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.
I remember standing across the street for the longest time watching pages from a zillion books billowing from the library building and flutter on fire through the air till they disintegrated. Words were falling upon us like rain, you could catch them on your hand and they’d dissolve. One fluttered down and landed on my hand, a corner of a very old page bearing a few fragments of sentences and quote marks. Some one was saying something, but the words turned to ash in my palm, and I never knew what or who.
In the wee hours of the morning I was sleepily walking through the kitchen with my arms full of laundry when the sinuses set off a sudden spell of vertigo which combined with my trick knee sent me tumbling backwards with all the grace and power of a falling redwood tree. Crash, then silence. I guess the knee isn’t as good as I thought, I said aloud, and laid there a second as I’ve done after a hundred falls, making sure I could feel and move everything. Nothing was broken save my wife’s tub of bird seed which kept my head from slamming into the wall. I will buy her a new one. Realizing everything was sound—limbs, back, brain, jewels—I clambered back up, took the day’s clothes I had left in a neat little pile on the counter mid fall and tossed them in the laundry basket and made my way without any more gravity issues towards the bed. She was sound asleep. Nothing wakes her up, not even crashing redwood trees. You’re going to hurt tomorrow I told myself, and I was right.
I had promised a doctor I wouldn’t fall down anymore. You can break a hip, she said. I didn’t tell her I’ve fallen those hundred times or more over a lifetime, that I fall like a stuntman, that I’ve never broken anything. I’ve been lucky, I said.