Mechanism Revised

Mechanism Revision

… at least I think the title is “Mechanism”. For some long-forgotten reason I’ve titled all my abstract sculptures with names that start with the letter “M”. Unfortunately records of those titles are sparse – I lost  a lot of “stuff” during our 2007 and 2015 moves ( three moves = one fire )… and at 65  my short-term memory leaves something to be desired.

Maxim

Up until about a week ago this is what it looked like.

My original concept six years ago was to create a comment on ambiguous technology –  something that looks like it could have a function, but a function that isn’t readily identifiable. We’ve kept a running tally of interpretations and so far there’s been a 50/50 split between “gun” and “train” – though my mother-in-law insists it looks like a bomb.

The barrel-like extension on the right was never meant to literally be a gun-barrel but rather a way to allow the sculpt to control space with a minimum “effort”…then when we were surveying the front room pursuant to hanging more work I noticed that the “barrel” was starting to droop. The only positive aspect of that development seemed to be  providing grist for middle-school humor so I did some trimming week before last.

 

Music: Valentine’s Day

 

Yesterday, in many ways, you’ve looked into my eyes

Seems so strange for all the many years together

Sitting by the window, couldn’t move you if I tried

I’ve been standing on the outside here forever

Blood Sweat and Tears 4 arrived late in the summer of 1971 – a going-away gift for my impending departure for the University of Alaska. At the time I was living at the ranch alone and working as many hours possible before joining my family on a vacation in the lower 48. Cooking my own meals and getting myself up and to work on time  also seemed to be a good transition to leaving home …but to be honest it was lonely and a little scary living by myself.

Candles lit an empty room when you and I last talked

And the bed made warm by lonely lovers

I have seen a thousand highways, walked a hundred roads

But for you I know there’ll be many others

I was also having second thoughts about leaving. There were some unresolved  relationship questions brewing the angst only an eighteen-year-old can know and I had finally shed my “transplanted Californian” identity for that of a Peninsula boy content to live his life between Turnagain Arm and Katchemak Bay. For as much as I wanted to get on with my life I was feeling hesitant.

Oh, let the wind blow, strike me to my knees

I’m forever getting sad and lonely

Oh, let the sun glow, shine upon the trees

You’ll forever be my one and only

Blood Sweat and Tears’ fourth album was a move back to their landmark eponymous second album with more original tunes and fewer covers. It generated two Top 40 hits1 but my favorite song on the album didn’t show up until track two on the B side: Valentine’s Day by lead guitarist Steve Katz. Katz was to the band what Peanut M&M’s are to trail-mix:  When you’re several miles out and sick of sesame seeds that peanut M&M can make the heavens open and choirs sing. It was the same with Katz’s work: He didn’t sing very often, but when he did he was great.

Darkened halls and hotel walls will keep me in disguise

While your brown eyes look for what you have forsaken

Better times are far behind me, I can’t quite forgive

Cause for all that you have given, you have taken

At the time I knew little about Mr. Katz other than what I could glean from the record jackets or the rare BS&T articles that showed up in the national press. Adolescent logic being what it is I decided that anyone whose music so effectively punched my buttons had to register at least 9.7 on the Richter scale of cool so I did my best to emulate his look with tinted glasses, harness boots and my too-long-for-Dad’s-taste hair parted in the middle.

Saddened by a country tune, I cried myself to sleep

Looking for my footsteps softly leaving

I have seen a thousand highways, walked a hundred roads

But for you I give you freedom to believe in

In the soldier-part of my life one of my assignments involved imagery interpretation – gleaning information from aerial photographs. I was totally lost looking for tall, skinny upright objects like power poles or missiles until I figured out that you don’t look for the teeny-tiny top of the object – you look for the shadow cast to one side that points like an arrow to your target.  The lyrics in Valentine’s Day function in the same manner:  the oblique descriptions of surroundings, veiled references to past events and understated emotion all point unerringly towards a disintegrating relationship – without being patently obvious.

Oh, let the wind blow, strike me to my knees

I’m forever getting sad and lonely

Oh, let the sun glow, shine upon the trees

You’ll forever be my one and only

Even lyric-less the break is possibly the most evocative part of the song. Chuck Winfield establishes a melody on the trumpet… but then Lew Soloff joins in with an additional solo on the piccolo trumpet that both parallels and departs from the basic sound.  To my heart they map the dichotomy between the actual path of life and the path life could have taken – the almosts and could-have-been, which were exactly what was on my mind in that late summer of 1971.

Oh, let the wind blow, strike me to my knees

I’m forever getting sad and lonely

Oh, let the sun glow, shine upon the trees

You’ll forever be my one and only

…and with that “wind blowing” reference we’re back to that archetype young David hitchhiker with sun on his face, the wind to his back and the whole world on his mind. 2

  • Aching to be with someone
  • Knowing the road to his future won’t let him
  • Foregoing immediate gratification for the good of another

Heavy thoughts for an eighteen-year-old but all very valid concerns. That’s why Valentine’s Day is a rarity among my favorites in that it is linked with more than one time in my life when I was in the same situation. That identical challenge of foregoing my personal interests for the sake of someone vulnerable came about both the following winter and again in the winter of 1976 –  both those times I derived comfort from this Steven Katz bit of brilliance.

…so when my Beautiful Saxon Princess sees me space out listening to Valentine’s Day and she asks l what year the song has taken me to,  I simply answer: “Which one?”

Oh, let the wind blow, strike me to my knees

I’m forever getting sad and lonely

Oh, let the sun glow, shine upon the trees

You’ll forever be my one and only

 __________________________________________________________________________

 

1)    “Go Down Gamblin’” and “Lisa Listen to Me”

2)    See Music: Fire and Rain

1966: Billy and the Bear

Some people have a “Throw-back Thursday”; I have “Run-it-again Saturday”

David R. Deitrick, Designer

It is the nature of most frontiers to have boom-or-bust economies. Alaska is no different than any other frontier, but in some ways that boom-or bust mentality has permeated throughout the whole population in both mind and heart. It brings to mind a bumper sticker I saw on a car in the late 80s when the state was still reeling from a devastating downturn caused by OPEC’s reduction of the price of oil: “Lord, please give us another boom. I promise not to p*ss this one away too.”  I kind of doubt the driver followed through on that oath; as I said that all –or-nothing mindset is totally ingrained in the Alaskan psyche. Private industry investment, purchasing new vehicles, individuals’ spending money –there was rarely any in between. One night you’re sleeping on satin sheets and the next night you’re sacking out on steam grates.

With the Boy Scouts…

View original post 1,497 more words

2018: Trip to the Eye Doctor

At my age any kind of doctor’s appointment can bring on anxiety. Everyone is so serious and concerned that I can’t help but think that maybe there is a pull-date stamped on my fourth-point-of-contact or that I shouldn’t be buying green bananas. However, as I was going to see the eye-doctor I didn’t imagine there to be too much stress involvedbut because my last visit had been in 2008 this session was going to be a little more involved than usual.

First:   They’d remodeled /reorganized the place, a fact I found out when I ended up in a supply closet while trying to find the restroom.  The second thing I noticed? Other than the doctor the entire staff was female, blonde and had an “eee” name (as in Kristie, Melanie, Lacey etc.). They were all very professional and courteous, but it was a bit unnerving to be surrounded by a small army of petite tow-headed cheerleaders.

As it had been a while since I’ve had my eyes checked I had to go through a whole battery of semi-exotic tests – some of which I’d never had and some I’d never even heard of. The little blond “eee’s”  would patiently explain the name of the test and what it was supposed to detect/measure but unfortunately when you factor the “geezer element” into the equation it became one of those “in-one-ear-out-the-other” type of situations.

As best as I can remember the tests included:

1)    Looking through an aperture at a circular glowing grid that would turn red, blue or green depending on how I lined my eye up. When the grid turned green there was an incredibly bright flash. A Jimi Hendrix soundtrack would have been most appropriate.

2)    Looking into another aperture at a tiny laser-like red dot while a very faint white circle would periodically appear just below. I was to press a button every time the light came on but as the test progressed the circles got more and more faint. At one point I thought the lights had stopped but then a very faint green circle reappeared, so I started pressing the button at what I thought were the correct intervals.

3)    After they took away the button-remote from that last test they had me look into yet another aperture while they flashed a really,  REALLY bright light, so they could take a photograph of the inside of my eye. As I would be driving myself home I’d earlier declined getting my eyes dilated but after than photo flash I had just as much trouble driving as I would have had they used the drops.

4)    The >PfftT< test – a puff of air shot at my eye to detect for glaucoma, which came close to triggering the same response I’d have to a drink thrown in my face…but I managed a smile instead.

With all those tests I was sure some sort of terrible malady was lurking behind my retinas, but it turned out I am doing pretty good for an old guy2 –  no major defects, no “conditions” waiting to pounce. I’m a little nearsighted but inasmuch as there are only three situations3 when I need help with my vision they recommended single-vision (least expensive) lenses which took only three days to make.

I could do with more doctor’s visits like that.

__________________________________________________________________________________

Notes:

  1. ….until I started to obsess about glaucoma, cataracts, detached retinas and tropical parasites living inside my eyeball.
  2.   I toyed with this vague idea for an eye-pushup joke and Patti McGuire’s Miss November 1976 Playmate fold-out, but it just didn’t work out.
  3. To be precise:  Watching movies, driving and shooting at the firing range

 

 

Vision Fairy

2018-04-03 Vision Fairy

Last Christmas I shared a collection of watercolor paintings I’d created in the mid 1990s as part of a proposal for a line of collectible figurines and as all the paintings were produced in a two month period, Myrmaids ended up a strong,  cohesive body of work. Unfortunately the follow-up project ended up spread across a nine year period and didn’t turn out as well,   so my goal for 2018 was to rework Informal Fairies into something just as nice as my first concept.

That’s when my  wonderful idea was savagely struck down by cold, cruel reality. I’m twenty years older than the David that painted those undersea ladies , and I can’t handle a brush as well. I’ve developed a tremor that periodically quiets down but the truth is I cannot consistently handle a paint brush anymore. I can use a pencil, pen, marker, X-acto knife – anything that can make  contact with the working surface and steady my hand but when I paint there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll end up with something that could have been done by Monet.

…so I have to change my creative gears

This Vision Fairy is the source of all your broken glasses and  lost contacts. She was first  rendered on an 11″X17″ sheet of white paper using various ink pens – Flairs, gel pens, Micron-Pigmas and Sharpies. I had the image copied onto salmon-colored paper which was then colored/embellished with a pencil like a drawing done on a toned ground. I used  colored pencil, Micron-Pigma pens, Prismacolor designers’ markers, and acrylic paint – but the more intensely white/light colored areas are pieces of white paper cut to shape and mounted with spray adhesive – gives it a nice POP that works a lot better when you see the actual artwork.

The marbilized paper used in the background graphic device is also David-made.. Every couple of months I barricade myself in the shop and spend a day making a supply of the stuff to draw on later.

Music: Reassuring Voices

Consider the topic of tastes and most people think sweet, sour, salty and bitter. The Japanese add one more category called umami which literally translates as “delicious” but is often interpreted to mean savory. I’ve always thought of umami more as of a mellow happy almost-after taste, the kind of flavor that comes with a piece of provolone cheese on an onion bagel, preferably washed down with hot (dark) cocoa the way it was served in Milan, Italy.

There is a group of vocalists that for me sound the way umami tastes – mellow, happy and unobtrusive.  I call them the Reassuring Voices: Musicians/vocalists with a pure tenor that can be aural Xanax for me. I’m not sure why but the sound of their voices just seems …well, reassuring. When I listen to them I am wrapped with the feeling that even if my life currently feels like a train wreck in slow motion everything is going to work out/everything is going to be OK.

The musicians attached to these wonderful vocals are

 

James Taylor: Unlike others on this list, Taylor’s work has been influential to me over most of my adult life and not just one phase. In particular his work has been the background music for three very pivotal times in my life:

  • Mud Slide Slim – University of Alaska
  • In the Pocket – Fall of 1976 when I was courting my beautiful Saxon Princess, Lori
  • Never Die Young – 1987-89 when my young family and I were “house-sitters” at my parent’s home in Sterling, Alaska

 

 

Paul McCartney: Choosing both Rubber Soul and Ram as favorites can be expected but I get mixed response when I tell people I love the soundtrack to Give My Regards to Broad Street.  It was the background music for that time in my career when I realized I was going to survive as an illustrator and that our next address wouldn’t be “221B I-15 Underpass” It was like having a childhood friend say “Hey, you’re going to make it mate!”

 

 

Sting: If “reassuring voices” are like provolone on an onion bagel, Sting has some Dijon mustard added on the top – just a tad bit edgier. The Dream of the Blue Turtle, Nothing Like the Sun and to a lesser extent Soul Cages and Ten Summoner’s Tales were the soundtrack to the “Elvis Years” of 1985 to 1991 when my cover illustrations appeared in gaming & hobby shops all over the world and I was so busy I had to farm out work to friends. It was also when I first started considering my mortality; I still looked good, but I could no longer do sixty pushups in 2:00 or run two miles in 14:15.

Lance Nelson: You can stop scratching your head because no, you probably haven’t heard of him. Lance is a consummate musician and (as John Lennon said of Paul McCartney) “a truly inspired bass player”.  He’s also one of my best friends. He set his musical aspirations aside for a season to pursue a distinguished career as an assistant attorney general for the state of Alaska, but he’s resumed his music and I expect wonderful results.

I date my appreciation for his soothing tenor to a specific event in the late winter of 1972 while I was at the University of Alaska (Fairbanks). It was not a good time for me – one of the rare unhappy periods during my time at UA, mainly because of the following:

  • I was flunking Algebra II and World History.
  • I’d been propositioned by my history teacher – my “attentions” for a passing grade.
  • The other residents in my dorm floor thought I was a narc.

My Best Friend and I spent one evening listening to Lance and his girlfriend play through a selection of songs and when they got to Teach Your Children I just lost it. His high tenor melody against her alto harmony was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever heard and feeling of elemental peace draped over me like a quilt on a cold night.

All these voices are just as reassuring to me now. That issue of mortality that troubled me in the late 80s figures even more prominently now – and I must wonder if I have a pull-date stamped on my fourth-point-of-contact. On days that I can’t walk very well, or it seems like I am chained to a nebulizer, popping “In the Pocket” into my CD player brings a lot of comfort.

…and for the record, I wasn’t a narc, I just didn’t smoke weed.  I also did not take up on my history teacher’s proposition; I thanked him for the compliment, told him I was dead butch and took the F.

1971: You Can Never Go Back Home

English majors will think first of Thomas Wolfe when encountering the title of today’s post, but the line makes me think of a song written by Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues on their 1971 release Every Good Boy Does Favor.  I purchased the album in August of that year while driving with my family back to Alaska from the lower 48 and had not had access to a record player until we got to my sister Robin’s apartment in Anchorage. I spent that silent week studying the lyrics printed on the record sleeve and was very undecided about the opening lyrics to You Can Never Go Home Anymore”

  I don’t know what I’m looking for

I never have opened the door

Tomorrow might find me at last

Turning my back on the past

My family would be parting company the next morning with my parents and younger sisters driving on home to Sterling and my older sister Robin staying in Anchorage while  would be taking the train to Fairbanks, my first year at college and my adult life.

I really wasn’t going back home.

The departure wasn’t as traumatic as it could have been. I’d been away from home many times before; youth conferences, Boy’s State – even flying by myself to California and back more than once – these all had given me the experience to take change in stride. I’d even been on a family trip to Fairbanks once before to take in the 1967 Alaska Centennial exhibition so I would be on familiar turf.  I was also counting on plenty of built-in friends, people I knew from living in Anchorage and others I’d met through the aforementioned trips and activities.

Even so my departure would have been even easier had it come a year earlier. Growing up as a service brat meant moving a lot; you learned to make yourself at home quickly and then move on just as easily. Since moving north in 1962 I’d lived in three different homes and attended four different schools so I’d little opportunity to put down roots – I felt more like a displaced California kid than an Alaskan boy. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I began to feel like a dyed-in-the-wool Kenai Peninsula rat content spending the rest of my life living between Turnagain Pass and the Homer Spit.  However, economic realities of the time required training or schooling beyond what was available locally, so I was off to the University of Alaska.

It was also a period of transition for higher education – while most jobs did not require a four-year degree the Vietnam conflict was running hot and the draft was in place. This meant more young men were going to school to get that all-important 2S Deferment, so college enrollments were on the rise. As I rode the train north I could see that most of the other passengers were also headed for college and that a lot of them were edgy about this new phase in their life….or was it that deferment?

I suppose I was a bit smug as I sat and watched the others; living away from home as part of a large institution held no terror for me.  I was sure I’d easily find my way around campus and based on the 1967 family visit navigating around the city of Fairbanks itself would also be easy. According to my parents this included getting to church, but it didn’t seem likely that my shadow would be regularly crossing that doorstep any time soon. While I had always been blessed with a knowledge of God’s existence, I had serious church issues, a few of them doctrinal, but most of them social. As I grew up church attendance had been compulsory which was particularly galling as our little congregation in Soldotna had not been a safe place for me.  That resentment had combined with the usual adolescent chafing brought on by the “shalls” and “shalt nots”; my plan was that once I left home I would to go to church once or twice (so I could answer in the affirmative to my mom’s inevitable questions) then slowly extract myself from activity and start a new life.

…. a new life that was well on the way to starting the minute the train arrived at Fairbanks, when I promptly:

  • moved into my dormitory room
  • plastered the walls with black light posters depicting “healthy” barbarian women
  • registered for classes
  • started seeing Molly, a charming young lady from Anchorage
  • got caught up in playing intramural football on Sundays

Everything seemed to be going to plan up to the point where I ran into the brick wall – or cement floor to be precise. It happened after a dance held during orientation when a disagreement with a former high school classmate turned physical1. Unfortunately the bruises and scrapes from bouncing off doors, walls and floor of the Moore/Bartlett/Skarland complex entry way weren’t nearly as distressing as losing just about all my friends. Molly was very cool to the idea of dating someone apparently prone to brawling and my former friends from Kenai lined up behind the other guy and stopped talking to me.

My shiny new life had fallen apart.

By the middle of the first week of instruction I was climbing the walls. While my roommate and the other floor occupants were nice enough, most  conversations ended with a three-minute pitch on why I should be smoking weed with them2. Other than discussing syllabus and textbook requirements nothing was happening in my classes, so I couldn’t really throw myself into schoolwork. After spending a few afternoons looking for patterns in the acoustic tiles on the ceiling above my bed I took the bus into town.

As I mentioned, I was already familiar the down-town area, but after hiking a mile out to the hobby shop and back there wasn’t much to fill the time until the last bus later that evening. With no particular destination in mind I started walking again and was startled a half-hour later to find myself going past the Monroe & Minnie chapel. The late afternoon sun was warm and my feet were really starting to ache so I walked up the cement steps and sat down next to the front door. For a moment I smirked at the irony of the situation – I’d gone off to college trying to escape church and now I was sitting on the front steps, but I had to admit I was feeling more comfortable and relaxed there than at any other place since I stepped off the train two weeks before.

If I were writing an article for the ENSIGN, this would be the point at which I started to fervently pray – but it was more like a conversation with myself while God listened in on the extension.  I actually hadn’t been doing much praying because I didn’t want Heavenly Father to tell me to not do things that I wanted to do – a spiritual version of  sticking my fingers in my ears and chanting “ LA-LAL-LA-LA-I-CAN’T-HEAR-YOU-LA-LA-LA!” or the way I would  carefully edit what I’d tell my parents about my extracurricular “activities” rationalizing that a half-truth was better than an out-and-out lie. What my youthful hubris kept me from realizing was that I wasn’t fooling Him one bit and that maybe His plans for my life were different than my own.

As the sun continued to sink towards the horizon the air got a little cooler, so I stood up and stretched – and heard some indistinct sounds from inside the church. I checked my watch (5:30) and I wondered if Mutual (youth meetings) met on Wednesdays so I checked the door and found it unlocked.  After a self-inflicted eye-roll I eased through the door and into the foyer where I found two young ladies sitting on the floor against one of the walls. They were seniors at Lathrop High School and after walking over to the church they’d taken a quick snooze to rest up for a “Get Acquainted” dance due to start in about an hour. One of the girls I knew in passing from youth conference while the other one…

…was someone that I really, really wished I already knew as well. Bearing a strong resemblance to my friend Marie3 back in Soldotna, she was fair-haired and petite with umber eyes that played to my weakness for brown-eyed blondes.

Hmmmm.

About a month later…

I was sitting in church, the petite brown-eyed blond on the pew next to me. We were on our way to becoming Best Friends, a development that I did not see coming, but welcome just as the overall improvement in my life was greatly appreciated. I also liked where I was sitting – this congregation definitely was a safe place. The members had been very welcoming and warm towards me and I knew I was where I had always wanted to be.

I had enough fun at the dance to prompt my appearance at regular church meetings the following Sunday where I ran into Lance, Gwen and other friends from past youth conferences. During the intervening weeks a disastrous visit back home to the peninsula was met with an icy reception by former friends, and convinced me that the future was here with college and my new circle of friends…

…who became almost as important to me as a newly reacquired spiritual awareness.

Between sermons, motivational speakers and inspirational posters I’ve gotten the message that you can’t blame all your shortcomings on other people – but at the same time there’s something to be said about the negative effect of growing up with never-ending criticism and ridicule in a place that was supposed to embody divine love. There was also the stress of trying to reconcile what I was taught to be proper behavior with the open-secret off-hours antics of men who were supposed to be my role models.

It brought to mind the an old saying “I could not hear what you said because your actions shout so loudly!”  4 To me that statement had added weight: Early in life I learned that I didn’t get smacked as often if I paid more attention to a person’s body language and actions than to what they were saying. At the same time, I learn mainly through analogy and patterning, so verbal presentation of abstract concepts can often come across as someone speaking French – I can piece together a little bit of the information but most of the meaning is lost.

What I was starting to figure out was not particularly Gallic in nature, and therein was hope.  I decided to try and have more “conversations with myself with God on the extension” and would try reading and studying in the hope of gaining faith, the difference being that this time it wasn’t to keep my parents or even my new Best Friend happy….

…. this time it was for me.

 


 

1.He had given me a hard time all the way through high school and after a couple of very improper comments to Molly I thought to myself “I’m not going put up with  another four years of this” and punched him in the nose. He then proceeded to mop the floor with me. Did I mention that he was an All-State, 4-year letterman in wrestling and had at least three inches on me? Definitely not a good choice on my part.

2. See 1972: A Different Kind of Bug Dope.

3. See 1971: Alaskan Graffiti.

4. A line that had to have been written by someone who grew up in a bi-polar household.

Lost Days

I can deal with most of the challenges of my life but I don’t handle “Lost Days” very well. Days that just don’t start out bad – they stay bad and I get very if anything done during the day.

 I’m told that at my age I should just slow down and enjoy life – and while I appreciate what people are trying to tell me I am hard- wired to be busy. Reading or watching the tube may seem like heaven to you but it’s hell for me.  I will be slowing down right about when the first shovel-full of dirt hits the top of my box.

 It’s very hard to “slow down” when I am:

  • ·       Goal-oriented
  • ·       Driven (to an extent)
  • ·       Competitive in that I constantly try to best my own efforts.

I woke up at 1:31 AM, then again at 4:14, 5:30 and 6:00. Each time it seemed like I was “awake for good” but each time I fell back asleep – hard. I didn’t fully wake up until 9:30 and I ended up staying awake because “distress in the lower tract” …and I am having a particularly nasty AS/RA flare that makes simple movement very painful.

 I won’t get much done – hence the term “lost day”.

 …which won’t be totally lost. I’ll call old friends and write to others. I’ll spend time with my grandson when he gets home. If I can do enough for other people it won’t feel quite so lost.   

2018: Bubble Wrap

It’s referred to as compassion overload.

Sad to say but there are times in my life when it feels like we’re so caught up in just hanging on by our fingertips – while so many dear friends are also locked in deadly combat with Life- that individual tragedies are no longer quite so upsetting. In the words of my foreman at Swanson River: “When you are up to you’re a** in alligators it is hard to remember that your original goal was to drain the swamp”

I wish I’d have ignored some of those alligators when I recently found out Janice Young had passed away.

I had called another friend to check on Jan’s phone number only to find that she had passed away almost a year ago.  I carried on with the conversation, sharing a memory or two then rang off and:

  • finished my lesson plan for the next day’s class at the college
  • checked back on the crew scheduled to remove a fallen tree
  • paid some bills on-line

… then collapsed into my chair and broke down completely.

Jan was gone.

It was the winter of 1975 when I first Jan and her family while I was serving as a missionary in Skowhegan Maine. Her husband Dale had recently retired from the Navy and friendship developed as I talked with him about his career – I was forever looking to connect with sailors that may have served with my own father during his 20 years afloat. As I would visit there were times when Jan wouldn’t move from her chair or her hands would be wrapped, actions that I first took to be unique measures to fight the legendary Down East winter temperature but later learned were therapeutic measures in her battle against the pain and limitations of advanced arthritis.

I also learned that Jan was smart. She had a highly developed insight into human behavior and consequences more commonly found in elderly people with a long lifetime of experience and knowledge to drawn upon.  More than once I found myself on the phone seeking her guidance after a “people problem” had blown up in my face.

My time in Skowhegan came to an end much too quickly but thankfully my friendship with Janice and her family stayed on. Despite too many years, too few visits and too few telephone conversations Jan and her family stayed in my life. I came to especially treasure those occasional phone calls that Janice insisted were for her benefit but were in fact my own pleas for help when once again I was drowning in a sea of human chaos and complexity.

…and now the phone calls are over.

There are too few “Jan’s” in my life now – people that maintain a measure of kindness and sanity around them.  Instead I am surrounded by bubble wrap, albeit a verbal variety of bubble wrap that emotionally insulates and does little other than clutter up my life in the same way that the tangible polyethylene version clutters up my studio after I’ve opened a package.

  • “C’mon, nothing can hurt that bad”
  • “Are you sure this isn’t a subconscious ploy to get meds?”
  • “When the going gets tough the tough get going”
  • “If you really wanted to get better you’d try to have more faith
  • “Good people don’t use pain medication

Empty useless prattle as useless as the other plastic stuff is after my grandson Jayden has popped all the bubbles. Thoughtless words that emotionally fester in my isolation just as  a splinter can fester in a finger if left unremoved.

Eliminating those toxic comments can be as difficult as disposing of or recycling the aforementioned polyethylene packing material. I am left to find relief in doing my best to not make those same kinds of thoughtless comments, but rather to have kind words for those around me who are fighting their own battles.

…just like Jan did.

1969: With a Little Luck

“Hey Dave – what did that new guy have to say about moving to the Peninsula?”

 “New guy? Hey Pat – I wasn’t talking to a guy – I was talking to Rhonda the girl who just moved up from somewhere in Texas.”

 “You need to clean the wax out of your ears – and maybe get some glasses too. The name is Ron and he’s most definitely a guy. I’m pretty sure because he’s in my gym class and unlike you I don’t need glasses”

 “What?”

 “Hey – it was probably his long hair that threw you off. Well, gotta run!”

 I stood at my locker long enough to jump when the tardy bell rang. Well this was a first – I had notoriously bad luck with girls, but never had I been desperate enough to mistake a slim long-haired guy for a chick.

 “I ought to have my head examined…”

…a sentiment that came up again when I walked into the pep rally later that afternoon to see Pat Malone sitting up at the top row of the bleachers, arm-in-arm with the new girl Rhonda whose tailored blouse firmly established her gender once she’d removed her parka.

He’d done it again. Not only was Patrick light years ahead of me in drawing skills, he was ahead of me in fox-hunting as well. It didn’t matter if I’d set my sights on Joan, Jeanne, Joni or Pam – Pat Malone was always one step ahead of me with one arm around the young lady in question. I couldn’t fault him for taste, but just once …

“Pretty slick, isn’t he?”

I jumped just a bit at the unexpected comment – I hadn’t noticed anyone behind me. Doing my best to channel all the class of Sean Connery I turned and replied

HUH?”

(better make that George Lazenby)

Sitting next to the exit was the merriest pair of brown eyes ever. Attached to those brown eyes was Jeanne Little, one of those near-miss-to-Pat-Malone young ladies that I had been just thinking about.  I had a weakness for brown-eyed blondes and had noticed her during registration the previous fall, but then Pat magically appeared next to her sitting in the bleachers that day as well, her hand in his while they compared class schedules.

“What is it about Malone and the bleachers in the gym? I thought “The guy can do magic in here. I cannot believe his luck! It’s like he drew a perpetual cow tag during moose season and dropped one in his back yard on opening day!”  Nevertheless, I had to admit he was good. I walked out of the gym murmuring “…since day one of our freshman year he’s never failed to shoot me out of the saddle…”

“Shoot you out of the saddle?” Jeanne had overheard my murmuring….

“It’s just an expression. When another guy manages to hustle-away a girl just before you get a chance to ask her out.”

She sat up and interrupted “You mean you -? Did you know that Pat and I…?”

>URK<

I looked away blushing, my face as scarlet as the KCHS Kardinal mascot and casually changed the subject “Hey – why do you th>INK< its spelled with a “K” instead of a “C?” my voice cracking with sheer terror mid-dodge.

“What?”

 “The ‘K’ in Kardinals. Kenai Kardinals.  Why isn’t it a C? Oops – gotta go now!”.

I narrowly avoided running over my friend Jim on the way out and he smirked in my general direction, launching a “I’ve-seen-you-do-better-Rave!” rocket at me as I shot past to a blush-free sanctuary outside the gymnasium door. My goal for the 1968-69 academic year had nothing to do with grade point averages; my goal was to be able to stand near a girl I liked and not become terminally twitter-pated. To be able to carry on an intelligent conversation with someone I was interested in, to somehow escape the nerd boy inside that could dissolve into “homina-homina-homina -duuuhhhh – drool. Me like pretty girl”. Judging from my trip-hammer pulse I wasn’t quite there yet – so it was no wonder it took an exit from the gymnasium at a dead run to achieve some semblance of cool.

I was semi-surprised the next day to see Jeanne sitting in the same set of bleachers during lunch, but the surprise became total when she looked over, made eye-contact and smiled. I walked over and sat down, and when I managed to not spontaneously burst into flames we were able to have a nice conversation. At that point we started to became friends, which slowly began to morph into a pattern of stealth-dating which was the only way for me to see  someone given my age and situation.1 Something like a “Boy’s Night Out” with Jim and Jesse would be the plan presented when getting permission to go to the show or a dance but in reality, once I was dropped off I’d link up with Jeanne who’d pursued much the same tactics in getting out of her own home for the evening.

The relationship was very low-key, but spring2 was in the air and I was quite taken with the novelty, the magic of a girl who ACTUALLY LIKED ME AT THE SAME TIME I LIKED HER!. Signs of serious twitter-pation began to appear:

  • Absently mindedly writing her name over and over on my notebook.
  • Saving pencils she’d chewed on.
  • My heart skipping a beat whenever I’d hear “I Can Hear Music” by the Beach Boys.

Most importantly I was learning to relax, enjoy her company and be myself.

It was all developing nicely until our abnormally spring weather turned chilly and the high school’s water pipes broke one early morning just before the busses started dropping off students. Citing health hazard brought about by the lack of water fountains, showers and toilets, the administration (eventually) decided to cancel classes for the day. Unfortunately, at that point every bus was either back in the garage or moving elementary school students, so we were all left to mill about for a couple of hours…or in my case cruise around Kenai with my friend Gary. Given the state of the Kenai Peninsula’s infrastructure in 1969 we quickly ran out of road for cruising and that’s when I got the bright idea to go find where Jeanne lived and pay a visit.

I knew that she lived somewhere in Woodland Subdivision, so we drove over, parked the truck and started walking up and down the streets looking for her home.  We been afoot for just five minutes when we noticed residents of the subdivision watching us carefully out of their windows, understandably concerned to see teenage boys wandering around during the middle of a school day. By the time I found Jeanne’s house, word of our presence had preceded us, and she was not happy to see me. For the first time those brown eyes were definitely not merry and when my every effort to draw out a laugh from her failed, I elbowed Gary and we left.  On the long drive home, I kept telling myself that everything would work out OK, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something major had happened that I just wasn’t getting.

Again, there was no “happy” in her eyes when we met up the next morning at school. She quietly told me that she was disappointed and felt I had been too forward in showing up at her house the day before. While she didn’t specifically hand me my walking papers I took the hint and from then on avoided our spot on the bleachers during lunchtime. We spoke only intermittently during the rest of the school year as I assumed any relationship that may have existed between us was rapidly fading away if not already gone.

There have been times in life when I have been lost to epic proportions, but whether we’re talking about flying to a stage field at FT Rucker, running an orienteering course at FT Lewis or searching for bogus referrals in Rhode Island, I have never been as lost as I was at that point. I was feeling some pretty complex emotions and could not figure out what was going on.

  • I could tell when someone disliked me.
  • I could tell when someone was angry with me.
  • I could tell when someone thought I was a total dork.

…but the idea of simple conflict resolution in a relationship was utterly foreign. I had no previous experience with the situation due to the dynamics of a bi-polar family, especially a bi-polar family of Celtic extraction, which did not foster belief in happy endings.  All I could tell was that there was a new kind of hurt going on. I didn’t feel like hitting anything, I didn’t feel like crying, but I did have a kind of sick, hollow feeling that had all the indications of sticking around the long haul.

That all-or-nothing mindset persisted, and I missed several shots at resolution:

  • My best friend Jim ran into Jeanne at the mall and later reported that the conversation was basically “please tell David to call me!”
  • During my own mall run-in her next-door neighbor said the same thing and pointedly told me several times in the conversation that Jeanne still liked me.
  • When her father was transferred to Kansas a third friend passed on Jeanne’s new address, urging me to write.

…all of which I failed to act on.

In retrospect the experience was a bit more than just six lost weeks during the spring of 1969. I really did learn some important lessons.

  • I discovered that there was a depth and complexity to relationships that I hadn’t realized before. Love wasn’t just a matter of people liking each other.
  • I got a brief look at how truly functional families interacted – caring, responsible parents and responsible teenagers. The day I showed up at Jeanne’s house her mom had been present in the background doing some nondescript chore and while she didn’t actively participate in the conversation it was plain she was aware of what was going on. I was more accustomed to kids just being yelled at or totally ignored.

Because the whole thing covered such a brief time span and happened so long ago I hesitate to say I was in love with Jeanne Little, but I do know that it was the first time that my attraction for a young lady had any measure of complexity… so the odds are she was in fact my first love.

… and my heart still skips a beat when I hear “I Can Hear Music” by the Beach Boys.

 


 

  1. See 1971: “…then Dave discovered girls…:
  2. More like the musty smell of Break-up