A to Z April Challenge

During the month of April I will be doing a different spin on my memoir posts. It starts with a song. Each song will be followed by a brief essay that is evoked or inspired by that song. You might want to click on the YouTube link to hear the song as you read the piece I've written. Or you can listen to the song lyrics first and then read. Whichever way you choose, I mostly hope you'll read and leave a comment with your thoughts about my post. Thank you for visiting and please follow the blog if you are not doing so already.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Up To His Old Tricks #atozchallenge

The Magic Show "Up To His Old Tricks"  (1974)

 Up to His Old Tricks

          When I was in junior high I saw the S.S. Adams catalog of jokes and magic tricks advertised in Boy's Life magazine and sent off a quarter to get a copy.  I convinced my mother to let me order a number of practical jokes and a few magic tricks.  The jokes were to cater to my more devious side while the magic tricks were part of a genuine interest in learning to be a magician.  I never mastered the tricks or attempted to perform them for anyone other than my parents and a few friends, but my interest in magic grew.

         From early childhood I had always been a fan of performance magic.   After taking a job with an actual touring magic show when I was 24 years of age, I became a fanatic about magic.   Traveling with the Ken Griffin Magic Show starting in the summer of 1975 I began to live and breathe magic.  Since I was hired on as stage manager I needed to become knowledgeable about the workings of the tricks we used.   Ken and his wife were old timers and had many great stories to tell about show business in general and especially other magicians.    I read magic books and looked for anything about magic I could find.

         Ken and Roberta Griffin had been touring with their illusion show since the early 1950's and had gained fame among magicians with their book Illusion Show Know How.   It was not long after I began touring with them that I realized the celebrity standing they had in magic circles.  In each town where we performed there would be fans anxious to meet the duo and I would feel proud to be affiliated with their show.

          During the two years I worked with the Griffin's show, we were booked at a number of prestigious magic events and venues that featured magic.   In the summer of 1976 a portion of our show was featured as one of the attractions at the prestigious Tannen's Magic Convention held at the legendary Brown's Resort Hotel in the Catskills region of New York.  A very young David Copperfield was also there in a breakout performance before the all magic crowd.

          After the Tannen's Convention ended, we decided to go on into New York City since we were so close.   The Broadway production The Magic Show starring Doug Henning was a big hit at that time.  I'd seen excerpts of the show on television and it was the buzz among magic fans everywhere.  Since we were there we decided that it was a must see.

            Inquiring about tickets at the box office, we were informed that the show was completely sold out.  Naturally we were immensely disappointed having come this far especially to see this show.  Roberta jotted a quick note and asked if it could be taken backstage to Doug Henning.  Someone in the box office complied and within minutes we were being whisked backstage to meet the famed hippie magician.

         I was extremely excited.about meeting this famous magician, but he seemed even more excited to meet Ken and Roberta.  He told them how their book had been a big help to him in putting together his show and that they were among his heroes.  Even though every seat in the theater was sold, Henning managed to get us permission to sit on the steps at the front of the balcony--it was an ideal vantage point actually and not at all uncomfortable since the steps were plushly carpeted.  We were able to not only see the show, but we got to see it free.   I couldn't complain about that at all.

         That incident raised my esteem of the Griffins another notch.  They may have been in their waning years of performing, but they were legendary in the world of magic.  Not only that, but Roberta was an oft published writer and Ken was a well-respected leather worker who specialized in Western leathercraft.  His book Ken Griffin's Scrap Book, a collection of leather work patterns, used to be regularly sold in the Tandy Leather Stores when they were still prevalent.

          Years later, after Ken had died, Roberta settled down in Burbank, California.  I caught up with her when I too moved to California.  One day she took me and my daughters to the Gene Autry Museum.  Among the many artifacts on display was a fine leather saddle and gun holster that had belonged to cowboy movie star Gene Autry.   The identifying placard showed that the items were the craftwork of Ken Griffin.

          They were good people with more stories than I ever heard them tell and I heard them tell many a story.  Interesting stories about a full life of experiences.  And they had a darn good magic show.

          Are you a fan of performance magic?    Do you have a favorite magician?   Have you seen any shows on Broadway?

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thoughts on a Rainy Afternoon (#atozchallenge)

Bruce Cockburn  "Thoughts on a Rainy Afternoon"  (1970)

Thoughts on a Rainy Afternoon

          I was torn between going to work and going to class.   Alienation was the order of that day as it was on many of my days.   The life at the university had grown stagnant for me.  I tottered on the precipice of the present and an uncertain tomorrow.   Missing another statistics class would put me one step closer to a failing grade, while a few hours at work meant a few extra bucks in my pocket.  I opted for work.

        The walk from the campus to the place where I worked took about a half hour.  It was not a bad walk up to the main street of Knoxville through downtown to the old city district.  The sky drizzled not to a point of drenching me, but enough to dampen my hair which dangled toward my shoulders.  I strolled through town in no hurry to get to work.  They wouldn't be expecting me today anyway.  Since I was a student they let me make my own hours.

      My mind wandered as I walked in the misty rain.  I pondered my life as it was.  I wondered what I should do next.  Answers were not at hand.   Maybe I didn't really want any answers.  Getting through the week was the main thing and the weekend was the prize.  On Friday I'd need to go to the liquor store to find something unique to get high on.   Every weekend it was a new wine or maybe something stronger.   Fun times with my friends.

      Walking through the desolate warehouse district the musty smells of the abandoned crumbling buildings mingled with the burnt toast odor of the JFG Coffee Company.   They must have been roasting a batch of beans.  "The best part of the meal" is what the JFG sign advertised.   I didn't drink coffee back then and that smell didn't entice me to want it.  JFG was a Knoxville tradition and the star of Jackson Avenue.

       That old street--Jackson Avenue--was the location of my place of work.  The rain gave the first block of the street a particularly gloomy look.  When I came to the old Sullivan Saloon at the corner of Jackson and Central I paused.  The old building that had apparently sat there empty since the early 1900's was a fine looking place that I liked to admire.  What was inside that building?  I was so curious.

        This corner was a point of congregation for winos and other lost souls.  It was almost as though they were waiting for the saloon to reopen.   In an empty plot across from the ghost saloon, homeless men would sometimes have makeshift shelters set up until the police would come to make them move.

        Huddled on a stoop of the saloon were Herbert and Foster, a couple of middle-aged black men who were not homeless but lived nearby.  Since it was afternoon they were glassy eyed wasted and didn't pay much attention to me as I passed.  They would pick up a couple hours of work at the local businesses when they needed some money.  Sometimes I'd go to the corner to get them to help me unload a truck.  They always reeked of alcohol, but they were dependable for work in the mornings.   By afternoon, after they'd downed a bottle or two of Mad Dog 20/20, they'd be too intoxicated to be good for anything.  That's how they were as I passed them on this day.

        There had to be a better future for me.   Wine on the weekends maybe, but some fellows had no control.  Or maybe it was something else.  Maybe it was more of a question of future and opportunity.  I had both.

         Have you ever hung out with homeless people or winos?    Did you work your way through college?   Do you enjoy walking through downtown areas?

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Standing Still #atozchallenge

The Association  "Standing Still"  (1966)

Standing Still

         Time can be such a mind-bender.   Time toys with us, leading us to believe that we have all the time in the world.   There are those ever so brief periods when time seems to move in slow motion or even come to a stand still.   Then suddenly the moment is behind us, frozen in memory, sometimes fading into the hazy realm of the forgotten or misremembered.

         I think of the mundane like waiting in lines or sitting in the doctor's office.  Sitting in the dentist chair waiting for the discomfort to be over.  Lying on a hospital bed in the emergency room waiting for the approval to be released.   There are those frustrating stretches of being late, being in a hurry, and being stuck in traffic where all the universe seems to have ground to a halt.   I curse the clock and tension mounts.  Then suddenly the waiting is over and I begin waiting for the next thing in life to happen.

         Then there are those moments of supreme serenity when all seems well and I have latched on to a bliss that will extend to forever.  Falling in love for example.  Long leisurely walks or hours of togetherness with that someone with whom I feel secure in knowing that I have felt unending love.   That is until it does end and time stands still with sadness and confusion.

        Some of my best moments where time has come to a standstill have been times alone.  In younger days I would often take long walks in the mountains to find a place to sit and contemplate.  What might have been mere minutes became immeasurable stretches of time by my calculations if there had been any calculating to be done.   They were times when I was accountable to only myself for the most part.   No one cared how I was spending my time.   Time standing still was a permissible event.  The stillness of time was my acceptance of allowing leisure into my existence.  

         The illusion of time stopping can be a rebellion against the constraints of our daily prison of responsibility or a surrender to the circumstances of life over which we have no control.  Either way time appearing to stand still or slow down is just an illusion.  The clock continues to tick and the world continues to turn.  My days are marked off on the calendar of my life like a depleting bank account where no deposits are ever made.

         When does time seems to stand still for you?    Are you more aware of time now than you used to be?  Have you used your time wisely?    How do you squander your time?

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Rainbow Connection #atozchallenge

Kermit the Frog  "Rainbow Connection"  (1979)

The Rainbow Connection

          In a relationship, everything changes when a kid comes along.  My first wife and I had been married hardly a year before our son was born.    We'd met while traveling with the Ken Griffin Magic Show and were married within two months.   A pregnancy meant that we were going to have to reevaluate our life together--at least for a while.

          To her credit, my wife was a real trouper in dealing with the road life and being pregnant when she was only nineteen.    She continued working in the show and living the nomad show business existence for several months.  Then as the delivery time approached we decided that she would go back to her home town of Richmond, Virginia while I finished out the tour with the show after which I would join her.

         My wife went on ahead and secured an apartment in a vast complex across from the Regency Square Shopping Mall northwest of downtown Richmond in Henrico County.  It was a newer up and coming area not far from the hospital where our baby would be born.

          By the time I arrived, she had neatly set up housekeeping and seemed very content with her new domestic life.  The baby's arrival was about a month and a half away.  I was apprehensive about our new life, but becoming excited about the arrival of our child.

          I began working at a marketing research company where my wife had found a job.   Doing telephone surveys was not overly dissimilar to the telephone promotion work that we had to sometimes do while working the show except it was easier since we weren't selling anything.  The working environment was comfortable and I fit in well with the other employees and the executive staff.  The work was mostly in the afternoons and evenings which meant I didn't have to wake up early.  The hours were what I had been accustomed to.

          It was mid July when my wife began to feel the baby coming.   It was hot.  Miserably so.  While I was at work on that day, my wife had the moral support of one of her friends.  My wife had heard that walking would speed up the baby's arrival so she walked around the air-conditioned apartment most of the day.  Still no baby.

          When I got home from work she was still walking and waiting.  Her friend left since I was now there. I changed into a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.   I rarely wore shorts, but even at 9 PM it was sweltering and extremely humid.   If I was feeling so uncomfortable I could only imagine how my wife must have felt.

            We rested and dozed until around 1 AM when my wife woke me to let me know it was time.  We grabbed the overnight bag that was waiting and headed to the car.   The air was so laden with moisture you couldn't tell where it ended and your sweat began.  I drove with my window down trying to catch as much breeze as I could.

             In the darkened sky heavy clouds were gathering.  Lightning flashed on the horizon.  I wasn't sure if the electrical discharge was from the heat or an approaching storm.  Maybe it was an omen announcing the birth of our child.   Whether or not there was rain coming, I began thinking of a lifetime filled with rainbows. A love for my young wife welled within me like a warm flood.   We would soon be parents.

          Our son arrived quickly and without complication.  Since I had participated in birthing classes I was permitted in the delivery room.   The miracle of the boy baby's arrival was like nothing I had ever witnessed before.    I was bursting with pride in this beautiful baby boy.  I wanted to show him to everyone.  No one had ever seen such a beautiful baby as this.

        After the baby's arrival and things were more subdued, my wife slept.   I went to the waiting area to use the pay phone.  I had to call someone to tell them even though it was four in the morning.  I called my friend Marvin.  He answered groggily and congratulated me after I told him the news.   As I paced around the waiting room my mind raced.  Did I need to get a box of cigars?   Who did I know who smoked cigars anyway?

         The hospital staff recommended that I go home and rest while my wife was recuperating.   If it was determined that all was well I would be able to take my family home that afternoon.   Like being in the happiest dream I could ever imagine, I went to my car and drove home.

          Even at this hour it was still hot and humid.  There were still clouds, but there was no rain.  From all appearances today would be another bright sunny day.   No rain meant no rainbows in the sky, but metaphorical rainbows permeated every part of me.

          I was now a father.

          What experience in your life did you have a big build up for?    Did things pan out as you dreamed?   How do you think having children changes a person?

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Queen of Hearts (#atozchallenge)

Gregg Allman    "Queen of Hearts"  (1973)

Queen of Hearts

         The early 70's was a good time for me.  For the most part.   I was in college during those years and working during the summer to pay for that schooling.  I still lived at home with my parents, but I had plenty of freedom.  They didn't question what I was doing and I stayed out of trouble even though there was plenty of trouble I could have gotten into. It was an idyllic time when I didn't seem to be going much of anywhere.

        Life was laid back.   I was living the blues while the blues played in my life soundtrack.  Southern white boy blues.  The Allman Brothers were everywhere.  Sometimes it seemed that with my friends life was all about the Allman Brothers' music.   I liked the music, but there was other music I liked better.  Still the Allmans were always around--almost like they shared a bedroom in my parents house or hung around with me and my friends wherever we would go.

       The one big hole in my heart was not having a steady girlfriend.  For a while I started dating one of my friend's sister-in-law.  She was near graduation from high school when we started dating.  We had virtually nothing in common except for a longing for a relationship.   That situation was a boost to me for a while, but I could see that it was going nowhere.  We stopped dating and that was that for a while.

        Crazy days came and went, mingling with doubts and loneliness that often hung over me.  Many of my friends were like that as well.  Our social circle was like a support group for lonely young guys. At least we had each other.   As the weeks and months passed, friends would drift out of our group as they found girlfriends, got married, had families.  Those of us who were left would hang out and get high, go camping in the mountains on weekends, and do the kinds of things that unattached guys do.

         We were all looking though.  Always looking.  We wanted to find the special lady that would round out our lives.   We wanted the Queen of our hearts, our lives.  The mother of our children.  The partner who would journey with us into some distant unknown future.

        Some found their queens and are still married to them.   A few got divorced.  A couple were widowed.  A number of those old friends have passed on.  Now I'm far away from Tennessee.  And I've got my Queen of Hearts.

         Did you ache for a partner in your teens and twenties?   Did you hang out with friends who also were looking for partners?    Are you still close to many of your high school and college friends?


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Friday, April 18, 2014

Prelude to a Postlude (#atozchallenge)

Thorinshield   "Prelude to a Postlude"  (1968)

Prelude to a Postlude

         Do you ever wonder "what if"?

          I remember ladies in my past that I went out with once or perhaps a few times and then it just ended.  I'm not sure why in most cases.   The relationships were something I just never pursued.   Most of these women  probably would have kept going out with me, but there must have been something that made me back down from any possibility of further involvement.  Still, sometimes I wonder whatever happened to them?  What if we had taken the relationship to a more serious level?

          Marcene married a missionary and last I heard was living in Florida.  I only know about her because my friend is married to her sister and he told me.   A relationship with Marcene probably would have not worked well for me.  She was not really my type and we had little in common.  Yet we dated for a good while.  There wasn't anybody else that I could think of at the time.

           My sister introduced me to Alma, a quiet girl who was not stunning, but she was attractive.  We spent a lovely day driving up in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.   She didn't say much so I did most of the talking.  From her responses to my questions to her it didn't sound like she had many interests.  There was something comforting about her.  She might have made a good wife for someone, but not for me.  She probably was looking for a good ol' boy who could give her a home and kids to take care of while he did whatever good ol' boys do.   We went out once and I didn't ever call her back.

          While I was working in Evansville, Indiana for a few months, a lady friend of mine fixed me up on a date with Tess, a girl who worked at the beauty shop where she got her hair done.  Tess was a fascinating looking female--she reminded me of a woman who might have been transported out of the 1920's or out of some old classic black and white movie.  We went to a concert that I had been looking forward to but we had to leave early because she said the loud music was giving her a headache.   For some reason I thought she had something more romantic on her mind.   We hung out for a little while after the concert, but she seemed really cranky so I took her home.  Maybe I just caught her on a bad night.  We agreed to get together again sometime, but I never bothered getting back in touch with her.

         What happened to Lisa, Sherry, Bobbie, Del, Tara, and others.  Did they get happily married and have families?   Did they pursue careers that brought them satisfaction?  Where did they end up and with whom?  What would have happened if one of them had made her life with me?

          Pleasant afternoons or happy evenings in the past have faded into memories.   And still I sometimes wonder.   But then again, does it matter?

           Do you ever wonder "what if" when you think of people you've known?   Have you kept up with any old flames?   Do you think your life would have been better if you had married someone from your early dating days?


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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Once Upon a Time #atozchallenge

Dan Fogelberg   "Once Upon A Time"   (1977)

Once Upon a Time

          Life is filled with stories.  We could think of them as chapters of a bigger story--the story of our life--but often these chapters, these smaller stories within the big story, seem disconnected.  What about your past?   Pick an age and then think of a time ten or twenty years later.  Or maybe even more if you're closer to my age.  Me at ten years old let me introduce yourself to me when I had children who were ten years old.  Or even later when I had grandchildren who were ten years old.  The cycle of stories continues to be told.

         When I look into my past I can pick out some incident that can be packaged neatly into a story.   I don't need to do much character development or to relate any backstory.   The story at hand stands alone seemingly unrelated to anything that came before or happened afterwards.   The story is simply something that happened--a beginning, a middle, and an end.

          Each day is lived as a series of stories with some connected and others just random things that are tossed haphazardly in the mix.  The story today might essentially be the same as yesterday's story and tomorrow's story.  The routine of life often passes by unextraordinary.   Those stories can be elaborated upon but there is that sameness to them that could be seen as boring.  Then one day that out of the ordinary thing happens to make a story more worth telling to others.   A lot depends on our perception of daily events and the ways we can put greater significance to those events.

          Once upon a time I was a kid and had a relatively normal kid's life.  Later I was an aimless young man sometimes lonely and confused.  Once upon a time I met a young woman whom I married and with whom I had a child.   There was a divorce, then another marriage with more children, then another divorce, and then another marriage.   Each story had a beginning and an end of sorts.

            The story in which I live now is a very different story than I was living ten years ago and that story was very different than the story ten years before that one and ten years before that one.   Stories.  A lifetime of stories.   Like a television series where each week there's a new episode with something new happening.  The characters may stay the same, but the story is different than the one that came before.

            My life is filled with once-upon-a-times.  I don't know how many more there will be or how the bigger story will end.   I'm just happy that there are stories because where there are stories like I have, there has been a life.

           Do you mostly think of your life as one big connected story or a series of smaller stories?    Have you changed much over the years?    When you were younger did you imagine that you would be where you are now?

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