Reunions. . .

—From EF—

I’m gonna try again. I traveled to my high school reunion—a first for me—last July and didn’t get there. O’Hare was closed to all air traffic by a whopper of a storm, and I spent the night sleeping (?) on the cold tile floor of the St. Louis airport. I missed the next afternoon’s reunion, but did get to spend time with my only high school chum, Marilyn, staying overnight before heading to Milwaukee to see my brother Dan and my lifelong friend Flora. Let’s see if the Multiverse will let me hit the reunion this year.

1957, geez, that’s 67 years ago. I didn’t know much of anybody at Valparaiso High School, having been not only a nerd introvert but also more or less a prisoner of my mother, our house being nine miles from the school. Looking at the yearbook’s senior photos won’t be much help in recognizing people, and I sure as hell don’t look the same. However, I was modestly notorious, having been valedictorian and the school’s first National Merit scholar. There were two of us that year, and Lee Carlson was the other. He was my first-ever date and asked me to the prom. I wish he was still on this planet.

I’m flying out a day early, leaving time for two other reunions. First I’ll visit the family of John Davies, still at his old family home. It was a fifteen-minute walk down the dusty farm-country road from my house, and his dad and mine worked in the same Chicago office. He was three years younger than me and I knew his older brother better, so I wouldn’t say either was a close friend. But I did stay at their house more than a few times when it was convenient for my parents to be somewhere else.

In 1995 I surprised myself when I was on a solo road trip to join Conrad at a pagan gathering in Wisconsin. I suddenly took the exit from the Indiana Toll Road and drove to my old house. I had a little visit with the current owners, then stopped to visit John. We climbed a few levels up in the frame of his windmill and sat among the grapevines, learning who we were now. After some catch-up chat, he leaned forward and spoke in a low, direct voice: “You know, we all knew what you were going through, but there was no way we could do anything.” I nearly fell off the windmill.

My dad was a senior executive, John’s father was several ranks down, and my parents’ skimpy social world was among the older set. I have no idea how the Davies family knew about the abuse, but they did. I caught my breath: no, it was real, I didn’t make it up. John gave me a priceless gift, nearly thirty year ago, and I look forward to a reunion with him again.

Then I’ll spend the afternoon at my old house and its surrounding woods and fields. I know the house will have been renovated beyond recognition, but in the course of a lot of emails with the current owner, I know that most of the woods are untouched by development, and I will have my reunion with the natural world that kept me alive as a little kid.

I think all this will play a part in another reunion—the scattered inner family members who inhabit Elizabeth. I’ve been sending out “invitations”, guided by a friend who is a skilled therapist, and one by one they’re becoming visible. Each of them was born of necessity, allies in one trauma after another, but most of them so far distant in my childhood memories that they have blended into a diffuse cloud. I think this visit to their birthplace will give us all a better view of who we all are, and how our hearts are one.

###

Trees. . .

—From CB—

I’m not a tree-hugger. The notion of spiders or ants crawling into my sleeves or around my collar is a huge turn-off. In fact I don’t like nature much, except to look at. Definitely I don’t like politicians who want to pave it over; it still contains a lot of the soul we’ve lost. And I went on lots of camping trips as a Boy Scout and even more as an adult, but Nature doesn’t like to speak to me, except as mosquito buzz.

I’ve known people who actually hug trees. It’s an honorable thing to do, and harmless: not easy to beat your girlfriend black’n’blue or mangle your husband’s dentures when you’re wrapped around a redwood—you’d have to be double-jointed. Might we lessen the chance of nuclear war if we learned to hug eucalyptus in third grade? It’d be worth a try. Maybe start out with practice on maples.

But I have to admit to a weakness. I do put my hands on trees. Whenever I think of it, and admittedly without asking permission. People, yes, you ask at least with a gesture, although in California, NOT to hug seems to imply the other person is covered with spiders or ants. Do birds or squirrels ask permission to climb or skitter or shit from the top of the top? But I do rest my hands on tree bark.

It rarely has an entirely clear complexion. Once in a while I encounter one without wounds and gouges, stray branches thrusting out, or sap clogged out of an aperture. Most bark is like I imagined my face to be at fifteen—maybe not rife with zits but unattractive in new and different ways.

Most of the time, it occurs to me, the texture reminds me of me. That scar happened when I was five, this one—the really gross one—when I was sixteen, and lots more further up the trunk.

But I put my hands on its strength. Its inevitability. Its intention simply to exist. Somehow it speaks to me. It has no need for belief, for political thought, other than don’t cut down this tree, or for my self-definition as a quasi-tree-hugger. It just gives as much as I choose to take.

How like life.

###

You Decide. . .

—From EF—

Joe Hill. World War I. — Tom Joad. World War II. — Paul Robeson at Sydney Opera House. Vietnam War.

I’m writing this on the cusp of Memorial Day, 2024. A couple of years ago I put up a Memorial Day photo of my father taken in Paris, in a basement during a bombing raid in World War II. He and my mother’d had a lakeside tryst in the early summer of 1939, and I saw the light in February of 1940. He went to war, she went back to college, and I went to an adoptive home as a newborn. I doubt he ever suspected he’d made a baby. In those days, secrets were kept, and discreet arrangements were made. War makes its own arrangements.

This weekend I watched a movie and heard a radio broadcast and some connections snapped together in my head. Saturday night CB and Johanna and I watched the 1940 “Grapes of Wrath,” which ends with Tom Joad’s powerful speech to the mother he will likely never see again:

                    I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too.

Sunday morning, driving to our regular ocean picnic, KPFA’s “Across the Great Divide” played John McCutcheon’s story of performing in Sydney, Australia, and having been coerced into singing “Joe Hill.” John’s intro described the man who’d sat in the front row for all three of his concerts, and his final command/request that John sing “Joe Hill.” The man had been an electrician for the years it took to build that opera house, and he was there when Paul Robeson took it upon himself to come to the work-site and sing for the workers—which he did for two hours, in 1960. The man had waited all these years for another American to come to Australia and sing “Joe Hill.” Here’s what had hooked him:

                    “Joe Hill ain’t dead,” he says to me,
                    “Joe Hill ain’t never died.
                    working men are out on strike
                    Joe Hill is at their side,
                    Joe Hill is at their side.”

                    “From San Diego up to Maine,
                    In every mine and mill –
                    working men defend their rights
                    there you’ll find Joe Hill.
                    there you’ll find Joe Hill”.

Joe Hill was executed in 1915 and World War I started not much later. “Grapes of Wrath” was published in 1939, and World War II started not much later. Paul Robeson sang for the workers in 1960, and the Vietnam War was in full swing. Joe Hill and Tom Joad are heroes worthy of Memorial Day. They were ready to lay down their lives in service to the community of humankind, and who is to say that the devastation of corporate profit is less lethal than the machines of war? Read the news.

We appear to be teetering on another brink. We’re being blasted by Fox News and Truth Social, and where are Joe Hill and Tom Joad now, when we need them? Who knows. Maybe it’s you. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s everybody who can get it together to reach out.

You decide.  

 

Armoring. . .

—From CB—

I’ve never had occasion for self-analysis. Not that I haven’t done it: as a writer, both of comedy and otherwise, you’re constantly looking for material. Whether it’s a TV weatherman shopping for a new personality (Song Stories, 1974) or an investment broker taking the first big risk of his life (Tapdancer, 2022), you draw on what you know of yourself. Unconsciously but mercilessly. Even when it’s violent (Full Hookup, 1989), I’m drawing, I know, on the memory of seeing my mother being strangled, as well as having to fire an office worker.

But this is something new. “How are you feeling now?” A simple question, asked simply, at the seashore. But for some reason, it requires an answer besides “Fine.” Perhaps because I’ve written recently about Death; perhaps because I’m taking longer mid-day naps than I did even a year ago; perhaps just because the question seems to swell out of someone’s anxiety.

No easy answer. I’ve long known I was thoroughly armored against feeling. Except when it was useful. Except when it was funny or tragic or both. Except when it related to a character in a play or story. It probably came from the class consciousness of my childhood.

Ever since I remember, I’ve operated on two principles: (a) that I was a superior being, and (b) that no one would ever see it. Not that the first carried privilege—on the contrary, it held me to a higher standard than my fellows—I’m immensely tolerant of flaws in others, though not in myself. Nor did I lack the urge to excel: survival meant doing my damndest to succeed—as me, not as a faker disguised as me.

But I think the result was a vast armoring. I could get a devastating and all-too-personal review in the news, which I’d assimilate both in my eidetic memory and my bank account, and just go on doing whatever’s up next. I was lucky to have a mate who put up with that.

But does that answer the question: How do I feel? Well, I feel old. I feel off balance. I feel freaked at the next election. I feel pretty much the way my mom always felt: I don’t want be a burden. Otherwise, I feel pretty much as I’ve always felt. I just don’t know what that is.

###

Working It Off. . .

—From EF—

Back in 1985 I had a long span of steel-gray depression enclosing my head like a vise. It didn’t make any sense, but then, depression never does. There were so many things to celebrate. Our theatre company had just been chosen (one of only ten in the country) to participate in a massive three-year development grant. Our board of directors had gone into overdrive and raised the down payment for us to buy the theatre building we’d been leasing—the owner had said buy it or get out. We were rehearsing a production of one of my all-time favorite pieces, Dylan Thomas’s Under Milkwood, and I was immersed in the lyric poetry with which Conrad had courted me in 1960. Our whole family was going to go to Europe for six weeks of summer camping, and here I was slogging through my days like that guy in Li’l Abner, the one with his own personal rain cloud. It didn’t make sense, but believe me, it was bad.

We had been moved by our Lancaster (PA) landlord from the sweet little bungalow we’d found in 1977 into a larger rental on the outskirts of Millersville. His mother was aging and couldn’t manage stairs—she needed what he was currently renting to us. Even though the Mill House was much larger he said he’d keep the rent low and promised to do a good job of rehabbing the mess left by the former tenant. He kept his promises, and in December of ’82 we moved into our two-story brick country home, complete with front porch and summer kitchen.

The pile of junk and rubble from the rehabbing was behind the summer kitchen, out back and out of sight, nestled up against a little wooded hill. It was two years before we discovered that the junk pile was a condo for rats, and that they were making excursions into our house. There was a new nifty poison for varmints, D-Con. The EPA pulled it in 2013 after its devastating effects on creatures higher up the food chain were revealed, but in 1985 it was hot stuff, and I used it.

We had a little side room at the foot of the stairs, a nook that housed my upright piano and our little TV set. Saturday mornings were the pig-out times for TV cartoons for our kids, and our son began sacking out the night before in a sleeping bag so he could get an early start. One cold rainy Saturday in March, he awoke to find a dead rat beside him.

I completely lost it. The revulsion was overwhelming, and I was frantic to find some way to deal with it. I didn’t have a plan, I was responding to instinct. In the early morning I bundled up, grabbed heavy gloves, and started to work. In my core I knew that fire was my ally. I cleared a circle in front of the summer kitchen and began to haul wood from the trash-pile. I’m a good camper, I know how to build a stable bonfire that will burn for a long time, and that’s what I did.

Conrad came out to look, offered to help, and retreated when I told him this was something I had to do by myself. In spite of the cold drizzle, I got it burning, and kept feeding and building it. At intervals I cried, at intervals I rested, at intervals I raked embers and kept the circle safe, but I worked all morning and all afternoon. The next day was the same. It was a rite of passage, and it was all I thought about that weekend. My family, though stunned, gave me my space, and finally the pile of rubble was gone, the muddy ashes were collected and dumped, and I stood by my empty fire circle, put my icy hands in my armpits, and breathed. I could see the light. I could actually see it. I had burned my way out of my cage.

This time, now, was not so dramatic. When I feel the warning signs, I move sooner. This time I took on the long-neglected job of grubbing out feral bushes that impede our vision of oncoming traffic at our driveway. They’d been given free rein for too long, and had sturdy trunks. But my little folding Corona hand-saw is a mighty partner, and what remains now is little ground-level stumps I need to paint blaze orange so we don’t trip on them.

In 1985, fire was my ally, but my body’s muscles were what did the job. I worked it off, and I’ve done it again.  

###

A weekly view of the world we
wake into every morning. 

Books and Media by
Bishop & Fuller

 

Chemo
A Novel

Tapdancer
A Novel

A Visit to Life:
micro-fictions

Mica: 25 Flashes
more micro-fictions

Flashes & Floaters:
14 Fictions

Elizabeth: One of Many
(1949-74)

Seven Fabulist Comedies

Masks
a historical fantasy

AKEDAH: THE BINDING
a novel of promises broken or kept

Blind Walls
a novel of blue-collar ghosts

Galahad's Fool
a novel of puppets & renewal

Co-Creation:
50 Years in the Making

A Memoir of the Creative Life

Rash Acts
35 Snapshots for the Stage

Realists
A Novel of Dystopian Optimism

Mythic Plays
From Inanna to Frankenstein


DVDs
Stage Performances!

 

Share This