Short Fiction

Her Old Tee Shirt

Old ShirtHe toppled them out of the closet, a heap of old tee shirts from 5K races, college events and concerts from their collective past.  This one had caused an argument because she used it for work.  She argued that Bruce sang about working men and women.  She wore it to paint the family room, a bathroom or two and some old deck furniture.  He thought concert tee shirts should be kept pristine, folded and preserved.  Some day they might be worth something.  It was a fond memory of a good night from their past and now it was decorated with parts of her real life, too.  Colors from the spaces and things she made new with just her imagination and a coat of paint.

He stuffed all the other shirts into a black garbage bag like old rags, but he kept this one. Despite the paint splatters it was soft and smelled a little metallic ~  just as she did.

 

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“Outlive the Bastards”

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It was a rough week.  I was certain our National Treasure, Mr. Pete Seeger, was going to live forever.  It is comfort to know that his words and music will always be with us.  The man set a gold-standard example of walking the talk by LIVING the talk.   My favorite quote about Mr. Seeger is a tribute line delivered by Bruce Springsteen at the May 3, 2009 Clearwater benefit concert: 

“Pete, you outlived the bastards.” 

You see, Pete used his birthday as a grand excuse for a concert to raise money for a cause very close to him, the sloop Clearwater.   Back in the 1960’s Pete thought that if he could get folks to come out on the Hudson River so they could see for themselves how pollution was affecting the environment, they would clean up “all the shit in the river.”  The quotation marks in that last sentence are mine, but if my memory serves, that is exactly what Pete said at the concert that night as he talked about the genesis of Clearwater.  G-man and I attended this show, and how could you not?  The price of a ticket was the year of Pete’s birth:  $19.19.  And you sure got your money’s worth of since there were about forty performers that night; humbled performers who knew that Pete never took the easy way as an artist.   He was a man who stood up to the bullying tactics of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and wasn’t recognized until many years later for having that leonine courage of his convictions.   If we’re truly honest how many of us can say we would have been able to do the same? 

Despite my sadness at Seeger’s passing I feel a renewed sense of responsibility for the generations who will follow me.  Pete lived a full and vigorous life until his death this week at ninety-four.    It’s time for others to take up where he has left off.   Despite his heroic, ongoing effort there is plenty of opportunity in this broken world for us all to pick up a little bit of the slack.  So let’s all try to outlive the bastards, and give a damn. 

Because even a little help matters to someone, somewhere, sometime.  

 

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Words So Scary

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification

Does anybody recognize the above language?  It’s very inflammatory, you know.  It’s the complete text of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment that was initially introduced in Congress by Alice Paul back in 1923 and has subsequently been reintroduced in every Congressional session for half a century.  (http://www.equalrightsamendment.org/)

A couple of things have made me think about this little piece of legislation today.

It’s Women’s History Month which in itself is a national embarrassment since women are half the population and make history all the time.  Since when is making history a sexist occupation, and women only need/get a month’s acknowledgement?  I used to have this argument about the (thankfully) now defunct  “women’s news” section of the newspaper.

Cover of today’s NY Times “above the fold” features a photo of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and IMF Managing director Christine Legarde.  In case you have been without the Internets these two leaders are dealing with a big mess over in Europe right now.  You might recall that Ms. Legarde took over the IMF after Dominique Strauss-Khan ran into a little trouble last year.

Although seeing world leaders on the cover of the Times should not strike anybody as odd but, I was also half-watching Up W/ Chris Hayes on MSNBC where the panel cited the statistic that the United States ranks right up there with Turkmenistan (at # 78) with the number of women in national parliaments.   (http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm) Hmmmmmmm….

……..Does that make you wonder why Elizabeth Warren is getting a groundswell of support in her run against Senator Scott Brown in Massachusetts?  Who wouldn’t want a smart representative who got the boot out of the Washington for taking on the bank lobby with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau?    Take it to the streets, girl!

Bruce Springsteen releases new album this week.  Wrecking Ball has some mad good songs on it that are scratching the surface of what’s really going on in our country right now.   I also find Bruce to be one of our country’s foremost feminists, giving voice to folks who go unnoticed by the world at large.. like poor working women.

Back in 1972 I was too young to really understand what all the fuss over the Equal rights Amendment was about.  In 1978 I had a college roommate whose father went on an absolute diatribe how women would be sorry if it passed.  How much it would hurt them, make them go into combat, create unisex bathrooms.  (yes, Trish the Dish, you were right about your Dad.  He was a jerk. ) But now I realize that people (especially people with their own ingrained notion of their own status) are deeply afraid of anything that would change the current balance of power, alter the status quo – even if the ultimate result is something so much better for everybody.  BTW, Dad Dish:  Although I’ve worked my whole life as a woman (I have no real choice in the matter), women are still making only 70 cents to a man’s $1, I’ve known quite a few women who have proudly served their country in the armed forces, and I’ve used a unisex bathroom with no ill effects.  It actually was a “family bathroom,” so presumably even a gay family could have used it.

So what is occupying the national debate right now?  Gay marriage and the requirement that healthcare should include coverage for contraception.  Really?  These are just distractions as far as I’m concerned – just like the arguments over those 3 sentences at the top of this post.

It proves that words alone are enough to rock someone’s world and it takes a consistent type bravery just to keep using them.  Word Up, All!

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Haunting, Life Affirming and Way Past My Bedtime

What January slump?  For the past two weekends The G-man and I have been stepping out on Saturday night to hear some great music.  Last week it was Glen Campbell at Town Hall with his band Instant People.  Mr. Campbell has been open about his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, and has been on a worldwide “Farewell Tour, ” so I was preparing myself for this show to potentially be a little creepy.  Well, it gives me great pleasure to say I was very wrong.  The 75 year-old GC was in his element.  His voice was strong, his fretwork undiminished and he was highly engaged with both his band and audience.

The show was amazing on a couple of levels:

The band, Instant People, consisted of 3 of his kids, Shannon, Cal and Ashley (who plays a wicked banjo!).  All three appear to be talented and energetic musicians in their own right, but I got the impression Ashley was the anchor for her Dad — she’d be the one to make eye contact with him or call out a key change.  Also on stage was a gentleman who has served as GC’s  music director for the last 35 years and two other young professional guitarists.   In many ways these young band mates brought a sense of joy and timelessness, and counterbalanced what could have been a creepy and depressing “oldies” show. Here’s a link to their music in case you have an interest:  Instant People

GC did need a TelePrompTer for lyrics to new songs from Ghost on The Canvas, but the oldies are clearly burned into his brain.  And as far as playing a guitar, it was incredible to watch him.  Other than sometimes forgetting what key he was in, the finger work was spot on.  The kids made sure he didn’t stray too much from the program but he made mention of NYC a number of times and did interact with the crowd.  At one point he did complain it was hot on stage and some slightly manic woman in the audience shouted to “take off your shirt.”  He undid a couple of buttons, and gave a little show, but he kept it clean and kept control of the audience like a true professional.

Now comes the part that can make or break your live music experience: the audience.   It’s an organic life-form all its own with incredible performance-enhancing powers.  In this case I am speculating that at least 25% of the audience were psychologists.   Mostly white, average age 50+ with a couple of hipsters scattered about.  The grey-haired dude next to me was flying solo, and I think he had some form of OCD because he was carrying a little zippered cloth pouch from a Psychology Conference in Orlando, FL in 2005.  I thought he might have had a little seat cover in it because he did not sit down in his seat until the last possible moment and he stood up at intermission to stand at his seat and read a magazine that was stashed in the little zippered pouch.  And he wasn’t the only one who brought reading materials for intermission — there were at least 5 folks in my sight-line who were either working the Sunday Times crossword puzzle or reading a magazine.  But overall a very polite crowd — not too much standing or dancing in the aisles.  If anything, they were the type of audience who couldn’t wait to sit down, and they did not spend the concert texting or taking video on their smart phones.

Which was a marked departure from the audience at the Light Of Day concert we attended last night at the old Paramount Theater on the Boardwalk in Asbury Park.

Some back story:  the Light Of Day Foundation is the brainchild of Bob Benjamin who started it twelve years ago as a vehicle to both educate and fight Parkinson’s disease.  (Mr. Benjamin himself suffers from Parkinson’s.)  In the past 12 years it has grown into a worldwide effort, but locally it has been a real booster for the city of Asbury Park, which has been undergoing a renaissance in fits and starts over the last decade.  This year there were events and entertainment beginning Wednesday, January 11 running through today, January 15, but the major headliner is the show at the Paramount.  It is usually a sold out event — due in great part to the Bruce Springsteen zealots who are counting on the Boss making an appearance in his old stomping grounds.    Since the G-man is a himself a zealot, and I am his enabler, we try to go every year.

The show is organized “festival style.”   Showtime is early (6:30 PM)  and each performer/band plays a set with a mix of both high-energy bands and acoustic soloists interspersed throughout the night.  As you might imagine, the openers are lesser-known (but no less talented)  than the acts that perform in prime-time so there are a lot of empty seats; up&down and neighborly chatting during these performances.  So before I sound like an old lady yelling at the kids to get off my lawn, I’ll preface this by saying that my expectation of this audience is different from one attending the opera or an orchestral performance.  However, by 9 or 10 PM when the place is really packed and folks like David Bromberg take the stage, I would expect the folks in their seats are hoping to focus on the performers.  So I was really surprised when the woman next me (my age) apologized to me for “screaming really loud” during John Eddie’s set, yet she saw no problem flashing me with her smart phone lights as she texted and checked Facebook every 15 minutes.  Screaming song lyrics and hooting with wild abandon? That’s what we’re here for, my friend, but the migraine inducing lights of your iPhone DO diminish my experience.   I’m used to the undercurrent of constant talking.   I just close my eyes and focus on the music, but if you really just want to drink beer, play Words with Friends and talk to your buddies, why are you here?  That is just plain rude, and even the Boss would say so.

So with my rant out of the way, I will say that the talent was exceptional for this show.  The old-timey Napsters who remember Southside Johnny with his Asbury Jukes would be knocked over with a feather to hear him with his new band, The Poor Fools.  It was a cleaned-up, stripped down Southside and his voice was the strongest and cleanest I’ve ever heard.  Maybe all those horns were covering it up or pushing him to work against a naturally sexy and devilish rasp of voice?  And those Poor Fools?  They were anything but ~ they stole the show!

The last time I saw David Bromberg was in August of 1979 (at Wollman Rink in Central Park) and we’re both a little grayer and pudgier, but this old man schooled us in how it’s done.  Too bad a goodly portion of the crowd seemed to have no clue that he’s a legend, and how smart and witty a song writer he is.

Bruce did show up, and it’s like having Bill Clinton make a cameo at your BBQ:  he really can’t help taking up all the oxygen in the room.  But he was his usual high-energy self and what band wouldn’t let him sit in on their set? In this case it was Joe Grushecky & The Houserockers.  (Local NJ.com coverage here gives all the zealot details ~  Bruce )  So he closed the place down with an acoustic sing-a-long of Thunder Road, and we headed out to the Blue Swan diner for a late-night snack around 2:30 AM.  A time even Mr. Springsteen agrees with me is now past our bedtimes, yet still reminds us “to show a little faith” in that magic in the night.

But now I’m off to bed.