The Night I Saw Shannon Naked

I closed the book Dubliners, the words of the story “Araby” lingered in my mind. It brought back memories of my first love, maybe my only love, though I have loved several women since. Her name was Shannon after the River Shannon in Ireland. Though she was not Irish and had no Irish blood in her as far as I knew, still she was named for the river the Irish call Abha na Sionainne. I was in the fourth grade and she was my baby sitter.

She sat afternoons with my sister and me after school, watched over us and kept us out of trouble until my mother came home from her job in the cotton mill. Some afternoons she played the piano my mother kept insisting I practice on. Her fingers made their graceful way across the keyboard, giving voice to the notes Beethoven wrote. It was such a lovely sound that it always moved me, sometimes to tears, sometimes filling me with joy. Even today, I cannot hear Beethoven without stopping and letting my imagination recreate those moments when Shannon sat at the piano.

About six, Mother came through the door and hugged us, not once but twice, as if she was making sure we were real and not something from her imagination. Then Shannon gathered up her things and off she disappeared into the evening. The setting sun created a glow around her that made me think of the angel in the picture above my mother’s bed.

I returned Dubliners to its place on the bookshelf. My wife out of town and off tending to her sick sister, I had the house alone. It was getting late and there would be an early morning the next day. All that was left for me to do was let the dog out for one quick run around the yard, then it would be bed for both of us.

The night had turned chilly, so I ran with the dog to keep warm. Five minutes of this running and she was ready to come in for the night. I lay down in my bed with the Irish terrier at its foot. But it was not a night for sleep. It was a night for ghosts.

Not meaning to I had betrayed my first love. One night I sneaked out and followed her home. I was desperate to know her better. Where did she live? Who was her family? She walked a half mile or so until she came to a beat-up old trailer. It was unpainted and rusting, its door only half hinged to the front. I peeked through a window and looked into the interior. Only shadows made by the moonlight revealed what was inside.

She went to a cabinet and pulled out a glass and filled it with water. Slicing a loaf of bread, that was her supper. She got up and walked over to a nearby dresser. For the first time, I realized one leg was shorter than the other. Her back to me, she pulled the pins out of the bun on her head, her black hair falling, falling to the floor like an endless stream of water. She undid the necklace around her neck and laid it out before her. I watched, fascinated, yet also curious to see the real Shannon as she removed her makeup, rinsed her face, dropped her dress.

A fallen branch snapped under my foot. Shannon faced me. No, I couldn’t believe it. It could not be. It was her face, but it wasn’t her face. Horrified at what I had seen, I dashed home as fast as I could.

Though I never saw Shannon again, I am haunted by that night and how I broke the heart of the woman I loved. Sometimes in the middle of the night I wake up to the sound of music as her fingers touch the keys of my mother’s piano downstairs.

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Creator: Danny Kaye Conducts an Orchestra, etc.

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Creator is Danny Kaye:

A great performer will leave you breathless. This is how Danny Kaye left me when I saw him conduct an orchestra. And I might add, on the floor laughing. It must have been a Danny Kaye viewer who invented the term ROFL.

Danny Kaye, the group singer.

And who else could have played Hans Christian Andersen other than Danny Kaye.

Not only was Danny Kaye a great talent. He was generous as well. The money he made from conducting went to the musician’s retirement fund. In addition, he was the first Goodwill Ambassador to UNICEF.

So it’s my great pleasure today to honor Danny Kaye as Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Creator.

Carl Reiner’s tribute

Near 500 words: Skeezer

Skeezer was the founder of the Radicals. She was the one who gave the group edge. Always a smile on her face, she had founded the group as an outlet for her creativity. First of all she was a musician. She played the harmonica and she played a mean harp. She would have given Willie Dixon a run for his money if he was still around.

Then there were the songs. Nobody in the city had heard lyrics like hers. She could make up a lyric and have it tied up in a song in less than five minutes. How she got this facility came from reading the dictionary like others read a romance or a mystery. Asked why she loved reading the dictionary, she answered, “It’s the mystery of it all. You never know what word is going to turn up.”

But what she became famous for was The Dance. The Dance was the day she and the four other young women of the Radicals showed up in Central Park and danced modern dance for an hour. That wasn’t unusual. There were groups all the time showing up. But these women showed up in their skimpy dresses on a day when it had just snow and the temp was not above 10.

When they did it for a second year on February 1, the City went crazy. A large crowd showed up. That was the year the video of their dance went viral. Over thirty million peeps on Youtube. Because they posted the video, they made a chunk of change. That was Skeezer’s idea as well. She was one heck of a business woman.

But she resisted going solo. She thought it was rude and she wasn’t about to abandon her Sisters. They were her friends and you just don’t do that to friends.

By the time Skeezer made it into her thirties, the Radicals had their own office and recording studio and rehearsal space downtown. After ten years, many started thinking of the women as Old Skool. Skeezer wasn’t having that. She’d worked too damn hard to lose their image as radicals.

So she invited in five of the best jazz musicians around. She had an idea for an album of tunes that would blow the head off the music scene. The CD did what it was supposed to do. Called “Dirty Words”, there wasn’t a dirty word on any of the songs if you could call them songs. Actually it was an epic poem, telling of the deeds of the Radicals. How they snuck into New York City in a wooden horse. How they faced down the mayor who happened to be named Priam. The final song was a celebration called “Blast”.

The piece de resistance was the performance. The Radicals, now six, performed it in the nude. The second night they were busted for indecency. They called in the news media and protested they were a free speech movement. Then they stripped and yelled, “Oh Fuck.” “Oh Fuck” became a You Tube hit.

Skeezer always knew how to make a ruckus. If she had not been an artist, she might have been a gangster. After all, her hero was John Lennon. Once she discovered his “Instant Karma”, “Gimme Some Truth” and “God” at twelve, she was changed. She knew what she wanted to be. She was going to be a prophet. And her prophecy would be her art.

Skeezer turned forty and left the Radicals. It was time. The group had become an institution. It was time to go to the mountains and seek. So she went off on a pilgrimage to climb the holy mountains around the world.

The last time we heard from Skeezer word was that she was climbing Mount Everest. Some say she died up there, and some say she didn’t. Then there is that small group who have come to believe that Skeezer will be coming down with Jesus in the Rapture. Who knows? All most of us know is we sure miss The Radicalist Radical of Them All.

Near 500 words: The Singer

Clara wakes up happy. I know this is not a good way to start a story. I’m supposed to have the main character in distress or at least thinking about distress. But the thing is. Clara is happy.

She is so happy she wants to sing it to the world. And sing it to the world she is going to do. She has a recording contract.

Her gray eyes and her smile show just how happy she is. She had been with her manager all day the previous day choosing songs to take to her producer.

Clara is tired. She has gotten only a little sleep. Her excitement kept her awake most of the night. Her day has finally arrived and she is going to sing for the world.

It is early when she wakes.

Finally, you’re getting somewhere with the story. Clara is going to have an accident on the way to the studio, you’re saying.

Not true. Not true. Nothing is going to happen on the way to the studio. She is going to arrive and sing like the nightingale she was in a former life.

Once she is in the studio, her producer is not going to like the songs she has chosen.

Oh, no. He will like them just fine. You see, he’s in love with Clara. He’s in love with her voice. And he’s in love with her songs. In his mind, her songs are wonderful. They are about the life of her grandmother. She came to Israel when she was a teenager to escape the Holocaust. And escape she did. She came and worked on a kibbutz. The album will end with her grandmother’s garden. It will start off sad and end very happy.

It’s the story of Dorothy escaping to Oz and falling in love with Oz. No returning to Kansas for Dorothy. Dorothy is just fine with Oz and so is Toto. She loves Oz so much that she wants Auntie Em and her uncle to come and live with her. But it’s too late. The tornado took them and the government repossessed the farm. It wasn’t that good of afarm anyway.

The Wizard may have been a disappointment in Oz but everything is just hunky dory since Dorothy melted that witch. The munckins sang hip-hip-hooray. The citizens of Oz sang hip-hip-hooray. Even the horse of a different color sang hip-hip-hooray.

It was then that Dorothy met her Prince Charming. He was a shoe salesman. It’s amazing how many times these Cinderella stories revolve around feet.

After the war, Clara’s grandmother returned to Germany. She went to Auschwitz where her parents and her brother had died. Kansas was not the place she had loved as a young girl. So she returned to Israel and met her Prince Charming. Five kids they had. One of them was Clara’s mother. Her grandfather found in the Israel War of Independence. He fought against Nassar and his allies. While Clara’s grandmother made a home for her husband and her children.

She also made the most wonderful garden. And Clara is going to sing about that garden. That is the final song, “The Garden”. It begins with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. It continues with the garden that was the Alhambra. And it ends with memories of Monet’s Garden, all metaphors for Clara’s grandmother’s garden. The last line of the last song, “Dorothy loved the Gardens of Oz.”

Poem for the Day: My Credo

Kindness is a daisy I thank heaven for.
Art is an act of generosity parting the darkness and letting the light in.
Music is a gift of love from one to another.
May the songs forever be sung.
Poetry is a never ending conversation between friends.
Dance is an act of grace from the heart, compassion an open palm.
Love is an oak, its roots sunk deep into the earth.
If each human being be a masterpiece made in the image of the Creator,
when the song of another is violently shortened by a fellow traveller,
blasphemy is done.
The world is blue and green, brown and red with a sun in the sky.
With a moon to share and rainbows after the rain,
we are all so blessed.
There’s an oak in my back yard and a cat on my porch.
The birds are chirping and butterflies dancing.
Isn’t it all so grand?

Mary Chapin Carpenter, “The Age of Miracles”.