Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Cross Road Blues

Stumbling, falling, almost hitting the ground, guitar case held tight. If the world was watching, the world would call him him drunk.

But the world wasn't watching and Bob wasn't drunk. Too late at night – so late it was almost day and the horizon ready to crack the dawn like an egg against the edge of a frying pan. Cocklebur and horsenettle choked the edge of the dusty, dirt road heading out towards the old Dockery House. Estella was back screaming and clawing and throwing things at the wall still, no doubt – angry woman, but now the one woman who wouldn't take him back. Bob left in a hurry, bumping into his friend Willie Brown at the corner and telling him, "If I ever end up dead, you're the one who needs to know." He could hear Willie laughing at him even two blocks past.

Deep into the night and down the country road, Bob thought: How many different ways can I get hurt? Then he brushed the devil-thought off his shoulder and spit through his fingers. But the possibility still swirled.

How long before the ghosts came up on over the ridge in a pickup truck, a stretch of rope behind the seat and pale eyes looking through the windshield for a strong branch to bear the strange fruit? Every sound was a possible engine, rubber tires on a gravel road, carrying either a safe ride to a warm house, or ghosts. The crackle of dried weeds: morning glory, trumpetcreeper. The brush of wind clattering branches. The heart beating harder, faster; the feel of the pulse behind his eyeballs.

It was at the crossroads that Bob fell down on his knees. Rumor at the last juke house he'd played was some poor fool got run down like a rabbit by a couple of big rednecks and strung up in a poplar tree.

Long fingers squeezing each other, head bowed. "Save poor Bob," he muttered. "If you please, Lord, save poor Bob." The rush of blood and panic made the whispered prayer feel like a cry through the fissures of his neck bones, lungs, liver, spleen.

The trust to stand and wait, to try and flag a ride out of this dark spot, was a gutsy thing for poor Bob. And when the first flume of gravelroad dust kicked up at the edge of the land, he held his ground, put his thumb out, and waited.

The first car appeared as dawn broke. It was an old Pierce-Arrow with two dumb-looking white men in it; they blazed by without even glancing at him. So did the family in the Terraplane that passed some twenty minutes later. And the Essex a half-hour after that. It was like nobody saw him. Didn't take long before Bob hefted his Gibson and got a wiggle on.

Next car that smoked by him, he shouted after: "Tell Willie Brown I'm down to the crossroads!" Then he barked a laugh that sounded almost like a sob, startling a bobolink from the ditch into the morning air. Bob crossed into the neighboring field.

As he settled into the shade of a magnolia, drawing the weary L-1 Gibson into his lap, Bob was already humming. No woman up ahead, Estella left behind beating her walls, no ride, almost like he was invisible, and no doubt his friend Willie Brown all poised on his barstool and ready to laugh.

He taught it to me, by the way, the song he wrote on the edge of that gravel road, Bob did – the last time he passed this way through Mount Revere.

Monday, September 13, 2010

King Kong versus Denny

Denny Kristlopher's break from his family was all King Kong's fault. Of course, the family wasn't aware that he'd made this break, because Denny was no fool.

If there's anything you want to know about King Kong here in Mount Revere, the one to ask is Dennis Kristlopher of the Kristlopher Clan – just don't let his mother know he's the resident expert of the big ape or she'll no doubt tear his room apart to find any evidence, and even if she doesn't, he'll still probably be grounded to his bedroom for a month.

Sixteen years old now, Denny's been an expert on all things King Kong since he was seven: the monsters Kong fought and the order he fought them, beginning with Cooper's original through the ape's stint on Godzilla's bandwagon; the relationship Jessica Lange developed with the men who operated the giant ape-hands for the DeLaurentiis remake; the inside jokes in Jackson's grandiose take; the methods of Willis O'Brien's stop-motion animation; Toho Studios miniaturization techniques; and the robotics used in the 1976 remake.

But, if you can keep it on the down-low – he's your boy.

The secret break with his family didn't happen because he was spending more time studying King Kong than he was on his Bible studies. He made sure to stay on top of those.

When he was younger, Denny Kristlopher was fascinated by the potential reality of such a creature. The awe that would transpire when faced with such a being would be life-changing. Although, he played as King Kong with his buddy, Gary (always over in Gary's yard), his secret desire was to become friends with Kong, to be the only one in the world capable of effectively communicating with, and on behalf, of this ancient beast. Denny would fall asleep in his room, looking at the eyes in the knotty pine ceiling overhead and imagine being carried gently through a steamy jungle held comfortably in the warm paw of the great ape.

The secret break with his family was due to straightforward physical science. When Denny was ten he read in a new nonfiction monster book in the school library, that a gorilla the size of King Kong would be physically impossible. Kong would, as some killjoy scientist explained, collapse under his own weight.

Rather than come to terms with this reality immediately, Denny began constructing in his mind some scientifically-sounding answer to this conundrum. Obviously, King Kong's skeleton was much more powerful than a normal gorilla's; his heart was ten times stronger, his blood moved faster – the scientists were wrong! Denny carried this conviction through his sophomore year of high school.

But like the god of Skull Island meeting his doom through the advanced, scientifically-sound engineering of aviation and weaponry, Denny's hope was eventually taken down. Once Mr. Uccisione, his physics teacher, explained Galileo's square-cube law to where he actually understood it, Denny Kristlopher could no longer hold up the absurd notion that King Kong could ever, truly, exist.

The stash of old Famous Monsters magazines and books of movie monsters that he had hidden in his band locker were in his hands and being held over the Dumpster in the back parking lot when Denny realized that he didn't have to give up his love for the big gorilla just because Kong only existed in the movies! Denny loved the idea of Kong. The potency of the image remained thrilling: the dedication and powerful love this ancient, noble god had for beauty, so great that he could break his bonds and touch the highest point of civilization before being overwhelmed by an unimaginative, small-minded race – wasn't this a worthy idea?

The break happened due to the fact that it didn't take much for Denny to start examining other stories, comparing the power of their ideas against the power of their physical reality. Sunday School, he realized, was an exercise in literary analysis, after all. The stories from the Bible his mother made his father read every night to Denny and his brothers and sisters – did they really need to happen historically for them to be powerful?

But Denny's mother was a small, curly-haired force of unimaginative strength, and Denny knew there was no way for him to ever voice his thoughts without being brought down.

So the break was quiet. Denny's new beliefs were a secret he would never reveal. Well, not until the woman who would become his wife appeared before him one fated evening.

But that's another tale for another time.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

On Questions and Conflict and Virtue

Nancy Sherman, in her book The Fabric of Character: Aristotle's Theory of Virtue explains, "The agent [of virtue] comes to learn different ways of reading a situation and different questions to pose in order to see the picture with increased insight and clarity. How to see becomes as much a matter of inquiry as what to do."

Questioning, actively seeking understanding, is the only way to see truly.

Seeing or perceiving rightly is as much a virtuous act as the act of doing.

She also explains that Aristotle tells us: "Through ... friendships [of virtue] we gain transparency before ourselves, see ourselves ... as if in a mirror. We see our foibles and expose what we keep hidden from others. ... We need 'to live together with friends and share in argument and thought' in order to be fully conscious of the sorts of lives we are leading."

In essence, we understand better who we are in relationship with others--in argument and in the sharing of thought.

But only with those committed to the virtues. A liar, for example, who cannot admit to his or her own falsehoods, who claims--perhaps almost believes--the lies to be true, has the capacity to do great damage.

Seek out the virtuous friendship and shake off those who dangerously exhibit profligacy, uncontrol, unrighteousness, small-mindedness, and cowardice.