Connie, just sixteen
And all the world before her,
Taken much too young.
Connie, just sixteen
And all the world before her,
Taken much too young.
Since it is Nanowrimo Month, I thought I would do something writerly in honor of all you heroes who are creating masterpieces.
It was as if Scott Fitzgerald had suddenly discovered the adverbs of manner. You know, those -ly words that reveal how an action took place, those pesky words we writers are urged again and again to avoid like the rats who brought in the black death in the Middle Ages, those words. The ones Stephen King advised against in his book, On Writing. He especially hates the word “zestfully”, but so far I haven’t seen a “zestfully” pop its pretty little head up out of the pages of The Great Gatsby.
Many of the pages of Gatsby have at least a few of the adverbs. Sometimes more, much more. Normally I would say that this language doesn’t work. The writer’s just being lazy. But this is Fitzgerald and some of his finest music and he knows the secret that rules are made to be broken. Especially if you’re a writer as good as Fitzgerald.
You see it’s not Fitzgerald speaking on the pages of his masterpiece. It’s the narrator and observer, Nick Carroway, who is telling the story in the first person way Somerset Maugham used to great effect in a number of his novels.
Now I can hear some of you out there saying, “That’s no excuse.” Of course, it’s not an excuse. It is technique, it is style. Nick’s the voice we hear throughout the tale of disillusionment and loss, and he’s telling it in his own language. Just to be sure that this use of adverbs was purposeful, I checked another of Fitzgerald’s novels, Tender is the Night. I didn’t read it all the way through, though I intend to soon. I did a quick perusal of the first chapter. Those pesky devilish -lys are rare.
No, Fitzgerald is much too good a writer to be sloppy with those adverbs. He’s a writer who can make his prose sing, a novelist who gives his readers such wonderful lines as:
“wherever people played polo and were rich together.”
“A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug making a shadow on it as the wind does on the sea.”
“It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of speech that will never be played again.”
And these are just in the first chapter. This is no accident. This is a master hard at work to give his reader pleasure, such pleasure.
Maggie and I had been married for three years when the word “divorce” first came up. There we sat on our screened-in back porch, gazing out at the soft summer rain, sipping glasses of iced tea, day dreaming as if we had forever.
Then Maggie turned to me. “Jack and Anise are getting a divorce. Anise says it’s for the kids.”
I looked over at her. “For the kids? Nobody gets a divorce for the kids.”
“That’s what I said. But she insisted.” She went back to studying the lawn. “You think we should plant a rose bush over there.” She pointed to the back corner.
“It’s okay with me. Remember you are the gardener. I have the black thumb.” I gave it some thought. Maybe roses would look good at the edge of the yard. “What kind of roses?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“I would have liked to be a fly on the wall when they told the kids. ‘We’re getting the divorce because of you kids.’ Bet that was one heck of a conversation.”
Maggie reached over to the pitcher on the table between us and poured herself another glass of iced tea. “She said the kids had pretty much figured it out. They were troopers about the whole thing.”
I swirled the ice in my glass with my finger. The cold felt good. “I thought they were the perfect couple. Who’ll be next? The pastor and his wife?”
“Naw,” she said. “It would mean his job.”
“As if that would be a bad thing. His sermons are so boring that the devil wouldn’t have a hard time recruiting our congregation Sunday mornings. Anything to get out of that sanctuary.”
She giggled, then said, “You’ve got that right. Why do we keep him?”
“Nobody wants to hurt his feelings.”
“If she’d only have an affair. She’s the type you know.”
My interest perked up. “What do you mean? She’s such a tight ass.”
“The ones you least expect, you know.”
“Are you saying?” I couldn’t imagine this. Helen, the preacher’s wife? Who’d have the gall to sleep with her anyway?
“I’m just saying.” She laughed. There were times I wasn’t sure if Maggie was joking or serious. This was one of those times.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I don’t know for sure. I have my suspicious though. Just call it woman’s intuition.” That closed that subject. She brings up woman’s intuition and I knew that was it.
“So when’s the big day?” I asked.
“The big day?”
“When is Jack moving out?”
“As soon as the kids go off to college this fall. He’ll be there when they leave. When they come home, he’ll be gone. He’ll be coming over for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They’ll be one big happy family for the holidays.”
I shook my head. “That sounds nice and cozy. How long they been married? Twenty-three years and now they’re getting a divorce. And for the kids too. Did she say what she meant by that?’
“No,” she said, then leaned over and kissed my lips lightly. She had tears in her eyes.
I offered her my lap, then I held her, trying to fend off the fear I knew she was feeling. She said softly, “It’s Mom and Dad all over again. We kids go off to college and they get their freedom. Only it’s freedom from each other.” There was unforgiveness in her voice.
I didn’t say anything. There was nothing to say. I remembered the arguments between my parents. All the yelling, and they stayed together for us kids. At least, that’s what Mom told me at Dad’s funeral.
Maggie squeezed my arm and drew it closer around her. There we were, Maggie and I, sitting on the back porch of our new house and talking about divorce. Hoping it wouldn’t happen to us.
Last week a friend left us. A very close friend. Yesterday I went to his funeral. His two brothers and so many other family and friends were there. He was a deeply spiritual person. One of a few I have known. He will be missed by all who knew him. I still haven’t gathered my thoughts of him enough to write how much he meant to me.
I originally planned to post another humor piece. But it seems so inappropriate today. Instead I am posting another piece. It is a piece I had posted several years ago on another blog in galaxy far away. Something autobiographical, which I don’t usually do here. It honors three friends I had in high school, three friends who changed my life.
Perhaps sometime in the future I may be able to set my memories of my friend down and post them. But today I would like to post this to honor all those who have loved and nurtured and cared about me as I worked my way to this particular time in my life.
It was early 1964, Fort Worth, Texas, JFK had just been assassinated a few months earlier. My family and I had just moved across town from Northside to Poly. I was in the tenth grade and I was a very insecure lonely kid. I don’t think I had one friend at Northside High School. How I survived that loneliness, that insecurity, I am not sure. I was out of my element there for the thirteen weeks or so I attended the school. I don’t know what got me through. Thank God for a wonderful imagination and lots of daydreaming and good books. Thank God for Euripides and Sophocles. Thank God for some damned good science fiction.
Then I moved to Polytechnic High with low expectations. In those days, my mother, my stepfather, my half-sister and I were a churchgoing folk. We found a church there in Poly. Church was the one place I felt home in those days. I began my usual habit of Sunday School and church services each Sunday. That first Sunday a tall blond haired kid a year older than me invited me to a baseball game the next Saturday afternoon. Not being a sports fellow I almost said no. I said okay instead.
That first Saturday afternoon baseball with the tall fellow from church changed my life. Until that moment in my history I had felt that I didn’t matter an iota. I had always been religious but I kept asking where are you, God. How come you made such an introvert, so insecure, so lonely. I am here to tell you that first Saturday changed my life. That tall blond-haired kid saw me and saw me for who I was and still cared about me. Cared about me a lot. Made me a part of a special gang of three friends, all a year older than me.
David was the tall blond haired kid. Bobbie Ann played cello and lived alone with her mother. She was more the mother and her mother was the daughter. Warren knew philosophy and religion and we spent a lot of late nights discussing life on other planets, speculating how and when we would make contact. He was into drama and taught me to love live theater. He also introduced me to Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde.” Bobbie Ann and Warren were dating.
For the next two years, the four of us were inseparable. David would show up at my house on Saturday morning and say, “Wanna go for a ride?” Of course, I wanted to go for a ride. Who wouldn’t want to go for a ride? Off I went, my mother entrusting me to my friends’ care, knowing I was in good hands. It would be Sunday night when next I walked through the front door. Many weeknights I was over at Bobbie Ann’s or B. A. as we called her, listening to music, playing games, just talking, talking about everything.
If I can dance at all, and I can’t dance, I learned it from David. We would be at a church dance and he would say to his girl friend of the moment, “Go dance with Don. He has two left feet but it’s okay. He’s a good learner. You’ll like it.” When you are a clumsy sixteen year old everybody sees as four-eyes, that can send you into the heavens. When I say David had a girl friend of the moment, I don’t mean he threw girl friends off as soon as he used them. He didn’t. He was always a perfect gentleman and ended his relationships with girls as friends. The thing was when David walked into a room the girls would go “ah.” He was drop dead handsome. But he had one hell of a kind heart.
My first date was with B.A. She had broken up with Warren six months earlier and we went to see Doctor Zhivago together. Afterward we went back to her apartment and she gave me a dancing lesson. It was her first year of college and I’m sure she was struggling with what she wanted out of life. The breakup with Warren hurt a lot. She smiled at me that night as she always smiled at me, one of the warmest smiles I can ever remember. She was my first love and I was out of my league, just a clumsy kid searching for a future.
Bobbie Ann had this VW Bug. A bunch of us would crawl into that thing and speed along on our way to wherever, just happy to be with each other. There was no better place in the world to be than to drive down to the Dairy Queen on Sunday night and have a banana split. One night the four of us and others were at a party. As a joke, Warren, David and I lifted that VW Bug and sat it in the waterless swimming pool. Where’s my bug? Bobbie asked. We don’t know. Of course, we did. When she found it, all she did was laugh.
Warren would regale me with tales of Broadway shows he had seen. Once a year he and his family were off to New York City. But when it came to discussing things that matter he always treated me as an equal. He introduced me to writers like Kierkegaard and Camus, to philosophers like Augustine and the poetry of Dante.
I graduated from high school, more comfortable in my own skin than I had thought possible two years earlier. I was still seventeen and searching. I went to a trade school sponsored with government money and finally got a job working in the warehouse at Montgomery Ward. That September, I turned 18. I signed up for the draft, but I didn’t wait for the postcard. I volunteered for the Air Force like my two older brothers. I was inducted on St. Patrick’s Day, 1967. it was right smack dab in the middle of the Vietnam War and I just knew that if I went in the Army there was a Viet Cong with a bullet with my name on it.
It was March 16, 1967 and it was evening. We were sitting in front of the television watching Cronkite relay the latest news of Vietnam and Bobbie Kennedy and the latest NASA story. There was a knock at our front door.
“Go see who’s at the front door, Donald,” my mother called from the kitchen.
“Oh, do I have to,” I said and picked myself off the couch and opened the front door. There stood David with his big smile. Bobbie Ann and Warren were behind him and several others. I was shocked. “Why are you here?” I gasped.
“To see you off in proper style,” David smiled and pushed himself through the door and past me. It was one hell of a sendoff.
That was the last I saw of these three friends together. When I came home on leave after basic training, David and I went out to eat a couple of times. He told me about his life and I told him how scared I was. We laughed. Warren had joined a traveling theater troupe. He was in some place in California. The last I saw him was when he directed “Christ in the Concrete City.” I never saw B. A. again. Some years later someone at church told me she joined the Air Force and became a flight controller.
A lot of years have passed. Have made some efforts to contact the three. But never have made contact. Who knows? One of these days. Of that friendship, I wrote this poem:
The wind resonates purring
soon to be clawing and biting,
chill crackles the air,
and automobile engines chatter
on this night icy and cold
from the year’s first snow;
Bobbie Ann and David, Warren,
Susie and I, we band of five
inseparably cloister against
the meowing on its prowl,
scratching, raking its talons
against the side of the house.
And then the calm.
The snow calls
us from our stories, songs and games
to frolic in a niveous wonderworld
where we and other neighborhood kids
friskily pack and splatter
white balls of algidity while
missiles of ice hiss past.
A crash in the ear, a blast on the skin,
an ouch! and we slosh our retreat
to Bobbie Ann’s house,
hot chocolate and snow ice cream.
Y2K. You remember it, don’t you? I know I do. It was before all sorts of hell broke out in the twenty-first century.
One moment, December 31, 1999 at 23:59:59, everything’s a-okay. Next, January 1, 2000 at 00:00:01, it’s not.
At 11:59:59 pm, you’re kissing your wife of thirty years. Then click, the clock turns to midnight, and you were kissing a stranger. She looked the same, sure. She had the same voice, sure. But she was not the kisser your wife was before midnight. Not by a long shot. She was a stranger.
Most of you didn’t try to find out what happened. You were afraid that you might be going over to the dark side or losing your mind. Or maybe you were just afraid. Some of you did ask, “Did this happen to you?” When asked, most people looked at you a little strange. But there were a few that admitted it. Yes, they felt that it did.
The thing is that it happened to almost half of the earth’s population, to both the 99% and the 1%. You would have thought that it would have been on the news since it happened to so many. It wasn’t. Most wanted to ignore it and get on with their lives. They accepted that maybe, just maybe, it was they who were the ones that were off.
Of course, there were those who thought it was a religious experience. That indeed the Messiah had come to claim his people and you weren’t one of them. That Jesus had returned. That Krishna made an appearance.
So what really happened? Were you on drugs or was that a bad case of Hawaiian punch you drank? Or was it the Rapture and you got stuck with some sinner-replacement for that lovely lady you’d fallen in love with at eighteen?
Well, Uncle Bardie has news for you. Now I must tell each and everyone of you that it is a secret, and that is secret with a capital CRET. And, yes, a little se. That’s shhhhh in some language. I am not sure which. So please, oh, pretty please with sugar on it, keep it on the q.t,
I spent a couple of days in the 24th dimension last night and I narrowly escaped. But here I am to reveal the Revelation. To give you the Inside Dope. Are you ready? Of course, you are ready, You wouldn’t be reading this far if you weren’t.
It’s The Immortals. Yep, them guys. Or should I say Guys. You see, a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. Even further than Darth Vadar Land and the Death Star, it was at the Beginning. Yes, that Beginning. Big Bang and All. At that moment before wrist watches and cuckoo clocks and Big Bens and atomic clocks and grandfather clocks. Even before sun dials. At that moment, The Immortals worried.
What did They worry about? Being immortal, The Immortals worried that they would become extremely bored. There would be a sameness to things. People born. People die. And that was all. They thought about the Sims. You know how you put the Sims on cruise control. You come back a month or so later, they are Sims doing Sims things. They are not doing Halo things or Minecraft things. They are doing Sims things. They are doing exactly the same things they did when you put them on cruise. We all know how boring that can be.
Well, that was what The Immortals were facing. Since this was well before Halo and World of Warcraft and Mine Craft, they had to think outside the Box. They put their Immortal heads together and they thunk and they thunk. Immortals do that a lot. Finally they had a plan. We could call it Plan 9 from Outer Space but I think that has been taken.
So here was The Plan. Once every millennium, millennium is Latin for millennium, you know, once every millennium, they would create a fluctuation in the Time Continuum. As each new millennium comes into existence at 00:00:00, half the souls on earth are zapped from their bodies. They are frozen in limbo for a millennium. Those souls are replaced by souls from a previous millennium. Since the new millennium may need more souls than those of a previous millennium, souls are split into multiples. So you may end up with a partner who is a piece of Cleopatra soul. And it might not even be the sexy Cleo you get. You may get the bossy Cleo, or the suicidal Cleo. Or even worse. The Cleo who likes to play with snakes. I don’t know about you but I don’t care much for snakes.
So there you have it. One moment you’re with your best bud, Al, and the next you’re with Genghis Khan. He wants to rape and pillage, pillage and rape something bad. And you know what that spells. The Music Man said it best. “It spells trouble. That starts with t and rhymes with p and that stands for pool.”
So get out your pool cue. It could be a very long millennium.