Monday, May 22, 2006

I made one of my “bookies” for Mike, as I was wont to do for anyone I had a desire to connect with, anyone I wanted to share my soul with. In addition to many of the quotes from my little green Just Buch, I added several more.

It’s tiring my voice to talk across the room.
You’ve got a lot more going for you than just your teeth, baby.

-from Tennessee Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Any More
(a movie I happened upon on TV with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton

Even though my mind is hazy and my thoughts they might be narrow,
where you’ve been don’t bother me or bring me down in sorrow.
It don’t even matter to me where you’re waking up tomorrow.
Daddy, you’re just on my mind. - Bob Dylan

At least we’ve been barking up the right trees. - Ray Mungo

Don’t it make you want to go home, now… - (popular folk song)

uniquities - me

I’m studying to be a prophet. - Danny Blair

Don’t some of the darndest things happen in this fairy tale? - The Golden Goose

Droll…how very, very droll. - Remington commercial

We can have archaic and eat it too. - Gary Owens, Laugh-In

When it gets old enough, gossip becomes scholarship. - Dick Cavett

I wrote a letter to him at the end of the spring trimester, on April 26, 1974. I have three versions of the letter, why I don’t know, and each has different phrases and ideas, so I’m including parts of them all in an attempt to reveal who I was at that moment.

“I’ve been sitting for an hour or so in your old house (Clarks) waitin’ for somebody to show up but nobody seems to want to. Stranger-than-fiction evening. I sat down with some Liebfraumilch and a kerosene lamp and soaked up the Lazarus album like a sponge. I hadn’t heard it for literal months and it Spoke to me. You were very much here. But besides you there was a veritable crowd, on and off. It sort of brought back the past.

“So I’m alone and it’s midnight. I got back from chorus tour two days ago. Comments on that experience we’ll save for future reference. Also I have recently taken my last set of undergraduate finals and walked across a stage and graduated. My first 4.0 and it was for 18 units. Pretty gratifying. But I’m not relating to the experience.”

The next version of the same letter is typed on carbon paper with the word COPY in red printed down one side – how many years has it been since I’ve run across a piece of paper like that? Decades.

“Dear M.—
“I’m not at all sure why it’s been so hard lately to get down to writing. It hasn’t been hard to be thinking about you. A night alone out at your old place (Clarks) with Liebfraumilch, a kerosene lamp and Lazarus (it seemed I soaked it up like a sponge, I hadn’t heard them in so long); seeing “The Paper Chase” – even if the people around Yale are Nicer than they are at Harvard; hearing Gaston play in a group at his house; getting two terrifically exhortative ifthat’saword missives from yourself — it’s been pretty enjoyable.
“Was that duet business a sneaky hint that you might be out this way?
“For maybe the first time in my memory I’m not living in the future very much at all. It’s likely because I don’t know what to expect – if I did it would probably be fear and trembling time. So the summer isn’t making me as nervous as usual.
“These post-graduation weeks have been crazy. Chorus tour was overall a valuable thing; it had its high points, like a really moving performance in Winslow, Arizona of all places, and its lows, like when my guitar got busted. I think it can be healed. Graduation itself left a very small impression on the old emotions. Unreal to the hilt. That much-appreciated non-creedal statement arrived just after the last of six finals. Praise the Lord, and I mean that, I finally after eleven trimesters made a 4.0 for 18 units. Gratifying in an irrelevant way. Since then I’ve played a lot, and it does feel bourgeois; one day I worked in the School of Business with Naomi, and the next I tie-dyed with Julie Sime.
“I wouldn’t think of holding you to any sort of creedal statement – as long as you return the favor. Just keep making new ones. I’m afraid you do leave yourself open to relentless questioning, from me and everybody else. But that’s the price we all have to pay for having Opinions and Thoughts. If nobody cared there’d be no controversy. How boring. —Of course you can always refuse to answer.
“You are the beneficiary of my mistake – I bought this Joni tape for the bus which turned out not to have a player, just like me. So it’s yours. Whatever else this one is, it’s kicks. My guess is that the book is worthy (good nite, I haven’t typed for too long) of those moments when there is absolutely nothing else to do, if those exist —
“I pray for you. Your sharing with me is challenging and comforting. I ask God to be with you too.”

From the third version of this letter, I will only quote those phrases in which it differs from the first two. I know the Faithful Reader’s patience is extensive, but surely it can’t be infinite.

“It’s a little crazy. I’ve got the compulsion to write but few collected thoughts. It’s hard even to take my emotional temperature at this point. I’m sure that’s a blessing. I thought the old feelings had been numb pretty much lately. I didn’t respond a whole lot to “graduation”, just the typical letdown after finals; chorus tour always gets everybody all excited and overwrought, but it seemed just really nice and tiring. (Winslow, Arizona was something though. It was an Amen congregation and we were really preaching and praising when we sang, instead of going through the motions.) But last night was one of those Nights. I was at your old house (Clarks) all alone with a little Liebfraumilch, a kerosene lamp, and Lazarus. Don’t let it give you the creeps, but you were very much there. It’s sort of a communion. The words really spoke and the music sparkled. A nice moment, lots of nostalgia and some peace.
“Unlike last tri, I didn’t take much time to Think this time…Mostly there was only time to react to emotions raised in class. Holy terror from Tyler (it was scary to be in Vegas on tour – Rome incarnate); the eternal frustration with Doctrine from Doc Mitchell; forever being caught between Reformation Grace and the “repristination of the church” (what a phrase) – (It was terrific to see Richard Hughes
[i] mit Familie heading out of Sambo’s in El Paso while we were coming in) – Well Anyway, no new conclusions resultant. It was really nice though to read Barth (Evangelical Theology) because this time I had a tad more grasp of what was being said. Parts of it reminded me of your situation and goals and that was good…
“These tapes are a mistake of which you are the beneficiary. I bought ‘em (the Leo Kottke one used, as is evident) for the player that turned out to be busted on the bus for chorus tour. Therefore I’ve never heard either one (except in person – Kottke was good in concert but I bought the tape blind – or would it be deaf) and have nothing on which to play them – so they’re all yours…
“There’s a challenging, comforting kind of support coming at me from your side of the country that I really appreciate. If my month of meditation produces anything valuable, I’ll waste your time with that. I figure you’ve already forgiven whatever was less than memorable that has gone before. Keep forgiving —
“Love. Gwen”

Here’s me around that time of year in the side yard of the Youngs’ beach house.

The spring passed rather uneventfully. I had a job babysitting the Youngs’ first grandchild, Emily and Steven’s little toddler, David, two afternoons a week. He was adorable, a rather quiet child and very obedient. I wrote to Grandmommie that “if you ask him, he can tell you that he’s 22 months old. He’s really smart and fun to be with.” Once I was feeding him some yogurt in his high chair, and I couldn’t get his attention. He was focused on the ceiling, watching the rainbows that the sun was making from a rain puddle outside. He was my kind of spacey, rainbow loving child, a little blond angel. After I would arrive at their house in the canyon, and feed David something, he would take a nap. Then I would get him up and play for awhile, and put him in my car to take him to his mom. Emily was teaching English at Pepperdine, and we would find her classroom just as her class was ending and I would hand him over to her.
I loved driving down the Malibu Canyon Road in my yellow Camaro. I was still fearless, having never been in a wreck, and some teasing friends liked to call me “Mario Andretti”. There was a tunnel we would pass through on our way from the house to the campus, and David and I had a tradition of saying, “Oooooh…tunnnelll” as we went through it. I would always ask him what my car was called and he would say, “Ca…meh…wo!”
Danny lived that year, with a roommate whose name I don’t recall, at Point Dume in the Royce Clarks’ backyard garage apartment. Royce was my theology professor, and he and his wife Dessie were quiet, gentle, Southern people who had been transplanted like the rest of us to this strange and glamorous beach community. Danny made that garage apartment a work of art, with lots of plants, some of his own original art, and a candle stand with pierced metal shade we had bought that made wonderful shadows on the walls and ceiling. Somewhere around campus we had found a round wooden table with solid sides that someone was throwing away, and we had decoupaged it with lots of pictures cut out of magazines. That sat in the middle of the room, and his single bed was the couch.

It got to be the end of senior year. We had not spent time together, but for neither of us was there anyone else we would want to do graduation with. Sara had returned from Lipscomb and been two years at Pepperdine Malibu, and she and Sam were back together again. So the four of us went to the Senior Banquet together. It was at some Oriental restaurant up in the Hollywood Hills, and was an uneventful and too-formal occasion to have any fun. So when it was over, we decided to get some wine and go back to Danny’s apartment for awhile together.

We were all together in Danny’s room, listening probably to Cat Stevens on the stereo, and Danny and I, down on the floor in the dark, found ourselves kissing, just one long kiss. We both said, “That’s the first for me in a year.” It had been a long time, again, and both of us had missed the other, missed the togetherness, and now we decided to “try it again” for the summer.

Sara’s and my graduation was in April. (Danny’s would occur in August.) Sara and Sam were together, though not engaged or committed, and Danny and I were together for the time being, so we celebrated graduation with a picnic on the beach. The Rindge Beach House sat on a spit of sand with the Lagoon on the right and the Malibu Cove on the left, where surfers have traditionally sat on their boards in their black wetsuits year round, waiting for a wave. So we were out there with the whole sky around us like a dome, and the sunset was the most awesome, gentle, tender, Impressionist sunset I have ever seen. The colors were incredibly pale, pink and peach and violet and green, the clouds were wispy streaks (instead of the giant, billowing Michelangelo clouds, which I also love) and they spread all across that sky.

I missed this hike in the Malibu hills. I remember that those two girls on top were great girls but I have no idea what their names were. On the lower level are Danny Blair, Janice Hahn, Virginia Burch, Jimmy Hahn and Kenny Waters.

One fun night that summer Danny and I took in George Lucas’ American Graffiti at the Malibu movie house. Even though the story was set in 1962, it was only different from Danny’s experience growing up in Stockton in that there was no overt drug use in the movie. It really rang true for him. I remember feeling frustrated that he didn’t want to say more about what it stirred in him. Always looking for the way in to a person’s heart, hungry to know what they were thinking and feeling, I felt shut out when there was silence.
My mom traveled, as had become her custom, to Germany for a month during that summer, to work with her old friend Irene Johnson at the children’s camp in Gemünden. While she was gone, I had more freedom to spend time with Danny, and Caren Houser was around a lot too. (Sara and Marilyn had gone back to Europe for a trip with their parents, so Caren was at a loss.) Naomi had gone for the summer to work at Camp Shiloh in New Jersey, where Sam Jackson and Elaine Thomas and Gail Cosner and so many other of our friends had labored before.

Caren and Danny and I spent time by the pool, one morning with omelet breakfast prepared by me. That day sticks in my mind because it was the first time I had ever worn a swimsuit in front of Danny. I had hurt him many times because of my frustration with his lack of communication, and he took this opportunity to make me feel hideous because my body was not attractive to him. This was a rejection I had feared for years. It cut deeply and confirmed what I had been believing about myself. I had hoped that somehow he would love me so much that he would not feel this way.

One night, he and I took a drive in the old blue Falconi to the beach and walked out to the water in the dark. I was wearing my favorite long dress, the one I had made from an Indian bedspread. It was cool, so I had on my brown cape as well. I was feeling most magical. We ended up lying on the sand and sharing a very tender time, separate but together, cautious yet close. Another time we were lying on his bed, and I finally discovered just a hint of what people were talking about when they spoke of “arousal”. Fully clothed, we couldn’t have been more chaste, but his roommate heard the bed springs creaking, assumed that the expected was taking place, and embarrassed both of us with his comments the next day.

Another night, Danny spent the night on the fold-out couch at my mom’s house, and I got in bed with him the next morning, just wanting to cuddle. He was getting to the point in his life where this just wasn’t going to work any more, but instead of discussing it, he simple barked, “What is it you want??” I didn’t understand his frustration. Nobody had explained things to me from the male point of view.

Perhaps in an effort to remove a long-standing barrier between us, I finally broke down and tried marijuana for the first (and last) time. We took a little drive down the coast to visit a supplier friend of his (who turned out to be someone I had grown up with, who I didn’t know smoked dope) and easily scored. We were up in a canyon, and it was a lovely, private setting for getting high. I had been told that some people don’t have any particularly strong experience on their first try, but I had been sitting in closed, smoke filled rooms with Danny at various parties over the past four years, so maybe it had built up in my system. At any rate, I was not disappointed by a lack of results. I got very stoned.

I absolutely hated it. I had tunnel vision, which was disturbing. I hated knowing that Danny had driven me places in this state and I hadn’t realized how skewed his senses were. He had endangered us, and I hadn’t realized how much. I asked him to drive me immediately home, and was scared all the way. I couldn’t wait to get still, hoping that would help to diminish the effects. I lay on my mother’s couch and prayed that these sensations would leave as soon as possible.

I put on a Second Chapter of Acts album and tried to sing along with their lyrics of praise to the Lord. I did have one interesting experience due to the high. As I closed my eyes, I felt I could tell where the various musicians on the recording had been sitting in the recording studio. I could hear each instrument coming from a different distance. But that perception was not fun enough to make up for the other weirdness. I wanted so badly for my body to get back to normal. The next day, as I drove through Malibu Canyon, I thought I could still feel it affecting my vision. I asked the Lord to forgive me for taking myself temporarily out of His hands and putting my body in the hands of the drug.

o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o

Random thoughts gathered for a letter to Mike: “Joni’s new album came out this week – I’m glad I heard it before I bought it, but the compulsion to do so was strong despite my disappointment in this latest one. I got disillusioned about her moral character years ago but this time the music made me sad too. That’s a first, in seven or so years. It was a real let-down to recognize old Carole’s and maybe James’s influence – and there’s a lot of rock n’ roll and an Andrews Sisters, and a ‘30s scat song, the first song ever she didn’t write. The really disgusting thing is that the first time through I was critical – and by the third, I Liked it. Now is that Flexibility – or weakness of personal conviction? Most likely it doesn’t matter much (except I can’t decide what’s worth sending) but it’s a principle that bothers me pretty often.

“A confrontation with Joni always results in a big philosophical problem or two – I wish I had the energy to work on them instead of waiting until they fade away, unresolved. Is not making a decision the same as making one in this case? Problems of relating to one’s environment (getting spacey or bent out of shape); the values and dangers (real or imaginary) of music; honesty vs. illusion vs. love; und so weiter, und so weiter


Preparation killed the cat – or is that a misquote?

“I left the glitter boxed up in Bekins – just in case, you know.”

I wrote this to Mike Johnston on July 24, 1974:

“Hello, my friend,
“(‘Let’s just please watch those possessive adjectives, buddy.’

“How well are you maintaining your composure under the muddlement of the French language? You know I relate, though last summer’s pressures weren’t quite as great, probably. This summer continues to be an astonishingly varied experience. At the moment (just to set the scene) I’m watching the booth for 20 Century Christian at the North American Christian Convention (a Disciples-type affair) in Anaheim. It’s more or less a circus, reminds me of dove-selling in the Temple, but doesn’t everything? So many smiling faces. It can be nice. (Also I’m getting paid, which helps since my car seems to be falling cheerfully apart.)

“YOU RAT! Pardon the outburst, but I had to wait till last week at Richard Hughes’ house to find out you had not only passed Deutsch but conjured up Honors in every dadburn class! It’s not that my faith in you was waning, but I do enjoy being informed of as many occasions for joy (or at least satisfaction) as may arise. Well hurroar for you.

“I talked to Kerry Gifford, you may have heard the name (ex-Yale Div. person) and he was interesting and encouraging about The Program. My aspirations are still shaky, but they’re there. I may get to work in the Disciples’ Historical Society while I’m in Nashville, if Hughes’ recommendation can get me in – purely for experience, you understand. I’m glad for my Roots, but feeling less and less tied to them.

“JM is sold out, the whole week, or I’d go for my birthday. My feelings about her seem to parallel my general mood lately. Seems like a new chapter is about the begin – old things remain, a little faded and mellowed, and whatever’s up seems challenging, if not downright delightful. God bless us and keep us on the old cutting edge (even if it does seem dull now and again…)

“I do not like this letter. Maybe I’ll send it as a penance. Grin.

[i] Richard Hughes, my Church History professor, profoundly influenced my thinking with just a few words about the “American civil religion,” thoughts which he recently published in a book entitled Myths America Lives By. In retrospect, he was one of my favorite teachers, and in the passing years his wife Jan shared with me that I was one of his favorite students.
[ii] “and so forth, and so forth…”
[iii] Does anyone recognize the voice of J.D. Salinger, specifically in Seymour: An Introduction?

No comments: