Wednesday, February 10, 2016
"If you ever need a friend, give me a call," a friend private messaged me. He left his phone number. We've known each since childhood. One night I called him.
"If I tell you what the problem is, will you just keep it between us?" I said.
"Absolutely," he answered.
I believed him. We played together as youngsters. I don't think I would've trusted him with a secret when we were kids. But we're grown men now, we're different people. And I know he kept his word. I would've felt the blow back if he didn't. It was good and unselfish of him to reach out with friendship.
Then there's others.
You know what I really hate? Gossipers. People who get a little dirt on you and can't wait to run & tell your family, friends, co-workers. Haven't they ever heard of "off the record"? You think you know someone and you don't even ask them to keep it private because you figure that's a given.
I've been wrecked, okay? The devil has gotten into me at times. I think he was laughing when I was suicidal from the sect. Satan has hooked into my unknowing mind and heart. Once like never before or since. I lost myself & when I found who I was again, it was always among the familiar homes and trees, the sidewalk path that led to the door of the house where my wife and children were. Their faces. those faces Voices. God. The key.
But those who would threaten my happiness, whom I trusted with private revelations about my guilt, moral failings and private hell, only to be betrayed -- they're worse than slime. And maybe you think you're still in the J. Guy circle. Keep on thinking it. Believe it.
And I know who you are.
Saturday, January 16, 2016
Can this song really be 25 years old? Whatever happened to youth? So elusive. Somewhere around 1991 I was at my friend Steve's house in Rushing Waters, Kan. He played me two cassette tapes he'd recently bought -- Smashing Pumpkins and Screaming Trees. They both rocked.
Iris Dement. You may have heard her version of "Everlasting Arms" in the Coen Brothers remake of True Grit. But she's been around since the early '90s. I think the above video is an Austin City Limits performance from 1995 where she sings about a philandering, dead beat dad husband who let his family down. But hey, he found religion so he's a new man and she should take him back. The song's title tells you how she feels about that. "God may forgive you but I don't, yes Jesus loves you but I don't." She's come into her own as a woman and there's no room for him.
Night time. I was on U.S. 254, driving home from a late night at work. I flipped the radio dial around, landed on this woman's show. Don't remember her name. I would later read some article saying she was a cross between Oprah and Sex and the City. Women called in and talked about being women. The woman's husband cheated on her. She discovered him in his car in a parking lot. The stylist who cut his hair was going down on him. "Just empty your bank account and let the bastard rot," the radio host said. (Silence) She played this song. I was nearing that turn on the highway that would take me home. I cried loudly and uncontrollably. There was that time when I fell in love (or thought I did) with a woman other than my wife who found out. I think I subconsciously set myself up to be found out. I was in hell, my lying, unreliable heart going against my morals. How could I have ever entertained the thought? What if I made love to another woman? What if I hurt my girl, my lover, my best friend, the woman of my life? Made her feel hallow, like living...half a life? That's what the singer is singing about. What if I killed her soul like this? The man in the video is toxic and full of lies and poison. I don't want to be that man. It's a beautiful video. Like a ballet. Artistic. I love the way it borrows from West Side Story.
My latest favorite song. I wake up early in the morning to it. Love the way it sounds on my phone. A classic from 1979, a year that saw a lot of great music. Love those original Gerry Rafferty lyrics. "He's got this dream about buying some land. He's gonna give up the booze and the one night stands." Dave Grohl sings, "He's gonna give up the crack..." It's hard edged, the signature saxophone sound of the original version duplicated by loud guitars. I love when newer artists take on '70s classics the way Sonic Youth did with the Carpenters' "Superstar" or Radiohead with their covers of "Nobody Does it Better" and "Rhinestone Cowboy." Foo Fighters has gotta be my favorite of the newer rock groups (and Radiohead). Yeah, they've been around for 20 years, which ain't really new until you think about the world's greatest living rock n' roll band, the Rolling Stones.
80 Proof Engine is a folkish accoustic bluegrass-punk band out of Newton, Kan. in the spirit such Wichita staples as Split Lip Rayfield and Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy. They regularly play at Sadie's in Newton and they'll be playing at Kirby's in Wichita this weekend. Unfortunately, I have a commitment this weekend and will not be able to make their show. Hopefully, next time. I wanted to show a video of them playing in some cellar, but this is the only one I could upload through YouTube on Blogger. Their new album is called Nastygrass. Upright bassist Dustin Nesser told the paper, Newton Now, the band is"an eight-cylinder alcohol-fueled machine."
Saturday, January 2, 2016
My job writing and investigating for a secret underworld society keeps me jumpin' like Jack Flash. Stuck in Grossmont County, Kansas again. Some kind of blues brewing within my soul like the piercing guitar solo at the festival somewhere in the spirited 196_.
The last time I did my laundry here was around 25 years ago. Had a job waiting tables at the country club here in the great town of Beulah. Waited on the upper crust during the lunch and evening hours. I remember late nights too, serving food and drinks to get-togethers of the Beulah Realtor Association, the Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce, the board of directors of the local community college from which I'd graduated.
Late nights I'd cut out with friends I'd worked with at the plastics factory before I got the uptown job. We'd go bar hopping, cow tipping, smoke a little dope, play some rock n' roll. But those lost nights are all an opaque haze now, some fog of life that occurs as you're jetting and jaunting from station to station and sometimes
Dirt and sudz
"Get over here, Gunner, don't be a buttface," the woman yelled at one of the three boys running and crawling over the concrete floor. She's wearing a fatigue jacket over her slightly overweight frame, her dark hair in a bun. She's called those kids "buttface" about 10 times.
There's a pudgy bald guy, a woman (the only attractive one in the bunch) wearing a pink jacket and a gruff man in a fading red shirt, his long gray hair giving him a look like a tougher, countrier version of Frank (William H. Macy). Looks were all he had in common with the user loser character. This guy at Country Queen Sudz was in control of his clan.
"If you make another comment, you're gonna make my decision for me," the old man told his son, definitely not a model of fealty as I'd seen John Gotti, Jr. to be toward his mob boss dead father on a recent 60 Minutes.
A woman in a dark vanilla hoodie was mopping a leak under one of the washers cleaning my clothes.
"I hope I didn't cause this," I told her. "Did I do something wrong."
"Nah," she assured me. Machines there do that shit all the time.
That family comes into the laundromat once a week, she told me while swooping the mop over the water and soap. They live in Cash.
"Cash?" I said. "Shit, that's 30 miles away. There's no laundromat between here and there."
Nope. No place to go
The grandparents are raising the three boys and the baby in the carrier set on a table beside folded underwear, jeans and flannel shirts.
"So they were taken away from their mother?" I said.
"She gets supervised visits, but yeah they were taken away. She's on drugs."
"Yeah," she said as she placed the "Caution wet floor" sign down. "Those little boys know their daddies but they're no better than she is."
The last time I was in that laundromat (it wasn't called Country Queen Sudz then, don't remember what it was) I had washed my clothes at around 7 a.m. in the morning before work. I heard this woman on the pay phone, crying and pleading with somebody, sounding down on her luck and short of hope.
After my clothes were washed, dried and folded, I went into the broom closet-sized bathroom and changed into my country club uniform, black slacks, white shirt and black bow tie. There was a knock on the door. Less than a second later, I answered it, ready to go.
It was the woman who had been crying into the phone. Her eyes were still red with tears. I noticed she was holding a basset hound. "I'm sorry," she said tearfully to me as if she had disturbed one more person in life.
"It's okay," I said. I tried to sound compassionate regarding whatever she was going through, but I was soon gone. I wish I could've comforted that girl way back then but I didn't know what to say. I didn't know how to be a life toucher.
I could never reconcile the poverty and sadness in Beulah with my job, serving rich (they seemed rich to me) -- guess the right word is upscale -- people at the country club. Today I would say I'm just doing my job, trying to get by like everybody else. These days I know everyone has problems. Strained marriages. Infidelities. Drugs. Alcoholism. Those well-to-do people had it to, but it's taken time, a lot of time for me to figure things out.
"I'm gonna get the fuck 'outa Dodge," my fellow waiter friend Keith said after each shift. One evening, he didn't show up for work. Four, 4:15, 4:30 p.m. No Keith. He'd been at Schmoochie's bar all day where he'd gotten blasted on gin, Jack, vodka, beer. I knew he did Coke, pills and other shit I had a healthy fear of ever trying. I didn't judge. If my friends wanted to get drugged and snorted out, that was cool for them, but I wasn't going there. I was a beer, weed and Jim Beam man.
I got out years ago, but I've made peace with Beulah like I've made peace with God. God's all perfect. Beulah has some shit, good and bad. There's no reason for me to do my laundry here. I can do that at the hotel I'll be staying in tonight. Guess I just came here 'cuz I wanted to write. Things are getting better.
I've found ways to comfort the afflicted, other human beings, you know.
"Something on My Mind" -- Karen Dalton
Thursday, December 31, 2015
Two girls who looked to be around the same age as my daughter sat in a booth with laptops, taking advantage of the free wi-fi. They looked to be creating beautiful pictures on Instagram.
"Wow, you can just sit here and do that?" I said. "You can do your homework here?"
They told me they could. I asked them if they had ever tasted the great malts or shakes from the soda fountain.
"I've never had any shakes because my parents can't afford them," she said.
I felt such pity for the girl I wanted to buy her a malt, but that would be a bad call. I didn't want to look like a weirdo. Then I wised up and remembered the kind of bullshit my parents used to play on me. She might've asked for a malt and her parents probably gave her that line so she wouldn't bother them about it. Close the case. I live a hand-to-mouth, paycheck-to-paycheck existence and I scrounge up for a soda fountain malt at least once a month.
When my mom was a little girl in Jett, Kan. (pop. 3,000 in the '50s), her family was poor. She was embarrased about living in a shack and didn't want to bring friends over to see it. The McElroys were one of only two families in town still using an outdoor shitter. The other family, the Whites, lived a hop, skip and a jump from them near a place the poor neighborhood kids used to play around called "the hill."
For Mom's family, ice cream was a rare treat. Every New Year's Eve, Vickie (Mom) and her brother David (Uncle Dave) got to stay up past midnight and celebrate with root beer floats. It may be the only time they'd get a root beer float 'till the next year.
I'm in my 40s so I've seen a lot of New Year's Eves. I've had great fun at parties with my filmmaker/sportscaster friend Adam Knapp and the Roger Sterling of our gang, Russ Thomas, at New Years parties.
I remember one New Year's Eve in Beulah, Kan. where I'd attended Grossmont Community College. It was the early '90s. I was around 21. I was at Centerstage night club when I wound up at a table with my old college journalism teacher, Bill Bidwell, and his friend Bev Beaman. We all counted down as the ball on the TV above the bar was about to drop in Times Square. Dick Clark was on TV, smiling like he was born with a microphone in his hand. The bar served us all free plastic cups of Champagne.
Bill died back in 2003. Bev died this year.
I've been forced this year to think about what really constitutes being rich and poor, about how I want my life to end, which I hope won't be for a long time.
My brother, Jimmy, and I see Mom at Homestead in Jett at least every weekend. It's a home for people with dementia-Alzheimer's. We usually visit at different times, but both of us have taken Mom out to McDonald's for their McFlurrys, which are to die for. Even though Mom's lost a lot of weight and doesn't eat that much anymore, she sure devours those McDonald's shakes.
We're still not rich, but it's a vastly different world from the family shack near the hill. I hope to do better as a person this next year (only my family knows my deepest flaws) and bring joy to Mom's life. (It could be five more years, it could be 10.)
And I hope in 2016, that I can touch more lives. Behind all the drinking, pissing, screwing and fighting of my young life, at the core, I think that's what I really wanted to be -- a life toucher.
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
On this day 53 years ago my parents were married in the Bible Baptist Church in Jett, Kan. (pop. 3,500 in the '60s.) There's pictures of them feeding each other wedding cake. They divorced 10 years later. One night -- I was 3-years-old -- they told me they didn't love each other anymore. I kept walking back from Dad's chair in the living room. "Daddy, do you love Mom?" "No." Then to my mother's chair. "Mom, do you love Dad?" Shaking her head. "No." I tried to be such a little man, not to cry. I think I barely did.
I almost cursed God and told Him where to go this morning, but I remembered when I was a little boy in the early '70s and I had nowhere else to go.
I asked Dad last week, "How did you feel when Mom left you? You must've been in hell." He didn't say much. Just, "been there, done that."
I could say this is gonna be a bad day, but I'm going to press on. I might crack some jokes. People like my jokes. I feel a little like Don Draper in the episode of Mad Men where he revealed in a client meeting that he was raised in a brothel and used to go through the John's trousers, looking for money and loving the sweetness of the Hershey bars he found.
Some friend of mine has given me tough love. He always did. I better get to work now. I write and investigate for a secret underworld writing society that takes me away from home a lot. There are a lot of secrets to my job I'm unable to reveal.
But then there always have been.
"Lord, This Time You Gave Me a Mountain" -- Elvis Presley
Sunday, December 27, 2015
I don't think I'll ever again be as religious as I was at 8-years-old. When my Sunday School class would sing, "Come Into My Heart, Lord Jesus," I was sure, I was a believer, I was asking Him to come into my heart. We had the visuals of storms and thunder to go with "How Great Thou Art." Later when I heard Elvis sing that song I thought it was pretty cool.
I've never told anyone this, not even Maria, I don't think, but the first job I ever aspired toward -- after being a cowboy when I was between ages 3 and 5 -- was preacher, a career, which at that time meant devotion, kindness and respect. When I first heard of Martin Luther King, Jr., it didn't surprise me that he was a minister. Of course a Christian would want people of all races treated equally and with kindness.
The first President I remembered (well I remembered a little about Jerry Ford), but the first I really got to know was Jimmy Carter. When I heard that Carter was a born again Christian (again when I was 8-years-old) it didn't surprise me a bit. After all Jimmy Carter was a good man. He was kind and he stood for good things like peace. Of course he would be a Christian. Of course, even at that age I knew his religion didn't mix with job as President. I'd learned in first grade during the 76 bicentenniel year that the pilgrims came to this country in search of religious freedom and church and government were separate.
Anyhow I was going to be holy. I was going to be like Jimmy Carter or Pastor Paul from the Bible Baptist Church. I knew I'd have to straighten out my ways and quit cussing, fighting on they playground and creating mischief.
By the time I was in fourth grade I knew that wasn't going to happen. By the time I was in jr. high, I'd stopped going to church. Felt there was a lot of artifice.
Also, in later years I became more rebellious, hardly believing in God. And when I did think about Him, I was scared. It didn't help that Christianity didn't have such a good name anymore thanks to right-wing loud mouths like Jerry Fallwell, Pat Robertson (et. al) and fundamentalist political extremism.
I've made peace with God, though. I've found my faith again and I'm confident I'm not a weirdo. The Christians on this earth I strive to emulate aren't the Jerry Fallwells, but the Jimmy Carter types. Other people can do what they want. I just know where I stand. I have friends who are agnostics or atheists, but I know I need a Higher Power. The idea of someone dying for me personally 2,000 years ago to absolve me of my terrible sins and grant me salvation appeals to me.
I'm not into war or destruction or badmouthing people of other beliefs. I just decided God is love. In my view He's more like a kind father than an avenging, punisher. Instead of a fiery hell, I believe God lets us suffer the consequences of our actions. Much like how my wife and I are with our kids. Once my son was crying after he did something wrong and said, "I know you have to punish me." "I don't like that word," I told him. "I prefer the word 'consequences.'"
This morning I went to church for the first time in months. My job writing and investigating for a secret underworld society often takes me out of town or out of state. But in one of those towns, I decided to attend a church with stately old architecture. Unfortunately most of the congregation was old and when they die, I don't know what will happen to the place.
I think I made a friend there with a guy named Ray. The other side of it was I heard some things from a guest speaker, which I didn't like. But I'll save that for a future blog. It's no reason to give up on church, on communion with others who want to touch The Divine. Hey, I've been out drinking on Saturday nights with friends and when we didn't like the bar we were at, we just found a better one.
That's all you gotta do. I'm still going to be a seeker. Still searching for answers and if I don't find them all, it's okay. Still got love.
Saturday, December 26, 2015
I think it's so neat how there are all these holidays and diverse customs this time of year. It truly is a holiday season. Peace and goodwill toward men -- those aren't just words. To truly feel the words and show sincerity in them, you have to mean that you want world peace. No bombing. No boots on the ground, no hating the enemy and blessing the weapons that will kill them. It means peace from border to border, nation to nation, surpassing oceans and deserts, seeing everyone in the world as your neighbor who might need your help.
That leads right into good will toward men. It means you show love and respect to other men and women, no matter what their religion, country of origin or holiday customs are. It means you value the person in prison, the homeless person, the troubled soul addicted to meth.
My faith tells me this is what keeping Christ in Christmas really is. Funny, I bought some old raggedy, paperback book about the Sermon on the Mount for 25 cents at a thrift store today. Maria might get mad at me, dragging another book home, but oh well. I want to read the author's analysis of the greatest, most famous sermon in history. There are books in my bookcase as well as my children's bookcase. Books scattered around the kitchen table and the bathroom. I think it's a pretty good way to live.