If I want to write a poem
What do I say?
How do I fit the entirety of all this life stuff
I lost a cat last week.
I lost a cat five years ago and 6 years ago and 8 years ago.
I lost a cat 21 years ago.
I saved a cat once.
From a plastic bag on the edge of the lake I grew up on.
From the ravaged and burned hills of a shattered neighborhood.
From a life in a shelter.
From a tree.
From a dog.
I saved a dog once.
It was old and it was winter and my uncle was driving his boat to show me the cold Virginia lake.
We saw commotion and steered near. As we got close the old boy gave up and went down.
I had to stretch and reach to my greatest extent.
Shoulder and face in the water
And I grabbed him just before he sunk out of reach
By the scruff of the neck
And pulled him onto the boat.
I would have dove in for him.
I lost my Mom eleven years ago.
Oscar Wilde would call me careless.
Those kinds of losses never really end, but they do fade a little in the dailiness of it all.
I lost my step dad before he saw me make good.
I lost my dad when I was a ratty teen and didn’t notice till I was nearly 50.
I lost a dream.
The first was devastating, the second, liberating.
Losses are love.
I used to make lists of the things I’d keep, long before I started getting rid of things.
In an effort to learn what mattered to me I’d stare out the window, look at nothing in my spaces, and think – what’s here – and what would come with me if I could grab 100 things?
I’d look around my room, my office, the living room and kitchen, but only in my mind’s eye.
What do I see – what’s in that room that is important enough that it makes up a feature of my memory of that room?
Now I live at My Love’s house.
And a couple years ago I got rid of most of my stuff. (I did not consult the lists as I went through things.)
I suspect I kept most of the things that ever got on a list.
And now that stuff is here, integrated with his treasures and tchotchkes, and some little of it is in boxes in storage. The stuff that’s here is important when I notice it – my stuff anyway. I can’t speak to the importance of his Turkish Tea Set. But I cannot easily look through the rooms in my mind’s eye.
My crystal ball is on a small shelf next to a nondescript window in the bedroom, while it sat most of its life on the center of my headboard(s). Last week as Voodoo sat on the window perch Scott said “She looks like she’s looking into the crystal ball.” And I hadn’t SEEN the crystal ball in months. Never notice it. Would it have made a mind’s-eye list of stuff in the bedroom if I made that list today?
So is it still important?
Tony Sirerol died today.
How often do we not see those that matter to us?
I knew Tony when I was 2. And 4. And 9. And 10.
Somewhere around, or just after that, we didn’t see the Sirerols anymore.
He was my Dad’s best friend. Tony and Tony.
I remember their house. The stairs, the hallway, the kitchen.
I remember the back yard with the big swing – two love-seat-sized wooden slatted chairs with a table in between. And it would shush over the grass as it swung to and fro. The grass was so long. Luscious deep grass, soft as moss. Springy and cushy. I’ve never seen a lawn so thick since.
I remember laughter and dancing and sometimes, something that resembled Feats of Strength.
One daughter my age with hair so beautiful I always thought of it as doll hair, lush and thick like the lawn. She was the first girl I ever knew to have and actual boyfriend. I remember her showing me his picture in her bedroom. And one daughter older – and oh so much cooler for it. She’s glamourous in my memories, so pretty and sophisticated.
Lush and rich – I guess that’s how I think of life around the Sirerols. Things were fun then.
Truth is, I’ve suppressed so many memories of my younger times. Like a door shut around age 10 or 11. Like my actual childhood ended. Not that I recognized it then (or any moment before this one here.)
Awful realities that juxtaposed the jolly times came to a dramatic end one afternoon and I was glad for it. But I never paid attention to the fault lines. The crack that opened and separated before from after.
After. I started to grow up. Almost a teen. Middle School, then High School. I didn’t look back. I stood next to my Mom and moved forward.
Somewhere in my late 40s I acquired the awareness of how completely I’d let go of Tony, my dad. When he left I was glad to see him go. I visited him when I was 16 or 17 (I never thought I’d forget!) and he died while I was there. I didn’t stay for the funeral. Yes, there were extenuating circumstances. But the fact still stands there – stark and bright.
And I let that go too. Completely. It was merely the first in a very long line of California adventures.
It was when I got real about getting rid of the detritus of my life. The boxes packed away when I was a teen, when Mom died, every time I attempted to clean.
So many stories here, all intertwined. How I became a packrat. A story I may never understand.
Bits of Tony appeared, and they made me smile. And I began to think and wonder about him. I carry so much of Tony in my heart, mind and soul. And I’m grateful for it.
I have much to apologize for in the way I treated his reality and even his memory for so many years. Discarded like a once favored dress.
In an old phone book, in shaky script, I saw it one day. A name I’d vaguely wondered about a time or two. I remembered how to say it – and I’d even googled a time or two with no luck – but there. Sirerol. That’s how it’s spelled.
Hello facebook. Are you there?
You are! Well hello!!! Remember me?
Let’s get together.
And we did.
Tony and Anne! Margie and Mary!
I knew them so well! Tony’s lovely smile. Anne’s eyes. Familiar laughs. Mannerisms striking deep chords. And every story ripped tiny openings in thick veils.
And we should do this again. Yes we will. We certainly will. Someday there will be slides and photo albums and more laughter and stories.
And we actually let a few more years slip by? What the fuck is wrong with us?
A call to attend Tony’s 80th birthday. I went. Buffet Brunch and good cheer, but no alone time.
We should get together again. Yes we will. We certainly will. Someday there will be slides and photo albums and more laughter and stories.
Earlier this winter I got in touch and said – really yes, let’s make this happen. And We will. Very soon. And then the weather set in and I went into hibernation mode.
And this morning I got the text.
And it hurts.
If I was a poet
I’d write about roads
And I’d write about words
And warmth and rain
I’d try to capture the sound of sunshine
I’d dream up a new star
If I was a poet
I’d know the secrets of blue and gold
And I’d be able to tell you
All the ways life whispers
Can you hear it?
But I’m not a poet.
[This series of posts is brought about by my attempt to relive what I did on my vehicular walkabout which lasted from December 8, 2013 to May 3, 2014. I’m attempting to sorta keep pace with myself last year.]
I liked what I wrote last time, so that stopped me from writing.
I don’t even think what I wrote last time was all that, but yet… I was pleased with it. So I congratulated myself on finally writing something I didn’t hate completely, on being able to see the smallest glimpse into my own potential, and I shelved it amongst the laundry, dishes and recycling, caused by the xmas carnage of two expensive cameras, lobster dinner, and life.
I really need to stop that. I need to commit to the daily process. Sometimes I write relatively well, sometimes I suck – but that is part of the process. Just keep writing.
My desire to relive and document my experience from the now – as it happened a year ago – seems vitally important and I cannot let it get away from me. There is something here to learn that I’m quite sure I can pinpoint if I look closely enough. Some juxtaposition between then and now and the past. I think.
Trying to remember what each city felt like to me. How I felt when I was there. What stills stands out with its memories and its lessons yet unnoticed?
So yeah. It’s an exercise in writing – but more than that it has the added benefit of learning what the point is. I hope.
I left myself off headed to Nashville in the last post and that leaves me quite far behind myself; for as of today, one year ago, I was in Tucson. That means I am 2000 or so miles behind myself. A lot happened that week. I’ll get as much of it as I can today.
Nashville meant nothing to me. I stayed one night, felt nothing at all and moved on.
Oddly, and part of the dimming of Nashville I’m sure, Memphis was calling to me. Who thinks of Memphis? I certainly hadn’t. Not by a long shot. And yet here I was, close enough to hear it beckoning.
I loved everything about Memphis. One planned night turned into three.
The downtown décor, where I landed,touched me. It seemed soft and elegant while at the same time a bit rouge. Untamed. Blue. Blue stands out in my mind.
The trolley cars were gaily decorated with wreaths and garlands and pine and bows. Everyone was as friendly as can be. Jolly and welcoming. I gave xmas cookies to the front desk clerks and the valets, Trolley drivers told me the stories of their lives, the history of Memphis, and that if I ever visited in May I’d never leave. One kindly driver with sparkly eyes grilled me about my own life choices as I rode the trolley loop around and around. And too, I’d come from Atlanta, where MLK’s presence loomed, where his tomb rests, to the place where he was killed. I passed the Lorraine Hotel every day. Somber.
The Pyramid that was a developer’s dream, a concert venue for a minute and now defunct with hotel dreams. The majestic river and bluffs that account for Memphis’ placement in the world. The Peabody Hotel and their famous ducks – ducks that spend their days in the lobby fountain and their nights in a luxury duck penthouse. Watching them parade towards the elevator to call it a day, as tourists jostled for a view from the mezzanine around the massive xmas tree. Famous record studios and radio stations and many music museums. A Cotton Museum that I truly enjoyed. Housed in an old cotton exchange, they made it seem like the entire history of America as we know it pivoted on cotton. I had a very strong moment of… recognition?… when I came upon the small tools for carding the cotton. Something akin to a wire scrub brush, raked across another of its kind in order to comb the cotton. I’ve seen this before. I’ve DONE this before. I still cannot place any event of such in this lifetime of mine but I have deep awareness that I’ve used these tools. I knew at once the certain way it had to be done, the angles that make it work smoothest. It was a powerful moment. I stood there with my head cocked, thinking, reaching, trying to remember, trying to understand the moment.
I didn’t go to Graceland. I had joked that it was required since I was here, but I felt liberated in not going. I didn’t go to Al Green’s Church either. I also didn’t go to the Museum at the Lorraine Hotel – but that was only because I saved it for my last day only to realize all too late that they were closed on Wednesdays.
Here in Memphis I met another old friend that I only knew online. Dawn.
Back in the day she ran a newsgroup for diarists and artists called Purple Ink. We were in close touch for years. She even wrote a couple or three articles for my magazine when I had it. But as the years had gone on, newsgroups faded, life went on, facebook came along and she never joined the lemmings. We’d lost touch. I only remembered that she worked for Downtown Memphis which made her pretty easy to find. Bonus points – Her office was about three blocks from my hotel.
Any city gains extra layers when you can explore it with a local. A nice drive around the city outside of downtown revealed coffeehouses, restaurants, bookstores, and all of it in the conviviality of the Holiday Season. Dawn’s crew had been responsible for most of the holiday decorating I was appreciating so much, so I got a full tour of trees and lights. We ended that evening with a late night wander along Beale Street. Dawn was a trooper on a work night and I had so much fun meeting her and hanging out. So classy she is, with things like a personalized glass drinking straw that she carries in her purse for her iced tea. I hope I get to visit Dawn again someday.
Memphis had my favorite restaurant of my whole journey. There’s a few others that stand out – but none quite as much as Flight. Found by accident on my first arrival night because it was the only thing open near the hotel. Anything could be ordered in a full size app or entrée, dessert or drink, but their brilliant concept was that everything was generally offered in flights. Everything you can imagine came in flights. This was made for my way of wanting to eat. I always want the different tastes.
Wines flights determined by region or winery or type. Martini flights, bourbon flights. Salad flights and soup flights! Ah the choices! The flavors! Beet Pear Salad, roasted veggie soup, – Ah! Where have I put the menu? Of course I took a copy. I salivated over every option both times I visited. Suggested flights could be mixed or matched to one’s choosing. The Fish Flight, the Meat Flight (which had better names) with Bison, Elk, Filet Mignon. The Foul Flight with small portions of duck, Cornish hen and chicken. And Oh! That chicken dish. I have yet to recreate it, though I talk about it often. It was my first ever chicken and waffles. And though I tried many more chicken and waffles dishes on this journey, none was so inventive and well executed. The key was the mushroom maple cream sauce. Yeah, I want that again – I will have to invent it soon.
From the food to the land to the people – Memphis mattered.
“Well Nashville had country music but Memphis had the soul
Lord, the white boy had the rhythm and that started rock and roll
And I was here when it happened don’t you all think I ought to know
I was here when it happened, yeah, yeah, yeah
I watched Memphis give birth to rock and roll, Lord, lord yeah.”
Everyone wants love. Right?
Okay well, maybe not everyone. For I have certainly known at least one guy who said he didn’t much care if anyone loved him or not and his actions, and ways of being with any number of women I knew him with, sure made that obvious. I don’t think he believed in love. Or felt it. Or something. But most everyone wants love.
Some people get love. Some people have high school sweethearts and they never let go. Some people have a great love and when that great love leaves the earth too soon, find that the universe sends another great love along in short order. As if these are people whose journeys through life require great love for the lessons they are working on. Some people find love again and again. So often I’ve been given cause to wonder if it could always be real. And some people – it must be said – don’t find love. (Think of any of those fuktards that kill women because they’ve had a lifetime of rejection, or, more benignly, of Eleanor Rigby and a gazillion other human souls.) (I had a teacher in High School who guided a class through Eleanor Rigby. To see the imagery of the ordinary things and the larger picture it presented. I learned a lot that day Mr. S.)
I thought I was one of those who wasn’t gonna find love.
I’ve had some pretty great experiences with some of the men who have moved through my life, but none of them were real love. A decades long affair that I thought was love. But see… I was wrong… Obviously.
How the hell does anyone know what love actually is?
I’ve had mind blowing dalliances with a guy or two, here and there.
Not so much
After spending my 20s traveling as a Deadhead in a loving and fun filled crowd of thousands, and my 30s and much of my 40s running the hippest café around. Knowing hundreds of inspiring and worthwhile people, watching them fall in and out of love. After decades of wishing someone could, or would, reach for my heart I finally figured out that wasn’t gonna happen for me. That wasn’t my life story. That wasn’t needed for the lessons my soul had come to learn.
Besides I’d been given some pretty awesome love gifts. Adopted by a mother that trusted me, believed in me and worked with my particular, sometimes trying, personality traits without ever faltering in her love. And in High School the universe delivered up a friend that I could never have predicted would be my best friend and my rock to this day. (But both of those are stories for another time, yes?)
So I gradually came to accept this about myself. I was a loner. That’s just how it was. There would be no one to share my journey. Which in the long run is okay. Because I’m strong enough to be my own person and make my own way.
This is not to say that I ever gave up. Merely that I was prepared to be alone. I like myself and my own company. I rarely get bored. And I can find good sex if that’s what I need.
So going on this road trip alone, seemed my destiny. I didn’t know what I’d find. Maybe I’d find love. I have always promised myself to remain open to it and not let past experiences shut me down. But I sure as hell didn’t expect it or go looking for it. (Spoiler; Nor did I find it on my road trip.)
I won’t say – I went looking for me – because that’s too cliché and because I don’t think I was lost. I have a pretty strong sense of self. I know who I am. But I sure as hell was looking for something.
I mean really. Forty-nine year olds do not jump in the car alone with only a general sense of where they’re going for a few months, calling it a Walkabout, without having to admit to themselves that they’re looking for something.
So there I was in Atlanta. Vette (that’s my best friend) had lived in Little Five Points Atlanta for a while in the 80s going to recording school, between Dead Tours she and I went on, so I was somewhat familiar with the place. I remember the funky little neighborhood that was just a short walk from her house. So I got myself an Airbnb place near Little 5. I didn’t know anyone here anymore and I was pretty focused on that fact that I was alone so my Atlanta itinerary was a full one. So much I wanted to do and see. I didn’t have to look to anyone else to see if they wanted to go to the Museum, or to Clinton’s Presidential Library or to pay homage to Scarlett O’Hara and her creator. These were the things I would enrich myself with – Ha!
So take that world! I’m good! I’m doing what I want!
I stayed with a sweet older man and his dog Otto. The man’s wife had recently moved to a nursing home and he was adjusting to bachelor life. He made me dinner the first night I arrived and we talked. He was a retired government worker, well-read, interesting, methodical. He was winding down and enjoying his life. Walking Otto and running errands for his wife. He lived walking distance to Little 5, so most days I started with a walk to get coffee – ah so many good coffeehouses – Atlanta be proud of that.
One day I went for a walk down Josephine St to look for Vette’s old house. I couldn’t tell which one it was. Too many had a tree in the front yard like I remembered dripping with mardi gras beads the day I first saw it. Too many had the same sort of front door approach. Too many were the same color, and probably different colors after all these years. And Vette couldn’t remember the number. So after a couple passes up and down the street I gave up.
I expected to feel more of a connection to the place. I’d spent so much quality time here. But it all felt a little empty I must admit. I chatted with the store clerks in the decorated retail world of Decembers in America, with waiters and waitresses, security guards, receptionists and artists, but it was all so very surface.
Maybe I was looking for my life.
I’d sold the coffeehouse I’d created so I could free up myself to find the next thing. Owning a coffeehouse had been enjoyable for many many years but I’d come to feel like my world was shrinking. Honestly. It was like life had been reduced to ordering large cups. I wanted more than that.
And here I was.
And Atlanta was not the place where my life was. All good. I hadn’t expected or wanted it to be. I just wanted to stop by and say “Hi Atlanta. Hi Little 5. Good to see you again.”
My next planned stop was to go see Vette’s parents in Alabama and hit up Birmingham. There I had been able to find some of the folks we’d been friends with back in the day. None of the closest friends but I figured I had people there nonetheless. Reaching out to them on facebook I had finagled an invitation to crash and attend a Christmas play. It would be good to reconnect.
One of my rules for myself on this journey was this – I can stay anywhere I want to stay as long as I want to stay. I can leave anywhere sooner than planned if that’s what I wish to do. And I can change plans and change direction any time that looks like a decent idea.
That was why I blew off Alabama and headed to Tennessee instead.
I saw something on facebook that changed my direction.
I wish I’d seen that there was a big Xmas Jam concert in Asheville because I’d have gone there and I would have gotten to see a bunch of friends. One especially that I was excited to visit. He wasn’t on my original idea of what my direction would be but now that I was going to Tennessee… Except he had gone to the Xmas Jam that I didn’t know about and I missed him too. I didn’t worry much about such things as missing people. I knew I wouldn’t see everyone I would love to see. A lot more of that happens later in this trip. And my fall-back thought is always – I’ll catch ya next time I come by. For I always always always imagine there will be a “next time I’m in the area.”
What I did see, and what I decided to do, was go to McMinnville Tennessee to a bluegrass Pirate Christmas concert at an underground venue. Underground! Bluegrass! Pirate! Sign me up!
It was held in a cave! Cumberland Caverns to be exact.
But here. Here is where I came face to face with really being alone.
I got there early. The cave wasn’t open yet. The gift store and surrounding porch were filling with small crowds. Families. Friends. There was some stereotypical mountain folks. Some families that looked like they could have come from Hartford. And a crowd of six friends that caught my eye. Big men with beards and their women. One of the men wore tie dye. I struck up a conversation with one of the women when only four were present. “Been here before? Is it nice?”
She was friendly and then the last two of their group appeared and she turned from me and never looked back. They were my people in this crowd. I could tell. I heard their conversations as we waited in the line now forming outside the cave. I tried again and again to find another way into saying “Hello, I’m alone, you’re my people, can I hang with you for the next couple hours and enjoy some camaraderie and newfound friendship?” But none came. I gave up.
I immersed myself in the cave. The way they turned it into a venue. The placement of the bathrooms, the concession, the backstage. Nature made a perfect little theater here.
The show was mediocre. I expected top tier talent at a celebrated underground bluegrass venue playing me some twanging xmas music. What I got was second or third tier talent, dressed as pirates with a Santa roadie, playing decent, but not memorable, sorta Celtic, sorta contemporary, xmas music. And I guess I should have expected that something so obviously cheesy (What the HELL was I thinking – Xmas – Pirates!?!?) was going to be aimed mostly at the many children in the audience.
“Let’s let them all come up here and sing badly!”
I don’t begrudge the hopefully great memories those kids made that day, but a stage full of pirates talking down to children wasn’t what I wanted from all this. (And I didn’t yet know I was missing Asheville’s Xmas Jam.)
I spent some quality time with my camera. Pirates and kids can be quite photogenic.
Oh and I did get a bit of recognition there when they asked from the stage “Who has traveled the farthest to be here today?” That got me a couple stickers and a poster.
And when it was over and we climbed the winding passage that leads back to the topside of the world, I thought – so much for Tennessee – guess I’ll head back towards the original plan and head back on down towards Alabama. I could hunt up people along the way. There’s a diary enthusiast I know in Signal Mountain or in Chattanooga my mother’s brother’s ex-wife’s sister. (Yeah follow that. Billie and David had been divorced forever but she remained family. Billie had told me before I left to look her sister up.)
Ah but then I got out on the road, those winding hill roads of nowhereville, and I took a bit of a wrong turn that got me headed north.
I looked at the map.
Ah. Fuck it. Guess I’ll go to Nashville. I’ve got an ex employee who plays clubs there – maybe I’d find him playing. And to Nashville I went.
[This series of posts is brought about by my attempt to relive what I did on my road trip which lasted from December 8, 2013 to May 3, 2014. I’m attempting to sorta keep pace with myself last year.]