Monday, March 7, 2016

"Pop 'at rag like ya mean it"

Well what the heck is in this barrel today? The barrel being my head, where I keep extra thoughts for parts. I'm always surprised at what I find laying around in odd disheveled piles up in the locked dusty chambers of the "Dark Tower".

Memories, bent and twisted into shapes unrecognizable  - old lies and truths- buried in weeds -parted-out and rusted, abandoned like a stack of old long outgrown bicycles behind the barn. Philosophical  and eloquent diatribes of great import, and ass-whuppins for everybody stupid or mean, all exist up there.

All my dogs, past & present, are there, and they're all in perfect health - and they can talk. Apparently they think I'm a God.

There's a closet with a lock on it where I keep my most grievous heartaches and smoldering angers - securely bound and gagged - drugged if necessary, - it's a small closet. I'm blessed.

My kids are there too.  They're still little.  Their laughter is like sweetened-oxygen, like water and sunshine combined. They still like me, and although they don't entirely trust me,  they'll still pull my finger.

I ran into Shoeshine Bill up there this morning.  Hadn't seen him in years. A small wiry man of color, with a ready smile and a nature as gentle and soothing as a calm lake.  The most polite man I ever knew. He still smelled like shoe polish, Old Spice,  and scotch.   He was stacked proper as always, in a starched white shirt and knife-crease slacks with a comb and a flask in the back pocket. Contrarily neat to a pin  behind a wrinkled  knee length blue denim work vest  with large pockets  at his waist, stuff you see tradesmen wear in old black & white movies.  Smeared in vague dark streaks with the black and brown waxes and liquids comprising the majority of shoeshine color palette.  The denim was patched and frayed, but always laundered.

He took pride in his work.  He had a small store front in Sidney. A solid brick facade worn and old with apartments on the floor above it. My Mom and I lived in an apartment for awhile there, just down the hall from Bill. There were railroaders and old bachelors that came and went to the other apartments in the building with some frequency.  We all shared the same bathroom centrally located halfway down the long plastered hall.Sometimes during the days when Mom would be working or trying to sleep off a late shift, Bill would let me hang out with him in his shop.

Bills shop downstairs was small with big picture windows facing Illinois Street, and brown slatted wood floors worn from 40 years  of dirt farmers and railroaders shuffling their clodhoppers and $100 dollar cowboy boots across it's skin. He opened 6 days a week at 7:00 a.m. like clockwork. Coffee made by 7:05 and floors swept and mopped by 8.

On those "never-long-enough-for-me" days with Bill, I'm sure I must have driven him batshit nuts -  with a million "8 year old kid" questions about goofy shit adults can't even begin to surmise the worth of pondering. Perhaps in self-defense; Certainly out of the kindness of a wise and good soul, He taught me how to shine shoes.

 "Pop 'at rag boy" "Like ya mean it". He gave me a dime for every pair of shoes he let me buff up with the rags.  After a while I knew enough to gather up the rags a few times a day and put them in a box by the door.  I figured out where the broom and dustpan was, and I kept that floor CLEAN. It felt awful good to have someone tell me I did a good job.

The central fixture in the joint was a  large oak 3-seater shoeshine bench , about 10-12 feet long and around 6-8 feet deep.  Chest high to a grown up,  with 3 big steps leading up to red leather seat cushions on top. It had 6 ornate brass pedestals rising off the 2nd step terminating perpendicularly in the hard shape of a shoe ,shiny flat brass  and worn on top - for the customers ensconced on the upper bench seats to rest their feet upon. There were a myriad of doors and storage compartments located all over the structure, and whatever Bill needed at any given moment to perform his duties was always a flip and reach away as this little door or that would open and close in quick rhythmic support of the maestro mid-performance.

He was always appropriate and graceful, with appropriately placed head nods and hm-mms while he swung his brushes , one in each hand,
with the ferocity and finesse of Bruce Lee sand-painting in the middle of a fight scene. Flawless.

What drew  my attention was the way the man could pop the rag.  The soft cotton rags, 6" wide and a couple feet long.  He could make it talk.  Pop-pop-pop-pop.  Sometimes he'd just fall into the rhythm of the song on the radio and he'd have to laughingly caution his client to please refrain from toe-tapping while in process.  They couldn't help it.  Neither could I.

When I'm writing these things sometimes, I feel as if I'm always the last to know regarding our destination.  Here it is.  I can see it on the horizon.

I told you some about her yesterday. My Grandma knew her stuff.  The woman grew up hard in extremely hard times. The Dust Bowl 30s and the Great Depression were more than crushing to dirt-farmers in western Kansas. It's the world she was born into.  Oldest of 5 - to a blind and mentally ill Father - A bitter and often cruel mother. They didn't have a pot to piss in and the window blew clean away in a dust storm.  They lived in tents and barns and sheds in town from Kansas to Colorado back to the panhandle of Nebraska.

 She never knew an easy moment in her life. She knew what it felt like to have people look down their nose at you.  She'd felt the embarrassment of abject poverty.  She knew about the weight of undeserved and unexplained humiliation, and had seen more than her fair share of hunger, abject fear , and loss. She knew, more than she ever should have had to know, about dignity in the face of adversity.  Dignity as a response to stupidity, cruelty.

She took me to Bills shop  to get my shoes shined once after she'd bought me a new black suit over at J.C. Penneys,  to wear to Great-Uncle Alex's funeral.   As it turned out , the day I told her about my new "job" at Bills , was probably a pretty good day for her.  They were friends.

She always saw past color.  Made sure I did too. She understood and fully appreciated, the strength it must have taken for so many years, and on so many occasions, for Bill to unfairly bear not only the weight of his own mahogany-toned flesh, but the weight of all the well-intentioned stupidity and xenophobic bias one little Nebraska town  in that dark era could produce over the course of one good mans lifetime.

The day I told her about my new career She smiled a little, and her eyes smiled a little more - as she nodded her head at me through a haze of Lucky Strike smoke.  Grandma had known Bill for what I imagined at least a hundred and thirty years. "You pay attention to that man"  "mind your manners"

She knew, and she felt it important that I know, that 25 cents bought you more than a shoeshine with a man like Bill.   It bought you a tutorial in noble dignity.  A smile, an ear, a friend, and a wise counsel. A good many folks were just too redneck dumb or adamantly racist back then to see it for what it was.  Bill listened to each and every one of their commiserations , the tasteless jokes, the rude digs and slurs and the patronizing attempts at justification of poorly veiled racism in a small Nebraska farm town in the fifties and sixties. Never said a word about it.  Looked like a boss doing it.

Come to think of it, Bill was the first person to ever propose the concept of RHYTHM to me.  The radio on his shelf and the shoeshine rag snap in sympathetic syncopation made a connection in my little brain that I had no idea of the importance of at the time.  (Too bad for him that he didn't get to stick around long enough to hear me practice my drums at 130 db along with Led Zeppelin records in Jr. High, eh?)

I stumble and stutter, and stagger through this life a lot now  - like most of us. Through the grace of God, and the sheer kindness of strangers -  I make my living playing music now .  I take pride in my work, although the wardrobe could probably use some "spiffin', I've made a habit of giving it my best.   Bill would be proud I think.  I am, on occasion (when I'm not busy chasing my own tail and doing' other  stupid stuff :-)

As a professional (musician) and smart-aleck par excellence - of good standing and unidentifiable mastery, I will today pass this tidbit of wisdom forth to you all  from the Senseii hisself - my old friend Bill;    "Pop 'at rag boy" "Like ya mean it"

"Peace Out"
"Don't take any wooden nickels"
See ya manana:-)

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Sometimes it has to feel bad before it gets better

Grace is a hard word. I don't understand it fully.  I don't understand  greed at all quite frankly.  I know that collectively we are constantly in short supply of grace somewhere, and perpetually we are choking for air on unfettered greed, and somewhere in between the two lies the whole of humanity, waiting for a verdict.

 Grace and greed, since the beginning of time, locked in a perpetual struggle, clamoring and clinging, rattling sabers and sounding the never-ending battle cries of good vs. evil. Mass media today claws at our senses leaving indelible stains of anxiety and frustration on us all, while the air around us grows thick and purple with vitriole and innuendo. Folks are nervous.  I am too.  Maybe for the same reasons.  The "Land of The Free" is starting to look like the "Land of Too Freaked Out To Poop Right".

In our great nation, Intentional blockage of the system has become common-place as a negotiation
technique.  I know what Grandma woulda' done.  I experienced it first hand as a child.

If your mule is stopped up, you slip a plug of chewing tobacco into his oats and wait.  If your elephant is stopped up I imagine you'd just use more tobacco.  If someone you love is bound up to the point of discomfort - then it's time for the red rubber hot water bottle - and a few rather delicate "Come To Jesus" moments.  After whence, the sun will shine glorious once again, and songbirds will fill the air.

I hate to admit it, but that old woman could put the fear of God into me when it came time to "fix what ails you"  Her approach was "Take No Prisoners" .  Colonics, Poultices, Whiskey, Cinnamon, Voodoo, burnt horse-hair, prayer, more whiskey, charcoal, and that damned hot water bottle. I stayed real healthy because I knew that getting well could very well kill me.

Her hands weren't soft.  She wore Grandads old work shirts and carpenters jeans most of the time.  Worked her ass off from sun-up to sundown.  I never remember hearing her complain about a single thing.

Mom was a single mother  with a hungry little gorilla to feed and not much education or opportunity at her disposal.  She waited tables and tended bar at night.  Grandma  raised me when Mom couldn't .  I know she raised me right. On the day Martin Luther King died she held me with tears in her eyes,  and  made me promise on my life that I would never be like those sad terrible souls that carried that awful hate inside them.  Any shortcomings I have displayed or fostered since , have been  of  my own device, and contrary to her tutelage.

Grandma was who I came running to every time I did something stupid:-)  I ran to her alot. Bleeding like a stuck hog  when I caught an huge ball of ice with my nose in the 1st grade.  She was who I ran to when I fell off my horse and broke my arm (7 yrs old).  She was who I wanted at the hospital when they took my appendix out. a couple years later.  She was rock solid -and I knew she had the advice I needed to hear.  If I could just hold on to her words , I knew I would be ok.

She would hold my hand, and with the most beautiful voice God ever made, she would remind me " "Sometimes it's going to feel bad before it gets better" "I'll be here with you"

Granny's been gone for a long time now. I think about her every day.  I thank God for everything she ever said to me. Her voice comes back to me often - in times of worry or frustration.  She was always right.  Her wisdom has outlasted a lot of governments, a lot of administrations, a lot of life-changing stuff.

I wish we didn't have to deal with idiots saying and doing hateful stuff and being rewarded for it.  But I am sure glad we all have each other.  We're gonna need one another.  At times like these I have to have faith.  In God , in my dogs, in music, In you,  in my children and my friends, in Grandma.

The world is a scary place right now. But we must be brave.  Things are probably a lot more hopeful than they appear. Healing isn't easy. - but to the black, white, red, green, gay, straight, conservative, liberal, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Lakota,, Hindu,  NRA, & PTA -  Let's not forget how to forgive, how to give and receive  grace , how to live in the example of a simple carpenter from Bethlehem, how to laugh , how to sing, and how to love

I hear her voice as plain as day.  It sounds like Gods voice.  Can you hear it?

"Sometimes it  has to feel bad before it gets better" "I'll be here with you"

"Peace Out"
"Don't take any wooden nickels"
See ya manana:-)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

March 2, 2016 - Getting back on The Pony With Spurs Pointed In The Right Direction:-)

Well damned if things ain't a real mess. I woke up this morning to a world that had gone relatively unchanged from where it was when I fell asleep.  More noise on the news. Another idiot did something mean or stupid, or the next "Somebody like somebody else"   made teenage girls and rainbow haired millenials squirt tears of rapturous joy over a bang-up imitation of a Lady Gaga cover of a Whitney Houston version of an Aretha Franklin smash on "American Idol" -   Events unfolding around me of cataclysmic importance...............................and still.  -----I needed a cup of coffee like crops need the rain.  I needed a shave (as usual).  My breath was makin' the dogs roll their eyes and paw the air, and I had to pee.

This day began with a set of challenges in front of it that frankly scare the hell out of me.Breakfast,  Laundry, the microwave, Plaid button-down or T-shirt , Pants ????  I am thoroughly unequipped for adult life. While other men my age  stare at the challenges before them, and the land around them, like noble warriors assaying the perimeters of their dominion - I wonder what kind of bugs are in the dirt.  Hope I find a quarter, --or maybe a spaceship.

It's been a while since I wrote anything on the blog, and I apologize for that.  Frankly, I've been blocked up. Literarily constipated.  I was intimidated.  Performance anxiety:-)  Last year I wrote on the thing every day for a month.  I was amazed at the number of people who actually read it in that time, and who continue to read it now.  I continue to get emails and comments from all over the place. I'm completely stunned and I always try to issue a word of warning questioning the wisdom of encouraging my behaviour.

There are a few folks that would love to bury me head first in a whale turd over some of my foolishness  - But for the most part, the majority of people who email me, or come talk to me at gigs  have been very, very supportive. Always actively and vocally encouraging me to write more.  I most certainly appreciate each and every one of you good folks.  And I want you all to know right now that YOU are my prune juice - and with your gracious encouragement and support- "Here Goes  "

Since my last writing I'm sure you will all be pleased to know that Elvis and June Carter are both in magnificent health and splendiferous disposition.  They can still hear a grocery bag rustle from about 3 miles and they still sniff butts.  They are my role models, my confidantes, and my spiritual advisers. They can sense imminent danger at every traffic light or passing chihuahua.- and are not afraid to bark at foghorn level volume directly in my ear when issuing their warnings. I'm partially deaf now because of my dogs.  Serves me right for telling them I drink too much because they bark.?????

I'm gonna keep things short and sweet today. Sorta sneak up on your sensibilities slowly after my long absence.  (It's exactly the tactic I was forced to take with all my ex-wives at least a time or two ) I think that august alumnus would all agree that what I may have lacked in material sensibility I more than made up for in sheer idiocy:-)
Is it a gift or a curse?  Who am I to judge? All I can say is that I am always  more than willing to share my psychotic confusion  with anyone who'll listen....on your screen...........on purpose.

What I'm tryin' to say is........"Screw yer' boots on and hang on to yer' saddle-horn Pilgrims"  "I'm back, and it's probably gonna require some sort of medication or therapy!!!!".  If I haven't irritated you over something stupid yet, just stick around, I'm working as fast as I can.

"Peace Out"
"Don't take any wooden nickels"
See ya manana:-)