Sunday, March 31, 2013

Golly!  I swear that in the next few days I'll figure out how to take some of the blue out of this page.  This is too much!  I'm sure you agree.  Next time, voila.

Happy Passover and Easter to you all, my apologies for also being busy.  Soon more stories, and soon to move on to actual journal.  Just finished my Profile.  My favorite books indeed...well, if you're reading this, thank you so much.  May you prosper.  CM

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Here, my friends, is the promised story.  It seems to have first been written before 1996.  That's when I left Montpelier.  May it give you a chuckle.  C

c Charlie Messing 2013
       Except for my cat, I've lived alone here in Montpelier since my son graduated from High School and moved out.  I have had this third floor apartment twelve years, and in the hallway, every day I pass two second-floor apartments.  For three years, Morton Fletcher lived in one of those apartments.
       I greeted my new neighbor when I first saw him in the hallway.  He was mild-mannered and average size, with glasses.  He wasn't rugged; he was more of a nerd - a guy who looked like he might hang around the library.  But he dressed in the latest department-store athletic styles, and so was clad in brilliantly colored synthetics.  He smelled of Old Spice.  He had a wonderful, deep resonating voice, like that of a good FM radio announcer.  I invited him in for a cup of coffee a day or two later, and he told me about himself.
       He was a former patient of the Vermont State Mental Hospital, supported by monthly disability checks.  He had gone into the hospital directly after leaving his first and only steady job as a carnival sideshow barker - an expert at luring folks out of the crowd to play games of chance.  He enthused about his former life, the years spent traveling with shysters and hookers.  He later wrote a story about being seduced into the carnival life by a group of sideshow strippers at the Champlain Valley Fair, back when he was a teenager.
       He was now thirty.  He had married a local girl named Camille, who had divorced him after he left the carnival.  She was disappointed with the way his life was going.  He had tried to return to school when he got out of the hospital, but that proved impossible.  Morton and Camille still got together on a regular basis, though their relationship seemed uncertain and unstable.  I was introduced to her a few times, and had seen her out the window, parking her car and walking around to our door.  She was big, and very conservative; she looked like she went to church weekly; I knew Morton did not go.  He several times confessed to me his wish to reunite with her, but as far as I could tell from the way he described their relationship, he might just as well wish for anything.
       Morton was given anti-psychotic medication by the outpatient services of the mental hospital.  He took pills every day, and periodically the doctors would change his medicine.  He said he was a guinea pig for all the new psychoactive drugs, and in that sense, it was hard to tell how much of his weird behavior was, strictly speaking, his.
      We talked many times.  My brother and I were publishing a literary magazine for two of the years Morton was my neighbor, and he gave us a few prose contributions.  The pieces were very good.  He showed a real talent, of which he was not in control.  He told me he wanted to write, draw, and exercise regularly, but either his quirks or his medicines made him unable to do any of those things, most of the time.  The carnival sideshow barker of his subconscious was expert at seducing him into wasting his time on various idle pursuits, instead of staying on the straight and narrow and accomplishing something in the real world.
       Having a regular job would have gone a long way towards putting Morton in touch, but that was out of the question.  Though he did at times look for work, he was always preoccupied with impractical spirals of thought, and it seemed to me that he'd most likely last about a week anywhere he got in.  He wanted to fit into society, but so far had failed to realize that ambition. 
       Sometimes he would act as if we were the best of friends, and other times, as I passed him in the hallway, he'd look at me as if we were feuding, though nothing had taken place between us that could possibly explain it.  He apologized for these moods when they faded a few weeks later.  He just couldn't help it; he was like a passenger in his own head.  Over the course of three years, I saw Morton go through many cycles, from apparent sanity and regularity of good habits, complete with an articulate grasp of his condition, to uncontrollable paranoia and bathrobe-all-day sloth. 
            New haircuts and clothes were included with each monthly weekend-long visit to his parents, who lived thirty miles away.  During most of those months, his hair would change: it would have been shaped and cultivated to suggest a new persona, a deeper character which was finally surfacing; then, overnight, it would change back to assertively, aggressively normal.  He tried a number of styles, always giving in to his parents and forsaking the new style during his visit, returning home with a clean new haircut.  And new clothes. 
        Everything he wore was new, or almost new, and he was the only person I've ever known who would return from the laundromat with clean clothes, acting re-burdened rather than renewed.  It really got him down.  I guess once he washed them, they were old.
       He seemed to associate self-discipline with military discipline.  He had a fascination for the military, but because he could never focus long enough to obey orders, or have a strict daily routine, he would never be able to participate in it.  He often spoke of the nearby military college in which he had attempted to enroll.  (That must have been an interesting interview.)   Sometimes he dressed to resemble a military trainee.  For a while, he wore a black sweatshirt with the word "Cadre" printed boldly on his chest (meaning an elite officer training corps).  It was funny in conjunction with the bouncy, studied nonchalance of his downtown street persona.
       Yes, for me the oddest Morton experience was to run into him downtown, where he thought everyone was watching him.  I always said hello, and sometimes he acknowledged my greeting in a casual fashion, but basically he would try to glide by, waving like a hero in a ticker tape parade,  smiling as he went past.  Sometimes he ignored me, eyes straight ahead, completely engrossed in the momentum of his own plot line.  The strange thing was: he was totally absorbed in his own world, not getting any kind of input; and at the same time, not caring what other people were thinking was the furthest thing from his mind. 
       One day he mentioned that Greg Moran, a friend of mine, had once been his creative writing teacher in the adult degree program of a nearby college.  When I next saw Greg, I told him that Morton was my neighbor.  Something troubling seemed to pass before his eyes as he said, "Yes...Morton Fletcher..."  I said, tentatively, that Morton seemed to have a compulsion to disappoint, and that being his teacher might have been frustrating.  Greg's eyes widened, and he said, "Yes, something like that.  A need to disappoint."
         Morton could usually find a way to set things up and knock them down.  He started new disciplines and routines, and gave speeches about them, without ever following through.  I learned that I could basically disregard any statement about what he was going to do.  His familiarity with failure was long-standing.  He disappointed his parents at every turn; they wanted this, they wanted that, and he dutifully failed them.  He disappointed himself most of all, in every serious endeavor, as if it were the largest part of his identity.  I had wondered at first, while supplying advice to Morton, whether I would have a good influence.  After a few tries, I relinquished the idea of being the wise neighbor.
       He liked to talk about his mental state, and about how the authorities were screwing him around.  Often I could not get him to talk about anything else, though I urged him to move on, to speak of other things.  But he had a lot to say about it: he didn't want them to tell him what medicines to take.  Though he had no self-control, he wanted to control his intake of drugs.  One of his favorites was Dexedrine, to which he'd been introduced at the carnival.  The boss had wanted him to work all night, so he had slipped it into Morton's milkshakes.  Nice guy.
       At one point, Morton persuaded one of the doctors in his outpatient program to prescribe Dexedrine, and a few months later he wound up detoxing at the hospital for two weeks.  His escapades with this stimulant, which had been prescribed to focus his mind and facilitate his creative abilities, quickly spiraled into paranoia and the black abyss of depression.  Before they took him away, he sat in his Easy-Boy recliner with his coat on, in a sleeping bag, eyes wide open, for a week.  When he got back from the hospital, he told me that he'd been afraid to move because he was convinced that the sound of the wind tapping on the road sign across the street was the click of electronic relays in machinery recording his exact behavior by means of laser beams which penetrated the walls of his apartment, beaming all the information to a satellite high above, controlled by the CIA.
       By the light of such lofty but useless trains of thought, it was easy to see that Morton was  too smart for his own good.  His mind was forever whirling and revving like a car engine when you step on the gas without putting it in gear. 
       Sometimes Morton would ask to borrow books or magazines.  The last good magazine I lent him was returned the following day with a page missing.  After that, I lent things I could afford to lose.  He got interested in a yard sale book about the Green Berets, and I let him have it.  As he went out the door, he said, "I'll decode this and bring it back tomorrow."
       One year the river got choked with ice, and overflowed through the main streets of town.  It  was March, and it was raining hard.  Our house was on a hill, so we were only wet with rain, but we could see high, rushing water one short block away.  When I awoke that morning, I looked out the window to see a policeman on the corner, redirecting cars away from the street full of water behind him.  Many people walked back and forth in the rain.  I decided to go out as soon as I dressed and had coffee.  I had the day off.  Morton knocked on my door and I set down my coffee to answer.  He was agitated, and anxious.  He said, "Charlie, the police have surrounded the house, and I didn't do anything."
       I said, "Morton, it's not you - there's a flood.  The river is blocking the street.  The cop on the corner is just dealing with that.  He's directing traffic."  Somewhat soothed by my alternate analysis of the situation, he turned and went back downstairs.
       A few minutes later, I went out walking around the newly-created island with my mouth open, along with other numb, dumbfounded inhabitants.  When I came back in, I climbed the stairs to see Morton dejectedly standing in his kitchen.  "Can't walk downtown, can't buy any groceries...I'm having a really crazy day."  I stood there, wondering if I could help.  Behind him on the floor, I saw a video camera in a box.  I thought - why not record history?  "Is that a video camera?" I asked.  He nodded vaguely.  I said, "Why don't you go out and take pictures of the flood?  There's some great stuff out there today."  He looked back at me as if he had no idea what I was talking about.   I left him staring blankly down at the useless camera.
       He played the radio a lot, after I loaned him an old boom-box with a broken cassette deck.  He listened to it almost constantly for days at a time.  He loved the most popular music: the top ten.  He often blasted it with his door open, which caused me on occasion to ask him to either turn it down or close his door.  He always acted a little brought down, as if he felt that I, as a representative of the world, the world which so oppressed and intimidated him, should allow him to make this one grand gesture of exuberance.  After one of his all-nighters, I had to go ahead and ask him to keep it even lower between midnight and 6:00 A.M.  He reluctantly agreed to do that.         
        Sometimes he took care of two cats for his ex-wife, both very big with long hair.  One day, I opened the door to answer a knock and found Morton there, one of the cats at his feet.  "I brought my cat up to meet your cat," he said.  He must have thought that cats like to pal around with each other in the same manner as dogs.  I stopped his cat from darting past me into the house, and then my cat came up behind me and, in defense of her territory, howled and tried to pounce.  I held her back.  She took a vicious swipe at my shoes and hissed as the other cat slunk downstairs.  Morton, shocked and bewildered, apologized and followed his cat. 
       One day, Morton started to talk about moving.  He asked if he could have the classified ads when I was finished with the Friday papers.  He was planning the whole thing with his parents.  He was looking for a bigger place, possibly with a roommate.  His parents were taking care of all the details.  I couldn't tell if moving was his idea or theirs.        
       Then one day he knocked on my door and said, with hale and hearty pride, "I'm moving in a week."  I congratulated him, since it was a step in some direction, and a week later he was gone.  He was quite a character, possibly the craziest person I ever saw daily for years.  I was pretty sure he hadn't invented his tales of the midway.  He probably never thought about me once since he moved out.  I can't blame him, though - if I had to take all that medicine, I too would be adrift with no oars.  Bon voyage, Morton. 
       His apartment promptly became sparklingly and spotlessly empty, due to the efforts of his parents.  They came in early the last morning and cleaned up after him, as they had for so long.  Periodically, over the years, Morton's mother had come over to do a complete cleanup.  She was so thorough, throwing out anything that wasn't to her mind necessary, that he never acquired  artifacts as normal people do.  She would cleanse his lair to the point of obscurity, anonymity, to the point of sterilization.  It would be as if he'd never manifested a thought of which she would ever have disapproved.  It would be as if all were well.

Hi out there!  Very short post here.  Almost over cold.  Working on Show #112 today.  Did you know that in Vermont, when you hang up the phone, if you say "Have a good day" to someone as you hang up, they will not reply, but simply hang up?  Interesting.  In New York everyone says "You too" or something and then hangs up.  Here's another - if you are speaking to someone briefly, both on your way somewhere else, and they really have to go, they will NOT interrupt you and say "Sorry, got to go, talk to you later," they will just stand there and get more and more glazed-over in the eyes.  When you finally "release" them, they flee.  Why?  No idea.  It's a beautiful sunny day, though chilly.  May you all have a wonderful day.  I have one subscriber, and it turned out he just wanted to convert me to Jesus.  Jesus.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

And yet it keeps snowing, lightly, lightly.  With possible overnight haul of inches more.  Looks pretty on all the branches...
Today I found that I had misspelled my son's address (or perhaps Outlook helped, I wouldn't put it past it) for all the letters I've sent over the last few months.  So tonight he got about fifteen letters. One of them had a song attached, a long song by Acid Mothers Temple (from Japan).  I had sent the whole live show to him, but it was so trebly that I put it through Audacity and brought up the bass 10 dbs.  It helps.
So now I just sent him fifteen emails and he's feeling swamped.  It's a swamp out there, what can I tell you.

I'll find a good story to post for you tomorrow - I think I can find one no one's seen yet (not necessarily a good thing, but an exciting thing).  Until then, C

Monday, March 18, 2013

For right now, all I have to say is - do you want to see a great rock and roll band?  Elvis and the Attractions 1978 live in Germany where the audience can't move...or don't get it...or were threatened...or something...but wow what a show!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Peaceful Sunday, but chilly

Wow.  I spent half of last evening and half of today getting out 200 emails advertising this new blog, and my new youtube posts.  Amazing.  My mail program sent them all back to me, three times.  I finally had to rewrite most of the addresses.  And then it worked.  With one exception.  While everyone else was writing me that they had not received the letter (I asked a few friends who were on the list), one friend sent a letter which said "I have received this letter three times."  He was not amused.  Hope that doesn't happen again.  

By tomorrow I should have my Profile done.  I mean, who really cares, but I suppose I should do it and see if anyone does.  I hope you have been having a good weekend!  Except for THIS, I have also.  And now, on to practice and then on into evening.

Working on getting a blues band together!  Hope that gains traction this week.  Oh well, just found out the Mercury Retrograde ends today!  I can't help but wonder - if I'd started tomorrow, would I have had less trouble?  Those darn stars.

So here's another story.  Until the morrow!  C

© Charlie Messing 2009

Toward the end of 1968, when my wife and I and our baby son were living in a nice apartment on the Lower East Side of New York City, I was looking for a job.  We were still living on our wedding money.
       I played music, and wanted to be a musician, so I tried to meet musicians.  Two young black guys I'd met but never played with were a bass player named Jesse and a drummer named John.  One day, when we met on the street, they told me they had a gig that night in Harlem, and asked if I wanted to play.  It would pay us each thirty dollars.  It was all simple stuff.  They'd come by for me in a taxi; it'd be a piece of cake.  I wanted to take advantage of an opportunity to play, but was uneasy about going to Harlem.  I asked them, "Isn't it dangerous up there?"
       They looked at each other, turned back and said together, "Noooo."  I told them I'd play.  We made arrangements, and shook hands.
       They picked me up at six o'clock in a taxi, the drums already packed in the trunk.  I brought ten dollars with me, hoping to find some supper before the show, not having eaten lunch.  I brought my thirty-five dollar Japanese Zim-Gar electric guitar, which I rarely played because I didn't own an amplifier.  Jesse had said there was an amplifier at the club I could use.
       We rode uptown, and got out in front of the club, which was in the basement of One 125th Street.  We paid the cabbie and he drove away with all the drums still in the trunk.  We went inside, John remembered his drums, we had a period of hysteria, and then the cab showed up with the drums.  The cabbie had discovered them in the trunk and remembered where they belonged.
       We set up on stage for the gig, in which we were the backup band for a singing group called the Sophisticates.  The Sophisticates were four guys and a girl who had decided at the last minute to see if they could get a band for their debut at their local social club.  The club was low budget
and low ceilinged.  With a lot of greetings all around, small groups came in the door until a few dozen people filled the dozen round tables in the room.
       The show started.  The singers gracefully stepped in file into the spotlight, snapping their fingers together.  We all meant well, but the five singers weren't any too good, and they were great compared to the band.  I didn't know what I was doing, and I wasn't alone.  We were all faking it, and the drummer couldn't even keep a beat.  It went on for hours.
       During a break, hanging around with the guys I'd been introduced to by Jesse and John, I mentioned someone I knew, using the word "spade."  They got tense when they heard that, and one of them gave me a hard look and said, "Ain't 'colored' good enough?"  I apologized, and shrank.  I had never known it was an offensive word.  Whoops.
       When the gig was finally over at 3:30, we wearily packed up our instruments.  We got paid and then we got ready to leave.  John and Jesse were busy saying goodnight to all their friends, and so I said, "See ya, guys, I'm gonna go."  They turned and waved and I headed up the stairs to the street alone, with my guitar.  I hadn't seen a white face all night, except in the men's-room mirror.
       I stood at 125th Street and Fifth Avenue, in the middle of the first snowstorm of the year.  Snowing like crazy, it was.  I hadn't found supper; I was tired and hungry.  I tried to wave down a taxi, but it didn't stop.  I didn't know that taxis never stopped in Harlem late at night.  Too risky. 
       Another taxi passed.  As I stood out there by the curb wondering what to do, a wide blurry shape came toward me through the blinding snow.  It was two guys in long coats.  One of them put a gun in my stomach and said, "Let's take a walk."
       "Where?" said I.
       "Right around the corner into the park," he said.
       "Yeah," said his partner.
       We walked one short block, gun in ribs, to the edge of Mount Morris Park.  We crossed the street and went in, to the first intersection of the wide concrete paths, and there we stopped.  The one without the gun went through my pockets, finding the forty dollars in my wallet, and put the empty wallet back in my pocket.  He put the change he found in my other pocket back, saying, "We'll leave you enough to get home."  He stepped back and stood with his partner.
       The man with the gun said, "My friend here sure would like it if you'd give him that guitar."  They looked at me through the heavily-falling snow.
       "This?" I said, looking down at the guitar and back to them.  "It's not a good one, it's not worth anything..."  They waited.  Then quickly, "Sure, you want it?  You can have
it, here."  I handed it over.
       The gunman nodded and said, "Now, you walk right down the middle of that path there, real slow."  He jerked his head to point in its direction.  "Don't turn around till you get to the end, or I'll blow your head off."  I did as he said, worrying the whole time that he might blow my head off anyway.  At the far end, I slowly turned around and saw they were gone.  I walked off into the snow, my heart sizzling with catastrophe.
       Around the corner, I found the subway station and waited for an hour on the underground downtown platform.  Everybody else was black.  Conversations and arguments flew back and forth across the tracks as I leaned against an I-beam, trying to be inconspicuous.  At last the train came.
       The train wasn't going anywhere near my neighborhood, so I left it at Columbus Circle and got a taxi the rest of the way.  As we sped down Broadway, I mentioned Harlem to the driver.  He showed me his gun.  I waited until we were close to my street before telling him he'd have to wait while I ran upstairs for money.  He arched his eyebrows at me in his rear-view mirror.
       We got there, he waited skeptically, I ran upstairs and back down to pay him, and wearily trudged upstairs again.  I collapsed in relief.  I asked for food and drink, and over it told my wife the sad story of my adventures.  She comforted me.
       After that, I suspected that Harlem deserved its bad reputation.  I didn't want to return there, ever, but one day about ten years later I took the wrong subway.  When I got up to the street and saw where I was, at the corner of 116th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, I expected the worst.  I had ten blocks to walk, wearing a motorcycle jacket and carrying a guitar.  I looked down and said, "Feets, do your stuff."

Saturday, March 16, 2013

I went out tonight with my friend Doug.  He had some errands, and we got to the show on time.  It was the world premier of the story of Mark Utter, overcoming his autism to reach out and communicate.  He wrote the screenplay.  The movie is called "I Am In Here".  It's a VSA production by Emily Anderson.  Years of work.
The place was packed, the show was great, he's great, and afterward I felt like heading home (at 8:30, after being ill all week, and knowing that any good bands wouldn't go on till 10:00).  I am growing weary, but thought I'd enter this.  So how about a short story, to give the post some pith.

MY FIRST JOB IN VERMONT               c Charlie Messing 2013
                I was twenty-eight, my wife thirty, the kids four and six.  After living in New York City and Louisville, we had spent three years on Long Island, near my parents, where I had been stripping and refinishing furniture for a living.  I had come to realize that my job was bad for my health.  We wanted to move to the country, though I had no idea what I'd do there.  We chose Vermont because my brother and sister-in-law were there; we had liked it more and more each time we visited them, so we made the leap.  We had high hopes.
       We moved to Vermont in the Summer of 1974 and rented a little house which had been inhabited, for a year, by my brother and his family.  Overlooking the intersection of Routes 302 and 25 in Orange, the house had been assembled from several guest cabins that had once been clustered together on the hill.  Its wooden siding was pink with white trim.
       Thirty feet away, across the driveway, was a four by four shed, also pink with white trim, which housed the well.  Ten feet down the well was mounted a board, constantly damp, which was the platform one stood on while attending to the electric pump.  The pump was mounted on another board which was cemented into the curved brick  wall.  Often I was called upon to climb down the iron rungs and stand on that slippery and doubtful platform.  By the light of a 40 watt bulb I strove to solve the mysteries of the little pump which provided or failed to provide all our water.  The man who had assembled the cabins and installed the water system had had problems with the plumbing, and so in turn did we.  I had quite an adventure one cold day, crawling under the house to wrap heating tape around the pipes. 
       We had no car and no money,  so we applied for Welfare.  Fulfilling their requirements involved looking for work in my area, so at their suggestion I walked the roads in all three directions for ten miles or so.  I asked at every home, shop or store whether they could use any help.  No one said they could, but after a few days, the whole neighborhood sure knew I could.

       One morning we were awakened by a knock at the door.  My neighbor down the hill had come up to tell me about a day or two's work.  A woman in town had passed away, and the seventy two year old man in charge of town burials was in need of a helper.  He would split his fee of sixty five dollars with me.  My neighbor offered to give me a lift to the man's house.  I got dressed as my wife constructed a large whole-wheat cheddar cheese and alfalfa sprout sandwich.  She put it in a bag with a thermos of coffee, wished me luck, and I was off. 
       My neighbor drove down Route 302 and pulled into a driveway I'd passed many times.  The yard was neat and plain, the firewood well stacked.  The old house was in good repair; you could tell the folks had resided there a long time.  The only modern thing in the yard was a yellow Toyota station wagon.
       I got out of the car, thanked my neighbor, and knocked on the kitchen door as he drove away.   The man of the house, one of those old time Vermonters I respected a lot but couldn't read at all, let me in.  He had silver hair and glasses, and wore overalls. I waited in the crowded little kitchen while his wife finished packing his lunch.  I didn't know what to say.  They said as little as I.  They spoke a few parting words to each other, and I followed him out. We loaded the Toyota with a bag, two shovels and a pick.  We got in and he made a right turn out of the driveway.
       We drove up a side road closely lined with dense trees.  It wound around to the top of a hill and there emerged from the forest.  The town cemetery, surrounded by a wooden rail fence, spread over the slope.  I got out at his bidding to open the gate, and he drove to a bare spot near the center of the yard.  The view stretched over hills and hollows toward Plainfield in the distance.  Clouds drifted across the sky as I drifted about the graveyard reading the old stones, and the old man took out a chart and located the spot where we would dig.
       He staked out its borders with string as I brought the tools from the car, and then we started to dig a hole six feet deep.  The ground was full of clay and rocks.  After we got down a foot or so, we needed the pickaxe.  The shovels could remove the debris, but they wouldn't make a dent.  I'd never used a pick before.  I'd never dug in ground like that before.
       At lunchtime we sat in the car with our sandwiches and our thermoses.  As I ate my hand-sliced whole wheat sandwich, almost too big to bite, he ate three Wonder bread sandwiches.  One had a single slice of bologna, one had a thin layer of peanut butter, and one had a thin layer of jelly.  I had recently been learning a lot about nutrition.  I watched his old mouth move as he calmly ate the triangle shaped halves, one after another.
       We dug down about four feet that day, and I was to help finish the job the next day, but he decided that night that he could just as well finish it alone, so he sent a message to that effect, and we never met again.  It would have taken him only two or three days in any case, and it would surely have taken me a week.  He sent me my half of the fee as soon as he got paid, a few days later.

       But of course when I was with him I didn't know that I wouldn't be working the following day.  As he drove me home late that afternoon, a car came speeding towards us over the crest of a hill, silhouetted in the glare of the setting sun.  It was coming right down the center of the road, wheels astride the solid white line.  A car-length before it smashed into us, the old man flicked the wheel to the right and back again.  The other car zoomed on past. 
       He said, "That was close."  A minute or two later, he dropped me off at the bottom of my driveway, turned his car around, and I watched him go.