Friday, May 18, 2007

Three Vignettes of No Particular Order (sixth in a series of 10)

I. Piano Player

You play piano like a madman savant. Jerry Lee Lewis wishes he were you. Your features are awash in the sweat of performance. You pound the keys. You hang from the rafters and play with your feet. You are an enigma. Controlled as Dean Martin. Insane as Jim Morrison. Hair hanging in your face.

I see you walking in the mall, arm in arm with a beauty and her two children. You leave a trail of Cool like lava. It is remarkable that you do not seem out of place, foreign, in your shin-length shorts, baggy shirt, and embarrassing lime green shoes. But no. You glide like the 1950s. Like a Cadillac on the strip.

Everything you pass is spent. Window displays. Manufactured greenery. Skylights. The walls, having bookended your passing, shake and slide to the floor which having been consumed by your lava trail fade to nothing behind you.

And you do not mind because forward is the only direction you know.

And the piano is your lover.

II. Trash Day

Trash Day tomorrow.

From the porch he watches the green container he wheeled to the curb earlier. It stands patient by the mailbox.

From the porch it looks like two strangers waiting for a bus.

He wonders absently what secrets they will share once he obliges them, rises, and finally retires for the night.

III. My Mother’s Living Room

I do not know if the memory is real or imagined but it resides within and has lent itself to several retellings. The memory is that of several musicians in my mother’s living room playing the finest bluegrass music ever played. In truth it was probably a guy or two with guitars noodling and messing around. In memory it was a full tilt bluegrass event complete with picking and stomping and dancing. Either way it has remained pleasant in my head for over 30 years.

Forget that my mother’s small living room likely could not accommodate the folks from my memory—nor barely their audience. Forget that.

It is true that my memory has never been among my stronger attributes. But usually there is simply a void, a blank slate where the memory should be. It is uncommon for me to have a sustained recollection at all. Much less so for me to embellish it. But this bluegrass thing is different. It is clear. Clear in the sense that it occurred. But also it is typical for me in that it is like looking at a thing through gauze. All hints and shadows.

Oh the wonder of a mother’s living room and the clarity of hints and shadows.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

May 13, 2007

I wish you could see the sky right now. It is a blue that is neither royal, nor bruise, nor cobalt. It is like something manufactured for a movie. A shade of blueberry no one but me has ever seen. It is there beyond the trees, beyond the horizon, beyond the beyond. It is magnificent and fleeting. If I go inside to pee and mix a drink it will be gone. Forever.

It tastes like adventure. Adventure and pain medication. Oh, what a wonderful cocktail it makes. I think that color may be the reason vision was created.

It does not make me feel insignificant as it does necessary.

Necessary and co-dependent.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Clear as a Lightning Strike

The Tennessee night is still and nearly cool. The leftover rain drips from trees, sounds lonely on the heels of such a well-received storm. The nightsounds are there but hesitant, not quite sure what to do with themselves. (Los Lobos plays somewhere inside the house). Spiders and slugs sneak from the wet onto my porch. It is as if they know my small reserve of loathing is held for them and they feel the need to challenge it. I can see my grass grow in the faint light of the street lamp across the way. It slow dances in the shadows. Seems to stretch taller by fractions. (Van Morrison plays from somewhere in the house).

A guy I knew from high school was killed in a military helicopter accident this week. We graduated together. We were friendly but not friends. Oddly, we had connected well at our ten-year reunion. His death unsettles me. He was forty years old. He’ll never be forty-one. The day he died I had thought about him and members of our class building our homecoming float in front of his parents’ house. Clear as a lightning strike I saw him standing on his front porch with a beer in his hand. We were all forever seventeen. I hadn’t thought of the guy in twelve years and there he was. Two days later, on Thursday, my mother e-mailed me the news. For no discernable reason, I wonder if he ever saw a Tennessee thunderstorm. The way the sky turns blue and black and still; is itself brilliant over brilliant green hills. I wonder if he ever saw that. (From somewhere in the house Johnny Cash plays).

It is late. Fog that would inspire Sandburg rolls in. Through it my neighbors’ porch lights look like tiny lighthouses. Close enough to touch and never. Always slow on the uptake, it occurs to me that I love Tennessee. After eight years it is becoming a thing like home. You never relinquish that from which you came. But eventually a man needs to re-hang his hat. It is a big step hanging one’s hat. What is left of the romantic in me yearns for the coast—Gulf or West. I doubt though that my whiskey, my cigars would taste better there than they do here. So for now, my hat sits firmly on my restless head or on my dresser. (From somewhere in my house Jack Johnson plays).

In a few short hours, when my body is near ready to let me sleep, my perfect Boy will rise ready for the day. This is the only home he has known. And it suits him. But he too likes to travel. Has a need to see things. He talks lately of going to see Grandma in Augusta. I sense, like me, he also is antsy. Wants that road trip. If for nothing else the comfort he feels upon returning home afterward. He begins school in a few months. About to enter that first real place of retained memory. At some point I will go inside and look at him. It is difficult not to. His night breathing is often so shallow that my own catches in my throat as I wait for him to exhale. Sometimes I am terrified that he won’t. But he always does. It is a wonderful and curious thing being a father. Being. He has two games scheduled for tomorrow. The forecast calls for scattered thundershowers. So we will have either baseball or rain. It’s a no-lose situation.

And such is springtime in Tennessee. It just feels right.

For now.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Bar Talk II

Me: [Drinking draught beer. Looking at sports on several television sets. Silent]

Him: What was that?

Me: I’m sorry?

Him: Damn right you sorry.

Me: [The smirk creeps to my face during the pause] Is there a problem?

Him: They’s about to be if you look at me again.

Me: [Long pause. Bigger smirk] Ok, Brother. I’ll try to stop doin’ that.

Him: Goddamn right you will.

Me: [Smiling at TV] Alright. I’ll see what I can do.

Him: [Turning on barstool toward me] You fuckin’ with me?

Me: [Turning my head, locking eyes] Not yet.

[We hold the staredown for a moment]

Bartender: [Setting a fresh draught in front of me] Anything wrong, Boys?

Me: [Maintaining stare] No. I think we’re good. [Pause] But give this gentleman a beer on my tab if you would.

Him: [Turning away] Pussy.

Me: [Turning back to face TV] Yeah. I like it too.

Him: [Picks up his new beer, stands, and walks away]

Bartender: Don’t worry ‘bout him, Sugar. Kyle just likes to do that.

Me: [Smiling big]
[I drink two more beers, cash out, and leave. Watching my back all the way to the Jeep]

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Comfort of a Mess

My new occasional watering hole is a mess. For material it cannot be beat. The patrons make it pathetic and fascinating—not an uncommon combination. The sense of dysfunctional family is undeniable. I seem to be warmly accepted by the two main bartenders. Patiently tolerated as a novelty of sorts by the regulars. As a whole, the customer base is unappealing at best. An utterly useless lot at worst. Although I am looking for nothing—save a place to rest my tired ass and bathe in a cold beer—I feel as though I am doing research. Aging/maturing has blessed me with an “I simply don’t give a fuck” attitude that allows me to be comfortable most anywhere. Leave me to mine; I’ll leave you to yours. As such, things most always work out fine. Eventually you’ll get that guy who is just incapable of leaving you to yours. Thankfully, we’ve not crossed paths yet. But it is bound to happen. My uncontrollable smirk (as innocent as it may be) will eventually get me into trouble. If history is still on my unique side though, I will deftly talk my way out of it and successfully save face. If, on the other hand, history has taken leave of me, well then it may not be pretty. For my pugilistic skills are more Barbie than Barbarian.

Such concerns are silly, I believe, for I’ve had no issues yet. I’ll keep going I’m sure.

There are too many stories there for me to stop.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


I needed a watering hole for some time. So I imposed myself upon a hidden cliquish spot in Bellevue. Having long ago shed myself of a number of nagging insecurities, I was fairly certain the awkward vibe was true and not some imagined bullshit of my own making. But I stuck it out. Staked a spot at the bar. Ordered a cold draught.

Shit, give me a barstool with a hint of elbow room and a cold beer and I’ll draw my own comfort with crayons if need be. And so I did. And this hole is like so many others—it is what you make it. And as in most situations, we do make our own comfort. In no time at all it was “Another beer, Ryan?” and “You doin’ ok, Sug?” The bartender, a bit older, lovely, lovely figure, cheekbones to write home about, looked out for me. I did not go thirsty for a moment. Her voice was and is Elizabeth Ashley’s with a fraction only of the rasp or whiskey tone. Just nice. What is it about a woman in a tee shirt and jeans and the occasional ball cap that trumps ten-fold one in a cocktail dress and heels? Perhaps it is relatability that defines sexy for me. I’ve never known really. Haven’t given it much thought. My tastes consistently shift like the wind. But on a still night, I’ll take casual every time.

In the end, a good bar is a good bar and is often essential to good mental health. This one is no different. I go there now from time to time. I keep to myself mostly—as has long been my habit. I drink beer. I glance at women in the bar mirror and appreciate the way they move or carry themselves or flaunt or don’t. I’ve always appreciated. I have no interest in talking them up. I think about writing. Occasionally I relax and allow the meanness of the day to slip from my skin, my bones. I imagine independent wealth and daydream of a house in Naples, Florida where the water is so bluegreen you are tempted to dip from it and drink. I watch baseball, the play-by-play muted, replaced by the din of bar noise. I watch professional drunks with their slack, sad features. I watch the casual drunks who would sell their lonely souls for an ear to bend. I watch the non-drunks, there out of a need to be somewhere, anywhere. I ignore how my knees and back hurt when I rise to find the restroom. I resist the urge to take a woman home. Not because of any lapse into morality; but more of an implied fret that she would not leave soon enough to suit me. I imagine I have earned my multitude of quirks and flaws; and then convince myself I am working to correct the most unappealing ones. This last is most likely untrue. Sometimes I miss camaraderie but then recognize that I really do get enough to sustain me.

Later, I consider what an odd figure I must make sitting alone in a bar, smiling or smirking to myself at the movie playing in my head, complete with soundtrack and brilliantly placed jump cuts. And in those late moments, on my failing porch, I confide to my tumbler of whiskey and slow-burning cigar: I don’t have it half-bad. Not half-bad at all.