Archive | December, 2016

Lay the Old Man Down

21 Dec

Dad died two weeks ago. It feels like two years have passed.

Grief is like a friend who is only there for you in difficult times. Grief is a healer. Grief isn’t pain. Grief is processing pain. It’s absolutely healthy to feel everything, in my view. Whatever’s going on, you gotta let it out and give it room to breathe.

Grief is just a process. We have to honor it to move on in life. To paraphrase Gordon Gecko, grief… is good.

It was a few days after he died that I first cried. Like, really cried hard.

For some reason, I kept seeing him in that red western shirt and bolo tie. That’s what my amazingly in-tune sisters chose for him. And it was so perfect, I get choked up every time I see him there, in that shirt, in my mind’s eye.

I remember the smell of zippo lighters, cigarettes and coffee.

I remember the Justin cowboy boots and the colored “trousers” he wore, which reminded me of Toughskins jeans.

I think of the music, and the writing, and the sugary warmth he could exude. That warmth was entirely real. And when it shone down on a little kid, it made quite an impression. It felt a lot like being saved.

But alas, this god was of the Old Testament variety.

He was Shiva, creator and destroyer.

The same eyes that could fill you with a feeling of safety and belonging could turn, quickly. In a split second, you could be dealing with a tiger on the loose.

But dammit if he wasn’t the most interesting guy I’ve ever met.

I’m not going to call him a legend. Because he really needs no adornment or extra title…

He was, without hyperbole, a very interesting guy.

Who drops out of high school, grows up on the rez, marries at 17 and winds up getting invited to dinner at the White House?

Who helps countless Native American tribes build toward a better future, with better schools, jobs programs and self-determination?

Who helped me rebuild my first boat, the Gull?

One guess…

But Dad did a lot more than that.

Hell, he gave me life (with a little help from Margie).

Which reminds me of the lanyard from the Billy Collins poem (not to mention my name with his, which would be an absolute abomination and a brazen insult to Mr. Collins)…

I say to you, Dad,

You gave me two eyes to see, and a warm home
You gave me three brothers and four sisters to love
You gave me strong limbs, and (once) thick hair
You gave me a beating heart, and blood, and brain
You gave me courage, and a little bit of crazy

You gave me life itself, a fate, a human dream.

And I give you this song that I wrote yesterday.

(And after you’re gone, at that!)

Without further maudlin adieu, here’s the new one. (Lyrics below.)

Lay the Old Man Down

We had to lay the Old Man down, bout two year ago
I said we haddalay the Old Man down ss-bout two years ago
But, But that old sun still shines, and the breeze still blows

He was a wild, wild cowboy, six bars on his sleeve
He was a wild, wild Indian, six bars on his sleeve
He showed me places honey I just could not believe

Sad memories turn pretty, time it takes pity on us

One morning in the livingroom, he said it’s time to go
Tuesday morning in the livingroom, he said it’s time to go
Well time was flying by, now it passes so slow

Oh, dad, I see you coming roun again
Ghost of the past come to play, wanna be my friend
Sit back and stay awhile, look at me with that cynical smile
You’re gonna stay here till the end

Sad memories turn pretty, time it takes pity on us

We had to lay that sailor down, down in the dirt
He was buried in his favorite JC Penny shirt
And we sang him off slow… Easy come, easy go
Easy go, easy go

Down on Sullivan Street

3 Dec

We’re back from California.

What a trip.

We laughed. We cried. We went to the emergency room.

Well, several of us, actually… and for several different reasons.

My father, my nephew (who is more like a brother in a way), my niece… all went to the emergency room in different instances – all over Sonoma County.

During Thanksgiving week.

I can say, Parkinson’s is a bitch.

Migraines and such are a bitch.

So is pneumonia and a bunch of other nicks and war wounds we’ll all have to deal with at some point in old age – if we’re fortunate enough to make it there.

But to see how my family came together, got folks where they needed to be, and took care of some f-in business… that was awe inspiring.

Every large family has had its share of challenges, but we’ve got a really loving, interesting, intelligent and hilarious family.

Like I said, we ain’t perfect. But what I’m getting as I tumble through middle age is that the most you can ask of life is that it’s interesting. I sometimes think the worst fate would be to live a “normal” TV life. You know, like the Brady Bunch, which I absolutely loved. Still, I wouldn’t want to be Mike Brady.

That strikes me as a little bit boring.

There aren’t many perfect people among us, anyway, so at least I have plenty of company.

But it’s becoming increasingly clear: we’ve all got our problems, our crosses to bear.

Even the most “normal” among us are – in reality – probably struggling on some level.

I was walking around with that thought in the back of my head the other day. At some point I sat down at the piano and pounded out a G-F-C progression. It sounded nice and simple. And the words “living down here on Sullivan street” came into my head.

As I messed around with the chord progressions, this vignette kind of emerged.

It’s of a small town, kind of like Petaluma where I did a lot of growing up.

But it could be anywhere… maybe in Pennsylvania somewhere, one of those little towns up in the foothills of the Poconos.

So these people aren’t zooming through life unbothered. They missed the “privileged” bus.

They’re struggling with addiction, incarceration, the pains of love, the wounds of war, joblessness, the faceless machinery of our bureaucratic apparatus… the list goes on.

But as with Sisyphus, one must imagine the inhabitants of this street – Sullivan Street, it turns out – one must imagine them happy.

Because why not?

Here’s to our family – every member. No one gets left out. Not a single fifth cousin twice removed. Here’s to the struggling folks all around the world, the regular people, dealing with everyday shit. Each of us is a hero in our own life story. But I hope we always remember to recognize our fellow heroes – our fellow human beings, I mean.

I hope we can always remember to help each other through this, whatever “this” is… to paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut.

Here’s the new one, Down on Sullivan Street: