Sold Out

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Early October, 1976

Harper knew he was already a little too close to getting fired to tell the father of someone he’d dated a while back that requesting “If You Leave Me Now” just made him look stupid because the woman in the booth with him wasn’t interested in how up to date he was on shlock ballads. A girl not much older than his daughter was interested in what he could do for her, what she’d do for him if he did and anything else he tried to play into the arrangement, including improving his cool factor, was misguided. The man, oblivious to anything besides not breaking that tenuous might-be-getting-laid spell failed to even recognize him and dropped a five in the jar, so Harper kept his mouth shut and gave Chicago a pass. It was early, he’d get over it. He banked the man, though, so if he ever saw his daughter again he could tell her he once romanced her dad while her mom busted ass at home.

His eyes followed ‘dad’ back to the booth and as soon as he looked away in disgust from the visage of sex jacking an old guy as a promotional tool he was transported into the worn-out paperback detective novels one of the old drunks at the Kerr-McGee station down the street was always reading.

“She walked in and pointed a pair of thirty-eights at me. Then she pulled a gun.” Jesus, that bunk was real. It wouldn’t have mattered how dark the bar was or if he’d been blind, he wouldn’t have missed her. The red dress that almost hit the floor, slit up the side to beyond where heaven probably started, red sequins everywhere. One of those ladies with her own spotlight. Probably had an invisible orchestra that followed her around like Rita Hayworth, in case she decided to bust out a ballad dripping with dumb lyrics and sexy boom-boom hips in a gown that stayed up by a miracle, not straps. Even the men deeply ensconced in their perimeter booths turned to look. Harper grinned a little because he knew checking out the red dress babe would put a dent in their somebody else’s wife’s friendliness accounts. He’d seen married women get bent about that even when they were cuddling with another woman’s man.

Red dress weaved her way through the darkness spotted with tabletop candles right up to the piano bar with the ratty old Baldwin baby grand under a piano shaped table. She dropped her red sequined evening purse on top before she slid the back side of her slit dress onto the bar stool closest to him. She wiggled side to side a couple of times to find the stool’s sweet spot and sighed. Long black hair cascaded across half of her face and down the front of her dress, curled right under, and almost around, a perfect, red sequin covered breast. The dress itself wasn’t risqué at all. The neck was high, sleeves to the middle of her forearms, hem to the floor, but it fit like someone sprayed her with red sequined paint. The whole package, including the sequined evening clutch, screamed high-class hooker. Maybe. He’d seen a lot of those purses downtown. Just enough room for a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, I.D., three condoms and some cash. High-class this high was way too high for Daddy’s Hideaway, though. The Hide was convenient, suburban, close to home and where uninventive upper middle-class husbands met their other-people’s-wives mistresses to set up where and when they’d hook up in a less public venue, write off the check as a “business meeting.” And to sneak in a little sly “watch the lipstick and don’t wrinkle my clothes, darling” romance before moving on to report in with the “loved ones” at home. The place was full of illicit sex, but it wasn’t a “real” hooker haven or pick up bar.

“You could play something,” she said.

Harper tried a light smile. “I am.”

“You could play something I might like to hear.”

Harper nodded toward the far wall. “The guy in the booth over there, having dinner with his daughter? He asked for this one. I don’t like it either, but he dropped a five for it.”

She shot a glance at the wall while she ran two fingers down the edge of the hair in her face, made no attempt to move it. “She’s not his daughter. Sticky sweet love songs should net you a twenty from fountain of youth seekers like Robert, or a ‘no.’”

Her voice was woodfired and charcoally. Gravel and honey. Like she’d smoked Camels and drunk Jim Beam since she was born. If sexy ever needed a voice, here she was. And she knew the Chicago request guy, too. Small world.

“I’d offer to buy you a drink but I’ve already pissed you off with this tune. Two strikes this early would shut me down waiting for the third.”

“Piano players make enough money to flirt it away these days?”

“Lonely piano players will throw money at classy company all night long if they think any of it might stick.” He watched her do all of those lady things. The hair shake, little shoulder rolls stretching her upper back out, flexing her fingers, touching the dress, her sleeves, pushing the clutch around trying to find where it belonged. Small movements, big presentation.

“And you?” She still was looking down, side to side, like a cat had jumped in her lap or the stool was playing lightweight grabass.

“I’m lonely and I’m drinking lemonade with a half a shot of tequila in it. I can’t drink very much or I start to play Carpenter’s tunes. And I do a bad job of it because they make me cry. Old heartbreaks die hard.”

“A flirty, cornball, heartbroken crybaby. My lucky night. Flag the waitress and I’ll join you. Lemonade and half a shot. What a great idea. You make that up?”

“Yep. It’s a Harper.”

“I like Lynzey better. From now on they’re Lynzeys.”

“I tell her that and the bartender won’t know what to do, so she’ll pee in a glass full of ice and stick an umbrella in it. Your name Lynzey?”

“Yes,” she spelled it for him after she rolled her eyes. “I had to work it in, you weren’t going to ask. You’re not much of a flirt.” She glanced back at the wall where he’d said the request had come from, wiggled a little and pulled on her dress. “Now you can play something I might like. Daddy-o over there has a lip lock going and a hand in his lap that’s not his own. And you’ve beat that chorus into tomorrow just like Chicago did. He got his five buck’s worth.”

Whoever she was, she had a good eye and a sense of humor drier than July. “You a ‘Popular Hits for Piano,’ ‘Easy Listening,’ ‘Peaceful Easy Feelings’ or a Standards girl?”

She gave him a dirty look with the half of her face that wasn’t covered with hair, picked at the chipped Formica on the piano bar top with a red fingernail. “These piano cover things are always the shittiest piece of furniture in a bar. What do you think? About me.”

“I think you’re an old fashioned Standards girl. And the piano underneath this piece of shit isn’t any prize, either.”

“Story of my life.”

Harper tried not to laugh but couldn’t stop himself. “Being under a piece of shit or not being a prize?”

“I was starting to like you. I’m always the prize, no matter what piece of shit I’m under.” She threw some of the hair over her shoulder but not out of her face and watched him while he flipped through the fake book and hit on “The Man I Love.”

“I wasn’t giving the waitress the peace sign,” he said. “She’ll bring us both a Harper here in a minute.”

“They’re Lynzeys now, remember?” She smiled, leaned up off her stool onto the piano bar top trying to look at his hands. “You have a fake book down there? You aren’t even a real piano player?”

PH Rockin Cal 1981 a“I’m a between bands rock n roll keyboard player. I was washing dishes in here for free food and some cash when the old drunk who usually does this fell off the bench. Alcohol poisoning. They used to light his breath, drag him around to light all these candles.”

“Flirty, cornball, heartbroken crybaby comedian. You keep raising the bar. Between bands? Why?”

“Creative differences. I don’t like light-footed drummers, especially a dumbass who gets the clap every weekend screwing shit he should leave alone, but he and the other two guys were all brothers. And I just can’t do the platform shoes guitar band thing anymore.”

“Really high heels make my back hurt. Men walk like they have a broomstick in their ass in those things anyway, so it’s good you saw the light. Did you at least go to piano player school long enough to find ‘All the Things You Are’ in that book?”

Harper played his way out of where he was and flipped to the index, and back to the page with her request. “This is two.” He nudged the tip jar and grinned. “’Man I Love’ was on the house.” She gave him a tight-lipped eff-you smile, stepped off the stool, walked like sex with feet all the way around behind him and put her hand on his shoulder. “Slow down a little, Harper. Let a lady make love to a song.”

He slowed down, and what she did with a song, several songs, Harper figured was probably illegal in forty-seven states, including the one they were in. She’d left her hand on his shoulder, bent over and put her head right next to his, let all that perfumed hair fall all over him while she flipped through the fake book one handed. When she’d find one, she’d tap the tempo on his shoulder, then squeeze him a little when she wanted him to let it drag, tap him with her index finger when she wanted him to pick it back up. He played wide and close to the ground, left her a lot of room. She filled it like blue smoke in a giant bubble. After five songs Lynzey slid back on her stool to light applause from the darkness. When that calmed down he noticed through the hair that she was flushed.

“Nice job of being there and staying out of the way, Harper. That was unexpectedly perfect.” She picked up the red candle holder wrapped in plastic netting, tilted it to get the wax away from the wick so it lit up the top of the piano, and him, then finished her Harper. Or Lynzey.

“You know when it’s that good? It’s better than sex. All that room you made for me, my God. I felt like I was rolling around on a huge bed in loose satin sheets. Enough room to be coy, enough to fall a little bit in love…” He watched as she drifted off somewhere and stayed.

He almost agreed. Almost. Maybe she’d been having sex with the wrong people, or needed to fall a little bit in love with whoever it was. She wasn’t all that old to be bumming on it. Harper was almost twenty-four and only last week a dishwasher turned lounge piano player, once again, this time by having a particular skill set in the proximity of need. He put Lynzey at just over thirty. Eyes and skin and smile or laugh lines were how he guessed women’s ages. And women telegraphed it if you tuned in. But he wasn’t concerned with how old she was because when she sang it really was almost as good as sex. Almost.

He was stuck on that sex with a side order of being in love thought when she came back from wherever she’d gone and said, “I was thinking about you in platform shoes.” She tossed her hair and he saw her face before it fell again. “I think you’re lying.”

“Gospel. I have pictures. I was thinking about you as the Phantom of the Opera. I thought there was a reason for the hair, like you were halfway ugly. Now I think you’re hiding.”

“Don’t play shrink, play the piano and be nice. I’m just another girl in a red dress.” She pinched the fabric of a sleeve with her thumb and forefinger. “Put this on half the housewives in a square mile of here, take the crap out of their hair. There I am. Or here they are.”

“Unless it’s magic, that dress doesn’t help you sing. I’m almost a half bad guitar player, too, if you’d like to try this in the park with me tomorrow.” That one made her laugh out loud but she caught it quick.

“Was I going to wake up in your bed before we skipped off holding hands to play troubadour and muse? Did you just leapfrog the big question and go straight to an ‘after we’ve slept together’ suggestion?” She snarkled a choked laugh again. “God, if you did, that’s new and very good. Intuitive assumption. When you get tired of playing miserable songs for miserable people, you have a future in sales. Don’t ask them if they want whatever it is, just ask them how they’d like to pay for it.”

“I hadn’t really thought of any of that. It was an honest proposition.”

“An honest man?” She looked at him again through her phantom mask made of hair. “Don’t take this personally, but I could never do what you asked, even if I were tempted. Since we’re being honest with each other, I’ll tell you what you’re wondering about me. I’m not a hooker, I’m a singer. I have a two-year-old son at home, with a sitter.” She barely lifted her hand from the wrist, made a small movement from left to right with it. “My husband is one of these men, in a bar a lot like this probably, only halfway across the country. More than likely sitting with another man’s wife or a starry-eyed intern and paying too much for drinks while someone quite unlike you entertains them. He’s ‘important,’ and gone a lot of the time. I see the receipts, the places on his expense reports, the guest golf club memberships. The matchbooks and keys to hotel rooms he was never registered in. I smell his shirts sitting in the passenger seat of my car before I drop them at the cleaners. I come in here occasionally and sing to forget, just like people who come in here and drink and replace their emptiness with a little alcohol and stolen romance. I heard about Kingsley passing out and was curious who they’d found to replace him. And I needed to sing.”

“So why just occasionally? You’re a slammin’ singer.”

“I just told you, Harper. I’m a sell-out. From the walls in, this little cavern of moral treason is a sell-out. I used to sing opera, on a scholarship. And I’m a better pianist than you are. Or I was. Well, you have those hands that make it so wide, harmonically, but…Anyway, we don’t have a piano in our house, and when I argue he just walks away. He says the noise is distracting. I made a huge mistake in college and here I sit.”

Harper was having trouble getting behind “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and listening so he went back in time a little and found some four chord classics, caught her eye a gave her half a nod.

She picked up the cue that he was really listening and smiled behind her hair while she made rays of water come from the condensation ring her glass had left behind. “You’re listening. I’m not used to that, other than about who and where and when and how much did it cost. Do you find me fascinating?”

“Yes.” Shit. There was a better answer, a cooler answer. He knew there was.

“That’s marvelous! I haven’t been fascinating to anyone in the longest. ‘Specially with my clothes on!” Harper had already gone to imaginary no clothes Lynzey in his head and had to force himself to come back. Fully clothed she was still fascinating. And she’d quit making the watery abstract sunshine and wiped it all away with a paper napkin.

“In college I smoked pot at a party with my future husband. I mean I’d done some mescaline a couple of times and Quaaludes once and all the required college party drugs, but I’d never trashed my throat smoking anything. I told him ‘no,’ he knew I never smoked anything because of the heat and ash and junk in my throat. He said this bong thing of his roommate’s was full of water and cooled it off, it would be okay. I’d always wanted to see what the big whoop was so I smoked it. A lot of it. I decided to show off and tried to be Janis Joplin as loud as I could and woke up with a shredded throat. It’s a muscle like a football knee or a tennis elbow and I blew it out, just like one of those. So I messed my everything all up being a one-time pot party girl. I wouldn’t have married him if it wasn’t for the money and his master plan ‘we’ discussed for my life after I couldn’t do what I wanted. And I doubt he would have proposed if he hadn’t felt guilty.”

“Drop that shit right on down a deep hole, Lynzey. He’d have proposed. He wasn’t guilty. You had to be the hottest chick he knew, or will ever know. The guy may be an asshole but he’s not stupid. Or Blind. Just lucky. That’s not an ass kiss. You can believe it or leave it, but you need to see it from this side before you start backing up on yourself.” He was surprised how pissed off he’d gotten about her selling herself short like some sort of bar-fly loser. More surprised that in his instantaneous deep infatuation he’d used her name and barked at her.

“Thank you. Not for the sweet bullshit or the sermon, but for listening. And caring.” She shot him a small smile full of irony. “This has all been…different tonight. To be heard. I told you, I’m a sell-out. Everyone in here is a sell-out. Get the bartender’s story. Go ask the man over there with his ‘daughter.’ I know half of these people and none of them is with who they should be. Junior League, Charity presidents, chairperson of the board of this and that. Parading their misery and sadness with themselves like badges of success. I want you to listen to me. When Kingsley comes back, even if he dies and doesn’t ever come back, get out of here. No matter what happens, don’t learn to drink, don’t learn to hide, don’t buy into it. Don’t sell-out.”

He let her words hang in the air between them, raised his eyebrows. “Trading sermons?”

“Shut up. I’m only home inside myself when I sing, Harper. What happens in here or out there doesn’t matter when I sing. It doesn’t matter that I hurt myself being stupid for a man and traded who I could have been or who I thought I was for a pretty hostess with some good looking kids gig. I’m a ‘wife,’ I’m a ‘mom.’ I’ll be a ‘mom’ again soon and he’ll be gone again and I’ll keep coming in here or somewhere and singing to keep my head from exploding until I can’t sing anymore and then I’ll learn to drink or play golf or chit chat like a pro, like I care about my fucking ‘civic responsibilities’ and really be one of them.” She paused, almost out of breath, looked at him through the hair again, and then pulled it all away so he could see her.

“I’m sorry. I…I made the mistake of feeling how it felt when someone listened.” The hair stayed back, her eyes angry, tired, the blue gone gray. She looked defiant for a moment and then let it go. “The lemonade cuts phlegm and that’s just enough tequila. Thanks for that one, Harper. I’ll always remember you for naming a useful drink after me and being the last man who listened. Isn’t it nice to make lasting memories together, fully clothed? To know you won’t be forgotten like a one-night stand with a wakeup song in the park?”

“I’ll never forget the Phantom of Daddy’s that renamed my drink, or wore that dress.” Shit. He wanted to say something else, something with substance, something poetic, not just some lame crap, and he couldn’t find it. He did find the simplest, most open version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” he’d ever played.

She sang it from the stool, softly, like she owned it and was giving it to him as an ephemeral gift, as if she’d ridden that rainbow to the dreams she’d dared to dream and wanted to share them. He found himself wishing even one of whatever they were would come true for her. When they finished she checked the delicate, diamond crusted watch on her wrist.

“Harper, do you remember what I said about when it’s good?” She took his Harper-Lynzey from in front of him and drained it. “I’ve had more good sex tonight than I ever had to make a baby. With my clothes on. With someone handsome in an unkempt, youngish and easily impressionable way who appreciated the simplest me. Remember what I said about getting out.”

She slid off her stool, nodded slightly towards the bar. “Do both of you favor. Take that little waitress who can’t keep her eyes off of us with you when you go home tonight. She needs a ‘good guy’ break.”

“Not going to happen. She and the manager –”

“Manager?” She snorted, said it like the lemon she’d bitten had stuck in her throat. “You must not have asked. Yet. Just be like the best music, Harper. Slow down. Give a lady a chance to make love. To a song. To you. You might be surprised.” She pulled herself up perfectly straight and smoothed her red second skin across her abdomen to her hips with the palms of her hands. “See you, between gigs piano player. Not in the morning, and not in the park.” She smiled the small irony smile again, the hair fell back in her face when she picked up her purse. She turned away and weaved her sex with feet walk toward the door.

For the first time, all evening, he knew what he wanted to say, and why words always seemed to fail him where music didn’t. “Unforgettable” followed her through the candle stars dotting the darkness of Daddy’s Hideaway. She stopped under the fake arch over the doorway with every eye in the place on her, tossed her hair, blew him a kiss. Mouthed “get out” as she let go of the door.

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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?”

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.

Cross-eyed Cupid

Now most times when I tell this story I try to be clever with how I start it. I’ve tried lots of ways, but lately my favorite is callin’ it The Cross-eyed Cupid. Like this one time he got his bow and arrow out and hit a couple of people in the shoulder. Close enough, but no cigar. It goes like this.

“My girlfriend will be there with some other girls,” the big guy said. His name was Jeff and he was the second string football center at OU. We were workin’ this summer construction job, I guess that was the summer my old high school girlfriend and her mom shut that down between us. I mean lookin’ at it, they were right. A lot of us got that year, year and a half, maybe two in high school with a regular date, some finding out about sex in awkward places. But it’s always got a sell-by date. Just when we’re kids we don’t see it, can’t hear our parents sayin’ it. Like we think we invented all that, the same way we tell our kids they didn’t. I’m sayin’ that because when something ends and you think it’s the end of the world some other thing has you in the headlights like a slow deer on a country road. For some reason we’re so blinded by whatever happened we don’t see that train a comin’. Or maybe, like me, just a little dumb-blind. I think we all are, a little. Dumb-blind. Me, I’m some kind of poster boy for it.

The big guy and his tall, skinny friend with the pickup, they’re from Edmond where we’re doin’ this work, where they went to high school. So the girlfriend, or girlfriends, they’re like a year behind and they haven’t put a stop on it yet like what happened to me. I still don’t know why we’d be working and these girls were in school unless it was summer school, or maybe Christmas break but it was hot as hell, so I guess summer school. I followed them, my Edmond partners, in my own car. I still had that orange POS, the one that looked cool once I got all the wheels on it to match, with the six-cylinder stick and my name on the back in chrome letters where the Chevy sign went. It was bad-ass to look at and ran like a tractor and to this day I don’t why I was so damn proud of it.

Anyway, these extra girls they said would be there were from Edmond, some place I’d never met a girl from, so I thought, you know, twenty, thirty minutes up the road, how different can they be? I’d met this girl from Kansas and a couple from San Antonio, one even from this little town called Washington, in North Carolina. That girl, her name was Melody, like a song, and she coulda read the phone book with that voice of hers and people would have listened. I would have. I’m just sayin’ girls seemed to be girls back then. Just without that regular once or twice a week-end sexing it up, I was kinda frustrated. Getting to know somebody, blind dates, double dating, hoping you’d find a girl on your own, smoke a joint, get that way with them. Seemed to happen to everybody else. But lookin’ back I think a lot of those jokers were lyin’, like young guys do about sex and weed and how fast their car is.

We pull in to the Bonanza right there on the extension. I know the place. In high school I went to a yearbook how-to at that junior college, ate lunch there with this girl, we did the yearbook together. We made out in the parking lot after, and a couple of other places before we made it home. And she was driving. That sort of thing went on a lot. In the back of my mind I knew my old girlfriend and her mom had read my book. Once I graduated and wasn’t underfoot all the time she’d protect her baby from me, get me off the tit, so to speak. It worked to some extent, but I wonder sometimes if girls’ parents realize it takes two to tango horizontally. Moreover, did they know that a guy didn’t need to be regular bowler to be knocking the pins over as history proved out to be happening. Parents of daughters listen up right there.

In the Bonanza the girls, maybe five or six, seems like one or two guys, I may be wrong about that, all sittin’ on one side of a long table. Now there’s only three of us, the big guy, his tall, skinny friend and me. By this time I had longer hair, got some looks from the Edmond boys in their polo shirts. I got used to that look, but it took me forty years till I just didn’t have much hair. We’re all dusty and crusty, dried sweat and that sandy red dust you get north of the city, and it was expected we sit across from them for the sake of sanitation I suppose. I don’t know the players in this game so I wait. The big guy sits across from his girlfriend, the skinny guy next to him across from this other girl. I’m not going to sit by them, across from some girl looks like the church lady and scowls me out, so I skip a chair, knowing this is a long nowhere lunch for me. One in a long line of them.

The girl across from me, she’s cute. I’d say pretty. She smiles, kind of shy. She’s got the biggest brownish-hazel eyes, the kind of hair we’d all kill for. Thick, a little wave. Miss Breck ad hair, that perfect ski jump nose. I could have picked a lot worse chair. But she’s shy, or disgusted. I never really could tell with girls and me, and she doesn’t talk much.

We eat, there’s enough talking from the people who know each other, dating each other, their friends chipping in with some comment. The shy girl doesn’t talk that much, she has a nice smile, not too big. Her voice, she’s no life-timer in Edmond. Turns out she has some boyfriend, he’s her age, still in school, plays football. My luck.

Her name is Deb, Debbie. She said it’s Debra, De bra, not like she’s talkin’ underwear, just sayin’ it, how it is. I ask “Deborah, though, spelled the regular way?” And she says “Yes, but say it like I said.”

Here it gets interesting because Debra, she has a bent earring. It was a gift from the boyfriend. She has to see him later, doesn’t seem all that excited, and really wants that earring fixed. Maybe he’s the kinda guy will thump her, she screws up the earrings. It goes all the way around the table, the clean guys, my two work guys, the girls. Everybody sayin’, well, no, need some needle nose pliers, need a clamp, can’t bend it, need this tool or that. I’m no mechanical genius but I get geometry, always have, so when the earring makes it to me, last call, I see the problem. I ask Debra, I called her that properly, would she unroll that extra red napkin and hand me a clean fork and the knife. She wants the earring fixed more than she wants to ignore the sweaty shaggy guy, so she gets them for me. The fat part of the fork at the back of the tines is just right, so I open up this one part of her earring with the knife, park it over the fork, squeeze the snot out of it, and there it is, no needle nose pliers. I see why they wanted some, they were just seein’ it as a man-handle it project and I applied some finesse. Probably used my lifetime supply of it right there in that Bonanza in Edmond, Oklahoma.

I said, “Here ya go,” hand Debra her earring back, my hands are clean, it’s okay. Now I’m some kind of hero, even for the girls down the table. The big guy Jeff, and the skinny guy, they’re suddenly glad they know me, the clean boys not so much, but they have to be good sports, the girls down on that end liking me a little. The guys get jerky they’ll be dry and lonely like me this weekend. Debra is flustered a little, maybe I’m not the guy should have fixed it for her, maybe all the attention from her friends. Anyway, she knows it’s fixed, keeps being distracted and can’t stick it in her ear. For the second time I say, “Here ya go,” like I did when I gave it back fixed, only this time I get up, we’re almost at the end of the table, and I walk around and say, “Pull your hair back,” and she does, looking at me as far sideways as her eyes will go. She’s got it in, the little thing in the back isn’t cooperating is all. I’m not a moose, so I don’t rip her ear off like I’m sure she’s thinking I might, you know, me being all dusty and shaggy. I say, “I got it on there now, but you should push it tight. I don’t want to be the stranger who smashed your ear.” I’m being funny, the other guys laughing, the girls with that worried look. “I’ll hold your hair back, you do it.” I hold it with a finger of my left hand, she gets it right this time. I ask “Okay?” She says, “Yes,” I let go. She brushes her hair out with her fingers, not like I got it dirty but that way girls do getting it back together.

Down the other side this girl says, “Well tell him thank you, Deb,” and a couple others say something, she looks at me, tries it, gets flustered. I say, “It’s okay, don’t worry about it,” offer her my other hand for a girl handshake, take her fingers, a light squeeze. She squeezes back, looks at me with those big eyes like she has something to say but doesn’t. I know that look, the girl wants to talk to the shaggy guy like maybe he’s not like the boyfriend or somebody else, but you know, mom and dad, her friends, not this guy. Mostly for younger girls back then. Give it a couple of years when they want ‘em out of college, out of the wallet, I’d be okay. A pretty senior in high school, republican parents, horses. I was the plague in jeans.

Here’s the kicker. Two years later I’d go on a blind double date with this same earring girl and end up marrying her. She confessed to me before the wedding how her cute, perfect little ski-jump nose wasn’t really stock, and showed me the place where she was kneeling when the horse kicked her in the face. Told me she had a real shnoz, kinda like mine, so we made “we’ll have kids with clown noses” jokes. Hell, I was nineteen and dumb-blind. Closest idea I had to marriage was a couple of apartment weekenders. Pizza and sex and too embarrassed to hit the toilet hard until they went back to the dorm, or in her case, Stillwater. Clown nosed kids was funny if you didn’t have some idea of what that was really all about.

When we did get married the preacher must have gotten into the champagne a little because he put the date on the marriage license a day off, and scratched through it. It was hard to tell what day it was. One time I looked it up, to see what day it really was. It wasn’t like we celebrated it much. Maybe once or twice, if, you know, so I wouldn’t have it committed to memory. That marriage wouldn’t last but a couple of years, both of us not having any idea what the hell we were doing. Victims of that classic line from our parents, “You can be anything you want to be, get good grades, stay in school.” That was a great line, got them off the hook. But for a lot of us, what did we want to be? We’d take tests, talk to vocational counsellors about civil engineering or law school or biology, journalism, psychology. I didn’t give a damn about any of that. Thought I should, tried for three years. She was the same, taking art history, art, wanting to be a sculptor maybe, or work in a museum. We got stoned, and married, and lost our way in the culture of be somebody, be yourself, when we didn’t even know who the hell we were, much less who we should be. When it was all over she went crazy, I went to Texas. I wonder sometimes were they interchangeable, crazy and Texas.

Even more crazy than that earring and then the blind date and getting married and the license being off a day? Our Social Security numbers were the same, reverse the last two numbers. After I got her out of bed with this fella who sold me pot once in while back then to sign the divorce papers, then got an arrogant Dear John letter six years too late from someone else, I gave my home town the finger. She did the same and within six months she headed north and we lost touch. Well, truth be told we both let that touch go. I talked to her once maybe five or six years after all of that, but she didn’t make a lot of sense, kind of scared me for her. I think she said my mother gave her my number which was crazy, mom never liked her much. At the beginning of that marriage some words or knowledge I was never told passed between the set of parents. Whatever it was it should have been something they shared. Might have been the answers to a lot of questions. Might have been she’s allergic to cheese. I’ll never know.

Years later I learned that she had gone up and down the roller coaster I’d experienced from her a few times. Heard she vacillated between Artsy types of men like me and rugged, bearded Mountain Man types like that pot salesman. She’d met a new man in a bar when she was down one time, got married and they went on cruises together. I was told she and her hubby that rescued her drank their way all around the North American Continent on boats. She got pregnant, and there’s some other stories in that, and she went clean. No smoking, stopped drinking, which was something we never did much of, and I never understood happening to her later, and turned into a good mom and wife. Went all the way up to living in a post card in Southern California not far from where her horse ranch folks retired. Could almost throw a rock from her place to the ocean, had two young barely teenage kids. Woke up one morning, drank a quart of vodka and took a handgun to the condo swimming pool. Bang! She was fifty.

That divorce we got was final on a May 4th. She died on a May 3rd. One day off, one number off, one more step, this time her last one, just a little out of sync.

Now I know better than to think either of us put all those one number, one day off things together intentionally, but there they are, clear as can be, and I find that as fascinating as I do frightening. I fixed that earring, though, and I knew, but didn’t know, a pretty, artsy, and interesting if secretly big nosed and unpredictable girl for a couple of years. That earring, I always thought of that as being one of the only one of those things to happen to me, the future being telegraphed so obviously. Of course I didn’t see it, but there it was. Dumb-blind, like I said. But I’d be wrong sayin’ that about it bein’ the only one. There’ve been other times, the “here’s your story in the blink of an eye” times. Missed them, too. We all do.

There are those moments when we are told the entire story, in a flash right before our eyes, if we only had the power to see it unfold. The signals as plain as the sun in the summer sky. Like that sun, they’re so bright and obvious they momentarily blind us to their significance. Or maybe it’s just because it’s easier to ignore them and live like we don’t see that train a comin’. Unlike that train, which you probably can’t avoid, if you ever see that cross-eyed cupid fella comin’ you’d best get up off the tracks and haul ass the hell on outta there and wait for one that can shoot straight. Trust me on that.

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.