The Persistence Of

Rod McKuen’s father abandoned his mother before he was born, and in the early 1970s McKuen hired a team of private investigators to find him.  The search is documented in the autobiographical Finding My Father: One Man’s Search for Identity, ©1976.

One fascinating aspect of the search was how poor people’s memories are.  Four women who were friends of his mother at the the time of his birth were interviewed, and each gave a different address for where she had lived.  None of these women had incentive to lie– in fact, they were doing their best to be helpful– but obviously at least three of them were wrong.  On cross examination they were all quite certain they were correct, and even picked photos of the buildings out of an architectural lineup.

It makes me wonder how many of my own memories might not be true.


A Lesson in Genetics

In this excerpt from Blue Highways © 1982, author William Least Heat Moon recalls a conversation in the Desert Den Bar in Hachita, New Mexico:

(Bartender) Mrs. (Virginia) Been turned to me. “He’s a real cowboy. Horse, lasso, branding iron.”

“Not many of us left except you count the ones that tells you they’s cowboys. A lot them ones now. I been ridin’ since the war.”

“Weren’t you up around Alamogordo when they tested the bomb?” the high-mileage man said. “Think I heard you were.”

“Over west to Elephant Butte, up off the Rio Grande. Just a greenhorn, sleepin’ out where we was movin’ cattle. July of ‘forty-five. They was a high wind that night and rain, and I didn’t get much sleep. Curled up against a big rock out of the wind. I was still in my bedroll at daybreak when come a god-terrible flash. I jumped up figurin’ one of the boys took a flashbulb picture of me sleepin’ on the job. Course nobody had a Kodak. Couple minutes later the ground started rumblin’. We heard plenty of TNT goin’ off to Almagordy before, but we never heard nothin’ like that noise. Sound just kept roarin’. ‘Oh, Jesus,’ I says, ‘what’d they go and do now?’ Next month we saw wheres they bombed Heerosaykee, Japan. We never knowed what an A-tomic bomb was, but we knowed that one flash wasn’t no TNT blockbuster.”

“The next day the sun rose in the wrong direction,” the other man said. “They’ve been testing soldiers stationed at Alamogordo in ‘forty-five for radiation poisoning. You know, Herefords up there turned white.”

“Feelin’ fine. Doctor told me once it was a good thing I was behind that rock. He says the wind saved me, but the wife says the bomb musta been why we never had no kids. Says it burned out my genetics.”

“You never know.”

“Truth is, bad genetics runs in my family. Dad never had no kids.”

“Your Dad didn’t have children?” I said.

“Not a one. That’s why he adopted me.” He drained his beer. “You know what Spaniards called the valley where the bomb got blowed off?”

High mileage looked up. “Don’t think I ever heard.”

“Journey of Death,” the little cowboy said. “That’s the English for it.”

Gone From View

When Paul Simon’s mother died, this is the note Art Garfunkel sent him:

To Paul from Art:   We’re out under the stars now, the harbor we came from is gone from view.

Excerpted from Art Garfunkel’s autobiographical What Is It All But Luminous / notes from an Underground Man ©2017

Not Supposed To Do

This poem, excerpted from Art Garfunkel’s autobiographical What Is It All But Luminous / notes from an Underground Man ©2017, reminds me of the playfulness of Shel Silverstein:

Today I'll judge my books by their covers.
I'll watch a pot, count unhatched chicks,
I'll fix the unbroken, hold secret gods divine.

A thousand fine soldiers, resplendent in
  their jacket designs, are lined in shelves
        in my aerie--
All the noble sentiments quilled,
Cry for all the milk that's spilled,
Let the unaware buyer be sold--
If the book cover glitters, it's gold;
I'll make a Top Forty polled for pretty veneers,
  how the book appears, and how it feels
    to hold and be held the whole night
Today I'll do exactly what you're not
supposed to do.


Excerpted from Art Garfunkel’s autobiographical What Is It All But Luminous / notes from an Underground Man ©2017:

In May of ’69… Paul’s writing changed from “I know your part’ll go fine”– words of a deep friendship (The Only Living Boy in New York)– to “Why don’t you write me?”– words of frustration.

So many things that are obvious in retrospect slip by us in the present.

(An aside:  it seems petty to complain about a book’s font, but this was published in something resembling Comic Sans that is very difficult to read.)

It Is Important Not to Know

Lawrence Ferlinghetti on the benefits of travel:

Sometimes it is better not to know anything about a country when you visit it. Especially it is important not to know its language or languages. Thus every sound, striking the ear like a small bell or animal cry, without any associative meaning, takes on the immediate quality of poetry, the quality of pure color in painting, with the percussive effect of pure sound in a void. It is only as these sounds accumulate inside us that some sort of composite meaning forms itself. Until then, we are like children newly arrived on earth, with virgin timpani, each a tabula rasa upon which all has yet to be written. Herein lies the true fascination of travel, not in the confirmation or contradiction of what we have been led to expect by the perusal of history or the learning of local languages, nor by the recognition of native customs in their similarity or dissimilarity to our own…

Thus it was that I came upon the souk in Marrakesh as a space traveler in a time warp, knowing nothing of the place in which he has landed, with only his senses to inform him of the strange terrain.

And strange it certainly was. Night itself, and I arrived at night, casts its mystery even on the most familiar domestic scene, for night itself is always the eternal unfathomable darkness out of which all is born and into which all is borne in the end. We are merely time travelers in between, fleetingly passing in a patch of sunlight, from shadow to shadow. Every day is a patch of light, however somber or bright, every night a patch of that eternal mystery.

The souk was of that darkness, and it lay everywhere before me.

Excerpted from Writing Across the Landscape, © 2015.

But in your dreams, whatever they be…

Another excerpt from Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s travel journal, Writing Across the Landscape, © 2015:

NIGHT OF MARCH 6 (1972), IN NADI MOTEL– So noisy couldn’t sleep all night. Like a train station: trucks roaring past, people talking in hotel, doors slamming, etc., etc. Bad dreams… 7:15 a.m. we fly out to Australia. Possible that our waking psychic states are mirror images of our sleep & dreams, as the branches of the tree mirror the pattern of the roots? So that the profile of our dreams transfigures our waking moods preceding or following that sleep? The depression or euphorias of dreams carried over into our daytime subliminal feelings… A bad dream may blight our day, a dream of desire carry over into waking sexual aggressions. Of course, it’s all in Freud, all in Wilhelm Reich… The moon is my undoing when the sun comes up, the midnight sun gathers us in, our dream siblings signal us thru the flames.