I heard this line on a sitcom tonight: "There is no justice. There's only mercy. That's what we can give each other." That's downright profound for a sitcom.
For the last two weeks I've been sick as a dog. I rarely get sick and am not a good invalid; it makes me cranky, whiny and pathetic. Last Friday I finally collapsed in the middle of the afternoon and slept for three hours. It was the deepest sleep I've had in a long time, filled with a peaceful, pleasant dream. Sequoia and I were touring a beautiful old house near downtown Ashland. It was a rambling space, old but well maintained, neat, tidy and attractive. It was completely empty. The walls were painted white with a vibrant orange trim. It's not a color I would choose in my waking life, but in the dream I found it very appealing. There was trap door in the floor of the main room, actually two doors that opened in the middle like a french door. It led down into a secret space that was clean, well-lit, white and empty. I really liked the house. Given its location, I knew it was expensive, more than we could afford, but I had this sense that we could buy it if we wanted to and make it over into a really beautiful home. It was a good dream and I woke up happy and hopeful, something that rarely happens.
In dreams, houses supposedly symbolize the self and rooms in houses relate to the subconscious. I have no idea what any of that means, but it was a good feeling.
What I do know is, after sleeping for three hours on Friday afternoon, I could not sleep for shit on Friday night. My band was booked for a show on Saturday night and I knew I was going to be toast if I didn't get some sleep, but it wasn't happening. I was obsessing about everything I had to do the next day. I knew the venue had main speakers we could play through, but I thought I had to bring everything else - monitors, a mixer, mics and cords - and set it all up. I was thinking about all of the schlepping, the setting up, dealing with things that I don't really understand and don't have a talent for. Thinking about it kept me awake for hours and I tossed and turned. When I finally dozed off, I had a nightmare. In my dream, I drove to the Plaza in Ashland with my PA and all my gear and parked near the nightclub. When I got out of my car, I was swept up by a horde of people parading through the streets in costume; it was Halloween in Ashland. I got swept away by the crowd and when I made it back to the Plaza, it had been cleared of cars. My car had been towed with my instruments and all my gear still in it. I awoke in a cold sweat and had to remind myself that I had not gone to town yet, my gear and instruments were still downstairs. I rolled out of bed with the beginnings of a panic attack brewing.
I'm so tired of my tiresome anxieties, tired of my insatiable need to be in control, tired of feeling responsible for every goddammed thing, tired of being everybody's mama. I just want to show up and play, I don't want to have to do anything else. I just want to focus on the music. Sleep deprivation makes me over-emotional and, as the exhaustion rolled over me, I broke down and cried. I told Sequoia, I can't do this any more, I can't keep performing if it's going to make me crazy and depressed. This has to be my last show.
About an hour later, the sound engineer finally called and told me that I didn't have to bring anything, he had monitors, mics, cords, everything. (Of course I brought extra mics and cords because, hey, I'm a control junkie.) Sound check was late of course, and sitting around makes me nervous, but I was able to sit quietly, breathe, let it be what it was going to be. It was raining buckets with snow in the forecast and one of my bandmates kept saying that the weather would probably keep people away, but I just nodded, smiled and said, "oh well, we can't control the weather." Then another band mate told me that the bass player was not feeling well and might not show up. It wouldn't have been the first time he pulled something like that and I could feel a panic attack rising in my throat, but I went back to Oak Street, got dressed, put my make up on and repeated my mantra: Let it go. There's nothing you can do. It's out of your control. Besides, if we put on a bad show, what's the worst thing that can happen? I'll be embarrassed and the bar won't ask us back. No-one will die.
I was going stir crazy in my room on Oak Street so I drove downtown early. It was pouring rain, but there were a lot of people out on the streets and a lot of cars circling the Plaza. With snow in the forecast, I was driving Sequoia's huge 4-wheel drive truck and it's a bitch to park. I figured I would end up parking several blocks away from the venue but, lo and behold, there was an open space right in front of the bar. It was almost the exact same space I had parked at in my dream. I sat in the cab of the truck drilling myself on the words to a Bessie Smith song, Wild About That Thing: "Honey baby won't you cuddle near, let sweet mama whisper in your ear. I'm wild about that thing. Makes me laugh and sing. Give it to me papa, I'm wild about that thing..."
As I sat there, I saw my friends Pete and Sasha and their tow-headed two year old Danny walking down the sidewalk. They couldn't see me in the dark cab of my truck. I watched as they played with Danny. He ran up the sidewalk in the pouring rain and they chased after him, then he ran the other direction and they chased him again, all of them laughing big belly laughs. They played hide and seek in a covered alcove, Pete popping out and making Danny scream with laughter. They played in the rain for at least 15 minutes. It was an expression of pure joy, sweet and completely spontaneous. I thought about saying hi, but I didn't want to break the magic.
After they left, I got out of the truck, and climbed the stairs to the bar. It was packed. People had dressed up and the air was buzzing with anticipation. The bass player showed up. I took a few turns around the room, greeted the people I knew, welcomed those I didn't. Then, I took a breath, stepped onstage, opened my mouth and sang.
We burned that motherfucker right down to the ground. It was the best show I ever played. The audience went crazy for us, and we fed off their energy. The dance floor was packed, dancers overflowed into the aisles, and they stomped and whistled after every song. We were on. We weren't flawless by any stretch of the imagination, I made plenty of mistakes, but it didn't matter. The solos were hot, the harmonies were tight and I was flying. The audience called us back for two encores and wanted a third. We could have played all night long.
Go figure, right? Strange night.
Needless to say, I changed my mind about quitting. I'm not ready for the rocking chair just yet. Just gotta remember to have a little mercy on myself.
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
I never met my grandfather, but my dad worshiped him. His mother, my grandma, was an angry, abusive woman, but my grandfather was a sweet and funny man by all accounts. I only know a few stories about him. He had a horse named Mike. He loved that horse and the horse loved him back; they had a bond. When grandpa left for the Spanish-American war, no-one could touch Mike. For two years, he bucked off anyone who tried to ride him. When grandpa came back from the war the first thing he did was to walk out to the field and whistle for Mike. Mike came running. It was like grandpa never left.
Grandpa was a machinist by trade. He usually worked in the cotton mill that was right down the hill. During the Depression when there was no work at the mill, he tried farming for a year. He leased some land and brought in a cotton crop. My dad remembered riding to the gin with a load of cotton. When granpa pulled the wagon up, the gin foreman turned him away. Said no-one was buying cotton because the price was too low. It made a huge impression on my dad; he told that story many times.
My grandpa raised the best hound dogs in Calhoun County. The best of the best was a dog named Buck, a legendary coon hound. Grandpa used to take rich fellers out hunting sometimes, I guess kind of like a guide. One time a rich Yankee offered him $100 for Buck. $100 was a huge amount of money in the middle of the Depression, especially for a man with seven kids to feed, but grandpa turned him down. When grandma found out, she almost lost her mind. Not long after, Buck got bit by a snake and died.
My dad joined the Navy in 1944 and shipped out to the South Pacific from Treasure Island. After dad left, grandpa caught pneumonia and was hospitalized. He died because some nurse failed to turn him when she was supposed to. He choked to death on his own fluids. My dad's sister Idelle managed to get word to the ship; I guess she sent a telegram. The message came to the captain who called dad in and broke the news. Grandpa was 57 years old, my dad was 17.
My father always said that he would die at age 57 because that's what happened to his father. He told me that often when I was growing up. My dad was a superstitious soul, and he had a strong feeling about that number. As it turns out, he did not die when he was 57, he died when he was 77. But, when he was 57. he had a major health crisis. He was suffering from horrible pain in his feet and had other symptoms that were tell-tale signs of diabetes. It should have been an easy diagnosis, but the quack doctor that he and my mother patronized in Centralia didn't even bother testing him for diabetes. My dad was on the point of having part of his foot amputated before this idiot doctor finally figured out that, duh, maybe he should check my dad's blood sugar. He had to go on insulin immediately and spent the last 20 years of his life in terrible health. His only concessions to his disease were insulin shots and Sweet 'n Low. He didn't exercise, he didn't change his diet, he kept sneaking his cigarettes and, as a result, he suffered terribly. The diabetes spawned heart disease and other debilitating problems. He was in pain, depressed and basically gave up. He became completely dependent on my mom, and she did everything for him: monitored his blood sugar, gave him his shots, took him to the doctor, fixed his meals, sat up with when he had neuropathy pain, jollied him out of his depressions. She even drew his baths and washed his back. She was his 24/7 caregiver. It wore her down.
I turn 57 next month and I have no intention of dying. I know full well that shit happens and a lot of it is out of our control. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, I could receive some terrifying diagnosis. But I'll tell you this much: I ain't going down without a fight. Fuck you 57.