Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Salad Days

I once worked in a jazz club in Berkeley, a dark, dirty, hole-in-the-wall down on Shattuck Avenue.  My shift usually started at the end of happy hour. Happy hour; now there’s an oxymoron. The same sad drunks showed up every day at 4:00 o’clock on the dot, ordered a shot with a beer back and kept ordering until the stroke of 6:00 when they crawled back to whatever SRO hole they had crawled out of.  They didn't looked happy to me.

Start of the shift, I wash glasses, haul tubs of ice from the machine in the back. Cut lemons and limes into wedges, fish olives and maraschino cherries out of gallon jugs with a long handled spoon, and fill up the bar caddies. I almost never need to refill the cocktail onions because who drinks a goddamned Gibson anyway? Nasty. Fill up the straws, long and short, and twist stacks of bar napkins into spirals, an old cocktail waitress trick. It makes it easier to grab one napkin at a time, plus it just looks cool. Get my bank from the bartender, a nasty old queen. He ran a tight ship and never took shit from anybody except his worthless alcoholic boyfriend who cadged drinks off him all night long.  My final task is to light the candles in their red, round, knobby glass candle holders, the kind you see everywhere. Ceremonial, almost solemn, I carry the flickering flames around the room and reverently place one on each table.

I place a candle before a lonely old drunk as if giving a benediction; he just keeps nursing his drink. Place another before a whispering couple, their chairs pulled close, bodies touching. They look up and try to order, but I make them wait until I finish my ritual of placing a candle on each wobbly round table. Then and only then do I commence slinging drinks.

Some nights the place is packed, people overflowing out onto the sidewalk and gathered around the open door. Some nights it's deserted. A couple of drunks at the bar; a working girl and her client negotiating a transaction in the corner; five musicians on the nod playing a slow, sleepy cover of  All Blues.

The sea, the sky, the you and I
Sea and sky and you and I all blue
All shades, all hues, all blue

Last call and the band packs up. The guitar player asks if I want to go back to his place for a drink, but I laugh him off.  Always the damn guitar player. I wash the glasses, wipe the tables, blow out the candles and count my tips. Some nights, I don't even make enough to cover cab fare. The bus quits running at midnight and it's a long walk back to Oakland. Dark as a dungeon, fog rolling in off the Bay, I pull my Army Navy Surplus Store pea coat tight around me and stride the dark streets, trying to project an aura of toughness. My boots click on the wet sidewalks. I console myself down the long blocks with thoughts of Jack London, imagining him walking the same streets in the same fog wearing the same pea coat. Me and Jack, two broke-ass, desolate angels just trying to get home.

A band of old-timers played every Friday and always packed the place. Those old boys could play. The alto sax player, a garrulous, beret-wearing beatnik, chatted me me up every week. He occasionally grabbed my ass, but always in a friendly way. At his age, he was like a dog chasing a car; if he had caught me, he wouldn’t have known what to do with me. But, good lord, that man could blow. Him wailing, the crowd shouting, banging the bar, stomping the floor and me navigating the madness with a drink tray held high over my head.  People always bought him drinks and he never turned them down. After he had a few, he might drop a name, Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly. What did I know? It was all the same to me, more's the pity.  “Back in my salad days…” he would say. That always struck my ear.  Salad days?

And so I pondered as Jack and I walked through the fog darkness, Miles Davis echoing in my head. All shades, all hues, all blue. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Solstice Visitor

Sequoia took these photos from our bedroom window on the morning of the summer solstice. This guy was not 20 feet from the house.  What an awe-inspiring, majestic animal. He has a wound in his left rear haunch, which is probably why he got so close; looking for easy pickings.  Sadly, I fear that one of the ranchers will take him out before long, but maybe not. Maybe he will heal up and find his way back into the high country.  May it be so, lord, may it be so.

He speaks to me.  Be fierce, he says. Be free.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Special Butterfly

And Moses said unto God, behold when I come unto the children of Israel and shall say unto them The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, what is his name? What shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses I AM THAT I AM.
I am that I am. Sentience. A newborn struggles into consciousness, screaming at the shock. It takes a few days before she becomes aware, and the first thing she is aware of is herself. I am here. I am.

Identify is built brick by brick. Out of a stew of environment and genetics comes character traits, belief systems, mannerisms, knowing and being. We don our masks, display our colors, feather our nests, make a million tiny choices all in an effort to shout unto the world, look at me! This is who I am, this is what I believe. Each of us standing atop our particular dunghill shouting I AM.

The last time I talked to Arly, she was stressing out over a custom place card or program or some such shit, one of the million tiny details that she is choosing and arranging for her wedding. She thought it would take her an hour to design on VistaPrint but it took most of an afternoon.  She told me, "I couldn't just choose one of their prepackaged templates, no, I have to be a special butterfly and make my own."  But, you are a special butterfly, says I.  Of course you have to make your own. There are no templates on this planet, and especially not at Vista Print, that can express my beautiful butterfly Arly Sue.  Seven billion people on the planet and there's no one else remotely like her.

Million of choices to communicate who I am, what I believe, what I value, what I feel. Millions of choices that aggregate into an identity. I am that I am, singular, unique. There has never been anyone like me; there will never be anyone like me again.  For this painfully brief moment in time, my candle flares. I shine my light into the darkness and challenge, dare, beg you to look.

Awareness is a gift, a burden, the human condition.  I am that I am, the singular personal pronoun, the special butterfly, the almighty I.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Funeral Songs: Coyote

This song was my theme and talisman in 1978, the year I headed south to L.A. Driving my VW Bug with its crappy AM radio and coat hanger antenna, I sang Joni's album Hejira from start to finish. I knew all the words.  If you'd known me back then, you wouldn't have been surprised.  

Just one of my many escape acts.  My motto could be, "When in doubt, bolt." Perhaps I would have been better served by staying put; who knows? 

My choices, good and bad, have brought me here and here ain't so bad. As my girl Edna St. Vincent Millay said, "My dear, my dear, it is not so dreadful here."  

Of course, she was referring to hell.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Funeral Songs - Mood Indigo

Funeral songs; don't ask me why.  A stray thought emerges from the bubbling stew of my subconscious and spins around my head until I find a way to release it into words; thus this blog.

It's not like I feel like I'm gonna die.  As mama used to say, what's your rush, sit down and stay a spell.

Maybe it's because I'm up to my armpits in Arly's wedding and just sent out three graduation checks. Graduations, weddings, funerals, ceremonies to mark life's passages.

Maybe it's because I'm menopausal, a life passage that our culture leaves unmarked.  

Maybe it's because I heard Melanie's song Candles in the Rain the other day and thought, damn, I hope somebody plays that song at my funeral.  

Maybe it's because I'm an inveterate list maker. Funerals are all about lists: lists of children sired, jobs held, places visited. Long lists of complimentary adjectives intended to encapsulate everything that was good about the deceased; she was funny, he was so kind. As a corrective, I offer a different kind of list: a list of uncomplimentary adjectives that occasionally apply to me.  Feel free to throw them down when I'm dead.

  1. Verbose
  2. Obscure
  3. Pedantic
  4. Combative
  5. Volatile
  6. Suspicious
  7. Cynical
  8. Profane
  9. Stubborn
  10. Dogged (is that good or bad?)
Weddings, funerals, no matter. There's a little bad in the best of days, a little good in the worst. The bitter and the sweet. 

That takes me back to the Duke; Mood Indigo and then off to bed. Play this one for sure.

Songs to Play at My Funeral #7

Many Rivers to Cross. Jimmy Cliff.  mmm hmmm

Songs to play at my funeral #6

What'll I Do? Love Harry Nilsson, love Irving Berlin, not entirely crazy about the Nelson Riddle arrangement. I can sing the shit out of this song, but I'll be dead, which rules me out. 

Songs to Play at My Funeral #5

The Mooch by The Duke. I'm deeply partial to this one.

And, while you're at it, throw down It Don't Mean A Thing if it Ain't Got that Swing. It don't, it really don't.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Songs to play at my funeral #4

Anything by Sandy Denny, but especially the Crazy Lady Blues

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Songs to Play at my Funeral #3

By The Rivers of Babylon. Marley, of course.

Songs to Play at My Funeral - #2

To Lay Me Down - Jerry Garcia

Songs to Play At My Funeral

I've started a list. This is on it:
Candles in the Rain - Melanie