Saturday, December 22, 2018

Christmas parody letter 2018

Ho! ho! ho! Everybody. It's Christmas time again and I hope you're feeling jolly and that your yuletide is gay. May you all be drinking eggnog, roasting chestnuts on an open fire (whatever the hell that means) and be entertained by the delightful Christmas caroling of the Knapp/Landreth family.

I checked out a Christmas movie from the library, the 1950 classic, White Christmas starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. Remember in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation when Clark Griswold says, "We're gonna have the hap hap happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby danced with Danny fucking Kaye"? Well I'm watching that freakin' movie with the ol' kiddos.

Oh the things that have happened this year on the political front (because we always like to discuss politics over the holidays). Let me ask you, my fellow Kansans, haven't you often wished you lived in a place like Seattle, Washington where you can smoke dope and be a nudist and it's all legal? Well a Democrat was elected governor in Kansas and perhaps she'll see the economic and social wisdom of legalized marijuana. Wouldn't that be as wonderful as a winter wonderland? You're in your room, listening to Frampton Comes Alive on the stereo, hitting the bong and it's all legal. As regards public nudity, I don't think Kansans are ready for that, you know, our private stuff hanging out, but maybe one day.

More importantly, on the political front, Gov. elect Laura Kelly says she'll go for expanded Medicaid. Remember when Ebenezer Scrooge asked the ghost of Christmas present if Tiny Tim would live? Thanks to expanded Medicaid he will. But oh, if that scoundrel Kris Kobach were elected, the sentiment might be, "If he be like to die, he'd better do it and decrease the surplus population." But alas, Kobach is not to be governor and he can dedicate his energies to harassing Hispanics for their papers and keeping black people from voting.

But allow me to depart from this political discourse and talk about another subject from this 2018 year -- one much closer to my heart -- my family. My son, Max, has proven himself as a stage performer making his debut as a thespian in the high school play (what the hell was it called?) Anyhow, when I first saw him made up and wearing his costume, I thought, "Great, they stuck him in a clown suit." But it was original and it worked. He was comedic, had the timing, showed a knack for physical comedy with his jumps and falls and this movement from his tall, lanky body reminded me of Buster Keaton.

This year, young Max is again, on his high school wrestling team. It's hard work, the rigor of practice, making weight, the adrenaline before a match, but he's proving he can handle it. Recently in practice, let's just say he pinned a kid who needed a good sticking.

Then there's my lovely daughter, Gabby. This year, she participated in the scholar's bowl team for the middle school. In fact, she was team captain. She's in advanced placement English and all her teachers have noted that she has a gift for writing. Allow me to share with you a song she wrote about a strict math teacher at her school, named Ms. Andrews. There are certain lyrical references in the song that I need to explain to you. Students who don't get their homework done have to go to a program, held an hour before school starts in the morning, called Academic Success. Also, Ms. Andrews' brother is gay. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I have friends who are gay. I'm not like that guy, Vice-Pres. Mike Pence who believes in the discredited gay conversion therapy. Anyhow, the song:

Andrews Rap

Who has short black hair and teaches math?
Who isn't afraid to show kids her wrath?
It's every one's favorite teacher and mother
Not to mention her wildly homosexual brother

Everyone knows that math is hard
But Andrews makes it harder when she yells, "Give me your card."
If you forget your homework, you gotta pray
and prepare for Andrews to say:
"See ya later!"
"Prepare to meet your creator!"

If you ain't ready for algebra one
then it's academic success for you, son
'Cause along with being nearly 50 years of age
Andrews don't mind showing off her rage.
Maybe when Trump builds that border wall
Andrews will be gone and that will be all
And nobody will have to hear her call:
"get to class!
"I'm gonna beat your ___."

I have a new woman in my life, Carly. She's sarcastic with a wicked sense of humor. I love her nose ring and the tattoo of a rose on her left boob. Anyhow, Carly's brother, Ronald, had a scrotal problem, specifically a swelling of his testicles and scrotal sack. Ronald's condition was Epididymitis -- an inflammation of the long tube that rests on the testicles. Sometimes this happens to men after having a vasectomy, I mean, not every man; I had a vasectomy and I've had no trouble with my nuts, but it can happen. Fortunately he got medical help and now Ronald and his testicles are doing fine.

I'm almost outa' here, but I want you to know there's a man, a bad man who thought he could trick me into landing in California, jobless, penniless, without food, shelter, shower or toilet. As if. This man is known for hatching cockamamie schemes aimed at screwing people. His anti-social behavior, I believe, stems from unresolved childhood issues (just my armchair psychology, I know) but that's no excuse for taking evil out on people. I am not at freedom to reveal this sad, pathetic man's identity, only that he is an official with government clearance who practises peculiar and unsanitary behavior with regard to public defecation. That is all I can reveal at this juncture. I guess I could be an asshole about it, but screw it. Merry Christmas.

This is it, but I just want to say I hope we're all nicer to people in the next year. I'm pretty chill. I can eat a meal with prostitutes, tax collectors and trump supporters. I despise everything about trump and everything he stands for, but I'm willing to be your friend if you let me. I'll never excoriate you for expressing your political views on Facebook no matter how wrongheaded I may find them to be. It's your right to express your views no matter how ignorant and intolerant they may be. I'm not going to get behind a screen and call you a "fucking idiot" because there's way too much of that and it's chickenshit anyway. I only wish you peace and hope you check your testicles, or your lady parts if you're a woman.

Merry Christmas,

J. Guy

Father Christmas -- The Kinks

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Thespian Ghoul of Opera House Number 5

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"He looked like a filthy flamingo," I read and fling the bastard book across the hard wood table like some hand wave over an accordion.

The damn guy sitting across from me, a friend of mine, really, just looks at me with stones in his eyes. Salvatore's Pizzeria with its coal oven baked pizza in Wichita's historic Italian district. We're there. In a neighborhood not far from the more mainline downtown district within which the city council, with their greasy-Koch Brothers-commercial real estate swipin' palms voted to gut the old building that had housed a quaint church-run coffee shop. This was against the recommendation of the city's Historic Preservation Council. Well, I dig history in much the way I love the Starlight Drive-In and this town's Little Mexico and Little Vietnam districts. The way I go for the pepperoni and dark beer and old used books absent an ISBN while my little rock n' roll is playin'.

"So you still think about your childhood friend?" he asks. "What's her name, Suzanne?"

"Yeah, I've known her since third grade. One day in science class in seventh grade, I heard this girl's voice coming from a lab table across the room. Heard her mention Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts and I thought, man, cool as life. She had a blue ribbon in her hair."

I change the subject back. "A filthy fuck'n flamingo." Now that's crackerjack description. It's from one of the greatest novels ever -- Slaughterhouse Five.

"You don't have to write like Vonnegut," Reese says. He concedes, knowing writing is the only thing I want to talk about. "I'd like to read more about that guy from Jett."

"Fuck that guy from Jett," I say and take another sip of beer. "My ex-inlaws read that shit." I pause, think and soften my tone. "I have nothing against 'em."

 "I hope you do write more because I don't want you to be 89-years-old, having a nurse lift you into a walk-in shower, and you thinking I shoulda' written that fucker."

"I probably won't make it that long," I interject. "My blood pressure's already running high."

"Life is fleeting," Reese says.

Talking about writing, or more specifically, the lack of it raises my anxiety, which accelerates my blood pressure. We're about to enter a new year and I hope it's not hell like the last one. I feel inadequate when my writing output is poor, but I feel inadequate much of the time or I have this year. Like I'm that same awkward high school student walking aimlessly down the hall. I can stand in a room full of professional people, introducing myself and telling what I do, but I wanna say, "I don't believe in this. Networking is antithetical to I and Thou relationships. I want connection. My blog isn't the norm. It's sex, drugs and rock n' roll."

The stress, the worry that keeps me from sitting my butt in a chair and writing -- it's an obstacle to creativity. That's the way the year has been. No great writing. No great TV spots on Kansas Characters, the public television show Reese and I work on.

"You're wrong, buddy," he says. "That piece you did on the opera house was damn good television." I'd reported on an old opera house in Jericho, Kansas (to the southwest on 54) and how volunteers had restored it and were doing shows there again.

"Yeah," I say. "I saw on their Facebook page, they're doing A Christmas Carol." 

"Shit, according to you, they already have ghosts in that theater," Reese says.

Reese wavers between belief and disbelief about the existence of God and the unknown. And this is a guy who went to seminary school.

"I'm not knockin' your skepticism," I say. "Hell, it's part of your charm, but I've seen things."

Beauty and heartbreak

There's a rusty red two-story building at the corner of Santa Fe and Drinkwater streets in downtown Jericho, a western Kansas of around 8,000. With its marble steps and corinthian pilasters framing its arched front doorway, the structure almost resembles a Victorian era church. Indeed, to the preservationists who fought to restore the grand performance hall, it is a temple. Yet, the Jericho Opera House -- its name cast in vampire black atop the building -- is not without its stories, a tortured history of sex and sin within its walls. What we would today call drama.

A sign in front announced the first performance to be held at the opera house in 65 years -- a production by the Jericho Theater Company of Shakespeare's Macbeth, one of my favorite of the Bard's plays. It's loaded -- witchcraft, murder, tortured souls. It was a fitting choice for a performance hall long said to be inhabited by spirits.

Georgia Fitzsimmons, the jaunty octogenarian woman who persevered against political odds to save the opera house, pointed out the two balconies in the 900-seat theater, the orchestra pit and Wurlitzer organ said to sometimes play by itself, the soft-colored mural painting of a meadow above the proscenium arch... She's a retired actress and high school drama teacher who delights in theatrical trivia. "The opera house opened in 1895," she said. "Now, later that year a couple of vaudevillians named Joe and Myra Keaton performed here with Harry Houdini in a traveling medicine show. A week later, Myra gave birth in Piqua, Kansas to a little boy you know as Buster Keaton."

She loves to drop names.

"In the early days, we had Oscar Wilde, William Jennings Bryan and John Phillip Sousa passed through," Georgia said almost in a whisper, picked up and carried by the 19th century acoustics of the structure.  "The 20th century? Jack Benny, the Marx Brothers, Ethel Barrymore -- they all performed here. Right where we're standing."

At 81, Georgia moved with the vivacity of a woman at least 30 years younger, gesturing with the force of an operatic diva. Gracile, with long silver hair tied back in a pony tail, her pink eyeglasses, T-shirt, khaki capris and red slippers, she cast a casual vibe, undefined by age. The front of her shirt featured wild cartoon drawings of a singer with a guitar, an artist's pallet, curtains and a stage. The back read, "The arts enrich communities."

"I heard this place is haunted," I said.

"It's been known to be frequented by spirits," she replied.

Georgia knew the opera house was haunted when she was a child. She sensed an abnormal presence the night she made her debut in the theater at age 7, performing a tap dance routine while a big band played Swing on a Star. By the time the theater closed in 1953, she was a veteran of its stage. And she'd ceased being afraid, having accepted the phantoms as a part of life there -- or the afterlife.

We stood there for a moment, the grand building permeated by a corpse-like quiet. All dead. Suddenly --

"Oh Jesus!" I exclaimed.

A door backstage shut violently, then creaked open and again -- slam!

"Oh, I bet that's Mary Lee," Georgia said, as if talking about an old friend. "She wants us to know she's here."

"Is she always so volatile about it?"

"Oh, she's a little tempest, but very vulnerable," Georgia said. "She carries a lot of unresolved baggage from her mortal life."


"Heartbreak. Would you like to hear that story?" Georgia asked me.

 "Georgia," I said -- I was developing a feeling of familiarity with her. "I live for stories."

She led me across the oak floors in the front lobby to a vanilla colored plaster wall between the gentlemen's and ladies' rooms. A glass case was filled with memorabilia -- costume hats, playbills and telegrams. Above, there was a row of time gone black and white photographs -- some of celebrities with their autographs, others of local actors and musicians who had entertained on the opera house stage.

One photograph -- the year 1920 was engraved on a plaque below -- was a standout. The face of a young woman adorned in a Renaissance era dress, standing in a balcony. "That's Mary Lee McLaughlin," Georgia said, pointing to --

"My god," I said. "She's ravishing."

Her eyes were dark and yearning. Ephemeral, yet everlasting. Innocent yet sensual. Lips fierce, but fragile. Like I could see inside her soul and she was looking inside mine. We felt each other's loneliness. I desperately wanted -- needed -- to hold her. Close. Her delicate body against mine. Skin to skin. Time -- the enemy, distance -- the spoiler of hearts -- they didn't exist. her body against mine They didn't exist.

"Yeah, she was a goddess," Georgia said, breaking the spell. At the bottom of the picture, a young man bent to the ground looked up at her. He was handsome all right, but didn't command the reaction she did. I guessed correctly that they were playing Romeo and Juliet.

Georgia continued. "It was well before my time, of course, but my parents and the old timers around here said she was breathtaking on stage -- just immortal. She was a celebrity in this town and probably could've gone on to Broadway and silent pictures."

"But that didn't happen?"


I imagined all the young men wanted to marry her.

"She only loved one man," Georgia said with a kind of sorrow in her voice.

"The man in the picture?"

"Oh, I'll get to him later," she said. "It was another man." She shook her head. "Just one of those things."

"What happened to her?" I asked.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Saturday morning videos 6

For Jayme Whitlow

I'm showing videos on my blog right now because whenever I do so it's like a party like when the old Friday Night Videos show aired on NBC following the Carson show in the '80s. Late Night with David Letterman wasn't on Friday nights because of "the dance show." Well, what the hell? I dig Letterman, Colbert, old dance shows, typewriters, lovers, friends. And that's where my head is now. With friends.

For kicks, I wrote out the names of many friends, stuck them in a hat and had my daughter draw one. She drew the name, Jayme Whitlow. Hence, the dedication at the top. I don't know if this will catch on, but we'll play it by ear. Anyhow, Jayme is one of the coolest people you'll ever meet. She's a mom who's seen it all and isn't grossed out by disgusting things in the kids' laundry. She's taking online classes at Fort Hays State University with aspirations toward becoming a first or second-grade teacher.

Jayme is a preacher's wife. Does that put an image in your mind? Dainty, petite, sweet, quiet and always standing by her man. Probably works as a librarian. Maybe that's your image, but it's not Jayme. "I'm a terrible preacher's wife," she'll say. While her husband is conflict-avoidant and uncharacteristically (for a pastor) introverted, Jayme is feminine, but fierce. If she perceives that someone has been rude to my daughter, whom Jayme loves almost as much as one of her own, her first instinct will be to punch that person in the face. Fortunately she has never acted on this. She's all about the love of Jesus, but you can tell she's part of a progressive church rather than a cult. In a cult, everyone is ordered to think alike. Jayme can't even agree with her own pastor husband on every theological point and she'll make her differences loud and clear even in a Sunday school class. So much for Paul's admonition to women to remain silent in church. He never met Jayme. After Pres. Dump was elected, she went to Wichita and walked in the National Women's March and when narrow-minded jerks got on her Facebook page, saying she supported "baby killers," Jayme calmly cut them to the quick.

To Jayme, to rock n' roll, Jesus and good music throughout the universe, here it is.

"Baby, I'm in the Mood for You" -- Miley Cyrus

Hi. I think this performance on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon was a game changer for Miley Cyrus, not on the scale of Lady Gaga singing a Julie Andrews medley at the Oscars, but something authentic and important, nevertheless, that signals This Woman has arrived. Hannah Montana and all those bubble gum days are over. And the rebellion that came in the aftermath of that incarnation? Twerking with Robin Thicke, lighting a joint at some awards show, taking a selfie of herself urinating on a tree? If it's almost passe', it is passe'. Who cares? What we see is a dynamic, commanding entertainer who's still going to be on stage, performing 40 years from now. I cringed when she sang her version of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." But, I don't even shrug my shoulders -- in fact I applaud her cover of an old Bob Dylan tune. So the Nirvana thing -- okay, maybe I won't get over it, but who knows? The daughter of a country music novelty singing star who rocked a mullet and granddaughter of a minister who stood for good causes, Miley inherited the charisma and social consciousness. She had a young homeless man accept an award for her. She has soul, presence and that's what we should focus on.

"Sag, Drag and Fall" -- Sid King & the Five Strings

Here they are on a local country western show broadcast circa 1955. Just a bunch of youngsters from north Texas who never thought they would play rock n' roll, a burgeoning music that didn't have a name yet. But along with the country music they dug into, they were into this black rhythm and blues stuff coming through the radio waves. It was just the times. Elvis starting in Memphis. Carl Perkins in Mississippi. Jerry Lee Lewis in Louisiana. A skinny, glasses-wearing kid from West Texas named Buddy Holly.  Black and white meshed together. Civil Rights. A revolution in many ways that they could never have dreamed about. They did think stardom would be nice. They played on the same bill with Elvis Presley on the Louisiana Hayride radio show, co-headlined with Johnny Cash and helped arrange Buddy Holly's audition with Columbia Records. Sid King (born Sid Erwin) and his lead guitarist kid brother, Billy had Buddy and his band stay at their parents' house. Sid King and the Five Strings just never made it big outside Texas though.


In the 1980s, revivalists in cat clothes from England and all over started going to Sid Erwin's Richardson, Texas barbershop like it was holy Mecca. One of three stops -- the other two, Holly's hometown of Lubbock and Graceland. There's a lot of talented people out there. Only a few will get the neon lights, but maybe on down the line, a few more will get their just due. And last shall be first.

"So Long Elaine" -- Dirty River Boys

Here's a damn good band based in Austin, Texas. Part Americana, part punk. Their new album, Mesa Starlight, was released two days ago and perhaps I should be playing a cut off that album to promote these guys, but screw it. I like this ballad, recorded with the Utah mountains in the background. This travelin' band shook things up at the Burden, Kan. Burdendayz festival last month. At the end of this week, they'll be in Houston, Texas, then El Paso and in another month they'll be doing shows in Dublin, Ireland, which sounds appropriate. I could be out there, I imagine, in some pub, reading Seamus Heaney, James Joyce or one of them damn guys and drinking Guinness with these Texas guys.

"SOS" -- Reliant Tom

Claire Cuny and Monte Weber. They're an avant garde duo from Brooklyn, New York and I know from experience they are two of the nicest people you'll ever meet. I saw them in Wichita at Carmody's Donut Whole and they were great. They took the time to talk to my 13-year-old daughter, Gabby, and gave her a couple of CDs -- artist compilations with Reliant Tom in the mix. Gabby, who plays ukulele, told them about how she'd like to do what they do and they couldn't have been more encouraging. This band made a couple of new fans that night and I'm sure that will sit well with them. Look for their album, Bad Orange -- to be released Nov. 2. I wish them all kinds of success.

"25 or 6 to 4" -- Chicago

My son, Max, and I were dissing on stupid synthesized '80s music and he mentioned Chicago. "Would you believe they were once kick ass?" I said. "Started as a hard rock band with horns. Had some rocking great songs in the '70s -- '25 or 6 to 4.' 'Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is?' Before he died, Hendrix was a fan."

"No?" he said in utter disbelief.

"Oh yes," I said. "They were around when so many exciting things were happening. Deep Purple. Grand Funk Railroad. Alice Cooper. Bowie."

My good buddy, Roger, a local letter carrier, sports nut and classic rock fan, told me way back when were in high school, "Old Chicago, I can handle, but no new Chicago."

They've had a lot of personnel changes since the early days (Guitarist Terry Kath accidentally shot himself to death, playing Russian roulette 40 years ago.) and they sold out, but in the day -- just listen to the guitar solo, man. Spellbinding.

Chicago opened for Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix at the Whiskey a Go Go in LA in the late '60s. After a show, Hendrix went up to their saxophonist Walter Parazadier and said, "Jeez, your horns are like one set of lungs and your guitar player is better than me."

"Meet Me in Church" -- Solomon Burke

Solomon Burke, known by such titles as "King Solomon" and the "Bishop of Soul" was probably the greatest male soul singer to ever live. Burke didn't have the hits on the scale of Wilson Pickett, James Brown or Otis Redding and he's not as well remembered today. People like Elvis got all the fame, but man, if the world forgets Solomon Burke, it's their problem. In the above recording, he's covering a song that had been a hit for Joe Tex. A good version. Good blues horn section, but for the soulfulness of voice I have to go with Burke's rendition.

Born in Philadelphia, PA in 1940, the oldest of six siblings, Burke was always hustling. Selling newspapers on street corners when he was 7-years-old, starting a .99 cent car wash outside a barbershop, he later cooked his own special fried chicken backstage at Harlem's Apollo and charged the other acts for it. He even went to mortician school and got his license. I'd love to write a book about him. As a teenager, he started his own gospel group, The Gospel Cavaliers. Around the same time he became a father for the first time. Not sure if he was ever ordained as a minister, but maybe he should've been. He had the voice of a black Baptist preacher. Thick, rough, full and vulnerable. Even if he was a backslider. Hey, aren't we all? Maybe he didn't have as much stardom as he craved, but the self-proclaimed "king of rock and soul" performed on stage with the Rolling Stones. And if Mick Jaggers' vocal on the Stones cover of "Cry to Me" leads you back to Burke's original, so much better for the world.

"I Wish You Liked Girls" -- Abbey Glover

LOVE this song! Love it! Love it! I freaking love it. I think it's the best song of the year. And that singer -- Abbey Glover. Man, I dig her. Born in England in 1996, her name is spelled like Abbey Road where the Beatles and George Martin laid down tracks for EMI. (Check out her channel. She does a great cover version of "I've Just Seen a Face.") This is a song about a girl who's in love with another girl. Only that other girl likes boys. The feeling, the longing, the pain and vulnerability -- I get it. She puts it out there and you might cry. "It's not a big hit," my daughter Gabby told me. "Well it should be," I told her.

"Dirty Red" -- The Morlocks

This is very much a derivative band. Formed in San Diego, Calif. in 1984, they had a sound reminiscent of the Stooges and an ass ton of teen age '60s garage bands from all over the USA. The lead singer looks like Joey Ramone and has a voice similar to Mick Jagger. What the hell? It's only rock n' roll. This ain't complex stuff. It's not Jethro Tull, here. Just a few chords. Rock 'n roll. Nasty. The kind of thing that will always fit in no matter what decade you're in. And there's a damn good line in this song. "I'm plowing through your fields like I was a country farmer."

"Cold Hard Bitch" -- Jet

Is this an old undiscovered AC/DC song? Nah, man. It's just hard driving rock n' roll that never goes out of style. Came out in around 2007, but it sounds so wonderfully early '70s. It's the kind of easy song a young band could cut their teeth on. I looked for another video of this song, but couldn't get it loaded. Screw it. Here it is. And I love that line, "I don't wanna hold hands and talk about our little plans."

High n' Dry -- Radiohead

From their 1995 album, Blends -- Radiohead. Always loved the shit out of this band.

Two jumps in a week
I bet you think that's pretty clever, don't you boy?
Flying on your motorcycle
Watching all the ground beneath you drop
Kill yourself for recognition
Kill yourself to never ever stop
You broke another mirror
You're turning into something you are not
Don't leave me high
Don't leave me dry
Don't leave me high
Don't leave me dry
Drying up in conversation
You will be the one who cannot talk
All your insides fall to pieces
You just sit there wishing you could still make love
They're the ones who'll hate you
When you think you've got the world all sussed out
They're the once who'll spit at you
You'll be the one screaming out
Don't leave me high
Don't leave me dry
Don't leave me high
Don't leave me dry
Oh, it's the best thing that you ever had
The best thing you ever, ever had
It's the best thing that you ever had
The best thing you have had is gone away
D-don't leave me high
Don't leave me dry
Don't leave me high
Don't leave me dry
Don't leave me high
Don't leave me high
Don't leave me dry

"I'm Easy" -- Faith No More

As much as I love the original, I think I go for this cover even more. A lot of people came to this video after hearing the Commodores' original version in the movie, Baby Driver. That reminds me of the masterful film, Firecracker directed by my friend Steve Balderson, of Manhattan, Kan. and co-starring Faith No More lead singer Mike Patton. Check out the film. Check out Faith No More. Hell, check out the Coen Brothers' first major film, Blood Simple.

I love her -- Jenny Wood. Her voice is like a crying violin and her guitar playing is raw and rootsy. She usually has a band behind her, but I caught her solo last year at the Eco Fest at the Arboretum in Belle Plaine, Kan. I was there with my girlfriend, Kayla. We both dig Jenny. She's a non-BS-er who admired her late stoic lawyer father and maintains a good relationship with her mama. Last month, she released her second record, Truth Has Legs. I've never met this woman, but I'd like to. We have mutual friends so I feel it'll happen. She studied music at my alma mater, WSU, which I think is cool. She's performed throughout the country and lived in LA and Nashville for a while. I don't know the name of the above song so I can't post it. Thought about posting her anti-bullying song, "Don't Let Them Get in Your Head," but didn't. Look for it on her personal web page. Wanted to post a video I shot even if I did do it all wrong. You're supposed to shoot horizontally the way people watch TV, but I did it vertically -- something I would never do if I were shooting for TV. Screw it. Enjoy. And if you see Jenny in Wichita, say hi.

"Talk Back Trembling Lips" -- Ernest Ashworth

Like so many country songs, particularly those of the old school to which I am partial, this is true to life. The man and his wife, or lover, are fighting. She says things that break his heart into pieces, but he's so sad and trying hard not to cry, he can't bring himself to say anything. I used to listen to this song after my ex-wife and I would fight. The song became a #1 country smash for young up and coming country singer Ernest Ashworth in 1963. A year later, teen idol Johnny Tilotson took it to the pop charts. I like how in this video, Ashworth smiles at the audience and sings upbeat, belying the sad lyrics. The performance was filmed at the Grand Ol' Opry. Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. I've been there. Have you? You must. It's holy ground out there, mister. A mecca for any lover of American music.

"Houston" -- Dean Martin

Oh man, how I love this song. Hands down, my favorite Dean Martin song. His rich Italian-American voice was made for western music in a way that Sinatra could've never hoped for. Written by one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Lee Hazlewood, this song about a down and out drifter trying to make his way to Houston was originally recorded by Sanford Clark in 1964. Martin had a fit with it in '65 and Hazlewood recorded his own version in '66. But the other two guys could never hope to to this song the special style, swagger, pizzazz and sense of humor Dino had. He was the perfect guy to sing this song and pull it off. Instead of being a sad character when he sang about going without food and money, he had a little fun with it. (And you can listen and hear where Elvis picked up a few of his tricks.) You have a feeling this cool ol' guy is gonna win in the end. And sure enough, there's that final line: "There's a girl waitin' there for me. Well at least she said she'd be. Got a home and a big warm bed and a feather pillow for my head."

Dino had that special charisma. He could be in the Rat Pack with Sinatra and in a couple of Westerns with John Wayne, and maybe he wasn't the top guy, but you knew he had the number one guy's respect. He was his pardner' and consultant. Would he get a punch in the chin? Maybe, but it would always begin and end in fun. You just didn't kick Dean Martin's ass. Didn't think about it. The top guy? Maybe not, but Dino was without a doubt the coolest guy.

Oh yeah, and I must add "Wrecking Crew" session drummer Hal Blaine got that clinking sound you hear at the beginning of the song by tapping a metal triangle to a glass ashtray. "For some reason, I had the picture of a blacksmith with an anvil and the way they used to put shoes on horses," Blaine told an interviewer.

Hal Blaine played drums on a truck load of hit singles for the Monkees, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beach Boys, Elvis and Sinatra, of course...He received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy this year and at 89-years-old, he's still kicking. It's cool, knowing a guy who worked with Dean Martin and other bigger than life people is still around to talk about it.

By the way, I have to mention my good friends and fellow bloggers at They've been going strong for more than 10 years with no signs of running out of gas and they've always been friends of this blog. Great guys.

"It Ain't Me Babe" -- Sebastian  Cabot

I started this crap with a Dylan cover. I'm ending it with a Dylan cover. Here is Sebastian Cabot, the English gentleman, Mr. French, from the '60s TV sitcom, Family Affair. Here, he does a sensitive spoken word, gruff voiced reading of a Bob Dylan classic. Can you not believe this? Oh you must. It's one of the good things of life, friend. Mr. French and somebody wants to be his lover. He must be sexy. He must be what somebody wants. But he's not having it. It ain't me you're looking for, babe.

Oh yeah, and he also covered "Like a Rolling Stone."

See you in church, Jayme.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Bart O' Kavanaugh

Image result for wasted tales of a gen x drunk

Playing a drinking game called Devil's Triangle. F-f-f-f-f-f...One-piece bathing suit. Locked door. Blacked out.

At my girlfriend's house chatting online about a damn bill and listening to a Canned Heat album. Blues-rock circa 1969 or '70. The woman looks at the news feed on her phone like she's going to throw up in her mouth. The headline and silver streaks by the sides of his face like colonial pillars as old and big as America itself. And she decries the downfall of America like some apocalyptic dirge from some Ginsburg poem from the fish-eyed depths of a green sea as was his wont circa the Cold War era.

What a surprise, the drunken prep school frat boy some-say predator who got everything he wanted since the day he was born was confirmed (or should I say anointed) to the highest court in the land. A new Supreme Court justice for the just-us system. You're not a white blue-blooded male. He won't give one shit about you. And when the good ol' oligarchy bends you over for a screwing, he sure as hell won't cry for you. He may be opposed to contraceptives for women. (Actually, birth control has only been deemed a right of privacy since the Griswold v. Conneticut ruling by the Supreme Court in 1965.)

Remember the '60s? JFK's War on Poverty. LBJ's Great Society. Civil Rights. (Remember that Canned Heat song, "Let's Work Together"?) Now it's War on the Poor and their damn civil rights. And while they're at it, women too. But you like authority, don't you? Hey what the hell, he's called the wall between church and state "wrong as a matter of law and history."  So you got your good Christian boy in. Who's Christianity? I don't know, but I have an idea. Don't you?

What a tragedy that someone can tell lies about our sweet little boys, they posted on Facebook before the hearings were even heard.

Now guys I knew in high school make fun of the lines on Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's face. Guys, once popular jocks. Now fat, bald with the stink of a farting. (Boofing? Hey, it's flatulence. We were 16 for chrissake.)

Brace up, kids. It's gonna be a fun generation.

                                "Sixteen Candles" -- a suck-ass '80s teen comedy

Friday, June 15, 2018

The American Way of Dying

                                             "Vehicle" -- The Ides of March

My Nissan sitting in the parking lot of Fairview Care Home in my hometown of Jett, Kan. (pop. 4,000 in the '70s). I'm parked beside my buddy Don's restored 1970 Dodge Charger, the veteran tag on the back. The same car Don bought when he came home from the Air Force 45 years ago. Sometimes when I'm with my kids on Saturday mornings at McDonald's, I run into Jim and his lady friend. I guess she provides him a lot of comfort these days. I remember when his wife, Karen, had to be admitted to the dementia-Alzheimer's unit five years ago, and his daughter, Kari, posted on Facebook, "I've never seen my dad cry before. Now he's cried to the point of exhaustion."

He always greets me with a smile and a "How's the job going?" It's around lunch time. When I go inside, he'll be feeding Karen, the woman he's been married to for 43 years. She used to walk all over the place and touch your face when she saw you. Back when she had her mental faculties, she was a social worker, always connecting with people. Now she's in a wheelchair, hooked to an oxygen tank and cared for by Hospice nurses.

I sit motionless behind the still wheel. Got a bag of off-brand Ensure in the backseat with my daughter, Gabby. I was buying off-brand Depends for her until the home got me hooked up with a program in which we could receive incontinent supplies for free. Jesus, the first time Mom told me, "I pooped my pants" I cried like a damn baby. My son, Max, riding shotgun, fidgets nervously.

"What's up, son?" I ask.

"Dad, is it okay if I don't go in? It's depressing."

"Sure son. That's fine. I understand," I say, knowing my daughter Gabby's like-mind. I tilt my head to the backseat and say, "You can wait here too, Gab. I'll only be in there about five, 10 minutes."

"Okay, Dad."

Inside the home, Mom, who once had a rubenesque shape, looks gaunt, emaciated.

"Vickie, you wanna sit down and eat?" the nurses and CNAs say, trying to coax her away from her aimless meandering and to a table in the dining room where they'll feed her.

"Hi Mom," I say. "Remember me?"

There may be faint recognition. I can't be sure.

"Yeah Mom, we've known each other for a damn long time."

Two weeks later, I take her to the Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital emergency room due to the fact that she had been less than herself all day. Endless naps, one after the other, and an over-reaching lethargic haze. They keep her for observation before sending her home two days later, having never found out specifically what the problem was.

"I guess this is the new normal," I tell Margaret, the executive director of Fairview.

"I guess so," she says.

An hour later, she calls me at home and asks if I'd like to start Hospice treatments for Mom. "Yeah, I had a feeling things were winding down," I say. Within an hour, I'm talking to the hospice nurse, also named Vicki (her name spelled differently). She assesses Mom and deems her eligible for Hospice treatment. That night, the chaplain, a man named Charles calls me.

"I've known your mother for the past few years," he says. "I've talked to her in between ministering to my clients."

"So you've seen her decline," I say.


A day later my brother Jimmy calls me and tells me he's talked with the funeral home. Mom could have three weeks, three months, six months -- hell, we don't know, but at least arrangements are set. "I'll go to her church Sunday and talk to the minister," I say. "It'll be cool, hangin' with the Nazarenes."

Bar blast--death disc shocker

June, 1991. I leave the newsroom at the Jett Dispatch where I have my summer job, and walk across the street to have lunch with Mom at her place of work. For a while after my girlfriend left me, I had no appetite. Fell into a dark depression. Now I'm getting my bearings back somehow and I'm entering the death house.

It stands to this day, one of the oldest damn houses in Jett. Still fresh gleaming white as the day the old man -- well, he was a young man then, just out of mortuary school in Pennsylvania -- moved in with his new bride. Black and white photos of the couple, Mr. and Mrs. Deurksford, now long dead, at various stages of life --  young adulthood, middle age and such. Mortuary owners David and Arletta Deurksen in various pictures of their lives, by themselves and with their three boys -- just blended with the retro wallpaper of the parlor like the vanishing years and days of drinking to the end, gospel singing and eulogies gone by. Such pieces of time are said to be ghosts, but according to the stories, there are images much more phantasmagorical shifting through the spaces and walls of this darling abode.

Mr. Farris lies in an expensive casket by the east wall of that room. He's wearing a tan suit with a gold clasp on his tie. People say "they made him up well." I get a good look and why the hell not? Long-time local businessman, civic leader, served on the Board of Education, City Council and two terms as county clerk. "They sewed his eyes down nicely," I say softly. For God's sake, why the hell did I ever read that book, The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford?

I walk into the the homey kitchen where Mom, the Deurksen's oldest son, Dwight, now semi-retired, and his daughter, Myla, now the funeral director at the family business, are having lunch. Sitting around the mint-colored 1950s table. The cushions of the metal-legged chairs have been sewn back together a few times dead peoples' eyelids. They were still smoking cigarettes inside in those days. Well, not Mom. She gave up smoking back in the '70s. Her lungs will be cleared, not to be found tarry and black when the time comes in some dark, distant future, not foreseen at this moment when adulthood is a novelty and Mom's a nice forty-something middle age.

Music pipes in from the speakers. J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers with a death disc shocker from 1964 -- the kind of hit of rock n' roll Stephen King likes.

Oh where oh where can my baby be? The Lord took her away from me. She's gone to Heaven so I got to be good so I can see my baby when I leave this world.

A few months later, the singer at the age I am now, will be dead of alcoholism. The end doesn't mean a damn thing, really. J. Frank Wilson. Still a legend in Lufkin, Texas.

"How you doin', sonny boy?" Mom says, barely looking up from her egg noodles and bottled Coke. "Written any good stories today?"

"No, just a bunch of crap about the Neighborhood Watch program," I say. "Kind of cheesy."

Maybe some day I'll be an investigative reporter at a metro daily, writing about CIA agents selling crack in black ghettos. Then again, maybe the onrushing technological advances will render print obsolete. What the hell will I do then? I'll think of something. Mom was in her 40s a few years ago when she found her calling in the funeral business.

She talks to the corpses as if something is still there. Opening in the morning, she'll say, "Good morning, Mr. Pilsen." "Good morning, Mrs. Mallory." She tells them "Good night" when she closes.A month earlier she'd sold a guy pre-need funeral insurance to a guy from inside a bar. He arranged the meeting at Taft's Uptown Saloon on downtown State Street. Later, when the old guy entered assisted living, Mom would still visit. Make social calls. "Just for shits and giggles," she'd say.

"That was a pretty good story you wrote about Harry," Dwight saya, referring the that feature article I'd written about the new school superintendent, Harry Chapain that had appeared in the previous Saturday's "Neighbors" section of the paper. (Ol' Harry'd been in town for a while. Previously served as high school principal, then director of curriculum, then assistant superintendent -- the role he he had when I was in high school.)

"He was a damn good interview," I say.

Dr. Chapain talked about his more famous name sake (with a minor spelling change) and said that while "Cats in the Cradle" is a good song, he was partial to Harry Chapin's lesser known 1971 hit, "Taxi." But the song to which he felt connected -- as if it went with his life as a "greaser kid" from Tulsa, Okla., flying Huey helicopters in Vietnam, speaking out against the war after coming home, becoming a renegade educator and ultimately becoming a member of The Establishment as an administrator, albeit an unorthodox one -- was Sinatra's "My Way." You'd think it would've been the Doors, Hendrix or Ten Years After, but no, it was Sinatra.

"My Way" -- that's the song they started playing at closing time at Taft's bar shortly after it opened in 1970. It's still there, this little town pub, still using a front bar that goes back to the '40s and still playing "My Way" at closing time, although now it could be the Elvis or, better, Sid Vicious version as well as Sinatra's.

There was a self-activated turn table coming from the chambers of the antique looking funeral parlor, piping another record over the kitchen speaker. One of Dwight's favorites. "Sentimental Journey," the version from Sinatra's 1957 Come Fly With Me album. I'd finished eating my lunch, as much as I was going to eat, and grabbed a Marlboro Light from the hard pack in my front pocket. "Sinatra -- I'll have a cigarette for this," I said.

"That shit'll kill you," Mom said, the same thing she said when I played punk rock on my car stereo.

"I promise I'll quit as soon as the stress of college is over," I told her, not for the first time.

"Or when your ass dies," she says.

"Actually Mom, these cigarettes are keeping me alive. I'm gonna live forever."

"Who the hell would want that?" she said. I understand now. Nobody wants to live out long past their warranty. We assume we'll go to Heaven, I guess, but the anticipation of that singular moment is scary and uncertain.

Around this time, Myla softly reaches into her silver cigarette case and takes out a Newport. Lips protrude like luscious rhubarb jam over a volcano, the long thin cigarette between them as she torches the tobacco -- a flick of her finger on the button of her Cricket lighter. Myla is in her early 40s, divorced, wordly -- has a passport and been to Spain and Argentina -- and educated. I mean, hell, I can talk to her about Chaucer or Shakespeare or about how her dad, Dwight, was in the European Theatre nearly 50 years earlier before he returned home and went to mortuary school. Love her dark, straight hair and almond eyes. Myla -- Jesus loves you more than you will know.

She jokes about the late preacher's wife they conducted services for the previous month -- Mrs. Avett. Mom joins in. She has a friend who works as a nurse at Fairview Care Home where the nonagenarian lady spent her final few years in the dementia/Alzheimer's unit.

"My mom used to say she was a glamorous lady," Mom says, bringing up my beloved departed grandmother. "You couldn't find a more fitting preacher's wife. She was always so prim and proper, never stopped wearing hats and gloves to church. She would've been mortified to know what she'd become. They'd change her and she'd say, 'You like digging in my pussy.' If she knew what she was saying, she would've died a million deaths."

The humor in the funeral home is as dark as my depressive spells, but not as black as death, itself. "People are dying to get into this place," she says, not the first or last time she'll make that joke, but hey some things never grow stale or platitudinous. They just keep regenerating like flowers in a field where you lay down with a girl. Okay, hell, the joke did get old. Things do, you know.

                                            "Going Down" -- Freddie King


I hear the noise in my coat pocket. It's a Freddie King ring. Means it can only be one person. All other calls arrive to the tune of John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom." I glance down at the
contact name on my screen. "Shit, what now?"

My brother, Jimmy and I talk about the cost of putting her in a home. The paperwork. Rigmarole. Spendown to Medicaid. We're not at that point yet, but the future's bearing down on us.

"Christ, there's only a god for rich people." I rant on, walking past the Walmart Pharmacy and aisles of Pepto Bismo and stool softeners, iPhone to my ear. It's a winter's day, 2012. Outside a man in gloves, coveralls and a stocking cap rings a bell for the Salvation Army. Christmas time and we're all doing what we can. "Poor bastards like us -- I'm not saying God fucked us, just that he doesn't give a shit."

"Man, why you gotta dis on God about it?" he says of my blasphemy.

"Why not? Where the hell is he?"

Earlier that day at around 7:15 a.m. I call Mom, while stopped at the intersection of rural 70th Street and Hopkins Switch Road. A detour. One of many I've taken in this life.


The one person in this world who understands me (with the exception of my wife) who restore my calm, allay my fears. Hopefully enough of her will still be there to revive me one more time. She doesn't make calls anymore, but still answers her phone.

Hello (is anyone there)?

Sobbing incessantly. Something about her voice, I guess. Awash in tears.

I don't wanna go to work today

"Oh honey, what's wrong?"

"I'm lost." Barely able to release the words. "My whole life is for nothing."

"Oh, I'm so sorry."

"Remember that cult back in Texas? The Army of Yahweh?"

"Oh, I haven't thought of them in forever. I'll have to visit and see how they're doing.

She's cognitively unable to comprehend. We almost get there. We're within reach. We don't make it."

"I wanna die," I say between sobs. "There's nothing for me here. I'm nothing but a drain on my family."

"Why don't you come over? Tell me everything."

But I know it's no use. She will have forgotten our conversation if I visit. Throughout this phone conversation, she hasn't once called me by name. Has she forgotten it? Does she remember I'm her son? Sometimes she gets confused and thinks I'm her cousin. She'll never be able to calm me down again. There's so many things I finally realize about life and just at the moment I want to tell her, it's too late. She's fading away, and I feel guilty for thinking only of myself while dementia festers in her mind. I think about how this is the beginning of The End and I'll cry about it every day for two weeks.

"I have to go to work. I have to let you go."

"Okay, sweetie, but you call me back later."

Late that night I get out of bed, unable to sleep, sit at the foot of the stairs and feel sorry about the things I said earlier in the day to my brother. Sorry about a lot of things.

A couple of weeks later, my friend, Valerie, posts on Facebook about her mother. She's posted several times in recent weeks about her mother, who was suffering from Parkinson's and dementia, had been hospitalized and was eventually given Hospice care. Years ago, when Val and I worked together as reporters at the Ash Valley American in northeastern Oklahoma. Back then here mother was a Norwegian language instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison -- Val's alma mater.

"My point of light has flamed out," she wrote on Facebook. "Mom has become with the earth, sea and sky. I love you, Mom."

I replied to her comment, said I was sorry about her mother.

I felt a little bit of selfishness when I private messaged her. "Do you think there's a Heaven where people go when they die?"

"Don't know -- hard to say. You?" she messaged me back. "Seems like it matters less as I get older. My mother just seemed exhausted. Not like she wanted eternal life."

Good place?

Friday afternoon, I take off work an hour early to talk to Myla at Deurksen Funeral Home. Her hair is now dyed a rasp concrete blonde with a few purple streaks. Her dad died around 20 years ago.

"I haven't talked to your mom in years," she says as we sit in her office. "She always had such a good sense of humor. You think I could visit her at the home?"

"You can, but she wouldn't know you anymore," I say. "She's not what you remember. She's rail thin. She'll talk in almost a whisper and none of it makes sense. A lot of her personal animation is gone."

"Bless her heart."

"We don't know how long Mom'll be around, but she is doing good now for what it all is."

"Well it's never too early to start making plans," she says.

As I get up to leave, I mention that Mom liked the country singer Alan Jackson so we could play his version of "How Great Thou Art" when the time comes."

"That's so your mom," Myla says. "She could cuss like hell, but she loved gospel music. You were at Dad's service, weren't you? They played 'Sentimental Journey.'"

"No, I was living in Oklahoma at that time. Was it the Sinatra version?"

"It was the Andrews Sisters. Of course, Dad saw them perform at a USO show when he was in the service. (Pause) "Now they did play Sinatra at Harry Chapain's funeral a couple of years ago."

"I was there. They played 'My Way.' He had Alzheimer's, the same damn disease Mom has."

Myla walks me to the door, past the old school funeral parlor, caskets, made-up corpses and "No smoking" sign.

"Smoking is so 1995," I say.

"Yeah, it was a bitch-and-a-half to quit, but I did it," she says, laughing. "Long before they had vaping."

"I quit sinning a while back. A little before my first kid was born."

"Oh, how old are your kids now?"

"My son is 16, my daughter is 13."

"Oh my! They keep getting older. Max and Gabby, right?"

"Yep, that'd be their names."

"My oldest granddaughter graduated from high school this year."

"Oh shit," I say and we both laugh.


Around 8:30 a.m., a Saturday. Sitting at a booth in McDonald's with Max and Gabby. We finished eating a while ago. Now we're just sitting there, each of us on our phones -- the kids playing games, me writing a few lines for my blog.

"Well Jeff, how 'ya doing?" the familiar voice says.

I turn around and there's Don wearing a cap, his lady friend to his side. We shake hands. It's the first time I've seen him since that day a few weeks ago when the kids didn't want to go into the nursing home. It had been around lunch time and Don dutifully fed his wife, Karen. Since then, she passed away.

"Really sorry to hear about Karen," I say.

"Well thank you," he says. "I miss the old girl. I really lost her years ago."

I nod, knowingly.

"But she's better off now, he says, still a little sadly. "She wouldn't have wanted to live that way."

We switch gears, exchange some more happy talk about the breezy, sunny weather and what we'll do over the weekend, the smile back on Don's face, his characteristic affability shining through. He introduces me to his girlfriend, something he hasn't done the several other times we ran into each other at Mickey Dees. "This is Joyce," he says. She gracefully takes my hand.

After they leave, I suggest to the kids that we get dessert. "Their strawberry cream pies are to die for."

"I don't like pie," Gabby says.

"Little girl, you're missing one of the true joys of life."


Riverside Area
Reese lays down the black card and reads the white lettering. "White people like ________.

He shuffles the three white cards, then one by one, he turns them over. "A PowerPoint presentation." "Crying into the pages of Sylvia Plath." "Mufasa's death scene."

Reese, his girlfriend, Janie, and I are playing Cards Against Humanity at their dining room table in their home in the Riverside section of Wichita. For shits and giggles, we added an imaginary player, Rando, a sort of phantom presence.

"I have to go with this one," Reese says, laying down the card with The Lion King reference.

"Oh come on," I protest. "A PowerPoint presentation -- white people love that shit."

"It's a fucking turd," Reese says, giving our ghostly player his fourth black card. One more and Rando (like random withouty the m) wins the game.

"But PowerPoints are so white, I mean, like megachurches and gentrification," I continue.

"Mufasa's death scene trumps all that," Reese says. "It's an insipid Disney movie with an insipid Elton John song, all white bred and lachrymose. It's contrived to make the privileged look like they have a heart."

Well I couldn't argue with that.

It's the second time I've been at Reese and Janie's house for dinner. This time I brought my kids, whom I have for the weekend. While we play cards, they're entertaining Carson, Janie's 7-year-old son from a previous relationship. Carson looks up to my kids, especially Max, whom he worships -- because they're teenagers. The kids are in Carson's room, playing Nintendo Wii, which "doesn't have violence and cussing" Gabby told me, so it's okay for a kid.

Earlier when we arrived at the house, Reese and I slapped high fives, feeling victory over the spot I recorded for Kansas Characters, a locally produced show on Wichita's public TV station, KPTS, where Reese is a producer. We usually celebrate such things over a beer or a meal at Maggie O'Malley's pub in the Delano district. The piece I filmed was about a group of small town boosters in Jericho, Kansas who raised money over several years and restored the town Opera House, which opened in 1885 and had sat vacant, collecting cobwebs, since 1953.

"This has been a community wide effort to reconnect and bring back to life an integral, vital part of our town heritage," the chief volunteer said on camera. Then her face took on a playful look as she leaned forward and said, sotto voce, "It's said to be haunted."

"Heaven is" reads the black card I pull, back at the dining room table.

"Gotta pick this one," I say, singling out the white card reading "pooping back and forth. Forever."

It's Rando's card. The ghostly man wins.

"Your mind's still in the shitter," Reese says, then adds that it's time to watch "the damn movie." We're always picking apart movies -- Cool Hand Luke, Blood Simple, Raging Bull...or TV shows of the past 20 years -- The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Pushing Dasies, Dexter, Mad Men...Reese is a hard ass critic. If he doesn't like your movie or music, he'll tear your ass up.

Pink moon-like standing lamps create mood in the room. Red oak floor that trails down the hall, connecting the lavatory and bedrooms and goes the other way into the square, prayerful-like, but secularized beer-bong-and-baulderdash-skewn dining room. Reese and Janie's living room is a paean to kitsch. Off white walls. So 1950s Reader's Digest, but with a domicilic swag that could be Costello-ishly cruel if you punked it just a little. The sofa is burgandy-colored and warm. The coasters on the end tables are abstract in colors.

The 50-inch flat screen with the blue ray/DVD player hooked on are the most auspicious links with modernity in the room. Reese and I are both fans of the movie I brought over -- The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman's breakout film of 50 years ago. I checked it out the DVD from the Jett Public Library. Max comes out and joins us while Carson listens to Gabby play her ukulele. My boy took a Cinema Appreciation at the high school last semester and I like introducing him to classic films.

"Son, why do you think the camera is zoomed in on the character's head with a fish tank behind him?"

"Cuz he likes fish?"

"I think it's indicative of how overwhelmed he feels , all these people there for him. He feels isolated, like a fish in a tank."

Later Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) enters the room, ostensibly to ask where the bathroom is, but with an ulterior motive. She throws the car keys to Ben (Hoffman) and they land in the fish tank.

"That's gotta mean something," Max says.

"What do you think it means, son," I ask.

He ponders for a moment. "I think it means she's gonna enter his tank, his life."

"Wow!" I exclaim proudly. "You learned a few things in that class. Good catch, sonnyboy, you're getting pretty damn good at this."

After the movie, Reese and I talk about it for 30 minutes. Janie checks on Carson and does her own thing. Max rejoins Gabby and Carson.

"I know Anne Bancroft was the first sex fantasy for a generation of young men and I can see why," I say. "But the movie is about a lot more than Mrs. Robinson taking the young guy's innocence. It's about being in a funk and wanting to go somewhere, to do something, but what? What the hell happens next?"

"It's like you go through a crisis at different transition points in your life -- from childhood to adolescence, from adolescence to young adulthood to middle aged and finally to elderly," Reese says, with a little excitement. He always digs relating art to life.

"Yeah, I usually have a nervous breakdown about once every 13 years," I say.

"But you're feelin' all right now. Like, you were a wreck after you got divorced, but now you seem to be in a good place. You're breathing easier."

"Yeah, but a good place is tenuous," I say. "Everything's temporary."

"Hell, depression is temporary," he said. "It's fucked up to off yourself, but I can't say I've never thought about it. I was in this black void after I left seminary school. I lost all my spiritual resources, but now I'm at peace, not really believing or disbelieving."

"The religious cult back in Texas, they fucked up my mind," I say. "But I had to leave town, couldn't become one with them, getting dunked in water, handling snakes or whatever the shit they do. I couldn't dig that image of God as The Enforcer who's going to rain down fire and fury and create genocide."

"It's strange you're still a believer," Reese says, as if impressed. "You've got stick-to-it-ive-ness."

"Well in his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James wrote about the once born who live in a state of religious euphoria and can't fathom tragedy and the twice born who've been through hell and purgatory, suffered a crisis of faith, then come back with a deeper faith, but the melancholia never really leaves."

"I would take you to be the latter," Reese says.

"I'd say that'd be accurate," I answer.

"So what do you believe now exactly?"

"I finally just concluded God is love. I mean if there's a Higher Power in the Heavens who embodies the universal laws of love and justice, he's gotta have a heart, right? If I could love my kids even if they were gay, how could God do any less? I believe Christians are going to be in Heaven alongside Muslims -- assuming there is a Heaven."

"So you believe in universal salvation?"

"No, I think that's bullshit. I don't believe in some traditional conception of a fiery hell, but there's gotta be some darkness or absence somewhere. Some people, I just don't see coming back from the dark side. I mean, Adolph Hitler -- there's no way he could live in some godly paradise."

Reese laughs. "Yeah, Hitler was pretty incorrigible."

Then he gets up, heads to the kitchen. "Want another beer?"

"No," I say, laughing a little. "I'm good. We'll have to be headed home soon."

Alone, I look at the lamp light reflected on the hardwood floor. I envision Mom again in that funeral house, said to be haunted. She appears as if a few decades have been returned to her. So youthful looking as she closes up shop for the night. "Good night Mr. Farris," she says, turning out the light.

                                 "Children of the Grave" -- Black Sabbath

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Billy Graham's mixed legacy

                   Billy Graham on Meet the Press.

Around 6 a.m. this morning. I was exchanging texts with my ex-wife on such logistics as which one of us would drop the kids off at school for the rest of the week. Then she texted a message that wasn't too surprising, given his advanced age of 99.

"Billy Graham is dead."

Maria and I used to have a tasteless game we'd played since we were married in which each of us would try to be the first to tell the other when a celebrity died. "David Bowie's dead." "Prince is dead." The texts from her had come in. "That's one more point for me," she'd say. "I'd already seen on Facebook that he died." "Well you didn't say anything so it doesn't count."

We've gradually dispensed with the contest element and now one of us tells the other when a famous person dies. No game. No points. It seemed more fitting to be somewhat reverential when talking about America's Pastor.

My earliest memories of Billy Graham date back to the '70s, seeing him on TV at my grandparents' house -- actually at both sets of grandparents. He preached epic sermons before enormous crowds packed into stadiums. I remember my grandma Mac saying "preach it," happy that the evangelist was bringing the good word to the masses. The man, who'd given his life to Jesus Christ at age 16, was a paragon of preachers. My grandma and grandpa Guy would always forgo watching Happy Days or whatever was on the other channel if a Billy Graham crusade (I'm a bit uneasy about that word) was on television.

Billy Graham
Along with hymnals, Bible study manuals and various religious books, gems like World Aflame and Billy Graham Answers Your Questions were on the bookshelf of my paternal grandparents' house in Marshallville, Kan. (pop. 700) From an early age, I must have been searching for answers because I would devour those books. I was amazed that this man had all this inside knowledge of the Holy Scriptures and knew how to respond to people's problems. The woman praying that her son wouldn't be drafted into Vietnam. Why didn't she pray instead that he'd be a good soldier? Graham advised. The person who felt the Bible to be boring. "If you find the Bible to be boring, you are at fault," Graham responded, somewhat unfairly, I now think. Don't tell me the book of Leviticus or the tedious begats aren't boring.

Years later, (1995) after the Oklahoma City bombing that left 168 people dead, I watched the memorial service on TV and agreed with Pres. Clinton, who upon introducing Graham, described the preacher as the one man who could bring comfort to the grieving at such a time.

In his final years, I would still respect Billy Graham -- much more than I would, his virulent-right son. But I also realized he had flaws and his legacy was mixed.

I always feel ill at ease when I hear preachers pray to God for our country. "Why not the whole dang world?" I'll think to myself. I think it's a myth that the United States is more blessed and holy than any other nation on Earth. This notion that we're a Christian Nation and have to be the Biggest and Best, to me, smacks of Constantine-like jingoism. It's a view Graham promoted in his early youthful days as a fire-breathing, communist denouncing revivalist.

The United States is "the key nation in the world" and "truly the last bulwark of Christian civilization," Graham said in 1956. Young Billy Graham favored the McCarthy hearings. Soviet-style Communism was an evil godless religion straight from Satan.

Our sex-obsessed culture, "dirty movies" and legalized pornography were taking our country straight to hell. In his 1965 book World Aflame, Graham wrote: "One of the world's great historians told me: The moral deterioration in the West will destroy us by the year 2000 A.D. even if the Communists don't."

Graham was critical of the social gospel, just as he was of intellectual theologians. He didn't appear to be a fan of taking protests to the streets, writing of a "seething political cauldron" of "riots, demonstrations and revolution" occurring somewhere in the world every day.

"Even in Britain and America the people have become addicted to sitting, squatting, demonstrating and striking for what they want."

Graham's friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr. was strained when Graham suggested a cooling off period during the Birmingham sit-ins of 1963, calling for "a period of quietness in which moderation prevails."

King criticized "white moderates" in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", later published in his book, Why We Can't Wait. No doubt, King was thinking of Graham along with others. (On the good side, Graham had insisted that audiences for his crusades be integrated since 1953.)

Their friendship was further split by the things corrupt FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was telling Graham about King -- things which Graham would later say poisoned his mind. Their opposite stances on the Vietnam War drove the men further apart. King spoke out against the war; Graham was hawkish

Damning communications between Graham and Pres. Nixon have since been released. In a 1969 memo, the evangelist advised the Commander-in-Chief to step up the war in Vietnam and bomb dikes, which "could overnight destroy the economy of North Vietnam. A transcript of a 1972 phone call between Graham and Nixon revealed them both making antisemitic remarks. Graham said Jews' "stranglehold" (on the media and entertainment industries) had to be broken "or the country's going down the drain."

But Graham, like other Americans, would later question America's involvement in Vietnam. After the Watergate scandal, he talked of getting burned by Nixon. While he continued to be a spiritual adviser to Presidents, he vowed never to get too close to power again. He hung back from joining the Religious Right and was criticized for being tolerant of Islam.

In his later years, Graham regretted not joining MLK and the others in the march to Selma. He felt he could have done more. Decades earlier, after Graham invited King to join him on stage in 1957, King wrote to Graham, "You have courageously brought the Christian gospel to bear on the question of race."

Upon Graham's death today, the King Center tweeted, "Pray for his family as they mourn, while celebrating his transition into eternity bolstered by his message of hope and work on behalf of the community."

Suffice it to say, Graham was a good, but flawed man. I'm going to leave it right here with a video from a Woody Allen TV special in 1969 in which he chats with Graham. I love this. While the two men acknowledged they didn't agree with each other on everything, they nevertheless had an engaging civil exchange. You'd never see anything like this in today's media.

                            Woody Allen and Billy Graham

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Light in the world

Hi readers, I hope you all had a wonderful holiday. I didn't get around to it this year, but when Walmart has sales after Christmas Day, I'll buy a small tree and ornaments to place in my apartment next year. I'll also buy the Christmas cards I'll mail next year. I have my kids with me right now, which is the best Christmas present I could ever get.

Last week I rang the bell for Salvation Army -- a Christmas tradition for me that started when my ex-wife took our son out to do it when he was 5. He's 16 now. Our daughter is 13. I was assigned to stand outside a Dillons store from 4 to 7 p.m., but the preacher relieved me at 6:30 p.m., for which I was grateful. I was freezing ass cold -- actually my feet were freezing. God bless you, Commander Johnson.

On Christmas Eve night, I went to the candle light service at church. My belief is that the birth of the Christ child was like light breaking through a world of darkness.The pastor, Neal and his wife, Jayme, are good friends of mine. They've supported this blog and encouraged me in all my writing endeavors. I never thought I'd be buddies with a pastor. Thought I was too much of a rebel, but Neal and I -- we get each other. Lately, we've taken to trading theology books with each other. Oh, and Jayme gave me a bunch of crockpot recipes after my dad and step-mom gave me a crockpot last Christmas. They knew I was without some essential things and gave me a special present this Christmas, said I didn't need to give them anything, but I'd already gotten them a Christmas card. Neal lost his mom to cancer this year. (His dad died around 12 years ago.) Several of my friends lost parents this year.

Among other supporters of this blog, there's my friend, Stan, who serves on the Wichita Board of Education and ran for a state legislative seat, but unfortunately for Kansas, he lost. I wrote some PR material for Stan, much like 19th century novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Scarlet Letter, House of Seven Gables..) wrote a campaign biography of his college friend Franklin "Handsome Frank" Pierce -- one of the worst presidents ever. He was an anti-abolitionist. Anyhow, Stan is a super guy. I can bounce writing ideas off him and he always listens and offers advice and encouragement. Unlike Franklin Pierce, Stan is all for good causes like racial, gender and socio-economic equality.

Then there's my friend, Alana, whom I've known since junior high, but we were more acquaintances than friends in school. More recently, through the blog and sharing stories about our kids, she's become a friend. Her husband, Craig, also went to school with us. He's been serving the country for years in the military, which I respect. Alana was a PTO (Parent Teachers Organization) dynamo, raising money for her kids' public schools. Her daughter is now a realtor. Son is a rock guitarist who can play Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir."

Among people I've known since I was a kid, but only recently became friends with, probably none is more surprising than my friendship with Dawn. In junior high, we hated each other. Don't know why. That's just the way it was. We were cruel to each other. One day I said (this is so juvenile), "Dawn, is that mayonnaise on your lip or are you back in business?" In junior high, I projected a certain stupid no-holds-barred vulgarity like I've never exhibited before or since. I'm glad the profanity gene missed my kids. Anyhow, Dawn is now a stalwart reader of this blog, which makes her a friend. She's worked for years, making airplane parts and has a daughter who got a degree in marine biology from some university in Oregon. I think she has a son who's a high school wrestler.

My friend, Jeannie, in Michigan, is another faithful reader of the blog. She's a good hearted person who takes care of people in her home. She lost her brother this year in an accident, which sucks. Her father died in 1969. But I'm happy to say her mom, who's in her 90s, is still alive and doing well.

Then there's Denyse in New Mexico aka Inciting a Riot. She has regularly read the blog for years. Life has been up and down for her, but I hope and pray her fortunes soon take a turn for the better. Denyse is, like, 10 years older than me. I saw a picture of her, taken in the '70s, and all I can say is "Foxy lady."

Yeah, most of my friends are chicks. Sorry, they make up most of the audience for my blog. Maybe they're more in agreement with my somewhat liberal views, I don't know. (Well, not Alana.) It seems like if I say something liberal on Facebook, Stan and maybe one other guy will "like" it and I get eight or 10 "likes" from women. I don't know, I guess if you have a cock and balls, you gotta be a big tough conservative.

A new year is fast approaching and I plan to do all I can to make it a good one. I've had my share of being depressed the past couple of years. Who needs it? Things will always get better and no matter how far I may be into darkness, I'll never stop striving to be happy.

I'm reminded of Winston Churchill, whom Gary Oldman portrays in the now playing biopic, Darkest Hour. Churchill had terrible depression (he called it "the black dog") and he was an alcoholic, but he was exactly the right man to lead Great Britain when Adolph Hitler and the Nazis threatened Europe and virtually the whole world. Churchill lived to be 90-years-old. Anyhow, despite all his problems, he said, "I am an optimist. There does not seem to be too much use being anything else."

One of my favorite writers, J.D. Salinger, who participated in the D-Day invasion and came back from World War II with PTSD, battled depression. He wrote about people having nervous breakdowns and captured what in the '50s was called "middle class neurosis." Salinger's weltschmerz has influenced my own writing, but I don't think I have to be in misery to write well. Ideas can spring up any time, any place, in all kinds of weather. Some people may think I can't be happy and creative at the same time.

Well, watch me.

                            "December" -- Teenage Fanclub

Christmas parody letter 2018

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