Flaskaland
Saturday, October 12, 2013
 
When we knew Frank, my sister and I were both "Big Sisters" for a time to troubled younger kids from Pomona Valley. 

Soon, my expertise was drawn upon by the school to help deal with a few bright kids who were headed for trouble (one lived in a trailer in the local cemetery with his dad, who was caretaker there and he and his son dug graves together occasionally, a rough man in a tan utility suit who the boy did not get along with because the dad drank, had a bad temper, was poor, the kid was a burden, the wife had left him or had died, etc. etc. and eventually they got into a fight and his father stabbed him.  I would invite this boy to my birthday parties.  He was tall, dark, and handsome, a Latino and exceptionally gifted in applied physics (as the teacher informed me), but he would act like a juvenile delinquent in class ... "Hey teach" and he would slouch in his chair.  My dad would talk with him at the kitchen table, and the young man was always very polite in our home and grateful for whatever small kindness or genuine interest in him that anyone happened to throw his way.

The cemetery was located on the outskirts of town, on the edge of the "city" limits, below the tracks, as if to say we don't allow such things in our town proper.  Very quiet, always, there, somehow more quiet than the rest of the town (which was small and quiet) and there was a big gate on a wide road, large enough for the Cadillac hearse, that I could ride my bicycle through.

My father simultaneously with this would be the local Civil Defense Warden (show us all where we were to evacuate to and where the stores of tinned foods were in the event of a nuclear blast) and serve on grand juries.

My mother would cook a turkey with all the trimmings and on occasion my father would invite a serviceman who was drawn from an official program, who had no where else to go on Thanksgiving or Christmas over to spend those holidays with us and we usually let those guys say grace if they asked about that as we didn't do that except when my sister flirted with Romanism, although we were always grateful for what we had.  My sister, and I to some extent at that young age, were wearied of this form of do-goodism.  The soldiers or sailors were always white, usually from the South, and the young men felt a little ill at ease being designated some kind of "holiday charity cases" although they simultaneously seemed to genuinely appreciate the offer of kindness and were appreciative.  Although I had a handful of distant relatives with successful military careers (one was working at the Pentagon), these young men confused me, until one of my relatives explained it to me in a way I could understand: "Everyone starts from someplace."

None of this involves music, except my birthday parties (which were held every few years), garden parties on the patio or yard ... those were usually rock n roll or r & b records, but one year, we did the limbo to a borrowed Harry Belafonte album.  My favorite songs at that time were "Mama Look a Boo Boo" and "(That's right!) The Women Are Smarter".  I could sing "Day-O" effectively with echo in bathrooms or school hallways, and I even then I realized that "The Banana Boat Song" was bursting with possibility in terms of subtextual political content and likely hidden or veiled meanings although I didn't know the words "subtextual" nor "coded" messages nor the actual process of determining such factors.  Those were just "storys" you could piece together from newspaper articles and history readings. 

So I learned to sing "Day-O" and could do a good version because I had also learned later from another record to "Put The AcCENT on the Wrong Syl-AH-buhl". 

I realize right now that what I am doing is putting a lot of experiences in a line on a page.  And everyone has a lot of experiences.  But I am holding still for a moment and trying to make sense of these things, a form of understanding which might never happen, there may never be an actual "Aha" or "Eureka!" moment where I realize and so communicate to the reader "that's what it was all leading up to" or "that's what it was all about" or "that's how this person developed (let's say Frank or any of them)".

And speaking personally, I get tired of recitations of achievements or especially travelogs from people that are a string of things and a long list of exotic places or meals in high end restaurants with lofty important personages because the people telling these stories usually don't examine their experiences and why they might be important, and if they do, sometimes that's all they're saying ("I ate an expensive meal in an expensive restaurant in an exotic place. The end.") or if more was actually happening than that, they don't communicate these experiences effectively to me (like why they're important enough to even mention) and as a result I don't feel I can know that person very well.  But this is a long way from the Banana Boat Song.


 




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