Pappy part 15

I had taken a dash of destiny into my own hands, and had altered the recipe of my life from that moment on.  I have no recollection of not believing in God, or of not loving Christ.  Prayer is a daily part of the formula that shapes me.  All my life I had understood that I was in the care of the divine shepherd, and as I wandered in search of pastures of pleasure, I was never so far from home that I couldn’t be reclaimed.  From this moment on, however, I had strayed far from the shore.  I was a lamb no more, and communion with my Heavenly Father had become corrupted as I took my bite of the bittersweet apple.  I have struggled with my free will ever since, like a sailor lost in the desert.  Just ahead, is it the cool waters of the sea, where my Captain welcomes my return aboard, or is it another spiritually parched mirage? 

My relationship with Rachael was in decline, and would persist only a few confused months longer.  Thoughts of Mother’s amusing anecdote, of how I would never have been born had she had access to the “pill” in her day, resurfaced in my psyche.  She had loved and cared for six siblings as two men had walked on.  I thought of Everett in the cold Kentucky winter painting masterpieces of light sparkling on icicles that clung to an abandoned farmhouse.  I thought about Pappy pursuing Buck Star to Hollywood in search of the illusionary roles of the heroic figures of life, and dueling with feinting shadows from neglected windmills.  Eventually I turned from Rachael and walked on, into a reclusive passageway lined with new paintings and resonate with fresh musical progressions from a bachelor’s kitchen – but without the familiar, divine direction that had suffered me not as a child. 

Trevor and Sherri had finally arrived in Texas!  The Ringo Kid was older, and his hair was graying, but his character was as young as ever.  It was good to see him.  He had developed a keen interest in leaded glass, and over the next few months Trevor and Sherri would open a small store specializing in stained glass products.  I enjoyed spending time with him during these days.  As I watched he and Sherri attempt to build a small business, I was able to temporarily disregard recent failures in my life.

I addition to his interest in glass, Trevor’s love of music was leading him into an association with the local community radio station, where he was volunteering and meeting many local musicians.  I was able to sit in and do some pickin’ and grinnin’ from time to time, and the music was soothing to the beast of guilt, and lulled it to sleep.  Furthermore, I had accepted a position as bar manager at the Cactus Rose, a successful neighborhood bar and restaurant in a historical area of town.  It was here that I met Robert, a talented guitar player, with whom I began an acoustical relationship that would lead to some recordings and performances by “The Kitchen Band” that taunted me with illusive dreams of show business.   My life was full and busy – full and busy with fantasies and visions, not with direction and determination. 

As I read the closing segment from his notebook, I wondered if I were not making my tracks in Pappy’s shoes. 

Notes on Future Speculations:

Only thoughts.  I wonder if I shouldn’t put together a wish and needs list, to justify my random being.  All my life I have been trying to organize a personal studio, and now it seems crucial that I consider all options and possibilities, so that I won’t be out in the cold again.  As I grow older it’s time to produce or shut up.

My feelings in regard to all of this are contained in a personality trait that is not altogether a good one.  It does exist, though.  I think ahead of myself.  I mentally plan everything, pigeonholing priorities into little cerebral boxes.  Often I choose the wrong priorities.  But, I feel as though I have more of a handle on what I want now, so here goes.

My talents are such:  I am a writer of short stories, and scripts.  I am a vocalist, an artist, performer, technician, animator, film and video photographer, and audio-video or motion picture editor.  I am capable of original programming, or using other’s initial works and re-working them, fine tuning them, innovating or re-inventing them.  I should add sculpture, and set design too.  It all dove tails, as I have planned and planned all my life – and here I should add that I am a composer also.   Sounds like too much, and I suppose it is.  I am stronger in some areas than others, but this is essentially me.

My mastery of trivia, particularly motion picture trivia, is an asset.  It gives me historical perspective.  I don’t believe that I can do everything, certainly not.  However, to delegate one must have equal knowledge in order to judge.

My plan is to begin with the garage, reworking it until everything is accessible, and to add climate control for hot summers and cold winters.  I will arrange my animation stand and table.  Add a darkroom.  I will need to repair my 35 Axley movie camera and add a new lens or zoom – probably both.  Then I will have to make an adjustment for aperture in the camera to handle different ratios of film for adapting different lens uses.  Then, put together a package for a digital sound system for recording.  I have many of the parts necessary for this transformation. 

Once that is done, I want to organize my film editing pieces, adding a few items to them so that they are more complete.  If possible I would like to add some video editing equipment – which would run me about twenty five hundred dollars. 

With a lot of hard work I will be able to realize that early dream that has plagued me all my life, and still does.  I can add more thoughts to this in the near future.  No… I can do this.  

The page was wrinkled and water marked, and the remainder of the page was torn away.  I imagined here a sketch of Pappy leaving bewildered footprints while stumbling in the massive shoes of the all good, all powerful – all talented – all man, and all great Buck Star. 

I wanted to break the binds of the ghostly chains of DNA that haunted me, and awakened me at night with questions about my future and my purpose.  I wanted to go to a university and excel in medicine and law.  I wanted to climb to the crest of human success and plant my flag. I wanted to quench my failures with the bloodline of Grandma’s kin. 

I did what I knew how to do.  I applied paint to canvas.  I took a drive to the country and watched the crows as they guffawed.  I wrote poetry.  I prayed for guidance and support.  I played guitar.  I closed my eyes, and returned to sleep.      

Life at the Cactus Rose was going well.  I was doing a good job as bar manager, and had been well received by the many regulars.  One year turned into several, and I was content at making a living.  Life at Trevor and Sherri’s store, however, was not the American dream.  They had experienced financial difficulties that led to divorce.  Their investment in the business, and in each other, had been lost.  Sherri returned to Tacoma.  Trevor had become more and more involved in community radio, and had secured a spot as DJ, and a position as underwriting director. 

“You know, Mark.” Trevor spoke, as he and Robert sat at the bar of the Rose one evening viewing the panorama of the restaurant.  “I think that we should arrange for a benefit here.  You and Robert could put your kitchen music into action, and I could bring in some other musicians.”

“Trevor’s on to something.” Robert grinned with anticipation, as his fingers fondled one of the large plectrums that he favored.  “Trevor could sit in with the mandolin”

“I don’t think so,” was Trevor’s quick response.  “Maybe one or two very easy tunes.  I really don’t know how to play music, other than spinning a disc on the air.” 

I reflected on the time that Grandma had rented the trumpets for Trevor and I, and smiled at his prudence.  He was not a musician.  But he was doing very well as a radio personality.  Robert, on the other hand, was a good guitar player, who had formed a couple of bands in the past, and had hovered at a counterpoint between rock and roll success, and a requiem for a vanishing rocker.  As a new daddy, Robert had begun to distance himself from the demanding life of a roadhouse rogue, and was expressing interest in performing at occasional local venues.  That was certainly more my style.  We had been meeting in my kitchen a couple of evenings a week and working up a small repertoire of tunes.  We referred to ourselves at The Kitchen Band.  I agreed that a benefit would be fun and that I would try to arrange it.

My style of picking was born of folk and country music.  Robert was rock.  The fusion, however, did not stand a chance, especially when “Dollar Bill” sat in with his mandolin.  Kitchens, mandolins, and pickin’ on vintage dreadnoughts, was a recipe for a fine country jam.  Some of Robert’s rock and roll buddies often teased him, saying that he had been debauched in my kitchen.  Trevor sat in over the next few weeks and learned a simple three-chord tune on the mandolin.  Although I was the musician of the two of us, Trevor could not deny the heat of Pappy’s entertainer blood that flowed through our veins.  The jam was good and tasty, and those days were melodious and peaceful.  I often yearn for the transcendence of struggle that was cooked up in that little kitchen.

“I think your cat wants out.” Robert observed, as Ankh pawed at the screen door one warm, humid, Texas evening. 

Ankh enjoyed those jam fests and practice sessions.  He would often lie on the table and accompany us with the rhythmic swishing of his tail, and on occasion he would join in while we were recording with a “meowerrrer” or two, which remains in those recordings to this day.  The moon was round and full this night, and yes, he did want out.  I opened the screen and a flash of black fur darted into the night jungle.     

Robert and I had set up the reel-to-reel recording equipment and microphones, and had begun to cook up a batch of full moon, summer jam, when Ankh returned and proceeded to bang on the door.

“He’s knocking.  Reckon he wants back in.” Robert chuckled as we stopped picking and he turned the recorder off.

I opened the screen and my furry feline darted back in, but with something in his mouth.  He ran to the kitchen table and leaped up to proudly exhibit his prey.  Ankh had a large lizard, at least seven inches in length, in his mouth.  Robert and I were slightly startled, Ankh lightened his grip, and the lizard escaped and zipped away.  The cat leaped into action, the lizard jumped onto me and fled downward, with kitty in pursuit.  The commotion lasted for only a brief time, and suddenly all was quiet.  That cold-blooded reptile was nowhere to be found, and Ankh was upset and pacing intently.  Robert and I took five, drank a beer while enjoying the humor of the situation, and traded possibilities about where that creature had gone.       

“Under the sink.”

“In the cupboards.”

“Under the fridge.”

“Where ever he is,” Robert deduced, “I don’t figure that he’ll be coming out anytime soon; definitely not with that mighty hunter on the prowl.  Let’s write a little tune about this.”

We finished our beers, and prepared the recording equipment for a new start.  Robert picked up his guitar and strummed a mellow minor chord.  I situated my instrument neatly on my knee and strummed a bluesy seventh.  ZIPPIDY! That lizard leaped out of my guitar and slithered through the strings creating syncopated sounds that no awkward amateur or renowned musical genius could ever have composed.  Across the table he darted with Ankh, the mighty hunter, hot on his trail.  They darted past Robert, and to the floor again, where the furry warrior victoriously recaptured his speedy prey.  Without hesitation I opened the door and let the relentless hunter return into the night.  The man in the moon was looking in through the window and I am convinced that he was in full guffaw.  Robert and I were certainly enjoying a fit of laughter. 

“Hey.” he pointed, with tears of mirth in his eyes.  “We just recorded all of this!” 

The humor was recurrent as we played it back.  Robert’s chord, then mine, then the brilliant masterpiece of improvisation by the reptilian maestro, followed by chairs scooting across the kitchen floor, assorted human sounds of excitement, the door opening and closing, and then roars of laughter.  For the remainder of the evening Robert and I worked on a piece of music, which included various moments of the comical events.  We decided to open our upcoming benefit gig at the Rose with our newest tune titled Leapin’ Lizard!   

The big event was finally at hand.  Trevor had arranged for performances by several local musical talents, and I had negotiated the Rose for the evening.  Each act would be given an hour.  The Kitchen Band was scheduled next to last, and the finale would be a well known country rock band that would pick up the pace for the remaining couple of hours, and get folks to boot-scootin’ across the floor until last call. 

“Are you nervous, Robert?” I asked, as we sat in my kitchen and tuned our instruments.

“Yeah, a little.” He replied, with a country-wide grin on his face that erased any doubt in my heart about his ability as a rock and roll picker to spread a convincing portion of hillbilly jam that night. 

Robert had several friends that were going to videotape the debut of The Kitchen Band, and he and I had never before performed live together.  I was somewhat nervous also, but we were well practiced, and an hour on stage would go quickly.  We loosened up by going through our itinerary, which had changed by moving Leapin’ Lizard to the second position.  Trevor was the master of ceremonies, and was to introduce each act.  He would commence ours with his debut on the mandolin – which was also to be his finale on the mandolin.  It came time for The Kitchen Band to load up and move out.

“Let’s break a leg!” Robert declared, as we carried out equipment to the truck.

No sooner had he made the statement than I stepped onto a drainage cover and my leg disappeared into a three-foot hole of stagnant water, and I tumbled to the ground. 

“You OK?”  He looked worried.

“Yes.”  I sputtered rather aggravated, and stood up to regain my composure.  “I’m fine, but I’ll have to change.”

“Now, I didn’t mean for you to take it literally.”  He ribbed, quite relieved.  “Recon it’s a good sign.”

“What, that we are going to have a kick-ass performance tonight?”

“Well, I hope so, but I meant that you really didn’t break your leg.” 

The term “break a leg” is a show business term used before a performance that means “good luck.”  It is not certain exactly how or where the phrase originated, and there are numerous conjectures.  It is apparently the process of suggesting bad luck as insurance against bad luck.  Although some have attributed the origin of the phrase to the tragic night at Ford’s Theater, as John Wilkes Booth jumped to the stage after having shot President Lincoln, the phrase was not documented until the early twentieth century.  I rather doubt, as well, that so ominous a moment in history could sustain such an idiom.

In the Dictionary of Catchphrases, Eric Partridge suggests that it traces back to German aviators, perhaps during WWI, and spread progressively to the theatre.  That seems rather unlikely to me also.  Other explanations include the emulation of the great Sarah Bernhardt, who had only one leg. Another account referred to the act of bending on one knee in a bow to an applauding audience after a successful performance.  The latter seems more conceivable.

From his publication The Word Detective, written by Evan Morris, I quote:

.”…But why, I hear you ask, would someone wish injury and ill-fortune on a comrade…?  Simple — popular folklore down through the ages is full of warnings against wishing your friends good luck. To do so is to tempt evil spirits or demons to do your friend harm. Better to outwit the demons (who must be rather dim, it seems to me) by wishing your friend bad fortune.”

I find that such a phrase born of superstition to be the most likely explanation.

“Well,” I said to Robert after I had changed and we had finally loaded our gear.  “Let’s break a leg.”

The evening went well.  Trevor had put together a good selection of pickers and grinners, a good multitude had congregated, and the collection at the door was more than adequate for a benefit of this small venue.  The Kitchen Band eventually took the stage, and Trevor sat in with a mandolin for his small moment in the sun as a musician. I will tell you that he stumbled awkwardly through the song with victorious poise.  Evidence of his debut is on video, which I retain still.  Then he formally introduced us, and The Kitchen Band proceeded to pick their way into the hearts of the folks gathered there.  They were tapping their foots, swilling their beers, clapping their hands in time, and I am sure that I even spied some of them joining in at select percussive moments by slappin’ their knees.  Ye Haw, they was having a right good time, and Robert and I were grinning like ol’ opossums caught in the limelight.  If Robert had not been debauched in my kitchen, then I’m sure that he was that night at the Rose. 

Once The Kitchen Band had finished breaking their leg, the highlighted band of the evening took the stage, and the tunes cranked up with a couple of guitars, a stand up bass, a banjo and a fiddle.  Whew!  That hillbilly music has a way of loosening the corporate noose, or shaking loose the starched blues of daily life and replacing them with a favorite pair of faded blue jeans and fine, comfortable scootin’ boots.  Even Tony the bartender, born and raised in Southside Chicago, came from behind the bar to cut the rug a time or two.

This old time country music, or mountain music, or hillbilly music as it is often referred to, comes primarily from England, Scotland, and Ireland, and was passed down into the Appalachian areas of this country many years ago, where it mixed with the music of the African banjo, which was somewhat altered in style and sped up.  For the most part, it is Celtic music by origin.  As I relaxed with a cold beer after my performance, I couldn’t help but notice a petite, red headed woman shaking her freckles all over the dance floor.  I pointed her out, and enquired of Annie, a friend of mine who worked at the Rose that seemed to know her.

“Her name is Darcy.”  I was told.  “And, yes, she is single.”

Darcy, I thought to myself, now that’s a Celtic lass if ever there was.  It was only a moment later that I observed Annie saying something to her, after which Darcy looked over at me.  Our eyes made contact, and hers sparkled like genuine emeralds.  She followed with a smile, and I was suddenly startled, aware that I had been gawking like a rapt old Paddy at the sight of a pot of gold. 

Awkwardly, I returned the smile, and then turned away, feigning to order a cocktail.  I felt rather overwhelmed with hot confusion, as if I had just looked destiny in the eye. 

“Do you believe in fate?” I asked Tony as he built an extra strong beverage for me, apparently sensitive to the situation.  

“See something out there that you liked?”  He chuckled as he handed me the potent brew.  “You look a little flushed.”

“Guess it’s rather hot in here.”  I responded.

“People are always trying to define, or understand fate.”  Tony was leaning philosophically close in a customary posture for a bartender sage.  “Now, take my ol’ dog.  He’s only going to catch a squirrel if he gets off his lazy ass and goes for it.”

“Your logic is quite down home for a Southside Chicago boy.”

“Yeah, must be all this hillbilly music.”  He grunted and grinned, then moved on to another thirsty pilgrim.

I sat there in contemplation, staring at my reflection in the barroom mirror.  What is fate?  Would fate exist without the Human mind?  Does Tony’s dog have any comprehension of probability?  Are the Ozark big-eared Bat, Canada Lynx, Sperm Whale, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Lotis Blue Butterfly, and the Puritan Tiger Beetle aware that they are among the over 1800 species on the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife?  Do they question their destiny?  Is the fate of the world, their fate, in the hands of Mankind? 

Are Man and Woman a creation of fate, or do they create fate as a dimension of self-awareness?  Is there a master plan that supersedes free will?  Are fate and free will in contention?  Certainly there can be no friction if there is only one thing.  Conflict exists only if there are two or more things.  Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Why is the sky blue?  Can a fellow’s first glimpse of his soul mate be that of a petite red headed Sidhe sprinkling freckles at him as though they were Celtic faerie dust?  

“Can you dance as well as you play and sing?”  I was startled from my momentary philosophical fog to see Darcy standing next to me. 

“Well, not really,” I spoke up.  “But I can dance.”

I took Darcy’s hand and we proceeded to the dance floor to begin a fateful little jig that united our destinies, and so to this very day.  

Continue to part 16
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Mark T.K. Fought