Wednesday, September 29, 2010

18. The Blues and Unified Theories

A crowd had gathered near the entrance to the Clinton Presidential Library and I could hear music so I walked that way. There, in the center of a great deal of excitement was a blues singer. Thin, leathery, and missing a couple of teeth, his ebony-black skin was glistening from the midday heat. He was picking a time-encrusted Fender Telecaster plugged into a small, battery-powered amplifier. He was belting a fair version of Kind-Hearted Woman Blues. The crowd loved it.

He finished a verse, added a neat run on the A minor scale and finished. “Thankee,” he said to the crowd’s approving applause. That’s when I knew.

Yeah, it was C.W. alright. But how did he learn to sing? I remembered the last time he tried. It was pitiful. I stood and watched as a few coins sailed into his guitar case.

“Thankee, thankee,” he said. “Now I got to be goin’. The city don’t allow no guitar playing colored men in their parks. I be back later.” He gathered the coins, stored his guitar, and looked up at me. He grabbed his amp and guitar and walked over.


“Don’t call me that. And what are you doing?”

“Let’s walk,” he said.

So there we went. A strange couple if there ever was one. A fat old white man and an ageless blues singer ambling along as if the world had been created in their honor.

He broke the silence first. “Tell me what you think is the most moving literature your planet has produced so far—I mean that which has most affected the way your people write in prose and poetry.”

I thought. “Maybe Shakespeare?”

Good choice. Some would argue the Bible but for some reason your myth-spirits gave Brother Bill a big edge in the writing business.” He looked over at me. “You white folks got funny ways.”

I ignored him and kept walking.

“Now what poetic meter did Billy use?”

“I am told that it was the iambic pentameter.”

“Precisely, Now tell me what modern form of music do you find most expressive, emotionally that is, and across the broadest spectrum of folks.”

It was a trick question and I knew it. “Maybe the Blues.”

“Maybe. Now what rhythm does it employ?”

“Iambic pentameter.”

He started singing: “This old man got a funny point to make ...”


“This old man got a funny…”

“Cut that out, C.W.,” I snapped just as we met two tourists coming from the other direction. They scowled at me.

“Your species is real interested in finding a so-called “unified theory of the universe.”

“Yes, and?”

“Maybe it’s the iambic pentameter,” he stopped to study a sculpture of a boy and his grandfather heading off on a fishing trip. “Or maybe fishing.”

The Blues Rule!

“What on earth are you talking about and where did you learn to sing?”

“I’m talking about the tendency of your species to look for answers in all the wrong places,” he said as we walked on. “And I got my music abilities at the Crossroads.”

Editor's Note: C.W. wants me to remind everyone that the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival will take place in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas on October 7, 8, and 9, 2010. See He is threatening to appear on some street corner. I don't know.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

17. Optimism

Some strange characters wonder around downtown Little Rock and I thought I had found one. I left the library with a couple of books in my hand when I heard someone behind me carrying on a heated conversation. With himself.

I couldn’t hear all the dialogue but I could tell he was asking questions and answering them all in one breath.

I did catch, “Who in the dark-red shadow of hell do they think they are? Ruffians, that’s who. Oughta kill ‘em. No, killing’s too good. Send them to a work camp.”

He went on like this until he reached me and bumped into my shoulder so hard I dropped the books. He immediately spun around and snarled, “Out of my damned way.”

Before I could answer, he said. “Oh, it’s you, I want to talk to you.”

“C. W.?”

“What of it?” he said. “Come with me.” And he headed to a sitting area in the library complex. I picked up the books and followed. We sat, and I looked at him. He wore a rumpled summer suit and a green visor, looking every bit the prototype 1940s movie version of a newspaper editor.

“Know where I been?” he said.

“No idea.”

“Washington By God, D. C.”

“Man, that’s great,” I said. “Have fun?”

“Shut up,” he answered. “What do you think of Franklin Delano Roosevelt?”

I thought for a moment. “My father thought he was one of the greatest Americans who ever lived.”

“And you?”

“I can’t disagree,” and I started to peel off the benefits that Americans enjoy because of his work.

“Be quiet, and listen,” he said. “Have you ever seen his memorial in Washington?”

“Oh, yes,” I said. “Quite moving since they decided to present him seated in his wheelchair.”

“Know what the bastard little kids have done to it?”

I shuddered. “No, what?”

“They disfigured it.”

“No! How?”

“The figure of this great man has a finger extended.”

“Yes, and?”

“The little punks have polished the end of his finger until it is bright.”

I thought for a moment and smiled. “You don’t know, do you?”

“Know what?”

“It’s an old American tradition. Old men used to trick young boys into pulling on one of their fingers.”

“Whose finger?”

“The old man’s”


“As soon as they did, the old man would … you know, ‘break wind,’ exhibit flatulence.”

He looked puzzled. Then the clouds lifted. “Do you mean …?” he stopped. “You’re telling me those kids are trying to make the statue fart?”

Had I not seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it. The old editor—that is to say C.W.—broke into a smile. Then into a laugh. Then into a fit of laughter until he fell back against the bench and roared into the sky as if he wanted the very heavens to share his joy. He laughed so hard that he farted, to the delight of those watching.

“Godammit, that’s funny,” he said.

I agreed.

“You know, Jimmie,” he giggled when he finally composed himself. “There may be hope for your little species yet.”

I think FDR would have been pleased at the thought of making a newspaper editor laugh.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

16. Anger

C.W. was aggravating the hell out of me. He had intruded upon my lunch in the park in the form of a twelve-year old boy with slingshot, one of those plastic models designed for serious business. He had just aimed a rock at a jogger. It bounced in front of the poor fellow and when he turned around, C.W. had laid the slingshot in my lap and was studying his cell phone.

“Hey, buddy. Watch what you’re doing with that thing.” The runner glared and then gave me the finger. As he jogged off, C.W. snickered.

“What the hell are you up to?” I asked him.

“Oh nothing.” He gave me this sincere look and reached for the slingshot. I held on to it

“Gimme it,” he yelled and everyone in earshot turned toward us. “Gimme back my slingshot, Mr.” He screamed it louder this time. “My Momma gave it to me. You give it back.” I’ll be damned if he didn’t start to cry.

I handed it to him just to shut him up.

“What the hell are you up to?” I asked him.

“What do you mean?”

“You are acting like a complete asshole.”

“Are you getting angry?”

“You’re damned right I am.”

“That’s great,” he said. “How does it feel?”

“It’s spoiling my lunch.”

“Oh boy,” he said. With one fluid motion he whipped a rock into a passing car. It screeched to a halt and C.W. tried to hand me the slingshot again. I stepped away as the driver of the car stepped out and yelled a detailed description of what he would do if I didn’t make my son behave. I didn’t have heart to tell him.

“What has gotten into you?” I said.

“Are you getting angrier?”

“You’re damned right I am. Why don’t you leave me alone?”

“Can I take your blood pressure?” He began to swing a backpack from his shoulders.

“You can leave me the hell alone.” I yelled.

“That’s it,” he said. “Now you are really pissed.”

I began to see a pattern. “Why are you concerned about my getting angry?”

“It’s natural,” he said. “When you have an object to be angry at and a defined reason.” He stopped for a moment and waited for me to catch my breath. “But your species seems to have unique approach to it. I keep reading about a group of people who claim to be angry but no one can explain why.” He paused. “They drink tea or something. Is that what causes it?”

“I don’t think so. Don’t people on your planet get angry?”

“On occasion. But not for the pure enjoyment of it. Never to draw attention to ourselves. We would call that ‘Wabobeling.’”

“What does that mean?”

Oh ... lets' make sure this guy is well-armed: C.W.

He blushed. “It has to do with sex, like without a partner.”

It was my turn to blush.

“You see,” he said. “We would call selfish and undirected ‘anger: emotional masturbation.’”

Well, he had me there.

Monday, September 13, 2010

15. Talking

It was hot and I wasn’t in the best of moods. I sat in a shady spot at the park waiting for my lunch “to settle.” A teenage girl with in-line skates whizzed by, missing my feet by few inches. She was wearing naught but the scantiest of shorts, what appeared to be an old man’s armless undershirt and, of course, her skates. She was tall and slim and I couldn’t help but stare.

“Bitch,” I muttered and drifted off into reverie, not noticing that she had stopped a block away, turned, and was speeding toward me again. This time I had to move my feet to avoid being hit.

“Hey,” I yelled just as she executed a u-turn and stopped a few feet away.

“Hey yourself,” she yelled back. She looked at her skates and then at me. “These things are—like—great.”

Yep, it was C.W.

He smooth-skated to my bench and flopped down beside me.

“I’m—like—having loads of fun.”

“I can tell. What’s up?”

“I’ve been skating with my friends.” He pronounced it “frands.”

“You don’t have any friends except me.”

“You’re—like—such a drag. Now, tell me something. I’m—like—curious. What is the deal with teenagers not communicating? I’m—like—wanting my ‘frands’ to go have a soda and they’re—like—wanting to talk into hand phones or computers and I’m like—‘no, let’s sit and talk, and they’re—like—‘eeew.’”

“Well, best I can tell, that’s how they communicate.”


“By talking into phones or computers. That’s their means of communicating.”



“But I mean truly communicating. Like sharing thoughts or ideas. You—like—can’t do that over a phone. It’s gross. It’s …,” he thought “It’s Lashewenga.”

That, I learned later, was a Faloovian term literally translated as the act of eating with your toes, which I understand they can do if they wish. It refers to an act that may accomplish a purpose but in an unseemly way.

“That’s not really how your species transfers ideas, is it? How do they judge reactions or interpret physical reactions to an expressed thought or … whatever?”

“I don’t guess they do.”

So, I’m—like—supposed to know what my ‘frands’ think by listening to or watching a device? That’s not the way the Greeks did it, I am told.”

“That’s the way they do it now.”

“By mechanical means?”


Do they—like—perform any other intimate acts by means of mechanical devices?” He/she blushed a deep color.

“Well they do have this thing called “sexting.”

“Let me guess. Sex by texting.”


“No, I mean the real thing.” A deeper blush this time.

“Not at that age.”

“You mean they postpone such things?”

“No, I mean they don’t need mechanical assistance.”


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

14. Extinctions

C. W. came to me in a dream last night. At least I think it was a dream. You never know about him. I was sitting on a fallen tree by a well-worn path in a tropical rain forest. I knew the place from the slightly sweet rotting smell of fecundity and the bright colors of the forest flowers flashing against the dark background of the giant trees. I remembered it all from a trip to a similar place in Puerto Rico taken long years ago courtesy of the United States Navy.

A group of children came along the path laughing and singing. One split from the group and came to me. She was six or seven years old and a throwback to a time around the end of the 19th Century. Rope-like ringlets dangled from each side of her head in blond profusion and she wore a white dress adorned with lace and embroidery. She could easily have been Carroll’s Alice.

She walked silently up to me and then spoke. “Want to see something interesting, Mister?” Then she shook the front of her dress and looked down. The small green head of a snake appeared from beneath her bodice and looked around with interest. It nuzzled her cheek, looked at me with what appeared to be a grin, and slid back into hiding.

“You do know, don’t you Jimmie,” she said. “That in the Victorian era young girls used to keep green tree-snakes in their dresses for sport and to keep cool?”

“I have read that, C. W.” I said.

“It must have kept the snakes warm as well,” he said. “You don’t see such co-dependency among the two species these days. You know that don’t you?”


“Then you must also know that Homo Sapiens are one of the most destructive forces on the planet.”

“True that.”

“Why, do you suppose?”

“It may be that we are evolutionarily disposed to have a short-term perspective on life.”

“Hmm,” she said. “You know it means your ultimate destruction.”

“I suspect so.”

“Want to know the saddest image I will take from your planet when I leave?”

“I would hate to guess.”

Martha - The last Passenger Pigeon
“The image of Martha.”

“Martha Washington?”

“No, Martha the last Passenger Pigeon. The one who lived out a long, lonely life in a Cincinnati zoo without a mate to save her species. Just sat on a perch, staring into space and, we may hope, not thinking about being the last. I think they stuffed her when she finally died.”

The young lady straightened her blouse and felt to make sure her pet was safe and then brushed her hair from her shoulder with her hand.

“I have to leave now,” she said. “Enjoy the forest.”

She turned to leave, but then said over her shoulder: “Next year it will be a golf course.”

Friday, September 3, 2010

13. Labor Day

Ah, nice weather, prospects for a long weekend. I’m gathering things to take to join my wife for a weekend at the farm. As I am waiting for some laundry to finish, a knock comes at the door. I open it to find what? Of all things, I find an oriental figure in a Chinese Coolie outfit, bent slightly with arms clasped under his chin and head bowed.

Ni houma, hau boohau,” he said, or something like that. Then: “Prease to arrow in?”

It had to be. “C. W.?” I said.

“Thought I fool honorable friend,” it said, gliding past me. I couldn’t help noticing a long pigtail falling down his back.

“What’s going on?” I said. “I was just getting ready to leave.”

“Ah, not to disturb. Want to wish Happy Rabor Day.”

C. W., would you cut the shit?” I said.

He looked up at me with a hurt expression. “Why so angry? No rike rong weekend?”

I resumed packing.

“Why does your species work so hard?” he finally asked in a normal voice.

“It is our curse, I suppose.”

“Curse or choice?”

A person has to eat and have a roof over his head.”

He sat and arranged his flowing gown. “Not take much time work to provide that.” He was back in his faked accent.

“Forty hours a week or more.”

Another change of voice: “Wrong, I calculate much less. Maybe half, Why not spend the rest of the time helping the distadvantaged and needy and then imagining and thinking how to make world a better place?”

“We call that Communism.”

“Ah, my mistake, I thought you call Christianity.”

I just looked at him as if to say, “How stupid.”

“You know about first Rair-road across country?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Who build?”

I was getting tired of this, so I mimicked a redneck conservative. “Muricans, by God.”

“Ah, not so. Mostly Chinese immigrants. Do all dangerous work. Brast and chip through mountains hanging from baskets. Make one foot progress per day through sorrid granite. More than one thousand roose rives.”

“Okay, and we are all grateful.” He was badly getting on my last nerve.

“Just a couple more questions, Jocko.” Here was the old C.W.


“How many times in your country’s great economic history have you produced great things without the use of free, slave, or below-living wage labor?”

I didn’t feel like playing his game. “Look,” I said. “My parents were sharecroppers during the Great Depression. Don’t blame me for slave labor.”

“Not brame,” he said, shifting back to his impression of coolie talk. “Make try to understand.”

“Understand this,” I said, extending a middle finger.
C.W. asks: "What's missing from this picture?

“Okay,” he said. “Another question.”

“One more, and that’s it.”

“Your country cerebrate working people this weekend. True?”


“Working people take day off from rabors, right.”


“Everyone honor honest rabor.”


“Then why bankers off too?”

Well, hell. How was I supposed to know?