A History of Life — In 24 Hours
A Boy, His Son and Their Grandpa
Is it farfetched to think you can sense the character and life of someone simply by observing their activities for a day? Yes, is the answer, don’t argue. Especially when the subject person is a simple-minded soul like me. This all begins with me taking my truck in for service, then rushing to get home in time for our weekly jam sessions. Back home with time to spare, I pull my guitar out, organize my music and start practicing a few songs. The gang is usually slow to arrive, and today is no different. Nobody is there except me. Dad is here too. He is quietly reading his book sitting by the front window, his spot.
Curious, I text my son and my brother to find out their status. They tell me via text, that Dad canceled today’s session. I look up from my phone over at Dad, and say,
Dad is there anything you want to tell me?
Dad looks up from his book, unaware he is being tricked into a confession of guilt or more likely mild, though progressive dementia. There is little distinction between guilt and dementia in our house. He replies lazily, and innocently it seems,
No, I don’t think so?
I continue to strum my guitar as I look lazily back at him with a dollop of frustration,
You don’t think so? You canceled today’s practice, here I sit in obvious preparation for said practice, and you don’t think there is anything you might want to tell me?
Dad, scratches his head like he is trying to remember something,
What? I didn’t tell you? But you knew I had a band concert this afternoon.
This is not news.
Yes, Dad I know you have a concert at 3 o’clock, but that’s not for 5 hours! Why does that mean we can’t play at home this morning like we always do on Thursdays.
Dad goes into defense as easily as most people pour themselves a glass of water.
But you knew we had a concert this afternoon? I don’t want you to be rushed.
Dad doesn’t want me to be rushed? His explanation, devoid of apology, comes replete with compassion and selfless concern for my well-being. This is dad doing his classic dad routine; a routine he has mastered.
So I practice a little bit more, making my guitar feel only a little useful; the poor guitars out there born to hacks like me, I know there are a lot of you and we are sorry. We really are.
So a few hours later I am packing dad into the car with his tuba, music bag and music stand for his afternoon concert, still officially two hours away. We drive out to retirement trailer park number 85, somewhere on the east side of the sleepiest third largest city in any state in the union. It’s so quiet there the quail don’t even call, they text. Haha.
But a good sense of humor is exactly the medicine before venturing into retirement land. That and a caramel, medicinal grade. And we cruise out to his concert with purpose. 3PM is an unusual time for a band concert some of you may be thinking? Well you can pick up your things and move to the front of class because you would be correct.
I drop Dad off near the biggest building on the campus and look for a parking place. Then I go inside to find dad who is nowhere to be found. I talk to a maintenance guy who tells me he hasn’t seen him. You should know that Dad strikes quite a profile in his tuxedo designed to complement perfectly his full head of gray hair. We are in the land of casual and Dad in a tuxedo is pretty certain to make an impression.
But no one has seen Dad? But still the maintenance guys are curious why Dad is all dressed up? When I explain about the concert, they set me straight and inform me the concert is in the evening at 7PM. This makes a lot more sense, though I am kicking myself for being an idiot and not figuring this out much earlier.
Anyway by this time a search is organized and we each take our assigned spot around the perimeter of the building, making sure all the exits are covered. Finally, somebody spots dad on the opposite side of the building from me. We converge. The silver-haired bomber has circumnavigated the entire building in a perfectly executed, if accidental, evasive maneuver. It’s Laurel and Hardy wacky. As I get closer, he calmly informs me he has discovered the concert has been moved to 7PM that evening. Yep, he’s on it.
The day is a few hours old and I am stranded at a retirement village with my old man, the caramel is sweet, and I am resisting mightily the urge to be angry, either with dad for the general screw up of the day, or probably more with myself for not bothering to check on the sketchy details. Then we discover a unique feature of this park, just in time. They have a bar and restaurant here! Happy Hour begins in 15 minutes. And we are in the double bonus bonus. They have a duo playing old country standards; Patsy Cline comes to mind. We are going to be ok.
I am not in the mood to drive back home, and then back again all over again a couple hours later. There is not even a discussion. We order a beer, the music starts, the waitress flirts with Dad, or rather, Dad is hitting on the waitress who we quickly discover is married to the bartender. I have developed a sixth sense for this sort of thing, because Dad has a sixth sense for getting into this sort of trouble.
Denise is her name. After the first beers, her husband takes over. We don’t see her again. And the afternoon is very young. In a moment of weakness I order a burger and fries. To Dad this is the usual perfect lunch, but for me it is probably the first burger in five years. And there may well be another five between this and the next one. Dry, tough, pre-cooked, it’s gross. Thank god for the fries. They were great, plus the onion rings, and 2-dollar drafts? Decadence in the trailer park. As good as the VFW!
The band is really good. It’s just a gal with a big voice and a guy with a keyboard synth. They know all of the Cline, Haggard, Wynette, Reeves, Cash classics, and the sky is so blue. And oddly, I feel like big man on campus. Until recently, I always felt out of place at these parks. Dad plays tuba in a lot of bands and usually when I show up I feel like the kid at the senior center. But at this park, all of the sudden, it hits me. I am old too! And my full mostly gray beard probably doesn’t help. There are ladies here who notice the new guy, or guys. Interesting. I have not had this sensation in a while. In a long while.
Here though, caramelized in my dark sunglasses, with my beard and my Dad to hide behind I am beginning to enjoy this afternoon. We have a couple of beers and don’t waste this free moment on our calendar. But I see Dad is fidgeting. It’s still 3 hours before tonight’s show and I know he needs to stretch and relax for a bit. I find the lounge and lead Dad there to relax. He’d been planning on setting up and waiting in the hall, but those chairs would not do for prolonged sitting. The lounge makes a lot more sense and Dad even gets to nap for a bit. I find a shady spot to relax and enjoy the band play a full 2 and a half hour set; impressive, and perfect time for me.
As the band finishes up I scout sunset viewing positions near the pool. And I switch to Umphreys McGee you pick show for my soundtrack. I could not be in better shape. Plus I remember the beer stashed in my pack. How could I expect there would be a bar? It slowly dawns on me that this messed up day, is really about as good as it gets. The day is perfect. The evening sunset is non-stop gorgeous. And UM plays on.
I check on Dad and discover him sitting alone in the hall, fully outfitted to play with his horn in his lap, just gazing out across the empty room. I slip through the door, and quietly take in his view across the room, or what he might see tonight if he were to look up from his music. He does not hear me, and each in our own silence we take in the moment. It is almost magically timeless; very touching. Walking over to Dad, I squeeze his shoulder and reassure myself that all is well. Tonight’s concert will be Dad’s 5000th performance, based on my conservative estimations. This is not an exaggeration. He has been a singer, a brass musician, a director, a soundman, a teacher, and he has two degrees in music. At 85, after playing and directing for 65 years, it is easy to calculate. Ninety shows a year is today’s standard it seems. Do the math. At this moment I can feel that he is savoring some of these shows.
Returning to my perch at the pool under a canopy I rejoin the UM show. This is when Attachments hits me so good, and that Plunger is beyond anything. I realize how much I am enjoying myself, and this weird idea penetrates my skull, kind of seditious like, that I could see a hella lotta shows if I downsized? If I was to get me a little unit, park it here in the winter with a good neighborhood like this, and then take it up north in the summer. Would that work? I like to garden though. But the thought is fetching, so I let it. What a sunset, under and through the clouds, the sky went through a near rainbow of glows. The thought continues to steep.
As it gets dark, I pour the last beer from my pack and continue to dream and think and dream. The only question I can never seem to answer is who makes the decisions? Because, it doesn’t seem to be me? Time relentless marches on and nobody is going to turn it back without someone making the decisions. This is the alley I am backed into. The thoughts continue to steep. One day perhaps I will be promoted to Earl?
Dad’s band finishes up, we pack him up and deliver him home successfully to suburban Tempe. Another day, another concert. And Bogie, his little schizsu is glad to see Dad, the two are inseparable. After a scoot outside to pee, they tramp up the stairs to sleep.
Next day I hike in my usual haunts, but today is different. Heading back down the hill I crest a saddle where the trail forks, either going up or veering right and heading down. Out of nowhere, a nymph dances across the trail in front of me heading up the mountain to the other side. I say out of nowhere? That’s not exactly true. Hiking below, I had glimpsed her graceful form almost dancing across the ridge. Now she almost merges with my path. She is on all toes as she gracefully glides up the next mountain, running, flying maybe? It did not feel she was exerting any energy even though it is straight up hill? Who is this girl? She continues her glide up and over the hill I am climbing, well in front of me.
I pick up my pace as she disappears over the hill. I will not catch her, I am hiking with a small pack, and she does not appear to have anything with her. As I crest the hill I see her in the distance and she is doing ballet moves as she runs, leaning deeply first one way and then the next. Then she is stopped for a minute and she is arching her back and then doing deep forward bends. Then she is off again, tingling down the hill like it is nothing. As she reaches the trail below leading the final quarter mile into the parking lot, I find myself running down the hill after her. Am I trying to catch her?
When I reach the parking lot, sure enough I am trying to catch her, or at least learn about her. I finally discover her car, after bothering a few others. As I drive out, I stop to inquire,
Are you a ballerina?
She looks up; she is doing more yoga or something else graceful,
Oh no, she laughs, I just enjoy being outside, and the way it makes my body feel. Not ballet, it is just me.
I tell her I am fascinated and an admirer of her style,
It’s like yogic running? No?
She laughs and agrees,
Yes, maybe yoga running.
I know when I am through and this hike is over. This girl is a gemstone. For sure. Or a dream? I puzzle still.
I head out of the parking lot for my favorite Friday lunch at the Mexican place that takes care of my man-cave. It’s time for menudo and tacos. Menudo has become a Friday favorite for me. Tripe, intestines, stomach all of the beef are the featured ingredients. But the addition of the lemon, oregano, cilantro and onions give it the special zing required for a perfect Friday siesta. Did I say perfect?
And so it was, except that my mechanic interrupts me with his phone call that my truck is going to cost double what we thought? Damn – it always costs more it seems? No matter, it has to be done. I am putting in for Phish terr, so let’s get her done as they say.
About this time 3 ladies invade my man-cave in the bar here. They are looking to party, three gals who had not seen each other for whatever reason for a long time I guess. And we get to talking and laughing about something, everything really. It begins when one teases the other about sharing the guacamole. The other gal says no, it’s mine and you can’t have it and I nearly spit my soup out.
And most of you prolly will never try menudo I am thinking, so my spitting my soup out is like kind of expected right? Like who would put another animal’s stomach in their own mouth, and why would you expect it to make it into anybody else’ stomach? Not you? Then you are prolly thinking that these ladies did me a favor? Think again, and be literal here. I said I almost spit my soup out. Menudo is the bomb. So have some guts and get some. Get your alimentary canal some love!
You know how it goes from here. I, the proud Dad, invite them all to come over later and see my son play tonight at the bar on the lake. They did not take me up, as I would come to find out, but it was a fun lunch. Their husbands are all big shots with the utility company and manage dams around the huge Phoenix watershed. Ironic innit as this is the name of the place my son played that night, The Watershed in Tempe. Obviously this is a fact I neglected to include in my persuasive invitation. Again the questions? More steeping.
Lunch is over and I retire to digest my stomach, my beef stomach, and a little additional digestif is just the trick, while I nap enjoying the latest Umphreys McGee show. The sweet does quite the trick. I walk across the street later that afternoon to hear Derek play and I am in a fine spirit. The sun is low in the west across the lake as I take a seat at a high top with my Father. We order beers and enjoy the music and before long he leaves me to take care of, you guessed it, the dog.
It all goes according to script as over the next 15 minutes my wife, my ex-wife and my son’s girlfriend join me at the table. Front row seat and I am sitting with three of the best girls in the world. If only my daughter might have been there? Anyway, the show is terrific, the beer is good and we snack on some average nachos. The service sucks, but that’s ok. I just hum along, laughing and chatting and wooing our boy along.
Laughing and chatting I am excited from a successful day penetrating the Phish ticket bizarre. I am fortunate to score tickets to see them at the Gorge, a premier outdoor venue in the great northwest. Premier is not an exaggeration, as the name is a geologic reference to its real location along the upper Columbia River in Washington. Fantastic location to see a cultural phenom like the Phish. So I excitedly begin to share the details, the camping, the location, the lot, and of course the band. Derek joins us as he takes a break and I bring him up to speed and suggest he and Chelsea, his girlfriend, join me this summer? I know they are planning on being in Montana at some point this summer so it all seems to make sense.
Years earlier Derek and I had seen Dave Matthews at the Gorge with Derek, so it makes perfect sense for me to exclaim:
Hey Derek, I got Phish tickets for the Gorge! It’s in July. You and Chelsea should come with me!
Derek is open. I can see his eyes light up. He is quick though, as he glances Chelsea’s way,
Tell Chelsea the details. She’s the one keeping the calendar in our house.
I get this. He’s smart. Smarter than me, as time will soon tell. I look across the table at Chelsea. Shari my ex-wife is on my right. Katie, my present wife, is on my left. I start to explain,
The Gorge is this huge outdoor venue in the middle of Washington State. I could pick you guys up on my way from Rapid City.
Somewhere mid-sentence I realize that this is new information for Katie. It just happened today. So I divert my focus to Katie on my left, realizing mid-thought that I was way ahead of myself as Katie is looking intently at me, taking it all in. Chelsea sees my chagrin before I grin at Katie, showing as much smile as I can repair,
My dear, I was lucky enough to get tickets this morning via an on-line lottery of some sort. I wanted to tell you.
It is all to no avail. I don’t think I completed my thought. All I recall is the table bursting out laughing as the realization of my bustedness flows across the table, almost like I spilled my beer too. The girls laugh hysterically at my awkward duckwalk trying to walk this whole idea back. Just to be clear, not all the girls were laughing. It was pretty funny though. And I have not given up hope on a reunion road trip fun time with my son and whomever I can rope into the celebration that is Phish. It is going to be great!
After repairs and before the break is over I drift over to the table next to us to chat with my neighbors. There really are neighbors. They live a block away and my son teaches a couple of them guitar. So we chat about the weather, the beautiful view, the lake flows out from the bar almost zero edge like and we have a sunset moment that takes me to the Gorge. So I tell them I am going to Phish this summer at the Gorge. They look at me blankly. I slowly scan the table, looking for a hint of recognition. I know they like Dylan and the Dead, but their batteries all must have run out sometime around 1995. That’s ok, but still I am what the heck! I am embarrassed but I’m not sure who for? Thankfully Derek starts to play again and we move on.
Hiking up the mountain the next morning I come upon a Roadrunner, some 10 or maybe 20 yards in front of me. First he scatters off the crest of the hill. He had been on lookout maybe. I think I have lost him. But I freeze for several minutes, scanning the hillside to catch sight of him again. My jaw drops. He returns to the crest of the hill right where he had been. He knows I am here. Perhaps he recognizes me? I am here every day almost. Then I hear the sound of a dog whining, almost a begging sort of whine.
Where is it coming from? I pan the horizon looking for a dog closing in. That would be terrible, ruining my moment with perhaps the most solitary and reclusive of desert birds. Then I re-focus on my friend. I hear the sounds again. I see him puff his glottal out rhythmically and the whining sound returns, a cycle of high to low pitched glissandos. I am looking right at him and still I think I am hearing a dog. This pattern repeats for maybe 10 minutes, and then he takes flight gliding down the slope 100 yards away, and drops out of sight. He had a red spur, like a sideburn on the side of his head. I say he? I do not know. This is the first time I have ever seen this feature. It is the first time I have heard the roadrunner’s call. Answers and more questions. Surely that cup of tea will be ready soon.