Friday, July 4, 2014

Boathouse sweep

Sitting here at the ol' typewriter just bleedin' to write something. Neil Young's groundbreaking 1972 album, Harvest on my turntable. "Are you ready for the country?" Before that - Billy Joel's The Stranger. You can't get more American than that on this or any other 4th of July.

On a hot day back in the 1970s, an 8-year-old version of me felt like such a big kid, taking the punk to light bottle rockets, Roman candles and such. I was with my cousin Jed on our grandma's lawn somewhere near the water pump and her garden, an old, still glowing rosebush in it.

I think of director Barry Levinson's film, Avalon as the old man with the Eastern European accent reaches back into his mind to recall the first time he saw America after coming off the ship on Ellis Island. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen, he said, the fireworks bursting outside his gracile, young frame.

July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, "The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America...It ought to be celebrated with pomp and parade, with Shews, Games, sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."

And so it was - July 2. I was working my side job at the Wichita Boathouse - built in the 1920s and overlooking the Arkansas River - where I was to sweep, mop and thoroughly clean every inch of the place. Normally such a job would have taken four to five hours, but I had my helpers by my side - wife, Maria; son, Max; daughter, Gabby.

Two of us taking the downstairs, two more upstairs. We'd give the hardwood floors a shine as lit up as the angles here in this swank house of ghosts, the tap-tap-tapping of shoes upon the dance floor, dixieland bands at weddings and young women being given in marriage to men long long ago.

Weddings. Family reunions. Quincieras. Barmitzvas. Batmitizvas.

All over time and time gone.

Gabby   my daughter, looking so like a queen. Even when pushing a broom and wearing summer shorts, she looked regal. I thought about our trip to California when she was 5, how she said she wanted to be a "magic princess." I thought about the ghosts of fathers dancing with their daughters upon this floor, the veranda behind and sun fading over the waters of the river.

I dropped my broom, ran over, picked her up and sent her arms and feet a-swayin' and the summer winds blew outside like boats receding into time.

All the booze that must've flowed here.

I was high on thoughts of it all when Maria said, after close inspections, that we were done. Then it became dusk and we all ran past the columns and pillars out the wide-stretched doors when I realized I'd forgotten something, ran back to the cash register and grabbed my paperback copy of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, pages soiled with red, blue, black and green ink where I had underlined passages. Little notes I'd scrawled to the side. The Great Gatsby - in my view, the Great American Novel. Hunter S. Thompson taught himself how to write, copying and typing typing typing the book on to paper. Anyhow, I bought the old paperback 25 years ago at the old Waldenbooks in Wichita's Towne East Mall.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was named after a distant ancestor, Francis Scott Key. He wrote The Star Spangled Banner and when you put it all together -well, you can't get more American than that. We saw the tattered flag from the War of 1812 at the Smithsonian when Max was 7 and Gabby was 4.

Back on the green grass with the family, the feeling of dusk and that first loud boom followed by springs and showers of light. (The city of Wichita holds its fireworks show on July 2. ) We drew closer to the riverbanks and I remembered standing there some 20 years before with Denyse, my best friend Steve, his sister Briana and Michelle. Late that night, we'd find ourselves in a field by Stanpipe Road outside the town of Rushing Waters, Kan. (pop. 1,000), drinking beer and smoking cigarettes.

It's 4th of July as I sit here bleeding at my typewriter. It's a good life.

Saturday, May 31, 2014


They stared from the lifelessness of the vacant blank screen like the pictures of family members posted along the wall of a prison cell. And why not? Are they not a surrogate family? 

If I don't watch it, I'll shortchange my kids, while blowing the day away on this timesuck, "liking" pictures of theirs and sharing pictures of cats.

Like. Like. Like. Share. Share. Share. Like. Share. Share. Like.


From Massachusetts, Canada, California, Idaho. I don't know...what the hell? But they're all my "friends." LOL.  Oh it's some woman's birthday. She lives in Tennessee. I should wish her a happy birthday or click "like" because her husband got a new job as principal of an elementary school. Why does that feel awkward?

You worked out at the gym. Guess I should hit "like."

There was a deathly tornado in Oklahoma. And what do you know, the woman is standing there in her tank top and shorts, holding a wheelbarrow full of supplies, as if to say, "Look at what a do-gooder I am?" The selfies in her bathroom weren't enough. "I'm sure she paid good money for those boobs," my wife said.

"Aiiiight bitch! Sayin' and I'm fucked and wanna kill my family & that's not true and you hacked into my account & I will not call the po-lice but take care of you like the little bitch you are in the way you like & Kyle will be by to visit you & Todd's gonna find you. And I blacked out last night and where's the bar. I don't need herpes, Man..."

 And on he goes, having a mental breakdown on facebook. Posts written while he was obviously drunk or on pills. Probably both.

Dramabook. Guess I'll check out my 21-year-old brother-in-law's Facebook page where they use the word, "nigga" and argue over who truly has swag.

But wasn't it all so cool in the beginning? An old newspaper pal, wanted to be my friend on facebook. That was cool.

Then I "friended" an old friend from high school. He "likes" Rush Limbaugh now. Yesterday he posted something from Right Wing News about all those lazy welfare scumbags screwin' and breedin' on the taxpayer's dime. 

Look at these parasites I knew in high school sending me friend requests.  A bunch of exclusive A-list high school celebrities. They were untenable, masters of exclusion  & now they pathetically want to be my friends as if they've bought into some revisionist history theory that we were actually close. And why the hell not? If they're so hard up now they have to use me to add to their Facebook friend arsenal because they're still playing the popularity game, why the hell not?

It's cool. Their shitty kids are teenagers themselves now with their own little self-colonies of Facebook profiles and friends, which they use for slut shaming, gay bashing and bullying kids into suicide. Hey, that's what you do on a site designed for "friends."

Around the time I lost my Facebook virginity, I met the Facebook whore. Some blonde woman wanted to be my friend, and I didn't know her from Adam and Eve. I asked a friend, an honest to goodness friend, "Is this someone I should know?" (We knew a lot of blondes back in the day.)

"I don't know her either. She sent me a request too. I think she's a Facebook whore," said my friend, who has more "friends" than many D-list celebrities.

The Facebook whore likes to hook up with so many Facebook friends, collecting notches on the ol' wall post.

My friend private messaged me back: "I notice that she's attached herself to a lot of people who work in the media."

Ulterior motive. But isn't Facebook, on its face, an ulterior motive? Ostensibly designed for friends, the site exploits and commercializes friendship for the purpose of data mining.

Familiarity breeds contempt. When my wife, Maria, wakes up in the middle of the night to pee, I turn the light on because she's afraid of the dark. Maria told her friend who told her husband and next thing I know I'm getting a post on my wall: "Dude, I think it's cool how you turn the light on for your wife."

It's not an intimate detail from my life, but it feels awkward, this guy commenting about it on Lamebook. I'm sure he was trying to be nice, telling me what a nice "dude" I am. He's Mr. Nice Guy. All about positivity.

Positive people piss me off.

He's all about posting sweet affirmations like the serial posting 70-year-old grandmas on Facebook like to do. "God is good." Like. Like. Like. Share.

What are affirmations, but "like" magnets?

Oversharing is trending. The serial poster will post every problem, every picture of his or her kid, every bodily function. Likely, the serial poster and the Facebook whore are friends. In some instances, they're the same person.

A "friend" posted a "scholarly" article about how guns don't kill people. People kill people. The article was linked to a site called "Ammo land." Everybody has a soapbox. Yes, I know. Obama's part of the Muslim Brotherhood. No, they didn't check with Snopes first. Nothing like Facebook to remind me that several of my friends and family are bigoted jerks.

I put a moratorium on accepting family members as Facebook friends. With family it's like this. I love you, you're getting on my nerves, see you later. I don't need to see their faces every day mixed in with the surrogates. Of which there were too many.

I decided I'd done some Facebook whoring of my own, recklessly "friending"  anyone who would have me - people I'd only met one time and in many cases, not at all. So I did some house cleaning, "unfriended" some people. They aren't going to miss me. I did it for them as much as I did for me. They shouldn't feel obligated to wish me a happy birthday. Some of these fringe "friends," I found, had "unfriended" me.

"Good for you," I thought. "You're getting on with life."

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Most abominable sin

Friends have emailed and sent me facebook messages for the past week or two, saying, "Can't wait to read what you'll have to say now that Fred Phelps has gone to his just reward."

Well I don't want to be known as the guy who writes about dead people and Phelps is hardly worth spilling ink over. I wrote about Nelson Mandela after he died because he led a life of purpose, courage and conviction. Just the opposite of Phelps, who could have used his position for good, but chose to waste his life on hatred.

So what am I supposed to do? Write about how funny it would be if Fred Phelps met Freddie Mercury at the Pearly Gates?

Oh, but neither of them will see the Pearly Gates, you say. The rhapsodizing Voice of Queen won't make it because he was gay and we know they're all going to hell. And Mr. God Hates Fags won't be there because he was so full of hate, protesting at military funerals and the funerals of the children who were shot to death in Newtown.

Oh no, we're nothing like him.

Sure we think, as Phelps did, that God's gonna burn all the fags in hell. But we're not carrying around signs, saying that. We love the sinner, we just hate the sin. Funny, how that phrase always gets used in regard to one sin. Not murder, rape or blasphemy, but, well, you know, sodomy.

The worst sin anyone could commit? I don't know, why did the old man from "Duck Dynasty" say, "Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there"?

For some reason, that's the sin the religious crowd likes to single out. Why are they having some conference at a Wichita church on the sin of homosexuality? There's starving children in the world. I'd call that a sin. How 'bout a conference to orchestrate some plan for feeding the multitudes like Jesus did? Oh no, we'd rather obsess over something people do in their private lives that isn't hurting anybody.

Speaking of starving children, World Vision, an international Christian relief organization that performs good in the world had to reverse its course on allowing gays in its organization or lose funding from the conservative Christian establishment.

Well, that's Christian. Withhold urgent life saving materials until they agree to uphold your bigotry. Sounds about right. Hopefully, the relief won't go to any gay children.

I am Christian, but in my view Christianity has nothing to do with the Christian Right. To me, it means things like loving your neighbor, following the Golden Rule, accepting the gift of grace and showing grace to others. I'm not saying I'm completely free of prejudice, but it's something I try to quash within myself. I had one encounter with Fred Phelps in college and I saw how far prejudice can go. I don't want anywhere near it.

But hey, that's just my opinion. I'm probably being overly cautious. People are certainly free to view being gay as the worst abomination under the sun. Heck, maybe they're the real victims in this increasingly godless world.

They're nothing like Fred Phelps.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Putin pricks

I was sitting at a Wichita Spangles the first damn time I heard it. The wife's Fox News loving family members taking cruelty within their sweet loving embrace. I'm not knocking them. My family has whackos too.

"I kind of like Putin," the sweet-voiced lady said.

Why was I not surprised?

"Some of his policies, I think, are pretty good."

I had an idea which policies she was talking about. It was around the onset of the 2014 Winter Olympics and Obama was making a statement in opposition to some of Putin's pet policies by bringing folks like Brian Boitano and Billie Jean King to Sochi.

Or maybe it's the way he likes to jail dissidents who dare to speak out against authoritarian tyranny. You know, like he did to that rock n' roll band named for a riot and a woman's vagina? Because if there's one thing the right-wingers in my wife's family (and my own) like, it's some Big Tough schoolyard bully laying the smackdown. There is nothing the sweet little feminine women of the family (with all their PTO-like pictures of Ann Romney on fakebook) like better than an alpha-male throwing his manly bulk at a bunch of godless, liberal pukes.

My grandma was a farmer's wife, embodying those good old qualities of Christian kindness the little mom's club pretends to represent now with all their "likes" on the pictures of your damn kids. Grandpa Guy was a dyed in the wool Democrat, somebody who thought FDR's New Deal and LBJ's Great Society were good things. Not like the good Christians on fb who will accept church charity if they must, but brag of how they would let their children starve before they accepted a dime from that Food Stamp president. (Unemployment compensation is all right.)

Anyhow, back to Grandpa. I was 8-years-old, he told me, "Be a Democrat all your life" and I'm doing it, which makes me an anomaly in my family since Dad and some other family members forgot where they came from. Sure this column will make me about as popular with my relation as literary giant Robert Lowell was with his relatives after publishing his book 1960 book of confessional poetry, Life Studies. But that's a matter for I-don't-give-a-shit.

I'll stick with Grandpa and the politics of human kindness. Putin's granddad was a cook for Stalin. Putin was a KGB spy for the totalitarian Soviet government. Conservatives, I've found love him. But I thought that's what they hated about Obama. Isn't liberalism the equivalent of communism and don't the Tea Baggers want the commie bastard to step outside the White House with his hands up?

"Mr. President, you're not a king." "We have a dictatorship in the White House." "I think Obama could be the sixth head of the beast from Revealation."

Really? I thought he was some wimp in mom jeans. Even if he does wear maternal denim, so the hell what? If he wore low rise, the Putin-lovin', Teabaggin' with Jesus crowd would just rant about the presidential ass crack emanating socialist jeans.

None other than the thick-skinned Sarah Palin was on Faux News, dissing Obama as a wimp, while waxing over Putin's masculinity. She knows so much about Russian foreign policy. (Hell, she can see Putin sending in the troops from her own backyard.) Palin likes the tough guys like her washed up rocker friend who shit in his diaper to avoid the draft in Vietnam.

The shitter and the quitter

Then you have O'Reilly and Hannity going on about their boy. Putin without a shirt on. Putin has muscles like Conan the Austrian Barbarian. Putin makes a decision and people react, kind of like when Hitler made the decision to implement Kristallnacht. Putin hunts tigers and wrestles grizzly bears.

What'd'you know? Some of the biggest fag bashers on Fox "News" expressing a come-in-your-pants man crush on Vladimir Putin? When are they going to talk about what his body must look like in the Russian shower?

Let's not forget the Fox team, the Tea Party, the Christian Right, the Aryan Brotherhood - they love America and everything it stands for. Sure the U.S. has issued sanctions against Russia for it merciless invasion of the Crimea in the Ukraine and they hate the U.S. president more than they could ever love this country, anything or anyone else, but they love America all right. They just prefer the bully their country is opposing.

Sweet, sensitive little men and ladies liking cute little pics of our kids and gleefully posting slogans of pseudo-Christian love.  God is good  Also, they love Vladimir Putin as he's a reflection of everything

they really are

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Saturday morning videos 2

Radio turned to NPR. I listened to a 1986 Fresh Air interview Teri Gross did with Amiri Baraka, the richly talented and controversial writer who died last week. With infectious rapid vocal delivery, he talked about how he wished he was a musician, might have been one, had he not preferred writing. He liked the trumpet lessons he took from a man who wanted him to play Verdi. His heroes were trumpet players. Dizzy Gillespie. Miles Davis.

Music is omnipresent in my life as it was this man's. Part of the fabric. The seamless, unending culture. Up there with oxygen, food, sex, spiritual matters, driving a car, going to work, cleaning the bathtub. It's fitting that I'm writing this early on a Saturday afternoon. When I was a kid, American Bandstand came on at 11:30 a.m., signaling the end of the cartoons. (It would be followed by ABC Wide World of Sports.) I watched "Banstand" a lot at my Grandma Mac's house where I spent a lot of halcyon days in my hometown of Jett, Kan. (pop. 4,000) Around 1980, Grandma got cable TV and I saw Soul Train on WGN.

Funny, Dick Clark and Don Cornelius died in the same year. But music, like the other things of life, goes on. Here are some videos for your Saturday.

I was in a sad mood this morning, thinking about some stuff. This song by this band put me in a happy mood. Only Gram Parsons did decadence melded with poignancy better than the Stones.

I've totally been on a kick for this album, which Jed Beaudoin has been putting in regular rotation on local college radio's "Strange Currency." Wichita State's 89.1 KMUW. The album is a remake of an Everly Brothers album, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, recorded in the '50s. The songs were traditional country, hillbilly and folk classics then. They go back. I'm glad Phil got to see this before he passed on.

You can never have enough Leonard Nimoy and you can never have enough cheese. Some can never have enough Star Trek or '60s. For Nancy.

"Well, the talkin' leads to touchin' and the touchin' leads to sex and then there is no mystery left." So true. Great lyrics. Great hooks. Never saw any TV show this song was featured on, but I've heard stuff.

My friend Crowson raved about the Big Star documentary, Nothing Can Hurt Me. They came from his hometown of Memphis. Crowson was once Elvis's paperboy.

Here's his band, The Crowsons performing at Watermark Books, doing a song from the classic Rubber Soul album. I love the Beatles. Love the Crowsons.

I picked this video by a local band because there's a trombone player and my son plays trombone.

Jim Nabors recently "made it legal," marrying his long-time partner Stan. Good for them. The other gentlemen in this video, the late Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, weren't gay. This is just what entertainment was then. And it was great entertainment. We won't see it again.

Still sad about the loss of Phil. This song is from the brothers' 1968 album, Roots, one of the first roots and country-rock albums, a classic. A Little Less of Me was originally a hit for Glen Campbell, but the Everlys' version is my favorite. I love the steel guitar. And notice how they sound a lot like the Byrds. When my son heard me listening to this song, he asked me if it was the Beatles. I took advantage of a great teaching moment.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Beers in heaven

It's 5:23 a.m. and I've been sitting here with my coffee, contemplating life and where we all are in the universe. We're pretty small, and yet a single life can cast such vast a shadow. The book of Proverbs says "the memory of the just is blessed: but the memory of the wicked shall rot."

I know this lady, Jimna. She volunteered at the non-profit agency my wife used to run. She's the mother of my friend Adam. "Go to funerals," she's told him since youth. I think I know why she dispensed this advice. She wanted her kids to grow up with respect, but I think she also wanted them to think about life and death. We're all mortal. One day our entire lives will be summed up in one hour. What will they say?

I went to one funeral last week. My friend John's father died. I didn't really know the man, but I'd seen him around for years. John is good people, one of the few guys I know from high school who's worth a shit. As a gesture of respect, I attended his old man's memorial service.

"He wouldn't want everyone to be crying," John said. "He's probably up there, drinking a beer right now, laughing at us."

I think I'm going to remember that guy.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Coffee heresy

It ain't my daddy's church.

My dad grew up on a farm, just outside Lathrap, Kan., (pop. 150) There were three churches in town, the Baptist, Methodist & Disciples of Christ. Each had a membership of approximately 50 people so essentially the whole town was represented in the little congregations.

(There were two beer joints in town.)

Dad was baptized in Old Man  Halbert's pond during a church revival when he was about 8-years-old. Some country preacher, his frock coat wet, dunked Dad in the water and he came up from it, changed.

I would say Dad's definite notions of what church ought to be were formed a long time ago, well before I was ever thought of, when he was of such tender years.

"They put a coffee machine in the front foyer," he said, adding derisively, "They take their coffee into the sanctuary."

For Dad, carrying coffee into church is nothing short of heresy.

"When I was a kid, Dad and Mother wouldn't even let us chew gum in church," he said.

It was a couple of days after Christmas and we sat in the den by the Christmas tree where my kids had just opened their presents. The light was drawing dim outside the window, the clean, sweet view of Country Club Lane descending for the evening.

Dad and my step-mom, Marcie, always in the loop, filled us in on all the intrigue, the backroom machinations that accompany church politics, how a faction who thought they owned the place wanted the preacher gone and got what they wanted. He resigned. It's not as if he slept with a woman who isn't his wife or something. Just a nice group of people showing the fruits of their spirits.

"When I was a kid, it was an honor to have the preacher over for dinner," Dad said, adding that people just don't do that anymore.


Not that the preacher has escaped Dad's critiques. Why did he have to put that center row of chairs in the sanctuary? Why even have chairs at all.

"It was a lot more comfortable with pews," Dad said.

"Especially if they're pure wood and no cushions, huh Dad?" I asked.

Then there's that modern church music. A worship and praise leader wearing flannel and skinny jeans, tattoos, thin-cut beard, looking like a mix of Rob Bell and early Elvis Costello as he strums his acoustic guitar. The rock band kicks in from behind as he sings, "And heaven meets earth when an unforeseen kiss..."

Not Dad's thing.

Dad spent his high school years with rockabilly. Elvis Presley and the Blue Moon Boys. Carl Perkins. Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two. That hillbilly blues music that sprang  in large part from gospel. But you didn't find songs about a whole lotta shakin' going on in church. For Dad and my grandparents, now departed, it was "Abide With Me," "It is Well With My Soul," "The Uncloudy Day." Stuff like that.

"Oh G.G., what do you care?" Marcie said. "You don't even sing."

"That doesn't matter," he said. And at that moment, I found some commonality with the old man. It was a matter of principle for him. It's like I'm always telling my wife, Maria. Something may not affect me personally, but I weigh in because it's the "principle of the thing."

"Can you tell he doesn't like change?" Marcie asked us, then addressed Dad again. "G.G., you're showing your age."

I was sprawled over the beige carpet with my daughter Gabby as she perused Pinterest on her Android tablet, my son, Max, on the couch beside Maria playing his DS.

"Kids, Grandpa is describing the 1940's," I told Max and Gabby. "Kind of like how Dad goes on about the '70s. We had vinyl records and eight-tracks, watched 'Underdog' and 'The Grape Ape' on Saturday mornings, danced disco in PE class, drank Tang like the astronauts."

My hometown had 4,000 people and I could ride my bike all over town. Ten-thousand people now, traffic lights, the ever present possibility of child abductors.

I don't know what to think. Maybe Dad was right. Perhaps those cup holders where we stick our lattes at church are an abomination.  But I'll be damned if they don't help somebody get saved.