A Fractured Brotherhood

Click here to read this story.

Who wasn’t dumb when young? Blessed are they who survive to laugh about it.

The 1960s were not for the faint of heart or overly idealistic. The same caution applies to the story for which these few words feign preface. Thinking of that time brings to mind the term wasted. But the times were wasted in intriguing ways.

Those who find modern society perplexing and unruly surely did not attend a large public university in American in the 1960s. The chaos was both diffuse and acute – and unremitting. Nonetheless, there were core standards that set a pace – even under long, unkempt hair and amid bizarre street-theater antics. We were wackos then as we are now in aging. Still there were, and are, steady limits that continue to yield results and reassurance.

* * *

The recollections associated with this introduction started with a dream about a hunt for a missing person. I began getting visits and phone calls from a disparate group of individuals with little more in common than prolonged proximity to one another long ago in youth. The individuals were roughly equivalent in experience, intelligence, class, wealth, ethnic and social background, and aspirations – but different enough to make interactions among them interesting and unsettling, offering a context for the personal evolution of all involved.

A youthful initiation into the world of intoxicants figures in this account. No serious offenses or accidents derived from said experimentation worse than what I had already accomplished as a very sober, yet equally dull-witted, 16-year-old driver. My first accident occurred two weeks after getting my license. Driving with four or five friends on the way to school, I was hit from my left at an unmarked neighborhood intersection. One friend broke his collar bone. Though the other driver was charged, it was as much my fault as not. The second was about eight months later after being caught downtown at night in a fresh snow storm with a car full of church friends. Of course, no one wore a seat belt; one girl in the lap of another friend hit her tooth on the dashboard. I was not charged, due to the ice, slow speed and minor damage to the other automobile, but I knew it was my fault ultimately. The third time, maybe a year later, while double dating, my engine (in the same car) caught fire in a quiet out-of-the-way suburban neighborhood. To my father’s dismay, the car did not burn up. Still it was damaged enough in my three accidents that my father traded it (rather than me) for a green Volkswagen Karmann Ghia convertible. Finally, I had learned my lesson: there was no way I was going to scratch that beauty.

An excursion in fraternity introduced me to new ways of self-defeat – and maturity.

Memphis is sustained by social and emotional tendrils. Long after I left my college fraternity, a former brother occupied a house near campus with his best friend, who was not our fraternity brother but a party beast beyond any in that organization. When they gave up the house, my uncle and aunt and cousin moved in, and my grandparents moved next door. Within no time, my other two first cousins moved, each with a wife and child, into separate houses within a block of my aunt, uncle, and paternal grandparents. This area of Memphis became a frequent and much-appreciated resting place, especially after I moved into a duplex on the other side of the tracks, closer to the university, about six short blocks away. We all surrounded the location of my old fraternity house. In effect, it was as if over the years of significant events, I had not moved out of the realm of fraternity but rather stretched my links from it to the university and broader world beyond.

This story explores youth and fraternity as a potent, hazardous coupling. Though the subject and the telling may seem small, the personal consequences were enormous. And they live on in countless ways.

Click here to read this story.

Sinkholes: Pond Swallow in the Swamps

Ponds, objects d’art and all that…

by Airbeebo

As we decide what to move, give away or heave, the object d’art that started yours truly down a long dead-end road surfaced.

It is a piece of grey granite, the top half polished, faceted surfaces of no discernible pattern; the lower half mimics the upper but its finish is the last pass of a surfacing hammer. The granite sits atop a distressed wooden stand approximately half the size of the stone. It is a piece of no particular merit or interest, but it won either second or third place at a Mid-South Fair art contest.

That metastasized into serious delusions of talent, resulting in, among other things, a move to New England.

We have used this object d’art as a somewhat overly large doorstop. Since most of the doors at our new house are pocket doors, its future efficacy is dubious.

Mrs. D. (who has heard its history but am sure does not recall it) opined we should give it to the Salvation Army or the church thrift store. Methinks it would gather dust at either place until some poor soul herniated himself taking it to the dumpster.

A strategy from the past welled up in my tiny little brain. Thirty years ago, when going through my last divorce, my second ex-wife had left a number of her undergraduate efforts in pottery and sculpture behind as she moved on to greener fields. Not wishing to have anything stand in the way of the legal dissolution of our failed marriage, left every one of them exactly where they were the day she left. A day or so after the final decree, loaded them all into the wheelbarrow and dumped them in the small, deep pond behind my high-roofed house in the country.

Tomorrow Mrs. D. is driving to the city to have lunch with former co-workers. Will take the opportunity to dump the above described object d’art into our pond.

Perhaps hundreds of years from now a typically daft academic type will find it and attribute whatever significance the current orthodoxy demands to it – or not.

* * *

Well…yesterday, while Mrs. D. was in town, yours truly took the referenced award-winning doorstop and consigned it to the depths of our pond out by the canal.

Last night as I was coming in from the garage, Mrs. D. was in the foyer and pointing down to the spot once occupied by the award-winning doorstop and inquired of its location.

Advised her of its current location.

“Well. You need to go get it.”

“I thought you wanted it gone, so….”

“I’ve rethought it and now think we should keep it.”

Sixty-six years on this planet, ’50s/’60s parochial-school background, scout training, two failed marriages, quasi-military training, dead-end jobs…have finally learned to keep my mouth shut in some situations.

Looked at her with as normal an expression as possible and merely shrugged my shoulders.

She said nothing more, turned and proceeded down the hall.

It is possible that in the next few days or weeks, may be required to mount a rescue operation – or not. Regardless, will not mention it…ever…and trust this was just a passing fancy.

Icons of Affection

Click here to read this story.

Art is a loaded concept. To ordinary Americans, always sniffing about something, it smells of pretense, fastidiousness (or slovenliness), delusion, and wasted time. If and when we think of ART, we associate it with Europe, museums, odd living arrangements, and media stories about outrageous sales prices at auction houses. Or we think of it as decoration to fill empty spaces.

What has no price is worthless in most quarters. Art as a commodity is the order of the day. Art as an ordinary activity is…well, befuddling.

Forays into the forbidding world of art, though personally rewarding and mind-expanding at times, generally go nowhere – except to a box hidden under the bed or to the attic or, if elevated above dismal, on the wall of an out-of-the-way room. Still the mind carries on, trying to connect, trying to understand – and perhaps gradually evolving to see more and more in more places. With time, one relaxes prejudices and self-deprecations and learns to coexist in parallel planes. After years of misses, one sometimes begins to understand the nearness of the creative process to skilled labor and simple, clear-headed insights.

Images persist while everything but gene exchange and self-extinction lapses. Adaptation builds and fades. What remains, if anything, are images and the changing values placed on them. The world itself, and its history, becomes a string of disparate, discontinuous movie frames.

Actually, it is much funnier than that, but only rarely. It is humorous when we think about art and its creators caught up in existential questioning amid all the fuss. It is painfully funny when we imagine someone else, too much like ourselves in this respect, repeatedly stumping a toe on an award-winning sculpture used as a doorstop, then ditching the whole enterprise in philosophical and exasperated revolt.

Click here to read this story.