REBIRTH –Easter and #WalkAway–

One of the best Easters I ever enjoyed had nothing to do with the real Sacrifice the holiday is all about. It was 1969, and I was sixteen, and had an intuitive interest in the Almighty, but no interest whatsoever in church. Church, in my eyes, was a ridiculous waste of time. School was a stifling of my spirit for five days a week, and to accept any further stifling during the scarce two days I had free each week (Saturday and Sunday) seemed a stupid suggestion. Fortunately I was a Unitarian, and one good thing about being a Unitarian was that we didn’t have to go to church unless we felt like it, which, as I recall, amounted to a total of ten times, by the time I was sixteen. (I wish my parents were alive, so I could ask them what prompted them to go to church those ten times. It was an odd thing to do, and I recall being somewhat awed by the weirdness of it all).

In any case, I not only had no idea of who Jesus was, or what Easter celebrated, but also I had no idea of the deep thought behind Unitarianism, (which tends to be skeptical and scientific and to doubt miracles are real ). Unitarians failed to educate their youth, in my case, I suppose. The result was I enjoyed a permissiveness and lack of discipline that left me free as a bird.

But, because my brain is bigger than a bird’s, I did a lot of wondering. In school this was a problem and was seen as a failure to pay attention to the blackboard. I daydreamed a lot, knew such thinking was illegal, and became an artful dodger, when it came to avoiding drawing attention to myself. Self-promotion was not a thing I desired, and if I had any talent in that regard it atrophied like an unused muscle, because my main aim in school was to escape punishment by going unnoticed.

My thoughts existed in a sort of Underground. There were a few mean and repressive  people in my childhood who I suppose I could blame for stunting my growth, but still it seems odd to me that I was so reclusive. For the most part my life was good, but still I withdrew as if Nazis might come down on me, if I thought out loud. Due to this fearful reaction, (and fear must have been involved, to keep a blabbermouth like myself so silent),  I became, at a young age, very aware of what a wasteland the mind can be, without the introduction of ideas outside of your own capacity to “think-up”.

Sometimes my daydreaming would leave me totally dissatisfied. Although I did delight in staying in bed late on Saturday and Sunday mornings, enjoying my slumbering thoughts, by noon the thoughts were becoming irksome. I had to get up. I had to get out. I had to find some other minds.

To some degree I could find the other minds in books. But even books grew irksome after a while, and then I was confronted by the fact I chronically avoided involvement in school. I had few friends. I was the youngest in my grade, in some cases by more than a year, which in some cases put me at a great disadvantage, but in one case was a great blessing.

The blessing occurred because I remained a boy as my classmates became adolescents. This was painfully obvious in the showers after “Gym” class, where I could see I had no pubic hair and nearly everyone else did. It was also obvious at school dances, where I was usually a foot shorter than the girls. This resulted in some situations that seemed tragic at the time, but seem funny to me now. If I digress into the details I will write a short novel, but you should be asking yourself, “How could such a situation be a blessing?”

It was a blessing because I could witness what idiots my peers were becoming as the hormones hit, when I was still free of such madness. It altered my mind, so that when the hormones finally did hit me, only a year later, I rocketed off in a direction all my own.

Only a few years later I was six feet tall, and the fellows who had bullied me backed off. I was still a dreamer, but a big one. I still liked to sleep late, but also was propelled by a strange desire to escape my home town, and escape the school where both teachers and peers didn’t think much of me. One form of escape was to hitchhike.

I should underscore how much safer hitchhiking was back then. Not that I didn’t meet a few perverts, but perverts were far politer back then. Once you explained you were not interested in their particular perversion, they’d be very understanding. I’d apologize for not being perverted and they’d apologize for asking if I was, and they’d drop me off at the place where I wanted. Except, in a few cases, we had to sit together for a while longer, before I got dropped off, and there were awkward silences. I never liked awkward silences, so I’d get an interesting conversation going about perversion, before I got dropped off.

In 1967 I began hitchhiking home from school, and the rides were short and the talks brief, mostly with suburban fathers on their way home from work. But some of the same fathers picked me up over and over. But I wanted adventure, and in 1968 I ventured farther afield, down to Cape Cod and out to Nantucket, and then from a friend’s summerhouse on Mohegan Island in Maine to a family gathering east of Toronto, spending a night in the YMCA in Montreal on the way. I was fifteen years old.

Let me repeat that. I was fifteen years old. That is how safe the world was, back then. I kept careful records of my adventures, and in my diary noted every ride, and what I observed in the kind people who picked me up. I was not a dirty hippy at that time, but a smooth-faced youth with short hair and idealistic eyes. Families driving loaded station-wagons full of children would swerve to the side of interstate highways to pick me up, so I must have looked wholesome and innocent. I did my best to totally charm my benefactors, and I seldom waited long for a ride.

One ironic event was that I got picked up by a reporter for a small town newspaper just as it was getting dark, and, (after he asked his wife permission, and she (and two small children) scanned me from head to toe), I was allowed to sleep on his screened-in front porch. I wrote about him in my diary even as he wrote about me at his typewriter. Because I was quite close to the place in Ontario where the family-gathering I was heading-towards was held, his article was seen and clipped from a paper by a family friend, and I actually eventually had a copy sent to me. What is ironic was that he seemed to envy me for being on an adventure, even as I envied him for having a woman who loved him, (and for getting paid for his writing).

When I got back home there were no articles in my hometown paper admiring and envying me. I was back to being just a nerd in a school of snobs. I loathed school more than ever, but God was kind, as 1968 turned into 1969. That winter saw stupendous snowstorms in February which, along with the February vacation, meant that I only had to go to school something like four days the entire month.

March brought the ordinary routine back, and I swiftly was very sick of it. I wanted to stay in bed and not deal with how shrunken and humiliated high-school made me feel, but rampaging hormones made me also want to flee. I had developed a new habit of impulsively blurting stuff, turning from an introvert into a braggart, and, even though I was (mostly) a quiet introvert at school, when I arrived home I talked big. One afternoon I stated I had to write a Social Studies report (untrue) about “researching America”, (untrue), so I was going to hitchhike down to my grandparents in Florida in order to “gather interviews”. (Largely bullshit; I actually planned to spend Easter Vacation sleeping late.)

My home-life was chaos at that point, as my mother had remarried an old, rich Harvard Law School professor the prior May, and the poor fellow, nearly seventy, got hit by such terrible disrespect, (I am one of six children), that he had a heart attack. I felt slightly guilty as he recovered, though I confess I continued to refer to him as “The fossil”.  I just figured he was an old sleaze-bag and my mother was a money-grubber willing to degrade herself and become a “trophy wife”, which may explain part of my desire to leave town, but the old geezer surprised me by actually seeming to care about me. How he survived that first year I’ll never know, but when he died nine years later I knew I’d lost one of those rare friends you don’t deserve, but who sometimes unexpectedly appear in your life right out of the blue.

In any case, I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously when I said I would hitchhike to my grandparents in Florida, in order to get good grades. It was only one idea out of a whole lot of other ideas I blurted out, when I got home from school. I probably also said I’d get to the moon before both the Americans and Russians. It shocked my socks off when my stepfather thought it was a good idea.

In 1969 Easter occurred on April 6, days before “Easter Vacation” actually started. There was no attempt on my stepfather’s part to subject me to church, but he did subject me to some tradition of his own, some egg-hunt his family always held, and which now involved his grandchildren and not his children. I was annoyed, as it was beneath my sixteen-year-old dignity to hunt eggs. How dare this fossil (who was saving my family from poverty) ask me to attend a stupid egg hunt? Did this silly business of hunting eggs end the Vietnam War? Did it end poverty in the inner cities? With the sneering scorn only a sixteen-year-old virgin can glower, I did attend the egg hunt, but I was not helpful.

As I stood disapproving of children hunting Easter eggs, I could not help but eavesdrop on what the “grownups” were discussing. I was taken aback when one topic was “my trip to Florida”. One grownup was saying, “But what if the police think he is running away from home?” My stepfather stated, “My stepson will produce proof of my permission, with a permission slip, written on Harvard Law School stationary.”

To be honest, my response was to silently think, “Oh, shit”.

It is one thing to just blather on and on about political manure, but quite another when you actually have to shovel the shit.

One part of my sixteen-year-old diary makes me chuckle. It admits what I really wanted to do over Easter Vacation was to sleep late, and wonders why on earth I was getting up early the next day to hitchhike to Florida.

I am so glad I did it. It opened my eyes to the sort of Americans who care enough to pull over for a sixteen-year-old kid hanging his thumb out on the side of a highway. All I can say now, a full fifty later, is, “God bless them, bless them, and bless them again.”

It took me some three days and thirty rides to get from Massachusetts to Florida. For some bizarre reason I calculated my miles-per-hour, as a hitchhiker, and it was nearly sixty mph the first day. But back in 1969 Interstate 95 quit in the Carolina’s,  and  a hitchhiker had to go slower, hitchhiking smaller highways through swamps where Spanish Moss hung from every branch of every tree, and sharecroppers still plowed fields with mules.

My grandmother very much wanted to see my Social Studies report  after I wrote it, which was very embarrassing because I’d made the “assignment” up, as an excuse for my wanderlust. She kept asking to see it, even years later. Now I am thinking perhaps I’ll write it, fifty years later. I still have the old diary, with every ride carefully listed.

I have one paragraph completed in my head, a sort of statement I’ve spoken so many times that my kids roll their eyes slightly when they hear me again becoming garrulous. I just say how kind all the people were, and how they advised me to be wary of other people who might be dangerous. I say,  “Northerners told me to watch out for southerners, and southerners told me to watch out for northerners. Whites told me to watch out for blacks and blacks told me to watch out for whites. Absolutely everyone told me to watch out for the Georgia police, and the Georgia police told me to watch out for absolutely everyone. And everyone was beautiful and kind.”

Something odd was occurring in 1969 that many recall. It was called “The Summer Of Love”, which seems a bit odd considering there were anti-war riots and drug overdoses and bad trips, and over the years I’ve heard many do their best to belittle the rare mood which flavored pretty much everything. But no amount of denial can completely erase how special it was, even though it is nearly impossible to describe.

In the Bible there is something called a “Jubilee” that occurs every fifty years or so, where all your debts are forgiven. In Hinduism there is something called a “Darshan” where God or a saint reveals divinity to the ignorant and undeserving. Something along those lines occurred in 1969.  In the strangest manner I could see God in every person I met. I got a glimpse how beautiful this world could be.

How far we have fallen. I can sink into a dismal mood nowadays, where it seems everyone is whining, and claiming they are a victim, and blaming everyone else. Rather than God I see a jerk in everyone. I yearn to go back to 1969, when everyone shone with a beautiful light.

Another year’s under my belly’s belt
And another spring startles with warm wind.
I wonder if I’ll feel as I once felt,
Or did last winter make me so thick-skinned
That I can’t smile. Bitter men own logic
That pounds its points with harsh effectiveness
Even through healing palms. And so sly, so slick
Is this sick debate that one avoids the mess
By washing ones hands. Why try? And why get
Mixed up with the doomed? I don’t even want
To turn on my radio. No saint breaks a sweat
Striving, for it’s easier to taunt,
Yet my heart knows Christ saved fools who had sinned,
And it’s then spring startles with warm, washing wind.

I fell into a sort of sulk last November, due to shrill Democrats winning the House of Representatives here in the United States, and also because I became aware my blog was being censored in certain search-engines due to the fact I am a “Denier”, regarding Global Warming. I felt a divisive and even fascist power was arising and oddly accusing everyone else of being fascist. It felt totally different from 1969, when people sung, “everyone is beautiful, in their own way.” I just wanted to turn away from it all, but that just made me feel marginalized and alone.

It was then I discovered the #WalkAway videos on YouTube. Apparently I was not the only one who felt as I felt. Although the videos are political, (in that they are people who are “walking away” from the Democrat party), they also had the feel of a support-group, wherein one becomes aware one is not alone. It is a relief to see others feel the way you feel, even when they are from very different backgrounds, of different religions and nationalities and age-groups. Men and woman, whites and blacks and Asians and Latinos, young and old,  all disliked the division. None liked being told they should hate fellow Americans. All preferred a unity, and felt “all men are created equal”.

It gave me the strange feeling I was sixteen and hitchhiking again, and a stranger’s car had stopped to pick me up, and that for a short while I sat beside a new and interesting friend.

 

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NOSTALGIA –The Wursthaus Sonnet–

(This is for “Tom O”, who prefers poems with rhyme and rhythm.)

                 THE WURSTHAUS SONNET

As I ghosted through Harvard Square just before dawn,
My old face stretched out by a fracturing yawn,
My thinking was jolted from cravings for toast
For there by the street stood a fat fellow ghost.

A hitchhiking ghost, so I stopped. He got in
And beamed me a totally familiar grin
I couldn’t quite place, though I knew that I knew it.
My memory stirred, and I thought I’d pursue it.

He seemed to know that I needed a nudge.
With a laugh like a shout, he made my brains budge.
As far in the east daylight started to dawn
He asked, “Where’s the Wursthaus? Where has it gone?

Where is the cider and sausage and laughter
And young men who cared not a hoot what came after?”

CAMBRIDGE, MA – FEBRUARY 2: Patrons sit at the bar of the Wursthaus in Cambridge, MA’s Harvard Square on Feb. 2, 1983. (Photo by John Blanding/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Opened in 1917, the Wursthaus closed in 1996 to make way for a bank. (sigh).

http://archive.boston.com/blogs/yourtown/boston/dirty-old-boston/2014/02/for_better_or_wurst.html

LOCAL VIEW –Gloom’s Glee–

I am feeling a need to redefine the word “dour”, a word which which tends to fail to include a sort of gallows-humor I often notice in dour people, and instead dismissively defines the dour as “relentlessly severe”.

The simple fact of the matter is that life isn’t all sunshine, especially in northern lands. In fact just a few days ago I was texting with my youngest son, and it was 76ºF in New York City, where he was, while it was 32ºF just a five-hour-drive north, where I was, in New Hampshire. Now I ask you, is that fair?

Life isn’t fair. This is especially true if you are from the north and have blond hair and blue eyes. Certain racists blame us northerners for all the world’s problems. Believe me, we don’t need such gloom. The weather up north is gloomy enough without additional politics. We couldn’t survive, without a sort of gallows humor. Here is a dour sonnet:

The gloom returned, just as I expected.
New Hampshire’s not known for it’s sunshine,
Especially in April. One is led
To believe we’re deceived. A pet peeve of mine
Is that, ‘round here, a true “bolt from the blue”
Is the sun itself, ‘specially in April.
Sunshine’s not expected. Therefore it’s true
That people move here, and then like to thrill
About our Autumn foliage, but by
April they’re fed up. Good-bye ‘n’ good riddance.
If you can’t abide gloom, don’t even try
To live in the north. Instead have some sense
And seek some place full of camels and sand.
You’ve got to be dour to live in this land.

Yesterday we got a “bolt from the blue”, which was a sunny day in April. This usually has nothing to do with south winds. Dry winds come from the cold northwest, yet so powerful is the sun (as high in April as it is in August) that even though thawing ponds refreeze overnight, by noon you take off your coat under the hot sun. The problem is that the dry wind then swings around to the moist southwest, and clouds increase, and that hot sun vanishes. It is then that warm air gets as far north as New York City, but all we get is the chilling clouds.

A further problem is that the single sunny day with bright sunshine makes people crazy, especially if they are not acquainted with the dour truth of northern gloom.

I once worked as a landscaper for a wealthy woman from Virginia, and she became frantic in early April because the weather became downright hot, and we had no tomatoes planted. It took every iota of diplomacy I owned to calm the lady down, and to inform her that to plant tomatoes in early April is a bad idea, in New Hampshire. A week later, as I pruned budless roses in her garden in a snowstorm, she called me in to her warm, glassed-in porch and, with Virginia hospitality which I, as a dirty gardener,  was not accustomed to, served me tea and a delicious “five bean salad”, and also informed me, with a glance out at the falling snow, “You were right about the tomatoes”.

There was something about the begrudging way the good lady said “You were right about the tomatoes” that was very dour, but also makes me want to redefine the word “dour” to include humor. There was something very northern in her glance, as she looked out through her greenhouse’s glass to a world turning white. An extreme irony.

If truth must be known. the moment this gracious lady’s starchy, northern husband died, she vamoosed back to Virginia. Southern Hospitality does not feel at home in the north. But maybe I did teach her a bit about Northern Hospitality, which includes telling people not to plant tomatoes just because a single day in April is sunny.

This is not to say that I myself can’t be infected by April sunshine and be made insanely manic. Just a couple days ago I was guilty of buying a flock of peeping chicks for the children at my Childcare, but then discovering that, when I went out to dig post-holes for their coop, that a rock-hard semi-permafrost made digging difficult, only ten inches down in the dirt.

Who is going to help me, (and those poor chickens), by slamming through permafrost with a bladed crowbar that weighs forty pounds? I’m getting too old for such nonsense. I became dour, as I contemplated my predicament, huffing and puffing.

Life isn’t fair. When that gracious lady from Virginia became manic she had a young, blond man appear to help her out, (me), but, now that I’m as old and gray as she was back then, what do I get when I become manic? I get blamed for all the world’s problems because my skin is too white.

No sooner did that grouchy thought pass through my mind when a very blond boy appeared to help me. (It is hard to blame him for all the world’s problems, as he is only five years old). (Also his ancestors came from Finland, which didn’t enslave anyone that I know about.)

LOCAL VIEW –Day Of Pure Sun–

 

How like a trickster is the April sun,
When for days it hides in purple gloom
Where a raw fog, complete with sleet, can stun
Even optimists towards discussing doom
And death, but then that same sun bounces up
On a day with no clouds. I’m made surly
And walk with a snarl to my coffee cup,
For that slap-happy sun’s suddenly early
In rising, beaming my bed so I squint.
And what’s that I hear? Summer birds singing
In the dawn? Robins are back. Shake the lint
From my brains. Prankster April is bringing
A day without clouds. A day of pure sun.
A day to make dour men remember the One.

As an old poet I’ve learned that the world of poetry is, at the very least, on a tangent point between the physical and the spiritual, and at times is farther off in an air-headed place that has so little to do with the physical that bill-collectors, and sometimes your friends and your parents and your spouse and your children may be irked by your failure to face “reality”.

What such well-meaning advisors fail to see is their “reality” is going to quit on them. We must face our worldly responsibilities, but a day will come when this world will fade. In fact it fades every day, when you go to bed exhausted. Even if you stay up to all hours doing your taxes, being very, very responsible in a worldly way, when you are utterly exhausted the world becomes utterly ungrateful, for it vanishes. But another “reality” is more faithful. Pragmatists disdain the other world as a mere “dream”.

I would like to encourage young poets by telling them poetry is not a mere “dream”. You young poets have bungled into a battle which is occurring on a sphere the worldly simply can’t admit exists. Yet it does exist, and you do do battle, even if it looks like you are just sitting and nibbling an eraser.

Want proof? Consider Beethoven. Music, to physical pragmatists, is a physical reality involving sound-waves and the physical ability to hear. But Beethoven became deaf. In terms of physical pragmatism he lost all physical reasons to produce sound-waves. Yet he not only persevered with his art, but produced music most musicians confess is astounding.  This is not possible unless a non-physical reality exists.

You young poets may have been tricked into poetry because it seemed easier to daydream than face the sweat of a Real Job, but at this point I have to inform you of sad news: Worldly responsibility must be faced, even if you are a genius. As amazing as Beethoven was, he still had to come up with the rent.

Now, before you young poets charge off into a rant about how unfair it is that Beethoven, who gave so much, had to scrimp to pay for shelter, (and how, by extension, it is unfair that you too have to pay rent), be aware Beethoven had his physical side. He loved a young widow he couldn’t marry because he was a commoner, and she would lose her children if she married beneath her class. Therefore much of the passion and tragedy in Beethoven’s music may have been born of frustration.

As long as we have any entanglements with the physical world there will be consequences. The only way to avoid dirty dishes is to give up eating altogether. Therefore young poets should expect interruptions. Be cheerful when asked to take out the trash. But do not be tricked into thinking the physical world is the only world.

LOCAL VIEW –New Chicks–

April in New Hampshire can make a man sardonic. It tends to be a cruel flirt, like a beautiful woman toying with an ugly and old man. A bit battered by winter, we do our best to make ready for spring, but mercy never comes until May.

This year I went out in the cold and skun my knuckles fixing the drive belt of the rototiller, planning to plant the peas, and cold rain promptly made the soil a swamp too miry to till, and so wet it would rot the seed. Not satisfied with that, April then changed the rain to falling slush not even the children at my Childcare much enjoy.

What is a poor old man to do? Well, to start, he should write a sonnet:

This old farm needs some chicks. Not for profit,
For I’ll be damned if the eggs that we get
Will cost less than a store’s. In fact, my wit
Jokes we may get no eggs; it’s a good bet
We will only feed the foxes. Be realistic,
But still we need chicks, for their sweet peeping
Somehow makes an old grouch optimistic.
It sure beats twiddling thumbs. Though sleeping
Through summer has its appeal, and though fluff
Too soon grows feathers, and what was once cute
Grows gawky, and the reek of a pullet
Is a stink few like, such points are all moot.
I’ll get hammer and nails, bite the bullet,
And go out in the rain to build a hutch,
For the peeping of chicks puts hoping in touch.

I must say that, on a cold wet day in April, it makes a difference to children to have some new chicks to watch, under the cherry light of an infrared lamp.

LOCAL VIEW –Window to the Wet–

The beat and drench of the cold April wet
Strands me by my window, frowning distaste.
When young I’d push myself out and forget
All comfort, not for “fears-must-be-faced”,
But with my eyes filled by mad ambition.

With handsaw and hammer and reused, rusty nails
I would change the world, and no lack of sun
Or cold rain could stop me, but bluster quails
After fifty years of seeing I don’t
Change the world, but the world changes me.

The mud remains as muddy; mankind won’t
Change the climate; through my window I see
The same wet twigs holding crystal-ball drops.
The change is the same and the change never stops.

LOCAL VIEW –Vanished Trust–

As a “Child Care Professional” it is my duty to see to the safety of the small. And a mere 36 days ago, on March 1st,  the ice on a small local lake was a safe playground.

It is at this point, when the ice is four feet thick and you can drive a truck over it, that I abruptly call it unsafe, and the children are no longer allowed to romp on the smooth playground. I base my decision on a glance at the calendar. I refuse to even discuss my decree, though I will write a sonnet about my judgement a month later:

Just a month ago the ice was solid,
But at the start of March my trust gets thin
Before the ice does. Kids still want to skid
On the slick, but I forbid, with no grin
On my old face. I’m so dead serious
That kids, for once, obey. Something in my
Frosty eye warns them. A mysterious
Danger is dawning; they don’t dare ask, “Why?”
They just stay off the ice. In thirty days
The ice is gone. How can such a change be?
How can the trusted just go? This dismays,
If you’re stuck in your ways, but if you’re free
Your trust can adjust. It isn’t treason
When trust needs to face a lovely new season.

Thirty-five days later all that thick ice, that you could drive a truck over, is reduced to this:

It should be obvious you cannot drive a truck on the above lake, nor safely see a child walk on the water. The question then becomes: “On what exact day, between March 1 and April 6, does the ice become unsafe?”

I have done considerable research, risking my own life, and have plunged through rotten ice as far back as age 13, in 1966, (in chest deep water) and, on a pond shaded by hemlocks, as recently as yesterday (in ankle deep water). But such risk is my own, and the children entrusted to me should not be exposed to such risk, and therefore I expose them to a generalization, “Thou shalt not go out on the ice after March 1.”

Oh my Lord! The grief you can get for a generalization!  It may well be that the ice was safe after March first. And, if it was safe, I was “depriving” the children of time rollicking upon a delightful playground. If this is true, I hereby confess my sin. Perhaps I worry too much. But, if the children had played out on the ice a day too long, one might have fallen through the ice and died, yet, because I didn’t know the exact day, they may have missed  several extra days delighting on the ice.

If I was paid as “Climate Scientists” are paid, I might be be better equipped. All sorts of sensors would be deployed on the local lake. We would have a far better idea of the exact day the ice became unsafe to walk upon. It would only cost taxpayers X millions.

But my wisdom? My wisdom is free. I’ll talk your ear off, if you let me. I’ll only tax your patience. You can trust me. The wisdom of old men is like the ice: Free, but not forever.