Fulton Coyote

SF Path

The flowers were waiting.
They had always been there, but
I was just late,
having neglected my parents’ resting place so long.
Others’ blooms, cut from surging stems
– dying in their own right –
had always played across those fields of memory,
colors to brighten the mood,
to contrast the sullen stones
of the cemetery.
Yet on those damp slopes of memorial flowers
I hadn’t laid a single petal.

Honor comes awkwardly from me.
I clipped the insulting years away
to reveal the granite text,
a brother’s enduring epitaph.
Rain pooled in the letters’ etched depth
and I left fretting
for the sun…
for California, for San Francisco,
for pastel streets west of Divisidero,
for a walk in the great park.
The gate – golden indeed – an entry to dreams
and like the that sodden cemetery,
a place of memories.

Eucalyptus, sequoia and rhododendron waited,
welcoming cover for vagrants and runners,
for tai chi troopers and qi gongers,
for bashful musicians,
for things still wild.
And for believers clinging through disdainful time
like the Farallon’s lonely horn,
through the fog of forgetfulness
to a fragile memory:
A summer of festivals and foolish children (some said)…
a season of love.
Not true love (some said),
merely fantasy conjured in youth, encouraged by circumstance
and nurtured within the park’s tarmac boundary.
But close enough
in that season of legends.
True enough to inspire hope,
fraternity against madness,
and courage to sling joy against a warring giant.
Magic enough to redirect our souls.

Fulton street buzzed ahead,
a new century’s traffic against the whispers
of ancient gatherings from the park.
I walked south along 44th avenue,
a few cautious steps through the rush
to the far curb, the sidewalk
marking the park’s northern perimeter.
I paused…
from within the intrigue of its kaleidoscopic flora
and its darkest thickets
I thought I smelled incense
aloft on salty wisps from beyond the great highway.
Buoyancy sufficient to carry the holy scent
and me…
Sensations sufficient
to uncork a froth of recollection.

They came back, as I had hoped,
and always hoped upon my return,
the foolish balloons, the prayer flags,
the sweet kiss of mysterious herbs,
the savage Mexican weed,
the ominous anticipation of insanity,
the consuming vibe of adventurous, simple music
and what passed for higher consciousness.
Lost out in the wheeling sky,
had sung young Crosby, accurately,
when silver sun
broke through secret stands
of Monterrey Cyprus.

Be-ins!
How could I not recall?
How could one forget or ignore those feelings,
even if they were only the bliss of youth,
of a fortunate generation
serendipitously maturing
in sync with technological and cultural novae.
A dream?
A trick of the light?
A cosmic coincidence?
From our perspective the solar and lunar discs
appear of precise diameter
to create the appalling eclipse,
the glorious corona.
By dream, trick or irony
our three grandest spheres
have found a far-fetched relationship
grounded in the mightiest reality.
Incomprehensibly beautiful.
An illusion…
the ultimate trick of light
but don’t question such serendipity,
when irony appears to reign.

I faced the park,
its shadows lapping across Fulton’s sidewalk and my feet.
Could I disentangle the joy of days
once in the thrall of a happier order
from the ecstasy of being seventeen?
Or the aimless kid traveled from a cold, heartless state,
who once prowled these grounds
in blind wonder,
from the man who fathered
brilliant children – one, a woman now –
living in a sparkling studio
a block from the very heart of
his dreams?

The polo grounds were a short stroll ahead
along enchanting trails.
A shuffle through eucalyptus straw
beneath the horned owl’s invisible nest,
     (I heard him last night,
     A one-note dialog with the distant fog-horn)
past the buffalo paddock,
beyond the fly casting ponds
and up the azalea berm.
I stepped eagerly forward,
the ghosts would be waiting out on the ground’s green expanse.
A solitary step…then a rude stop.
Thoughts of lost youth dissolved,
displaced in an instant.
At my feet,
on the park’s very fringe
where timeless sands spill
from ice plant scrub onto Fulton’s southern sidewalk,
lay a coyote.

Recent accounts in the Examiner
told of these creatures’ tenacious cling
to survival, prospering in the park’s wild reaches.
I touched a cautious finger to the animal’s shoulder,
he was dead.
Still warm…still supple.
Coyote have adapted well to the city, I read,
to gentrification, to bitter coffee roasters,
to rent control and to Google busses.
This poor fellow had not…
I could relate.

I imagined the coyote
venturing from the park earlier that morning,
even as I ground beans for my daughter’s coffee.
He had replaced stealth for vulnerability
at the thought of a house cat
or domestic prey wandering unaware
as first light reflected
from bright stucco townhouses
along outer Richmond’s spotless avenues.
A stone’s throw from his sheltering park
the sly silver, grey and golden animal
perished…
under the wheels of an early commuter
racing to beat the rush
up on Persidio Boulevard.

Looking up at the waking city
no consolation seemed imminent.
No magic music would drift from the park
on this morning…no incense.
There would be no words
unless I spoke them,
and as I say, honor comes awkwardly from me.
I hoped such a splendid city could do something.
I could only mutter a halting prayer,
and vow to write these words for you
then leave the unfortunate critter
to Vector Control.

Fulton’s growing turbulence
fell behind as I shuffled into the
morning shadows.
The great owl uttered his final call for the night,
the last word on the subject.
I tried to return to my hippie reverie,
along the stations of that
storied summer’s cross.
If I stepped lively, I would make it to the panhandle
and a cappuccino up on Haight street.
If I was lucky, echoes
of Cippolina’s quicksilver tremolo
might still ring
through the mystical park.

Soon enough, I would return to Oregon,
and practical matters…survival.
Coping with what seemed sometimes
a spiritless population,
I wondered often, was it just me?
Self-indulgence, of course,
but it wasn’t always apparent
that people still cared
or remembered…
Yet the cemetery’s were full of flowers,
that must count for something.
Such judgment would never be mine,
I hadn’t laid a single petal.

The rush of internal combustion
plagued the coastal atmosphere.
The traffic along 44th and Fulton
still consumed the roar of breakers
crashing beyond the Great Highway.
As I emerged from the park
I remembered the coyote
and, an insensitive fool, thought I would take its photo.
     Incongruous coyote corpse
     Found on bustling city sidewalk…
Journalistic instinct perhaps –
a scoop, a trophy, a curiosity –
but in the face of my vanity, the coyote was gone.
To my delight…my embarrassment,
it had been replaced
with a generous brimming bouquet.
Tiger lilies and brilliant tulips!
I looked to the west, down Fulton
to the sea…the sidewalk was vacant.
And to the east
as far as geography permitted,
no flower-bearing figure hurried into obscurity.

I put the camera away
and raised my face
to outer Richmond’s blinding turquoise,
lemon, salmon and lime stuccos.
There, alone on 44th and Fulton,
flowers at my feet,
the surging city smiled back
with bright pastel eyes…
a new season of love.

           Don Anslow, 2/5/2015

Roughing It, Too

DSC00139What is. . .
the star that guides
the scribe’s broken course
from inspiration’s fertile folds,
where visions in perfect phrases fly
generously off the flint of imagination
to the fearfully empty place
where his Huck Finn lingers. . .
abandoned.

And whose is. . .
the pen that plots
a man’s hopeful ascent
from shivering in warm company
to striding against gales of defeat
that rage yet through Aurora’s ruin. . .
the same rocky terrain
that Twain tested,
and by his own reckoning
failed.

Esmeralda,
there’s fortune
in your rugged place…
just underfoot they say.

Soon, the blinding stars
will rise above your barren slopes
and another writer
will pull on working clothes
and mine for words. . .
again.

Don Anslow, 11/13/14

Yes-No Neon – Part 1

IMG_2776The clerk at the Edgefield Motor Suites was trying to be patient. I leaned across the counter to focus on his computer screen, laboring to be polite. After half a century of lodging in all manner of motel, tourist court, travelers rest and motor inn, I was trying to maintain an unblemished record of civility with the cast of no-dozed, detached, curry scented but generally honest characters who have played host to my road-weary self on nights from Halifax to Huachuca. But this encounter challenged my decorum.

I fancy myself an ideal, road-tested motel patron. I sprint to the parking lot to recall my license plate number when demanded. I don’t pester the bored night man for blankets when I know if I don’t I will be sorry. And back in the land-line days, I was always first to point out any phone charges that I had accrued. But on this morning, after only nibbling on the breakfast buffet of cold cereal, boiled eggs, mini-donuts and mealy apples the management had laid out for its ‘honored guests’, my string was about to break.

“No, no. One hundred thirty-five dollars can not be right,” I declared with certainty. “It was eighty-nine bucks, before my AARP discount.” I reached for my wallet to extract proof of my advanced age, and to seal the deal, but as I did, the computer screen and the clerk’s printer came to life.

“So sorry sir, we are very rigorous about our accounting.” He yanked a document from the printer and slid it across the counter. “Please review the list of charges carefully. I’ll answer any questions…”

I blew. “List? How can there be a list?” I counted off what was surely was the obvious: “Room rate, less discount, plus taxes: ninety-two fifty. That’s hardly a list.”

The congenial mask fell from the fellow’s face the way the Rose Queen’s smile collapses after her float takes it final turn from Colorado Boulevard. He hardly uttered a word in response to my outburst. With the authority of the entire hospitality industry behind him, he dropped his forefinger to the printout and tapped the list of ‘extras’.

“Snacks,” he proclaimed.

“Snacks, hell. I never had a snack…not here. They’re too damned expensive. I know. I checked.”

The clerk raised his eyes imperceptibly.

I don’t think I was born yesterday, but sometimes I have my doubts. The nature of my work and my tastes in travel generally take me to destinations beyond the reach of most state-of-the-art lodging. This unfamiliarity left me blind to the depths technology had dipped in order to plunk an irresistible purchasing opportunity right under the nose of a hungry, vulnerable traveler. This should have been no revelation, we have all long-ago learned that one can access pay-per-view films with a click of the remote, and rack up endless bills. I am used to that, but I was unaware of the new snare hotel merchandising services had rigged for me. I recalled the tidy display of salted cashews, chocolates, espresso biscotti and other delights that occupied a crucially unavoidable space on my ‘desk’. And I recalled the prices.

“Seven fifty for a dinky can of peanuts. Are you kidding me…six bucks for junior mints? Forget about it.”

It was true. The goodies were far too steep. I could have strolled one block to a 7-11 and saved three bucks a pop. Like I said, I checked them all. My wife, who knows a few things about nutrition, has imprinted within me an involuntary reflex to read all ingredient labels. That evening I had stood before the AutoSnack-Rack, and scrutinized every item’s label. So I was well aware of the snacks’ daunting chemical complexities as well as the prices, but I never so much as broke a seal on a single Cappuccino Bon-Bon. Yet there they were, Bon-Bons and all, recorded on my bill and charged to my total.

“No, I never ate any of this crap.” My wife would have been proud, but the ascending volume in my voice gave the clerk a different view. I don’t know for sure, but I sensed his finger searching beneath the counter for the ‘Clerk Support’ button. Yet no beefy fellow in an Edgefield blazer ever arrived. It wasn’t necessary.

“Sir, you bought the snacks.”

I looked at him incredulously, but before another word could escape my lips, the clerk informed me of my error – of my naiveté – in a new world of load-cell purchasing technology. “You do not need to consume them to purchase them.” He looked at me with pity. “It’s no different than any store.” He pushed a pre-printed sheet explaining the operations and customer obligations pursuant to the AutoSnack-Rack systems. His logic escaped me, but I was comforted to realize I was not the first Luddite to be ensnared by the Rack. He continued with my enlightenment: “When you pick up an item you have 45 seconds to return it to the rack or the load cell confirms the item’s removal and records it as a purchase.”

Before I could raise further objection in the face of oppressive technology, he lowered the boom. “The rules are clearly marked on the rack. And they are described in your Rental Agreement.”

What could I say? I didn’t realize I had a Rental Agreement other than to refrain from stealing the linen or chasing the maids, and to get the hell out at 11:00am. But a full sheet of 5-point type on the back of my sign-in document testified otherwise. It was enough for me to throw up my hands in defeat. I suppressed a few select oaths and tossed down my credit card. I had nearly exited when I realized this obligation cuts both ways, and I returned to the desk with a determination the clerk could not challenge.

“If I bought ‘em, then let’s have ‘em.” I pulled the bill from my pocket and circled the extras list. “I’ll wait right here.”

Perhaps the clerk was irritated that he couldn’t slip upstairs to my room and claim the goodies before the maids arrived to make the bed and reset the Snack-Rack’s computer, but he never let on. He abandoned his post and his attitude long enough to return with a plastic sack of my accidental purchases. It was with some satisfaction – albeit costly – that I carefully checked his delivery against my inventory and stepped out into the clear southern Oregon morning. I still had about 700 miles to go to catch up with my brother in-law in Las Vegas. Things weren’t so bad, I thought. The ride to Sin City might be a little more tolerable with a bag of over-priced munchies to see me across the desolate stretches.

In a moment I was driving down motel row and all was forgotten. Despite the clerk or his snack trap, it would take a lot more than this blunder to shake my love affair with motels. My eyes darted involuntarily from motel sign to motel sign, utterly unnecessarily seeking an illuminated YES in the bright morning.

It is not that I am a cowering sycophant, but I recoil from the word NO. I don’t like to say it, hear it, and worse, I loathe the sight of it, especially when flashing, flickering or glaring in neon. A shrink, if he bothered to dip into the embarrassing depths of my psyche, would quickly recognize the red flags of a “complex” common in folks without a stable childhood home: aloofness, inability to commit, fear of denial or its sinister twin craving for approval. And he would be right. The root of my issues, my desire for YES – for blind acceptance – in the words of one particularly astute professional of the shrunken persuasion, “flashes like a neon sign declaring ‘gypsy.’” Well they sure got the neon part right.

They weren’t far off on the gypsy issue either.

My father was a severely disabled, indomitable veteran of WWII. For the better part of my childhood he wasn’t employed, but he was never despondent. Before the war he had been a bit of a hobo and a consummate storyteller. After his war came to a horrific end, and what wounds would heal healed, he picked up the pieces and resumed his rambling nature when his wife’s patience and his children’s schooling permitted. And sometimes not.

Caught up in dad’s restless nature, and the lure of an expanding interstate highway system, my family never stayed put for long. We children rarely saw the school year come and go from the same classroom. Our house always was, it seemed, in flux, and our belongings spent inordinate amounts of time in the guts green Mayflower vans barreling between Philly, LA, Nashville and Utah, or idling in the lot of a Howard-Johnson’s awaiting further instruction. Okay, that is a slight exaggeration, but between frequent moves and summer-long treks to dad’s home turf in the Maritimes of Canada, or to my mother’s people in Philadelphia, home for a large portion of my formative years truly was where our Ranch Wagon finally stopped for the night. In my father’s world, that choice was never easy. The decision was governed by a tedious vetting process involving cost, safety, accessibility, intuition, complex racial and social issues, and, of course, the whim of the neon vacancy sign.

img_2888-e1411448994350For a crucial spell in the fifties and sixties before lodging supply caught up with the demands of mobile ex-GI’s and their kin – before 8’s, 6’s, Quintas, Qualities and Comforts thrust their blazing standards into the threatening night skies – there was no certainty for the motorist in finding a bed. The tired family peering at the lights of an approaching town held their breaths in hopes that lodging would be revealed. With luck, the welcoming lights of a motor court emerged from the dark. As sure as flowers, in competition for insects’ attention, evolved intricate floral designs, so, too, did motel owners devise elaborate neon structures to captivate the sleepy traveler. Ever more competitive lists of amenities were shoehorned into the signs, testing the skill of designers and neon craftsmen.

Nowadays, a brand is sufficient to sway a motorist’s decision, but back in the glory days of the blue highways, the days my motel gestalt was forged, copy was king – lurid neon text: Air Conditioned, Free TV, Color TV, Steam Heat, AAA, Pets Welcome, No Pets, No Smoking, Smoking, Kitchenettes, Free Coffee, Heated Pool, Clean Bathrooms, Christian, No Coloreds..and of course, the kicker, the simple binary report of the facility’s availability. YES. NO.

To a weary family, bickering under the ravages of low blood sugar and lack of REM sleep, the report was crucial. Thumbs up promised relief. Thumbs down condemned them to fatigue and anxiety out on the dark, serpentine two-lanes, or on the main drags of remote, inhospitable towns whose police prowled the streets in hopes of picking off out-of-towners who might pay up on-the-spot rather than test the humor of a cranky traffic court judge in the wee hours.

YES. NO offered no grey area. To a sensitive youngster as was I, it seemed a harsh existential judgment that likely contributed to a life of pesky mood disorders (and the vindication of my shrink’s neon sign diagnosis). But to keep this in perspective, the signs are an obvious convenience and have saved many folk from squandering valuable time and effort on useless room shopping. History might have been written far differently if Joseph had been directed by a simple sign reading YES, to a decent room a few miles up the road from Bethlehem. Maybe it’s just as well. It is a bit of a stretch getting one’s imagination around the image of angels, wise men and camels parading up the hall of a cozy inn, than it is to picture them gathered beside a rustic manger.

Biblical considerations aside, I recall the keen anticipation of settling into a comfortable motel room – the chance to pull the ‘sanitized for your protection’ paper strip from the toilet seat, to slide into thin, Tide-scented sheets, to watch local TV hosts guffaw their way through the heavily censored evening movie, to eat Dinty Moore canned stew warmed over a hot plate, and with luck, to writhe with pleasure at the tips of a quarter’s worth of Magic Fingers.

Unfortunately, the promise of a room and an end to the tedious bladder bending hours on the road, did not similarly affect my father or his finely tuned frugality sensors. To him the YES could be ignored if displayed on a sign that indicated AAA approval (too expensive by his measure) or free color TV – also a costly extravagance. Pools, to my dad’s reckoning, were a significant strike against a motel’s surviving his cut, and a bitter pill for his children to accept – especially in August. Although he occasionally relented, and we boys were permitted to cavort in our skivvies after respectably attired children had yielded the pool for the evening.

My father, who suffered the loss of both arms to a land mine a dozen or so years earlier, often ambled out to these infrequent family gatherings by the chlorinated waters, a stout motel-issue tumbler of ginger ale and Old Granddad clamped in his hook. I never saw him swim, but he waded in to his knees and reveled in the extravagant comforts he had grudgingly approved. My mother might dangle a foot or two in the water but generally surveyed the scene for potential dangers when dad’s damaged eyes could not. Thanks to her, even though traveling without reservations or Yelp or a Mobile Guide to provide assistance, things usually worked out okay. But there were close calls when we passed up one too many rooms, a fact due largely to my parent’s brutal selection process.

In their system a motel displaying YES, and having survived the initial AAA/Color TV/Pool/Racial cut, was then subject to inspection by my mother. After some mumbling with my father, that in the confines of a Ford Ranch Wagon somehow escaped the comprehension of my brothers and I but was presumably a confidential review of today’s budget, she would disappear into the office, leaving us in the hush of anticipation.

We watched the pantomime of her body language as she bargained with the clerk. With luck, he would hand her a set of keys. This was only the beginning; she would then make a personal inspection of the proposed room. Sometimes she would review several. As she came and went between the office and the prospective rooms she often passed the car, but I never recall her letting an expression of hope – even an inkling as to the room’s suitability – slip from her determined face. Then, as until she drew her very last breath at St. Peters office door, she held her cards tightly.

* * *

It was a gloomy moment when we saw Mom pass the keys back across the counter and turn to go. She would climb back aboard issuing only the most cryptic justification for her rejection, then throw the car back into gear. My father, no matter how badly he might have had to pee, never challenged her judgment. To this day I can not fathom what imperfection might have triggered her rejection of what from the car appeared to be perfectly acceptable accommodations for the night. I suspect, however, that some of the bathrooms might have been equipped with rubber machines.

Suffering vast disappointment, we would swing through the parking lot in silence; past the parked cars of guests who had either more money, less taste, or a modicum of common sense. Wise, comfortably settled people peeked from the drapes in pity at the lights of the station wagon pulling eastbound back onto highway 40 in the dead of night. From behind their curtains they, like quivering townspeople watching two gunfighters squaring off in High-Noon, must have known the misery that lay dead ahead. They must have been aware that there wasn’t another chance at a motel for 80 miles of winding, god-awful highway.

In defense of my departed parents, I must confess that these horrific nights were an exception. And as uncomfortable as it must have been for them to ride out into what singer, John Koonce called, ‘The Octane Twilight’, they never grumbled or quarreled, and never reassessed their selection criteria, even if we habitually landed past dinner-time and the Honeymooners. We traveled in a bubble, a kind of grace generated by the whir of recaps on asphalt. Whatever it was, it seemed they saved their disagreements for home. Even though there was an increasing chance that the next town could leave us room less – homeless – and at the mercy of the drastic measures my ex-hobo father readily enumerated, such as waking the local priest, sleeping in a church, curling up in a post office, checking into jail, or bedding down in an emergency room lobby. They all seemed like reasonable but frightening possibilities to me – a far, dreadful cry from those hundreds of blissful evenings when in lowly American motel rooms, our family came together like nowhere else on earth…

Enough Is Enough – Part 1

JFK EnoughGaia – An intriguing concept in which the planet is seen as an organism capable of healing itself.

In the opening months of 1964, the world and our culture was still bleeding from a horrible wound inflicted in Dallas, Texas just a couple of months before. The planet had gone numb after this country’s earnest young president’s murder, but in a Gaia-like process, just when we needed it most, the human spirit raised a new and healing sound from the most unlikely locale – a hard, seaport town in Northwestern England. When the sound from Liverpool arrived on the nation’s radios and in its record stores, young folks went crazy. Out in southern California, I went crazy, too.

Discs

The Mersey Beat, the English Sound, the Big Beat
the PR agents for VeeJay, Capital, Kapp, Epic, Mercury and a half dozen other record companies searched for a tag to identify the musical nova blazing across the Atlantic. The career copywriters who also penned promo materials for their pop contemporaries, stalwarts like Vic Damone, Jack Jones or Al Martino never got it quite right. The revolutionary new music arriving from Britain didn’t necessarily feature any bigger beat than drummers like Elvis’s DJ Fontana, or Haley’s Dick Richards had laid down in Rock n’ Roll’s powerful past. Ringo Starr, the timekeeper for the spectacular musical sensation at the heart of the British Invasion, was substantial, subtle and always in the pocket, and could ride a cymbal like a run-away jet. His predecessor, Pete Best was a far bigger beater, as was Dave Clark of the self-named quintet who gave the Beatles a run for their money in the opening salvos of the invasion.

What was big, was the explosive spirit in the music Gaia and those boys had given us. It was beyond description by wordsmiths hunkered over their Royals out in New York or Philadelphia. It was beyond drumming technique, or chords, riffs and fills…it was magic. It was the future. All I knew was that I couldn’t get enough.

The explosion’s glorious reverberations reached transistors in every bedroom, school bus, drive-in restaurant, and make-out spot across the country. At first we pop music fans and musicians couldn’t define what was different about British rock ‘n roll, we just knew how it made us feel. Standing unaware on the event horizon of a new future, we sensed that everything else was passé.

I watched as my brother and his friend Keith, who were both quite capable guitarists and singers, struggled to isolate the genie in this new music. They tried different fingerings, combed their hair down, affected Liverpuddlian accents, held their guitars a little higher on their chests Marsden- and Lennon-style, but two Californian kids attempting to master the British sound, could never capture the essence of Englishmen trying to mimic Americans. Nor could they put their callused picking fingers on the pulse of those desperately hopeful young lives across the sea that rose from the rubble of the second world war and ascended to new heights against the gravity of gritty grey towns. Even the legends that fired the imaginations of the barnstorming British bands, the old timers like the Every Brothers, Roy Orbison…even Elvis, would soon drop their hair but ultimately suffer at the misfortune of being Yanks.

I was a budding record collector as the invasion slammed home in Glendora, California – Rain Bird Town as some called the village once famous for lemon orchards and its namesake sprinkler manufacturer. I listened faithfully to the amplitude modulated DJs at KRLA and KFWB for the debut of every new revelatory disc. In an effort to remain hip to the changing music scene, would cycle three miles to the waiting room of the greyhound bus station in Azusa which housed the only magazine rack in the valley that, in addition to a lurid collection of what they then called ‘smut’, featured Billboard magazine. In those, the recording industry’s insider pages, I learned what records were being released and by whom. And even better, I would discover what new acts were headed our way before the jocks premiered their records.

Although this knowledge elevated my status among several of my peers, it also illuminated the deficiencies of our local record stores. The miniscule record bins at the likes of Vons, White Front, MayCo and so on, carried only a few selections beyond the Fab Four, the DC5, and the Animals. But many other UK musical treasures, which Billboard’s cryptic press releases told me were out there, only existed in ‘major record stores.’ And no major anything was within bicycle range of Rain Bird Town.

I was frantic to hear all this music, not just the hits that found their way onto Dick Biondi, Bill Balance, Bob Eubanks, Bobby Pickett, Casey Kasem, B. Mitchell Reed, Wolfman Jack and others’ play lists, but the obscure (even then) tunes on LPs, EPs, B-sides, promo discs and coveted British pressings. I became obsessed. My head began to swim with titles that had to join my collection. Out of sheer mental overload, I jotted them all down lest a critical song fall through my mnemonic grasp. The ensuing tally I titled Needs List then slashed two lines beneath for emphasis…as if it needed any.

 

As collectors of anything know, the specter of a missing piece in a set creates a gnawing at one’s peace-of-mind that cannot be ignored. Such a gnawing chewed at me as I looked at the growing discrepancy between my list and the selection available to me locally (the internet and Amazon were still decades away). There was only one solution: Wallic’s Music City… downtown LA, over 20 miles beyond the reasonable range of my bike and my roving experience. Los Angeles was too far to ride, and unfortunately, it was out of the question to ask my folks for a lift. My parents, had become convinced by a persuasive pack of nattering John Birch nabobs (and a sleazy little book entitled, Rhythm, Riots and Revolution) that rock ‘n roll was a communist plot to corrupt American youth prior to the Red’s invasion. There was no hope they were going to drive me to godless Babylon to satiate my thirst for recordings by those subversive fairies from Britain.

I was not deterred. As an independent and quite capable 14 year old, I would navigate the public transportation system into the sleazy streets of Los Angeles in search of music from the seedy streets of London, Liverpool and Manchester, England. If it was Marxist subversion that made me so gloriously happy with only a bar or two of this music, then I guess I was condemned to be a commie.

In April of 1964, thirty-five cents bought a 27 mile ride through Azusa, Monrovia, Duarte and Artesia into the City of Angels. The smog lifted as my bus penetrated the heart of the city. With the driver’s ambiguous warning to, “watch your step, kid,” ringing ominously behind me, I stepped onto the filthy sidewalks. Within the first minute on my own in “The City” as Sergeant Joe Friday used to call it, I had sidestepped a puddle of vomit, ignored two pan handlers and evaded the unsettling glare of a doomsday preacher raving under the triple ravages of Tourett’s Syndrome, Vino Paisano and a perfectly reasonable terror at the looming threat of thermonuclear destruction – a threat so tangible that within seven months, an image of a little girl picking flowers in the instant before being immolated by a nuclear burst, would sway the American public into rejecting Barry Goldwater’s bid for the presidency on the grounds that his itchy trigger finger would lead us to nuclear war.

If you doubt why I bother to yammer about that wild fellow’s fears, remember by then there were millions of fallout “shelters” and bags of spoiled survival provisions wasting away in American’s basements and beneath their backyards in the wake of the cold war’s closest call in the waters off Cuba. This fear, in equal measure, fueled the joyous clamor with which the music I sought was received in the US.

I had never seen or smelled mad, drunk, hopeless, and perverted people in such numbers or such proximity as those that milled on the streets within raving distance of the city hall’s iconic tower. The structure had always seemed so white, so pristine on TV’s Dragnet. As I walked in its shadow, sixty-five dollars earned by delivering papers and mowing lawns, lay like a coveted prize in my jeans pocket. In defense of my riches, I clamped the wad of bills in my hand and watched people’s red eyes for signs of aggression. A harrowing fifteen minute walk found me at my destination: Wallic’s Music City, a major record store.

The bins stretched out before me in categories of music beyond my understanding. The room smelled of the seductive combination of vinyl and freshly inked record jackets. At that age hard-ons were not difficult to come by, and I swear the atmosphere in that splendid room – and to be honest, the Julie London album covers – tested all my powers of restraint. When I found the generous selection of rock ‘n roll, I forgot my dick, and dove in. In those days records were available in stereophonic or monoraul (a word invented by ad men when stereo technology demanded a name for its inferior single channel cousin). A stereo pressing, if available, cost $2.49 and mono only $1.99. At two bucks a pop, I would get maximum bang for my sixty-five bucks.

I waded into the As – Adam Faith – and ended in the Ss – the Swingin’ Blue Jeans, the Zombies were still a few months away. When my money had expired, except for a few dollars reserved for lunch at a Woolworth’s lunch counter and a couple of breathtakingly lurid girlie magazines from one of the newsstands, my booty numbered 15 long-playing albums, 1 extended-play disc, and 6 singles. I clutched the heavy bag of recordings – oil was cheap and in vast supply in 1964, and record discs were thick and durable – and made my way back to the bus stop with Peter Asher, Gordon Waller, Gerry Marsden and his brother, Billy J Kramer, Mike Pender, Sean McNally, Graham Nash, Allan Hicks, Eric Burdon, Allen Price and a host of new British friends.

As the bus made its tedious afternoon journey back to Rain Bird Town I thumbed through the LPs. By time the bus arrived at my stop on Alosta and Foothill, I had read all the liner notes and learned the names of all the band members. The girlies would have to wait for scrutiny in a more private setting. Meanwhile, the prevailing residents of my record racks: Gene Pitney, Bobby Darin, Ray Charles, The Four Seasons, The Beach Boys, even the Everly Brothers went neglected and unplayed for months as I wore the stylus of my mother’s miserable Victrola to a nub.

I was in rock ‘n roll heaven for a while: on the cutting edge, ahead of the curve, possessed of major bragging rights to my musically aware friends. But by the end of the year and a furious torrent of new releases from the Beatles et al, my collection was riddled with gaping holes. I turned to the Needs List to keep it all straight, but my meager teenaged buying power and the explosive expansion of the new rock catalog overwhelmed me. To make matters worse – far worse – sixteen months after I had arrived home from LA with my vinyl bundle, my parents decided to pull their stakes from California’s soil and move to Utah.

In that summer, of all summers, I had every reason to stay; Southern California – the civilized world – was undergoing a fission of possibilities that extended beyond the remarkable new music. We all can recall the mileposts that marked the explosion of social consciousness, justice, technology and science. And sadly, we know the fear, the riots, the hatred and assassinations that marked the “push-back” to these changes. For my father, these were most likely the forces that sent him packing from a shady street just a stone’s throw from fragrant orange groves, to the impenetrable slump block suburbs of a surreal Utah town. Whatever his reasons, one evening in August 1965, eighteen months after I had watched the Beatles launch the reinvention of rock ‘n roll via Mr. Sullivan’s TV broadcast to our living room on Marcile Avenue – and just about the time Satisfaction (I Can’t Get No) was relinquishing its summer-long hold on the airways over Los Angeles – my father conspired with his John Birch Society buddies on how to best remove one’s family from that brilliant, roiling world.

That very evening I gathered with 18,700 Beatle devotees at the Hollywood Bowl, and from a good seat watched as the nexus of this cultural renaissance – the Fab Four themselves – rocketed through a manic set of irresistible tunes. Later John Lennon called it his favorite Beatle concert, it was certainly ours. The legendary mania was in full bloom. The screaming – which for the record included shouts of euphoria, frantic pleas to be recognized, and desperate tearful cries at the impossible distance between the boys from Liverpool and the girls from Los Angeles – never stopped to gasp for breath.

A few quiet hours earlier, before the bedlam descended, the scent of laurel from the Hollywood Hills hung heavily in the air above the Bowl, and the pollen from flowering canyon Yucca settled without regard for fame on our empty seats and on the lacquer, leather and brass of Ringo’s silent drums. Later, as we filled that amphitheater, an anxious charge built to what would become an ear-splitting discharge as the boys from the future took the stage. The electrons within us kids had pulsed with the knowledge that soon we would breathe the same fragrant evening air as our heroes.

That evening I screamed, too – howled, really – in empathy with the crowd. We instinctively sought to send the vibrations from our lungs to register in a communication with the four lively young men on the stage. The Beatles had three, three-hundred watt VOX amplifiers…we had the numbers. Together we made a joyful noise.

In a month, Bob Dylan, airborne on the cyclone of Like A Rolling Stone, would touch down on that same stage. The clubs on Sunset Strip, just 30 minutes from my bedroom radio, would morph from striptease to folk-rock, and I would watch the world shrink in the rear window as the family car made its way north up I-15 to fortress Utah, and the past.

Demoralizing social and cultural difficulties notwithstanding, in Provo I had to come to grips with the difficulty of hip record acquisition in the hometown of Brigham Young University, a Mormon institution which had just officially declared a ban on amplified music, and employed monitors to measure the distance between its co-eds’ kneecaps and the hems of their skirts. I was not happy, but I was not deterred. I had to turn to locating new releases and music news via letters from friends back in Rain Bird Town, by visits to Billboard magazines in the BYU library, and from Gloria Stavers’s – god bless her – monthly column in Sixteen magazine. It was a teenybopper publication – a ‘chick rag’ – that I had to handle discreetly for fear of homophobic remarks from my brothers and their pals. When I discovered a promising release, I would order the record from the Schwann Catalog at a local music shop then wait out the interminable pre-Fed Ex shipping cycle until I got the call that my disc had arrived.

By this time my parents’ rampage against communist musical-brainwashers (which had not subsided even though we now lived safely sequestered in the land of Zion) had reached a level so uncomfortable that I began smuggling the incendiary vinyl contraband into the house. Freak Out, It Crawled Into My Hand Honest, Are You Experienced to name three, are records that first found their way into my bedroom racks via the basement window. By 1966, my musical passion had become a crime.

As the shock of JFK’s loss, the epiphany of British Rock, and the pain of the transplant to Provo had softened, the music moved to the frequency modulated radio bands – FM or “underground” radio as the hip new DJs preferred to call their medium – and the rock, pop and folk canon grew too broad for anything but the most wealthy and obsessive record collectors to keep up. My list eventually fell from attempting to remain comprehensive to settling on being selective. Rolling Stone had replaced Billboard as my essential record guide. But the top one-hundred chart rarely contained more than six or seven artists I could recognize. My collection numbered a respectable 300 LPs, organized in wire racks which consumed every available inch in my living room (I did eventually graduate to the ubiquitous brick-and-board storage system), but in the back of my mind I was unsettled, I knew the recorded world was passing me and my odd-job income by. But what could I do with limited funds? I consoled myself disingenuously: Enough was enough. There was more to life than music…wasn’t there?

With this notion embedded like a thorn in the feet of my consciousness, and with memories of my overwhelmed Needs List and those spasms of musical delight nearly fifty years old, I awoke this morning to the dimly illuminated shapes of a Motel 6’s familiar furnishings and a wholly unexpected renewal of my musical passion.

Glendora foliage

They say you can’t go home…can’t go back. I understand this wisdom is offered as a warning not to dip too deeply into crippling nostalgia, but when my eyes opened the past was the last thing on my mind. Coffee was a far more urgent matter. I could have been in any 6, anywhere. For a few moments I was geographically disconnected. It wasn’t alarming, in fact at times I savor such disorientation; being lost – anonymity – has its rewards.

The muffled roar of an air conditioner laboring beneath my window consumed the sounds of a new day’s gears falling into place. The comforting drone was responsible no doubt for last night’s fabulous sleep in this foreign, friendly bed. A smile settled over my face. I love the road. I love the roar. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that I have left my home in Oregon on occasion with no better motive than to drift, as I did last night, into happy dreams on waves of a motel AC’s mesmerizing pink noise. But I was not traveling so aimlessly on this trip, I was on the road from work in Tucson back to Portland to meet my doctor and take several passes through his MRI tunnel.

An opaque drape blocked the incandescence of the blazing morning sun; only a yellow corona escaping around the hem of the curtain hinted at the day outside. In a flurry of well-practiced motions, I leapt from the bed and coaxed a cup of crappy java from the coffee device. While the happy little machine gurgled itself dry, I threw back the curtains. The sensuous double humps of the San Gabriel Mountain’s foothills loomed beyond the glass, a visual reference first burned into my brain in 1950. I was back in Rain Bird Town.

Before remembering to pull on some clothes, I swung the door wide to encourage sunlight and the familiar fragrance of oleander and citrus blossoms into my room. Lingering absent mindedly in the doorway, I committed an unintended act of indecency upon anyone who might have been watching the progress of palm shadows across my door. I was that comfortable back on this turf, and that oblivious to the scars across my naked belly. When it dawned how exposed I was, I retreated from the open door and fell back into bed. The AC ramped up to a howl in an attempt to cool the entire San Gabriel Valley.

With the fan’s roar in my head and the caffeine in my veins, I grabbed a 3×5 card from my deck on the bedside table and settled against the pillows to wince at the abominable coffee and to plan my day. But plans did not materialize; instead my mind paged through memories of a walk I had taken yesterday. The walk was, in fact, the reason my route from Tucson back to Portland ran so improbably through this placid suburb town east of Los Angeles. I had detoured from the logical to walk the stations-of-the-cross one tends to trace when touring their childhood home. In a nostalgic haze I visited my grade school, the city baseball diamonds, what had once been the Rexall soda fountain (a Korean bar BQ now), the site of my first real kiss, and the cemetery, where, as one of the young sons of the local American Legion’s Commander, I was, from solemn time to time, obliged to stand at attention during nerve shattering 21 gun salutes over soldiers recently returned from the 39th parallel to Rain Bird Town’s rocky alluvial soil.

My feet scuffled along weathered sidewalks and across the initials of playmates scrawled when the walks were wet concrete so many summers ago. The characters are still sharply defined, as legible as the week the cement cured. It was if I had never left, and I suppose the taste of immortality that accompanies that sense is what I and all of us seek when we return to these treasured places. Sure, crippling nostalgia may be a trap, but I don’t regard this town and its icons as relics to be regarded at a cautious distance. An essential unsettled part of my spirit still haunts these streets after I was forced away at my father’s whim a half-century ago without time to make peace with the losses.

Since that mythic departure, I have returned for a dozen fleeting visits to this place, but yesterday was different – beyond reminiscence. Perhaps it is because in these precious, teetering days I am moved to put all my spirits at ease. Perhaps it is because yesterday the AM, FM, HD and XM airways coursing through Rain Bird Town were alive with a reprise of the very notes that once accompanied my friends and I as we played out the parts of carefree California youth. For whatever reason, yesterday I lingered. I listened and encountered echoes of my youthful voice ringing from familiar old surfaces with an élan and understanding I had forgotten I ever possessed.

The vantage of this visit was different, the result perhaps of last year’s threatening events and the procedures awaiting me back in Portland, but I no longer pictured my young phantom navigating these comfortable streets as a Tom Sawyer. Yesterday I saw him as Huck Finn, a more fully-formed, savvy self than I had taken credit for then, or for too many years thereafter. Better late than never. Then it occurred to me: Huck wouldn’t have abandoned his passions – his Needs List.

I sipped coffee from the 6’s plastic mug and stared blankly at my 3×5 card and realized that perhaps in the trauma of being extracted from the burgeoning musical airways and a promising life, I left too much behind. But would Huck have whined?

Even as I stroll these days beneath the canopy of oaks and acacia, and pass through the scent of Glendora’s generous gardens, I don’t think wistfully of what I missed, or the part of me that remained behind. Leaving the benevolent weather, the citrus groves, my music friends, the awakening girls, the redwood-bouldered bungalows and their profusion of Mediterranean foliage, and the opportunity to grow within a tight community were the cards I was dealt. We made a stand elsewhere, yet when I take long walks up these congenial boulevards, I cannot avoid considering my father’s decision to flee, or ponder what darkness clouded his vision to where he could only see danger in this the most peaceful corner of the valley, when to my ears, so much joy was in the air. He seemed so much more courageous a man.

Of course there was some danger. Wildfires often ravage the San Gabriel Mountains and occasionally consume the outlying homes of Rain Bird Town and other villages crouched in the folds of the Gabriel Foothills. A conflagration can explode at the touch of lightning, or ignite spontaneously in the volatile oils of the chaparral brush with nothing more than the sparks from tumbling stones. It was an incendiary summer when we left, but my father imagined a different threat, a greater danger posed by what he viewed as a hostile black population forty-five minutes to the west. His evidence: their uprising in Watts against the LAPD that August. His motivation: a cadre of neo-nazi bigots who fouled our peaceful neighborhood and his mind like weevils in sweet grain.

I prefer not to think of our departure from Rain Bird Town as a flight in fear, but rather as moving like hobos to the call of something romantic.

Fortress Utah
I prefer to imagine that perhaps the bounty of this town was too anchoring for Dad’s roving spirit. I will never truly understand what manifest destiny was so profound as to uproot a family from such a fair place. Maybe it wasn’t Watts. Maybe he figured that his son’s friendships were getting too deep, too substantial. Maybe in his mind his boys were getting too soft, too settled…too happy. Enough was enough. The growth of roots was a malignancy.

Distracted from my morning list by the chaparral hills simmering outside my motel window, I thought about those friendships and tried to recall the names of the kids who shared those magic days. I came up with only three: Scotti, the manic Italian kid who shared my love of a new sound arriving from England and who’s pencil lead still lingers in the palm of my left hand; Cynthia, the achingly enticing Dutch Indies girl who lived across my street, and Larry, a black-hearted worldly-beyond-his years buddy who seemed destined to introduce me to every vice available in San Gabriel valley had I made it to sixteen and beyond in his presence. The rest are blank slots erased by time from a roster of friends that in the summer of ‘65 was filling rapidly. To my regret, when dropped suddenly at the feet of the Wasatch Mountains in Central Utah, with a freak September snowstorm only three weeks away, and with postage up to seven cents a stamp, I lost touch with them all.

I often marvel at my current friends’ abilities to recall acquaintances from all ages in their live; and am amazed at their frequent bump-ins with old pals and lovers when we are on the town together. I feel awkward and a little jealous in these encounters. Without the continuum of relationships or the validation of one’s existence through common stories, it is as if the past is only a fantasy. Like a jerk, I quickly change the subject from their class reunions and tales of old best friends to whom I cannot relate. The duration of his sons’ friendships that to my dad had once seemed quite long enough, were clearly insufficient.

As embarrassing as it is to admit the brevity of the list of friends from those days in southern California, I can list the names of at least thirty people from damp distant cities in England – people whom I have never met except to have laid eyes upon from within the frenzied crowd at the foot of their stages, or ear upon from within the spiraling grooves of their shiny black vinyl.

 

To be continued in Part Two in Some Gumbo.

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Pelican

Pals - Acrylic on lumber, by Nellyda Anslow

Pals – Acrylic on lumber, by Nellyda Anslow

 

 

 

 

 

 

The insects that flew in
to visit our Christmas candles last night
scramble at first light to find their way out
across the Strait of Cerralvo
back to the sun.
No more foolish than my pursuits…

I wolf down a mango and dried fish
and follow them to the sea,
into awareness of the inscrutable pelican.

On my knees in the bright morning
sand sizzling with froth of expended waves
I comb the beach intent on shells,
the pelican is evasive
distant in his work.
We spend a brimming day together…

Aloft on favorable air above Bahia Ventana
he patrols for flashing fish,
I search on all fours for beauty.

A hundred times he plunges
with vital purpose into jeweled waters
and as many times I pluck treasures
from extended fingers
of the sea.
Again, again Bahia’s waters withdraw generously…

I rise from the surf bearing blinding agates
and shells of preposterous beauty.
How much plunder from this playa is enough?

The pelican knows in precise terms,
a regal, unfurling of wings…reveals nothing
but flight to granite boulders beyond reach
of the highest tides
and the meddlesome.
And I ascend only to my tingling feet…

I plunge into the shore break to wash away
sweat, and scour coarse pebbles
pressed deep into my palms and knees.

Before my skin rebounds
it bears a print, an exact impression
of my last true points of contact
with this place
with the pelican’s playa.
And I start hungrily for El Sargento…

Home clings crazily to bare stones
above the flotsam of great storms,
of legends that spawn the names of children.

My footprints track below the pelican’s perch
solemn bill tucked against fine feathers
never stirs at my passage,
why should he
why would he?
Salute a clown moving aimlessly on his beach…

Should a man register with any more
significance in endless days
than a drifting tangle of sea grass?

But this man regards the pelican with earnest eyes
Bahia’s great grey resident remains unruffled
no trace of fatigue after a productive day.
no discernible sign
of being well fed.
No different than before the fish rose like an offering…

The pelican is so close…still I don’t see
evidence of the churning digestion
that must be alive within him.

The pelican is so close…I see the down
on his stoic head rustle in dying afternoon winds
but even in such proximity
I can only imagine
a common contentment.
For a day’s shared enterprise along the playa…

The insects will return
with sun fading on a Baja daydream.

Christmas candles will not illuminate
the shadowed straits between our being,
but the pelican’s gut is full of fish
and my pockets overflow
with gorgeous sea shells…and that is enough.

Don Anslow, 12/25/13

Fence

Fence post removalThe fish-fry came a day early.
Friday, according to the weather icon on my digital assistant, was destined to be only partly sunny – or was that partly cloudy? I’ve never really understood or trusted the difference. If a meteorologist could assure me that I am less likely to get wet on a PC day than a PS day, I would be grateful. But one way or another, fish day looked to be iffy. Thursday was another story: Its weather was represented by a pure yellow ball blazing with such intensity from the PDA’s little screen that all room for “if” had been burned away. It was going to be hot. If I were to host a fish fry – an outdoor affair necessitated by the greasy nature of the beast – the Friday tradition, as well as the sensibilities of my catholic guests, would have to bow to mother nature. Sunny days here in the northwest are too rare to squander at the whim of superstition.

So on Monday, with sizzling cod and the company of friends on my mind, it was clear that the gorgeous day looming just three days ahead could not be forsaken. Thursday it would be.

I got the word out then got to work; this would be the first soiree on my grounds since October and I wanted the place to look good. After suffering a winter’s wear and tear on the lawn, shrubs, flower beds and our extensive gopher village, there was plenty to do. But by some cognitive malfunction developed in my brain during the long dark winter – fungus perhaps – I foolishly added removing the pasture fence to the “do” list. The fence wasn’t much good to me now anyhow, but in the distant past had contained milk goats, cattle, a pig or two, several congenial ponies and one regrettably psychopathic saddle horse that sent several hapless children to the emergency room before being retired to the rendering company.

Those careless, back-to-the-land days have faded like old tie-dye, and with some reluctance I have lately realized it’s high time to move on. For too long the little barn/milking shed I lovingly crafted has suffered under my growing disinterest, steadily decaying until last fall, when, while I was out of town, my wife took it upon herself to wipe all traces of the eyesore’s existence from the land. It was a good call, one that of nostalgia I might never have made. Several years before her intervention, the beautiful pasture gate – one of my finest examples of skill-saw woodcraft – was robbed for duty in another’s fence. Without a barn, a gate, or the motivation to build another, the fence which once partitioned off a third of our property, was rendered useless – forever to be without a population of four-legged prisoners.

So it was last week, about the time that I envisioned frying fish for my gang of gentrified friends, that I concluded the fence had to go. Its utility in the service of a whole-earth catalog agricultural dream had passed. Now, rather than picturing the mugs of herbivores happily chewing their cud, I pictured soothing expanses of lawn unbroken by strands of barbed wire, field mesh, posts and animal feces…er, manure. My vision for the land has matured. Where I once saw hungry animals gathering to feed at the hands of a winsome young wife, I now see a green canvas upon which might be placed artfully arranged groupings of rock, designer grasses or shrubs…or anything that doesn’t poop or require hay, straw, grain, vaccinations, combing, shearing, shoeing, milking or assisted birthing.

The dream, the young woman…all are gone now, only the fence remains. For the time being, it persists straight, true and taught, its posts plumb – held fast in the abandoned pasture’s soil like the teeth in a twenty year-old’s jaw. When not cursing the fence as a hazard and a nuisance for harboring weeds and blackberry shoots from the maw of my lawn tractor, I have admired it. After all, I built it. That it yet stands so true is a measure of me – of the energy and care I put into its construction, and of the durability of the vision I pursued when in cut-offs and a peasant shirt, I first dug the holes, manhandled the posts, and ratcheted the wire into winter tension. But as I resolved to complete its removal before Thursday’s fish-fry, I never guessed my creation would put up such a fight. I should have known. The memory of my eyes stinging with the potent sweat of a young man heaving on the come-along to jack every possible joule of life into the fence should have been a clue. Like a healthy young soldier, the fence wouldn’t die easily.

I was moved by vanity, too, I suppose. I wanted to show off the property’s new look. I wanted to demonstrate to my friends that I was free of out-dated ideals – that I was ready to move on. Clearly, the fence had other ideas.

As predicted, the temperature continued rising through the week. By Wednesday morning when I tackled the fence the sun was already warm by Oregon standards. I began by prying the fencing staples loose from the anchor posts to free the barbed wire on one end, then worked my way down the line. It was simple work: pulling staples from wooden posts and bending open the clips that held the wire fast to the metal stakes. If a person is bent on tidy, respectful deconstruction, they will remove and discard one wire at a time to avoid the maddening tangle formed by several lively strands, each seeking the memory of a coil latent in their molecules – a memory still fresh thirty-four years after the tug of the fence builder’s arm and exposure to all manner of weather.

My mind wandered easily as I worked my way along each wire. The fence was seven strands tall, twenty posts long; this would take a while. As benign and tedious as the task was, rivulets of sweat began to creep from my brow. I fell into a hypnotic routine: staple, staple, clip, clip…staple, and with it I began to slip back in time, to the days I worked to do what I now sought to undo. My nine-year-old daughter skipped happily down from the house to check the progress of the fence that would finally permit her – our – adoption of a friend’s forsaken horse (God forsaken as it turned out). As the sun beat down on my shoulders, I looked up from post number 9 at the sound of a voice, the faint accent of my ex-wife, calling me in for lunch: curried rice with egg.

At post number 16 I struggled to unravel a section of crudely bound wire I had spliced together to repair a break where a cottonwood branch had fallen the night before – the night of December 8, 1980. How could I forget? I remember shooing back the goats and mending the fence the following gloomy morning. It had been difficult to summon enthusiasm knowing that the person, who along with his three mates, was singularly most accountable for raising our spirits after JFK had been slain.

My thoughts were still on the pain of losing John Lennon, when upon releasing one of the staples so sloppily driven that bleak morning, the newly released wire sprung from its post into a scorpion-like form and stung me angrily on the side of my neck. I cursed and grabbed at the threatening wire…I couldn’t blame my fence for its defiance. Only four hours remained till the fish-fry aficionados would begin arriving. I left the fence – now only a line of perfectly aligned naked posts – and shuffled, sweaty, bloodied and punctured, back to the house to begin marinating the fish. The kitchen was quiet…not a trace of curry.

With five pounds of fish soaking up lemon and dry vermouth I returned to the demolition site where I faced 20 defiant fence posts. With the aid of a pickup truck, I struggled to remove nineteen and pile them in the pasture. After two hours only a single post remained: an 8” diameter corner behemoth I had sunk nearly 40” into the ground. Time was tight now. It would be reasonable to return on another day, a rainy one perhaps when the soil had softened its grip. But I was stubborn, there would be no stopping until the fence was history. Of course, I should have know that the fence wouldn’t let me proceed with my  gathering without putting up one final defensive rally.

I maneuvered the truck into position and bumped the post this way and that. The wheels spun steam up from the thick May grass. Eventually it appeared to give and I approached the recalcitrant post on foot and put my shoulder to it. I nudged it along the points of the compass, I twisted the stubborn thing in its hole, I placed my shoulder beneath a great spike that once supported a horizontal brace, and lifted with all my strength against the treated cedar. No mere rivulets of sweat glistened as I wrapped my thighs and arms around the obstacle, and with every muscle heaved against the very force that young man had hammered into the post. I found myself drenched in a deep, toxic sweat.

Splinters prickled my arms. Snippets of wire tacked to the posts tore my shirt and lacerated my chest and thighs. The battle against myself was on and I refused to lose. I strained up beneath the spike, pushing with the muscles in my legs and back against whatever friction still help the post to mother earth. I could feel my back beginning to give when the post finally yielded to its maker. Once it was free of the ground, its dead weight pulled me to my knees. I collected myself and dragged the post, like a carcass, to my pile. I turned back to the house for a shower and to whip up a savory batch of batter – beaten up but not defeated.

My wife had just returned from work when I arrived at the door. Her eyes widened at the sight of the blood. I waved her off: “Just prepping the fish, sweetheart.”

In an hour the party was under way. No first beer has ever tasted as good. When everyone was assembled, I fired up two pans of oil on a makeshift table. After drenching the fish in a buttermilk batter and rolling it in a bed of crushed crackers, voila…the fry was on. In the intensity of managing fish for 15 friends, I had forgotten my battle in the pasture; and against the heat of the afternoon had rolled up my sleeves to work magic with the cod and rockfish. As always happens when the cooking becomes animated and the odors irresistible, the party gravitates to the kitchen. In this case the kitchen was a sheet of plywood I had laid across two saw horses, located where the oil could safely fly, and where the chef maintained a view of the proceedings on the patio, the beautiful little creek and a peek through the cottonwoods out into the pasture – a view that without the distracting old fence was pristine.

Sure enough, I found myself cooking for an audience. The conversation on this first warm evening of the year was carefree, broken with laughter at almost anything. I listened as I worked – tossing in a word now and again to appear connected. I chuckled when I overheard my friend Steven telling another guest how he, with the assistance of Arturo and a six thousand dollar investment, had just completed a new fence…for his dogs.

I looked up, “Six grand to keep your dogs in?”

Steven grinned over his wine glass. “No, six thousand bucks so I don’t get into a gunfight with my neighbor.” I think he was serious.

Another friend, Monique, chimed in from the fish-fry gallery. “Don, what in hell’s name happened to your arms?”

Only then did I realize the cuts and bruises from my tussle with post number 20 had matured into impressive red and purple bruises and extensive abrasions up my exposed arms. It looked like I had taken a hit of buckshot from twenty yards.

“Well, I tore down the pasture fence today.” I waved the spatula at the point across the creek where the battle had played out – where the fence had been. The slope from the creek out to the pasture, now uninterrupted by rectilinear human intrusion, flowed like a smooth green river. I sensed pride in my voice.

“Fence? You had a pasture out there?” Monique looked puzzled.

I stared at Monique blankly. She is a psychologist, and I shouldn’t have expected her to be tuned to evidence of my agrarian pursuits, be they current or relics. I shrugged and turned my attention to the pile of posts and coiled wire. The lower ends of the cedar posts were still damp, like blood on a good tooth lost in a fight. They still had years left in them.

I looked again. The fence was pissed!

First Love

IMG_0468

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here it was again,

the first blush of love

unfettered by doubts, or fears

or personal politics…

the wondrous sensation

so casually waved off as infatuation

by a world of jealous cynics

who should be so lucky

as to have such a reckless,

divine emotion

pulling their hearts

into foolish and joyful places.

 

D. Anslow

 

 

Tech Trials and Banana Mania

SlurryExcuse me, but as I peck away at these keys I must confess that I do so while suffering the closest thing to a hangover I’ve experienced in several years. Although I still love a good drink, my cocktail shaker languishes in semi-retirement, and my alcohol consumption has plummeted down to near Mormon levels. But last night, Valentines night, a couple of recent developments conspired to knock my wagon off its tracks. Neither of them had anything to do with cupid or a good drink.

Development number one: 4-hour wrangle with technology.

In an effort to master the promise of digital music systems, and to keep up with my pal, Milt, I have recently found myself a reluctant, late-blooming fan of the iPod, iTunes and all things “i”. My efforts are rooted in a foolish lust for an ever-enlarging music collection, a passion that goes damn near back to the wax cylinder era, and has led me of late to patching together chunks of my friends’ mpeg music libraries, digitizing my old vinyl records, downloading store-bought files, and, of course, ripping all my and most of my friends’ CDs into the computer. Not content with a preposterously large music library, I have further embraced a plan to set up the stereo with some kind of device so that I might remotely control the whole shebang using my phone or pad or glasses or sub-cranial implant. Whatever the means, the idea has always been to DJ the entire collection wirelessly while lounging on the sofa with a beer. And to be honest, to impress the crap out of my Luddite friends (there are still a few of them left…you know who you are).

This project might be business as usual, no big deal, for techies and maybe for you, but for me it has been the holy grail – well worth the anticipated acute frustration that I always knew lay ahead if I were ever to move up a notch in my iSkills. Of course, cajoling unyielding electronic gadgets and murky software is a challenge even to tech-savvy persons, but to those of us who labor under an innate aversion to all things tech, such encounters can rile us to road rage levels if not pacified by our spiritual advisor or an urgent visit to the liquor cabinet.

Earlier this week I finally completed the process of whipping my digital music library into shape and getting it onto a server. Yesterday I decided was the day to put the final piece of the puzzle into place: the remote control. That is, as it turns out, an app that resides on one’s phone or pad.  Of course, I was immediately stymied; the OS on my second-hand phone could not support the Remote app. It politely informed me that I would have to upgrade the phone’s OS. Okay, I got right on it, but the cursed phone told me, sorry Charlie, your memory is insufficient. I looked into it and discovered that my phone’s memory was consumed by all my trivial photos, clever videos and narcissistic music clips. So I had to sync, backup and purge all sorts of previously untouchable data from my phone. But another ever-so-earnest voice in my phone alerted me that before I could do that I had to upgrade the ancient iTunes software on my “business” computer where I keep my phone data so the sync would work properly. Okay got that done. The sofa beckoned.

Now I had room in the phone so I could upgrade the OS,  so I could download the app so I could control the software to control the computer which directs the stereo to play the music on the air on the frog on the bump on the log in the hole…. The OS download took about 45 minutes after about two hours of syncing and purging…sounds disgusting. Anyway, got that done.

Progress was gratifying but the new interface of the OS on phone was/is off-putting. I have already butt dialed several friends at socially unacceptable calling times due to my unfamiliarity with the OS’s “chic new look.” What the hell, their inconvenience was a small price to pay for my dream of fully reclined music surfing…but I still had a way to go.

Before proceeding, I tested the ability of the computer to play to the stereo wirelessly and discovered the AirPort Express software in the server computer was out of date and/or needed reconfiguring or re-something since I had recently installed a new router for our home Wi-Fi and in so doing had evidently messed with our electronic Mojo. Jesus! So I had to download new AirPort software, reinstall the damned utility and restart the computer just to be safe. Another twenty minutes. I was good with that.

Ten deep breaths. I ran a little test to see that the audio signal (We’re An American Band, Grand Funk Railroad) from the computer was getting through to the stereo…dead silence, no Mark Farmer to be heard. It took me twenty minutes to figure out that I had set the source selector on the stereo to the wrong input channel for my AirPort. Duh! Okay got that fixed: 5 seconds. “Feeling good, feeling right, it’s Saturday night.”

Now I was in business. Almost.

I fired up the new Remote app on the phone, and attempted to “pair” that device with iTunes using a pin number the Remote app had generated for me. Lo and behold, iTunes didn’t accept the number. Now what. This was out of my hands. The damn folks in Cupertino created Remote, they created the iTunes and they created the lousy phone. And it was their son of a bitching number…what could I do? What I could do was start all over again. Lord (or maybe Steve Jobs) knows why, but the second time was the charm.

I sat back on the couch per my old fantasy. I touched the app, touched “90’s music”, selected “You Bowed Down, Roger McGuinn” and boom, the living room was full of his glorious 12-string. Just like that. I forgot about the daunting technical goose chase I had just endured. Click: Brandenburg Concerto. Click: Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw. Click: Sketches of Spain. Click. Click. Click.

I used to dream about the ability to navigate my records so effortlessly. I always loved to spin platters for my friends, and got pretty good at organizing records, visualizing segues, locating grooves, cueing up and all those archaic skills. I was unbelievably stoked. I deserved a drink, which leads me to.

Development Number Two: banana slurries and Ringomania.

My part-time drinking buddy and full-time music appreciation pal, Milt (who is always about a generation ahead of me in things geek) walked in the door with his wife, Chris, just as I was in the throes of musical/technical Nirvana. As it turned out, I was also about halfway through a massive shot of an experimental banana split cocktail, the recipe for which I have been working on for about two years now. Never have got it right.

Milt is a musician, an amateur  ‘mixologist’, and a damn good sport who has happily attended me through many a misguided cocktail epiphany. With Roger’s Rickenbacker jangling the speakers, he and I got to work on some serious banana cocktail R&D while going nuts with the new sonic capabilities. We ended up with a mason jar of a brilliant approximation of the split’s elusive flavor and textural notes.  Attended by visions of accepting an award from the Willamette Valley Bartenders Association for best ‘new classic’ cocktail, we presented the first prototype cocktails to our wives, Chris and Shara. They clearly dug the music but were unimpressed with the towering, Matterhorn-like creations. Upon tasting the offering they delivered a withering critique and suggested that the creation didn’t resemble a banana split, but were more in the banana slurry vein. Milt and I apparently suffer from some kind of dysfunction of the taste buds or receptors deep in the brain, because we thought the slurry quite acceptable. Oh well, the girls moved to Tension Tamer tea. We tackled the Mason jar.

We song-surfed, slurped, and played coffee table games for several hilarious hours. Before the night was out, we had laid the chemical groundwork for the brain fog I am experiencing now. The girls rejection of Milt’s and my earnest mixological efforts notwithstanding, it was a great Valentines night.

It got better.

In the heights of musical/slurry ‘techstasy’ my phone chimed. It was a call from a friend, Steven, who had just discovered, and somehow impossibly finagled, the promotional codes that allowed him – and us, if we were interested – to purchase prime VIP seats for an upcoming concert by Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band in Bend, Oregon. Ringo! One of the fab four right in our neck of the woods! I had seen the mythical group in the heights of hysteria at the Hollywood Bowl back in August of 1965, and yet all these year later, the opportunity to watch fourth of the incredible quartet perform stirred dormant B-mania despite the dulling effects of half a lifetime, and the ravages of the slurry. In a flurry of musical nostalgia triggered by the magical device in hand, the overdose of banana-based stimulants, and the recent Beatles 50th anniversary hoopla, we fumbled our way on-line and into a website selling tickets to see Mr. Starkey – costly tickets I might add. But at this point in the evening no one seemed to care about the money, or even my nifty new gadget. 

It was February fourteenth and now all we needed was love.

Note in Mixology R&D Log – Feb 14, 2014: Banana cocktail produced no noticeable change in female behavior, but presented a  powerful effect on fiduciary restraint.

Note to Ringo Starr: If you read this post, we will be the group, center section/ fifteenth row, Bend, Oregon. You’ll recognize us: grey hair, Beatle haircuts…never mind. We will be the ones with the banana split cocktails.