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Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.

Month

June 2018

give the world a nudge

“Playwright Tom Stoppard once said the reason he writes is because every once in a while you put a few words together in the right order and you’re able to give the world a nudge. And sometimes I’m able to do that.”

— Charles Krauthammer

nantucket sleighride

Snyder Family 1 for web
The Snyder Family Band in St. Albans, WV

A warm summer’s evening in Small Town USA, and some of the best music you’ll hear anywhere.  And that, my friends, is no exaggeration.  There will be no bad video uploads from me to taint the amazing musicianship of this family.  Look them up yourself.  You know how do to that.  Or take a look at Zeb’s take on Turkey in the Straw.

But they’re more than just another bluegrass band.  Zeb introduced one number as a prog rock (progressive rock) that Samantha wrote, and you could definitely hear the classical influence.  And Zeb’s got more than a little southern rock in his soul.  I don’t know if the two write together, but their play together is so tight, even as they take turns with virtuoso solos.  And there’s Dad – Bud – in the background, the glue that holds everything together as he puts down the bass line and keeps the rhythm.  The star of tomorrow?  Yeah, that’s Owen, who at twelve years old has a stage presence well beyond his years.  Mom?  She shows up onstage in some of the old photos on the internet, but she’s behind the scenes now, doing what all moms do, I imagine, and that’s keeping everybody in line as she manages the group.

In Small Town USA, they don’t care if you run all over the place taking pictures.  And backstage is just behind the yellow caution tape, where I got a chance to talk to Zeb and Owen and tell them how much I appreciated their music.  A great night, for sure.  Check out my photos below.

Zeb and Samantha 1 for web
Samantha and Zeb
Samantha Fresco for web
Samantha sings.
ZEb Fresco for web
Zeb high up on the fret board.
Owne Snyder plays for web
Young Owen.  You know you’re good when you can close your eyes while you play.
Bud Snyder for web
Bud is the rock, in more ways than one.  Happy Father’s Day.

check swing

Her father stirred. He raised his head and looked around.

“Pip?”

Wayne and Heather looked at each other.

He father pushed himself up in the chair. “Pip?” His voice was stronger.

It took her back to the garage. Her tomboy, grease-monkey days. The good days. The best days.

It was a nickname Wayne had started and she had always hated. Pip.  Pippi.  As in Pippi Longstocking. Precocious kid from an old movie. Goofy, red pigtails and a gap-toothed smile that seemed frozen in perpetual amazement. She hated the reference. She hated the name. Which only made Wayne use it more.

Sometime after Wayne had begun his new quest to irritate his little sister, she was in the garage with her father. It was a hot summer evening. A fan blowing the greasy air around, making it just cool enough to be tolerable. A Reds game on the radio. He was working, she was watching. Just happy to be away from Wayne. She would go from bench to bench, running her hands over the cool steel of the tools, picking up a hammer or a pipe wrench or anything that looked too big and heavy to handle. She would hold it in both hands, amazed that anyone could make use of something so cumbersome.

The radio announcer droned on. The sleepy one. There were always two doing the game. One was more energetic and then there was the sleepy one. Talking so slow.  So easy.  She could sleep to the sound of his soothing voice.

Two and two the count.

She had no idea what that meant. Meaningless numbers. Just part of the peaceful background.

Check swing, fouled off.

“Did he just say Chuck Swain?”

“What’d you say?”

“The radio announcer. He just said something about Chuck Swain? Why would he be talking about Chuck Swain?” Chuck Swain being her friend who lived two blocks over.

Her father laughed.

“No, not Chuck Swain. Check swing. It’s when the batter almost swings but stops himself. Check swing.”

“Oh.”

Swing and a miss. That’s the third strikeout for Hernandez.

Her father laughed again. “Chuck Swain. That’s a good one.”

It made her feel good to make her father laugh.

“Hey, Pip, can you hand me those channel locks on the bench there?”

Pip. Not Pippi. Just Pip. And there was something in the way he said it that was not demeaning. Not a nickname to be cruel, a pet name. A name that would be special to her for the next several years.

She studied the assortment of wrenches on the bench. She saw one with the words Channel Lock imprinted on the silvery-gray steel.

“This one, Daddy?” It was heavier than she thought it would be and she almost dropped it on her foot.

He looked up from under the hood of the car. “Yeah. That’s it.”

He took the wrench and positioned it around a fitting. Somewhere down in the tangle of greasy parts and rubber hoses, she saw another wrench at the other end of the fitting.

“Here, hold this.” He motioned for her to take the handles of the channel locks. “Both hands. I’m going to turn the other wrench and I want you to try to keep the wrench from turning, ok? Just pull back and don’t let it turn.”

She nodded, completely sure that she wouldn’t be able to do what he had asked. And when he started on his end, the wrench in her hand lurched forward.

“Ok, pull back hard.”

She steeled herself and pulled back, putting as much of her ninety pounds as she could in the effort.

He grunted. She felt the pull on the wrench, but resisted. It moved a little and she pulled even harder. Then it broke loose. The wrench stayed wrapped around the fitting but she fell backwards and ended up on the floor.

“Got it.” Then he saw her sprawled out. “You ok?”

“Did you get it loose?”

“We got it loose. Good job, Pip.”

He helped her up and he went back to work. But everything had changed.

 

And now, in Wayne’s spartan living room in Texas, this old man spoke and she responded.

She walked over to the sofa and sat down as he followed her with his eyes.

“Hi, Daddy.”


copyright 2018, joseph e bird, from the novel Heather Girl

coffee people

Tuesday – that’s her name – served me a cup of coffee today.  I know because her name tag said so.  Sometimes it’s Tara.  Sometimes Gina.  Savannah.  George, the Australian.  Others don’t wear name tags.

I’ve tried calling them by name.  They don’t like that.  It’s as if I’m crossing a social boundary and that makes them uncomfortable.  So I’ll just be anonymous coffee buyer and you be whoever you are and we won’t let our worlds collide.

The crew has changed.  I still see the old crew on the street now and then.  The guy with the long hair who wears a trench coat.  One of the old girls worked at KFC for a while.

I never knew the tough guy’s name.  Wore tight t-shirts to show off his muscles.  Friendly enough, but always had a smirk.  Like the guy in school who sat in the back of the class, always on the edge of trouble.  The guy you thought was funny but you always wanted to keep your distance because you didn’t want to be the center of whatever mayhem was brewing.

One morning he has a big bandage on his arm.  I ask about it.  He gives me the smirk.  Then launches into his story.  Some kind of altercation at the drive-through window.  The other guy had a knife and cut him.  But he got the knife and the guy drove off.  Big smirk.  Just another tough-guy story.

The franchise changed hands about a year ago.  The old manager left.  The old crew was replaced. Where are they now?  What’s trench coat guy doing?  Tough guy?

The new people are ok.  I haven’t seen Tara in a while.  She’s probably moved on.

Tara’s a little shy, but I get the feeling she wants to be outgoing.  She has a slight speech impediment.  Can’t pronounce her Rs.  I had the same problem when I was a kid.  My mother and my sisters tried to help.  They started out with good intentions, thinking they could really help me, but when I continued to fail, I became a source of great amusement.  Uncontrollable laughter.  Not cruel, just fun.  Eventually a school speech therapist helped me figure it out.  I always wanted to talk to Tara.  Because we had that in common.

In the world of #MeToo I think it’s important to point out that I am so much older than the kids that work at the coffee joint and I know I’m older and I’m very happily married and have no intention of being the old man creep.  Just to be clear.

I’ve never been one to have many friends.  I never have long talks about life.  Maybe that’s the difference.  Other people have friends and the imaginary boundary between coffee server and customer is easier to maintain.

And so I sit at my table, sipping my coffee.  I think I’ll quit reading name tags.  They don’t really want me to.  They don’t want to know my name.  I’m just anonymous coffee buyer.

 

 

comfort

She wanted him to hold her. She wanted to hold him. To feel him next to her. To have his comfort, his reassuring presence, to know that everything would be all right even though she knew nothing would ever be all right again.


copyright 2018, joseph e bird, from the novel Heather Girl

church

Just a closer walk with Thee.
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea.

Darnell downstairs, singing. The clang of the skillet on the stove. Breakfast on a Sunday morning.

Daily walking close to Thee
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

She closed her eyes, tried to find more sleep, but the sun was lighting the room and Darnell wouldn’t stop singing, though he just kept repeating the same refrain, and the banging pots were like an alarm set to repeat every two minutes. So she got up and put on her clothes from the day before and made her way downstairs to the kitchen.

I come to the garden alone.

At least he had changed songs.

Her father sat at the kitchen table, a cup of coffee in front of him. She went straight to the counter and poured herself a cup.

Darnell still hadn’t noticed her.

While the dew is still on the roses.

She went back to the table and pulled out a chair and sat with her father.

“You boys are up early.”

Darnell turned around.

“This is the day that the Lord hath made. I will be rejoice and be glad in it.”

“Sure.”

“Scrambled eggs?”

“Sure.”

He pulled three plates from the cabinet and dished out eggs on each one, then two strips of bacon, then toast.

“You’re going to make someone a happy wife someday, Darnell.”

He laughed and took his place at the table.

“Bow your head, Pops.”

And he did, as did Heather, but she didn’t close her eyes.

“Dear Lord, thank you for another day of life, another Lord’s day, and for this wonderful food you have provided. Be with our family, Lord, and bless us and draw us closer to you. Amen.”

She looked up. Her father’s head was still bowed. Maybe he was praying.

“Ok, Pops. You can eat now.”

He looked up, first at Darnell, then at Heather.

“Pip.”

“Good morning, Daddy.”

And they ate.

Her right arm felt funny. Under the table, her right leg twitched. She switched to her left hand.

“You prayed for your family. Back in Texas?”

Darnell was about to take a bite of his toast, but stopped and put it back on his plate.

“No, ma’am. I don’t have family in Texas. I mean I have relatives, but no family.” He held his hands out over the table. “This family. Us.” He picked up his toast and took a bite.

There’s different kinds of family.

So said the roughneck-turned-tackle shop owner.. The full-time philosopher and quiz show aficionado. Lucas.

Well, this one was different, for sure.

“What constitutes a family, Darnell?”

He took another bite of toast and studied on an answer.

“I don’t know if I can proper answer that. It’s not like I been studying on the situation and come to a conscious conclusion. It just feels like family. You’re like a sister. Maybe a little like a Mom. And Pops is Pops.” He shrugged. “Family.”

Part of her wanted to argue. This was no family, despite the fact that there was a biological link sitting right across the table, staring at his eggs, chewing on a strip of bacon, completely unaware of the conversation going on right in front of him. Her father? No. At best an empty shell. Worse, a selfish, uncaring man who took away her mother. Her father was just a dusty memory. And Darnell a brother? Just because he takes care of her father and helps around the house and runs errands for her and cooks breakfast, doesn’t mean he’s family. She could get the same service from a temp agency. And besides, it was all temporary. They’d both be going back to Texas before too long. House guests was more like it. And guests was being generous.

Still, the eggs were good, and the morning was peaceful. And if she were being truthful, it beat having a bowl of cold cereal by herself.

Darnell was humming Just a Closer Walk with Thee.

“Wish I could remember the words. All I know is the chorus.”

“Can’t help you there.”

She knew the hymn. At least it was familiar. Maybe from the times she went to church with her mother as a child. Maybe from the radio or television or a scene in a movie. The tune was easy and soothing and the kind of melody that would find a home in the mind and drift to the heart and grow into the soul and become a part of the collective memory that would come forth unexpectedly and bring with it a wash of sentimentality.

The smell of bacon would linger as the eggs disappeared and the coffee cooled. The last bite of toast with strawberry jam. The quiet clinking of silverware on the plates ceased and all was quiet. Soon the day would begin in earnest. Even if this were Darnell’s contrived family, it was nice.

Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

“Thanks, Darnell.”

“You’re welcome. Me and Pops are going to church this morning. You should come with us.”

And there was the other aspect of her unknown father she hadn’t taken the time or made the effort to reconcile. He had never been a church-going man. He was, at first, her good father, always there for her, always including her and making her feel special. He just didn’t go to church. That was her mother’s thing. And their family had been just fine without church. Although looking back she wasn’t sure how true that was. Then he murdered her mother, went to prison, and found religion. It was a cliché that hardly warranted consideration. And it wasn’t like she could have a conversation about it even if she wanted to. His mind was gone, and with it, all memories, logic, reason, and explanations of anything that would make sense of his life, or his life with her mother, or his role as a father. If it was all incomprehensible to him, how could she ever understand?


copyright 2018, joseph e bird; from the novel Heather Girl

coincidence and cats

cat-1st-place

The other day I wrote a piece about coincidence (and how to resolve the unbelievable coincidences that hinder good story telling).

A couple of days later I tossed up a kind of random post about running hills.  I was just feeling good about still being able to challenge myself as I hobble into old man territory.  I directed the post to my New York friend, Cat Bradley, who is also a runner.  Little did I know that Cat was also doing hill repeats, and that even as I posted the photo of the hill I had just run, Cat was writing a post about her experience in forcing herself to run the hills.

Simply a coincidence of two people with similar interests having a similar experience at the same time?

Yeah, probably.

But while Cat’s story is ostensibly about running, you’ll see that it’s much more than that. It’s about what it takes to move forward in life. Click here.


Footnote:  The kitty in the photo is actually the First Place Prize I won in the Old Man Division of the Itty Bitty Kitty Committee 2 Miler a couple of years ago.  As you can imagine, the competition in the Old Man Division was very light that day.  Still, it took everything I had to get past the guy with the walker.

yo, cat

hill sprints!

please observe the speed limit.

I wanna be a cowboy.

Sunset panorama in Durban

Are you a surfer or a cowboy?

What?

Are you a surfer or a cowboy?

Uh…cowboy?

Loaded question. Especially for me as a fifth grader from West Virginia, living in Houston, Texas. The wrong answer gets you in trouble. Gets you beat up.

Not really. At least not in the fifth grade. It was more of a starting point for a friendly argument. But what the heck did I know about being a cowboy or a surfer?

Cowboys are tough guys. Wear hats and boots. Eat beans by the campfire. Drink coffee in a tin cup. Ride the range on a horse.

Surfers are hip. Catch the wave and hang ten. Get all the cool girls. Tool around the beach in a dune buggy.

But in the fifth grade, I’d never ridden a surfboard.  Still haven’t. I had a cowboy hat and boots.  So yeah, I was a cowboy.

Tribalism. Even back then.

But there’s something about the cowboy lifestyle that’s still appealing to me. It’s simple.  Not a lot of flash. Lots of time for thinking things out as you do your job.  It’s the kind of life suited for someone who doesn’t mind being alone now and then. And the hats. Yeah, pull the brim down when you ride into town. And for the cowboy, love is strong and forever.

The fire had burned to coals and he lay looking up at the stars in their places and the hot belt of matter that ran the chord of the dark vault overhead and he put his hands on the ground at either side of him and pressed them against the earth and in that coldly burning canopy of black he slowly turned dead center to the world, all of it taut and trembling and moving enormous and alive under his hands.

What’s her name? said Rawlins in the darkness.

Alejandra. Her name is Alejandra.

— Cormac McCarthy, from All the Pretty Horses

photo credit: iStock Photography

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