Monday, December 22, 2008

Notes from SaturdayVille


Today is Monday in most places but not where I live.

About four days into my recent unemployment something happened. I lost track of what day it was and suddenly my world defaulted to Saturday, our perennial American favorite.

All through my working adult life I have adored Saturdays and felt glum on Sundays. I suppose it’s because I knew Monday was coming and I hadn’t finished my homework and would have to take a bath and go to bed early. That sort of thing stays with you as long as you’re on the rat track. Even when I worked weekends and had, let’s say Wednesday and Thursday off, I would get that special little thrill of anticipation in each Friday and feel a growing, depression on Sundays. It’s a psychological habit, I guess and I may never kick it.

Now I begin each morning before daybreak at my computer with a thermos of coffee and our little dogs snoring happily at my feet. As daylight grows I begin to think of all the ways I can be productive and happy today. I think of the things I no longer have to do.

In SaturdayVille nobody seems to be in a general hurry without good reason. Stress is a word applied to the poor working stiffs. Clocks are mostly meaningless.

I know I’ll go back to work eventually and I’ll be happy about it. For now, though, a long break from the demands and routines of Sunday through Friday is delightful. Carolann and I may take a long trip in our motor home. Maybe I’ll finish my book. Maybe I’ll just take a nap and then watch some TV.

Life in SaturdayVille is idyllic. I think you’d like it.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Rainy days and Mondays...


I didn't go to work today.


It's a dark, unusually cold and rainy morning in Southern California, a Monday. The first day of the work week is usually a bit of a struggle because two days of being out of sync with my workday routines tends to throw me just a bit. It's not that I ever have a case of Monday blahs, it's just a psychological phenomenon I've had to deal with for as long as I can remember. Monday mornings are like turning the clocks ahead to Standard Time every seven days. It's not big deal but merely a nagging one day oddity which I shouldn't have to worry about for awhile.

I lost my job this past Friday.

I have always had the odd (you can say "weird") habit of viewing my emotional reactions to things from a perspective of detachment.

I watch and try to analyze my emotions even as I am experiencing them. Many years ago I started kibbutzing my marriage counselor about how she might help me survive and prosper through my divorce. Now I am trying to understand why I am having to try to shake off my standard workday Monday funk even though I'm not working.

It's cold and rainy. Did I mention I lost my job?

I'm going to study this for a bit because introspection is a tricky business. False conclusions beg for sudden embrace.

I love cold, rainy mornings. Truth be told, I didn't care much for that job. So, why the funk?

Did I mention it's Monday? That's all it is. Just Monday.

You can overthink this crap to death.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Merle

A week ago today we lost a dear friend and my heart still aches for him.

Merle was the cat who said his own name. We got him when he was a tiny, black as coal kitten nearly twenty years ago. He grew up with our kids and tolerated several other cats, dogs and even a pig in what quickly became his kingdom.

He was the coolest cat I ever knew.

Unexcitable, always able and willing to defend himself, Merle was never the aggressor. He put up with a lot of nonsense from kids and puppies. He grew to be nearly thirty pounds of impressive reflexes, muscle and sinew. But near the end he had withered away to merely ten pounds and was having trouble finding a reason to eat.

Merle wasn't in pain but he was tired. Our backyard was still his domain but he patrolled it less often near the end, preferring a soft basket chair in the shade of an enormous avocado tree. We prayed for him to slip away quietly in his sleep but when he stopped eating altogether we knew it was time to say goodbye to one of our babies. Quality of life is a subjective call but Merle's magnificent integrity deserved preservation. It was time.

He loved us deeply. He was purring loudly and looking calmly into our eyes as Carolann and I gave him our tearful goodbye kisses.

Even then he gave us comfort.

The backyard is awfully empty now. When I open the screen door I still expect to hear him calling his own name, "MURRRL!" and to see him ambling toward me with his graceful, regal gait so that he might allow me to scratch behind his ears.

And as I think of him now I am painfully aware of how the hearts of our beloved pets are so great as to selflessly wrap us in their furry, purry love when we are in need of compassion.

I wish I could hug Merle one more time. I certainly owe him that.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

I get to.

A good teacher is like a candle - it consumes itself to light the way for others.” ~Author Unknown

These days teachers come under fire from all sides. They’re pressured by bureaucrats, abused by parents; disrespected and ridiculed by their own students. They work longer hours under more stressful, thankless conditions than anybody in any other business I can imagine. And, on those rare occasions when they’re forced to stand up for their own needs they’re often shouted down with scorn.

How dare they be so selfish!

“Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.“ ~Jacques Barzun

Some who become teachers can’t hack it, and how can you blame them? Overworked, underpaid, hardly ever appreciated, they continually reach into their own pockets to buy school supplies and to decorate and liven up drab classrooms in the hope that they can excite and ignite a fire in their students, many of whom would rather be anywhere else.

Those who do manage to hang on grow. The good ones grow large enough to find a higher regard for themselves and humanity. They become leaders. The occasional great teacher grows large enough to inspire greatness in others.

The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.” ~Khalil GibranEmily's 7th grade science class

This week my daughter-in-law, Emily Williams, was named one of sixteen Teachers of the Year for all of Los Angeles County. That’s sixteen teachers out of eighty (80) thousand!

To say we’re proud of her would be an understatement of the magnitude of saying it’s nice to be alive.

I could write pages of praise for Emily and the extraordinary, loving family that raised and still nurtures her. I could enumerate her higher qualities until I simply exhaust my own limitations in recognizing them and still she would have more. When looking for the right words to express gratitude for teachers even Shakespeare came up wanting:

“I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks.“ ~William Shakespeare

It’s enough for me to know that Emily is the perfect wife for my son, a truly wonderful mother for my grandson and a teacher of such high standing that she has earned the adoration of her administrators, her peers and her charges.

But what blows me away is how she does it in the face of all that pressure, abuse and disrespect. How she does it and why.

She is simply head over heels in love with life. She possesses an eternal wellspring of idealism and hope. She never thirsts for a dream.

And while the rest of us open our eyes each morning and think, “I have to go to work,” our Emily explains, with perfectly ingenuous wonder:

“I get to.”

Emily's award

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Perspective

While on our recent camping trip my three-year-old grandson, Tyler, asked me to help him with his socks. He had taken them off and now had one stuck on his left hand and the other dangling uselessly from his right.

With the foolish pride of a man fifty-four years older, wiser and more experienced than he I took the dangling sock and started to place it on his foot.

He protested strongly. It was clearly not what he wanted.

This picture was taken a few minutes later when the situation had been rectified to his satisfaction and he was able to rest.


After I snapped the picture I looked at him, hands tucked snugly in his socks where they belonged. I looked at him and I saw my son, and then I saw myself.

And I just sat there and watched us all for awhile.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Going home

After a wonderful week and a half visiting family and friends while exploring the Pacific Northwest Carolann, Cricket and I are on our way home, relaxed but sensing a measure of home-based stress that increases by the mile.

We get sad when we have to go home. We look like a couple of little kids who dropped their lollipops in the dirt.

We've always been lousy at ending vacations. Once, while waiting to board our flight home from vacation in Hawaii we looked at each other and and knew what we had to do. We got out of our chairs and walked out of the airport in Honolulu to find a new hotel room and spend just one more day in paradise.

When Jeremy and Nathan were young we took them on a cruise to Mexico. When we returned to Southern California for the drive home to Sacramento we decided, in a burst of spontaneity, to take the kids to Disneyland, which we did. The next morning while preparing for our drive home I noticed on the map that the Grand Canyon was only about six hundred miles away, so off we went.

Thataway.

Driving south in July is a predictable experience. The air grows disagreeably warmer, the sky less blue. The forest-green forests of Washington fade in the rear view mirror. Mountain peaks give way to rolling farmland, scrub oaks and the mundane fast food and gas stops of I-5.

Yesterday we passed a sign that read, LEAVING MEDFORD. That made me laugh. Medford is nice enough but I don't understand why Oregon felt it necessary to tell us we were departing the place. To me the sign said, LEAVING VACATION BEHIND. GO HOME, SUCKER. GET BACK TO WORK.

I know, I know... What good is vacation if you have nothing to compare it to? I'd love to find out and report back to you.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Road apples


The wonderful thing about vacation is that nothing is familiar.

 
Every mile that passes brings a new visual experience. I'm excited to be in any two-bit town for the first time. Crossing a state line gives me a thrill completely out of proportion to the triviality of the achievement. I think most of us feel this way.

Admit it, you just have to read the "Welcome to Oregon" sign to the family in a loud, happy voice, don't you?

Yesterday Carolann and I awoke in Klamath Falls. This morning, a couple hundred miles north, near Madras.

I watched the sun rise on a panorama of lush, green farm land along a wide rushing stream called Crooked River. Isn't that delightful? Of course it is.

Along the road just south of Redmond we visited the Petersen Rock Garden just because we could. For sixty years it has stood as a mind-numbing four acre collection of self-made tributes to the ambitious eccentricity of a Danish immigrant named Rasmus Petersen, who picked up a couple of rocks one day and decided that building miniature cities out of small stones was his divine purpose on Earth.

Scoff if you will, most of us never figure out why we're here. Few have the dedication to spend a lifetime stacking rocks upon rocks, ending each day knowing our prescribed day's work has been well done.

A few miles farther north brought us to Shaniko, an old West town that sprang up during the 1860s.

Originally called Cross Hollow it was renamed after the town's postmaster, August Scherneckau, who must have been a swell guy to receive such an honor but the locals apparently (and reasonably) decided trying to learn to spell his name properly was too much to ask of anybody.

 
But here's the best thing about road trips:

Some of the most awe-inspiring sights you stumble across have no explanation, no real purpose, indeed no reason whatsoever for existing except that they do.

This tree, for example...

We came upon it unexpectedly. Without fanfare, announcement; with no roadside glorification plaque nor explanation it just sits there, adorned with hundreds of shoes passersby felt compelled to deposit in its branches.

There's a wonderful story here but I can't find it.

And for some reason that makes it all the more wonderful.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

There are some things in life...


...which are totally void of significance

except that they make you happy to be alive.


This is one of them.
Click Ray's picture. Enjoy his magic and let the music work.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Our Vegas re-honeymoon


The lovely and feisty Carolann Williams and I just celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary.


Thank you very much. Yes, we've very happy. Twenty years is a significant
milestone but now that we're home I'm wondering why I chose for us to celebrate by doing the most mundane thing imaginable:

We went to Las Vegas in our motorhome.

The very notion just reeks of middle-class, middle-aged convention. Hawaiian shirt, shorts and flip-flops, that's me wandering through the gilded monuments to luxury and excess: Caesar's Palace, the Luxor, Mandalay Bay et al.

We had a lovely time, we really did. Finally at an age where we can spare personal pretense Carolann and I strolled through the casinos, hotel lobbies and cavernous convention centers as the middle-class American tourists we are with zero sense of displacement. We even managed to while away a giddy half-hour of guffaws seated before the awe-inspiring circular escalator at Caesar's making fun of the people who passed by. (I'm sorry but it's not rude if they can't hear you!)

I learned a few things during our trip:

Everybody who goes to Las Vegas for the first time looks around and asks, "Who the hell decided this would be a great place to build a major city?" This is an especially insistent question if you didn't fly in but, rather, drove from Southern California across the Mojave Desert as we did only to be rewarded with Southern Nevada as your achievement.

But think about it. What is there to do outdoors there? Only one thing: get indoors as quickly as possible! And what can you do indoors? Only one thing: spend money. Lots of it.

No. The location is perfect and brilliantly conceived.

I also learned from our ignominious people-watching session that nobody belongs in a place like Caesar's Palace. George Clooney isn't there. Most people are like us, more in our element at Target or Chili's. Those who attempt to dress properly for the place tend to go too far and look like they were playing in Mom's closet or are fifteen pounds and twenty years beyond their imagined, sexy selves.

But the single most important lesson I learned in Vegas had nothing to do with casinos or hotels and yet, it has to do with money.

Never buy a beer from a guy in a tuxedo!

Ignorantly nonchalant, I approached a mini-bar in Caesar's Forum Shops mall and asked for a Heineken. Seven bucks. Plus tax. And, the free Las Vegas visitor guides all insist you tip a bartender one dollar per drink!

That was the worst and last $8.54 beer I will ever have.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mamas don't let your babies grow up to be hair stylists...


Every generation of young guys does crazy-ass things with its hair.


The fifties invented pompadours, d.a.'s and flat-tops. The sixties gave us the Butch, the Beatle and a wild conglomeration of styles brilliantly described by the lyrics of the title song of Hair, The Musical:

"Let it fly in the breeze and get caught in the trees, Give a home to the fleas in my hair..."

In my lifetime alone we have buzzed our hair so short nothing remains but terrified roots broiling in helplessly bare scalp; we've gobbed it with Butch Wax and Dixie Peach Pomade -- sweet smelling petroleum-based mysteries with exactly the same consistency as axle grease; we went neat with Brylcreem ("A little dab'll do ya!") and after the Afros, the grunge bands and Alice Cooper had their way with us we were pretty much spent.

That desperation led us (briefly, thank you, Jesus!) to the mullet.

Now, here comes the twenty first century and it's all been done. I mean all of it, everything you or anybody else can imagine -- from spikes and mohawks to weird colors and intentionally butchered patches and guys who had barbers carve symbols and entire words into their cranial filaments...

...IT HAS ALL BEEN DONE.

So...what's next? Nothing.

Seriously, literally, absolutely nothing.


Just look at your American Idols.

If you're already a hair stylist I strongly suggest you go to school to learn tattoo removal.


© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

* Hair, the Musical: Book and Lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, music by Galt MacDermot

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The flip side of child psychology

Hammy, my friend and colleague, has just posted a new essay entitled Denial - The Earlier The Better in which she shares her pride and pleasure at the realization that her toddler granddaughter is learning to hone her feminine wiles very early in order to get what she wants. Actually, I had always suspected that this particular skill in female humans was as instinctive as a cat's aloof indecision once you have finally opened the door to let it in as it had been demanding for the past twenty minutes. They're just born with it and I'm fine with that.

Vive le difference!

Entire books have been written on how men and women are wired differently. To me the subject is so obvious I can't imagine being curious enough to read one. But Hammy's composition did give me pause to pay closer attention to my grandson after he came home from school today.

Isaiah and Hammy's granddaughter have never met but they're about the same age and have similar social and familial backgrounds. And that's as scientific as this comparison is going to get.

Hammy's little girl is sugar and spice and all that and Isaiah, well, Isaiah is all boy. Aside from a peculiar fastidiousness about his hands -- he hates getting them messy -- he loves boy toys and rowdy play. He roars for no reason whatsoever. It's just energy demons demanding their release, I guess.

But today I discovered something unimaginable.

We ran some errands after school and while Isaiah was strapped into the his car seat he began asking Nana if we can all do certain fun things when we get home. He always asks Nana and not me, though to be honest Nana is a lot more demanding of him than I. This, I believe, clearly exhibits his naturally ingrained and perfectly developed male instinct to defer to women at all times. It's the five-year-old equivalent of "Yes, dear," and it serves us well to learn it before we begin elementary school. I'm proud of the kid.

But then he began to show a shocking aptitude I never imagined in a boy so young or, indeed, in most men of any age. He has an outright panache, a real gift for psychological manipulation!

"Nana," he said sweetly and brightly, "I tell you what..." That got my male gyroscope wobbling just a bit. "When we get home," he continued, "we can either walk the dogs or play a game! You decide!"

I was stunned. That Carolann didn't flinch at the suggestion (in fact - she didn't respond at all) confirmed for me that this male poppet was, under my wife's tutelage, actually learning the ways of women!

Until today Isaiah had merely been a typical kindergarten boy, more prone to fuss, pout, stomp and shout or wail like a banshee when he couldn't have his way. Suddenly, inexplicably, he is negotiating and doing so by coyly assuming a position of power!

It's frightening. I will keep a closer watch on that boy for fear that he may suddenly conjure visions or call upon some etherworldly power from beyond the veil that will allow him to force other men to wait on him as personal serfs and have them thank him for the pleasure and privilege.

It's far too early to assume this isn't a passing phase or that some natural intervention...say, puberty... might not eventually turn him from this path.

I shouldn't profess this now. I just worry, that's all...

The boy shows every classic early sign of becoming a politician.

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

"I have diabetes."

While shopping in Target the other day our five-year-old grandson, Isaiah, told his grandma and me he needed to go to the bathroom. I took him into the men's room and waited while he finished his business in the stall. After washing his hands we went off to find my wife.

"Nana," Isaiah told her earnestly, "I have diabetes."

The British have the best description of the look Carolann and I gave each other. We were, as they say, "at sea." We had no earthly idea what he was talking about.

"What do you mean?" Carolann asked.

"I had to go potty real bad," the five-year-old explained. "I have diabetes."

My wife and I stared at each other blankly for another moment or two until, as the Brits also say, "the penny dropped."

"You mean you have DIARRHEA?"

Carolann said this. I was too busy trying to choke back a guffaw that was leaking out my nose as barely stifled snorts.

"Yeah. Diarrhea."

Then, in the spirit of Art Linkletter she issued a follow-up question. "Do you know what diarrhea is?"

"Yeah. That's when it's all flat."

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

In the heart of a campfire


If I was honest enough to remember the whole truth
I’d probably recall some very uncomfortable or even miserable experiences while dirt camping, but why would I want to do that? Anybody who intentionally spends hundreds of dollars plus weeks in excited preparation for the opportunity to sleep on the ground, live in a perpetual cloud of dust and occasionally poop into an open pit has no grounds for complaint on any level, least of all personal convenience.

These days Carolann and I visit the great outdoors in luxurious, indoor comfort. We have an air-conditioned 32-foot motorhome with a queen size bed, full size shower, complete kitchen and two TVs. It’s wonderful, it really is.

But camping, it ain’t.

My dad had a big, unbelievably heavy canvas tent. It was bigger than some honky tonks I've been in and smelled almost as bad. He had to prop the thing up with a couple of poles I think he bought from a circus fire sale. If it was seventy degrees outside it was ninety-five in the tent. If it was sixty outside it was forty-five in the tent.

By the time I started taking my son Jeremy camping the equipment had improved dramatically. Our tent was lightweight nylon. It was the first of those now ubiquitous domed things supported by three long, flexible poles. It didn’t have to be tied to stakes in the ground by twelve ropes poised to grab a foot every time you walked to the outhouse. The downside of my new nylon igloo was its height, maybe four feet tops, which was fine for a kid but forced me to mimic a horizontal pole-dancer just to get out of my sleeping bag, dress and exit through the little flap at the front with four or twelve maddening zippers.

I taught Jeremy to build a campfire the old-fashioned way: with paper under kindling, under twigs, under sticks, under three logs wigwammed in the center. It was a thing of beauty. We would stand back in appreciation of our half-hour handiwork before we lit the match.

After he mastered that I introduced him to “fire-starters,” those wonderful, waxy chunks of compressed sawdust that make it possible for any idiot with a Bic to start a campfire. Boy Scouts need not apply.

My dad taught me to fish, of course, just as his had taught him, in the fast and frigid trout streams of Wyoming. I wasn't very good at it but that's what fathers and sons do. It's tradition.

My kid broke the curse. Oh, I taught him and he caught his first fish when he was five or six. But the next time I asked him if he wanted to go fishing he said, "Dad, you know you can buy fish at the store, right?" That finished the sport for me and I still owe him for it.

But I miss it all: the laughter from nearby families, the smell and WOOSH of a white gas-powered lantern sputtering to life; the crackle and smoke of a jolly campfire properly-built of wood chunks gathered and chopped by hand. I even miss the dirt.

In evenings such as those by the campfire, with no TVs, no iPods or WiFi, we had no choice but to talk with each other about fanciful, imagined wonders and deep philosophy; of past events shared and joyously remembered which made us a family, and of hopes and dreams which we would then take with us into our sleeping bags.

And, staring through a nylon mesh at God’s stars we inhaled deeply the fresh yet smoky pine air, smiled to ourselves and closed our eyes to sleep the unburdened sleep of woodsmen.

It felt good and wholesome.

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Boy toys


The first car I owned was a 1957 Hillman. It was brown and boxy and not at all “cool.” I looked very odd in it. I looked like a fifteen year-old kid wearing his grandpa’s shoes.

I got my first car when I was still a sophomore in high school. Actually, I wasn’t even old enough to drive legally and, trusting that the statute of limitations has passed, I will now confide that my mother sometimes let me drive my car – illegally – to the store to pick up some milk or get her a pack of cigarettes. (Back then, in the sixties, she had to give me a note for the cigarettes or they wouldn’t have sold them to me. No way.)

I loved driving that car so much I would actually try to split one trip to the store into two or three trips. You know, buy the cigarettes so she would be happy and relaxed and then admit I had forgotten the milk so I would have to go back.

Sometimes my mom would let me drive to 7-11 to get an Icee and a package of Hostess Sno-Balls or something. She was a great mom and still is. (Nowadays I go to the store and get her the odd box of wine without her even asking or having to give me a note.)

By the way, the price of gas at the time was around 25 or 30 cents a gallon. I’ll pause for a moment to let you absorb that.

From the Hillman I graduated into my dad’s 1966 Corvair Monza and after that I can’t remember all the vehicles I’ve owned in the ensuing forty-two years. I can probably remember most of them but who cares, really? I never did much care what I was driving. To me, it was always just transportation.

And now, for some reason I am at an absolute loss to explain, as Carolann and I are talking about downsizing, reducing our stash of stuff and retiring in a nice, manageable mobile home or something – now I own three vehicles and today placed a deposit on a fourth! I’m not kidding and look, I don’t intend to sell any of them!

I will literally have more cars than I have pairs of shoes!

We now have a pickup truck to carry my camper, a 33-foot motorhome and Carolann’s van which cost more than my first house.

Gas, for all intents and purposes, is $4.00 a gallon.

And that’s why today I made a refundable deposit on one of these.

Yes, I'm quite serious. It’s an electric-gas hybrid called an Aptera that will allegedly get 300 miles per gallon of gas.

But boy, am I ever going to look odd driving it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Touchstones

A couple of weeks ago I was at a traditional/dixieland jazz festival in Three Rivers, California, visiting my musical friend, Bob Ringwald.Bob Ringwald

If that last name rings a bell, movie and TV star Molly Ringwald is Bob’s daughter. He never mentions that in passing conversation but he's proud of all three of his grownup kids and pleased to tell you about their families, careers and current projects if you ask.

Bob is the piano-playing leader of the very tight, very hot, Fulton Street Jazz Band based in Sacramento, which is home to both of us.

Ringwald has the happiest fingers that ever danced a keyboard. The fact that he is blind is no handicap for Bob but to those of us whose eyes work just fine but possess fingers like clay bricks, the way he can sit down at a foreign, rented piano and attack it without even appearing to search for middle-C is astonishing.

The funny thing about Bob and me is that we knew each other decades before we met.

When I was a teenager I never talked with Bob but enjoyed his jazz piano and singing at Capone’s Chicago Tea Room and Pizza Joint in Sacramento. Years later he would enjoy listening to me on the radio.

Bob's life took him to San Francisco and Los Angeles. Mine passed through L.A. and Memphis.

We both always returned to Sacramento and eventually we howdied and shook hands at the world famous Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, where Bob has played piano since the Jubilee’s beginning thirty-five years ago and where I have been a volunteer go-fer nearly as long.

I've never been to Bob's home or him to mine. I can't claim him as an intimate friend but there is a unique closeness I think we both feel in the happenstance that we made ripples in the same pond and they eventually touched.

This year I’ve been invited back to emcee the Jubilee Opening Day Parade. It’s a great honor and a very special homecoming for me but the one moment I am especially looking forward to is when Bob rolls out in front of the reviewing stand on some flatbed truck, tinkling the ivories and grinning like some old ragtime Cheshire Cat, which he surely is.

I’ll see many other longtime friends in Sacramento that day. I’ll also recognize a lot of people whose names I don’t remember but whose company I fondly recall.

But seeing Bob Ringwald again will be as special as his rendition of Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag.

He’s a magical touchstone to my youth, my present and my future.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Anecdotes of the heart


I don’t know for sure what got me thinking about Coach Rodness.
Maybe it's just because it’s April and as you have heard, in spring every young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love — love of baseball. Well, that’s true of old men, too. At least for those of us who played the game with a feverish passion many years ago and can’t quite get it out of our hearts.

But I don’t think it was any of that.

Today I told my youngest son something that sparked a synaptic link to a memory from my self-glorified past.

My son has recently had a spat with his wife. It has gone on for several days and is making both of them miserable. Having “been there, done that” (one of the greatest colloquial phrases ever adopted into American lexicon) I have grown weary of it and I told him, simply, “You love her and so do we. Make your peace with her.” It was just that simple. Dad had spoken. “Fix it,” I told him.

And suddenly I realized where I had heard that calm, persuasive voice before.

Bob Rodness was a physical education and baseball coach at Highlands High School in the Sacramento suburb of North Highlands in the late nineteen-sixties. I was a skinny semi-nerd who could hit a little, couldn’t run worth a damn, but played baseball like nothing else in the world mattered because in my world at that time it was true.

One day in P.E. class we were playing softball. Keep in mind this was the spring of 1968, right around the time Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It was a time fraught with racial tension and fears that we Northern California teenagers of the moment had trouble assimilating into the limited observations and half-baked philosophies of our very young lives. From our shortsighted perspectives it seemed the world was divided into colors and you took your side, you had no choice. We knew it wasn’t as simple as that, of course, and that segregation and bigotry were wrong by definition but we were too young and inexperienced to make sense of such worldly confusions as racism, assassination and, not coincidentally, the war in Vietnam.

We who grew up in the sixties need to look upon those events as the vortex to the psychological confusions that haunt us even now.

Back to the softball game…

I was pitching, a black kid I didn’t know was the batter. For no reason whatever he began taunting me in a mean, angry way. I don’t pretend to understand the world through his eyes, not then or now, but he was mad. He yelled a lot, I said something back and the next thing I knew he was on top of me, pummeling me for no reason at all other than the fact that I was on the opposing team and I was white and skinny.

Imagine something like that happening today. We would have both been hauled into the office, for starters. Police would have been called. No doubt both of us would have been suspended or expelled. It’s entirely possible that felony charges would be filed against one or both of us and dueling lawsuits would be launched. We’d be front page news and a community would divide and take sides.

Lives could have been ruined for a minor scuffle between a couple of dumb kids.

What actually happened forty years ago was Bob Rodness. He simply yelled at us, “Knock it off, you guys!”

And we did.

That kid went back behind the plate, I threw the ball and he hit it. I don’t remember where or how well he hit it. The story was long over by then. The game continued, the period ended, we went on to our next class and forgot about it.

Admittedly, that was a different time in a naive world entirely alien to us now. But some things stick in our psyches forever.

“Knock it off, you guys.”

That’s essentially what I told my son today: “This fight with your wife has gone on long enough. It’s stupid.” The end.

But here’s the Bob Rodness story I really want to tell you, not because it made any lasting moral impression on me. Though, it might have, I just don’t know yet. I just love the memory of this:

Some fifteen years or so after graduating from high school I was a volunteer tending the exit gate at a music venue during the world-famous Sacramento Jazz Jubilee. In those days volunteers were allowed, indeed encouraged, to drink and make merry as they performed their duties. I took the encouragement to heart.

Two beautiful women in their twenties approached the exit gate requesting entrance to the party. I informed them nicely that they would have to wait in line at the actual entrance gate. But gosh they were pretty, and I was nicely toasted. We got to chatting and as we did an older couple approached my gate. With one arm around each of the beautiful young ladies, a large beer in one hand and cigarette dangling from my mouth, I heard the girls exclaim in unison, “HI, DADDY!”

It was Coach Rodness and his wife. And even though it had been fifteen years or more since we had seen each other he recognized me.

He sized things up quicker than I did, threw his head back and laughed the unstained laugh of the pure and pious as I whipped my arms away from his daughters, dumped my beer in the nearby trash can and stepped on my cigarette.

I expected him to order me to run laps but he just kept laughing until tears were streaming down his face.

And yes, I let the entire family enter through the exit.

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Monday, March 31, 2008

The ugly truth


Yesterday, Sunday, Carolann and I went to Disneyland with our oldest son, Jeremy, his wife, Emily, her mom, Gloria, and of course the grandkids, Isaiah, 5 and Tyler, 3.

We had a wonderful time!

About five o’clock Emily’s mom took the grandkids home with her and we took Jeremy and Emily out to dinner at a fabulous Japanese restaurant. Had a wonderful day, got home late. I went to bed at 9:00 instead of my usual 7:00PM.

Today I feel like I’ve been on a week-long bender. I overslept, didn’t work well, had to fight drowsiness on my drive home, took a two hour nap — after a one hour struggle to go to sleep — and still feel like crap.

Twenty years ago I stayed out very late in honky tonks four nights a week, drank heavily, got two or three hours sleep and was ready to rock and roll the next day.

Now a day at Disneyland has kicked my butt.

Say what we must about the pleasures of aging gracefully and the wisdom of experience it brings. Sometimes getting older just blows.

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Heroes to a fault

Dusty Morgan is a former deejay friend of mine from Sacramento. We’re about the same age. We lived through the wonderful fifties and sixties together in total ignorance of each other’s existence until we grew to be old and worldly — twenty something.

With his approval I’d like to share the note I got from him recently. He sends these out to friends like Anita* and me who appreciate his perspective and his voice.

—————————————

morgan musings

the kid from summer …

You might have already heard the news that one of the Dodgers storied legends passed away recently. The press release read: “Former Brooklyn Dodgers Star Johnny Podres dead at the age of 75.” Well, beyond Johnny’s contribution to Dodgers lore … I thought I’d take-up a few lines here and with a little ground level recollection.

I can’t tell you what a baseball god Johnny Podres was to a 4 foot nothing Little Leaguer when those Brooklyn Dodgers moved to L.A. As one of the original ‘58ers and game winning pitcher of the Dodgers first ever World Series Championship in ‘55 … John will always be a hero in the eyes this former 98 pound catcher for the Palm Springs Red Sox.

I’ll never forget the night I managed to get his autograph after a game at the L.A. Coliseum. My buddy Dennis and I were running all around the player’s enterance and grassy area; trying to chase down anyone we’d I.D.’s as an actual player. I remember spotting Johnny walking by himself; heading toward a parking lot (probably where his car was) then taking off in a dead sprint to get to him before he got to that lot. With Dennis right beside me, we managed to “plead him to a stop” (he did) and then graciously signed a couple of autographs for a breathless pair of 4 foot nothings.

One of these days, from some earlier e-mails, messages and family history recollections I sent to my cousin Claudia, I might tackle a longer Baseball Musing about those Graffiti summer nights, chasing down players for their signatures, how some of them responded (or didn’t) and what it was like for a kid who’s dreams of baseball and stardom were hatched in a small trailer park just off North Indian Avenue in the less than rich end of … The Springs.

It’s not a unique story, but one that became dream seeds for the future.

It’s a little difficult to describe how the news landed in my stomach when I heard about Johnny’s passing. Maybe I’m just over reacting. Or as my dear friend Anita Garner recently wrote in an e-mail: * “Now, maybe 75 years old doesn’t seem as far off as it did back in ‘58.”

A few months ago, I saw a photo on the Net of Podres, Duke Snider, Carl Erskine and (I think) Clem Labine in the dugout at a Twins game; all decked out in their old Brooklyn uniforms as they were there to help celebrate another baseball milestone. Looking into the eyes of those grand faces, it was tough for this old Little Leaguer to realize that these were once … “The Boys Of Summer.”

Of course, as we all know, and as Sonny once said to Cher: “The Beat Goes On.”

Now, I think what I’ll do today is take a memory stroll through some of my old baseball stuff, remember back to a few of those warm summer nights … then put on my old Brooklyn Dodgers cap and wear it around the neighborhood all day. Yeah, it’s probably silly. Then again, maybe one of the kids on my street will stop and ask: “Hey, what’s the B stand for?”

morgan musings / a production of tws north america

(* With acknowledgement to Anita Garner www.theagingofaquarius.com)

———————————————

Now, my reply to his note:

Morg,

My heart is smiling as only empathy will allow. I know where you’ve been and from where you come.

I was a Giants fan in those days. I remember virtually the same story you shared but it had a different ending.

I was eight or ten. A security guard at Candlestick Park thought I was cute, I guess. Among the dozens of fans hanging around outside the fenced-enclosed Giants players’ parking lot, he allowed me and only me inside the gate. My dad stood outside beaming with excitement. I watched, befuddled, as the players passed out of the locker room. I didn’t recognize any of them out of their uniforms!

But then I saw him.

Willie Mays!

Everybody started shouting and yelling for Willie’s attention. He ignored them and walked toward the car with the personalized license plate: WHM 24. I nervously approached him. “Mr. Mays, can I have your autograph?” He didn’t hear me. I shouted again. I was only about fifteen feet away. Surely he heard me that time!?

And after shouting a third time I realized yes, he did hear me. He was ignoring me. Blowing me off.

He got in his car and drove away. Took my heart with him.

Sometimes life’s lessons hurt and are not necessarily useful.

But somehow the kid in me still loves and idolizes the man.

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I'm not your "bro!"

The other day I was in a convenience store and the clerk called me, “Boss.” It was one of those chummy affectations like “Bro” which also annoys me. I don’t need to be called “Sir” but it seems to me that a guy who performs a small service I’m paying for, a total stranger I will likely never see again, could be a little more respectful of the relationship. I’m your customer, not your boss or your bro. It’s why I pay six dollars for a seven-pound bag of ice and why you get eight bucks an hour to sell it to me

And now that I mention it — I’m a CUSTOMER, not a “GUEST!” If I was a store guest I should get everything for free!

This is one of those old fart things, isn’t it? Don’t sugarcoat it. Tell me the truth. I’m making a big deal out of nothing, huh?

Well, it’s not nothing to me.

What it is, is a blurring of our healthy cultural relationships. It’s the same reason so many people today say “No problem,” instead of “You’re welcome.” We’re not supposed to think one of us is inferior to another, even for a moment. Ask a waiter for more butter and he’ll tell you it’s “no problem.” Whew! What a relief. I would hate to think that my asking you to do a small part of your job is a PROBLEM!

Fact of the matter is, a waiter really is inferior to his customer. That’s the way we all like it. It’s what we pay for. And when he gets off work and goes to a bar, HE’S the boss. I mean, the customer.

I know, I know…it’s an old fart thing.

Where’s my TV Guide?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Goodbye again


Yesterday we buried my father-in-law.

His family gathered a day earlier in a great hall, as it generally does on Easter and Thanksgiving, to share food, drink and stories. Only this time, Bob wasn’t there except in a makeshift altar bearing ancient photographs, a few flowers, a guest book and a small plastic box of ashes.

At the cemetery yesterday they gathered again for a final goodbye to the first of seven siblings to pass. The other six were there, of course, as were many of their spouses, children and friends. Some spoke of their love for Bob and the family as a whole. Some remembered another funny story. Some kept it to themselves. My wife placed the box into the open grave and wept on my shoulder.

We all hugged, vowed to get together in a few weeks for Easter and went our separate ways.

A few months ago we buried my first mother-in-law. Again, we did it as families have always done, with comfort food and bittersweet memories. It’s the being together that matters.

A few years ago we said goodbye to my dad. Tears, hugs; food.

And here’s what gets me in the gut once these tragic gatherings have ended: for all our togetherness at such times I have never felt more lonely. I suppose it’s partly the idea that burying our immediate elders is inevitable and that it’s our turn next. But even more insistent is the great lingering “why?”

What is the point of life at all if eighty-some years of living and learning is to be simply extinguished and interred or scattered to the winds or placed in a vase on the mantle? Why do we go through this exercise if it is ultimately meaningless?

Meaning, of course, is the personal pursuit. Whether your answers are found in faith or merely in the warmth of loving memory it is as unique to each of us as the paths we have taken. I find small comfort in that because the question mark remains. But here is what I have come to this morning, after days of grieving and wondering and a blessed good night’s sleep:

My father-in-law’s life was meaningful in its very occurence. He touched each of us and we, in turn, are touching those around us. Not very profound, perhaps, but unlike mere faith this is undeniably true. We are all the sum of the people we have known and loved. And they in turn, are us.

That’s not just a sympathy card platitude. It is the brilliant simplicity of an answer.

Why, indeed! I exist so that my children and theirs may have the great gift of my love and life.

Thanks, Bob, for the wonderful memories and for becoming part of our spiritual dna.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Camping in the 21st century: Part one

Last summer our family went camping in Sequoia National Park and we had a wonderful time. So, this year we’re going again only this time we’re heading to Pfeiffer Big Sur California State Park, twenty-six miles south of Carmel. There will be about twenty of us, possibly a few more, and that means we need at least three campsites. Four would be better. I’m in charge of making the reservations.

The idea of having to reserve a camping space six months in advance of a trip is still hard for me to come to grips with. When I was a kid my dad would announce at the dinner table that we should go camping this weekend and so we did. No big deal. Even when I became an adult and started planning my own camping trips I could pack up the car with my tent, sleeping bags, Coleman stove, lanterns and whatnot and just head to the mountains or ocean with a good idea of where I wanted to go but with no reservation and no worries. That doesn’t fly in the 21st century. Not in California.

Yesterday, February 1st, was the first day campsite reservations became available for August of this year. That’s the way it works. If you want to go camping in any state park anytime at all next August you need to get a reservation within the first fifteen minutes of February. I’m not exaggerating and I couldn’t make that up, I’m not a state employee.

I was at work yesterday morning so my wife and son sat down at their respective computers with two phones each and began phoning and logging in to the California campground reservation line and website at 7:45AM. At the stroke of 8:00 all the campsites in California went up for grabs. By 8:15 all 191 campsites at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park were totally booked. No kidding. I’m guessing the Rolling Stones and Hannah Montana are going to be doing nightly concerts there.

Carolann and Jeremy managed to come up with two campsites, miraculously next to each other, but that still leaves us short of space for at least five people who want to go camping six months from next weekend. I’m going to keep attacking the website for cancellations. In July we’ll probably have to hold a lottery to see who has to stay behind to water everybody’s lawns and pick up the mail. By the time we actually make the trip I figure I will have invested two or three months in scheduling a four day campout.

Twenty or thirty years from now when my grandsons are grown and have families of their own I imagine this will be the dinner table conversation. (Of course, Americans stopped eating together as families decades ago but just for the sake of the scenario…)

TYLER: Honey, why don’t we phone Isaiah and Hannah and see if they want to take the kids camping?
MILEY: When?
TYLER: I don’t know. Soon. Next year, the year after, maybe.
MILEY: Next year? You think you can get reservations for next year?
TYLER: Yeah, you’re right. Maybe the weekend after the Fourth of July four years from now. The weekend after the Fourth is never busy.
MILEY: We have an appointment with the family counselor that Friday.

My dad got grumpier with age and I’m beginning to understand why.

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The terrible twos

When Isaiah was between two and three he would occasionally rip Carolann and me from our sleep with bloodcurdling screams that Stephen King might imagine. To me it sounded like our grandson was being mauled by some great beast.

Bolting from our bed and across the hall to his room, we would find him thrashing, screaming as if he was being dismembered and then going literally rigid. He was living, panting, trembling rigor mortis. We could not awaken him. We could only hold him and wait for it to pass. Eventually, it did.

The clinical term is “pavor nocturnus” – “Night Terror.” It can afflict anybody but fortunately children are usually spared more than a few of these episodes between the ages of two and six. Only fifteen percent have them at all and then they stop. Nobody really understands why.

But I think I do.

Yesterday I was given my very favorite gift: an invitation to stay with my youngest grandson, Tyler, while his mom and dad worked. Tyler and I have always had a grand time together. I push him on the swing outside and we sing and giggle together. I play with him and his Thomas Train. We read books, we watch Little Einsteins on TV. I feed him junk. I tickle him. He laughs. Tyler loves playing with his grandpa.

Until yesterday.

“NO GRANDPA!!!….NO!!!!!

He not only pushed me away, he was pissed! And who can blame him? When your life is still counted in months you don’t have the communication skills to express fears and frustrations beyond your understanding. Yelling and kicking is about the only choice you have and that’s what Tyler did. He swung wildly, beating on my arms with woefully tiny fists as I gently took him from my son. He thrashed left and right, kicking and screaming, reaching out for his father.

“DADDY!!!! DADDY HOLD YOU!!!!!!”

My son was wracked with guilt for leaving him, even with me. I understood and gently urged him to leave us alone. He left but I know it was killing him.

Tyler is pushing three. He’s a senior toddler. His world is bursting with a 24/7 nonstop fireworks display of new confusions, new reason, new ways of processing information and the incessant assault of new ideas on his fresh sponge of a brain. Everything is a new experience, fascinating but potentially overwhelming. Imagine yourself strapped down on a mad scientist’s lab table with some sort of data super injector lashed to your head. That’s what my grandson is going through. At times it’s a carnival, at other times it’s a bad acid trip. It’s a virtual avalanche of sensory downloads, a cacophony of weird and terrifying celestial music, hard rock, and dazzling flashes of brilliant, shocking colors. This, in itself, is not new to him, it’s the mental state of all human beings at birth. What is different now is that Tyler has arrived at the age of reason and it’s emotional shadow, fear.

Tyler’s instinct is teaching him insecurity. It’s a horribly lonesome journey into a black jungle of faceless threats. And, of course, it is the only path that eventually leads to self-sufficiency. The job of parents and grandpas is to let go. Sometimes, by force.

I had similar experiences, of course, when Jeremy was Tyler’s age. For all of the bumps and hard times I’ve suffered, nothing was as hard as having to walk away from my son and not looking back while hearing him behind me screaming, “Daddy!” However long I live I would rather suffer anything before having to push my child away from me again. I’ve thought about that a lot over the years, thankful that the time was behind me. What never occurred to me until yesterday was that I would someday have to watch my child let go of his.

Jeremy tore himself away and went to work, leaving his son in a heart-wrenching fit. I calmly, quietly, repeatedly, reassuringly asked Tyler to let me push him on the swing or play with the wooden Thomas Train or watch Einsteins but he spurned all invitations. I never tried to pick him up because a mere, gentle touch of his head would set him off again. I just let him finish his work. Finally, after a half hour of lying on the floor punctuating his soft crying with occasional angry screams and kicking, when he finally began to tire of it all – I smelled something.

“Tyler,” I asked softly, “do you want Grandpa to change your pants?”

He didn’t look at me but calmly said, “Okay.”

I picked him up. He didn’t kick. He laid his exhausted head on my shoulder and his arms around my neck. After I wiped his tears and nose; after changing his pants, I turned on the TV, put him in his favorite rocking chair, and I sat down on the couch. A moment later he got out of the rocker and came to sit next to me. He snuggled under my arm.

We were fine.

Next time somebody tells you about his kid’s “terrible twos” gently suggest he try to imagine it from the child’s perspective.

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Prattling

I have a dog behind my butt.

That’s not something I would normally mention but I’ve had a severe case of writers’ block lately and that’s what “they” tell you to do, try to break the mental logjam by just writing about any ole thing that pops into your head. And believe me, when you have a dog sleeping behind your butt, forcing you to sit on the front edge of an office chair it’s a front-of-mind thing. Especially when there is nothing else going on in your mind.

(Sigh…)

I have nothing to say. That’s what it is, really. I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” I believe in “writer’s laziness,” “writer’s apathy,” and a few other similar afflictions which really amount to neither more nor less than the most dreaded and shameful of literary afflictions, writer’s insecurity.

I have nothing to say. Wait, I just said that. And it’s not exactly accurate. I have plenty to say but no compelling reason to say it. Who cares what I think about anything? There, I’ve said it! That’s the heart of the problem, right there. Why should anybody find anything I have to say either interesting or useful? Why would anybody even read such drivel as this?

The dog just jumped down and left the room. I rest my case

In our book, The Aging of Aquarius, I think I mentioned how my father ruined me for talk radio long before I ever got into the business. When I was a young teenager, fourteen or fifteen maybe, he told me, “Everybody says you have a right to your opinion. That’s only half true. You have a right to an INFORMED opinion and if you don’t have all the facts you can’t form an opinion.”

What the hell was he thinking? What kind of country would we be living in today if everybody realized he couldn’t possibly know all the facts and should maybe just shut the hell up? We’d have nothing to do but smile and listen and nod in approval or, at least, in earnest fascination. Instead, we’re all too busy thinking of what we’re going to say to listen to the person speaking. Besides, we have talk radio and TV news to tell us what to think and how to feel. Oh, don’t kid yourself. That’s exactly what they do! That’s what everybody is doing if you think about it.

Text messaging. No, I’m not digressing, just taking a short trip around the block. You know what text messaging is? It’s a marvelous new technology that has made it possible for us to express our ill-informed opinions and half-baked ideas without being challenged, questioned or opposed! Think about it. Now you can phone somebody and tell them what you want to say without having to listen to and feign interest in any response! That’s what the kids are doing. In essence they’re saying, “I have something to tell you…don’t care what you think.”

And, we have blogs. Ugh. I hate the word. “Blog.” It sounds like some vile vat of I-don’t-want-to-know-what boiled over a wood stove and served with a fatty piece of rat gristle at some pagan medieval feast.

The dog just returned. She’s looking at me with keen interest.

Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe the fact that every teenaged, barely sentient hominid with ten fingers and a Best Buy gift card can fire off missives and proclamations to the future is a good way for society to blow off steam. Maybe blogging and My Space and Facebook will save the world by turning the next Osama bin Laden into a mutant nerdbot before he has a legitimate feeling and becomes dangerous.

‘Scuze me. I need to slide down to the very edge of the chair and arch my back over the slumbering Yorkie for a moment. Oh! That’s better.

But here’s the thing: I write these words and push a couple of buttons and like magic they’re on the WORLDWIDE WEB! So the “f” what? Excuse my implied profanity. Who fricking cares? Who notices? It pops up on my screen just like it was when I wrote it except now I know that anybody in the world can read it! Will they? Why would they? Why should they?

See my problem?

And please, as much as I know you mean well, please don’t send a comment to this essay telling me how much you enjoy my writing. Seriously, if anybody does that I will be doubly embarrassed because I know it will just be a pity compliment. So, don’t.

See what my wife has to put up with?

PS. I don’t think this stream-of-consciousness thing works too well, do you?

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

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