I'm going back someday, come what may, to Blue Bayou

  Looks like sculpture to me…

Looks like sculpture to me…

If only in my mind and sculpture and MacBook. Back before the beginning of time, or so it seems, I roamed St. Joseph, Louisiana, the parish seat of Tensas Parish. (Pronounced ten-saw, by the way, like Arkansas) As we get older, I'm told, we become more in touch with our youth and more aware of the distance between now and then. That particular season of my existence began to surface after a spring storm this year which downed some fair-sized trees at Wise Acres. Too large and too heavy to drag off to the brush pile, I resigned myself to sawing them up into manageable chunks.

But the more I looked at them, the more they reminded me of something. Something I had seen many years ago. Tupelo and cypress trees in the bayou, reaching barkless dead fingers out of backwaters and sloughs. And something else. Art made of these expressive pieces of nature. Primitive art, all the more powerful for its lack of, or even avoidance of, artistic sophistication.

I was also experiencing writing blockage on a novel I'm trying to finish for publication in 2019. A switch to sculpture often frees up creative inertia in writing so I began making pieces influenced by childhood memories of Tensas Parish. I became so immersed in it that I didn't much care about the writing; it has become an idée fixe, and the show even has a name this early in the game. "A love letter to Tensas Parish."

  A fascinating man, Mayor Fields… (Washington Post Photo)

A fascinating man, Mayor Fields…(Washington Post Photo)

Four pieces in, I decided to contact some people from there. A talented poet/librarian named Garland Strothers surfaced online. He agreed to send me a picture and a short bio. I will be posting his Tensas-oriented poems and materials at the show. I found a young entrepreneur from Tensas Parish, an LSU grad, Joel Brannan, who is building a distillery for his Magnolia brand vodka. I talked to the Mayor, Elvadus Fields, for a delightful hour. The list of honorees is growing.

If you come to the show (Hilliard Gallery, KC crossroads, May, 2019, First Friday May-June) expect to see representatives of Tensas Parish and St. Joe, the parish seat, on the walls. These are interesting people. All the more so, because they belong to an exclusive club: the least populated parish in Louisiana, and they're all making marks.

A little about that neck of the bayou: there are three towns in the parish, St.Joseph, Newellton and Waterproof. The parish butts up to the Mississippi River, and has a couple of big oxbow lakes. Lake Bruin is about 3,000 acres of extremely clear water.

Among the celebrated from Tensas Parish is a bodyguard for Huey P. Long who was present at the "assassination." That's in quotes because it's looking less and less like a murder and more like a ricochet accident. The assailant may not even have been armed, but the gun (they say) he had was a .32 revolver. Long died from a .38 caliber wound. Check it out here for some fascinating history.

  Part of what makes Louisiana, Louisiana…

Part of what makes Louisiana, Louisiana…

I shot my first duck in the parish bayou, a merganser. We were in a johnboat among the cypress trees, my stepfather, me, and a sweet water spaniel named Suzy who lived with us later in Tulsa. The shotgun was nearly as tall as I was, an Ithaca 16 guage pump that still hangs on the wall all these years later. The duck hit the water but was alive enough to slip in among the cypress roots and evade us. Suzy jumped into the water and caught it, swam back to the boat. It was the only duck we got that day.

So, a rite of passage occurred down there. But I quit hunting altogether about forty years ago. Blasting unarmed creatures when you don't need to do that to survive was counter to my idea of myself. Many things are. But the good people of St. Joe and nearby towns own qualities I would do well to aspire to, even at this late date.

Tensas Parish keeps declining in numbers, in income, in solutions. But I'm thinking with notables like those I've mentioned and those I'll meet, that may start to reverse itself. The mayor mentioned a lady named Vivian who left St. Joe to get a top nursing degree in Maryland. She came back and is investing in the town. She runs a restaurant and is rehabbing a derelict mansion as a home for women who need a sanctuary. I want to get her bio and a photo for the show. And others. I hope to have a nice wall of fame for the show in May. Y'all come, hear?

And I hope that book is on Amazon by then, and you've got a copy and recommended it to your book club and Oprah, and my royalties are better than the $12.74 I got last quarter.   

 

             

 

 

 

Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.

  They sleep a lot. Then they run and play a lot. Works for people, too.

They sleep a lot. Then they run and play a lot. Works for people, too.

4th of July where'd you come from? Last I looked it was, oh, April or something. I was putting up temporary fencing for two tiny aussie pups, and yesterday I took it all down, rolled up the wire and put it in the barn. I have a t-post puller thank god, as they were pounded in deep. I'm just a fencing fool. Today I pledged allegiance to a neglected lawn, and mowed the front area. It's a big sucker. I'll do the back maybe friday. The pups love the lawn and the front pasture.

The new bookmarks are here! The new bookmarks are here! I'm living and coping with adult onset optimism so it doesn't take much to get me all abuzz. Good thing, too. Too many people are out to rid the world of natural highs just by being pissed off all the time. Life is short I think they will find, probably at the too late mark and then they'll only have time to say "wha...?"

  What a voice. It could be a bass saxophone.

What a voice. It could be a bass saxophone.

By the way, talk about laid back and cool, David Basse, KC's jazz legend, has such a resonant everyday speaking voice I asked him to say a word or two about a couple of books on the new bookmark. Then I sent the mp3's to a podcast I frequent. Give a listen--it would be enjoyable to hear David read a to-do list. (These are short, :30's)

Got to thinking while on the mower today (there I go, thinking again) how I used to welcome summer as a kid. No more teacher's dirty looks. The heavy pneumatic doors of Horace Mann School with their glass and chickenwire prison windows closed behind me and the free world of summer hove into view. A kid's mind regards three months of summer freedom pretty much as a lifetime, an infinite vista. "The endless laboratory experiment of being alive," as Scott Bradfield put it in a recent book review.

  Joe, Joe, ease off. But what a summer!

Joe, Joe, ease off. But what a summer!

I didn't know what I'd do out there, I just knew it would be fun and no one would grade me on it. Multiple choice took on fresh meaning. One such summer I was introduced to McCarthyism. Commies were everywhere. I was enthralled. Maybe some of my grandmother's neighbors were communists. Or spies. The rabid senator made that case on black and white TV. I had just gotten a little printing press with rubber type and I put out the first fake newspaper. I wrote libelous things about neighbors, then hawked the paper on the street. Few takers at a nickel apiece. If only I'd known about the magic "An anonymous source said..." plausibility ploy.

This summer I'm doing what I can to not finish a novel and the internet is helping immensely; I'm even reading my Tommy Hilfiger emails and thinking of answering them. I'm resisting the thousand words a day groove, but I'll get back into it. Why not? All the other books are making me so rich, (an anonymous source alleges) why would I not finish another one to put into the grinder? I read somewhere there are 600,000 to a million books published each year in the U.S. alone. About half are self-published. Mine aren't, so far. Maybe they should be. On average these million books sell 250 copies a year. But like I said, that old optimism works for me.

Happy summer! g

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Reset Button: Cole Lindbergh

   Horses See Ghosts . Published in April.

Horses See Ghosts. Published in April.

Busy year. When you're flogging away doing the stuff that you're meant to do, writing, welding, it's a focused flurry. Not much room for anything else. Then when that book is published and that sculpture show has opened, you come down on the graph like an S&P correction, BLAM. Running on empty it seems. Valley, not peak.

That's the time to get started on more projects, after a suitable rest. So a podcast happened. Number 44. It's up right now on Cole Lindbergh's Kansas City Podcast, and what an honor. This young guy has accomplished a lot since his even younger days at Worlds of Fun, the premiere KC entertainment park. He's the reason for a lot of the fun at that institution of rides and games. Cole is walking, talking, dancing, singing exuberance and positive energy--and what a treat to meet him. (Click here to hear podcast)

  Cole, helping Worlds of Fun earn its last name...

Cole, helping Worlds of Fun earn its last name...

We took a short tour of Wise Acres then settled into my quiet loft office upstairs in Freddie's studio building in back of the main house. I had listened to him on "This American Life" and his own podcast, and wanted to meet him, see if some of his sparkle and verve might be catching. I forgot there were microphones and a recorder as we talked. You'd think that a serial extrovert like Cole might unnerve a brooding solitudinarian, but this was a fresh fun couple of hours, indeed.

His podcast subjects range from talented rappers to paranormal investigators and everything in between; their shared commonality being they are Kansas City born. I'm off his beaten path, fifty miles south in Resume Speed, Kansas, but out he came on a Friday afternoon, helping to kick off the Memorial Day long weekend. What a reset button this guy is. If you need a lift, check out his blog and especially some of the videos of him singing, dancing and performing signature Lindbergh antics.

Not that he doesn't take anything seriously, of course he does. His concerns match many of yours, but his main cables and gears are those of a great ride at a very amusing amusement park. His earliest desire was to be an imagineer at Disney Studios. I think he's something beyond that. An imagineer of his own effervescent life journey. And a potent reminder, if this thing is only a one-time deal, have some fun along the way.

Eddie Arcaro, Ghost Horses and Nothin' But Blue Skies.

  Eddie Arcaro, the outlaw leghorn.

Eddie Arcaro, the outlaw leghorn.

  Another Ben Carmean cover off the ball outa the park design.

Another Ben Carmean cover off the ball outa the park design.

The vacuum the dogs left us hasn't been filled by a longshot, it's a crater, but various creatures are tumbling into it and vying for attention. Squirrels are coming closer. Roosters and peacocks and peahens are here part time, though one rooster has taken up residence. I worry about him at night. If anyone reading this has a line on a small chicken coop or something the rooster can stay in at night, contact me. I might get some chickens to keep him company. He's a bit of an outlaw. Banished I think. He chases the squirrels and the cat that comes around to eat the dry dogfood that I mix with the chickenscratch.

The peacocks jump up where I feed the wild birds and fill up. Now the rooster does that. He stays in the loafing shed with the horses, hollers get up get up at first light. His crow sounds like "Eddie Arcaro." Then he comes up on the deck to crow, remind me to get his water and food.

I think Eddie Arcaro is in my life to get me up and writing earlier. Not that I've been terribly lax in that department; I've done another book of poetry titled "Horses See Ghosts" and it's waiting for a publisher at the moment. The cover is another wonderful Ben Carmean creation. He does more than one and it's always hard to choose, because he starts with great and ramps up from there. Horses do see ghosts, I've watched them at it. This cover captures that. Stands to reason they would see horse ghosts.

  As if things weren't weird enough...

As if things weren't weird enough...

I guess I have to finish the novel now, though that has its attractions. My characters are breathing now and going about doing things that surprise me. That book is "L.A. Hardscape" and it's about a lapsed boxer turned hallucinatory private eye in current day Los Angeles, replete with fires and quakes, human trafficking, and Nazi art theft caches. No shortage of stuff going on there.

In other areas, the shoebox ford is in the shop having (sort of) original suspension reinstalled and scrapping the damn airbags. I got tired of bottoming out on shadows and expansion joints. And having to set the car off the drive shaft every time I drove it. I got a set of leaf springs from Shoebox Central that were pre-lowered at three inches. That plus the two inch blocks will give it the old taildragger profile I so loved in high school. The new suspension will be better than the original 1949, not hard to beat. Suitable transportation to the malt shoppe for me and my gal Freddie.

  Blue Horse & Wagon, rolling to The Hilliard Gallery in May

Blue Horse & Wagon, rolling to The Hilliard Gallery in May

Speaking of F, she gave me these super shades a couple days ago, which she got me for a pre-valentine's gift at a ritzy boutique. Mad bomber glasses. Which is no reference to the morons in ski masks, but a simpler time.

Writing. Been doing some short stories and placing them in some paying venues, some non-paying. Poems. I was curious to see how many stories, essays, blogs and poems I'd actually had accepted from last year's tally and am up to twenty seven. Still paying my dues and approaching with hat in hand, but making headway. Got some coming out in February and in spring issues, so the winter hasn't been idle. Plus the May show is approaching at The Hilliard Gallery. Here's a little preview of that. Blue Horse & Wagon. And I have a pile of Kevin Lee hot rod and bike parts waiting in the wings. When I went out to shoot Blue, I saw Eddie Arcaro looking at himself in the shiny reflection in a car. He was mesmerized. Thinks he found a new friend. It made me happy. That and the thermometer says sixty in the shade. Not bad for Kansas on January 27. I wish you well. G

Carried Away by Caramel Floods. A Book Review

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It's helter skelter, falling down long winding stairs but not tripping, (although tripping in another sense might be pertinent) escalading (and often escalating) prose that so often reads like poetry, which it actually is. It's visions. A few pages in, I found a repeated page, one that I'd already read, and I thought it was a mistake, but then upon reading further, I felt about it like I felt when seeing a UCLA film student's go at a feature film where he'd edited in a repeat sequence that had appeared earlier. It was an eerie effect. Like a jump cut in the mind to one's own deja vu. I was forced to think, did that happen? Or did I imagine it? And what it did was pull me in deeper and on more than one level.

Oddly enough, a few pages later I encountered this bit of film oriented language: "These all between the moon and the road -- a rolling through of six millimeter films, costumed in manic pixie dream girl -- Thirty five millimeter camera, and radios, and microphones. Paint sticks and backpack full of magic paint -- onward to dawn!"

Onward, indeed.

Caramel Floods is like this page after page, not always making a hell of a lot of sense, but presenting visions that somehow do. It's not a sequential read with plot and arc and such things, but it is fascinating and the language is wildly inventive. The pace is loping, mesmerizing, unrelenting. If it's stream of consciousness, as it seems to be, it rivals Kerouac and Burroughs for pure, manic energy and stamina, and vision after startling vision. I don't know how long it takes him to write a page, but I suspect it's a matter of minutes, which makes the intensity and diversity of what is presented to the reader even more incredible.

And enjoyable. Read this 335 page word river as you would a book of poetry. Skip around. I believe that combinations of words like these, rule-breakers, dream paintings, help free up the mind, help it to stay nimble. Stretch it.

Fin Sorrel (his B. Travenesque nom de plume) is the publisher of Mannequin Haus, an avant-garde journal of experimentation that features fresh stories, poetry and art the likes of which you'll see nowhere else. I like to cruise through the archives and just look at the underground art and films. Then read some of the surreal fiction and poetry. It's a find, Mannequin Haus.

  An issue of Mannequin Haus...

An issue of Mannequin Haus...

Fin Sorrel, born in 1985, dropped out of high school, took it on the lam to Oregon where he encountered anarchist literature, lost journals and mean streets. Traveling by boxcar, he actually died in Santa Barbara where they brought him back. He travels still, operating Mannequin Haus and writing plays and fiction out of a backpack, maybe. Who knows? He loves exploring ghost towns and abandoned buildings. He, like Mannequin Haus, in my opinion, is a find. And so is Caramel Floods, published by Pski's Porch. (Pski's Porch was formed July, 2012  "to make books for people who like people who like books. We hope we have some small successes.")

And this from the book at random.

Frank Sinatra Goes Flat (1953)  There is a horn solo in that distant train whistle, my head is a mushroom full of the candyland games, and the wind is attacking, seeds, knocking over that which does not hold weight -- the wind is making a friend -- with the weightless cardboard or the blue hanger -- a matrix of sputters, lime machine advances, floating astronauts to a new birdhouse, to forever.

Discover Caramel Floods. It will liven up and cause havoc in any library. Therefore, it's essential. I love this weirdass book. And whatever it rode in on.

Paris, Texas, by way of Los Angeles

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You drop straight down from Kansas City, through Oklahoma, you come to Paris, Texas, just across the state line. It's a town of 25,000. There's an Eiffel Tower there, 65 feet tall, topped off with a cowboy hat. Another roadside attraction. I've never been there.

But Paris, Texas seeped into my life in Los Angeles like a microbiome. I was freelancing art and copy in L.A., getting by, until I got a gig for Nokia phones, a newsletter, which I wrote and designed. This brought me to the attention of a CD at Dancer, Fitzgerald, Sample, and I was hired on writing TV commercials for their New York account, Toyota. I had virtually no car experience, little or no TV in my book, so, of course I started writing car TV. The first one I wrote got produced and it was looked upon with favor by the Japanese president of Toyota. Life got better out there. DFS became DFS-Dorland, then Saatchi & Saatchi, and I weathered those changes, hardly noticing the new brass letters that kept appearing on the outside of the building.

And it pulled me away from Paris, Texas. But not for long. During my gestation period in L.A., my pain at getting stiffed every other job (a brochure for Car Stereo to the Stars comes to mind, may that guy roast in hell) and the bleak outlook for an unknown freelancer in L.A. let's say I was a dues-paying member of The Precariat, the largest class out there.

Before I struck it middle class (lower middle class) I was circulating in some odd constellations. I met a PhD nicknamed Dogmeat for his specialty (explosives) in Vietnam. We got along well. Through him I found a mercenary bar in downtown L.A. that led to some short stories. I met the daughter of a deposed banana republic general. I was taken in by a kindly cocaine addict. I wrote a screenplay that the agent for "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" said was "surprisingly professional." He died. I met and was befriended by the owner of a small Beverly Hills ad agency who allowed me to work in the space.

I bemoaned my standing in L.A. and he said, "Look, you drive a nice car, wear nice clothes, have a tan, and not a pot to piss in. You're like all the rest of us out here." Dennis was his name. He was from Texas. During our time together we dreamed up a number of treatments for screenplays. And he implored me to see Paris, Texas, the movie. I did. Again and again. I was numbed and transfixed by it. Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski, Ry Cooder score, Wim Wenders direction. Whew.

I started writing this blog a couple of days after the death of Harry Dean Stanton. He died on Friday, September 15th, 2017. He was kind of my patron saint out there, though I never met him. His every film appearance, short or long, blew my lame ass away. He was probably the best actor Hollywood ever knew. Plus he was kind, generous, funny, multitalented. At any rate I had steeped myself in his movie, Paris, Texas. Dennis wanted to do a screenplay that was "pure" like that. He was obsessed with it, and so was I. We finally settled on a thing I wrote named "The Shaman" and we shopped it. We got a small option offer, but declined. A friend of Dennis's got the script to the actor who starred in "Eddie and the Cruisers" and the word was, he was interested. Nothing came of it. Dennis sent the script, along with ten of our treatments, to a Cannes Film Festival with a trusted associate. Some were reviewed, Shaman included, with interest. We waited. Nothing.

But the odd part of this dismal story, this everyman in L.A. narrative, is the joy. Right, joy. The feeling of a breakthrough after leaving a polished conference table where some movie people said, "Hmm. Something here. Maybe." That addictive floating on air feeling. It'll sustain you for a while.

I've been an optimist since boyhood. There's a proverbial tale about a kid who gets a box of horse manure for Christmas. Cruel joke, of course. But the kid opens it up and says, "Wow! Horse manure. There must be a pony around somewhere!" That's me. That was L.A. My pony turned out to be Saatchi & Saatchi, bless them. And my patron saints were Harry Dean Stanton and Raymond Chandler.

Dennis went back to Texas, accepted an executive creative position with Dave and Buster's in Dallas. Sadly, he died of a massive heart attack not too long after that. He was a creative dynamo, savvy and funny and so talented. And he was a bright spot in that tourist trip of mine. We gave it our try, that arena. And we did okay for a couple of flyover country boys. And Harry Dean Stanton gave us a hand. RIP, HDS. I'm going now to Amazon for a copy of Paris, Texas.

 

 

 

"Would it help?"

I don't generally take object lessons or rubrics away from movies. Other than don't go up against Javier Bardem or Josh Brolin without armor and a buttload of firepower. But Bridge of Spies did supply me with a thoughtful piece of advice. One I try to follow.

  Will the real Rudolf Abel please stand up and worry?

Will the real Rudolf Abel please stand up and worry?

Tom Hanks plays an insurance salesman who used to be a lawyer. Mark Rylance won an Oscar for best supporting actor, and his role was that of cold war spy Rudolf Abel. It was a fairly quiet, mannered movie with superb acting and portrayal of a time in U.S. history that was both paranoid and simplistic.

The capture of Abel (who wasn't Abel at all, but who had so many personas the prosecution settled on one that conveniently made him a KGB Colonel) and his subsequent imprisonment, rather than execution was a large part of the story.

Hanks's character, Jim Donovan, took his appeal all the way to the Supreme Court, making himself and family extremely unpopular, but his determination to save Abel's life proved brilliant. It gave the U.S. a trading card for the return of our spy, Francis Gary Powers and an innocent student, at a later date.

The film is quite good, though it severely abridges the Powers story for the sake of continuity; real events are rarely so convenient as portrayed in movies.

What I found to be valuable advice is this: when Hank's character is talking to Abel in prison, he is taken aback by Abel's calm demeanor at the prospect of being executed. He says to Abel, "you don't seem alarmed. Aren't you worried?"

To which Rylance's stoic character replies, softly, "Would it help?" 

To me, this became a leitmotif. At Checkpoint Charlie when Abel is being exchanged for Powers and the student, Hanks once more poses a worrisome thought about what will happen to Abel when he returns home. Although he has told nothing to the U.S. interrogators, the Soviets might think he had. "Are you worried that they might execute you?" The answer, of course, in Abel's calm unruffled manner is, "Would it help?"

  A secret compartment nickel figures in Abel's movie capture, but in reality another spy spent it and it bounced around New York's economy for months until a newsboy discovered it.

A secret compartment nickel figures in Abel's movie capture, but in reality another spy spent it and it bounced around New York's economy for months until a newsboy discovered it.

I believe it happened three times in the movie (here's a wonderful example on youtube) and I took it to heart every time. It reminds me of another prosaic saw: Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but it doesn't get you anywhere. If Abel is being truly portrayed in Bridge of Spies, he had admirable qualities. He asked little of the world around him. He believed in his cause and was a "good soldier." He was courageous and conveyed that Kiplingesque attribute of keeping his head when all goes wrong. All for the wrong side, true, but admirable, nevertheless.

He has been called, "arguably, the most successful Soviet spy of all time," and probably would never have been discovered had it not been for another Soviet spy who drank too much. Here's to that guy, a round of Stolichnaya, please.

We all have worries, things that wake us up at night. Financial, medical, existential stuff. That slow-to-come promotion, a simple oil change that turned into a fire-breathing compressor replacement bill, an IRS notice, a crappy contractor--on and on and on.

Five minutes ago I got off the phone with a major company. They were supposed to be here before noon for an installation. I am also trying to take a workshop course with a bestselling novelist. Trash that for today.

I finally cancelled the installation. There was a misplaced digit in the phone number (mine) that prevented the company from contacting me. Their mistake, not mine, I checked. The human from the company kept telling me "They were in your area but couldn't contact you..." I kept saying, "I know that."  My blood pressure has spiked, I'm sure. And now I've missed a whole morning of the first day of workshop. I could pretty much spit nails right now.

So I look at what I've written about Abel and the unflappable visage of Rylance's Rudolf Abel floats before me.

I ask him, "Well, wouldn't you be steamed?"

And he answers, without a trace of irony, "Would it help?"