A year in pandemic is a bit like a long afternoon on the front porch. The same kind of boredom, but without the pleasant sense of relaxing. The same kind of inertia, but without the sweet breeze playing at the hair on the back of your head.
After months and months, the possibility you’ll come up with some motivation to think, oh yeah, that’s what I want to do…that possibility’s remote. It’s more like, let’s see, you ought to get up and clean out a couple of drawers. The other day I found a dollar bill in an old purse I hadn’t used in years. There was a spark of excitement, sort of delight, that lasted about one minute. Maybe I hoped it was a twenty dollar bill. At least a five.
Yes, let’s picture Prince. His blue suit, the white clouds, that impish grin, big brown eyes drawing you in….
One, Two, One, two, three, four.
I was working part time in a five-and-dime. My boss was Mr. McGee. Seems that I was busy doing something close to nothing But different than the day before. That’s when I saw her, ooh, I saw her. She walked in through the out door, out door.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
[lyrics from Prince’s Raspberry Beret]
[This is a re-post. Prince passed away five years ago, a genius lost much too soon.]
When I was little, we went to 12 o’clock mass on Sundays. That’s what it was called, 12 o’clock mass. Back then Catholics didn’t sing the same songs as Protestants. I don’t think singing Protestant songs qualified as a sacrilege, but some songs were Catholic songs and some were not. My recollection, anyhow. Like the Catholic Lord’s Prayer was different from the Protestant Lord’s Prayer. Although we called it the Our Father. In the confessional box, the last words from the priest were always, “For your penance, say five Our Fathers and three Hail Marys.”
It so happened that while we were getting ready for 12 o’clock mass on Sundays, there was a cartoon show on TV called Davy and Goliath. Davy was a little boy with a dog, Goliath, and the show had a religious theme of some sort. I liked the show but I never got to see the end because we left for church about fifteen minutes before it was over. The intro music for that show was A Mighty Fortress, and since then I’ve always loved that song. I think as a kid I found the words impressive. Mighty and cruel hate and Sabaoth. Abideth and doth. And the melody was sort of compelling. But I knew it wasn’t a song we ever sang in church.
One Sunday in November, Davy and Goliath was pre-empted, or maybe it was interrupted. It was that weekend when almost all the shows were pre-empted. Back then, breaking news was truly breaking news. As it turned out, that week, the previous Friday, my parents had to go to the funeral home because one of my uncles had died. I suppose I was young enough I didn’t have to go with them. When it came time for my parents to return home, some aunts and uncles were with them. I guess to pick up their kids, my cousins, who stayed at our house too that Friday. With the oldest in charge. When they walked in the house, in their Sunday best funeral home clothes, all the kids, including me, and the cousins, were jumping up and down on the beds. I don’t know how it started. I guess it just looked like fun. The grown ups were so angry. I’m not sure this is important, but it is the context for me that following Sunday.
My memory is that we were getting ready to leave for church on Sunday and the TV was still on. I think we all looked at the screen because they were going to show the guy who killed President Kennedy. We were standing in the living room watching and could see a lot of people in camera view, and they brought a man out in handcuffs. I remember thinking something like, “Is that him?” It seemed seconds later, one of the men on the bottom of the screen moved toward the prisoner, poked a gun into the suspect’s waist, and shot him. Right there, on TV while we watched.
Kennedy was just killed a few days earlier. Now, there we are in our living room, the guy who shot Kennedy was already caught, and some other man walks up to him in the middle of the press and the police, and shoots him dead. It seemed nobody even moved to stop the shooter. It was surreal. I’m sure I didn’t know that word back then. But it was the feeling we’d all had that whole creepy weekend. Surely, someone would come on TV and tell us some story other than Kennedy was dead. I think we expected them to say they got it wrong. It was a practice or a drill maybe, or somebody else was killed and they just thought it was Kennedy. Or they thought Kennedy died, but he was really still alive. Well, that didn’t happen. Now it was two days later, and they were saying this guy we just saw on TV got through the crowd and shot the suspect. The suspect who shot the president. Huh??
I was thinking, “Can we all go back to Davy and Goliath and A Mighty Fortress?”
But no, we turned off the TV that Sunday, piled in the car, and went off to 12 o’clock mass.
Evening walks feel different now. Sundown comes earlier, for sure. But it’s more than that.
Is it the seasons? People? Maybe people are tired of walking the same paths, the same trees, the same curves and dips in the surface. Parents tired of getting their kids and their bikes down to the trails, skinned knees, everybody trying to get along and enjoy nature. Or maybe it’s the kids who are tired of it. Maybe they’re getting ready for school, however school is going to work this year. I think there are fewer people walking the trails.
But it’s not just people. What was alive, thriving, robust, a month ago is starting to fade. I’m avoiding the words.
I look around and I see sad. Maybe lonely. Past the prime. On the way to a harsh reality I’m not ready to deal with.
There are fall flowers, but the brush is almost down to leafless sticks in many places. It can make you careless because there’s still poison ivy among whatever is growing. Already in September, trees are skimpier. Not bright fall colors and dropping leaves en masse, but leaves are weathered, and when you look up now, you see more sky than lush green. In July I could only hear moving water somewhere behind all the green, but now I can see right down to the creek.
Even the dirt looks pale, anemic. Surely the dirt doesn’t change.
September sunsets are lovely. Pale bits of amber light make it past the lowest branches. And September’s pretty wildflowers let you pretend. For just a little longer. But, ready or not, change is on its way.
Forty-nine years ago, August 1, 1971. The Concert for Bangladesh. In reality, two concerts. Performed to raise awareness, and funds for relief, of refugees caught up in the war in Bangladesh.
Earlier that year, Ravi Shankar, an Indian musician and friend to George, told him about the desperation in Bangladesh and asked George to help. The short of it is George said okay. A couple of months went by without a real plan, but another five or six weeks and George pulled together his friends, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Ringo Star, and the band Badfinger, and Ravi Shankar recruited another Indian musician, Ali Akbar Khan, and they all performed at Madison Square Garden on the first day of August.
The back story covers a lot of musical history, and intersects the lives of some well-known and talented people. In 1961, George was 18 and performing in Germany with an early pre-Ringo version of The Beatles. Fast forward ten years, the musical group called The Beatles exploded into THE BEATLES and took over the world, until the individual Beatles went their separate ways in 1970. George was more and more interested in spirituality and eastern philosophies and music traditions, and was evolving musically to bring these influences into his craft. By 1971, he had his own solo albums and was producing the soundtrack for Raga, a documentary film on Shankar. Nevertheless, he hadn’t performed on stage as a solo act yet.
That summer, George was 28 and organizing in my memory one of the first big, really big, aid concerts in modern history. Dealing with the venue, performers, filming, recordings, the tax man, and everything else that’s involved in planning an event like this, with the goal (and determination) to get the money to where it was needed, in Bangladesh, and not everywhere in between.
So. Picture this. The end of the concert. George at the microphone. The master of ceremonies. The other performers were done. Clapton was dealing with some serious addiction issues and barely made it through his bit with George. And George didn’t know at this point if Dylan would perform. The day before, Dylan told George he was too nervous. About the crowd. For every one of us who’s stumbled over our own words because looking out at faces brings on brain freeze, there’s the idea of a nervous Bob Dylan. Are we all human or what? Bob Dylan, yes THE Bob Dylan, was nervous about the crowd and not sure he could perform. Whatever was happening in his life, he hadn’t really performed in concert for a number of years, and wasn’t sure he could do it. Why does this awkward little detail appeal to me?
George looked around the darkened stage, bright lights in his eyes, to see if the big act would come out and sing.
And yes, Bob Dylan was the big act. There was in fact a question mark next to his name on the concert playlist. What was George thinking during that flash of a minute? It must have been something like, “Oh shit, what am I doing here?” I haven’t seen that quote, but what else would be going through his head?
Then, yes … there he was. Bob Dylan. To paraphrase George’s description, his denim jacket, his harmonica, and his guitar. Dylan looked young and uncomfortable, but the music started. It was A Hard Rain’s A-gonna Fall, and he knew his song well.
Forty-nine years ago.
___________________________ Images from: the fest for beatles fans snf your beatles station
A guy and a gal stood over a rose bush, heads together, and it appeared to be a serious conversation. After a few minutes, the young woman walked away. The fellow leaned over a bit and spoke to the rose, “Now try to be good.”
That was Fall 2019.
I returned last week. The nursery is out in the open, not attached to a big store, and I decided it would be safe enough wearing a mask, etc., and I could get everything I need in one trip. Approaching, it looked familiar in a good way. Going to the nursery is a fun chore. Most years I go more than I need to. But this was different. It wasn’t just the masks. We’re all getting used to that, aren’t we? But it’s the little details in life we hardly notice until they’re not there.
They had fewer plants, but enough. They were arranged and sorted. It was pretty, prettier than the grocery store, but not lush and indulgent like it usually is. Some of the plants needed watering. Flowers on vines grew into each other so the plant containers were inseparable. Price signs were here and there and not always in the right places. Ceramic fountains were dry and empty, except for a bit of left over rain water. You didn’t have to mind the wet cement or hoses scattered around, because no one was watering. The cashier was moved outside, and I could see a few staff out in the distance, away from customers and tables.
They were making the best of what they could do, but you couldn’t help but think what was missing. And who was missing. Nurseries hire people who love plants. People who enjoy caring for plants, watering, arranging tables so plants look their best. Rainbowed rows of colors. Roses spaced just so. If you didn’t like plants, that kind of job wouldn’t work out.
I guess in the grand scheme of things, none of this matters. If I didn’t start this draft last week, I probably wouldn’t write it today. With the perspective of shocking, almost inhuman events, my common lackluster experiences fall in the category of ‘unworthy of notice’. Yet, the summer moves from repetitive to boring to depressing to scary, and now to horrific, and we wonder how to make sense of it all.
This is about Rose. I knew Rose all my life, minus the first five or so years, which I don’t remember very well. Rose, like her husband, was a second generation American. Their parents came from Italy.
She was small, a little over five feet, and pretty. Even when she was old, almost ninety, she was still pretty. Her hair turned from red to white, but her face was pretty and smiling. I see it now. Rose was probably the sweetest, kindest, nicest, most energetic, hard working, generous, human being I’ve known. I’m thinking, I’m thinking. Yeah, she was all those. You can probably think of some other ‘nice’ adjectives, and those would fit too. Her husband called her Rosy.
In the summer Rose and her husband spent a lot of time in the back yard. They sat there in the evenings with a glass of wine. Sometimes they played cards. It wasn’t a big area, a little bit of grass backed up to a tall hill covered with trees. And nestled at the bottom of the hillside a statue of the Blessed Mother. Everything about the space back there felt old country. It made you feel like you have nothing to do in life but sit, laugh, tell a story, and take it all in. There was a square wooden porch/deck attached to the house, and a screen door that took you right into her kitchen. I know, because I’ve been through that door. The last time was after my mother died and Rose called me in to see her new living room furniture. There are parts of us that just don’t grow up, and I thought at the time if I couldn’t still have my mother, I wanted Rose to be my proxy mother.
Rose was in the middle of making anise flavored cookies. She asked me if I was hungry, if she could get me some pasta. I don’t remember what kind, some gnocchi or whatever. She made her own, of course. There was no Mueller’s in that house. And it seemed to me she whipped up home-made pasta as easily as I whip up a sandwich or bowl of cereal. I’m probably exaggerating, but not too much. Picture the wood block countertop covered with flour, some chopping implements, and bowls and cooking ingredients scattered here and there. Old appliances. That was her kitchen.
Oh, and there’s the flowers. Tall bright colored flowers all around the metal fence in her front yard. Hanging baskets on her tiny front porch. Flowers up and down the side of her house. Flowers on the deck, flowers in the backyard. She loved her flowers, and they loved her back. Rose was well into her eighties and she would weed and fuss with her flowers the same way she did when she was thirty.
I thought about Rose yesterday, and this flower’s for Rose.