Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter 2016, Play "The Fields of Erin" Again, Tommy Boy

We're back at the tail-end of winter again today, with a cold hard rain that's eating some more driveway at the same moment that the dogwoods are leafing out and the grass down in the field is about ready for the first spring mowing, which means probably buying a new mower battery, since I didn't last year. There's not much to do outside today, but we might need a little fire in the stove eventually. Next Sunday we'll be up at Martinsville again, watching the colorful race cars go round and round again, soaking in the pure noise of it.

Unlike in past years, there will be no rush back to get to work on time, Monday morning, April 4. The place I've worked for a good while now decided last month to close permanently, the effect of a depressed world-wide scrap steel market showing no signs at all of rebound, a drop last year from $8.50 per hundred pounds for scrap steel down to $2.00 in November. About four-fifths of our customers thought that since the scrap steel they had wasn't going anywheres, they'd just wait the downturn out. Instead they waited the company out. People keep coming to the window--these are usually elderly folks--asking where they can sell their aluminum cans after we're gone. Damn if I know. It's another little blow to the life of being elderly and poor though. People figure they'll make little bits extra, here and there. Ten pounds of aluminum cans, that's worth a whole $3.50 right now, down from $5.00 but still something. You can take the cans to the county recycle center, but you don't get paid anything for that.

I'm elderly and at least not rich myself. It was in some ways great to have a steady job. You could go to the store and buy decent coffee and now and then a good six of IPA. You could keep a spare vehicle if you needed it, even if it was a '91 F-150. There's stuff about that one that's getting a little iffy, and I already paid once last year to fix some kind of gas leak, and now I'm smelling a little gas again, and the clutch fluid seems to be leaking somewheres as well. The days of just paying for it are closing fast, as Bishop Pike said to Ernest Borgnine. Time keeps on. Next Friday, April 1st, it's over. We need a banner. "That's all, Folks." They ran that on the marquee at the drive-in after it departed. This was before the new Food Lion.

Our state, my state all my life, has made international headlines this past week by passing a safe to be a prejudiced bigot law. The governor immediately signed it, after an "emergency" session of the Legislature jumped into action. Some approving lady was quoted on WRAL-TV as saying "God made men and women, period." It's just like climate change. You can "deny" anything. It's a human affliction: "we" can vote for Nader. Right now the far right has seized NC. They think they can make anything happen, including running time backwards to about 1954, but not including some President Eisenhower or his sensible tax-structure. Our poor voters even ratified a bond-issue supported by our current government, when it was obvious that anything they supported, anything at all, was a gift to the rich and connected no matter what the headlines made it out to be. The goal of these people is basically, no more public anything.

One of the worst parts of our current political situation is the utter and rank failure of the whole main-stream media, NPR and PBS included, to actually cover the election in any meaningful way. A fascist at least in spirit (he actually quotes Il Duce fer gawds sake) leads the field of Republicans, and the other guy is a racist, and no one says anything much. Perhaps, if Trump does manage to "win" the fall election, some salt and pepper guy in a black suit and shiny black wingtips will drop by and explain that, in fact, things are not and haven't been for a long time what they have seemed from the "outside." That would be a kind of optimistic conclusion, wouldn't it. We saw glimpses of this "truth," what has been called "deep politics," during the '60s. Everything isn't explained by "lone nuts," that's just a kind of place holder for "who knows?" This week Chris Matthews is to interview Mr. Trump. I might watch. Will it be a half-hour of incomplete sentences, back and forth? Can even Matthews, whose whole method involves talking over and interrupting, work with a man who is even more expert at the same method and adds the extra wrinkle of the never ending non sequitor? Matthews won't be bitch-slapping Jonathan Capehart, as he was last week when Capehart tried to defend something or other.

The good news is, every comments section I read is filled with lines like "Of course I'll vote for Hillary in the fall." I don't read comment sections in main stream media or right wing sites, there's that too. And I did see a comment worth wondering about. Why is it that here in the US "red" has become the color of the right, with blue meaning "sane." We used to call the deluded "reds," back in the day. Passing strange. Does the arc of history bend towards justice, or just keep bending left? One time long ago I drove around Indianapolis twice in the middle of the night, with the rest of the band asleep. We did get back to NC at the end of the trip. At that time Jesse Helms was our senator, and Jim Hunt was the governor. That might be a hopeful fact of history, although it was Jim Hunt and not Helms who invented the "super-delegate."

(P.S.) I had initially thought to center this feux on the absurd spectacle of Senator Lindsey Graham on the Trevor Noah show. Noah quoted Mr. Graham (the "Honorable") to Mr. Graham viz his recent remarks on Senator Cruz, that you could murder him on the Senate floor and not be convicted. True "party man," Graham just laughed. Surely, surely! there is at least one other choice for Mr. Graham. Mr. Cruz would be at least equally disastrous for the United States if he were elected, as Mr. Trump. There are actually reasonable arguments that he would be even worse. Yet Graham, senior senator from South Carolina, prosecutor long ago of Mr. Clinton, could only laugh and twitch. There was no courage in the man at all.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Mid-1950s, Ralston

Yesterday Libby and I embarked into the NC coastal plain to play a dance in New Bern, a beautiful old town on the Trent River, which once was the capital of colonial North Carolina and boasts a big house called Tryon's Palace, where the colonial governor resided at the time of the Revolution. The building burned at some point, and was restored on its original foundation in the 1950s. It was probably shortly after its restoration that my dad drove the family by the place, stopped and looked briefly at the front door, and kept going where ever we were going at the moment. I expect my mother had talked up such a visit in advance. We might have been at a big barbeque event in Kinston involving in some way the Danforth Foundation, which was part of Ralston-Purina, a big feed company based in Missouri which had given a good bit of money to N.C. State, where my dad taught. Indeed, for a time, during this period of my childhood, dad was intensely loyal to a hot breakfast cereal called "Ralston," which we ate nearly every morning at his behest until one day some weeks into the regime he suddenly grew very tired of the stuff and gruffly banished it, speaking harshly to my mother about the matter and causing my sister and I to raise our eyebrows at each other while he was otherwise occupied. Never again have I tasted Ralson, but my sis and I still take note of the incident at family meals.

Libby and I decided that renting a car was a good plan for this excursion, and found a very comfy Dodge Dart in Apex at the rental place, and easily managed to fit the keyboard and our instruments and miscellaneous gear in the trunk and back seat (hey, those drop down rear seats are a fine idea for musicians on the fly). We switched over and left the brave little Toyota Tacoma with 250 K and counting in the parking lot, with reassurances that we'd return, same as we'd told the cats earlier, and we were off to New Bern. Ms Garmin got us safely through the Raleigh labyrinth and out onto US 70 East. Half way down, now on the upper coastal plain, we came to Goldsboro and although the roads had somewhat changed since our last trip, we found at the east end of town "Wilbur's," which is as good a barbeque joint as exists in North Carolina. We both chose the barbequed chicken, having many years ago agreed that there was none better. The Dart got us on down to New Bern with plenty of time to set up, and as a bonus a great parking place just across the street from the venue, which was on Middle Street, not far at all from the Palace itself.

All the stuff worked, and we got the piano and fiddle balanced in the speakers as people drifted in. This was part of a good sized folk music festival being tossed by the Down East Folkarts Society. We'd played a dance for them some years back. Great folks. They'd hoped we could come down Friday night and catch our old bandmates Unknown Tongues Cajun-Zydeco, but sadly the cats forbade that extravagance. Anyways, just as we were setting up a man with a little white goatee and a twinkle came up and asked if he could film some of the dance for his local access tv show, which is called "Billy and Sandra Stinson's Folk Seen," and we said sure, why not. He worked unobtrusively while we got the first dance going. Somewhere in there I had an old flash of memory.

I lived on Vanderbilt Avenue in Raleigh, just across from the NC State campus where my dad taught. Vanderbilt ran into Horne Street, and just north of where it intersected was a yellow-brick house wherein lived a short little blond kid named Billy Stinson, who could possibly have grown into this photographer. I called him over at the break between dances and damn if he wasn't the very same guy! We'd not seen nor heard of each other in sixty odd years, but back then I'm pretty sure I had appeared with him and some other guy in a little Kingston-Trio type of combo, on a local afternoon TV show, where we performed "They Call the Wind Mariah" with me on bongos. My first band, if you don't count the school orchestras I was in.

Billy and I recalled a few things in common, such as climbing up on the old Man-Mur Bowling Alley roof from my back yard--a vast tarred expanse that was like a weird desert. Later on that building burned down and all the neighbors sprayed their garages with water to keep them from catching, and the next day the building was a ruin, with twisted I-beams and smoking floors. The bowling balls somehow survived. I still have one somewhere, or at least kept it for decades.

Billy has his own story of course. Here's some of it:

And more:

He and Sandra describe their music as related to the work of the Kingston Trio, thus corroborating my flickering memories. The dance was excellent, and wrapped up at about 6:30 PM, and we repacked the Dart and headed back up the road, getting back home to the slightly worried kitties just in time to see the last half of the Carolina/Providence game. Carolina won, and make it today to the "Sweet Sixteen." Libby and I have ridden many a night with the Heels on the radio, cheering them on. It was all in all a sweet day together. Today spring has arrived with rain and chill, and there's a late fire in the stove, and little green shoots on the dogwoods. Two more weeks on my job and the business folds, a casualty of depressed scrap steel prices, resulting low product, and perhaps the fact that the owners are my age and now see retirement as a possible happy adventure. We all, employees and employers alike, push off into the pond week after next, April Fool's being the last day, and no joke about it. The next day is the NCAA semi-finals. Hopefully the Heels will be there.

Come to think of it, if it was 1957 that I made my teevee debut, what goes around comes around. That was the year Frank McGuire and some skinny kids from New York took the Heels to the NCAA finals, where they beat Wilt Chamberlain and the Jayhawks and went 32-0. If we make it past Indiana and the rest of the gauntlet, the Jayhawks are what we're aiming for this time around too.

Update: Kansas lost a week after I wrote this, and UNC faces Syracuse in the semi-finals.