Shards of a gift

I was listening to The White Album in my car, bathing in a double disc package whose technical name is The Beatles and that I might have paid three or four bucks for at Recordland when it came out; listening to the two CDs, cruising around, when I came to realize — yet again, and in a new way — just why the Beatles have magic. There is no way to appreciate this multifarious foray into new zones without remembering how they started, with “Yeah yeah yeah” and “I saw her standing there.” How far they ranged!

Photo courtesy of Apple Records

You can trace the dissolution of the band through the gestures and key moments of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. McCartney may be set on sweet nonsense (his “Silly Love Songs” was a dud), but “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” makes you happy! Whereas I always associated Lennon with the confusion and violence, the dissonance and horror: “Yer Blues”; “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey”; and “Helter Skelter,” even though it turns out that was a McCartney composition!

But despite the dissonance, there’s an artistic integrity in Lennon, a poignancy, that outreaches anything else in the Beatles canon. He challenges you in his obstinate divagations from the pop songbook. I guess in the Lennon/McCartney pairing, it all gets mixed together, and that’s what made those songs great.

Is there anything weirder than “Revolution Number 9”? From the English gentleman’s “They are standing still” to the doomed and sonorous cantorial warbling, from the young woman’s “You become naked” to all the scratchy crosstalk of studio sound effects used against the laws of aesthetics and harmony, it’s a dissection of the whole mess of the human psyche. The Beatles produced songs that were downright scary! This one is rather in the footsteps of “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” off of Sgt. Pepper, a song whose carnival music elicits a prickle of dread. One thinks of William Burroughs’s cutup theory, how the books he crafted that way are unreadable but for discrete, congruous patches; the avant garde weirdness of “Revolution Number 9” was crafted that way yet is all of a piece! I feel the John energy on this one, just as he was with that masterpiece of psychedelia “Tomorrow Never Knows” off of Revolver, and what many call his best work, the climactic chapter of Sgt. Pepper, “A Day in the Life,” a combination of dreamy narrative and mounting orchestral riot.

There is no Lennon without McCartney. The White Album would be flat and unpalatable without Paul’s whimsy. Perhaps my favorite number on the whole record is his reproduction of a nineteen-twenties dance hall ditty. With its scratchy backdrop and way of singing, and its overall lilt, “Honey Pie” had to be a faithful rendering of an existing song, I thought, till I Googled it and found that Paul wrote it! Randy Newman identified McCartney as one of a handful of geniuses at concocting melody. Recreations of old Swing Era ballads tend to be disturbing, in fact created for that purpose, like the Gold Ballroom soundtrack of The Shining or the pop hit of Johnny Favorite in Angel Heart. But Paul’s song is different; it warms and consoles. Paul rocked hard, but he also sang us lullabies.

George Harrison’s contributions are far from negligible. I once cringed at “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” indulging in Nik Cohn rock-dreams speculations I had no right to, relating to the unplasant detail (to me) of Clapton pirating George’s wife. And here’s Eric contributing those agonizing riffs! But I dig the song now. Those men re-cemented their friendship to build another monument to Beatles magic. It has the cosmic energy of a blues classic, as affirmed by anybody’s YouTube perusal of the Rock Hall tribute pending George’s passing, with its input by all manner of rock luminaries including Prince’s jaw-dropping guitar finale. George Harrison was a genius. “Who knew?” George Martin would muse. We knew he was “a magical guy” (Clapton’s words) ever since “Here Comes the Sun” and “My Sweet Lord.”

Oh, and speaking of the Beatles longtime producer, Howard Stern is a little off the mark to badmouth George Martin as an intrusion, an afterthought, unworthy of being mythologized with the four Beatles. His contribution was immense. Martin’s traditional sensibility, manifested in those symphonic productions and arrangements, enlivened and expanded the Beatles palette. “Eleanor Rigby” is but one early example of the debt we owe George Martin. And it was Martin, the “old straight guy,” who would say, about his having heard the raw tapes of what became Revolver, “They were starting to hand me much more interesting work.” He was as hip as they were.

A schismatized magic gleams out from The Beatles. As do some pure, stand-alone nuggets that stand any test of time. “Dear Prudence” is still gorgeous. A folk singer named Colette used to play and sing it at the Barking Spider in Cleveland with such fealty to the original I would listen with something near rapture. I still jump around in my seat to the flat-out rocker “Back in the U.S.S.R.”; Russians love it too, have a whole cult and party scene around it. Nobody rocked like the lads from Liverpool. “Birthday,” same thing. Hold onto your fucking hat, and what about that galactic ending?

It’s a shame the band is no more, but you can read history in the runes. You can see, in the White Album, the pieces of a mosaic representing this astounding breadth of artistry. Just as you can see how the pieces, once separated, would never come completely back together again.

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I Miss Real Republicans

Emily Proctor as conservative Republican counsel Ainsley Hayes in The West Wing (photo: Warner Bros.)

I voted for John McCain in 2008, praying he wouldn’t die and leave me with Sarah Palin.

In the gear-up to the election, I was sitting at my mom’s kitchen table talking politics with her and my sister, an ardent liberal Democrat. Lisa flew into a rage hearing I would vote for McCain.

“How could you do that?” she squealed. “What are you, crazy?” She said I’d gotten Neanderthal, I liked right-wing warmongers because of some inner rage best explained by psychoanalysis.

I let her blow off all her steam. You have to with Lisa or you’ll never talk.

“I’ll explain it to you if you want to hear,” I said.

She shut up.

“Okay. First of all, you may not know this, but he’s a very hip guy. Much loved by the media. John McCain is a truly personable man, and funny. Reporters love riding his bus.” I could have added he spent too much time on Sunday morning talk shows, but none of the bloom had come off the McCain rose for me. I still loved him for his brave proposal to fix immigration laws.

Lisa seemed taken aback by my opening salvo; she’d no doubt thought McCain stodgy.

“Now, on to his credentials. With all this terrorism and security threat after 9/11, I like the idea of a guy like him, a war hero, in charge. What’s Obama? Some little pisher who had a cup of coffee in the Senate and all of a sudden wants to be president.”

I said some other things, made some rational points. Lisa seemed mollified, at least by my ability to weather the storm of her proto-commie broadside with a sober argument.

Later, my mother got up next to me, took my arm and said, “Bob, I’m proud of you.” This from a woman who would vote for Obama. But she had raised an educated citizen, and that was more important to her than party affiliation.

I have always resisted identifying myself with either party, though I seem to have signed up as a Democrat. I get mail and ballots from the Democratic Party. But in the current horror that is American political and civic life, know what I miss most? A healthy Republican Party.

The GOP used to be the party of fiscal prudence and small government, of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. I never was offended by the bullet points of the GOP credo. In fact, I secretly liked them.

I read in a column by Michelle Goldberg of The New York Times that we may be ending a half-century cycle begun by Ronald Reagan, if signs of Joe Biden’s ardent progressivism and willingness to spend money to get results are to be read aright. We might be starting a new cycle.

That’s saying a lot. It’s saying former Democrat presidents somewhat labored under the Reagan banner. But the theory holds up.

Bill Clinton made enemies in the union movement with NAFTA (I know, I did PR for the UFCW). He lost bona fides as a dyed-in-the-wool liberal when he tightened welfare laws and sentencings for peddling narcotics. But he was far-sighted about the global economy, domestic jobs, and public fears during the crack epidemic. One reason he smells so sweet in our memory, despite his failures (particularly that 1994 crime bill), was his willingness to coopt conservative arguments. A lot of ideas he wielded – ideas that subtly revivified the Democratic Party — came from the other side of the two-party-system aisle. They were Republican ideas. Back then, despite noxious Newt Gingrich, whose influence would metastasize into the political mutation of today, a fairly intact Republican Party helped check Democrat excesses.

There remains barely a vestige of that salutory system of bipartisan checks and balances. The big stars of the GOP are slimy personalities like Texas’s Sen. Ted Cruz, a political prostitute vying for Trump acolytes even after Trump de-balled him in the 2016 primaries. Or, the real loo-loo, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Greene, an avowed QAnon addict and hater of blacks and Muslims and Jews, a woman who called the Parkland, Fla., school shooting a ruse staged by Democrats to steal your guns, and who chased and taunted a student survivor of that shooting as he pounded pavements trying to tighten gun laws.

Core conservative Republican values are not antithetical to the values of good Democrats.

Some of the best moments in the NBC series The West Wing were when the liberal Democrat administration undertook to work with conservative Republicans, from whiz-kid think-tanker Ainsley Hayes, hired to help the legal team out of some pipe-cramped basement office; to the emergency president, played by John Goodman, a right-wing hawk who shunts Martin Sheen’s traumatized Josiah Bartlet aside after Eurotrash terrorists kidnap Bartlet’s daughter, and puts thing right; to Jimmy Smits’s newly elected Democrat president, in the swan-song season, offering secretary of state to Alan Alda’s narrowly vanquished Republican opponent Arnold Vinick.

Would that Biden’s promise could come true: that he, as with Reagan and Tip O’Neill, can reach compromises over a glass of whiskey.

Whoever’s there to work with, there aren’t enough of them.

Oh, there are a few brave souls. Mitt Romney. Liz Cheney.

Ohio’s Sen. Rob Portman showed his decency and embrace of honored values in a Wall Street Journal interview with sedate yet irrepressible Peggy Noonan. There’s a reason Portman and Arizona’s former Sen. Jeff Flake have cashed their chips. You can’t be a real Republican anymore; there’s no traction. A GOP strategist told Noonan it’s a good time to hang out on Fox being an asshole, but if you want to “get shit done” the Republican Party’s just not in the business anymore.

Looks like that “Gone fishin” sign is hung there permanent. God, please let me be wrong.

White out

A whiteout offers time to get in touch with oneself. All will heal, even the deck couch (you can see a corner of it lower right) will survive getting snowed on before its owner got it together to wrap it with twine and plastic. The grill is battened down though! All things considered, a snow blizzard is more blessing than curse. For damn sure I wasn’t going to slide around breaking my ass to get to work today! If I lack the PTO to make it a paid day, screw it.

January whiteout kept me from going to Walmart to work today. I still woke up predawn and did what I do in my office to gear up to the day, a day of leisure but squinting guilt ridden leisure such as I have made my own over the course of an adult life. Surrounded by conundrums and paradoxes I can never solve, ah what a relief to at least know this now. Perhaps we shall get another dog and I may pay down my karma by training it not to swallow metal or plastic objects that will rip open its stomach. Perhaps I shall find a place of rest then. But until that time I sit in my office I subscribe to three online newspapers: The New York Times, read an excellent travelogue some journalist traveled thousands of miles recording ghost town and wilderness America, Make America Great Again emblazoned from roadside ramshacklery (Kerouac rhythms on my mind, you see); The Washington Post, for its superb crisp reporting (they go a little shorter than the  sometimes windy Times) and bracing columnists; and, just to even out my nagging liberalism, and to catch the precise and potent Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal, who tore Trump a new one bad as anyone after the Rape of the Capitol.

I’ve come from watching the first five installments of Long, Strange Trip, a very well done documentary about the Grateful Dead that’s on Amazon Prime and that includes, among other delights, testimonial from Deadhead nerd extraordinaire disgraced Minnesota Senator Al Franken who I wish would storm the politics stage again, he’s suffered enough.

White blanket we used to let the dog out she’d burst out there and do her business in the ghost land of no cars and a few hearty souls shoveling, come right back to shake off the snow but she loved the snow, I miss Rosa but we might be ready to get another one and this time I’ll take training seriously, even if doing that makes me miss her even more. Perhaps we’d better dismantle our little foyer shrine with its memorabilia and box of ashes commemorating what was the main source of material for this blog and whose removal constituted quite an obstacle to my writerly flow, aside from the anguished outpouring on Facebook that so many kind souls responded to. After that I sat stunned.

Come full around don’t care about much of anything. I write because I am a writer. That’s why I’m back in the chair of a morning, snow all round outside. About to go Joyce and utter the final words of “The Dead” but I’ll spare you. Snow is general all over Prescott, let’s leave it at that.

I don’t understand politics anymore, all wisdom eludes me. I hear the Q-Anon people murmuring in the break room about the insurrection that hasn’t given up yet, I stay out of it what’s the point, but those are the people who you have a problem with the stocking system or a customer, they’ll put down what they’re doing and give it their all to help you. I seem well liked, even by AA friend Patty who always chides me about the bags under my eyes and I got sensitive and cold-shouldered her a few days ago then had to hug her and admit I always was an oversensitive pussy. I love my Walmart friends. We suffer so hard, all working our underpaid asses off. I even like the pipsqueak gal who now has been given the power to run the joint. Walmart seems, customers and workers alike, rather a repository for what I regard as backward politics.  But you stay out of it and you wind up taking any of them over some snide liberal cynic any day. These haggard Walmarters’ cynicism is just ignorance, and mine is a life of spectacular ignorance in action so I should talk. You see I can’t hate as well as I used to. It just won’t work.

AA’s dropped out of the picture because I’d rather not take the chance on live meetings during the coronavirus pandemic and sometimes wonder why not pour some good whiskey over a tumbler of ice. But I’ve been living like this so long, a consummate bore, my worst drug indiscretions seem to involve caffeine and one ridiculous dalliance with dick pills I didn’t need but my doctor gave me after hearing me wonder aloud about the potential effects of blood pressure meds. Barb will figure out how we can get a vaccination sometime soon. That’s drugs I can use. I’ll die one day but hell, I’d like to stave the fucker off long as possible.

Trying to pave the way for a rich and self-educational retirement, I signed up for online Master Class and (though by mistake, thinking I was getting the other) The Great Courses. In the first I’m watching Martin Scorsese talk about every aspect of film making, I’ll never make a movie so why am I watching this? I am watching this because this man glows with the fire of art, and I’ve always idolized him. In queue behind this are Sedaris on humor writing and other stuff I picked for forgot what I picked. The Great Courses a little stodgier, teachers at lecterns pontificating to college kids on folding chairs, got a class where some Northwestern professor is talking about Russian literature, I’m watching that too, using it to better understand The Idiot, better than a third of the way through but come on. I used to think I was smart but I am crawling through this book, not the speedreading whiz kid I liked to think I was. Slow, but I’m rapt. A velociraptor within. (Word play. Refuge of the bankrupt literary tactician.) It’s snowing like a mother out there. Good thing I called out.

Chillin in the ‘hood of my mind

Woodrow Call & Augustus McCrae | Lonesome dove, Lonesome dove quotes, Hat  creek cattle company

Call and McCrae: great foils make great movies.

Trouble with retiring is the big question “And do what?”

That’s where I’m stuck. I have this blog, which some people read, and I send stories out to magazines and other publishers. I do have “hobbies,” which seems a lackluster word. My wife says I better get some before I think of retiring from Walmart.

It’s become an urgent topic of consideration, what with Social Security money, for the first time, about to cross our threshold.

Hobbies. Hobbies.

Hm. Let’s see …

I sit around on my free time and read what other people wrote. I finished Barack Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land, and was so impressed I wrote him a chummy letter.

Yeah I know. Dreaming myself into the company of great men.

One meets distinguished men in the common course of life.

Met one who majored in Russian and Slavic literature in college. We hit it off. He gave me a stack of Gogol, Chekhov, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, and some others, and at present I am enjoying The Idiot.

This is a source of encouragement for me.

The Idiot is about a very pure, sweet man, a sort of saint, a man without suspicion or rancor, who is regarded, perhaps because of epilepsy, as an idiot. An anecdote emerges from my private fund of Beat apocrypha. When Allen Ginsberg was committed to a mental hospital in the forties and met Carl Solomon, another patient, allusions to Dostoyevsky sounded between them. (Given a small paperback imprint by his father, Solomon would one day respond to Ginsberg’s publicizing push by printing Burroughs’s Junky.) Ginsberg said, by way of introduction, “I’m Prince Myshkin,” referring to the abovementioned saintly character; Solomon fired back he was Kirilov, from The Possessed. I remember Kirilov as a maniac up all night having drunk too much tea. That’s about all I remember from the book; I may not even have finished it. You need a table of characters at your fingertips what with so many of them, and use of first as well as last names, diminutives and formal.

Dostoyevsky’s bitter, terribly personal Notes from Underground is one of the books that shaped me, but I wavered in my respective slogs through Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov (the latter I recall as Lear only with sons instead of daughters). Perhaps I have always masqueraded rather than truly been a reader, a scholar. Working chest and triceps, or back and biceps, or legs and shoulders at Fitness for 10, then biding my time on my easy chair before the big screen, may be more my speed.

But with this new book, The Idiot, I just might succeed in finding a Dostoyevsky to at least balance off the one little book of his I already love, thereby burnishing my credentials as scholarly. Hate to run around calling myself a Dostoyevsky fan having taken to my heart but one little book of his.

I’m thinking of signing up for that Master Class they’re advertising online. David Sedaris teaches humor writing; Joyce Carol Oates, the short story; Scorsese, making film. I could tell Barb I was involved in something like that and she’d stop calling me unconnected to the world. She thinks I’m a hermit. Though we all are during this Covid lay-in.

What else do I do? I watch old movies I’ve already seen before. My wife chides me for that, too, just as my mother used to do.

I myself wonder why, after the riveting beginning and early action scenes of Black Hawk Down and that throbbing soundtrack, I don’t bail out when it becomes Tom Sizemore yelling at the top of his lungs into the ears of the other soldiers on that fateful day in Somalia, unable to hear anything above the shelling. It gets dinful.

How many times can I watch Lonesome Dove? But it’s that good. Augustus McCrae may be the greatest cowboy hero of all time, and I view this performance as the apex of Robert Duvall’s career. And there never was a more perfect foil than Tommy Lee Jones’s tightlipped Woodrow Call. Speaking of westerns, one reason I loved Brokeback Mountain was the perfect pairing of complementary characters as played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. The corresponding literature of both these films – as with that template, To Kill a Mockingbird – more than does justice to the movies.

I recently watched, yet again, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, which a Facebook person in my orbit called, correctly, “criminally underappreciated.” Russell Crowe’s jaunty, impeccably militaristic Captain Jack Aubrey and Paul Bettany’s intellectual Irish-rebel ship’s doctor Stephen Maturin constitute another example of perfect foils.

In my retirement, indeed my dotage, I shall sit around contemplating my worth as an appreciator of the arts. How eclectic I am! The same man who loves Annie Hall loves Taxi Driver; the same man who loves “Here Comes the Sun” loves “Yer Blues.”

Come to that, did anybody but me feel Bon Jovi hit exactly the right note with his Inauguration performance of that George Harrison song? Happiness has been elusive. Watching Jon sing this sweet, magical testament to life’s way of rejuvenating itself was just what the doctor ordered.

But enough sitting on my ass in my writing chair. Better go to my reading chair and plow further into The Idiot.

Be an idiot not to.

My Searing Junior High School Memory

My friend Alan and I agreed. Greenview Junior High School had a great cafeteria. We adored the establishment’s bill of fare. These hair-netted gals made big sheets of square thick-crust pizza, more a zesty than a sweet sauce, though somehow that’s the only entrée I remember. I remember the desserts quite well. There was pecan pie, which was new to me: a mixture of crunch and gooey teeth-aching sweetness. And oh, the little egg custards in a cup! Once, with someone timing me, I slurped one down in eight seconds. I never tried to secure the recognition of The Guinness Book of World Records, but that should be in there.

Alan wasn’t my only friend. There was Mike, of course, may he rest in peace. When I moved from Cleveland to South Euclid, Mike sponsored me in suburban society.

One of the kids Mike introduced me to was Peter, an anomalous Italian among the Jewish population of the neighborhood, who joined our knockabout tackle football games at Bexley Park. He was into athletics, fitness challenges. He once approached me as I sat on the bleachers during noon rec and said he could do 75 pushups, then dropped and did them. Good ones. Didn’t even seem winded when he sprang back up. Built like a Greek god.

Somehow I recall “having lunch fourth.” That was the earliest period you could have it. There was also fifth and, I think, sixth. I was sitting in social studies or math or English dreaming about lunch. When the bell rang I banged out the classroom door and went running – not walking, running – down the hall to be ahead of everybody. I shot down the stairs, barely holding onto the rail to correct for the centrifugal swing. I hit the bottom of the stairs to make my final turn and head into the home stretch to the chow line. Only trouble was, it had been raining, the tiles were slick, and I slipped and fell on my ass.

That would be bad enough, but I saw out of the corner of my eye, coming down from the top of the stairs, none other than Peter.

I was crimson with shame, and am sure I loaded my tray with a compromised élan that day.

Peter was pretty nice, and I wonder if he felt for me, felt my embarrassment, because it wasn’t long after that, during study hall, that he sat down across from me and engaged me in a real guy conversation, about, oh, among other things, whether I’d discovered playing with myself. I guess he just wanted me to know animal urges were normal. Not to impute adult foresight and guidance to this fun, blonde-haired moppet of a kid, but I did feel the presence of a gesture intended to mollify my little social agony and shame.

He revealed something about himself.

“You know what I love?” he said. “My mom makes it for me. You take chocolate cake and pour milk over it and it gets real soft, like mush . . . and then I eat it. That’s real good.”

You look at this kid with his rock chest and arms and shoulders and washboard belly – nobody looked like that at this age – and found it odd, and touching, to hear him talk about something so . . . private and comfort producing. So Pillsbury dough boy. He seemed made of iron.

I wanted to be made of iron too, but I had many guises, all competing for primacy during this period. I was figuring out who I was. There were a lot of Bob Gitlins.

I was athletic and loved not only the tackle football games but what we called “chicken fights.” One kid got on the shoulders of another and tried to claw down the rider of another team. Peter and I were a good team.

I played tennis. A kid named Artie once beat me two sets to one in ninety-degree heat at Bexley Park and though I lost I would always remember with a glow such an epic fight.

I hated Little League because I didn’t want to be there and performed sluggishly. I fell in love with Cap’n Crunch, precipitating a chubby phase that warred with the athleticism.

That war is still on. It’s why I still work out at the gym three days a week and put up with a manual labor job that would fell lesser sorts. I’m 67 and I still care about muscle and fitness. I wonder if it was Peter’s influence. I’ve lost touch with him.

My therapist says I have to be kinder to myself. There’s a happy medium between self-punishment and self-indulgence.

I told her she reminded me of my mother, who used to say you had to be your own best friend.

“You think there was wisdom in that?”

“Yes I do,” said my therapist, and she smiled.

I am guilty of promulgating fake news, and I am sorry

Young J.D. Vance (played by Owen Asztalos) learns much from his mother (Amy Adams), though addiction grows to subvert her authority.

 

The face reminded me of Adrienne Barbeau; something about the mouth was Tuesday Weld. The voice was pure Dolly Parton, though she was not burdened with the outlandish bust.

Lisa was in many ways my first real girlfriend. She might have been called a “hillbilly chick,” living as she did on the near west side of Cleveland, a working-class white neighborhood. I still lived with my parents in a two-story colonial in the east side suburb of South Euclid.

She was nineteen and I was twenty-nine when we met in a bar. We were both there to see Wild Horses, whose bass player was a friend of mine. She was feasting her eyes on the bull-necked, shaggy-haired, indecently studly Italian drummer, who was known to cause the drool level to rise in quite a few women.

She was not so distracted as not to respond to my inane repartee as I sat there, not far from her, guzzling Rolling Rock.

She went out with me, became my steady girl. After my repressed twenties, Lisa provided an intimacy I’d long been denied.

I got away with it for a year or two before she broke up with me. There was a culture gap between us, but also I had been denied sexuality and female companionship for so long that what I had with her could only be the start of a new chapter for me. I can’t say all the explorations matched up to her freshness and affection and charm.

I never forgot Lisa, and often considered how she’d made the right move marrying some fireman with a boat he put onto Lake Erie, a man who appeared a lot more fun than I was. All I ever did was take her to Corky and Lenny’s deli at Cedar Center to show off my glamorous exotic shiksa or to Loparo’s pizza joint up the corner from my parents’ house, then down my parents’ basement to make out on the hard couches.

When I discovered she’d wandered into my Facebook orbit forty years later, I was delighted. I don’t know to what extent she read my blog, but I know she read the Facebook teasers I would create to advertise it.

It saddened me that I pissed her off because of a rant I did about Biden and Trump. I am using this space to apologize for it.

I referred to “rednecks” cruising around in big pickup trucks with American flags and Trump banners waving even after he lost the election.

I launched the thing spuriously, though, and this I now must admit. I said the Walmart sporting goods department no longer had guns because, fearing a “gun grabber” president, people bought them out. I never knew that for sure.

I found out from some blowhard in the lunchroom at least a week later that there are no guns there because Walmart decided to stop selling them. The guy he was sitting with put in that recent shootings in Walmarts, like El Paso, prompted the move.

I swooned at the thought of my laziness, my never having checked it out. Just to make sure, I Googled the thing and found that at the end of October the company made this decision.

When I had ranted online, I used the absence of the firearms to lob a nasty comment about how, day after the Sandy Hook horror, it must’ve been “these same assholes” muttering, “That nigger better not try to take my gun,” but that was a lie too. I made that quote up. Fictional license? No. This is a form of journalism. Anger untampered by facts is poison.

I didn’t know I’d fucked up right away with what I’d written, except Lisa commented, “You dated a redneck once. Boy, I had you figured wrong.”

I felt sad. Fell into abject apology mode. I love everybody, blah blah. Meant no offense.

In truth, I don’t think I harbor any animus toward people of Appalachian background. Yet I can feel some kind of unavoidable falseness going on here as I say this.

My friend Dan, former fellow teacher and Marine, once said to me, “Around here, you’re a redneck or you’re nobody.”

A month ago a guy in an AA meeting intimated he was disappointed Trump lost. “I went to work out this morning at my redneck gym,” where guys there were bitching and moaning.

My old girlfriend bristled at my use of “redneck,” the whole context. Felt it smeared her. I know she liked Trump, am sure her husband and family want him to keep being president.

But that’s not the point. I should have been more sensitive.

If I hear someone talk about “Jewish people” I cringe. First of all, why not just say Jews? You can feel them dancing around these alien people they don’t get. Or like.

THE MOVIE Hillbilly Elegy was quite good and did not deserve its negative reviews. First of all, Amy Adams filled out wasn’t bad on the eyes, and she inhabited this intellectually brilliant but crazed character with all the aplomb she brings to her other work. Secondly, Glenn Close’s pistol-packin’ mama — a brave and unflinching foray from the sexpot of Fatal Instinct — stole the screen. Thirdly, Gabriel Basso was believable as the product of Kentucky rustic culture and all that family fierceness in protecting one’s own: a young man trying to fight his way out of (what my Texas sister once called) the rural ghetto but without losing his pride in his heritage.

The book, by J.D. Vance, told the story of a people that needed to be told, people from the upper South, using Route 23 to get to Ohio and all those factory jobs. This scene has fallen into economic depression and opioid abuse, a slew of social agonies that are just now beginning to be correctly catalogued.

There’s even a scene in the film where the character playing Vance bristles at the use of the word “redneck” by one of the east coast lawyers he came there to get hired by.

I don’t think I’ll be using the word redneck anymore.

Long as you don’t talk about Jewish people.

Renewed Hope in the Rockwellian Barber Chair

I voted for Biden to pick up where Obama left off, but I wonder whether Trump has mutated America beyond repair.

 

The glass case in Walmart’s sporting goods department commonly displays a full array of rifles and other guns.

It’s empty.

Against the advent of a “gun-grabbing” Biden presidency, Prescott-area residents bought up firearms. Must be the same assholes who, day after Sandy Hook, ran around muttering, “Just let that nigger try to take my guns.”

Sometimes I wonder why I live here.

Chorus of Prescottonians: “So go back where you came from. We don’t need you.”

Ah, they’re stuck with me. Anyway, the shits are just some of them. And there are shits everywhere.

Barb and I have a nice house; we’re dug in. I always had more of a sentimental association with Cleveland than she did anyhow.

I’ve bonded with Prescott. You can’t beat the climate.

Moving back to Cleveland wouldn’t help. My friend there told me on the phone, some months back, he’d driven to Lake Erie for a yacht or boat party and the scene bristled with Trump and MAGA regalia, boats and trucks with banners broadcasting love for this political gate-crasher who bled civility from public life. Nostalgia for Ohio? Hah! Ohio just went redder than Arizona!

Unless you’re living in a gay enclave in densest Manhattan, you can’t escape Trumpism.

Shame abounds. I know at least one Jewish relative who will spew the spurious gospel of tax freedom and Trump’s enabling of Israel. I’m all for Israel, never saw Zionism as an epithet; I advocate for that beleaguered nation’s staunchest defense. But Clinton was right. A two-state solution has to happen. And whoever thinks Trump is better for Israel than Biden would be, and Obama was, is dead wrong.

Don’t get me started on religion. Because let’s not forget the evangelicals, in bed with Trump because of conservative Supreme Court judges and abortion. The whole thing is the perfect storm of nonsense and horror.

I keep my mouth shut in the Walmart break room where the loudest people are employees spouting off in favor of Trump, who lost the election but isn’t man enough to admit it. He doesn’t give a shit about them; they’re just acolytes in his cult of personality.

I got a haircut the other day and got into a political chat with the barber. He’s from Bulgaria, as is his mother, who was styling a gal behind us.

I mentioned to my barber the talented Bulgarian actress in the new Borat movie. We picked up where we’d left off last haircut, talking about Bulgaria.

I asked whether Bulgarian barbershops were any different from ours.

Mom, overhearing, chimed in that Bulgaria was a communist country, there were only a few politically sanctioned cuts. That wowed me.

Isaac, my talented young barber, said he was afraid Biden was a socialist who’d raise his taxes.

“Who told you that?” I said.

“People here say that.”

Your taxes wouldn’t go up,” I corrected him as gently as possible.

He laughed. “But that’s what I’m hearing. You would hear that in a conservative Republican town.”

I smiled and allowed, “Yeah, well, Democrats can talk a lot of bullshit too.”

Didn’t want to prolong any defense of the Biden administration I’d copped to voting for; I could feel the neck hairs on the lady customer getting cut behind me prickling as I spoke.

I AM ENGROSSED in Barack Obama’s memoir, marveling at its wit, humility, and vision. I always felt history will be kind to him and burnish his legacy. I miss his big heart and disdain for esoteric frippery. People have said he was wonkish and long winded (he admits that when he began in politics he was), but when you listen to his speeches overall, to his most recent, and to those that marked his presidency, you hear plain language, language pristine and elemental.

Trump is hateful and inarticulate. And got seventy million votes.

I just read a decent piece in The New York Times about the futility of trying to empathize with Trumpers.

My take on this thing is that Trump backers found the Trump reign to be … well, fun. There was no teacher in the room to tell them to read pages 17 through 34 and answer the questions on page 35. The mood was anti-intellectual. It doesn’t matter whether the countervailing force was Bill Clinton, the best president in my lifetime, or Barack Obama, whose political finesse lagged behind his communications genius. No accounting in words of the inevitability of a multicultural nation and need to consider a new melting pot, no adult explanation about race as a core issue and Black Lives Matter a fit reaction to entrenched bias in our policing, will work.

Thank you, internet culture and social media magnates — and Donald Trump, their cementing force — for bringing us into the era of no facts, only warring tribal myths. The more outlandish, the more successful.

And Bill Maher’s right. Democrats are culpable too, with their far-left outing of public figures in the name of political correctness. No wonder nobody likes us either.

It’s highly likely Biden will be hogtied, what with chinless whore Mitch McConnell exerting his clamp hold on the Senate. How I root for a miracle in Georgia!

Do we have political naïf Obama to thank for bringing us into this era of opposing-party intransigence?

I guess we’d better not forget it was a room of Pelosi-spearheaded Democrats that pushed through the Affordable Care Act.

The sword cuts both ways. And that sword needs to be retired in favor of compromise.

Biden has said as much, and he’s right.

Looking Forward

Me and my girl, who loved car rides. Is it me, or does she look pensive, or sad, here? (Photo courtesy of Barbara Chiancone Gitlin. Annie Leibovitz, eat your heart out.)

 

My shrink screwed her face up as politely as possible when I unburdened myself of a bit of searing cynicism regarding whether there was any point to me continuing to write. I’d done a longish bit of autobiographically derived prose, call it a novel, call it a memoir. Some of it was good. But I’d got to wondering whether the whole thing lashed together amounted to anything coherent or compelling, let alone saleable. I wondered this because I was starting to get damned with faint praise from New York agents.

“Mm hm. But Bob, you sat there in that chair not long ago and expressed the highest possible praise, and optimism, for what you’d written.” Or words to that effect. I don’t take notes during our sessions. Neither does she, though I sometimes wonder if — perhaps as the antidote to insomnia — she plays back my tape-recorded dronings.

The book sits in a drawer: my stories, or my story. It’s all one story, just as Keith Richards says all Stones songs are one song.

“How do I know my liking it doesn’t take place in this little subjective, solipsistic bubble?” I defended my refusal to battle on. I have this terror my obstinate refusal to give up constitutes the ultimate folly. “I might like it, but the world has the opposite reaction.”

My therapist doesn’t seem to be listening. Not that she feels she must labor to buttress a sagging ego; more that she doesn’t believe me, or she sees though my bullshit, my self-defense tropes.

She’s seen some of my writing. Says I have enough talent to make writing worth my while.

Hell, this blog was at her suggestion. I began it as something to lift me out of the doldrums that pervaded my world when I first saw this therapist, fresh from having got my ass handed back to me, well chewed, by a soured career in compulsory education and the most difficult kids it had to offer. My shrink said I should start a blog to record my “mythopoetic hero journey.”

So I did.

 

My last writing before this post was marked by terrible grief. My dog had died.

I’d been there when the vet eased the needle in to end the dog’s suffering. Barb and I drove home tear-stained, stunned. Went back to bed at dawn, but no sleep could fill the hole in our lives. I bounded out of bed, wrote a Facebook post about my dog — right from the heart, with little or no revision — and got well over a hundred sympathizers, which helped me get through this thing. I hadn’t expected so many well-wishers what with a national emergency rendering insignificant any man’s sniffly little lament.

So here’s an old photo Barb took iof me and the dog during a car ride. I’m wearing long sleeves so I don’t think it’s hot. Rosa liked to lean over into the front seat to catch the air conditioning on her face. Sometimes she just liked being in our human space. There’s me and there’s that furry muzzle.

It’s been two weeks now since she roamed the house.

I refused to pick up her last poops. Heat and wind and snow have turned them back to land. Barb and I have a box of her ashes, half of which my friend Bill from Boston will help me scatter in a special hiking place.

And life goes on. One must look forward, just as Rosa and I are looking forward in the photo.

I have a new president and am so thankful. I feel sorry for all the people lamenting the end of Trump’s aegis, but I must work at mending the national fence. Beyond spite or recriminations. We’re better than that. I loved Biden from the start.

I have more work to do at Walmart, burning off karma, rubbing shoulders with Trumpers. It’s all good for me. I’m working harder than I ever worked in my life. Whether this travail is sufficiently lofty is not my call. I look forward to seeing the movie Nomadland, based on a good book, about seniors working their poor ass off in this economy.

I can work at being a husband. My wife grieves the hole in our lives same as I do. We’ve bonded in mutual reflection and consolation. Just got back from Palm Desert and those healing hot springs. We’re addressing our mundane human concerns. She’s decided to wait till January to collect Social Security checks. I can get mine too or follow my original game plan and hang on till I’m seventy. Money is boring but it gives us hard reasons to do stuff.

And I guess I’ll stay a writer. Not like I have much choice — I mean, I am one. Maybe spend some bucks entering literary contests. What the hell. “Just One Victory,” as Todd Rundgren said. Life is a dream.

MY DOG LIVES ON. ROSA, REST IN PEACE.

My beloved Rosa had to be put down early this morning and my wife and I are still in grief. No more feeling her warmth as she stretches and groans on the waking couch of a dawn. No more athletic hikes up Granite Mountain, down and up Smith Ravine, up the big White Spar trail that after the rock clamber levels off on a deer-grazing plain. No more cavorting with my hiking pal. I got up this morning and missed having to worry about gates and her running into a room she’s not supposed to be in. I will miss her so much. She provided companionship and love to me and Barb for a little more than six years. She had stomach and intestinal problems to the point where another surgery would have promised questionable benefit. We cried over her as the vet put her down, telling her how much we love her, letting her get out of her agony and go to her heaven surrounded by a rope toy and even a piece of liver Barb brought for her final sniff, one of the things she loved.

She had gone outside after messing the house and garage, wouldn’t move, we could have left her there next to my SUV on the cold concrete all night, I didn’t know we had a choice, went to bed, but Barb said at 10 p.m., already shaking with tears, we had to get her inert form off the concrete and into my car and to the emergency vet clinic in Prescott Valley. I managed. Better she died at the hospital surrounded by love than alone — as the vet said she would have — to be found cold upon my waking to go to work. We gave her final love on the floor of the hospital, even as she leaked the putrescence that had alerted everyone to the direness of the situation.

I’ve heard it said that dogs have a soul and I believe it, because hers is with me, and with Barb, now and forever. We love you, girl. You’re running after rabbits and eating bacon and kibble in paradise.

Facebook friends, wish me luck getting over this. Never did a man love a dog more than I loved this willful Airedale.

Rocker muses over sentimental transports

I don’t know what’s happening to me. I can’t decide if I’m hard or soft. I guess both.

I spent the late morning and early afternoon unloading a truck at Walmart with heavy metal blasting.

And liked it.

I’m CAP 1 stocking crew. CAP 2 usually unload trucks when they start at two, but things are in disarray at my store what with absenteeism related to Covid 19 and everybody’s nerves frayed, so last two days the age-diverse CAP 1 crew — a mix of old guys like me and some young people thrown in — had to do it.  The hard gargle of metal vocal and that battle-axe guitar attack usually leave me cold. But today some of it came through as precisely what rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be about. Maybe it was Metallica I was listening to; them I always liked. Or maybe Slayer. Who knows?

 

Slayer, a well-known metal band

 

All I know is I worked well with this raucous stuff blasting. Some things, you can’t have “nice” music as a soundtrack to.

 

Like when I was in the gym trying to bench two hundred three times and “My Sweet Lord” came on the Classic Rewind they pipe in there. I had to ignore the song to get mad enough to attack the bar. Now I love that song! George Harrison is in heaven, I wear him in my heart. But it wasn’t working for me to lift weights. (I like to think George would understand.) “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf or “Hang Fire” by the Stones might have worked better. There’s a time and a place for the hard and raucous.

But my musical tastes have drifted of late into the lyrical and innocent, and into years past, into realms one might call those of the doddering old sentimentalist.

Recently I had this unopposable yen to use my Spotify app to find songs nobody but me is looking for. I sat in my office and bathed myself in decidedly unhippyish half-century-old pop hits on my Bose desktop speakers, turned up pretty loud. I didn’t care that Barb across the house might wonder what I was up to. She leaves me to my musings and soul adventures when I’m in my sanctum.

 

First, I found the YouTube video for “I’ll Never Find Another You” by the Seekers, a folk-influenced Australian pop quartet who were big in my younger days. The song could be a statement of friendship, a testimony of what a fine and memorable friend someone was. But it might be about romantic love.

There is always someone
For each of us, they say
And you’ll be my someone
Forever and a day.
I could search the whole world over
Until my life is through
But I know I’ll never find another you.

The Seekers may look square, but ‘Another You’ still hits me where I live.

So much drifts by, flotsam. What – or who – rises above the ruckus and letdown of life to provide a sustaining voice, a calming hand, a wise counsel? Female voices that are pure – another is Welsh singer Mary Hopkin in “Those Were the Days,” a McCartney composition – elevate the spirit. Maybe I love the woman who sings lead for the Seekers. Judith Durham made this a 1967 hit. I think maybe the song stuck with me because that was a golden time in my life.

The next song I had to hear on YouTube was even more explicitly romantic, “Deep Purple” by Nino Tempo and April Stevens. When their collaboration came out, in 1963, I took no notice. I heard it over the years as an oldie and might have liked it all right. Then it began to captivate me when I heard it again in yet later years. It stuck in my heart, a musical amulet, a pure and very lush celebration of amour, shamelessly immediate, even embarrassing, but real.

“In the mist of a memory / You wander all back to me / Breathing my name with a sigh.”

And later:

“And as long as my heart will beat / Sweet lover, we’ll always meet / Here in my deep purple dreams.”

This could be called pap. Schmaltz. Guilty as charged.

But it’s sung with such passion it becomes … true. Not what you sing, but how you sing it.

Why would such songs demand to be heard on this particular day of my life, at this particular juncture of my battle to find meaning in this existence, when the existential fact is that there is none?

It’s a blind need that brooks no reasons. I needed those songs. I needed them because … well because I can’t make it on reality alone.

Nobody can.

We who dream of love, or who remember it, have to do the work of making the world go round.