Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Pup Tents

Once upon a time I was a happy camper. Literally. I was about ten-years-old, and I would often go camping with friends on Hemlock Island, which was a hop, skip and a jump from the back door of my childhood home. We would carry our sleeping bags, food, cooking gear, and my pup tent past the red barn, and down the dirt road that led to the lower barn, where the ponies were kept. Once over the gate, we walked through the pasture until we reached the fence line at the opposite end, where the trail to Hemlock Island could be accessed. Over the swamp and through the woods, a-camping we went.

W. Ben Hunt
I don’t ever remember my dad camping with me in the midst of the Great Cedar Swamp, but I camped with a number of friends, sometimes erecting two pup tents before campfire. I learned camping tips from my Golden Book of Camping and Indian Crafts and Lore by Ben Hunt. I was a Cub Scout and Webelo Scout. (Later on I dropped out Boy Scouts, but that’s a different story.) I was a trusted child, responsible with my campfires, keeping a bucket of swamp-water nearby to extinguish the fire after its use. This wasn’t quite backyard camping. I was out of sight and out of earshot.

For some reason food always tastes better in the great outdoors. I would bring one can of ravioli and a can of baked beans made for a hot stick-to-your-ribs supper in the woods. I would open the lid on the can partway, and place it near the hot coals and within about ten minutes – voilĂ  – dinner is served. In the mornings I would sometimes fry bologna with some eggs, beginning the day with a hearty meal, before trekking back home to watch Saturday morning cartoons.

This one can be filed under “It Seemed like a Good Idea at the Time.” I was once able to convince my mom to let me take some bacon with me. Always being a conscientious camper, I knew that I needed to secure the bacon and eggs overnight to prevent varmints from getting at them. With all my ten-year-old wisdom and experience, I decided to put the bacon and eggs under my pillow to prevent any animal from getting at them, while I slept. Naturally, I thought I would wake up if any animal came scratching at the side of the tent for my bacon.

In the morning, the bacon and eggs were gone. I roused myself from my musty Coleman sleeping bag, and walked outside of the pup tent. There in the corner of the canvas tent, was a hole chewed out of the material, where some bacon-hungry beast, reached in and took my vittles while I slept. I never felt a thing. I was shocked, but lesson learned. I don’t sleep with bacon under my pillow anymore. I sleep, clasping the precious commodity to my chest, close to my heart!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Ticket to the Show

"I must be in the front row!!" -- Bob Uecker

We’d all love to have front row seats for the show, but those are reserved for the patrons that have jewelry to rattle. After all, there are only so many front row seats, and behind them, there are only so many box seats. The rest of us have to find a way to be content in the bleachers, seated beside boorish drunks and twitching toddlers, high on cotton candy. Nobody likes to be in the nosebleed section, but it sure as hell beats never making it to the show or being priced out, relegated to standing outside, listening through the locked exit doors. We fill our pockets with snacks from 7/Eleven and eat ahead of time, to avoid the pricey confections at the arena. We go in knowing that we can’t afford the souvenirs and swag.

To be honest, front row seats are a little too up close and personal for my tastes. I once spent two hours and thirty minutes, staring up into Al Pacino’s nostrils, which is about two hours and thirty minutes too long. When I was younger, and an avid movie-goer, I would count the theaters’ seats and do my best to sit in the very middle. In my mind the film was designed to be best enjoyed from the center, in the middle of the stereo system. There are still the second run movie theaters, where those that cannot afford the eleven dollars at the glittery first run chain theaters can pay discount prices.

“Somebody give me a fucking wiener before I die.” – Randall Patrick McMurphy

We have our own forms of entertainment in the cheap seats. There’s the guy that acrobatically throws peanuts to customers, while simultaneously putting his daughter through college. And then there’s the guy, who always shows up in full regalia, with face-paint, wearing team colors. We all think he’s a little eccentric, but we love him and we wouldn’t want to see him come to any harm. We don’t want him thrown out of the show, just because he may have forgotten to take his anti-psychotic medication. You can’t even watch the World Series when you’re taken away. “I’m talking about the World Series, Nurse Ratched.”

“It’s an illusion!” – Doug Henning

Yes, life is an illusion. Magicians are amazing and tricks are not just for kids. It’s all sleight of hand, and misdirection. Kind of like the U.S. government. Nobody really wants to get sawed in half, or have swords thrust through your midsection, while you sit, cramped in a decorative box. We want it to be magic. Real life is painful, and often leaves a mark. As soon as your ticket is taken and your umbilical cord is cut, you have to get the show on the road. Matinees Wednesdays and Saturdays.

“Nobody said it was going to be fun. At least, nobody said it to me.” – Don Galloway in “The Big Chill”

Not everybody gets to be onstage. There are only so many sociopaths, troubled introverts and con-men and they operate at a loss. Being a celebrity is a disease. Snookie got a boob job; Pamela Anderson is now against pornography, and don’t even get me started on the whole Brangelina debacle. Everybody wants to be a YouTube star, ceaselessly counting their views and likes. We broadcast our egos over the internet, convincing ourselves that we are stars in our own lives, but we are just stand-ins and walk-ons. Life is full of bit parts, and we usually have to do our own stunts. Bones get broken. Feelings get hurt.

We’re all just trying to remember our lines and keep our minds off the final curtain call. Will you get a standing ovation at the end of your life, with shouts of Encore! Encore! or will your last performance be in front of an empty auditorium, with a few chirping crickets in the peanut gallery? The choice is not yours. The choice is genetic and environmental. The choice is a throw of the dice and a spin of the wheel. JOKER, JOKER, JOKER!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Music Hath Charms

Music hath charms
to soothe a savage breast
To soften rocks,
or bend a knotted oak.
-- William Congreve
"The Mourning Bride"

I told my son that I was writing a blog post about how music helps to pick you up when you’re down and he immediately told me the two songs that he has been listening to lately that help him feel good: “Panda” by Desiigner and "My Way" by Calvin Harris. My wife likes to listen to the blues when she's feeling blue. I usually require something with crunching guitars, pounding drums and played at eleven on the volume dial. I require music strong enough to smash angst. I’ve had some tough days recently -- as evidenced by my last two blog posts (Natural Born Loner and Mr. Lonely) – but music has always been my saving grace. My port of safety in this raging storm called life.

A week ago I was in such state of sorrow that only blistering punk rock could soothe me. The album that did the trick was “The Body, The Blood and The Machine” by The Thermals. This is the third album by this trio from the Pacific Northwest. The album targets religion and its sheepish followers with smart lyrics and powers chords. After two days in hell, listening to The Thermals managed to cool the flames. Sometimes it’s the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and at other times the Foo Fighters battle my blues, but music has always been there for me and – if I don’t go deaf – it always will be.

The healing power of music has been well-documented. There are wonderful books out there on music and the brain by authors such as Daniel Levitin, Oliver Sacks and John Powell. There is no doubt that music has a powerful effect on our brains. Watch the documentary “Alive Inside,” which is about the Music and Memory organization. See how songs from someone’s past light up parts of their brains that haven’t been activated in years. They sing and dance. They tell stories from their youth. Musical memories are especially effective with Alzheimer patients. I’m sure we all have a song or two that prompt special memories, and cause us to wax nostalgic when they are played.

Without music, the audible world would be pretty dull. There is the music of the spheres and the sounds of the forest -- babbling brooks and birdsong -- but music is the masterwork of the human race, and it wasn’t even invented. It grew organically into the universal language that it is. We sent the Voyager spacecraft to the outer galaxy with a gold record onboard, in a primitive attempt to communicate with alien species. As was once predicted on Saturday Night Live in 1977, they only wanted more Chuck Berry.

I once heard it said that when someone reaches their thirties, their musical tastes are pretty much set. Not me. I love hearing new music. In fact, The Thermals were introduced to me by J.J., my young co-worker at the bookstore. He has also turned me on to bands such as Smith Westerns, Blitzen Trapper and Car Seat Headrest. Some people only like country music or classical. I like any music as long as it's got a good beat and you can dance to it. Or it moves you to tears. Or if you can sing along. I like any music as long as it’s good. Good music may be in the ear of the beholder, but bad music is bad to the bone. Perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly defining good music. But I know it when I hear it.

I listened to Bruno Mars: “Unorthodox Jukebox,”  Coldplay: “Live 2012,” and Car Seat Headrest: “Teens of Style,” while finishing this post tonight.

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Here are a couple of music videos, including my son's recent favorite, "Panda" by Desiigner and a song by The Thermals off the album "The Body, The Blood, and The Machine."

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Mr. Lonely

Last week I was too depressed to write about anything, except being depressed. This week it's worse. I can barely write my name, but I'll do my best to eke out a few words, since I usually feel better after posting on my blog.

Everyone has been lonely at one time or another, but the worst feeling of all is to feel lonely among others. Feeling lonely in a family, with a wife just seems antithetical. I probably wouldn't feel this way, if I was the go-out-with-the-boys-on-Friday-night kind of guy, but I've never been that guy, not for the lack of trying though. I'm an artist, so solitude comes naturally to me, but loneliness is a whole other can of worms.

I took yesterday off to try and ease my emotional pain. I don't think it worked so well, but I don't have the option of taking another day off and going to the spa to relax. I need to show up to make my whopping $12.50 an hour. Plus, there is an author even tonight, so I must be on my best behavior. I suppose that means don't smoke too much weed at break, before having to introduce the author.

I'm fifty-five and wading in the shallows. I'm brave enough to head out to sea, but it's a lonely swim on my own. Companionship is a nice word, but a complex concept. Allies are often there to assist countries when they bomb other countries, but allies are not usually found when the troops are just emotionally down.

"Cheer up Charlie, do cheer up Charlie. Just be glad you're you."

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Saturday Night Music Video

Typhoon - "Young Fathers" Official Video

I got Typhoon's CD in error from my local library and I'm finally giving it a listen. This song, "Young Fathers," stands out in particular.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Natural Born Loner

Loner. Sounds like a tall-in-the-saddle badass, who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. The Man with No Name, clenching a cigarillo between his teeth, and gazing upon the world with disdain. It doesn’t sound like a shy guy, who avoided every school dance, and preferred to spend his free time, wandering through the woods behind his boyhood home.

I enjoy companionship and friendship like most human beings, but I have always found it difficult to connect with others. I’ve never enjoyed getting drunk with the boys. (Besides, boys shouldn’t be getting drunk. They should be helping old ladies cross the street, and mowing their invalid neighbor’s lawn.) I’m not a sports fan or player. I’m not a hobbyist, meeting up with other stamp collectors at the local community center on weekends. I enjoy solitary activities. Yes, including that one.

I grew up in the countryside. The closest neighbors my age were down the road a piece. I was not part of a close knit family. We were (and are) embattled. Children are better seen than heard. Don’t speak until you’re spoken to. If you say that again, you’re going to get your mouth washed out with soap. According to the University of Liverpool, the idea that children shouldn't have a voice in their lives lingered well into the 20th century. I can vouch for that.

Over the years, I’ve maintained one or two good friends at a time, although I haven’t hung out with a friend since my son was in diapers. My flip-phone is not filled with numbers to call on a Friday night; Friends to watch movies with, or discuss politics. Even my own son says to me, “You don’t like crowds, right daddy?” “It depends on the crowd,” I reply. “Yeah, but you don’t like crowds, do you daddy?” It’s true. I have a hard time liking people in general and yet I spend five days a week, being nice to my customers at the bookstore. It’s my natural instinct to treat people, as I would want them to treat me if our roles were reversed. I may be a misanthrope, but I’m a friendly one.

If loners prefer their own company, then why would they get married? Well, loners need love too. When the world quiets down, it’s nice to have someone to open up to at the end of the day. I’m the strong and silent type, but once you get to know me I reveal my fragile self. Fifty-five and emotionally fragile is not a good tagline. I'm sure that the Man with No Name visited the bordello once in a while, but there must have been a tragedy in his past that kept romantic love at bay. Maybe the Man with No Name needed a dog; or a good therapist.

Monday, September 26, 2016