(December 2021) Got a new cane, just to have a new cane. Now I have a new cane and an extra cane. The luxuries of the retired life. Anyway, it came in the mail, with instructions. Lots of instructions. Who the hell needs instructions for a cane? Turns out I do. All this time I’ve been using canes wrong. There was a little picture that showed me. Had the old one up too high. First time I can ever remember using something too tall. A quick adjustment, a shorter cane, and suddenly I’m not teetering. They don’t go so much by height but by arm length. Who’d a thunk? Then again I’ve never been much for thunking. And it’s not one of the appendages I ever gave much thought to, anyway, although long sleeve shirts on me look like short sleeve shirts on me, something I never connected with cane height. It was all far too mathematical for me. Luckily, the cane instructions (in four languages, so i could look at the picture in Spanish, French and German too), explained all the algebraic detail in a little drawing. I was flabbergasted. Fuck me, I said. Arm length accommodated for, I felt like the suddenly uncrippled Tiny Tim in the last scene of The Christmas Carol, running and leaping into Scrooge’s arms. I said that very thing to Fyl. No leaping, she said.
Anyway, if this isn’t one of those Hallmark channel Christmas movies, I don’t know what is.
Swimsuit. I love it. Alas, girls didn’t didn’t wear these when I was young. We even had the right psychedelic drugs to stare at them with. But no, all we got were bikinis or not even. Totally bummed our trips. This, though, it looks like a summer Love-In at Golden Gate Park. I’m having a flashback right now, in fact, it’s just that nobody can tell.
Of course, that Love In was in 1967. I was ten years old and in Anaheim that summer. Oh well.
No it wasn’t Anaheim, it was New Jersey, across from Philly. I spent the Summer of Love in a decaying suburb in New Jersey not far from a reeking Delaware River. We had the best water pollution when I was a kid. Rivers had big foamy heads like a perfectly poured beer. All the houses in our neighborhood were old, ancient by California standards. Our place had been built sometime in the late 1800s, with a big porch in the front, a cellar, three floors and an attic, a basement, and a root cellar out back. Doubtless George Washington slept if not in our house built long after he died or the abandoned boat in the backyard we played in, then in one of the neighbors’ even more ancient houses, he slept everywhere in New Jersey, apparently. Dude got around. We had begun 1967 in Maine, though, snow thick on the ground and falling fast. Finished it in a motel in Anaheim, after a few months outside Boston. At some point during the waning days of the Summer of Love we were living in an 18th Century three story place in the Charlestown part of Boston. All the houses looked like the Addams Family. One time we wandered over to Cambridge and strolled around Harvard. A movie theater in the neighborhood was showing Fantasia, and long haired bearded dudes and willowy young things were lined up around the block to get in. My parents thought it was so cute, all the hippies going to see a Disney cartoon. I suddenly remembered this decades later while stoned out of my mind watching Fantasia. Oh.
And then one look at this psychedelic bathing suit and I flashed back. Though actually I flashed back to Goldie Hawn and Judy Carne in bikinis and body paint gyrating on Laugh In. They looked just like this bathing suit, but in black and white, because that’s what our set still was, and I was a ten year old experiencing the psychedelic revolution in flickering shades of grey.
Somebody offered me a fig newton from a plate full of fig newtons. Take two, she said. Take three! She was all about the fig newtons. I had to decline. I loved fig newtons till they tried to kill me. Really, really loved fig newtons. I still do, I just can’t eat them. Talk about an embarrassing allergy. Do you have any allergies? Figs. Figs? Yes, figs. Nothing else? No, just figs. Hmmm. That’s a new one. You sure it was figs? Yes, figs, definitely figs. Had to take an ambulance to Urgent Care. Ok, figs, whatever. I do remember being referred to a gorgeous Chinese allergist. Figs, she said? It’s hard to be manly in front of a gorgeous allergist after a fig newton tried to kill you. Especially if you had had to go to Urgent Care two days in a row for the exact same thing. I hadn’t realized it was the fig newtons that had got me in the ambulance in the first place, I said. She mentally rolled her eyes. She showed me how to use an epipen and gave me a few, though I never had to use any of them. She prescribed some gnarly allergy med and forbad alcohol for three weeks and I spent the next couple weekends drinking Diet Coke at gigs and parties. Stay away from figs, she said sternly. She didn’t add moron. Since then I’ve avoided figs and life became that much less exotic. Alas, I never saw the gorgeous Chinese allergist again.
Stone sober I poured the last shot of Teeling Irish whiskey into my coffee, got a taste, then knocked over the cup with a DVD copy of The Wind That Shakes the Barley, a film about the Irish Rebellion. Somewhere my sainted grandfather cursed the queen.
(Posted to Facebook in 2018 and forgotten, about a dusk on a road trip in 2010. This might be the only thing I ever wrote about that wonderfully convoluted three week stretch to Milwaukee and back.)
I remember driving through Missouri River bottomlands on the Yankton Sioux reservation on the summer solstice. Dusk faded slowly and the air was full of fireflies and the sun took forever to set. We stopped by a bridge to get our bearings, reading the map by the last rays of sunlight. Somewhere past 9:30 it was finally night and we slunk through Nebraska on the south side of the river in the dark, the air fragrant with loam and alfalfa and slow water.
One of those Skip E Lowe memories . . . . I’m six foot five and at the time was strong as an ox and showed up at a Skip E. Lowe gig somewhere in Hollywood to see some friends’ band. This was the early 1980’s, before there was a public access station on cable but it was just like his show a few years later, just no cameras. Skip E. caught sight of giant me in the audience and gasped. He saw my five foot seven wife at the table with me and asked what it was like being married to a huge brute like me. He beats me black and blue, she said in a perfect deadpan monotone, and I love it. Skip E. was rendered speechless. And then fanning himself with a sheet of paper, he went on to someone else.
Accidental selfie. The geezer needs a shave. To think that a widow’s peak rivaling Bela Lugosi’s once stood where that lone and level pate stretches far away.
When the osteoarthritis kicks in hard for a few days and you hurt all over you can feel your life pass in every twinge. You remember all the things that fucked up this part of you and what wrecked another, sometimes you even remember the time you cracked that knuckle so hard on the edge of your ride cymbal or falling down the stairs or what fractured your spine one of the times you fractured your spine. You can remember all the the sixty pound boxes you lifted and tossed up onto your shoulders, thousands of them, all the furniture you helped girls move, all the movement that finished off your knee. You can feel where your flat foot stomped on a bass drum pedal every few seconds, like smacking a board with a hammer over and over and over. You can remember all the stairs you ran down two or three at a time hundreds of times. Your body becomes a big memory machine. Good memories. You even relish the hurt, because it brings back younger, stronger, fitter times, and how goddam much you dug doing all the things you’re paying for now, as you knew you would, the big old beat up geezers would warn you, don’t do what I did, as if you ever would do anything else, hell, you wouldn’t have changed a single thing. You do what you gotta do. You’re a big giant guy, you’re young, you’re strong as an ox and not much brighter sometimes, and you don’t worry about nothing. You’ll wind up a big giant crippled old motherfucker, but you lived the life.
I did the same thing with the brain, though, pushing it far beyond what the wiring could take, setting off seizure after seizure because, hell, that’s what writers do. That wasn’t a great idea, but there were no old epileptic writing geezers to say don’t do what I did, the ones that had done what they did were in institutions or hiding in bedrooms or medicated all to holy fuck and you never see those guys anyway. So I just pushed the limits. Paid for it. Still paying for it. Got some mighty pretty writing done, though, there’s that. And it’s never been dullsville. Weird maybe, but never dull. Ha.
Then the next day….
A lot of this thing was me having a ball writing rhythmically berserk sentences that any editor worth their Strunk and White would feel an overwhelming urge to correct, the high point of which was “You even relish the hurt, because it brings back younger, stronger, fitter times, and how goddam much you dug doing all the things you’re paying for now, as you knew you would, the big old beat up geezers would warn you, don’t do what I did, as if you ever would do anything else, hell, you wouldn’t have changed a single thing” which has all the grace and beauty of a drunk falling down the stairs. I was just letting that fucker roll, it kept tumbling, word after word, breaking all the rules and finally ending on a thing, one of my favorite words, though I couldn’t tell you why. That’s the fun way to write, just let the words roll out on their own, they’ll get somewhere eventually, and when they do just put a period down and hot damn, you got yourself a sentence. Also, I’d like to take credit for medicated all to holy fuck, but that’s actually Shakespeare.
You know you’re a loser when you realize you’ve been binge watching eight hours of Richard Norton Smith interviews on C-SPAN. Well, technically it’s American History TV, just like watching writers on C-SPAN is technically BookTV, but come on, it’s C-SPAN. I mean who’s kidding who. It’s a nice break from watching hockey shows, anyway. At some point I realized I’d been listening to a Hermeto Paschoal album while watching American History TV—OK, C-SPAN—and halfway through “Sereiarei” Hermeto’s got this whole cacophony of geese and pigs and cows and goats and chickens playing with the band and Richard Norton Smith is talking about Millard Fillmore and it was zen as fuck.
The retired life.
(from sometime in 2020) . . . . The eight o’clock howls began tonight with the shriek of a woman and some crazed percussion on a ceramic pot followed by scattered shouts and shrieks and whistles and ululations and frantic beating on bongos and boxes and beer bottles till literally hundreds of unseen voices join in, welling up from the hills like a drunken audience demanding an encore and then, suddenly, it ends and all is silence again.