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Misinformation Followed Us Like A Plague


Time for New Year’s Retrospectives, I see. I’m fresh out of top tens. Too much like work. I’ll ramble instead. If there was no Internets, I’d have to stand on the overpass and yell at cars.

Is Sippican Cottage the most malformed inchoate collection of essays and assorted dross on the Intertunnel? It just might be. I make no apologies. There’s no one to apologize to but myself, anyway, I guess.

I’m grateful for the people that come here and read and comment and what have you. I’ve made very many friends that I’ve never, or rarely, met. I’d mention a bunch of them, but they are so numerous I’m afraid I’d forget just as many and so my shout out would be a disappointment. I’m pretty terrible about reciprocating links and answering all my email, too. I try to pay attention, but I’ve got so many faults that San Andreas is my patron saint.

I’ve had a difficult year. Let’s leave it at that. I don’t write about it much. Thanks to everyone that bought furniture and banged on the Amazon links and sent me emails and just plain showed up.

One of my Interwebby correspondents is Casey Klahn. He’s a marvelous artist, and has a good and decent demeanor on the Interchunnel, which is fairly rare. I like to read his website because it’s an entry into a world I don’t inhabit. Faraway lands, fragrant with the spices of Araby…

No, that’s not right. Linseed oil, maybe.

Anyhow, Casey’s not nearly as lazy as I am, and he’s chosen his Top Ten Artist Blog Posts of the year. He’s confused the purple bruises on my thumbs for Phthalo Blue pigment, and lumped me in with people who appear to have some sort of discernible talent. He’s even given me a medal, which I will wear proudly with my speedo, cowboy boots, and of course, a fez.

I suggest you go over there and read the other nine, like I did.

Nothing But Some Reverb

There used to be the same sense of excitement at a live musical performance as you’d find at a circus when the tightrope walker inched across the lonely strand of steel, high above the floor. There were people playing real instruments live, and really singing. They were there unaided, and they could falter, and it lent an air of danger to the proceedings. There was very little audio spackle you could apply to the sound. Even the records were usually just made like live recordings, just with more care and deliberation and no audience. It’s really, really rare now. You have to go to the opera to hear people really sing, or maybe a barroom.

For the most part, the pop music big time has become a package with no seams, and there’s no humanity in it anyway to let out. Oh well; I can always put on a Kraftwerk CD and hear it done properly in the modern fashion.

1970

When I was a little boy, my father would take me to the movies once in a while. He seemed a comic man to many — full of wit and good humor. He had a serious sort of mind, too. To talk a lot and say nothing without being a bore is daunting. It’s a conversation wire strung between two spires. The crowd never joins you on the wire. If you fall, you have to listen. You are no longer in charge.

When I was a performer, we often let members of the audience, especially pretty girls, but not always, get up and do some little bit of an act with us. Some had to be coaxed, but many pushed right on in. They were dangerous, the pushers. Someone that desperately wants to be on stage but has no business being there is a terrible thing. Picture your bosses’ speech at the Christmas party writ large. As I said, we invited people up, and asked them questions, and let them sing or dance or carry on, but there was only one, unspoken rule among the bandmembers. Never let anyone get the microphone away from you and hold it in their hand. It was much the same thing. A kind of control.

So the opposite of talking is waiting for most people. Talking all the time is a kind of self defense. I understand that now.

My father liked all sorts of movies. He laughed at Clousseau, he wasn’t a bore. But he liked serious things to be put on the screen, mostly. He liked Patton and The Bridge on the River Kwai and things like that.

He took me in 1970 to the Cinema in the little town I grew up in. It was a wonder, that theater. Really big, with steeply raked seating and one, gigantic screen. Later on they cut it up into three little screens in three shabby little rooms and wrecked it. Demolished now. But way back then, it was the way to see a movie. When I moved to Los Angeles as a young man, I sat in all the big movie temples there to recreate the effect of that big flickering screen before the big velvet seats.

My father told me that Lawrence of Arabia was the greatest movie ever made, and because of the way that movies would be made in the future, it was probably the greatest movie that would ever be made. They had fixed up the print and re-released it. I wasn’t even a teenager, but he took me. It made a lasting impression on me in all sorts of ways.

Pop would always jape at the television. He’d have a running commentary of the proceedings that was always more mordant and funny than anything presented as the entertainment. It was the old self-defense. When we went to the movies, and as the big room darkened and the wild orchestral opening music came up, Pop leaned over and told me I should be quiet now. It was superfluous, as I was riveted to the screen the whole time, which was a long time indeed. I realized a long time after that, that it was my father’s way of surrendering his intellect to others. He gave it the respect it deserved in his mind.

It’s an old habit now, and I can’t shake it. I never go to the movie theater anymore, because no one ever shuts the hell up, and they’re not wrong anyway; there’s nothing on the screen that deserves the respect. We’ll rent it and yell at the screen, and make our own fun in the Irish way.

Your father never leaves, I guess.

Ginger Ale [Christmas]

[Editor’s note: From 2007. Somewhat traditional.]
{ Author’s note: There is no editor. Merry Christmas}

I wish it would rain.

No; sleet. Sleet would finish the scene. Rain is cleansing. It washes away the dirt and corruption. No snow either; the fat, jolly flakes just hide it all. Snow can make a fire hydrant into a wedding cake. I want sleet.

I want to pull my collar up, and hunch my shoulders as if blows from an unseen and merciless god were raining down on me. I don’t want a Christmas card. I want the Old Testament.

Old, or new – I knew it. Father and mother would open the Bible to a random page and place an unseeing finger anywhere and use it for their answer to whatever question was at hand. They’d torture the found scripture to fit the problem a lot, but it was uncanny how often that old musty book would burp out something at least fit for a double-take. But any Ouija Board does that, doesn’t it?

It was just cold and bracing. No sleet. I didn’t need to be clear-minded right now. Paul’s tip of the hat to the season, a sort of syphilitic looking tree, hung over your head as you entered the bar like it was Damocle’s birthday, not the Redeemer’s. It was kinda funny to see it out there, because inside it was always the same day and always the same time. Open is a time.

People yield without thinking in these situations. It had been years since I had found anyone sitting on that stool, my place. It was just understood, like the needle in the compass always pointing the same way for everyone. Paul never even greeted me anymore, just put it wordlessly down in front of me as I hit the seat. Some men understand other men.

It was already kind of late. I could bang on those machines like a Fury until the sun winked out, but I didn’t feel like working on Christmas Eve until the clock struck midnight. That’s a bad time to be alone and sober.

“I’m closing early tonight,” Paul said, and he didn’t go back to his paper or his taps. He just stood there eying me. I took the drink.

“You’ve made a mess of this, Paul,” I stammered out, coughing a bit, “What the hell is this?”

“It’s Ginger Ale. You’re coming with me tonight.”

I could see it all rolled out in front of me. Pity. Kindness. Friendship.

“No.” I rose to leave.

“You’ll come, or you’ll never darken the doorstep here again.”

Now a man find himself in these spots from time to time. There are altogether too many kind souls in the world. They think they understand you. They want to help you. But what Paul will never understand is that he was helping me by taking my money and filling the glass and minding his own. It was the only help there was. A man standing in the broken shards of his life doesn’t have any use for people picking up each piece and wondering aloud if this bit wasn’t so bad. They never understand that the whole thing is worth something once but the pieces are nothing and you can never reassemble them again into anything.

I went. Worse than I imagined, really. Wife. Kids. Home. Happy. I sat in the corner chair, rock-hard sober, and then masticated like a farm animal at the table. Paul was smarter, perhaps, than I gave him credit for. He said nothing to me, or about me. His children nattered and his wife placed the food in front of me and they talked of everything and nothing as if I wasn’t there — no; as if I had always been there. As if the man with every bit of his life written right on his face had always sat in that seat.

I wasn’t prepared for it when he took out the Bible. Is he a madman like my own father was? It’s too much. The children sat by the tree, and he opened the Bible and placed his finger in there. I wanted to run screaming into the street. I wanted to murder them all and wait for the police. I wanted to lay down on the carpet and die.

“Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
He put the children to bed, to dream of the morning. His wife kissed him, said only “good night” to me, and went upstairs. We sat for a long moment by the fire, the soft gentle sucking sound of the logs being consumed audible now that the children were gone. The fire was reflected in the ornaments on the tree. The mantel clock banged through the seconds.

“Do you want something?” he asked.

“Ginger Ale.”

Daddy And Home

Jimmy Rodgers. The Singing Brakeman. Even through the woolly recording, you can hear it’s a Martin Guitar he’s playing. Nothing sounds like that. A jangly wooden cannon. You can play one just like it if you like.

Don’t forget to flip it over when you’re done and collect your laughs along with your applause:

A man, dead at thirty-five, had enough time to invent country music first. The rest of us mostly mill around for twice that. The world is an uncompromising place in this regard. Some people perform calculus; the rest just arithmetic, I guess.

Jimmie Rodgers.

Month: December 2009

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