Notes From Coyote

Rainbows and Frogs!   

    I feel for those who don’t know the blessing of these. When our monsoon season comes on, usually late July is when it really gets going, it brings with it the possibility of these two gifts. The rainbows come most often of course….full and in vibrant neon and usually in doubles……but what is rare is the blessing of the frogs.
    Sure, where you are frogs may be no big deal. Perhaps you even find them boring…maybe even annoying. But here in the high desert the sound of frogs after a big storm is just…..well; AMAZING! (I’ll avoid “awesome” but perhaps should not.)
    Why use either of these adjectives? Because these are the frogs of the desert. They don’t hang around running streams or hop about on the banks of pools…we don’t have those here, streams and pools that is. No, these are the spade-foot frogs. These are the desert frogs, who when there is no moisture to be had, will dig down three feet or so to await the extraordinary blessing of a BIG rain. And they can and will wait there for years! Nothing less than a deluge will bring them up through three feet of dry clay to surface in an old cattle “tank”, a natural basin or man-made hollow that will wind up being a, very, temporary pond, meaning it might last for two or three days, and where they will, very quickly, seek a mate. For that quest they will sing…all night and most of the day long for as long as the pond lasts.
    We haven’t had a “frog rain” in at least two years and their song now is music to our ears too. This is part of the magic of the desert country, where life waits…with much more patience than humans, for a miracle.

Return with me to Those Golden Days of Yesteryear

Of course we all know that our tendency to distort the facts of the past can paint yesterday(s) with a gold patina….in some cases at least. And there’s the, You-can’t-go-home-again thing……and all that that turns out to mean. Gee, I went back to my old house, apartment…and it was a LOT smaller than I remembered. Yeah, that one.
    Or, I met up with my old girl/boy friend last week and once we got by all the amenities we got into the same argument(s) we used to have back when we ……and etc.
    Nostalgia about “old cars” always gets me going too. I don’t have any fond memories about all the old cars I owned. I mean some of them were beauties; the ’57 Chevy Bel-Aire convertible is now THE “classic” amongst classics. And the MG II was a nice little sports car, and the ’61 Corvette looked great……and……I could go on. But the FACT was, and this is not a distortion of memory, I wouldn’t trade any one of them for the reliable, well-built, fine-running Prius I have today. I don’t care if any one of those cars still LOOKS great. They were unreliable, rattletrap, gas-guzzlers that, if I took them on a cross country trip today, would have to be followed by a parts car driven by a mechanic. (And I would hope that “parts car” wouldn’t be a GM product). Fact; it would have been considered AMAZING if one of those “classics” was drivable after the odometer passed 100,000 miles, something a Toyota or Nissan can triple today.
    Anyway, that’s where I am with fantasies about the past. BUT! One morning last week I had a yen for protein, as in eggs and bacon, and we didn’t have any bacon. But what we DID have was……a can of Spam!
What were we doing with a can of Spam you ask?
    Good question. Actually, it was a joke. We had been invited to dinner at a friends house and asked if we could bring something. So rather than the obligatory salad, we happened upon a display of Spam and decided to get a can for a laugh. (It had the expected effect and then we brought it back home and stuck it on a shelf and forgot about it.)
    On the morning I had that yearning for protein, we decided to open the Spam and give it a try. Can you return to the past? Oh yeah. And it’s every bit as bad as you remember it to be. Spam has NOT changed. It’s still good-ol’-Spam….just a lot more salty than I remembered. Same canned dog-food consistency, same lots-of-promise (it’s supposed to taste like ham after all) with the same disappointing result; i.e. it’s NOT even close to ham.
    So; next time you want to take a trip down memory lane, if that lane happens to include a time when Spam was parked along the way, just get and open a can of the stuff.  And take this to heart; Spam is a genuine window into the past….and there’s nothing that can compare with it around today. Thank God.
    By the way, when I was a kid and had to fix a meal on my own ‘cause my parents were working or out of town or something, once in awhile I’d open a can of Spam (real meat was rationed back then) and “doctor” it up a bit. I’d coat it with mustard, a kind of marinade I guess, then I’d stick some cloves in it to mimic real ham, then I’d bake it.
    No, I’m not going to try that gambit just to get the stuff to pass for food today. The rest of this can will get mixed in with the dry dog food our guys like. (I’m not sure they will actually know the difference.)
    Actually, drop that last idea, I think we will give it to the coyotes.  They might even really like Spam. Yeah, talk about no class.

I Usually Avoid Backward Glances

    Joe Raposo wrote a song that Sinatra sang which I’ve always thought of as the bitter complaints of an old man, one of those guys who reminisces about the-good-ol’-days. It’s “There used to be a ball park right here…..”. I don’t tend to do much of that good-ol’-days stuff; not a lot of it at least. Of course these days ALL of us are talking about better days and fearing that they are all behind us. But that’s another story.
Today I was driving down one of our major east-west streets in Albuquerque and was shocked to note that they’ve dug up and destroyed the batting range I used to go to when highly motivated. Going there used to be a sort of test for me, one of those I-can-still-do-this thing (hit a ball). Of course hitting a ball in a batting range isn’t any where near as challenging as it really used to be. First of all I only tried hitting in the “Medium Speed” cage. I avoided the Fast Speed cage just two rows down. I was tempted but a little antsy about it. Even though every pitch was thrown by the machine at exactly the same spot every time, that what if? bothered me. Well, I didn’t want to Whiff every time either and that would probably have been my experience in the “Fast” cage.
    “Fast” by the way was actually only about 85 mph, not the 100s that major league pitchers are throwing routinely these days. But hitting in the Medium Speed cage was heroic enough for my baseball ego. I mean, there I’d be in my regular cowboy boots (yes they are VERY comfortable) jeans, in-town shirt, plastic helmet, swinging away at a rubber-covered ball with an aluminum bat…Boink!
Not really like the old-days. I really missed the Crack! of wood on leather, But I’d hit one now and then, one that probably would have cleared the infield, and I could still do it right or left. That was fun! (especially if my daughter Lia was watching. She can hit too, I taught her after all, but I really loved it that she could witness her ol’ dad’s ability to still do it!) I’d think she’d be thinking, “Gee there’s life in the old guy yet!” My fantasy of course…..but a good one.
    Yeah, there used to be a batting range….right there…..and I guess I AM a little bitter about it.

The Albuquerque BIG Band!

    I just got back from experiencing one “set” with the Albuquerque Big Jazz Band and I can’t rave about them enough. Anyone who loves big band jazz would be blown away by this band, they are spectacular! Not only does the band sound great but the individual soloists, no matter what instrument, are the best you will hear anywhere. The musicians who play in the show bands in Las Vegas are all top drawer pros, these guys, and one girl, are every bit as amazing and this is somewhat rare in any band.
    Even in a good band, thirteen or more players, though they all can read well, so section work is superb, there are only a few, may one or two in each section, who can put together a solo that is more than a collection of notes, but is something comprehensive, something a listener can not only follow but also “fits” the overall piece. Historically one of the best examples, there are many to choose from but I’ll take this one, is every track on the classic by Miles Davis release, All Blues. There’s not a boring solo in the entire set. The opposite of this is the comment made by, I think it was trumpet player Roy Eldridge speaking about an all night jam session, “We played a lot of notes but not much music.” There seems to be a lot of this kind of playing that has taken place over the past twenty or so years. Their aren’t many great soloists who are noted to be mentors for younger players to listen to. No, Lester Youngs, no Colman Hawkins, no Buddy DeFrancos, no one who is spare of notes yet full of story. The trend, led by Charlie Parker has been to stuff as many notes into eight bars as quickly as possible. But Parker actually made each of those notes relative to the melody of the song. They weren’t just stuffed into a line to provide fireworks, they meant something. And that was his genius. But what some subsequent players picked up on was the number of notes played at the most rapid pace rather than the central purpose they served, to decorate and enhance the melody.
    Any listener of jazz knows when the train has gone off the track. We begin to get bored with the solo. As it loses its way we lose interest. When the soloist begins to entertain him or herself alone they cease to communicate. The solo becomes a self-serving, musical masturbation. We are no longer in partnership with the player. And the masters knew when to quit. Like anyone who has made their point in a conversation, not knowing when to put a period to it will lead to a loss of audience.
John Coltrane’s “My favorite things” is a long solo performance which works well because 1. He was inventive and always knew where the melody was. And 2. He had McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones holding the track steady underneath and behind him. Still, there were many examples of Trane going off the tracks in other solo attempts and no one could save the effort. In those cases, Trane becomes unlistenable.
    To return to my point here, The Albuquerque Big Jazz Band is loaded with players who can solo and whom you would want to hear. And that is what makes this band so special. I’ve been listening to big bands for at least six decades now, and I’ve heard and seen some certified great ones from Basie to Kenton, and none of them was better than these guys on any level. Yes, those famous bands had a lot cache’ and fame, but sound-wise? The A B J B could hold the floor with any of them.

Football & America

    I decided some time ago to become a football fan again. It happened one Monday night after I came home from a meeting of some sort and I turned on the TV. Monday night football was on and it was a beautiful game…..not the way it was played but the fact that the teams, the Green Bay Packers and the Cleveland Browns, were a beautiful blend of color against that green of the turf and the fringe of snow that bordered the playing field.

    I was captured too by the drama. It really was a good game, so I was hooked after decades of not being interested in non-participatory sports. Years ago I WAS a “participant". I played football and baseball and loved the games. But after I stopped being a player I had no interest in becoming a spectator….until I saw that game that night. Then I became a “fan”. I chose the Packers as “my” team because they were the only major league franchise that was owned by a town instead of a billionaire. That team to me felt like a real “America’s Team”, not a manipulative brand. So, my support of them as my team began. But I am now bordering on disillusionment with the whole BIG sports idea.

    In recent years, more and more, what used to be classed, as a “game” has become something else. I don’t quite know what to call it; I suppose the change began when the game, or games, since this “change” has become part of every single sporting event I can think of, the games began to be entertainment, spectacle, and even a kind of performance art. In football it began subtlety with how teams came onto the field. They used to simply come out on to the field, just like baseball teams, but then they began to rush out as a team, then they blasted through huge signs, then they were introduced one player at a time, then entered through a corridor of cheerleaders, then smoke and fire dispensers, and now flags, first responders and military line-ups.

   Of course half times have always been set aside for entertainment, usually by large bands. This was begun in the college games, but now we have “stuff” going on in the pro games as well, though, since I have never attended a pro game in person, I don’t know what’s happening on a regular basis. On TV of course half time is when the old retired pros get a chance to tell us about what we’ve been watching. Sometimes this is the most entertaining part of the whole show. Pre-game they tell us what might happen; half time we are told what IS happening, post game; what HAS happened.

    It’s entertainment.

    But these days there’s a disturbing element that has been introduced into the game(s).

    Frankly I don’t remember if we have always been required to sing the National Anthem before the kickoff, maybe we have. I guess that has always been true at baseball games too, but I’m not sure. I know it’s the usual thing at the BIG games like the World Series or the Super Bowl…..and hockey games have always started with the U.S. and Canadian anthems. I always supposed that was because we all know it’s a Canadian game being played in the U.S. by, mostly Canadian players, so we’re just being politically correct about it. But the real escalation of this patriotism thing has been in the NFL. (There has been a concurrent escalation in baseball of late, as reported by Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake (this quote from USA Today) ‘The Pentagon has paid more than $9 million to professional sports franchises the past four years, including $6.8 million to stage “paid patriotism” events, Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain disclosed. The events ranged from full-field displays of the American flag to enlistment and re-enlistment ceremonies and emotional reunions of returning service members and their families. ‘What is upsetting is when you see activities like this that people assume when they go to games are paid for out of the goodness of the heart by the owners and the teams, and then to find out the taxpayers are paying for it. It kind of cheapens (it) and it’s simply not right,’ Flake said at a news conference held with McCain.”

    The patriotism thing HAS become a problem for me not just because it’s obviously manipulative and serves something other than an expression of love-of-country, though I don’t understand why a sporting event, a sporting-entertainment event, is used as a venue for this. However it has become a bigger problem because of the black-lives-matter situation. (By the way, these paid demonstrations have, since this report, been “banned”. But I’ll bet that when the season begins again, some version of this will remain as part-of-the-game.)

    If there is anything that white America needs to be educated about today, it certainly is this issue about black lives. In two out of three of our major sporting events, football and basketball, black athletes make up the largest population of players. (In baseball, Latin Americans now exceed the numbers of black athletes and I believe, though I’ve not looked at the numbers, that black athletes now dominate in track and field.) Concurrent with this, black men make up the largest population of incarcerated males in our (mostly private) prisons. And, as you must certainly know but may not have noted (if you’re white) black males make up the largest number of males shot by police on America’s streets.

    Something is very wrong here. And this is what kneeling black athletes are saying in their, powerfully silent, protests. This in itself is a patriotic act. Why is it not being recognized as such? Because from the top down, from the White House to the team ownership to the stadium crowds, this demonstration has been called “un-American”! As I see it there is only one way to turn this around. This is what I would like to see my team take the lead in at the first game of the season, preferably a home game; before the kickoff the entire team would gather at midfield and talk about why BOTH black and white team members support the concept of calling attention to the fact that MOST of the members of the team are not being treated equally in our society….and that the WHOLE team stands in solidarity behind the belief that this must change in our country so we can all live up to the concept written into the Constitution that ALL are created equal.

    I would hope that this demonstration would spread NFL-wide, that every team would then follow suit so that an entire stadium of people who will all stand for the National Anthem will also know that it is every bit as “patriotic” to take a knee for equal rights for EVERY person, the very thing we pledge to and sing about in this country. Nothing will change as long as we stay divided over this issue and there is nothing like the power of a mass of people joining together when it comes to bringing about change.

    The courage to do this must start with the teams themselves. They are the leaders when it comes to bringing the “fans” along. No “statements-of-support” from management or media quotes from single team members will have much impact at all. That will be lost in the noise and buried under the rah-rah of the GAME(S). This must be a centerpiece of the event itself.

    Football has become more than a game, it has become, for good or ill, a representation of the heart of America. Yes, I know this is an exaggeration to some degree, but at the same time it’s an important fact. As such, this spectacle can be used to make a genuine difference in American life. A difference of much more import than any final score.

Just Say No! (Not Maybe)

    “You’re not the boss of me!”
    “You can’t tell me what to do!”
    “No! I don’t want to!”
    Remember when you were trying to parent those 3 year olds? And later those teens? How did we handle those refusals to play by the rules?
    Yeah, that stuff was hard to handle. Arguments. Consequences. Eye rolling. Giving up. Blow ups. Resentments.
    But the bottom line was, as parents, we had to win in the end. We could NOT allow our kids to have their way when, 1. What they wanted went up against what we, as responsible parents, had determined was the best course. Or, 2. What they wanted was dangerous or unacceptable behavior for them or for others.
    But as a society that is exactly where we have failed when it comes to weighing individual Rights vs. individual Responsibility. What we have done has been to tip the scales way out of balance when it comes to determining that Rights are more important than Responsibility and we did it first with our actual children, the young in our society so that they determine the shape and make-up of our fashion and entertainment….in fact the youth of our country have control of our culture. All of this is based upon the fact that our children have the purchasing power to draw the attention of marketers and marketers pander to that huge sector of our economy. We adults have allowed this because we worship youth.
    But it hasn’t stopped there. We have also allowed our society to give way too much power to the concept of Rights in so many areas that we are now reaping havoc everywhere. Where once we determined that no one had the right to, on a whim, yell Fire! In a crowded theatre, we now claim that this is a Right of Freedom-of-Speech and should not be abridged. Now insult, no matter how egregious, falls into this category as well. So simple civility has been cast aside in favor of individual freedom of expression.
    Fact, whether as a scientific proof or Fact as a report of an actual occurrence can now be called into question simply because it may be inconvenient to acknowledge reality.
    And now we have created a full blown culture of guns based upon a fairly simple Amendment, the 2nd of course, having determined that a “well regulated militia” means EVERYBODY….should walk around carrying guns of every caliber, capacity, and capability and these should be able to be carried everywhere. That’s our “right” after all and it should not be abridged lest a tyrannical government take us all into concentration camps. And no one has been willing to say No! to this mad idea, to these adult children who claim they have the RIGHT to go about in our society, creating and contributing to the air of paranoia and anger that fills our streets day and night and makes everyone feel unsafe. For contrary to the claim that if all are armed we will be safer for then it will be true that the criminals will be out-gunned, now everyone has the potential to be a killer, intended or not.
    So; what to do about our current un-reality? First, ALL public buildings must be equipped with metal detectors because no one should be allowed to carry a gun inside a public space. Yes, that includes, but is not limited to; movie theaters, hotels, churches, restaurants, coffee shops, department stores, malls, liquor stores, libraries, schools (of course) government buildings, super markets, etc., etc in short any space open to the public (probably have to include parks somehow) must have, at all entrances, metal detectors and personal to oversee them. Yes, just like air ports. (After all, if we’re going to be protected against “terrorists” we must include the most prevalent source of terror in our country, our own citizens.) Who will pay for this? Well, the gun lobby of course. If it weren’t for them we wouldn’t need to do any of this so they are responsible. Oh! And they have the money.
    Next, let’s stop selling assault weapons. Nobody hunts deer with them so no excuses from the hunting lobby. And let’s stop accepting the, “Stop-telling-us-we-can’t-have-assault-weapons!” people telling all the rest of us that they have a right to have them just “because”. Maybe they feel “safer” having them around but the rest of us do not. And there are more of us. Yes there are thousands and thousands of these around and we will just have to cope with that but let’s not add to the total. (No point in trying the Aussie answer and have the Government off to buy them back ‘cause those obsessed with having them aren’t going to let them go….the whole “…pry them from my dead fingers…” thing having been a flag waver for them after all.
    No more high capacity magazines sold. (For obvious reasons. Of course any restrictions would be put in place at this point for “obvious reasons”.)
    Register ALL guns. (ditto above)
    None of this will solve the problem we have been building up to all these years, but there’s not much we can do about that. There will still be random killing by guns, there will still be mass murders occurring, the trend after all, is continuing and the body count grows with each passing year, but it may slow things down a bit and most importantly, all of this will send a message that this romance Americans have with guns is NOT a good thing. It’s a problem, and anyone who contributes to it is feeding that problem.
I don’t know about you, but if people are wandering around in a public space carrying guns I DO’T FEEL SAFER! Crazy people with guns look just like sane people with guns and I can’t begin to tell the difference. So I just think it’s better for everyone to not have to try to figure that one out. Just take the gun out of the picture and I won’t worry about your sanity….or mine.
    Once we get outside of a public space, well……we will just have to get back to duck-and-cover I suppose. Fewer semi or fully auto weapons will help. Limits on how much a shooter can fire in a given amount of time may help. Other than that, we’ve been working on creating this nightmare scenario for over a hundred years and now we are reaping the whirlwind. No one in high political office seems to be willing to take the role of responsible parenting about it so far but perhaps these few steps will help some.
    Of course it will take a bunch of law makers deciding to say “No!” to the willful children-with-guns (and money) to get all of this done (and ALL of it must be done in order for anything to be even moderately effective).
    But do we have any responsible parents in control anywhere?

Reflections about Elroy Bode

    If we were to look up from our lives to find that suddenly the Franklin Mountains* were gone and all that remained was an empty desert we would be shaken to the core.
    A few days ago I looked up from my life and found that my life’s landscape had suddenly been altered, been swept clean of richness and depth, my dear friend Elroy Bode was gone.
    I remembered my doc saying to me when I got my cancer diagnoses, “Well, everyone has to die sometime.” Previously I considered that to be simply a philosophical observation about life in general…..nothing to do with me or with those I love. But now death has become personal, my seeing-eye writer friend has left my side. That’s the bad news.
    The only good news is that he will never leave my mind or my heart. That would be truly impossible. After all, he caused me to be very aware of light and shadow. Aware of the smallest beauty, the humblest truth. He was the one who stopped to smell the roses and the enchiladas, the one who heard the things I heard but had no names for.
    50 years ago when I read Elroy’s, “Texas Sketchbook” the first thing I thought was, “Hey! He wrote the book I should have written!” The second thing thought was, “I’ve got to talk to this guy. He’s someone who knows what I’d like to know.” And sure enough, we listened to the same big bands, appreciated the same sunsets, even read the same books, year after year, decade after decade.
    I wanted 50 more. I expected Elroy and the mountains to stay.

*Mountain range in El Paso, Texas
You weren’t supposed to leave us Elroy Bode.
From northern New Mexico you were my southern anchor.
My go-to source of intelligence. My dependable source of sanity. And now I feel adrift.
Lonely. Yes, just like your book title, Alone in the World, Looking.
Is there anything beyond “sad”?
Just that I knew you for 50 years
But it wasn’t enough my dear brother…..I wanted another 50
I wanted a few whiskeys more
Another smile
Another hour of your presence.
I look up and the Franklins are still there
blanketed by haze
or is that just a veil of tears in my eyes?
but they are diminished somehow
it seems everything is smaller with you gone.
What am I left with?
Your beautiful words
Your way of seeing the world
so many memories of you just
being around….
A sure thing
The Franklins
And Elroy Bode.
The Dali Lama said “No one is important but each is essential”
You were my “essential” Elroy,
Now I will have to make-do with what I remember
And there is so much. So much.
You will just have to hang around inside me for a long time yet,
Siempre my dear, dear friend. Always.

    I wrote, or at least attempted to write, about the sadness, the loss, the inevitable wish to deny his absence, but I couldn’t finish any of those pieces because Elroy kept smiling at me.
    I’m a believer in the concept of life-after-death, not as a flight- to-Heaven sort of thing but as a, they’re still hanging around idea so it didn’t surprise me that Elroy would keep popping up in my awareness as I tried to process my own grief on the page, but it did surprise me that he expected me to find some ironic humor in any of this pain….this being haunted by the now empty place at the table in my life.
    But if anyone were going to find the irony it would be Elroy, and here it was. This is exactly the kind of little vignette he would write about…that here is this elderly gent, going about his Sunday morning task of making a familiar breakfast, setting the table, preparing a wake-up feast and then dropping dead before he could even raise a forkful….oh yes, Elroy would have loved to write that scene. Great expectations, best laid plans…..and all that.
    So he has left me with a small smile on his and my face, about the wonderful life-viewer he was, about how he saw all of life half-amused, half-wonderful, all alive. Elroy may have left his body, but he will remain for decades to come a light breeze in our past and a constant awakeness to all of life around us.
    He has been, and will continue to be a gift to us all….bemused, aware, a soft walker through life. A smile in our memory.

(I'll write about who my great friend Elroy Bode was in time and include a picture too. Right now, these words will have to do. c)


Last Flight

    She was a mix of the golden yellow of a sunflower and the light green of an early spring, She was fiercely alive on that morning, not shy as she perched on top of the gallon sized hummingbird feeder
“Oh! Just a bird!” You might have said as I began to tell the tale. “I thought you were going to talk about a beautiful girl.” But I was.
    I was telling the story of a beautiful girl. One all dressed in feathers. The female Oriel who came to the feeder now and then sometimes accompanied by her more flamboyant consort, the black hooded and in-your-face yellow bodied male.
    She was more tentative then. Careful and watchful usually, but that day, she was bold and she came back several times that morning.
    That afternoon it was obvious that there was something very wrong. Her beak slightly open, she stayed at the feeder for longer and longer minutes and she had begun to pant, her body rocking back and forth with the effort.
    As the day wore on she returned again and again and finally settled on the shelf of the feeder, panting more rapidly now, her beak opened wider.
    By late afternoon she could hardly stand, her eyes were slits, her breast rested on the shelf, she could hardly hold herself up.
    I had seen this in birds a few times in the past, usually it was the result of their having flown into a window, thinking they were headed for clear air. Most of the time they were only stunned for a time and once they recovered from the shock they were able to fly off again.
    But there were a few who hit too hard, and after a time, a time of this panting and confusion, they would lose their balance and fall to one side, eyes closed, breath stopped.
    I hadn’t heard any impact that morning. Perhaps this was some infection, a virus of some kind….there was no way to tell, but she wasn’t getting stronger, she wasn’t recovering. Dusk was getting near  and now she could no longer hold her head up. She rested her beak on the shelf, That’s when I knew I had to intervene. I knew there was no saving her, I had to end her suffering.
    I got out the b.b. gun and went to her. I talked to her awhile. Told her how sorry I was that whatever had happened had happened. I told her I loved her beauty and as I slowly brought the gun up to her head she closed her eyes and I fired. She was a flurry of yellow as she pitched backwards off the feeder and fell to the ground. In one last stretch, as her sprit left her body, she spread out her tail and wings and took a final flight….a breathtaking display of her beauty…..and she was gone….gone out of my life and into my soul.
    I put her under a tree to the north of the house, the direction I had seen her fly to on so many mornings. I thanked her for her beauty and her presence in my life. For all the mornings when she, in her understated grace blessed my day.
    I still look for her. A glance now and then at the feeder where the hummingbirds have returned…..they stayed away while she was dying there.
    The male showed up today, going about his life as I go about mine.
    Yes, “Just a bird.” A beautiful, elegant, wonderful bird. I’ll never forget her.


    Over the past year I’ve been through a truckload of books on topics ranging far and wide and mostly non-fiction; bios, WWII and Civil War exams, chasing about for concepts of God, my daughter Winter’s two murder mysteries (very good stuff) but just last night a sudden blessing. It was like discovering, by happenstance, a comfortable chair that suddenly feels familiar, or being touched by a song forgotten and now remembered, a deep relaxation takes over, a breath exhaled, I felt I had come home.    
    I can’t name all the writers who can take me to this place, a few spring to mind, Doig, Elroy Bode, Deloris Kerns Goodwin….William Least Heat-Moon. It was this latter creator, singing a prose song that spoke to my soul that brought my own desire to write awake again. This happened the other night when I finished just ten pages of his, Here, There, Elsewhere. This is a collection of some of his published pieces and, as he states in the intro., some that didn’t get published as written. In other words, this is Mr. Heat-Moon unvarnished (almost)……and it’s wonderful reading.
    Here’s what he says about the “whys” of this book, “Setting these stories forth again has allowed me to restore elements one editor or another deemed too challenging for the audience he perceived. My mind is an ordinary organ and thereby  useful to judge contemporary capacities; if I can follow along, then so can thousands of others, including those who. Unlike me, don’t repeatedly have to look up the meaning of algorithm or the spelling of rabbit and sheriff to see where the double consonants belong……..the annual sales of dictionaries and atlases probably indicates the existence of readers who own and sometimes use them, people who believe the jolliest part of knowledge is its discovery.”
    Discovering Least-Heat is certainly jolly for me, so I’m launching into Here, There, Elsewhere with anticipation and relief. This is certainly the most absurd president our country has had in my lifetime, and probably in our history. I don’t think we will have to wait long for the historical verdict on that. I doubt he will last four, let alone the “eight” he claimed as his future a few days ago. What a travesty! At any rate, I’ll do whatever I can, as I know many are beginning to do, to lessen the impact of his presence in our lives and shorten his tenure. (Begins with prayer of course.) And I know, from past experience, that I and we will not only survive this nonsense, we will rise above it all and become even more than we have been to date. We need these challenges to grow together and we will use them to do just that.

White Privilege?

    If you’re white it’s likely you’ve never known of it. In my eighty-two years, I’ve never been aware of it. Of course I’ve known about racism, about prejudice. My family of origin was filled with racist rancor. I was brought up that way but it never took. I just never bought into it at all.
    When I read Black Like Me back in 1961 the book by John Howard Griffin, the non-fiction story of a man who became black by dying his skin with drugs and chemicals, and then gauging reactions to him by whites, it was an eye opener. But that was an armchair experience. The real time stuff came when I married a Mexican-American girl from El Paso and brought her to Chicago where we lived on the lakefront in an apartment on the South Side. She was brown to begin with but in the sun she turned a shade or two darker and one day as we strolled down a Lake Michigan beach I had the strangest feeling of tension in the air and of being drilled into as we passed by. There was a palpable air of hostility all around us that I had never experienced. We hurried home.
    I didn’t know it at the time but the NAACP had, on that very day, begun a movement to integrate Chicago beaches just a few blocks away. Obviously we were seen as the vanguard of that event, a white guy with a black girl brazenly strolling down a segregated beach, we were lucky we weren’t attacked.
    By the way, despite the fact that I was born and raised in Chicago I had no idea that the beaches were segregated. How would I know that? I was white after all. That was a manifestation of the privilege thing, though there was no such term in common use then.
    A week later we had a visit from an African-American couple we had known for many years and they spent the night in our apartment. The next morning the landlord paid a visit too and served us with an eviction notice because he had heard, “You people had niggers here yesterday and that breaks the lease.” They were in the next room and were not surprised; in fact they apologized for causing “a problem”.
    I was a radio announcer at a small Chicago station at the time and one of the shows I worked on was put on by the Urban League. They were the up-scale version of the NAACP in Chicago. I happened to tell my tale to one of the speakers on the show and he asked if I would be willing to tell my story. I was more than happy; I was outraged and ready to be heard. No one in the mostly black audience for that show was shocked by my tale. Imagine how surprised I was to discover that my hometown of Chicago was then considered to be the second most segregated city in America right after Jackson, Mississippi. Soon after my wife and I and our two kids moved back to El Paso, a town that had just integrated all public facilities. It was a local ordinance; no other town in Texas had done the same. I don’t know if any other town in the U.S. had either. It was 1960. (El Paso, by the way, was and is, an anomaly in Texas. Democratic and Progressive, it has never seemed to belong to the rest of reactionary Texas.)
    I ran into a lot of racism after that, always because I had black friends, mainly jazz musicians, and insisted on having them in my life. I knew about racism, had experienced it from both black and white. I still didn’t really know about the “white privilege” thing though and when I heard the term I felt somewhat defensive about it. I didn’t feel “privileged” on any level. I certainly didn’t come from money. And I’d worked for a living ever since I was 15. What “privilege” did I have? Not until last week when a series of events, seemingly unrelated, occurred, did I really begin to get it.
    Over ten years ago a friend of ours, a white gay woman and her partner, a black woman, adopted two African-American boys. They were infants at the time. Last week Elizabeth, who likes to spend time connecting on Facebook, showed me a current picture of the boys who are now about 11 & 14. I noted them and moved on. “Noted” that they had grown a good deal and were good-looking kids. That was about it.
    Around the same time in Albuquerque our favorite restaurant, an Italian place with good food and music, put this up on their marquee; “Black Olives Matter!” I didn’t pay much attention to it, just thought it was a dumb thing to do
Then in Milwaukee cops shot a black man and the protests erupted. This was not an unarmed man and it seemed to me from the reports that it was probably a justified shooting, that is, the cops felt he was a real threat. So why I wondered, was the black community taking to the streets? This was not Ferguson.
    One thing more, the slogan “Black Lives Matter” had had appended to it, “All Lives Matter” by various politicians and others and I agreed with that concept at first. Of course ALL lives matter. Then suddenly all of it coalesced in my consciousness. It was as if at a deep level some sort of higher intelligence was working it all out. I suddenly realized that the white mom friend of ours has had to teach a whole different series of life lessons to those two boys that no white parent EVER has to deal with with their kids. Those two boys would not be having the same life experience of any white kids, not in school, not on the way to school, not after school, not at any time in their lives…..just because of the color of their skin and for no other reason. That’s white privilege. And white people have no clue what that’s like. NOT ONE CLUE! They, we, can guess at it all right. We can empathize. We can understand––––––but we cannot really know.
    That’s why there cannot be anything appended to “Black Lives Matter”, because black lives have seldom mattered in the history of our country. Ever since the Civil War lynching had been rampant in the South. It wasn’t till 2005 that the U.S. Senate apologized for never having passed an anti-lynching law. It didn’t get done because there were other political priorities….and because Black Lives DIDN’T Matter....not as much as white politics.
    With all the progress that has been made for African-Americans since the 60s we have forgotten that some things haven’t changed at all. For example, in Albuquerque that restaurant owner is now printing T-shirts with his insulting “joke” and claims, in the face of some who have protested, to have, “50% support” from his friends and clientele. I really hope he’s just playing it up. I hate to think New Mexicans are that emotionally blind. That emotionally dead.
    Nationally we have a Republican president (small "P" intended) taking office who seems quite happy to have the support of a former head of the KKK and members of various white supremacist groups.
    And just one statistic (of the many I’ve come across) says quite a bit about the reality; a young black male has a 50% chance of winding up in prison for a non-violent, usually drug, offense. Most young white males do not even get charged let alone go to prison for the same offenses, though studies show they use drugs at the same rate. That conviction will haunt that boy turned man for the rest of his life on every level, getting into college, getting a job, applying for a loan for a car or a house. One conviction, no matter how small the offense, will negatively shape the rest of his life.
    Today our white mom has to caution her black sons to be EXTRA careful while-being-black.
    White privilege. It’s alive and well in our country and most of we whites don’t even know, and most even deny, that it exists.
    We look out into the world with the same eyes, but because those eyes are inside white skin, we really don’t see at all.
    When all of this swept into my consciousness I began to weep, and still do as I write this. I will do what I can to try to make a difference about this truth. Boycotting that restaurant, bringing this issue to light in groups I speak to now and then, changing my own attitudes about black protest. Letting my black brothers and sisters know that I get it!
    I pray we ALL do.


                                                                    It was a very good day. Maybe.

    Listening to Sinatra sing “It was a very good year” this morning while freeway traveling I began to drift back in time with the lyrics; “When I was 17, it was a very good year, it was a very good year for small town girls and soft summer nights. We’d hide from the lights, on the village green, when I was 17.”
    Well, that was about right for me–––or pretty close anyway. But the next line, “When I was 21, it was a very good year, for city girls who lived up the stairs….” our paths diverged there Frank. When I was 21 I was married and had a new born daughter, Christy, my first. I was just out of the Army and headed back to my hometown, Chicago, after almost two years in the dusty little El Paso, Texas. I couldn’t wait.
    As I continued down that road into the past it dawned on me that I had arrived at a current fork in the road of memory and now I had to chose about how to think about it. All of these memories could be seen as sad and filled with regret and pain, or I could see my life as one filled with blessings and wonderful gifts. Same eventful eighty plus years, but how I would sum them up would determine my present state of mind, how I would feel about who I am now and what it has all been about. It would even determine what kind of day I was going to have from here on out!
    That’s when I decided to try a different station.

                                                   What’s in a Name?

    What’s in a name? Well George Carlin let me know, did it to me––– in public. He did the whole shtick on my name at the worst possible time, on my first, and it turned out only, date with a girl I had just met while we sat in the balcony of a sold out concert in Houston. (I don’t know if that was the reason for the “only”.)
Up to that point in my life, little had been made of my “nick name” even through high school. I was all of forty years old and suddenly my name became a laugh line. Nobody laughed at Richard “Dick” Burton or old Hollywood legends like Dick Powell or Richard Harris or Richard Gere. Or that great comedian Richard Pryor. The name was somewhat besmirched by “Tricky Dick” Nixon of course, but Burton had Elizabeth, Harris had Shakespeare, Gere had talent, and Pryor was a riot. I was just “Dick”, or as my mother liked to diminish me, out of affection I hoped, “Dickie”.
    After that night I bought into and became sensitive to it, dodging the issue with Richard or “Rich”. Years later I got over the thing, but it seems very few others did because when I was addressed or introduced, not always but often, “Dick” was studiously avoided….as if I might be offended by my name.
    Just to let you careful people know, I’m over it. Mostly. You can call me “Dick” any time and you won’t get a rise out of me.
     (Even I couldn’t resist that one.)


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