Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Forty Years and Counting

I met Brent in August 1972.

Both of us were getting ready to begin our sophomore year at Bryan Adams High School.  Not THAT Bryan Adams.  We’d been invited to take a summer debate workshop, and both of us joined the debate team.

It suited Brent down to the ground.

Me, not so much, though I tried hard.

That didn’t matter though.  In our three years at B. A., sophomore through senior, we became great friends though we didn’t know it.  We fought, mostly over who was the fattest (a tie depending on the year), who would wind up with this particular girl (neither of us), who would graduate higher in our class (we were both in the top 5% of a class of 997).

He’d make fun of my Southern accent, then I’d turn the tables and ridicule his Yankee dialect (he was from Cleveland and I just had to tell him that "root" rhymes with "boot" and "shoot" not "cut" and "strut").

Many times I believed he hated me.

He told me later that he thought I hated him.

I tried to hide my sadness when he moved back to Cleveland the day after graduation in May 1975, but the truth was that I knew I’d miss the hell out of him.

I did.

I took a summer job to prepare for college, but visited Brent for two weeks right before the start of the Fall Semester.

He visited me Christmas/New Year break.

We wrote over the years and occasionally spoke on the phone but no more visits for a long time.

I still have the letters he wrote.

One, in particular, he sent in 1981 hand written on yellow legal paper where he gushed about a beautiful dental hygienist named Michelle he was seeing.

They’re still married, and Michelle has become as close a friend as Brent.  I would do anything for them, and know they would for me.

I visited them once in the late 80’s, and have at least once a year since 1994 with the exception of 2010, when Brent and Michelle came down to Texas for our 35 year reunion.

I find it remarkable how much we’ve changed.  In high school Brent’s politics tended toward the liberal, while mine leaned toward the conservative.  Now Brent is politically conservative, while I ventured toward the liberal.

I'm still not sure where we crossed each other.

I find it even more remarkable how much we haven’t changed.  After all these years, he still laughs at the same things, displays the same nervous tics when he’s thinking, or frustrated.

I’m flying up to visit again on July 3rd.  We’ll have a barbecue on Thursday the fourth, Independence Day here in the US.  We'll go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Friday, and whatever we like on Saturday and Sunday.

Those five days I’ll feel at home.

I’ll leave Monday morning July 8th already looking forward to the next time.

I haven’t had the best of luck in the romantic department as some of my past posts have indicated, but I have been blessed with wonderful friends who consider me family and for whom I feel the same.

Brent and Michelle are two of them.

Hard to believe that he and I have been friends over forty years.  A long time.

And yes, the above is a picture of the three of us taken in Cleveland in 2007.  I'm the one with the salt and pepper beard.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Joe, Bernice, and The Hands of the Phoenix

File:Phoenix-Fabelwesen.jpgIn my post Thinking Before Midnight, I posed a question that the movie Before Midnight posed to me?  Is long-standing love possible anymore, or even relevant.

The last week or two I've been thinking about my acting days in Orlando, Florida.

Down there, I had the opportunity to study with James Best, best known (no pun intended) for his role as the bumbling Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on the show The Dukes of Hazzard.

Also in that class was an older couple Joe and Bernice.  Joe was in his late seventies, Bernice a couple of years younger.

After selling their business, they embarked on an acting career, and did well, booking small roles in films, television, commercials, and industrials as … you guessed it ... an older couple.

But it wasn’t their acting ability that caught my attention.  I marveled at the look in their eyes when each gazed on the other.

One word describes it.


After fifty-six years of marriage, they held hands and looked at each other with goo-goo eyes.  They looked like teenagers walking through the park … everything but the PDOA (Public Display of Affection).  Actually, I say no PDOA, but I did see them steal the occasional kiss.  Just a little peck on the lips (no sucking face), true, but always with a smile for each other that would melt the coldest of hearts.

Each time I saw that little peck, I felt like an intruder.

A tradition of the class was to adjourn to the local Denny’s for food, tea or coffee, and wonderful conversation.  Joe and Bernice came often.  Joe always ordered the Grand Slam breakfast and coffee, even late at night.  Bernice would typically order some toast and coffee, then help herself to a bite or two of Joe’s pancakes.

They were always a joy to be around.

“What’s your secret?”  I asked one evening.  “Fifty-six years of not only marriage, but working together in a business, and you still hold hands with the goo-goo eyes.”

Joe put down his fork and thought a second.  “It wasn’t always like that, Rocky.”

Bernice shook her head.  “No, it wasn’t.  We fought.  We really did.  But with the business we learned how to be civil to each other.”

“And the years passed where we were no more friendly to each other than to the mailman,” Joe said.

"But no less," Bernice threw in.

“What changed?”

Joe thought for a second.  “We decided to sell the shop and retire.”

Bernice nodded agreement.  “We looked at each other and saw someone we used to know.”

“And love,” Joe threw in.

“And love,” Bernice said, taking his hand and giving it a good squeeze.

“We knew we had a lot to get through, so one night we sat down at the kitchen table across from each other,” Joe said.

“I suggested that we hold hands, because I’ve never been able to yell at someone, whether it was Joe, or the kids, or grandkids, who I was holding hands with.  And I didn’t want to yell.  If I'd have started, I don't know whether I could have stopped.”

“We talked all night long.”

“And when the sun came up I saw that handsome young man who always held the doors open for me, and offered his arm when we went into a restaurant or a picture show.”

“And I saw that beautiful young lady who always lowered her head, then lifted her eyes and smiled when she looked at me.”

Joe later said that night holding hands was the most emotional he’d ever spent, and that for him it was the holding hands that pulled him through.  He couldn’t yell.  Neither could she.  He cried.  So did she.  He reasoned.  So did she.

“We got to know each other all over again,” Bernice said.  “Just started from scratch, like a good cake recipe.”

“Way back in school,” Joe said, “we learned about mythological creatures like the Medusa and the Unicorn that don’t really exist.”

Bernice leaned her head on his shoulder.  “Well, we decided that one of those creatures does.  The Phoenix.  Our marriage proves it.”

I said in the Before Midnight post that I hoped long standing love was possible and relevant.

My memories of Joe and Bernice prove it.  At least to me.

I last saw them in 1993.  Twenty years ago.  Chances are they’ve passed on.  Then again …?  :-)

Photo Credit:  Wikipedia

Friday, June 14, 2013

From Love To Hate To Love

For a week in 2008, on beautiful Fiji, I studied writing with the bestselling novelist Steve Berry.

I learned amazing amounts from him and my five classmates, not the least of which is my wonderful friend Dawn.  I have to laugh.  I just received some of my pages back from her today (Chapters 21-30) and twice she cites Steve and his views on writing.  As it turns out, they're both right. 

Anyway, the most important of those lessons was to write tight.  I still ramble at times, but am doing oh-so-much better.  Sometimes I think I’ve grasped the concept.  Other times it slips into the cracks, and I start again.

Outside of Steve’s admonition “Write tight,” the best way I've heard this concept expressed comes from the English poet Robert Southey, who once wrote, “It is with words as it is with sunbeams.  The more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.”

Oh, so true!

The most elusive of Steve's lessons is that you’ll work on your novel so much that you will come to HATE it.

I’d never experienced that feeling. 

Oh, there were times I didn’t want to look at it, or couldn’t face it or the thought of one more draft, but I’ve never experienced pure HATE, until last week. 

And I felt guilty as hell about it.

After all, I've spent one full year on this, my ghost story.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I’m working diligently on Draft Four.  I’d made it more than halfway though when, last week, my beautiful ghost told me that it wasn’t working for her; that I’d have to start Draft Four all over again.

Huh?  A fictional character telling me what was what?

Fictional character?


For good or bad, she’s real to me, just as real as the memories I carry of actual people.  The difference is minor but makes all the difference.  She lives in a prominent place in my mind called the imagination.  The two worlds can see each other, but I always keep a layer of cheesecloth separating my imaginary world from the real.

Bringing the ship into port, she said it wasn’t working for her, and I understood.  I felt it, too.

A month’s worth of work shot to hell and gone in the space of a microsecond.

I stomped around, and cursed her.  Swam lap after lap after lap; played my guitar, especially the blues.  I did everything to try to forget her.  I hated her freaking guts!

Or did I?

She'd been the love of my life for a year, and now I hated her?

How could I possibly go from one extreme to another?

I consulted my faltering memory and found the answer.  Love and Hate are not opposites.  I have no idea whether this notion has sound basis in Psychology, but I believe that Love and Hate are different branches of the same tree of Caring.  Whether I love something (or someone) or hate something (or someone) I care deeply.  Consequently, LOVE and HATE have the same opposite … APATHY.

So yes, I had, for a brief time, a strong negative feeling toward the love of my imaginative life.  But the leaves on that branch quickly withered and left me with love again.  My ghost was right.  The story had deserted her and I needed to fix it.

Took me a week, but I have now caught up, and am charging on my merry way.  I’m embracing it, even as I write this, and so looking forward to helping her and my hero through the rest of their journey.

My ghost is the love of my imaginative life, along with the other seven main and supporting characters.  I love them so much.  They make me laugh.  They make me cry.  They excite me.  They make me think.  I dream about them all, in the day and at night.

I’m a man similar in many respects to my hero.  I’d love to meet someone like my ghost, though she need not be so young on the one hand (31 when she died) or old on the other (over 140 from when she was born).

Check out last weeks post for thoughts on the love of my reality.

And yes, the above picture is from Fiji.  I took it from the balcony of my hotel room.  Those six days were some of the best of my life.

I know my friend Dawn remembers Fiji.  :-)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Thinking Before Midnight

Before MidnightI've said a number of times, even in this blog, that with regard to movies, books, music, art, and other forms of entertainment that I ask four things.  Make me laugh.  Make me cry.  Excite me.  Make me think.

Achieve any two of those, and I'm a fan.

I saw Before Midnight today, and it effortlessly managed all four.  It deserved every point of its 98 on the TomatoMeter.  It may be the best of the three "Before" films because of its depth.

And damn did that depth excite me, and make me cry, and make me laugh ... and make me think.

I'm giving nothing away by saying that the movie presents problems for Jesse and Celine to overcome (or not), but it raised questions, too.  The biggest of those for me focused on whether loving one person, as a partner in life, forever is even possible anymore.

It's become so easy to "love" someone for a little while and move on.  Hell, I know folks who change girl/boyfriends like I change socks.

There's an old Gale Garnett song from way back in 1964 called "We'll Sing in the Sunshine."

I remember when that song came out.  Since it was about two people being happy ... singing in the sunshine and laughing every day ... I, at the tender age of 7, thought it was a pretty doggone good idea.

Now, the song makes me sad because it clearly takes the position that folks should have the time of their lives for a while then move on down the line.  I thought of that song while watching Before Midnight.

It mattered desperately to me what happened with Jesse and Celine, and tears spilled down my face rooting so hard for these fictional characters.

With a few hours distance I understand that my concern was more to retain my belief that lifetime love is still possible in the vacuum of cyberspace, with our smiles now for our cellphones.

And, hell, I'm the one to ask that question aren't I, he asks cynically?  I've been divorced for twenty-six years now and haven't been with anyone since.

But I want to be.

I just don't know how anymore.

I am, however, willing to learn.

It wasn't the marriage that's kept me a loner this long.  Oh, that was some of it, I suppose, but not the biggest factor.

I've ruined a couple of friendships by trying to take it to the next level.  Both times, she oh-so-graciously and oh-so-kindly said something on the lines of "You honor me, but I can't feel that way for you."

And both times she found a way out of my life, wouldn't even stay my friend.

I don't ever want to lose a friend like that again.  I value them too much.

I miss them both, you see, and feel like it was my fault for having dared suggest that we take our relationship one step farther.  Quite obviously, that was what cost me their friendship.

"Rock," a friend told me after a couple of drinks.  "Your problem is that you're a heterosexual dude completely in touch with your feminine side.  That makes you a great friend, but a lousy prospect.  With women, you have to be a man BEFORE you're their friend."

Hell, he has a point, I suppose.

At fifty-five, I might be too old to change that.

When I lived in LA, a gay friend of mine shook his head and declared, "You're a lesbian in the body of a man."

I guess I never learned how to be a man.

On the other hand, I don't have the looks or the body or the youth to walk up to a stranger or even casual acquaintance and ask them out.  I've tried that, too, and, after the kind and considerate declines, walked away feeling like a puppy who isn't quite cute enough for a home.

Without spoiling the movie for you, let me just say that I was rooting for lifetime love so much more than the characters.

Even after all these years I believe in it, would be willing to work hard to make it happen.

I just need the other half of the equation, to BE the other half of someone's equation.

And it'll happen.

At some point I'll find someone wonderful who will allow me to share my life with her and be willing to share her life with me.

I just have to have my eyes open and to Remember Sam, Before Midnight.

I am, after all, a hopeful romantic.  :-)