Sunday, August 30, 2009

Childrens' Stories

See what you think:

Our daughter, Cary, a beautiful, late-20's gypsy writer who lives in Portland, Oregon, spent several months in Valparaiso, Chile awhile back. Here's part of her poem 'Mi Valparaiso':

'the season is changing
in my city by the sea.
the wind whipping the national flag
outside the window
& tattered at the ends,
carries with it a new chill
calming the afternoon heat;
the impossible houses
with their innumerable colors--
the cascading staircases
like ancient senderos
veinous avenues
carrying messages of life
from the center to the hills,
from the hills to the center
circulating indefinitely
in affirmation of the bay
polluted by centuries
of comings & goings
though beautiful from heights
such as these that are mine.'


Our son, Tom, a beautiful mid-twenties traveler/writer who currently lives and teaches in Madrid, Spain just recently walked the oldest Pilgrimage in Western European Christendom. Here is one of his stories from El Camino:

"After leaving Santander w/ a bitter taste in our mouths before the break of day, and walking at record speed to cross 25km before 1pm, we were greeted in the small, nothing pueblo of Polanco by a short, stout, dirty old woman w/beady eyes & rotting teeth. 'Young men', she said, 'you have arrived so early. There is much left in the day and much more walking to be done. Despite your having rushed to get here in order to secure 3 of only 6 available beds in my meagre alberque, more will arrive much later from towns much farther, feeling much more fatigued. It is for them that I turn you away now. Walk on, Pilgrims, there are beds down the road.'
Two hours later, walking down the street you see on the front of this card, my Czech companion turned to me and said, 'Thank God that woman turned us away'. Here, in Santillana del Mar, we passed a long and lovely afternoon and evening walking medieval streets and visiting 11th C. churches and drinking vino tinto from goatskin sacks."

Childrens' stories that ring the bells of my heart.

Tim O'Brien who wrote "The Things They Carried", a powerful novel of the Vietnam War, says, "you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil". One of the things I love about my childrens' stories is that they pledge allegiance to beauty, love and life.

Raise your glasses to Life, komrades!! L'Chaim!! Sante!! Bottoms Up!!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Joy To The World

There's a spot on a sailboat--the alley formed by the outside of the main sail and the inside of the jib--where the wind funnels out at a brisk pace and you can see clearly over the bow past the timeless waters of Peconic Bay or the Caribbean Sea to the tree-lined shores of the island ahead. You can hold onto the stainless steel rigging and spread your legs and lift into that superconscious land of Joy. For me, there's not much better in this world. The smells. Salt water and clean air mixed with other boat smells like suntan lotion and lunch in the galley. The sights. Colors, shadows, sky, sea, land, other boats. The sounds. Wind whishing past the sail fabric, rigging ringing, waves slapping against the fiberglass hull, muffled conversation.

Herman Melville wrote about people and water early in Moby Dick. He said that people are drawn to water like iron to magnet. They purposely walk to the edge of the bay and just stare out. Past the horizon. To that place where I would like to live permanently. Maybe a Greek Island-type stone/adobe house with as much outside living as inside. Lots of terrace and vines climbing and providing shade from the white sun. Views of the unbelievably blue sea from every window and seating area. No pool. Too much. If you want to swim, walk down to the Sea of Joy and take a dip. Bring the dogs. Red dirt track leading from the road to the house. Remote cooking area for grilling. Wind everywhere all the time. Sheer curtains flying through shady rooms. And a boat. A sailboat. With lines that drop you to your knees every time you look at her. Single mast. Main and jib set-up. I would need that sweet spot. That magic place between main and jib so I could always find my way home.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Messenger

One hot, sunny afternoon in a long-gone summer Cary and I set out in my ill-fated '72 Corvette convertible for some father-daughter time.  At a remote back-road intersection as I accelerated past the stop sign my exhaust pipe separated from the engine and lodged in the sun-softened macadam road surface, acting like a pole, vaulting the car up, up, and away.  By the time we figured out what had happened the fiberglass body was cracking and splitting. I reversed and set the damaged vintage muscle car back on the road, got out and had an instant meltdown. I was twirling like some desperate, demented dervish shouting at the sky Why Don't You Just Kill Me? and other crazy threats against myself. Cary was sitting in the car, probably scared to death, watching her father mutate into a beast.
Suddenly, a beautiful vintage Oldsmobile coupe pulls up and a young man with a great tan and red bandana leans out the window and offers to help. I wave him off saying we're way beyond help. He insists, telling us that he's an auto mechanic. Cary grabs my arm and pleads with me to accept help.
The young man reaches into his back seat and pulls out a bicycle tire...OK. I'm positively out of my mind now. He pulls another wheel out and then gets his wheel-chair frame.  I tell him to stop, we're OK now, I'm over the breakdown. He looks at me and asks Why? Because I'm paralyzed? I don't know what to say, so I ask him to continue.
The young paralytic assembles his chair, wheels around to the trunk, gets out a huge tool-chest and cardboard sheet, and wheels over to the Corvette. He throws the cardboard on the road surface and gets under the car and cuts the exhaust system off the car. All fixed in about 5 minutes.
He wheels back to his car and puts everything away. He disassembles his wheel-chair and gets back in the car. By now I notice the terrible scar running the length of his back--about 1" wide, a sickly, milky white color against his dark tan.  There are also 6 puncture wounds--2 at the top, middle and bottom of the scar. I ask him What happened to you? He tells us the story of riding with his father when he was 11 years old. He says something terrible happened--carefully avoiding any details-- and he's been paralyzed from the waist down ever since. His upper body is like a Greek God's but his legs are like tentacles--no apparent bone structure.
I start were paralyzed at age 11 from the waist will never control your bladder or colon...never have sex...never walk...never...never...Oh my god.
By now, he's in his car and smiling out the window again. He starts to drive off, then stops, backs up and looks me in the eyes and says,  Every Day I Wake Up And Say 'Today's The Day I'm Going To Walk'.

And then he drove off...Time slowed and colors changed--almost as if a heavy yellow filter had been put over the sun.
I looked at Cary. She asked, Do you think he was an Angel??

For many years I kept a wrench on my night-table to remind me of that afternoon encounter with the heavenly mechanic. He might have been an Angel, but I know for sure he was a Messenger. And for many years I kept that message of Hope and Courage in my heart.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"It Was a Dark and Stormy Night..." Stories, Pt I

Of the many fulfilling aspects of parenthood, telling bedtime stories must rank in the Top Ten for me. I remember fondly slouching on a chair next to Cary's bed or laying back on Tom's bed in the dim light of bedtime and bringing 'Varney the Vampire' to life once again, or creating the next cliff-hanger episode in the life of Mouse Marie. Stories are very important in my life. So, I think I'll tell a few.

Jamming With Westmoreland:

Anyone old enough to have lived through the Vietnam Conflict immediately recognizes the name Westmoreland--General William Westmoreland, Commander of All American Forces in RVN, The Republic of Vietnam. The steel jawed, Marlboro Cowboy-looking soldier who oversaw our First Defeat in a Major Conflict Ever. He kept demanding more soldiers. And even those of us who made a living avoiding any thought of Vietnam knew that when Westmoreland demanded more troops he got them, and every time he got more troops, we moved closer to the head of the line and a night ambush in a steamy jungle filled with guys in black pajamas.
       I hated Bill Westmoreland.
So, it was with some interest that I went on a sales call in 1993 to meet with a young attorney handling a large estate and looking for financial advice. The young attorney's name was Westmoreland. What were the odds, I asked myself on the subway ride to his office. Common enough name...
I walked into his office and saw two things simultaneously--a large framed portrait of 
His-Father-The-General (!!) and a white stratocaster (!!!) laying across a chair under the photograph of those all-too-rare moments in life. Westmoreland--that evil bastard who presided over the deaths of 58,000 American boys, the destruction of a country and deaths of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese--and the White Strat.  Jimi at Woodstock,  playing The Star-Spangled Banner with a smiling Westmoreland looking on from above.

What else could we do but jam all afternoon with tears in our eyes?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Living With Myself

So, I was thinking that maybe--just maybe--I have 4 dogs to make it easier for me to live with myself. This thought came to me while watching 'Nurse Jackie' on cable. A character explains to Jackie that he has to do at least one good thing every day for him to be at ease with his life. Jackie says, that doesn't sound too difficult, and Momo responds, try it sometime...
So, maybe living with dogs affords me numerous opportunities to do kindnesses to other sentient, living creatures. I can walk around stuffing Pup-Peronis down pink throats, petting, massaging, crooning words of comfort and approval to my 4 pals...and feeling good about myself.
There's plenty of strife and bitterness in our world and I've always felt that a worthwhile occupation involved spreading kindness, easing pain, shedding light. I have utter contempt for people who intentionally cause fear and pain. Bigger people picking on the small. Older folks hurting young kids. The list goes on and on. I truly believe that if enough people decided to do good every day, the world would become a better place immediately. But I also know that one certain way to get what you want is to take it. Force usually works and might trumps the moral high ground nearly every time.
The important thing for me to remember is that I cannot control events around me. I can't change other people's behaviors. I can barely control my behavior. But, when I can, I try to do good. You've got to serve somebody, the poet said. I prefer to play on the side of the Angels.
So, imagine there's a Canine Overlord. A Supernatural Force with an otter tail and bad breath, constantly scratching itself and knocking your drinks over, begging and barking. Imagine this Canine Immortal is watching me walking with my friends, stuffing their gullets with biscuits and rubbing their ears, whispering sweet words into their adoring little faces. Don't you think I'd get a free pass at the Pearly Gates??

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

O, Solo Mio

It must have been over ten years ago that I realized I don't like people. There had been hints and clues all along--I avoided clubs and organizations, was never comfortable on teams, always enjoyed individual activities like running or walking--but I never put everything together. Ironically, it was one of those "aha" moments, an epiphany, samsara that opened my mind. I was walking through a parking lot and noticed a bumper sticker that read "The more people I meet, the more I like my dog".
Yep. I certainly like dogs.
When I'm alone, or with my 4 dogs, I loosen up, unwind, solve problems. Today I walked in the woods--no company, human or canine. But I wasn't alone. Today I was accompanied by Robert Frost. We discussed "Stopping By Woods" and "The Road Not Taken". Other times I'm talking with other artists--Joyce, Dylan, Marley. So even when I'm alone I'm not alone. I don't have to listen to other folks' thoughts or problems. The point is that I feel healthier, refreshed after a solitary walk. As Bob Marley said, "My home is in my head".
Most days 'solitary' walks are taken with my dogs, which can be a bit stressful. One running off, one rolling in some foul, black paste, one constantly begging for Pup-eroni. But when I walk with Sophie, my dearest and oldest dog, a 7 year old Black Lab, I'm guided into the natural world in a priceless way. Sophie gently leads me down trails and points to the golden light streaming through the thousand different colors of green. We are a great couple. And now Sophie has a limp, just like me. Perfect.
So, in an effort to understand myself and my life, it is a solid fact that I like my own company best, along with that of my wife and children...followed close behind by my four furry friends Sophie, Bowen, Nicholas, and Mackenzie.