Friday, April 4, 2014

The Place Where Something Once Was

It seems like when I’m all alone I’m with nobody else.
It’s as if there’s no one else around except myself.
Like now, for instance, look around and I nobody see.
Is there a lack of company or is it just me?

It reminds me of the place where something once was,
A place that used to stand right there, but now nothing does.
All the things that happened there were local events,
Then the place was gone, and so they haven’t happened since.

Oh, the place where something once was.
“Was it stolen?” No, don’t call the fuzz.
“Why is it gone?” Simply becuz
It’s the place where something once was.

Some say the future and the past don’t really exist
“It’s always right now,” so the sages insist.
It’s as true this instant as it was yesterday,
And I bet tomorrow it will still be that way.

You know, perhaps what once was hereabouts
Was fictitious, but I really have my doubts.
I always eschew the absolutes.
Could it be that faux and for real are in cahoots?

I know a place where something was here.
Now it’s not, it’s not even near.
“Is it invisible?” So it would appear.
It’s a place where something was here.

They don’t make ‘em like they used to—Lord knows they never did.
It may not be a lost art, but it’s certainly well hid.
It can’t be replicated—go Google it and see;
There must not be a recipe for creativity.

Infinity, by definition, has to run both ways ∞
So, I suppose it will be back one of these days.
I may be someone else by then and miss it. If I do,
Set your timer and remind me, please. I’m counting on you.

Yes, I’ve been here when something was there.
You ain’t seen nothing like it, I declare.
Maybe I’m just biased, to be fair,
But if you'd of viewed it, man, when it was there!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Kay Possum

Last week, I attended a Freelance Menu Writer conference in Papier Mâché, Louisiana.
At the close of the first day’s session, I shook myself awake, went outside, and sought some recreation. Didn’t want to go to the bar with most everyone else and didn’t want to go back to my ratty room at the King Cotton Hylton (“Gym of the Delta!”), either, so I just went for a walk.
A dust devil came swirling down the street and plastered a piece of paper to my leg. I peeled it off and read it. It was an advertisement for Madam Señora: psychic prognosticator. It was close by, only cost five bucks, and things couldn’t get any worse, so why not go see how the fortune cookie crumbled?
She was nice enough, but I was having my doubts after ten minutes of generic nonsense that could apply to anyone. At least it was something different, something fun, something interesting, and perhaps I’d made a new friend in a strange land. We chatted and sipped some kind of weird-ass tea.
I mentioned an imaginary childhood friend whom I am still in touch with—mostly on holidays and during hypnogogic hallucinations.
“This friend have a name?”
“Yes, her name is Kay Possum.”
 Madam Señora’s eyes lit up. She smiled and said, “Oh, I know her!”
And she did! She described Kay perfectly. She knew Kay’s favorite song, favorite flower, even described the way her laugh sounds like an orange snow cone—most folks can’t hear that.
At the end of conference day two, I wanted nothing more than to have another spot of tea with Madam Señora. It had been an interesting evening and I didn’t remember leaving.
When I got to her place, there was no one there, nor did it look like anyone had been there in quite a while. The windows and doors were boarded up; the nails in the boards were rusty. I double checked the address. It was the right place, but it was all wrong.
The Papier Mâché Public Library was still open, so I went inside and spoke with a man named Rhett Pepper. Mr. Pepper did not look at all comfortable with my questions.
He led me to a room lined with microfilm machines, searched through some boxes, and popped in a reel. “These are old copies of our local newspaper, the Papier Mâché Picayune.”
He zipped and whizzed back over a hundred years until he found the one he was looking for. “Look at that: Coffee was only five cents a pound! But you didn’t come here to research grocery prices, did you? Still, it is interesting.” Zip…whiz. “Ah! Here we are. Read this.”
Had I known what hornswoggled was, I’d have been it. According to the article, Madam Señora’s place dematerialized, with her still in it, over a century ago. The shell of the dwelling, with the boarded up windows and doors, rematerialized a few days later. It has stood a vacant mystery ever since.
Mr. Pepper said, “Kids love to go there on Halloween and dare each other to run up and touch the door or organically hydrate the dead flowers around the porch, but no one has ever gone inside.”
“What would happen if someone went inside?” I asked.
“Well, we don’t know…because, like I said, no one has ever gone inside.”
No one but me, I thought.
Rhett Pepper walked me to the front door, shook my hand, and wished me well. I thanked him for his time and turned to leave. “Funny thing,” he said, as if he’d just remembered something.
I turned back around. “I love funny things, Mr. Pepper. Care to let me in on it?”
He took off his glasses and clumsily cleaned them with his tie—it was a bowtie, so you can imagine how clumsily. “I’m an educated man, not given over to fantasy and foolishness, but some people, some of them quite sane, have reported over the years that when the breeze is just so, they can detect the unmistakable aroma of weird-ass tea coming from the old place.”
I went back to my motel room, kicked off my shoes, and lay supine on the bed. A brief time passed; then the mattress started to shake. My eyes popped open. It was dark, but I saw another pair of eyes looking back at me from across the room.
“Hey, Kay! How’s it going?”
“Going well, thanks. How about you?” She flipped on the lights.
“Let’s just say I’m glad to see you. I have a few questions.”
“Fire away.”
“First, I didn’t think this was earthquake country, but the mattress is vibrating like crazy. You don’t seem the least bit concerned about it.”
Kay laughed. (Did you just picture an orange snow cone?) “Oh, that’s the Magic Fingers machine by the bed. It’s old and just kicks on by itself sometimes. If anyone dropped a quarter in it and tried to get it to work on purpose, nothing would happen.”
“Oh. Okay. So, what can you tell me about Madam Señora?”
“What would you like to know?”
I told her the whole story.
Kay looked at me, that look that meant I shouldn’t have to ask. “Think about it.”
“I’ve been doing little else!”
She smiled. “Would you like a clue?”
I looked at her, that look that meant she shouldn’t have to ask.
“Okay,” she said. “Madam Señora knows me, right?”
“And who am I?”
“Obviously, you’re my imaginary friend.”
“Therefore, Madam Señora must also be ____. Come on, fill in the blank.”
A slow knowing crept over me. “Imaginary?”
“Give that man a cigar!”
“Yeah, but boy howdy, Kay, she seemed so Real!”
She gave me a playful, pouty look. “And I don’t?”
“Of course you do! But you and I go back a long way. I just met Madam Señora yesterday.”
“That’s part of the fun. With imaginary friends, time is almost meaningless. As meaningless as what you call the real world.”
“That’s the problem, Kay. I swear it’s getting to where I cannot tell one from the other. Things go on in the so-called real world that have all the earmarks of a bizarre dream; they don’t make a lick of sense. In fact, the imaginary world makes a hell of a lot more sense.”
“Maybe this ‘real world’ is imaginary, also, just with more folks buying into it.”
“Buying in is right! Man, we’ll buy anything. All an advertiser has to do is make us feel inadequate or uncool or undesirable; then we’ll buy all manner of worthless crap.”
Kay smiled. “Before you tear into religion and politics, I already know how they prey on the populace. Let me just remind you that reality, like sanity, boils down to nothing but majority opinion. If people choose to buy into a certain version of what’s real, well, that’s their problem.”
“But so many don’t know it is a choice.”
“So, dedicate your life to telling them.”
“I’m too tired. You know, it would be one thing if their choices made them happy, but they almost never do. There’s so much trumped up drama. Every area of life has taken on the air of professional wrestling. It’s all Snidely Whiplash, and Nell is tied to the railroad tracks. And our Dudley Do-Right is better, badder, faster than your Dudley Do-Right, and our theologians can beat up your theologians. It’s an endless loop of counterproductive dog shi—!”
“Yeah, you seem real happy, too.”
I had to grin. She had me there.  
“As your friend,” she said, “I really do believe you’d be better off staying here with Madam Señora and me. That double-speak, no-think thing you call the real world? It scares me.”
“Me, too. Well, it doesn’t really scare me; I just want no part of it.”
“Let’s go home.”
“You’ve got plenty of tea at your place, right?”
She gave me that look...

Granny Wisdom

I don’t remember who had the bright idea for the “Share That Wisdom While You Can” weekend. It just kind of grew out of an all night bonfire and beer drinking conversation at our last family reunion. The seed was planted when little Cody Dakota Hunter Trapper Cowboy singed off all his hair, even his eyebrows and lashes, while doing an Evel Knievel impersonation on his junior ninja dirt bike. His grandmother, “MawNana,” was awakened by all the screaming and laughing. MawNana barged her way into the circle of gawking nitwits, lit an unfiltered Camel, snorted, and said, “Put some mayonnaise on it!” No one in their right mind (which by no means excludes anyone in this bunch) would bring a jar of mayonnaise to an outdoor picnic, so Uncle Cooter, revered throughout the family for his ability to think on his feet, even when he could not stand on them, unwrapped a tuna sandwich and rubbed it all over the injured boy’s head and face. Next thing I knew, we were making plans.
The plan was to gather the fifty wisest grandmothers and their granddaughters at a retreat place out in the woods. The grand dames would hold forth in response to their granddaughters’ questions, and I would record it for posterity and a small profit...just covering expenses, you understand. Two glorious days of life lessons and words to live by. Instead of making their own mistakes, these lucky granddaughters—and our lucky readers—could simply learn from the experiences of their elders. Hell of a deal. The “Dueling Banjos” of wisdom sharing. A geezer geyser of good sense would rain down upon us, refreshing our hearts and minds; sapience and sagacity would flow like a mighty river, right down the mountain, through my pen, onto these pages, and into your soul.
Great, but how do you go about picking the fifty wisest grandmas?
Someone suggested an essay contest. We announced it in Parade magazine and AARP.
Reading essays gets real old, real quick. We all have a new respect for English teachers. There were hundreds of them.
Someone else on the selection committee said, “Hey, we’re Americans. We don’t do research! Just have them send in pictures and we’ll pick the fifty who look the wisest.” Playing devil’s advocate, I pointed out that that seemed a tad shallow. The committee member said, “Okay, I can’t define wisdom, but I know it when I see it.” Good enough. All those in favor? They ayes have it.
Long story short, we settled for twelve grandmothers and twelve granddaughters. We spent a Friday afternoon and all day Saturday at a Boy Scout camp in the Arkansas Ozarks. It was the off season and we got the place pretty cheap. In the main lodge, we put a dozen rocking chairs in a semicircle. The rest of us sat facing them on wooden benches. We’d intended to hold the Saturday session up on Council Bluff, but the wind was howling like Judgment Day. There were a few complaints from some of the granddaughters—“Guess that blows the weenie roast all to Hell!” “If I wanted to sleep on an Army cot, I’d join the &%$#@ Army!”—but most took it with good humor. I left with a better appreciation of why this was the off season. Remind me to tell you later about the dead bat we found in the meatloaf. That was hilarious. That, along with the outdoor community showers, is what took us from fifty down to twelve.
It wasn’t quite the “Dueling Banjos” of wisdom we’d envisioned. It was more like Fogy Mountain Breakdown, but we came away with some pretty good ideas. We definitely heard stuff we’d never thought about before. The cornbread recipes alone were worth the trouble. What follows is a faithful transcript of the group gathering. If you are easily inspired, then grab a mug of hot cocoa, wrap yourself in an heirloom quilt—not the one where your toes get all caught up in the strings—and take a semi-mental journey to Wiseville with us. 
A granddaughter named LaMegan said, “Grandmother, speak to us of marriage.”
Apple-cheeked MeeMaw wiggled her fingers, indicating that she’d like to field this one.
“Dear, you do not have to love a man to stay married to him for fifty years.”
There was groaning and rolling of eyes from the granddaughters.
MeeMaw cleared her throat, both as an attention getter and as a phlegm remover.
“Buh...whuh! Kaa-HUM! Uh-HYEA! Hwick-Hah!” (She had our attention.) Mee-Maw continued. “Pardon me. Whew! But you must respect him, especially at those times, those many times, when he doesn’t deserve it. It’s like two trees in the forest: If they’re too close, you can’t sling a decent hammock.”
We waited for her to go on, but she never did. Most of us sat there nodding like we knew what the hell she was talking about.
Two granddaughters found themselves on their feet at the same time. Each hastily offered to sit back down. “Go ahead.” “No, it’s okay. You go.” One of them did sit down, leaving a self-conscious, nervous woman to address the sage assembly.
“Grandmother, speak to us of children and young kids.” She put a finger gun to her temple and let the hammer/thumb fall as if to say, Am I dopey, or what? She sat down quickly.
After what seemed like forever, Gramma Cracker took the pipe from between her teeth and said, “Most folks don’t know the difference.”
No one was arguing with that.
“Children,” Gramma Cracker croaked, “are God’s gift. To you. Not to me. I’ve got plenty of gifts already, thank you very much. Have all the children you want, but don’t expect me to raise the damn things!”
Hallmark lost a fine greeting card author when Gramma Cracker decided to become a sharecropper.
A thin, attractive woman dressed in a business suit, her hair pulled back into a severe bun—she looked a lot like Bebe Neuwirth —stood and said, “Grandmother, speak to us of money.”
 Granny Smucker stopped rocking and held up her hand. “I got this one.” She emptied an ounce of snuff into her lower lip, peered at the woman through the spectacles perched on the end of her nose, and said, “Are you gonna marry Frazier?”
The granddaughter looked confused. “I don’t know anyone named Frazier, so probably not.”
Granny Smucker nodded; the look on her face said Okay, I’ll pretend to believe that. “A lot of people will tell you that the Bible (she crossed herself) says that money is the root of all evil, but that’s bullshit. It was Vince Lombardi said that…and he was quoting Benjamin Franklin. The simple fact is that accumulating money is mostly guesswork. But—and it’s a big but—there are ways to guess correctly.”
She gazed at the granddaughters one by one. “By way of illustration, I’m guessing that probably all of you have with you a bill with George Washington’s picture on it.” They all nodded.  "Probably a few of you even possess a bill featuring the likeness of Abe Lincoln.” More nods, but a few less. “Alexander Hamilton?” Two or three nods. “I hope none of you has a bill with Vince Lombardi on it, but I’ll bet nobody has one with Ben Franklin’s picture.”
Kristal jumped up, flapping a piece of green paper. “I do! I do!”
“Well,” said Granny Smucker, “aren’t you something. Bring it here.”
Kristal proudly marched up and handed the money to Granny.
Granny raised an index finger. “Remember what I said: It’s mostly guess work, but there are ways to guess correctly.”
The granddaughters nodded.
Granny Smucker wadded up the bill and dropped it in her spit cup. She looked at Kristal and said, “I’m guessing you don’t want it back.”
She’d guessed correctly.
  A grandchild named Becky stood and addressed the matriarchs: “Grandmother, speak to us about religion and politics."
“Put some mayonnaise on it!”
How did MawNana make the cut? She doesn’t look wise. She looks like Popeye on acid.
Gram Gram held up her hand, both to quell the laughter and to chime in on this one. When she had our attention, she said, “The important thing with religion is to live within your miens—that’s m-i-e-n-s. Find something to preach that you’ll be comfortable practicing. For example, if there’s anything you don’t like or aren’t any good at, find an outfit that says those things are wrong. And then don’t do them. There’s something for everyone, no matter what you like or don’t like. Then you label every other group a cult. Remember this statement; make it your motto: ‘My theologians can beat up your theologians.’ Quote Scripture, but choose wisely; only quote—or make them up if you have to—the ones that fit your team.
“Politics? Pretty much the same rules as religion. You can find candidates galore who believe—or at least say they do—the same as you, and there are ‘news’ networks and celebrities to lend them credibility. If you want to be on the winning side of any election, just vote for the candidate who has the most Elvis. Values, issues? Hogwash. Our attention spans are way too short for that nonsense. It’s a popularity contest. Think about it: Obama was elected because he has more Elvis than Newt Romney. Romney has plenty of of Pat Boone—not that there’s anything wrong with that—but it ain’t Elvis.”  
If there was a flaw in her logic, no one could find it. She got a great round of applause.
 Becky smiled, blushed, and said, “Thank you, Gram Gram for your wisdom.”
Were this a documentary film, our transition scene would be the fountains in front of the Bellagio Hotel & Casino, gushing in time to “Viva Las Vegas.”
Then we would…
(Roll credits)
Our Grandmothers (in order of appearance)
Gramma Cracker
Granny Smucker
Gram Gram 
Mammy Cakes
Big Mama
Abuelita Gorda
Our Granddaughters (in alphabetical order)
Ed (these days, it’s best not to ask)
Kristal (7 of them were named Kristal, with various spellings)
Tia Maria  
I came away with this familiar quote—I think Vince Lombardi said it—echoing in my mind: “Wisdom is often the companion of advancing years. Sometimes old age shows up all by itself.”