should all want to go in the laundry room and check it out. Why anyone would want to get a specific model of cat is too deep.”

“Then it’s a good thing you never took up with Jaclyn because cats must have been her thing or Fontaine wouldn’t have run into her there. He said at the time he thought that might have been the most embarrassing moment of his adult life, seeing her like that. His only cat show and getting busted that way by the prettiest girl he ever knew.”

“Might have gotten him some points, her liking cats and both of them being divorced.”

“Naw, Neeko. You know how things look different dependin’ on your state of mind. You feel stupid at a cat show, somebody sees you and you feel more stupid, figure they think you’re as stupid as you feel.”

“One shot at Jaclyn Werther or whoever she is now, and he blows it feeling stupid at a cat show. Idiot. He say anything else?”

“One thing. Made me worry about Fontaine a little. He was talking about that cat show? He said he hated seein’ Jaclyn there, bustin’ him at the only cat show of his life. Said it felt just like seeing somebody you knew that one time you thought you’d try on a dress…”

 

Nana Ballet

I asked a three-year-old what I should put on a Facebook page when I was considering it. I thought she’d be a good barometer. Without hesitation, she said, “Nana ballet!”

“Well, I thought it might be about, you know, me.”

“Not you. Me an’ Nana ballet!” “You” was said like someone would say it if they’d just stepped in used dog food. “Not poo!” I haven’t won an argument with a female in thirty-seven years, I’m not going to start today. Nana ballet it is. The one on the left has been three once, and to two Nutcrackers already. The one on the right has been three *ahem* times and I quit counting Nutcracker and Snow Queen rehearsals and performances in the Eighties. The two of them, together, brings me to an old saying; Grandchildren are parents’ best revenge.

There are a lot of those sayings about spoiling grandkids and sending them home full of sugar, how nice it is that they go home, even after a (very) long weekend. How you get to love them and not have to take them to the pediatrician unless they develop projectile vomiting while you have them over spring break. That’s all okay, and understood, as far as the grandparent one-liners go, but what about your kids and those grandkids of yours?

ava bWhat if one of those beautiful grandchildren of yours is your child’s worst nightmare? My daughter’s daughter is my daughter’s mother. Seriously. As well as my son-in-law’s. How messed up is that for them? How could that happen? Those two kids are the pragmatic children, the very antithesis of their Fine Arts and Liberal Arts tree hugging middle-class Last of the Romantics type parents. Parents who dance and play music and still “bust a move” with students when Michael Jackson blows out of the pit at the student center. My daughter was reasonable, talented, smart. Self-motivating and very little trouble until she got Senioritis in high school and started driving by braille. Still nowhere near as much trouble as me, or, I’m sure, her mother. She got over it and turned into an attorney. Just like my son-in-law got over couch surfing and skateboards and became a school principal. They are organized and prepared and scheduled. But their first kid? God help them. My granddaughter is a clone of my wife.

As they run to meet each other “Nana, Nana! Are you going to ballet, too?” bounces off the walls of the studio lobby. The child will dance at the drop of a hat, just like my wife and, I am told, just like her other, now deceased, grandmother. It doesn’t matter if it’s kiddie songs, ZZ Top piped into a restaurant or classical. Gotta move. And read. And imagine. And talk. Talk, talk, talk. Princesses and tutus, fake eyelashes and costumes, all day long.

Nana is actually aBG Denton Ballet on point on Stagen English professor who puts on leotards and tights and becomes ten years old again at least three times a week. Now she has real, kid-sized company. She can even be three now, if she wants, which she does very well. Princesses and coloring books and fairy tales and all that magic you can believe when you’re three that some people, like Nana, have never put away or stopped believing. I told my daughter one day that if she ever wondered how to deal with her daughter, just think about how she dealt with her mom, with maybe a little more patience.

I have heard my granddaughter’s parents say things while rolling their eyes, like “here comes little Nana now…” and my favorite “Will somebody please go get both three-year-olds?” They are inseparable when they’re together. Nana will brave weather she wouldn’t go out in otherwise to see her granddaughter. Stay up late, get behind, go without sleep catching up, make herself sick for a little more time to be ten or three or Belle or Cinderella. To drink tea on the ceiling or hide from a dragon or a wicked witch, dance with a magic scarf or a giant flying stuffed sheep.

girls and nutI used to believe that innocence was the province of children, and that all of our youthful fairy tales from daydreams of ballerinas and pirates rescuing damsels in distress to the sanctity of first true love, were destined to end in heartbreak. Like one day we all get our moment to be Puff when he becomes the un-magic dragon and slumps off to his cave like a big, sad, scaly fire breathing Eeyore. Now, even when I’m tired of crayon bits in the remote control and TV shows laden with songs about everything from “be nice to your brother” to “flush the potty,” I see the magic in my child’s worst nightmare.  The pure, unapologetic logic of Nana Ballet. And I go re-write the last verse of Puff the Magic Dragon.

I believe that the very best thing you can hope for the granddaughters you can spoil and send home is that someday they too will give birth to a nightmare who becomes that very special place where their mother’s magic stays alive.

 

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…

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.

Not Too Deep or Wide and Kind of Slow

You could fish here with your Grampa. Or stand by the rail and think about Route 66 a long time ago. Walk across and feel the wood move, hear it creak and groan. You could park just off the road in the shade and blow an entire afternoon with the stereo off and nothing but the music of the breeze and the birds and the creek to serenade you on a hot, Oklahoma summer day. You could share it with a friend or your true love, lean on the rail and watch the leaves land on the water and get carried off into nowhere like your thoughts. You could think about who you are, where you’ve been and where you haven’t and how you might correct that. You could think about nothing at all and let the movies your mind wants to play for you run until the sun starts to set and twilight says get home before they eat without you. You could bask in the simplicity of your not very deep thoughts and be all the better for it. Because simple isn’t always as easy as it appears and navigating shallow waters is often worse. Which is why we should enjoy all of our moments with our not so deep thoughts. Because they pave the way for deeper ones.

Not far from this peaceful bridge in Catoosa, Oklahoma, a man shot and killed a police officer. The man convicted of it somehow seduced, from prison, a girl who was at the top of the list of girls most likely to be somebody. She became the somebody in a story full of tragedy who helped him escape from jail and they moved to nowhere in the Dakotas. Years later they were both recaptured, and she died of an overdose and a broken heart at forty-nine, the love of her life back in jail until he turned to dust. Her house could have been on your paper route. Maybe her mother made you talk to her through the screen door. She might have made fun of a record you took to a swimming party once, but your name wasn’t on it so you dodged that one. You could watch a leaf kiss the water and float away and make it almost any allegory you wanted.

Oklahoma trip 039You could stop here after taking a picture of your lover in that Route 66 Blue Whale, laugh, drink a Coke and talk about all those people who splashed in that mud hole like it was fun, watch another leaf kiss the creek and wonder where memories go, and if they really live forever.

One day no one will stand here because the bridge out of Catoosa will have rusted away. All of the dreams dreamed by dreamers with the top down on their MG, the travelers with their tired kids who needed a place to pee right now, the people who crossed this bridge daily or only once, all of those will no longer have a home. Did the girl who escaped with the murderer cross this way? Will their memories all die with the bridge?

Lord Byron begins his ode to Venice with,

I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs

and ends with,

There are some feelings time cannot benumb,

Nor torture shake, or mine would now be cold and dumb.

All of our dreams, all of our crossings travel a Bridge of Sighs. A bridge of memories that once made, cannot collapse or die. They merely fall like leaves in the breeze, kiss the water and float off into forever.

 

 

 

How Old Guys Get Lucky

I got lucky the other day. I didn’t win the lottery, don’t have a fat retirement portfolio or a ranch with a vineyard or a golf course out back or a luxury foreign car. I don’t vacation in the islands or the keys or ski anywhere and none of the twenty somethings at Trader Joe’s winked at me. But stay with me, and I’ll tell you how I got lucky.

If you’ve been married a while you know all of your wife’s names. Nana, Gramma, Mom, Professor, Doctor, Executive, Boss, Volunteer, Nurse, Conflict Manager. All of them and more. I’m telling you, if you want to get lucky put all of them in the top of the linen closet. Here’s why.

Our wives carry all of our sins in a big ol’ bag around their neck and seeing them, sometimes I think we see all of that. The missed opportunities, our failings and faults. We see the girl who keeps us even when we fart the covers off at two A.M., who knows our hearts, our dreams, even our pain. All of it in that albatross around her neck, the one we made. It’s not all bad. Our successes, our wins, the BG Denton Ballet on point on Stageones that counted, when we remembered to love them. Read that carefully. Not the flowers or the gifts, but when we remembered to really love them, the girls we married. Take that necklace away from her, put it up there in the closet, too. Now stop. Look at the girl. Not what you’ve been through, kids and jobs and houses. Just look at the girl you married.

My wife still goes to ballet class three times a week, Pilates streams from the living room ROKU, she says “Hey you, want to do some yoga with me?” Some red lipstick, jeans and a t-shirt, I’d still follow her home if I didn’t have to. Professor, Nana, Ballet, Pilates, read, write, teach, learn go, go, go. She may be all of that, but what is she really?

The Box of photosother day my wife was out of town and I was rummaging around looking for something. I was up in the top of the linen closet and pulled down a cardboard banker’s box. Inside, not whatever I was looking for, but what I needed to find. There, in a toe-shoe box full of photographs, was the beautiful girl I married.

Nothing says pretty girl to me like a pretty girl in a summer sundress. There she was. Man. Think of a sleeveless summer dress. It fits her figure, it’s soft, it’s not naughty or short, it’s meant to catch the breeze and make her grab it before oops! She can twirl around in it, put her arms around my neck, and she did. She’s just a girl. That special, flirty innocent girl I married. Her hair barely under control, her big blue eyes, smart and pretty. Strong and passionate, shy. She still runs me off and closes the bathroom door. She dresses in private, or shoos me away unless she’s got her ‘hey, sailor’ working. I used to be a major pest. Semi-exposed girl parts, she would be fixing her hair, defenseless. I learned better, but what a pain in the ass I was, thinking I was cute and affectionate, honking her boobs, pinching her butt.

Passionate. Oh hell yes. About many things, but best of all, about us. We could piss off  the neighbors. The lady upstairs thought I was killing her, the one next door smiled. Back before baby or business that sweet smiling girl stole my heart and gave me hers. Sometimes I think if I’d known then what I know now I’d have said “Run little girl, as fast and far as you can.” But I was selfish, how could I not be? I’d found a mainstream girl. Beautiful, artsy, a college degree. And she liked me. Go figure that.

She was angry, mostly at men and the things we do. How some men treat women like objects, culture trophies, how pretty you are, look at what I raised, look who I was screwing when your back was turned. She was mad at all of us but she let me in, told me how it was going to be if I was going to stick around. Beautiful and standing in a deep hole of insecurity that I never saw. How could I? I saw everything else and she loved me anyway.

There she was, sitting on the porch surrounded by the plants that loved her, playing Scrabble. She always won. She had an English degree and I’m not an idiot. Warm afternoons we’d drink cheap Chardonnay and talk, eat Triscuits and cheese, read, play Scrabble, make love.

One day we sold it or gave it away, put what was left, including a noisy cat, in aPH w vw van htown VW van and a trailer, headed to the San Francisco Bay. I was going to be the next big thing. We know how that turned out. On the way I got tired and said “You can drive.” Through those narrow mountain passes in the dead of night, a tin can van and a trailer. The big strong man curled up in the back, sleeping through it, secretly scared to death knowing we were a fireball down the mountain in the making. When the sun came up and the desert loomed I took over again. The van blew up at Pea Soup Anderson’s on the I-5, got fixed in Modesto, twice what they said it would be. She was a trouper. My dream, my adventure, this girl who loved me right there.

The day after we got there she hit the temp agency with her Houston creds and Liberal Arts degree, went right to work. I drug my feet for a week. She handed me a phone number with her foot in my ass, asked what was I scared of? Rejection, working, paying the rent? A short time later when she said she wanted a baby, I said get some insurance we can’t afford it. The big chip company hired her, baby insurance included.

To this day she thinks I wanted her to wait to tell anyone when she got pregnant thinking maybe I thought I could talk her out of it. My long haired, no suburbs, no station wagon, no republican rants. The truth was that guy was back, the scared one, curled up in ball. Whatever could go wrong, would go wrong, don’t tell anybody it will mess it all up. I hadn’t had an adult thought in my life and Ash w mom and bottle 2that precious, innocent girl I married had a baby to carry. And me. Two babies to carry. The things we do when we’re lovers, the things she said, making a baby. I heard the words. I didn’t grasp their meaning.

Here she is, pregnant as can be in that purple maternity dress. We had a king size waterbed frame that looked like real furniture, but we lived upstairs so we put an air mattress in it. The last two months she was pregnant I slept on the floor on a couple of giant pillows we got at a flea market the size of a small town. Why? I was on that air mattress without baffles, she came in after work and flopped. I was up in the air and on the floor before I knew what happened. A nice five foot five girl, eight or nine months pregnant can own a king size bed, and I let her. I did it to her, that small, tired girl. It was the least I could do.

She worked right up until she gave birth to our one dollar insurance daughter. The best thing about my girl being pregnant? Junk food. Well, our daughter, but junk food runs second. Never before would she darken the door of a fast food joint with me, her shaggy rock n’ roll husband. But on the way home from Bradley birthing class, Tuesday night was Taco Bell night. It was only for a couple of weeks, and our daughter turned out fine. And yes, I know better now. But I can get her to eat some things. Burgers have always been no. No red meat. Something happened before my time and never again she said. She meant it. Chicken or fish or fresh and leafy. You should see the pizza I have to order.

EH w PH and Ash after mastersI’d forgotten how I marveled at her, her masters, her doctorate. Our daughter in tow, me in tow. Her ethic and tenacity. Her strength. Fearless and frightened and determined. I found her in a toe-shoe box in the linen closet, the amazing little girl I married.

If you want to get lucky, put Nana and Mom and all the other things she is and has been in the linen closet where that box was. Go find the beautiful young girl you married, dust off your heart, tell her how you feel. Tell her how empty your life would have been without her, open the windows and piss off the neighbors. If you can get any luckier than that, send me your lottery numbers.

Nemesis

Everyone has a nemesis, real or imagined. A sneaky co-worker you’re sure wants your job. A personal or professional competitor who wants to crank up your materialism envy, run off with your wife or your “big idea” or your market share. Or all of those. Health can be a nemesis, too. Holy crap. Allergies? I’m sure ragweed is good for something, but I would gladly volunteer in a ragweed eradication project starting yesterday. Even bad habits. I won’t try to name them all, but they can be adversarial and out to get you just like a living, breathing nemesis with a face. Just ask anyone who’s quit smoking.

I’ve noticed that some of them hang with us for what seems like almost ever. Allergies since childhood. Bad habits since who knows when? Most of the really scary things, monsters under the bed, Zombies in the closet, the Blob; those are long gone. However, the reality of a nemesis and the fact that they often haunt us, follow us around like a ghost’s shadow for most of our lives and pop up when we least expect them was made clear to me the other day.

The first insidious nemesis that gave me bad dreams for a long time wasn’t a person, allergy, habit or even anything living. It was inanimate. Dangerous. A Don Juan and Lord Byron with four wheels. A formidable, treacherous, wicked, unstoppable suitor. The Chevelle SS396. They sat in parking lots like Tritons, calling away the fair damsels of my youthful heart. No kidding.

First there was Betsy. Being young and stupid I should have known that a girl who was an officer in the local Tom Jones fan club had something on her mind. Of course I missed it. What was Tom Jones selling, anyway? His finely honed operatic tenor? No. Tom Jones was selling sex. Duh. Me? I thought how stupid. Tom Jones? Please. I thought I could maybe do without Betsy for a while in the summer, and maybe find a girl who liked Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull, so I let her down gently. Figuring unwisely the Tom Jones girl would be jonesing for me pretty soon and things might heat up a little more, her missing me so much and all.

redchevconvBetsy’s turnaround time on returning my calls was getting longer and longer, and when she did call she was brusque. Yes, no, bye. Oh well. A few weeks later I showed up at a party with my cruising friend because I couldn’t buy a date, and I for sure didn’t want to call Betsy and ask her because she would know I was a chump. We pull up and there she is, sliding out of a Garnet Red SS396 convertible with Mr. Underwear Model. The baby fat went somewhere, she’s got a tan and looks great.

I wait until she’s inside then get out and investigate the pretty boy’s car. Horrors! What a loser! It had split bench seats, not buckets. In retrospect I now realize that he was no loser. He had my girlfriend, an SS396, Tom Jones tapes and a big slab of vinyl real estate where Betsy could lay on her back and look up at the stars. Ouch.

She was nice to me at the party. Really nicer than she had to be. He was one of those guys who was way too pretty and more into himself than anyone else and I don’t think she was laying on her back all that much in his front seat. Betsy and I got back together for a while toward the end of the summer but it was never the same. She saw right through my new Tom Jones tapes. Plus, my Camaro was smaller, had bucket seats and a hard top. And she was never sold on the blanket in my trunk and a private picnic table.

Jackie was next. She had a Firebird the same color as my car and we used to trade them at lunch, much to both of our parents’ chagrin. I thought we had more in common than that, particularly since every time we ran into each other at a varsity sporting event we left together holding hands. We went out a few times, but her father was a crazy conservative and hated me almost as much as their little rat dog that bit me on the ankle. That was okay because I was always kind of afraid to get too friendly with Jackie. She was a classic waif. Thin as a pencil, long, strawberry blonde hair and light golden freckles. She was bluessalmost translucent. Ephemeral. Even to someone of my unintimidating stature, she seemed fragile. A real-life Tinkerbell. But I ran out of history class anyway one Friday afternoon so I could ask her out. Our lockers were almost next to each other, it was a sure thing. Bam! Big guy, big sideburns, letter jacket. I walked right on by and dumped my books. Sure enough, in the parking lot after school on the other side of her car, Senior Jock  was waiting in his Le Mans Blue with black vinyl top SS396. Shit! He was no dork, either. Black buckets, fake woodgrain console, Clarion tape deck. Jackie and I hardly spoke after that until a year later when I was at a different school and we saw each other at a drive-in. We traded phone numbers and then cars a couple of times again, but the magic was gone. I asked her about the jock and she just shrugged and looked at the ground. Way to go Chevelle. Love ‘em and leave ‘em. Deflower my Tinkerbell, put another notch on the console and move on. Can you call a car an asshole?

Here is where I have to disagree with the old adage that familiarity breeds contempt. Shake your nemesis’s hand, look it in the eye. Hang out with it. Ride in it. Think you understand it? Forget that. When I swapped schools, I made friends with a guy who had another Le Mans Blue, black vinyl top SS396. I spent a lot of time in that car. But it was always something. I was making out with a girl in the back seat when my buddy who was driving failed to say “railroad tracks” and I chipped a tooth. Those damn cars knew me, I swear they did. I had a hot date with a hot girl and we were going out in that car because a double date was the only way she’d go. After about three hours of making excuses about why I was late because the damn muffler welds wouldn’t hold, the girl bailed and rejected any offer of a do-over. There I was, dumped before I even got a chance. Hosed by an SS396 I mistakenly thought was my friend. It knew. I know it did. The SS396 was no longer a nemesis. It was now a superstition.

greenssFor about three weeks when I was a senior in high school I was head over heels in teenage boy love with a girl I’ll call Darla. When I was supposed to have a girlfriend or two already. But Darla was like a primo girl drug. A real back-up-on-the-freeway, sneak out, sneak around, lie to people about it girl. She wasn’t Miss America or anything, but she was plugged in electric. Cute, fiesty, smart. Sexy. It wasn’t going anywhere, and I knew that. But still. Friday night of week three she said that she was just going somewhere with this guy, she’d be home at 9:30, come by and get her. I tell any of my regular obligations I’m sick, and about 9:20 I’m on the way to the rendevouz. One more time, two years after my initial confrontation with a Chevelle, there I was again. What do I see idling in front of her house? An SS396.  Nine-thirty comes and goes while I sit a block away with my lights off, waiting. That’s something I should have known better than to do. Me, a girl and someone else’s SS? Just go on home, call the girlfriend and tell her it was a twenty-four-hour bug. Kiss her ass a lot and offer her Steak and Ale on Saturday, hope that smirking brother of hers doesn’t know anyone with an SS396.

I retained all those lessons the SS396 taught me when I was young andimages7VA3X18Y impressionable. Which is a good thing, because where I live now I have this neighbor who likes my wife a lot more than all three of the ones he’s had. Guys can tell, and my wife is cute. He’s not a real nemesis in an amorous way because he’s as old as I am and he’s a dork. He’s a grown up dork with money from somewhere, but he’s a for-sure dork who drinks too much sometimes and listens to whiny Americana too loud in his garage just to look hip and trendy and makes eyes at my wife. My wife would eat him alive the first time his eyes glazed over when she brought him into one of those “that’s poor scholarship” arguments about Beowulf with an editor from Harvard who wasn’t even there. Anyway, he throws some of that money of his at restoring things. Old boats, old furniture, old jukeboxes, old houses. And old cars. He offered me a beer the other evening and invited me over to see his latest project even though my wife wasn’t home yet to join us.

primerssIn his garage, sitting on jack stands, was a stripped, sanded and primer coated 1969 Chevelle SS396. He even pulled out an original 1969 sales brochure, handed it to me and asked, “What color d’ya think?”

I wanted to sell him on the pukey butternut squash color like my father’s ’68 Impala wagon. But no matter how much I sometimes dislike my dorky, letchy, posey neighbor, and those damn cars, in my heart I knew that SS deserved better. I told him I was always partial to Le Mans Blue.

I’m also more than a little partial to my wife, so she was surprised when she came home that evening to find me escorting an attractive, over dressed, overly made-up and overdone young woman out our front door. I got the quizzical look that comes from her knowing how old I am and being married a long time.

“And that was…?”

“The girl who sold the house down the street in like ten days.”

“Why?”

“Don’t ask, just start packing. And stay inside.”