It is another insanely unseasonable day here in the People’s Republic of Hillcrest. We finally got a good soaking rain all day yesterday. But the sun is back out today. Rick and I played golf Friday afternoon in our shirtsleeves. Birds are singing. A guy was out running without a shirt while I was out there earlier. Girls are riding bikes in shorts.
This is late January and the trees are trying to bud. I spent most of last week without a voice after suffering my spring allergy attack 2 months early. I guess this means that I can look forward to maybe one or two more of these episodes before the summer. One of my old musician friends is trying to get me to start singing again. We shall have to see how the old throat does the next couple of months. This is the craziest winter I can recall. You can’t sing if you can’t talk. We shall see.
By the way, I noticed that I could talk again for the first time in a week after shaking hands with Bro. Richard at the Catholic High basketball game Friday night. This may be the first case in recorded history where a Protestant has been healed by the touch of a Franciscan Brother. I can’t rule it out. Or as my mother was fond of saying when I was growing up, “You don’t know that it’s not true.” Which of course, by her way of thinking made it true. It is also true that we have some grist for the Sunday mill. So let’s get to it.
A Death Notice- You know you are about to read something out of the ordinary when the first sentence of the e-mail says, “OK, you know here’s the strangest way to start your weekend that we have had for awhile.” My brother Dave had received a letter from our father’s Cousin Jack out in California. It was a funeral notice for his oldest son that stated that he died on January 2 and was buried on January 6 in Lake Havasu City, Nevada. On the back of the envelope was written “Spread the word. Jack.”
That was it. No note, no cause of death. Nothing. As Dave said, “Despite the years and the miles Jack never fails to impress with his weirdness.” That’s typical Jack. A card carrying member of the John Birch Society, he worked for a defense contractor out in the Los Angeles area. He had rococo if not paranoid beliefs about the banking system and the stock market which he would regale you with for hours if you gave him the slightest provocation. He had charts and graphs that he painstakingly scribbled on in which he tracked “market trends.” This was his system. This was going to be his ticket out of wage slavery.
Like many troubled and quarrelsome men, the women in his life were saints. His mother Lee was a tiny woman -4 ft. 10 inches-who lived in a house over on Booker Street between the Oyster Bar and Lamar Porter Field not too far from here. He had been adopted by Lee and her husband Noel who was a lawyer for Arkansas Power and Light. She gave me Uncle Noel’s law books when I came back from law school. They are in my bookcase still. Lee liked to play the piano and go bowling. Jack’s wife Fran was-is? Who knows? Maybe she’s dead too.-a kind woman who always had a smile on her face. How Aunt Lee and Fran tolerated Jack’s smooth running craziness truly passes understanding.
The last time I saw or spoke to Jack was around 1985 or so. He and Fran had come to Little Rock to close down the house after Aunt Lee had died. I went over to visit them one night out at the old place. Fran was sitting by herself in the dining room. Jack was sitting in the living room. They were eating hot dogs for dinner. Jack had a Neil Diamond album on the old record player. He offered me a beer. I noticed about 4 empties on the floor next to Uncle Noel’s chair.
“You like Neil Diamond?” he asked, handing me a beer.
“Yes. I like Neil Diamond very much.” I lied back.
About that time the first ponderous chords of “Coming to America” came wafting through.
“I love this song.” Jack said. “You know, anybody that can write a song like this is a great American.”
I allowed as how I had always thought of Neil Diamond in those terms as well.
“ Damn right, he is.” Jack said. “You’re damn right.”
And then he started singing.
After “Coming to America” had finished, he turned the volume down so we could talk.
“So,” I said. “You guys want to go out? Want to do something?”
“Thanks, but no.” Jack said. “This is what we do every night.”
“I’m not following you.”
“We sit in separate rooms and I play music.”
“What does she do?”
“She listens in the other room.”
““And you do this every night?” I looked at Fran behind the glass doors of the dining room. She shrugged and smiled.
He took a sip of his beer. He squinted at me.
“What? Is there something weird about that?” he asked with a hint of malevolence in his voice.
“Nooooooooo.” I said. “Nothing at all.”
I left shortly after that exchange. I have never spoken to him since.
Dave has more of Mother in him than I do. He’s actually going to call out there to see what happened to Michael. He’s a better man than I am. I try to limit my unforced contacts with crazy people.
He had better catch him before 7 p.m. PST. Otherwise, he may have “Cracklin’ Rosie” in the background while he conveys his sympathy.
Wally- I haven’t written much lately about Wally Hall, the mostly illiterate editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. I try to be fair around here and I think that Wally hasn’t been too bad. I expressed these thoughts to my youngest brother the other night.
“You need to shoot yourself.” he said.
Well, the Wally Hall we know and love was back today. Here are some of the gems found in today’s column:
Upon the perfervid loyalty of a waitress that attended him once in a restaurant in Lexington: “She was a Kentucky graduate who wore the heritage like a blue sweatshirt on Derby Day.”
Upon Wildcat season ticket holders: “Kentucky basketball is not just for the mink and diamond crowd. It is for the royalty of this jeweled oasis that is primarily intense poverty.”
Ok. I don’t know what the hell that is supposed to mean either.
And finally, upon the improving Razorbacks: “[A victory in Lexington] means the Hogs are ascending the basketball ladder from the depths of four years of humbleness.”
“For the Razorbacks, it is about beating the blue bloods of basketball. It is about turning a corner those just four years ago was no longer in sight.”
Maybe we could send Brother Richard over to the newspaper’s office. Maybe he could work another miracle and heal Wally’s prose.
But that would violate the Biblical injunction against putting the Lord to a test.
So maybe I had just better lock up the guns until basketball season is over.