Grooming for a road trip

by Dave Williams

My travelogue: July 9, 2021
Wichita Falls, Texas

North Texas stays surprisingly green in the summer.

Nice  things happen when scooting cumulus clouds briefly block the sun of a North Texas summer day. The heat becomes bearable and the breeze gives voice to the poplar trees which rattle their leaves in harmony. The birds and even the cicadas quiet down to listen.

I’m on another writing sabbatical. I just arrived. This is my warmup piece to loosen up the mind and cool down my inclination toward purple prose.

Before I left home today, I got a haircut and had a nice conversation with a thirty-something barber named Jade. Being naturally shy and a native Californian I don’t easily begin conversations with strangers – I feel like I’m intruding in their quiet thoughts – but Jade is a pure Texan with no conversational hesitancy. I don’t remember how she started but she quickly shared a synopsis of her life. She told me about her mother and her mother’s divorce from her father who recently passed, I learned she is remarried and heard a bit about her husband and their kids: a 14-year-old stepdaughter who lives with them, and their 10 month old son. She adores them all, she told me. And there, she stopped. I guessed it was my turn.

Texans suck me in like that. I started talking.

I told Jade I’ll be turning 70 in about a month and that’s a significant milestone. I explained that I, too, have been married twice and that CarolAnn and I each have sons and grandsons we’ve shared from our previous lives.

I may be shy but men staring 70 in the face have no reluctance in sharing our hard won wisdom of age with just the slightest encouragement. Being a Texan she was polite and attentive, which was good enough for me.

I told Jade that I have had many lives: as a child, as a young adult, and through the long journey to creeping old age. I am a man pretty well in tune with life, I said. It was a prideful statement but I said it with quiet dignity.

I explained that I work at staying current with events, social trends, and cultural changes, even the ones that baffle or annoy me. The trick is to go with the flow and don’t worry about things that don’t concern you. I only half jokingly told her I had spent decades trying to fix the world and change other people to my liking before I realized it’s a fool’s errand. I’m fixing myself and that’s all I can do, I declared. She seemed to like that and I took it as encouragement to continue.

I talked of lessons I’ve learned through the trauma of love lost, single parenthood and a new, lasting love found.  My CarolAnn and I just celebrated our 33rd anniversary and are still on our honeymoon, I said proudly.

Jade was entranced. Or, she’s just a very good haircutter.

I told her that life will find its way to a happy conclusion if you’re a good person and get out of the way to let it happen.

Picking up the thread from a moment earlier Jade told me that her husband’s ex is a nice lady and that the two women are discovering the things they have in common. Sharing kids is a big achievement, she boasted. I told her my CarolAnn and I just shared our anniversary with my ex and her husband. Jade laughed and was thrilled by at that.

“Why shouldn’t we all be able to get along?” she exclaimed.

I told her about CarolAnn’s ex and how we’ve shared in raising their son, and that we all embrace the wonderful realities of our tangled lives:

“We were in love, once. We’re in love again,” I said. ‘Why should we lose any of that?”

It was a little like a barroom conversation except neither of us was drinking or bitching. We managed it all in about fifteen minutes.

Rising from the chair I said, “Jade, it was nice meeting you. You did a great job and I’ll book you again.” She smiled sweetly and told me she enjoyed our talk.

I tipped her appropriately but not too much. It was a good haircut but the conversation was priceless.

Precious, unmemorable days

This morning at 7:20 I had oral surgery to remove a tooth infected below the gum line. Scary, right? I didn’t feel a thing. Except, to be more accurate what the doctor told me is that I would essentially be awake for the procedure but when it was over I wouldn’t remember anything about it.

She was right. I really don’t remember anything at all between signing a credit card and what seemed like two seconds later being told I could go home. No time passed for me at all. That’s freaky.

I wonder if I kept them cracking up with witty dentist jokes while they were excavating my mouth? Probably not.

Isabel Lyon & Mark Twain

When I got home I continued reading a very interesting book called  Mark Twain’s Other Woman. It’s about Sam Clemens’ relationships with his wife, daughters, and in particular, his personal assistant/secretary, Isabel Van Kleek Lyon. She was something of a writer, too. Happily, she made detailed notes about each day she spent with the Clemens family, and though she never expected anyone except herself to read them she unwittingly treated us to some wonderful historical insights and this gem of an observation:

As the days of life increase in value, the wit to write of them decreases – Their significance is too profound.
– Isabel Van Kleek Lyon

That was an epiphany. It validates the ways I’ve changed over the years. I don’t write as often as I used to for several reasons but chief among them is that I just can’t stop appreciating my ordinary days long enough to write about their mundane glories.

The oral surgeon said I must keep a patch of gauzelike material plugging the new hole in my gum for at least six hours and I was not to lie down. The antibiotics make me sleepy but the lovely-and-feisty Carolann Conley-Williams forbade me from napping today except upright in my chair. So, I flipped on YouTube and was sucked in by a series of videos, recent concert footage of members of the bands of my youth. I’m not usually nostalgic but sometimes I really enjoy an occasional visit to the past. Today was one of those.

So, that was my day, unremarkable except for its beginning. I have total faith in modern dentistry but the thought did lurk in the back of my head that people still occasionally die under general anesthesia with implements of destruction in their mouths. That didn’t happen so I came home and read a book and then watched some YouTube videos.

Nothing to write home about, really.

The days of our lives really do increase in value, even those that are unremarkable except for the everyday joys to be found in them that aren’t even worthy of comment.

Tomorrow you might actually enjoy the smell of coffee just as you do nearly every day. You could have a good hair day and like the new shirt you’re wearing. That will put a smile on your face.

When you leave home in the morning don’t just tell your dog goodbye, take a moment to really love him/her.

Take note of the first person or experience that makes you laugh tomorrow. It happens every day and it’s precious.

For me, Isabel was right, the wit to write about our days decreases. Their significance is too profound.

 

The forgotten art of conversation

This morning I had a nice hourlong conversation with my longtime friend and blogging partner, Anita Garner. I use the word “conversation” in its most literal definition: we actually talked, face to face, across hundreds of miles via Zoom.

Anita Garner

While we don’t talk often Anita and I swap emails frequently and we both reply immediately with the grace of sincere friendship and the not insignificant abilities we each have in stringing words together.

But talking today was really a treat.

We laughed out loud without ever having to type “lol”. We excused ourselves when we accidentally spoke at the same time because that’s how humans stumble through communication.

“Wait, what?”
“I’m sorry. What were you saying?”

That’s the pure form of a conversation between friends. Remember?

We listened and replied with only half-formed ideas.  My friend heard my hesitation, and I, hers. We helped each other by better defining the original thought.

“What I mean is…” one of us would begin to explain.  Then the other would arrive at the same mental place and agree, “Yes, that’s right!” or words to that effect.

The subject was thereby sealed. Our hearts did a fist bump.

Seems like the most natural thing in the world, doesn’t it, conversation? Until you think about the last time you had an unguarded chat with someone you trusted to really hear you, respond with care, and offer to help whittle down the fine points of a topic. Then together you can peel it like an artichoke and get to the heart of the matter. You might learn more about your own original thought. You might even change your mind about something.

Epiphany, the ultimate satisfaction of conversation.

Dave Williams

Talking with Anita about her book, my work, her granddaughter, and the big, gray mammal in the room, getting old, was fun and enlightening for me.  In the course of a fast hour we each learned a little and found affirmation in understanding. We laughed when we agreed on something we had thought unique to our own experience. We remembered questions we wanted to ask each other thirty or forty years ago and finally, we ask, and get answers.

We touched upon the past but didn’t linger there. We are each still full of our nows and tomorrows.

A couple of hours later this has occurred to me:

You think you know a person but unless you catch up with her evolution from time to time you only know who you both were long ago.

 

 

 

Perspectives of an aging aquarian

by Dave Williams

President Harry S. Truman

January 19,2021: Tomorrow Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. Harry Truman was the 33rd president when I was born just shy of 70 years ago.

When I was a child my grandparents never wanted to talk about their own childhoods. I didn’t know why, they didn’t tell me. They just said it was a long time ago. “Go play”, they’d say. If I persisted and they weren’t so busy as to be annoyed they would eventually talk to me a bit about their old days. They amazed me with tales of the world in which they were kids. Cars, phones and electricity were becoming common in the early 20th century but a lot of people didn’t have them yet. Some homes still didn’t have inside plumbing.

My grandparents never saw an airplane until they were teenagers or young adults. This blew my mind.

1950 Admiral TV & phonograph*

I can remember when my parents got their first TV. It was a large piece of furniture with a screen the size of a small laptop.

This morning on the radio I suggested people go online for more information about something. These days we talk as if everybody knows how to go online and they do. We just say, “Get more information at the county website” and people know how to do that with no lengthy explanation and instruction. About 25 years ago when relatively few people owned home computers I had to read the entire web address aloud very slowly: “H-T-T-P, colon, forward slash – forward slash, saccounty – all one word (added for clarification), S-A-C county, – dot – com.”

Then I’d repeat it all to make sure everybody got it.

While you younger people wonder how we old farts ever got along without the Internet and 600 TV channels we wonder how you managed to grow up pen-bred, never free-range kids. We’re constantly wringing our hands over that. We worry that our grandkids will never skin their knees or learn the frustration of losing a game and not getting a trophy. Maybe games will be banned altogether soon because competition will be considered unfair and unhealthy.

I worry about that a bit but then I wonder if it really matters; I could be wrong about everything.

I just hope my grandkids will think to ask me about my childhood before I’m gone. If they don’t, I hope they at least wonder.

If they don’t wonder I suppose it won’t matter. It was a long time ago.

Go out and play. Be happy.

“The future is stupid”

by Dave Williams

Thanksgiving was the day before yesterday. My son and his family called CarolAnn and me as sons and daughters have always been obligated to do on holidays.

That’s a time-honored tradition that must never die, by the way.

We loved talking with them. As a special treat, they called again yesterday because it was CarolAnn’s birthday. Neither call was made via Zoom or Facetime.

A week or so ago I set up a call with my doctor. It was so insignificant I don’t even remember why I called but the fact that it was easy and super-efficient was a big motivator. I wouldn’t have made an office appointment for this particular issue, whatever it was, but now I can consult with my doctor face-to-face without leaving my La-Z-Boy or even having to put on pants.

What a world.

Doc Friendman and I have never met in person. Seriously. CarolAnn and I have been his patients for more than a year but in his office, we always met with Physician Assistants never with the guy whose name is on the door until last week when I met his lovely face on my phone.

The P.A. must have called in sick that day.

I’m fine with all of this. As I said, I love the convenience and the fact that so far my online medical consultations haven’t required that I open my mouth, lift my shirt or drop my drawers in front of my phone.

I just wonder why we have to see each other’s faces? Wouldn’t a simple voice call be just as effective?

When my kids phone I’m constantly aware of how Zoom and Facetime make me look like some sort of fat cadaver in bad lighting. I don’t like that.

When I call the doctor for a face-to-face I don’t much care about my appearance. Seeing sick, fat, dying people is his job. But I wonder if Facetime, Zoom and Android Duo aren’t just an excuse to charge my insurance company for a regular office visit.

Sometimes technology has to explain to us why we need these “improvements”.

I’m reminded of a recent Tweet I saw:

Last night my friend asked to use a USB port to charge his cigarette, but I was using it to charge my book. The future is stupid.

Another goodbye

I took my little boy to the airport yesterday and said goodbye again.

Sending him off alone that way reminded me of another day when I had to turn my back and walk away. He was just four years old then and in his mother’s arms. I wasn’t walking away from him of course, nor from her for that matter. I walked away because I had to. Life sent three of us in two directions. We had no choice in the matter.

Jeremy and me, Disneyland 1980

That day on Pier 39 in San Francisco my heart was torn with every step. “Daddy!” he kept crying, a little louder each time. It still rings in my ears. Tears flowed in a very public place. I didn’t care. I forced myself to walk away quickly. I wanted to turn around and run back but I stayed strong for them both. I walked away because we had no choice.

None of us have ever talked about that one infinite minute. I just assume Jeremy was too young to remember. Maybe he does. I should ask. I think I know his mother well enough to know her heart was also breaking for him at that moment. And maybe, just a little, for me too.

Life patches up the scars pretty well. Jeremy’s mom and I both fell in love again and married better. We stayed close.

Jeremy and me, Texas 2020

The little boy I put on an airplane yesterday is 43 now. He was going home to his wife and their son but he will always be my little boy.

I hugged him tightly and told him I love him. He said he loves me, too.

Then I went home to my life as he flew home to his.

 

 

The time I met Jack Lemmon in his skivvies

by Dave Williams

One of the things I love about getting older is that I have a large box of memories to pick through when I’m in the mood. Sometimes they pop into mind for no apparent reason like an old photo that falls out of a drawer.

Here’s one I found this morning. I haven’t thought of it in many years. Sadly, there is no actual photograph.

In 1973 I was the Program Manager at KRTH 101.1 in Los Angeles which had a very small office and studio complex in a converted house on Venice at Fairfax, just off I-10 in West L.A.  One Friday I left my briefcase at work. When I needed it the next day I drove back to get it.

K-eaRTH was automated at the time. We had no live disc jockeys, but we did have one studio we used for newscasts and recording commercials.  On this particular weekend our company, RKO Radio, had granted permission to the American Film Institute to use the place as the setting for a short movie AFI was making about a radio talk show host who found himself trying to talk a crazed listener out of killing someone, maybe him or herself, I don’t remember. It was exciting. AFI made me a script consultant, asking me to look at the dialogue and make sure they were saying real radio-like things.

The legendary Jack Lemmon was the star of the film, donating his time and talent to the project.

“Failure seldom stops you. What stops you is the fear of failure.” – Jack Lemmon*

When I wandered in to pick up my briefcase that Saturday evening the tiny parking lot was crammed with production trucks, plugged in and humming. Cables ran everywhere, across the porch, through the doorway, and into the cramped studio area. The place was littered with professional lighting, sound equipment and very busy people carrying scripts, notebooks, and makeup kits.

My office was at the opposite end of the old house and as exciting as it all was I didn’t want to stand around and gawk like a rube so I just went straight to my office, inserted the key into the lock and opened the door.

Jack Lemmon froze when I entered, poised on one leg in my office in his skivvies, holding a pair of pants. He wore a white shirt and tie but my attention went to his legs; they were very white and kind of scraggly. I might have chuckled if I hadn’t been so surprised. He was surprised, too.

1972 Academy Awards, Jack Lemmon with Charlie Chaplin, both presumably wearing pants.
— Photo By Associated Press photographer – Public Domain

“Who are you?” he asked.

“This is my office,” I answered.

“Oh.” That’s all he said for a moment.

Then this magnificent and celebrated actor performed an unintentional but classic impersonation of himself, beaming with charm as he stammered,  “Sorry. They… they told me I could use this as a dressing room. (A slight pause, a big grin.) Have a beer.”

There was a cold six-pack of Coors on my desk.

“Oh, thanks,” I said, “but I just came to grab my briefcase. I’m leaving.”

I grabbed my briefcase and said it was nice to meet him. He said “you, too” or something like that.

And then I left.


* I just found this quote. It haunts me.

 

 

The lesson white people can’t teach

I wrote the first part of this piece three years ago. Just ran across it today and decided it’s ready for an update. No doubt more will come.

— Dave Williams,
June 16, 2020

“Atlanta” written and produced by Donald Glover

September 2017:

One day last week I was looking for a new TV show to watch and came across something called Atlanta. I’d never heard of it but the picture of three young black men with peaches in their mouths was weird. It intrigued me so I took a look.

Here’s how the Hulu log line describes the show:

Two cousins work through the Atlanta music scene in order to better their lives and the lives of their families.

That’s Hulu’s pr department trying to make it sound like a funky Modern Family. The description is so white bread it makes me wonder if someone was trying to intrigue me or chase me away. The weird photo makes a statement of its own. I’m not sure what it is but it sucked me in.

I punched PLAY.

Atlanta took me to a world I’ve never known, where everyone is black and speaks street slang in a dialect that was difficult for me to follow. I turned on captions and it helped but I still struggled a bit to understand what was being said and what it meant. Finally, I just sat back and let the characters develop. I was drawn in.

These people are just like me, but different. We live in very different versions of America.

I’m a white man in my middle sixties.

I’ve never experienced racial discrimination nor knowingly committed any but I’ve always known that it exists and is a damnable sin. I admit to being slightly uncomfortable around people of different classes and cultures. That’s just human nature and it has nothing to do with skin color, sexual identity, religion or nationality, it’s just a matter of “different”. I’m no anthropologist but I wonder if it isn’t an instinctive thing going back many tens of thousands of years to isolate and identify threats from other tribes. I don’t know. I’m just spitballing here. Regardless, we all experience that and almost all of us struggle to eliminate the built-in sense of fear that many people today would label bigotry.

Atlanta is just a TV show but in the comfort of my white middle-class family room it admitted me to a world I’ve never known and can’t visit in real life.

I watched all ten episodes of the first season and I’m all in. I care about the characters and their relationships. I like them. I want them to succeed. I want them to be happy. I love seeing their world through their eyes. It has opened mine.

But this isn’t a TV review. Here’s the point:

Each segment of our lives is a series of doors leading from one place to the next.

At 66, I’m allowed to ease off the pedal. Fewer doors, fewer choices, no hurry.  I don’t have to immerse myself in long term goals and obligations; my kids are grown and raising their own families. My career is achieved and I can stop reaching for the next rung on the ladder.

In many ways I’m just starting to live life on my terms for the first time. I’m learning to let go of insistence and think about what I want to do just because I want to.

Lately I’ve enjoyed stocking bird feeders and watching finches jostle for position.

I find myself saying hello to strangers with greater regularity and sincerity.

Old black men go through this same transformation.

If you’ve not reached this point you have an exciting time of life ahead that you’re probably dreading because you think getting old means wearing out.

Nope.

Getting old means getting free.

When it happens you’ll be amazed by how it clarifies your thinking; you’ll reassess beliefs and assumptions you forged long ago when you were gullible, impulsive and bulletproof. You’ll find yourself saying, “Maybe I was wrong” and being right about that.

In this sense growing old is a gift shared among people of all races.

Atlanta is just a TV show but it opened my eyes to a world inaccessible to me. The characters and their stories are fictional but I trust its cultural authenticity and insights.

In one scene Alfred, aka the rapper called Paper Boi, explains in a moment of frustration why he needs to be successful in music so he can stop selling drugs for a living.

“I scare people at ATMs,” he says. “I have to rap.”

That hit me like lightning.

I’ve never scared anybody by my mere existence. I’ve never had to think about how some might fear and maybe even hate me as a stereotype.

This is what people mean when they talk about white privilege. I didn’t get it until now because I’ve only heard that term as an accusation from other white people who live in my own culture. They try to teach me something while strongly implying I’m a bigot simply because I was confused and defensive. It was a revelation delivered to me in anger. They throw down the gauntlet of shame: “If you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem.” It demands I choose sides and smacks of condescension. It makes me frightened, angry and defensive.

“I scare people at ATMs.”

That’s when I got it.

I have white privilege, I understand that now, no thanks to the message delivery system.

It doesn’t mean I should feel guilty about it. It’s not my fault and nobody can tell me it is. It’s just sad and wrong. It’s human. Maybe in some small way my understanding can help fix it.

June 2020:

My Age of Aquarius, the 1960s, was a time of cultural revolution that was shocking and frightening to my parents’ generation. We who were young found it terrifying and yet exciting. With one foot in the world of Leave It To Beaver and another in bloody Vietnam the activists and advocates for change set their sites on the hopelessly lofty goal of universal peace and love, no more wars or discrimination; flower power, Woodstock and all that. Immediately.

Peace advocate faces National Guard troops, People’s Park, Berkeley, CA 1969
Photo titled “Jan Rose Kasmir”

They advocated world peace by shouting, “You’re either with us or against us!”

And today, “If you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem.”

This is where most people pay their check and go home. You can’t insult people into understanding and accepting your view of life.

Between generations of change our culture needs a nap.

We grow tired of fear and anger. We grow up, grow families and want our comforting lives back so we take a break for a decade or five. We want our children to have the secure, carefree lives we insist on remembering. To some extent they do, but yet they don’t.

Eventually, our kids or theirs gear up for another fight, one that inevitably beats others into confused submission and thus advances the bar of human evolution just a tiny bit before they take another break and bring the next generation in off the bench.

It is frustratingly slow but we have frustratingly short lives and so much living to do between protests.

As an old man who has been there and done that I am glad for the effort. Positive change is inevitable, I think. We do make progress but it is painfully slow, especially painful for the young and anxious.

I’m tired. That’s not a good excuse, it’s just a fact.

I have no great wisdom to impart or solutions to offer. I can only say that I wish people would stop shouting long enough to listen, really listen with open minds and hearts. We might find we have more in common than we believe.

For me it started on a TV show.

“I scare people at ATMs.”

Here’s a best-of reel from Atlanta.

A tale of two sheet pans

by Dave Williams

It was the best of pans, it was the worst of pans.

CarolAnn and I will celebrate our 34th anniversary three days from now. It’s a proud achievement for us both. The secret, as most long-married people will tell you, is to learn the art of compromise. Here is one of ours.

I am not allowed to cook with CarolAnn’s baking sheet. She likes her pots and pans to shine. I don’t see the point, I really don’t, especially when it comes to the bottom of a pan, the part that sits on a stovetop or oven rack. We don’t put food on burners or racks and in any case the long exposure of a trifle of potato slices or a slab of chicken to high heat makes any argument about cleanliness really academic in my view.

My view is not universally accepted.

So, we each have our own baking sheets. Here are hers and mine side-by-side. You guess which is whose.

By the way, I scrubbed the one on the right in soapy water before taking this picture.

When I cook for us I use my pan and it doesn’t seem to bother her in the least. And, cookies that come from her glistening cookery have never tasted too clean for my palate. The result is peace and tranquility lending itself to an epic tale of marital harmony.

Just one final note. In the spirit of helping younger life partners evolve a bit in this matter, I’ll leave one more picture.

CarolAnn does all of her cooking in the kitchen next to our family room. This is mine.

Any questions?

 

Terry Nelson lives

Terry Nelson on KROY, 1973. Copyright @Jeff March

I believe we leave traces of ourselves everywhere we go and among everyone we meet. Over a lifetime these fragments of others meld with our own essence to create the people we are.

My special friend, Terry Nelson, has apparently died. I say apparently because it’s something I can’t yet accept. It just doesn’t make sense.

Of all the people I’ve known Terry is one of the few whose very existence inclines me to believe in God, His goodness and His famously mysterious ways.

I wish I could tell Terry that. He’d laugh like hell and say, “Man, we need to get you another drink.”

Terry is one of those rare people I’ve known who always wears a smile. Always. I never saw him down or angry. He speaks with a persistent and infectious chuckle. He pays attention to every word I say, nodding his comprehension and agreement. He responds with a sterling compliment: “Dave, that’s exceptional”,  he’ll say, and then give me a brief, positive reflection on what I had told him. He often leaves behind a nugget of revelation.

A few moments spent with Terry always makes me feel better about myself.

The eddies of life as they are, swirling, mixing and moving apart, I haven’t seen or spoken with Terry in years but the traces of him that migrated to my soul have made me a better man.

I guess the reason I can’t believe he’s gone is that he isn’t. He lives large in each of us who loved him.


More Terry Nelson tributes, memories and recordings of his on-air work can be found here, at the KROY Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/112381452000/

The 1240 KROY website: http://www.1240kroy.com/