Tuesday, December 2, 2014

I Gotta Wear Shades

Last week I lost my sunglasses.  It bummed me out for a couple of reasons.  First, I really liked those sunglasses, and just like every time I grow attached to something, they quit making it. Then for some cosmic reason yet identified, I lose it.  Second, I need sunglasses.  Let me say that again in case you missed it…..I NEED sunglasses.  I don’t know if it’s because I’ve just worn them for all of my life, or I have a sensitivity to sunlight, or what…..but I really struggle without sunglasses at the ready.
Over the years I have purchased many pair, ranging the entire spectrum of the price range.  From a penny at a yard sale, to stupidly high priced brand named units that promised to make both the world, and myself better to look at.  Like many of them, the ways in which I have lost them are as varied as the glasses I have purchased.
 I have looked over the railing of bridges and buildings only to watch my favorite (at the time) sunglasses tumble and plummet to the earth below.  I  have frantically grasped at them as they have been knocked over board, only to see them sink slowly beneath green waves, like Leonardo DeCaprio in the Titanic movie.  The only difference was that my loss was actually tragic. I have put them on the roof of a car and driven off.  They have been stolen.  I don’t know who steals sunglasses, but I will blame the Germans.  A favorite young son of mine liked to blame the Germans for things stolen without reason.  It’s a bit random but I like it so I also have adopted this philosophy. 
I tend to hang them on the front of my shirt.  I often hug or am hugged, and many a pair has met its demise this way, crushed and broken in the embrace of friendship.  Actually, now that I think about it, not one of my loving, hugging friends who broke my damn sunglasses in this fashion has ever offered to replace them……wtf?
This last pair of missing sunglasses really bothered me.  They were only $40.  Not too expensive, and they were certainly no ridiculous brand named facial accessory.  Still, they were comfortable, worked perfectly and were for the most part, not too scratched up.  I think what’s more irritating than losing them is that I had no idea at what point in my life, day, week, they became lost, and that I was now faced with the daunting task of finding yet another “perfect pair.”
Buying sunglasses is almost worse than car shopping, or shopping for a shirt to wear to a party at the last damned minute.  Finding the right pair of sunglasses is just a crap thing to involve yourself in.  The entire time you can only think about the last pair you had, and try to find ones just like them, which as I said earlier is a universal improbability.  You have to try on all the samples that every other person has already had on their faces,… and (I don’t know why this is)  the stupid, idiotic sunglasses makers put stickers on the lenses…..so when you try them on….you can’t see through them to see if you like them.  Also, you can’t take them outside.  You have to try on something you can only use outside, inside a store.  I really don’t get that.  Has no one brought this up in a board meeting at wherever-the-hell they make sunglasses?  Even those outrageous info-mercials , (you know…those Blue Blocker things that use retired people so loaded on medication they would agree to be set on fire just as easily as trying on those ugly brown goggles that cover their entire faces….I think it helps to keep them from being identified when they run over small children in school zones) at least have the common sense to shoot the commercials outside!
So…the other day I went to Dad’s to pick him up.  He got in the car and looked right at me and said, “Where are your sunglasses, Mate?”   I guess he is used to seeing me wear them.   I told him that I had lost them and had not found a new pair.  He looked back at me and (I swear I could hear him ask before the words came out) and said, “Where did you lose them?”   It must have been the look on my face.  I’m not sure, but he decided to drop it for a while.  Then, a little while later he told me that he had an old pair that he had for years in a drawer that I could have if I wanted them.  I asked what they were.  He told me that an aviation outfit had sent them to him to try out (Dad was a professional pilot for most of his career) but he never ever used them or wore them.  He said they were brand new.  I wasn’t too excited, but said I would take a look.
Later that afternoon when I dropped him back home, he insisted on taking me in to show me these sunglasses.  From a drawer, he pulled out this TOTALLY AMAZING PAIR OF NEVER USED, 70’s AVIATOR SUNGLASSES, BRAND NEW, still in the case!!!
Dad came to the rescue.  At first I said no, because they were just lovely and I wasn’t sure he really wanted to part with them, but he insisted and I happily accepted.  I look like a cross between Cyrano De Bergerac, and Arnold Horshack when I where them, but I do not give shit.  I love them.  They are metal, heavy, uncomfortable and stupidly over-sized, but they are perfect.  From the gold rims, to the Tortoise shell bridge and ear thingies, the little nose pads, they are just magical.  They even came with a box and that big old glasses cleaner rag thing you could nearly wash your car with.  The lenses are not cheap.  They are expertly hand crafted and polished to perfection.  You can actually look directly into the sun and see it in detail with them on.  You could even stand on the deck of a battleship and watch them detonate some apocalyptic warhead without fear of cooking your eye sockets.  They are beyond fantastic.  I feel like Burt Lancaster in one of those awesome Airport ’76 movies. 
Later that day, after arriving home, I showed them off to Eileen whom I could tell did not have the heart to tell me that I look like had just traveled back in time a few decades.  II went into my office to get something out of my backpack.  There, in the side pocket, were my old sunglasses.  I have to admit to a moment or two of confusion.  The memory of why and where I had put them came flooding back in one of those familiar “Oh yeah!!” moments, but I was also disappointed.  I was glad to see them, but also felt a bit weird about keeping the super cool aviators.  I called dad to tell him the news, but he immediately said to keep the aviators.  So, now I have two pairs of favorite sunglasses.  I still wear the old pair to work and for bike riding, but will keep the aviators for those special drives in the Triumph, or maybe for a gig onstage. 
It’s amazing how folks can “come through” in ways that just blow your mind.  To Dad, the aviators were just a dusty box hiding in a draw for nearly forty years.  To me, they were an unearthed treasure to behold, and a fix to a problem that needed a good and proper fix.   To many of us, the things we can do for one another can seem like such a small and insignificant bit of help which cost us so little that it can’t be measured.  To others the way in which we “come through” for someone can be life changing, immeasurable and often, just at the right time!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Elbow Room

I'm always on time.  I'm not bragging.  Its simply a fact.  I am, if nothing else, reliably punctual.  I hate being late, I always have, but its only recently that I figured out why. 
I am incredibly impatient.  I’ve written about it before, and although this bit of news is not new to most of you, be assured that if you want to stress me out and initiate a creative and deep cutting onslaught of colorful metaphors and offensive adjectives… make me wait on you.  That said, it is the reason that I strive to be an on-time bloke.  I hate the way I feel when I'm kept senselessly waiting, and therefore, do not like to make others feel the same way.  Like most of us I have an inner monolog.  It keeps me company most of the time, and entertained for sure, but it goes into overdrive when I'm forced to wait on someone.  I have tried, valiantly, for most of my life to try to soften the edges of my rather German sense of timekeeping, with some success, but what happened the other day may just have given me the strength I need to abandon it forever.
You see, I have these friends.   They are good friends, close friends with whom Eileen and I share not just a great deal in common, but have a genuine love and admiration for.  We share a love of music, community and much, much more.  They are both wonderfully talented, and the best part is that our talents do not overlap.  What they do, I do not, and what I do, they do not!  It’s a great and fun friendship, and my life is that much better because if it! I consider them family.
A few days ago, a project of some kind in the works, we agreed that I would meet them at their home in the morning at 8:30.  When the morning arrived, I got up, on time, got ready and left the house, arriving at their home a short distance later at 8:28 a.m.  By the time I got out of the car and knocked on the door it was 8:30 sharp.  At first there was no answer, but after another knock or two, I was greeted by my friend Fred.
(Its important to know that in order to prevent any possible embarrassment on the part of my friends, I will change their actual names.  I will call him “Fred” and her, “Wilma.”).
So…Fred meets me at the door.  Fred looks tired, and not at all sure why I'm at the door, but he does not question my early appearance and invites me it.  He motions for me to enter the living room area, which I do.
There is a bathroom off to one side of the living room.  Just a moment or two later, the bathroom door opens.  I can hear Wilma calling to Fred, and I turn to say good morning…..
Standing in the hallway before me is a very, very, naked…Wilma!  When I say naked, I mean to express not just the absence of clothing, but no towel, no wash cloth, not even a tissue paper crunched up in one hand like old ladies in retirement homes tend to do.  No toilet paper stuck to the bottom of a foot or worse, trailing behind…nothing. 
I’ve seen naked women before…and if one has to be totally honest, once you’ve seen one naked woman…. you pretty much want to see the rest of them…. but there is definitely something to be said for getting an eyeful of one you either were not expecting to see, had not begged to see, or did not pay for.
Years ago, when outside mowing the front lawn, I saw the neighbor’s dog run out in front of a car.  You know the feeling.  It’s a little like watching a gruesome axe murderer do his thing on a rather grizzly horror movie.  Something in your inner brain, maybe your inner monolog, screams out, “OH NO! DON’T LOOK!”  Your reflexes kick in and you begin to close your eyes and turn your head.  No one wants to see the little dog get smushed, or witness a human being split down the middle with a fireman’s axe, but something happens to your muscles, something beyond your physical control, and no matter how much you know you should turn away, you DO look.
I'm convinced its why we have evolved with our eyes having corners.  You have to have something to look out of in those situations when the things you don’t want to see, the horrors, those life changing events that cause tiny little fissures to crack in the outer protective layers of your psyche happen right in front of you.  It’s a dichotomy of sorts, a conundrum that rivals our greatest unsolved mysteries.
Why do we look?  I’ll be damned if I know the answer to that.  It’s not that I want to see a little dog meet the front end of a speeding Buick.  I don’t relish the notion of dimwitted teenagers meeting their end at the hand of a maniacal, wood chopping psychopath in a dark forest any more than I needed to witness my friend Wilma in her birthday suit.  It’s not that she’s not a lovely woman.  She is, but of course that notion is directly overridden by two simple facts.  The first is that I already have the pleasure of seeing the loveliest woman on the planet in my own home every single day.  Nothing else can compare. The second is that she really is a sister to me in nearly every sense of the word. 
You know when you see the dog get his ass lifted by an oncoming front bumper…and you make that sound?  That “OH NO!” sound!  That “AUGH!” exclamation in anticipation of utter shock, coupled with a sense of, “man, I wish I didn’t just see that?”  Well thank Morgan Freeman I did NOT do that! 
I'm pretty fast on my feet most of the time, and although I got an eyeful, I managed a duck and cover maneuver that even Houdini would have been proud of.  I was able to turn away before Wilma and I made eye contact.  That would have been the worst.  Once you make eye contact in a situation like that, forget it.  It’s over.  Not only are you scarred for life, but the other party is forever glued to it! You might as well just stand there and look each other over like you are shopping for a used car. 
As it was, once the shock of it was over and we were nervously all three in the kitchen, Wilma asked if I had seen “anything.”  All I could think of was to say that all I had seen where her “elbows” sticking out.  Elbows…I don’t know what the hell is wrong with me.  I tried to make a joke, but it just served to fuel the situation.  Why did I say Elbows?  I think those are the only things I didn’t see!  That, and the back of her knees.  Now, whenever when ever Fred and I see each other, we bend our forearms and hold up our elbows in greeting.  It’s almost like a secret handshake now.  It’s very nearly a Masonic ritual, and I often image an alien planet, where instead of shaking hands, the little green fellows run up to each other and “touch elbows.” 
Had I not been so damned on time, so bleeping military about my desire to not be late, my elbow displaying friend Wilma would have had time to get dressed.  The other night, I was performing at a local venue and Fred and Wilma were in a attendance.  While performing a beautiful and somber ballad, Fred stood suddenly up from his chair and raised his elbows in support.  I instantly though back to that moment, recently, in their living room…..their COLD living room…the pair of chilled elbows I had seen that morning... and forgot the words to the fucking song!  I know I will never be the same, and I will endeavor now to be late where ever I go…well at least to their house!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Up The Mountain!

In my late teens and twenties I was a backpacker.  I love the High Sierra’s and began to really feel at peace and at home with not just the outdoors, but also the person I was becoming.  Those adventures were really among the first, I recall, at pushing the limits of my own physical boundaries.
One summer, high and far toward the eastern Sierra Mountains, I found myself sitting quietly on a rock with my blistered feet cooling off in a chill mountain lake called Devils Punchbowl.  The tiny, secluded lake was so named because it was bordered by towering, craggy escarpments on three sides, and gave the impression of an other-worldly, albeit beautiful and wondrous place.  Devil’s Punchbowl meadow and lake sat at ‘tree-line,’ about ten thousand feet MSL, with the surrounding razor-back ridges peaking at about twelve thousand feet.  Sitting on my ancient, weathered rock at the lakes brim and gazing at the highest peak of Devil’s Punchbowl, an unnamed and intimidating slice of Terra-firma, I felt an overwhelming urge to climb it.
Leaving my backpacking gear at our base camp, armed with little more than shorts, t-shirt, my trusty orange nylon day pack carrying a canteen of mountain water, a camera and some pocketed trail-mix, I started my climb with several friends who tired quickly from the effects of the thin, cold mountain air.  I continued undaunted by my solitude and unconcerned, perhaps even youthfully ignorant of my own safety, and continued to climb ever higher toward the sharp rocky teeth that chipped and bit at my bare shins and un-gloved hands.
For me, the harder I climbed, skipped and leapt over the boulders that seemed to purposefully block my assent, the faster I went, the better I felt, and the happier I was.  I felt light and strong and set a careless and unrealistic pace.  

Suddenly, everything changed.  I was no longer ascending on my quest for the peak, but was instead sliding backward, and to the right of my original chosen path.  I was sliding faster and clawed for safe purchase, finding none.  I spun my hips and flipped around in an attempt to gain traction and to get some kind of visual clue as to where I was headed.  The rocky surface I slid down was wind-warn smooth and covered with a soft layer of newly eroded granules of sand, which only served to accelerate my decent.  To my momentary horror, all I could see was sky and the surface of the tiny meadow more than a thousand feet far beneath me. The soles of my shoes were suddenly free of traction, followed by my entire body…and I knew at that moment that I was free-falling….
I recently had a similar feeling.  In the moments after being diagnosed with cancer, the sense of free falling with nothing beneath me felt strangely familiar.  I’ve felt it before to a degree, in different chapters of my life, but never quite as definitive as in those first moments of shock and fright.  “Cancer.  Shit.  That’s it then…that’s how I die.  OK. What about Eileen, family, friends…”  
When I was falling off the mountain, a similar pattern of thought automatically ran though my conscious mind.  “Falling, shit, that’s it then..that’s how I die.  OK….what about……”   The thought didn’t last long.  Not more that a fleeting second I’m sure.  By nature I'm a problem solver, and almost immediately I began to calculate my position and options.
It’s these thoughts, I believe, that are at the heart of who we are as individuals, as people and as a species.  In the tiniest fraction of time that followed, I had to swallow hard, and overcome my mounting fear and emotional paralysis.  I had to look down the mountain!  I had to raise my head, bend my neck and look toward where I was falling.  I had to.  I had no other option but to look down at the approaching rocks and try to wiggle my body around to a position where I had my feet under me, my knees bent, and my hands at the ready in anticipation of whatever impact was coming.  I had to be ready to land, to roll, or sit, or fall backward or do whatever it took to be in the best position to recover as fast as possible.  There was no one there to catch me.  I had arrived in that predicament on my own and would suffer whatever consequences befell me.
After my waking up from the initial Colonoscopy the Doctor who did the procedure greeted me with a gentle handshake and, without letting go of my hand said, “You have cancer, and a very large tumor.  We are scheduling you for surgery as soon as possible.  I'm sorry.”  I felt a bit sucker-punched, but will admit I had a feeling something was wrong.  Still, in the seconds that followed, I felt that old and familiar sensation of sudden helplessness.  I’m the kind of guy who can fix almost anything, but on the rare occasion I cannot, the feeling of helplessness is intensified.  I mentally grabbed a hold of my spinning mind, the way you might slap your hand down on the table on top of a spinning coin, and rapidly tried to get my “feet” under me.
After trying to cope with the mountain of facts being spewed at me in the guise of re-assurance, the medical staff ushered me into a private room to share with Eileen the truth of my current ‘slip off the mountain.’  Even now, as I write this, I cannot keep the tears from welling up as I contemplate how much I did not want to give her the difficult news.  I wasn’t worried for myself, and had not really had time to fully process the whole situation, but we had only just been together a few years, and had finally found a sense of completion and happiness in the lives and love of each other.  I was and had been, in effect running up the mountain again, happy and strong, racing toward a life together we both had only dreamed of…
So…obviously, I didn’t die on the mountain that day many years ago.  I did fall ten to fifteen feet, but landed safely on a flat ledge and walked away with just a few cuts, bruises and a nasty scare.  In fact, I continued and just an hour later, reached the top of that devilishly crooked climb. I sat on the top rock, in the cold air, and took in the reward of a full 360 degree panorama of two states, and hundreds of square miles of angry and beautiful terrain.  I put my Agfa 35mm camera, which survived the fall, on a rock in front of me, set the clock timer, and took a picture of myself.  Upon my return to base camp, I chose to remain fairly quiet about my experience, only to say that I had made it all the way. 
As it turns out, cancer hasn’t killed me either.  I did have to spin around in my own head space a little, and landed squarely at the feet of a crew of amazing scientists, doctors and professionals who paved the way for the recovery and treatment of me and others like me.  Like falling off a mountain, ten thousand feet up, being told I was sick scared the shit out of me.  I don’t like that feeling, who would, but in those initial moments we all must muster our courage, lift up our heads and look at where we are headed.  I had to do it, so did Eileen and so have we all in one regard or another.  It’s difficult… and scary, and to place our trust and our future in the hands of strangers who must repair what we cannot repair ourselves is no easy task.  It’s important, perhaps it’s even the most important thing…to be sure that those who we offer our trust and our personage to, are studied and qualified professionals who train in science, evidence and reason.  To hang about in midair, with no clear view of where we will land is as unpleasant as unpleasant gets, but it is all part of a greater process.  Life happens.  We slip, we fall, we get sick and we make mistakes.  We try, for the most part, to NOT put ourselves at risk or foolish peril, but sometimes, like it or not, things just happen.  Sometimes we don’t land well.  Sometimes we do not survive, but when we do it’s important to asses, to re-evaluate our choices and to make a greater effort to positively affect the lives of those around us.
As I write this, I have just a week or so left of Chemo pills to take.  It’s been an 8-9 month journey of treatment, surgery and recovery, including 6 months of Chemo infusions and meds.  I never ever want to do it again.  I don’t know if I could. I have some nasty side effects from all these meds to contend with, which have impacted my life with some force. I will live with the damages done by the Chemo either for the rest of my life or until they wear off, whichever comes first, and am making my peace with that.
 I have only written one or two other times about this chapter of my life, and to be honest…I’m damn sick of thinking about it.  I think that, unless of course I change my mind, this is the last time I will blog about it in this forum.  I want you all to know that I could never have faced what I have been though every day, without you and your encouragement.  I am climbing back up the mountain!

Saturday, March 22, 2014


Tonight Eileen and I watched the movie, “Saving Mr. Banks.”  Like so many movies that don’t have aliens, explosions, tanks or hotrods, it wasn’t one I was naturally drawn to.  I didn’t bother with it at the theater, and even waited a while after it came out to rent it from Vudu.com.  Also, like so many movies that I am not naturally excited to see, I ended up loving every minute and was engrossed, enthralled and riveted to the very end.
“Saving Mr. Banks,” deals with the Author P. L. Travers, Walt Disney, and the making of the book, Mary Poppins,” into a movie.  Without giving anything away for those who have not seen it, (I hate that…almost as much as I hate the term ‘spoiler alert’) there were a few things that connected with me in a personal way.  The first was the setting in Australia, my home country.  The second was the musical and artistic importance in the translation of storytelling, and how possessive one can be about their own characters and work.  It’s a sentiment I more than have just a passing familiarity with.  The third was a brown, butcher-paper kite…
I didn’t know my Grandfather for long and did not know him well.  He died when I was very small, when I was still young enough that to think that all adults were born looking that way, and existed only to listen to my ideas of fancy.  His name was Jack, but to me he was Grandpa.
I have a few pictures of he and I, and in them, he looks as I remember him today, but I don’t look anything like anyone I recall.  When he would visit our house in the suburbs of Sydney, which was often, he would inevitably find his way to the work bench under one corner of the house, beside the carport.  There he would spend time tinkering with whatever he wanted to do. When I think of him, it’s at the work bench that I see him.  He would look down at me over his glasses and speak to me in short, soft sentences.  I loved him, and remember feeling secure when he was around. 
One day, after seeing Mary Poppins at the drive-in with the family, I asked him to make a kite for me.  My father was a pilot, and of course I loved anything that would fly.   In just a short period of time, Grandpa had crafted a brown, butcher-paper kite with a wooden cross brace, complete with a string through the middle.   I was so excited I must have squealed with joy.   For the next several hours I dragged that kite around the back yard, trying everything I could to get it to fly.  Grandpa stood with his arms folded at the back of the house, watching over me as I tossed it up and ran, laid it on the ground and bolted to the back fence, threw it up into the air and dashed like a wild dog across the lawn, zigging and zagging, pulling the string and hoping to catch the wind.
After a while and quite out of breath, I inspected the kite more closely and found that Grandpa had covered both sides of the kite with the heavy brown paper, making it not only too heavy but also unable to fly.  I brought it to his attention, but he said instead that it probably needed a tail.  He took the kite back to the work bench and fashioned a long tail from string and brown butcher-paper bow-ties.   To this day, I can clearly remember being impressed and inspired by how beautifully crafted the kite was, with its perfectly formed bow-tie tail and long diamond shape.  Even the bow-ties on the tail grew smaller in size toward the end.  Other than some fresh grass stains from hard landings, it was stout and undamaged.  I'm sure I spent a lot more time running around the back yard in hopes that I could get it take off.  I don’t remember quitting or stopping, but I have no doubt that I was exhausted when I finally did.  That may have been his plan all along, although I doubt it.  He really did want to see it soar as much as I. 
Later, I showed the kite to my dad.  He knew immediately what to do to get it flying, but I didn’t want it changed.  Instead, I put the kite in a corner of my bedroom where I could see it from my bed.  That corner was home to the things I valued…a guitar, some model airplanes I had built, and now Grandpa’s kite.  I wish I still had it. 
 Grandpa was very creative.  He was a master needle point artist, and would also make animals and other shapes from pipe cleaners.  (You never see them anymore, but when a man wanted to clean the stem of his tobacco pipe, he used a disposable, thin, cotton covered piece of wire, about 6 inches long).  He was also a fine mechanic and possessed many other talents, I'm certain.  He also had a darkish side, according to Dad, and would ignore Grandma for days at a time if he was upset about something.  
It’s funny, thinking about Grandpa and the kite.  What a thing of such beauty, so as to be perceived by me as a small child.  It didn’t fly worth a damn, but looking back, I’m not sure that was its purpose.  His devotion for me was expressed not in the functionality of the thing, but in its loving and careful construction.  To this day that brown, butcher-paper kite that lived almost all of its life in the corner of my bedroom in its place of honor, was perhaps the most perfect of things I have ever known.  Now when I build, or weld, woodwork, write or compose music, I can often feel and touch with my mind’s eye, the smooth whittled cross-brace, the crisp clean folds of the fragile paper skin and the perfectly symmetrical wings of the bow-ties that seemed to shrink ever smaller on their way to the feathered string tail that made up the end of the kite.  These images serve to motivate and inspire me in ways I am not always conscious of.
I’d like to think that Grandpa lives on in my life like his kite.  Not everything I’ve done has worked out.  No matter how much I try to “drag” some poorly imagined idea to fruition, more often than just on occasion, it doesn’t fly.  I would, however, like to think that the things I build in life at least have the attention and artistry that lives somewhere in my DNA, just like my Grandpa before me.  My dad used to tell me, whenever we spoke of Grandpa, that I was the “apple of his eye.”  There is something wonderful in that.  There is something important in how you hold the vision of someone you are doing something for.  There is something imperative between the artist, the beneficiary of that rare gift of an item, a poem or a song, a story, a sculpture, a painting or yes, even a brown butcher-paper kite

                                                                      Grandpa Jack