I was in high school in the mid 1960s, a military school in Kansas, St. Joseph’s Military Academy. Besides just appreciating meals at regular hours and consistent, rather than rampant, yelling, I discovered the importance of well-fitting shoes. They didn’t ever have my size. Ever. The reason I brought this up all of a sudden is that I remember now that when I was a little boy I would often go to the fabric store with my mother (she drove) and once she had finally selected a fabric, through tedious examination, I would marvel at the way the clerks, at a high and wide, polished and slick wooden table, were able to slide their scissors across the bolt of material in just one smooth gesture. It was as if they only had to actually bear down once with those scissors and the rest of the way, they seemed to be able to almost effortlessly finesse one cut all the way across from one end of the fabric to the other. When they were done, we paid and left with a bit of that bolt and a McCall’s pattern or two. My brothers and I (maybe just me, I’m not sure) would watch my mother straight pin the McCall’s pattern onto the material and proceed to whittle out a dress! All the steps: pinning the pattern, cutting it out, taking it to the sewing machine, then stopping, starting again, stopping, pins in mouth, starting again, more pins, etc. Eventually, my mom looked like she’d gotten into it with a porcupine. In a nice way. Oh, and of course, there was a dress or a blouse. She was good at that sort of thing.
My ill-fitting shoes, the inevitable, painful, ingrown toenails; the memories of the fabric store, my mother’s dresses; all of these came together for me the first time I ever had a pedicure. PediCURE! The pedicure has been seemingly popularized as an Asian remedy for what I have suffered with for nearly the entirety of my life, and now, I was about to be pulled from the reeds, like Moses, by some of the nicest ladies I’ve met in Dallas. I called first, just to inquire as to whether a man might be a suitable candidate for this sort of thing. Without hesitation, the answer and a question were fired together kindly, “Yes, Thank You, When can you come?”
I walked in, toes blazing, to a shop filled with customers. My neighbors. The usual subjects, you know. I had thought, due to the appreciation in her voice, that I would likely be a real boon to business that morning. After all, I figured, people had planned their holidays well enough so that the nail salon would have been checked off long ago. But help was plentiful and I was seated immediately among the surprised, but gracious, feminine company that occupied all the many other chairs there.
The first thing I noticed was the children’s music. “Old McDonald”, “The Wheels on the Bus” – that sort of thing. Sung by children from an unknown chorus and jug band. Nail doing music I guessed. Sounded good to me.
Anyway, my long-neglected and maritally-insulted toenails were handled with the same expertise that clerk in the fabric store had brought to bear on my mother’s fabric. It looked like it should hurt, the way she was ripping through my cuticle. She seemed to know the very grain of my skin, the way the cells ran, so that she could put the cuticle scissors at a precise place and then just follow around the root of my nail as if it was pre-formed and fabricated, and she could just effortlessly follow a pattern. I mean, some barbers will whistle while they’re hacking jagged wounds with dull razors into your neck and around your ears, for Pete’s sake. This was no ordinary experience. I have never felt so pampered and pain-free. A very polite young lady next to me, because I asked, explained that I wasn’t in Heaven. I was at Live Oak Nail Salon. Actually, it’s just called Nail Salon. It goes round and round.
A wonderful young singer named Melody Gardot suffered severe injuries after being hit by an automobile in Philadelphia in 2003 while cycling across town and spent a considerable time in the hospital – in great pain and, due to brain injuries, with both a sensitivity to light and to abrasive sounds. An accomplished pianist, she found, during recuperation, and flat on her back, that the guitar was manageable. As with so many things for me these days, Gardot’s sense of the ways music can shape the air around us so gently, has now had an inspirational and gentling effect upon me. “If the Stars Were Mine.”
Chevy Impalas, Geo Prisms, and Friends To Begin a New Year
When I bought my new car the other day, a snazzy Honda with a good sound system, and the very first non-“American” vehicle I have ever owned, I had accidentally left a receipt from an oil change from the day before that I had had done on my trade-in, a 2003 Chevy Impala. In fact, the technician reported that it looked like the valves might be starting to leak, which is why I’d finally decided, after nine years, to sell it. This morning, four days after the fact, I received a phone call from a gentleman who said that he had seen a receipt for the oil change service which I recalled I’d left on the dashboard (in case anyone ever asked about the previous owner). It was clearly visible through the windshield, so he had jotted down my name and number and he called me to find out what kind of car it had been for me. I was in shock and just a little mistrustful to be sure, and I started up being cagey with him. But then he proceeded to tell me a story about his niece who was moving and had wrecked her car en route to her new home and couldn’t afford to buy another one and he was moved to buy one for her. He said too that he has always been a great admirer of the Chevrolet Impala. So, we wound up talking for almost 20 minutes during which time I learned that his name was Geo, he said, “like the car.” I told him, absolutely unnecessarily, that I had been driving a Geo when I very badly injured myself. Undeterred, he told me, “My dad passed away after a long illness not so long ago, but on his deathbed, he called me over to his side and he whispered to me, ‘I wish I had trademarked your name.'” It happened that I was just as struck as Geo had been at his father’s ever-enduring humor, and now he has promised to call me if he can get my much-loved Impala for his niece before the wholesalers get to it. We had a bond, Geo and I. We both had fathers who had been completely who they were, and even with death knocking at their specific doors, had remained unperturbed.
Here’s a tune for Geo, the man, and me. Marc Cohn. “Silver Thunderbird.” In keeping with the American car thing and fathers and all.
What “people” were compelled to express to pollsters in those “alienation” days actually concealed a real and growing public assessment and understanding that wealthy persons shape the laws more than they could ever have imagined. Nowadays, a potential candidate might do well to stay out of this game unless and until he or she undertakes a serious study of populist thought among potential constituencies, filtered by honest self-evaluation. How else can one determine if a set of beliefs are in line with some kind of truth? Too much time and money is involved to simply experiment with half-baked concepts on real human beings, mis-identified as an adoring public.
I’ve become increasingly aware that I don’t know squat – I can say, from experience, that making a life is possibly a good deal more involved than simply making a series of adjustments to survive. Life for humans is, apparently, the adjustment. In much the same way that the chiropractic experience, with its pushing and pulling and bending of our bodies is an adjustment – this life, taken as a whole, is our adjustment.
And I’ll go a step further with this hold-the-phone theory – it doesn’t appear that we have any choice in the matter. The die is cast when we first arrive. Here we are, these pitiful, helpless beings, unable to exert any real control over our circumstance, much less our environment. We don’t know how to stay warm or awake, we can’t talk, sit up or even eat. If not for a mother, or someone else’s mother, or just some gentle someone to bestow some real kindness, warmth, protection and proper foods during those tenuous days, months and even years of hopeless dependence, ours would be a very short story indeed. Being a spiritual (though not religious) man, I try to thank God every day that someone took care of me back then.
Where was I? Oh yes. From the moment of birth, we make a racket, make a stink, and create lots of sleepless nights for everyone around us. It’s one of our first common experiences as humans where we’re really making anything!
Beginning in early childhood and continuing throughout the remainder of our days, we manage to stay pretty busy, making some stuff and destroying other stuff. I’m speaking of males primarily since I’m not in any position to speak with authority on the roles of women in this world. Men and women do get together in the “making things” department during the course of some lives and this is good in lots of ways. In short though, men’s duties include creating some artifacts, breaking others, sometimes even repairing our trappings, and we do several reps of this specialized recycling routine until we run out of steam.
Whether we made more friends than enemies along the way may possibly be a determining factor when it comes to how alone we’ll be when the lights go out. A conundrum here is that only we know, and no one else cares, if we intended to do the right things, or even if we made up a whole load of crap in order to create the impression that we did the right things. It only matters if we can believe and trust that overall we were as kind to others as we wanted them to be to us, and that we made more and messed up less.
This is my most recent take on the cycle of life. If there’s a next time for me, maybe I could come back as a dog. There’s got to be a nice, warm, simple couch to curl up on in somebody’s house.
…so how about a tune by Wendy Waldman. It’s called “Lee’s Traveling Song” – From her album “Love Has Got Me”