Kinky Friedman, Hoagy Carmaechel and Me

Posted in Humor, On Tthe Road on June 8th, 2011 by MadDog
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Before I wade into today’s post I want to tell you the sad tale of a man who is gradually losing his mind. Today I went for a haircut. It’s something I seem to have to do three or four times a year. I don’t know why hair has to grow. I guess it’s so that we can change it once in a while. I’d be just as happy if I could get a good haircut and then turn the grow switch off until I’m in the mood for a change. In the meantime my hair tasks would be reduced to washing and a little judicious combing followed by some careful tosseling to get that just-right semi-spiky look which identifies me as a moderately elderly man who is trying desperately to relive his misspent youth with slightly more flair than he managed the first time through.

Going for the haircut is not the funny part. Showing up at the barber shop with no shoes on my feet is the funny part. I was so distracted by my anxiety concerning my first solo trip in Grace’s car that I clean forgot to strap on my spanking new Wal*Mart sandals. There are mitigating circumstances. I have spent most of the last three decades barefoot. I wear no shoes at home, in the yard, on the boat, at the office or in anyone’s house (rude!). I think about where I’m going and decide if I need shoes. So, my mind being otherwise occupied by the horrible thought of wrecking Grace’s car the very first time I’m trusted with it, it is not surprising that I walked past my shoes on the way to the garage without so much as a howdy-doo. Because I had an appointment for a haircut, I did not have time to go back and retrieve my shoes for a dignified entrance to the shop. I stood barefoot in the parking lot and dithered for a moment. Finally I decided to be a man about it and fess up. I went into the Barber shop and was greeted by name, “Hello Arny”, Dennis, the barber said. Grace, as Eunie always did, calls me Arny, a cutified version of my middle name, Arnold. I explained lamely why a grown man would possibly show up at a barber shop unshod. He chuckled and told me that I did not need to go home to get my shoes. I quickly changed the subject.

And now I’ll change the subject again.

The last week has been a revelation in more ways than one. The challenges I have faced since last September, reinforced by the complications of a new and poorly understood life and hurdles I needed to jump since I left Madang in March nearly overwhelmed my capacity to endure. Much of that is over now, one way or another. Issues have been resolved. Obligations have been discharged. Healing has begun in earnest.

The character of my grief has changed with time, as I prayed it would. Sweet memories, once blocked by fear of remembering and emotions which were unpredictable and uncontrollable, have begun to filter through the haze and restore my balance. How I have longed to remember. How I have longed to reminisce about a lifetime of love and fulfillment. I had little idea of what might facilitate this for me. As it turned out, the answers were simpler and more profound than I imagined. A peaceful, restful place where I am responsible only for being who I truly am. A place where I feel comfortable and settled with my own room, my own bathroom, for pity’s sake. An atmosphere that is conducive to quite thought and introspection or stimulating conversation, as the mood dictates. A haven separate from the too-familiar atmosphere of Madang. The most important thing, however, is a shared life experience of love and respect for Eunie and deep admiration and respect for each other. I have known Grace for as long as I knew Eunie. They were closest friends since age four. This has been the key which has unlocked the comfort and pleasure of bringing all of the best of a half century with Eunie back into my consciousness. She is now closer to me than she has been since she died.

I have been here only a little over a week, but I have laughed more than I have in the last nine months. Sharing sweet memories, exploring mutual interests, squeezing the fun from life, all these things have lifted my spirit and evaporated my fears. I have not experienced a single day of depression since I arrived. This alone is a tremendous relief. A couple of days ago, after I painted the porch swing (more about that later) I came inside and sat on the floor watching Grace go through cabinets which had been accumulating items for some years. There were some fascinating things stashed away there. The one I enjoyed most was a Kinky Friedman talking doll.

If you’re not familiar with Kinky, join the club. I won’t bother to tell much about him. You can follow the links if you’re interested. He ran for Governor of Texas in 2006 and captured nearly thirteen percent of the popular vote. What is fascinating about Kinky is that he is so in-your-face politically incorrect. His campaign slogan was, “Why the hell not?” On the front of the box he asks (referring to the Texas governorship), “How hard can it be?”

Kinky wanted to be the first Jewish governor of Texas. One has to respect his chutzpah for this. Even at his most incorrect politicality his remarks reflect sober reflection on the issues. For example, “I’m not pro-life; I’m not pro-choice. I’m pro-football.” One might be forgiven for wondering if he’s avoiding the question. It’s easy not to take him seriously until you remember that thirteen percent of Texas voters took him very seriously, indeed. Of those who voted for him he says, “I don’t know how many supporters I have, but they all have guns.” Okay, that makes me laugh. He passes on his best wishes to all with, “May the god of your choice bless you.”

Anyway, getting to the point, I told grace that she might have something collectible there. I said that I’d Google it later to see if it was worth anything, but, in the meantime, we should get the batteries out of it so that it would not be ruined by leakage. Unfortunately, this involved partially disrobing Kinky, a task which turned out to be strangely disturbing. Grace suggested that we should record the moment:

This may be your only chance today to view an image of a thoroughly mature man sitting on the floor in a semi-lotus position while undressing a talking doll of a former gubernatorial candidate for the state of Texas. Savor the moment, kiddies.

Oh, by the way, this is what my hair looked like before my visit to the barber today:

Those are baby robins at Hans’ house in Hamilton, Ontario.

This is how they looked only two weeks later:

While we’re dealing with critters, I’ll show you this squirrel which sat on the grass at the Indiana University campus in Bloomington, Indiana and mocked me. I don’t know what it is between me and some animals. They often attempt to stare me down. They often succeed. I tried paying no attention to this squirrel, but his stony glare kept drawing my eyes back. I felt like saying, “You. Yeah, YOU! You lookin’ at me? Then I thought, no, that would be silly.

As if that’s not enough, this tree then came at me from the other side and began to taunt me:

So, I retreated to a less sarcastic place and had a little conversation with Hoagy Carmichael, the man who wrote the song with the longest title in the history of music, I’m a Cranky Old Yank in a Clanky Old Tank on the Streets of Yokohama with my Honolulu Mama Doin’ Those Beat-o, Beat-o Flat-On-My-Seat-o, Hirohito Blues:

Hoagy wasn’t in a talkative mood. I just sat and listened to him play for a while.

Finally, I’d like to show you a proud moment in my life. I call it The Day I Painted Grace’s Porch Swing. I’m a simple man with simple needs. It doesn’t take much to amuse me, as any regular reader will have noted. It took me most of the day to apply the stain to the swing. I made the nearly fatal mistake of not turning it over to stain the underside first. By the time I was half-way through with the visible part I began to wonder how I was going to turn the gooey thing over to get to the bottom. I solved the problem by crawling around on the ground for a couple of hours:

Hey, it kept me off the streets for a while. I was inordinately proud of myself for completing this simple task in a reasonable time and with appropriate attention to workmanship.

Next job – re-glue and refinish the coffee and end tables. Hey, this is fun!

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Disconnected in The Windy City

Posted in On Tthe Road on May 12th, 2011 by MadDog
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For a variety of reasons I’ve not written anything for a few days. That is not good for me, as it is so very easy to get out of the habit. I’ve been feeling that strange disconnect from reality which overwhelms me when I’ve been living out of my back-pack for too long, moving from place to place as necessity dictates. Here I am in Chicago, or nearly so, the grim finger of the Sears tower barely piercing the smoggy horizon. I just finished a pleasant conversation with a dear friend and adviser. As I ran out of words I excused myself by saying that I needed to sit down to write. Sensing my mood, she told me to “write something beautiful.”

Is that possible when darker thoughts prevail and the heart rests low and quiet, hardly venturing to whisper through the noise of confusion? I don’t know. We shall see.

You will note that I’ve visited the farmlands. I’ve seldom needed to imagine so much while searching for images. This part of the world can seem a visual wasteland. As I seek inspiration my eyes must listen very carefully for the tiny voices calling from unexpected places. My job is to try to make the mundane exceptional. I spot a corroding gas grill sitting beside a farm outbuilding. A few incongruous strands of straw hang limply from under the lid. When I see what is there I first laugh and then feel a little choke at the back of my throat as my mind frets over the absurdity:

Birds are not alone among the creatures which build nests in hazardous places. We are only aware of the hazards we can see and understand. We can see the future not at all.

Yet nature itself, which seems designed to kill us, provides that which we require, along with a little work on our part, to nurture us. Though this fallen world appears to favor weeds, the creator gave us wits enough to push them back a little so that we can squeeze out of the land what fills our bellies – most of us, that is:

Flood and drought, pestilence and disease, frost and storm all thwart our efforts, but somehow the farmer stays ahead. It amazes me how easily I forget those who feed me. It is good to get out on the land every few years to remind myself that those who are called to work the land bless us all by their efforts. The farmer leads a risky life, dealing constantly with forces beyond his control. He is an artist of the soil.

The soil itself can be beautiful, especially as it lends itself to be the canvas of the farmer. Here the corn-planting machine has tread, leaving its linear footprint on the land:

It awaits the first rain to fade it. The soil will warm and the days grow longer. The green shoots will rise cobra-like and grow astonishingly tall in a few brief weeks. Some say that the corn can be heard to grow. Maybe this is true. Does the farmer see his planted field as I do? Does he hear the same voice? Maybe he sees the same thorny path to an unknown horizon. Though we see it that way for entirely different reasons. He asks, “Will my crop be bountiful?” I ask, simply, “What lies ahead?”

John, husband of my niece, Pat, operates a grain storage facility. His job is to see that the farmers’ products are safely stored until it is time for them to be sold to those in need. This seems to require a lot of shifting of grain from one giant bin to another, for reasons which I do not completely understand. Here corn spills from one huge cylinder into a pit from whence it will be elevated to a dizzy height and spilled into another:

As I look at this image I cannot but note that all of the grains of corn, regardless of the wildness of their individually random paths, end up in the same place – the pit. The metaphor is inescapable. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. But what a ride! I admire the kernels which bounce crazily – the outliers – the mavericks. They too will end up in the pit, but they do not go easily nor without squeezing every last bit of value from the trip.

I do not like to believe that destiny rules us. In the broad sense we cannot escape the notion. Certain things will happen no matter how we wriggle to avoid them. Still, in between birth and death, we like to think that we have some choices. Exactly how much choice we have is debatable. I can never make up my mind about this. My beliefs require that I accept that my creator is involved in my life in substantial ways. Sometimes I am very happy about this and other times I am resentful, even angry. This seems to be the nature of the relationship, if you accept that there is one at all. So, in a sense, I do have a destiny:

As I saw the angled lines of the machinery intersecting at the apex under the high, hazy sun, the image shouted at me. At first I shuffled around to fix the orb directly above the point at which the seemingly random paths joined. And then I realised that this was not the message. I will not intersect perfectly with my destiny. This is the skill of saints, to yield willingly and unerringly to the direction of the Divine GPS. I tend to ramble about.

To get there, the intersection where all paths which lead to the destination finally meet, I must follow one of the prescribed paths. I might have chosen any of these paths and arrived safely. Wolves lurk in the parched bushland between the paths and other paths lead to unknown dangers as they depart from the course to the apex.

And what is it, exactly, which lies where all safe paths meet? Heaven? What is that? We don’t have a lot of information to work with, eh? I can never decide whether I’ll really like it or not. There seems not a lot to do there. Perhaps I’m too attached to this world, to this life. It’s all shiny and sleek. It has a lot of bits and pieces with many knobs to twist and buttons to push. There is fun to be had, things to do, people to meet, plans to be made . . .

Plans to be made . . .

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On the Road – Spring is Busting Out All Over in Indiana

Posted in On Tthe Road on April 10th, 2008 by MadDog
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Spring is just busing out all over here in Indiana. I can see the buds on the Sugar Maple tree in front of our house growing day by day. We’re also spotting Robin Red-breasts hopping around on lawns looking for nesting material. Here’s one I stalked yesterday:

Cock Robin - First Sign of Spring in Indiana

We’ve always looked for Robins as the first sign of spring.

Another sight that that brings back memories is the huge Canada Goose. If you are a North American, you’ll be familiar with these beauties. Here’s a gander guarding his goose as she sits on her clutch of eggs: (Eunie got this very nice shot while I was in the Bureau of Motor Vehicles getting a new registration for the Harley.)

Canada Goose and Gander - Indiana

As you can see they are quite large. Guessing, I’d say an adult might weigh 10 kilos or more. They always fly in pairs or in large v-shaped formations of up to maybe fifty or so. They have a beautiful cry something like, “a-LAA, a-LAA, a-LAA,” in a nice contralto voice.

Here’s another one of the goose on her nest. Coming too close will make her start to honk and the gander will hiss and get very aggressive. Here’s the goose honking softly at me as if to say, “Hey, this is family business here. Please go away.”:

Canada Goose Sitting on Nest - Indiana

As you can see, they will nest practically anywhere. This nest was in a metre wide strip of grass between a garage and a busy parking lot. When I was a lad, we always saw them flying over in migration by the millions, but never saw one on the ground. I suppose it might have been because they were heavily hunted. Now they are so common that some people consider them vermin. I’m sure that they must now outnumber all the dogs and cats in the area. A large population no longer migrates, but stays year-round.

More about Spring in Indiana as it rolls in.

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