Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
I had a dream last night that starred my friend Soozy. We were sitting at a round table, outside. Patti & Evan were there, which made sense. Even George’s wife Sue wasn’t completely out-of-place. But the fact that Diana was there was a clear sign from my subconscious that this was indeed a dream and not a half-memory or some pre-sleep notion. Weird how our subconscious minds play those little practical jokes on us…
I don’t remember anything else about the dream except that we were all in real-time (our current ages) except for Soozy who was represented as a younger version of herself—the version I first came to know in the very early 1990s.
We met in Seattle. I was the singer in a heavy metal band and she was freelancing variously in management & booking, freshly graduated from the Art Institute. Soozy is a highly-intuitive person, and has always had a very keen ear for talent—talent that isn’t always apparent to everyone else. As a result, she would often take on projects. Considering the nature of the inventory, many of these projects were tortured & unreliable at best. Deeply talented, sure– there may even have been a bonafide genius or two in the flock. At their worst, however, they were startlingly self-destructive. Some of us made it through. Others didn’t.
Soozy was fifteen years older than us back then. To be clear, she’s still fifteen years older than we are. At the time, though, in our mid-20s, the fifteen years seemed more significant than now. Among Soozy’s favorite roles was that of spiritual mentor. Some of us were more skilled than others at absorbing the less-linear elements of her coaching– but in the end much of what she was doing was herding cats. We actually were quite a bit like kittens or puppies in those days– clumsy & playful: mischievous yet adorable. We often fell down in big piles, rolling around on the floor panting and drooling, unable to get up. Soozy might have wished we weren’t such a complete collective mess all the time, but she loved us anyway and saw in each of us a superpower that in many instances we ourselves had no inkling we possessed. I often said Soozy was like a rock and roll den mother. She liked to party at night, but perhaps her greatest gift was recovery. I’m not talking about longterm recovery; but rather the daily kind.
“Take these,” she’d say, “and drink two beers as fast as you can.” And though a beer might not have been exactly what you’d had in-mind right then, I’ll be damned if by the middle of the second one you weren’t feeling pretty much better and actually considering a third.
I still didn’t know Soozy that well when we found ourselves in California in the summer of 1993 trying to promote Panic’s largely unpromotable second record. We had squandered a better previous record deal and a much more muscular previous management deal, and Soozy was doing what she could to keep the band afloat. But it was getting late and it was clear that the ship was taking on water. I remember getting on a plane the morning after the last show of that shameful California tour– while the rest of the band was still asleep in heaps on the floor at the Phoenix Hotel in the Tenderloin– knowing in my heart that the bitchin’ disaster we’d been humping furiously for most of the previous ten years was winding down.
My Mom picked me up at the airport in Little Rock and drove me back to her & her husband’s house in Hot Springs where I fell asleep on the couch watching the Allstar Game. In the morning, I got to work picking the weeds out of the cracks in the driveway with a screwdriver. It was 102 degrees and 97% humidity, but this job had to be done because the house was going on the market the following week. I finished the driveway and a few other tasks in-time for my mom to take me back to the airport to catch a short flight to Norfolk where I served as Best Man in a high school friend’s wedding (jumping into the fountain in a rented tuxedo w/ the marriage certificate in back pocket). My only other friend from high school (coincidentally not friends with the newlywed friend) picked me up the next day and we drove to Washington DC where we saw the last song of the Sister Double Happiness set at the Bayou in Georgetown. We didn’t even know they’d be playing—we were just hanging out at the Bayou! We then stole a half-night’s sleep at the Ramada before catching a train into Manhattan where we walked around the Village rationing what little money we had left. We caught a late train back to DC, got in the car, and drove without sleeping to friend’s house in Eastern Tennessee where we did sleep. After a few days, Andy put me on a midnight Greyhound across Tennessee and Arkansas, back to Hot Springs where by this time Mom & Art had moved into their new house. This house had a beautiful, cylindrical copper fireplace in the middle of the living room, like a Lyon’s Restaurant. It also had a smooth, modern driveway. So instead of soul-smashing driveway torture labor, we tooled around Lake Hamilton in their party barge drinking bourbon and pretending to fish for bass. After a few days, Mom took me back to the Little Rock airport. I flew back to Seattle and we broke up the band.
The afternoon before fleeing California, though, was a beautiful summer San Franciscan day. I’d had something else to do that afternoon, and the plan was for me to meet the band at soundcheck. I arrived in a red minivan, rented to the band (probably on Soozy’s credit card). We were playing at the historic I-Beam on Haight Street. It wasn’t called the I-Beam at the time, but it was the same room. I knew immediately upon walking in the door that something was not right. The club wasn’t open yet, and there was no house music playing. The only noise came from the sound crew setting up mic stands and the bar staff filling the ice bins in preparation for the evening. Normally, I’d walk into a setting like this to find the band & crew crowded in a booth laughing and smoking and killing a pitcher. But today, everyone was scattered in different corners of the club. George was slumped in a corner booth, his back to the stage. Jack was upstairs losing a game of pool to himself. Pinky was curled up in the fetal position on a roadcase backstage. And Marty was tucked up onto a high shelf above a coatrack in a service corridor between the kitchen and bar, sound asleep. I found Soozy.
“Um,” I said, tentatively. “What’s going on?”
“Shhhh!” she hissed, looking around as if someone were listening. “They’re on the cookie!
Soozy had been promising this experience the whole time we’d been in California, though it had largely fallen on ringing, deaf ears. Soozy was our mentor; and she in-turn had her own mentor—also the source of the mythical cookie. Sheila Rene was a publicist by trade, but definitely a fully-vested member of the Old Guard Bay Area Rock and Roll Aristocracy. She had a flat in Pacific Heights stacked with all manner of rock memorabilia, including a framed picture of herself with everyone from Duane Allman to Frank Zappa. Sheila always had a silver tobacco box on her coffee table stocked with what she liked to call ‘Left Wing Luckys’ and we smoked pot with Sheila any time we went calling there. We smoked pot with everyone in those days—all day every day, we smoked pot. It’s just what we did. Our tolerance was high and I sure as hell was not going to be intimidated by a 2” diameter home-made molasses cookie with a Hershey’s Kiss pressed in the middle, wrapped in wax paper—much less HALF of one. (Soozy claimed a whole cookie was too strong for any one person…)
I snatched our cookie from Soozy’s hand and ate my half in one bite. I handed hers back to her and said “let’s go for a walk.”
I don’t pretend to understand the physics of eating marijuana even now, in the golden age of cannabis. But back then– in the early 1990s– our experience with eating pot was probably limited to a Cheech & Chong routine or some other urban myth about brownies from an Afterschool Special. What me and my mates dug at that time was smoking pot and drinking whisky. We played in a heavy metal band. Eating pot cookies seemed like something our parents’ wilder friends might do, or else homosexuals. I rolled my eyes.
Of course it took about as long as a stroll from the I-Beam down to the intersection of Ashbury Street and back to understand just how powerful half a molasses marijuana cookie could be. By the time we got back to the I-Beam, I felt like this was the Haight of 1968—Stoney Baloney. Just higher than fuck, in a way that I wasn’t accustomed to being high. The last thing I wanted to do was go back into the club. The keys to the red van were still in my pocket, and I said “Soozy, there’s something I want to show you.”
We got into the van and I drove west on Haight, turning north on Stanyan before looping around the Panhandle and easing into Golden Gate Park. I was born in The City, and had spent a lot of time in the Park as a kid. I gleefully pointed out the landmarks of my childhood as we wound through the narrow lanes of the interior of Golden Gate Park, the afternoon light filtering down through the Eucalyptus trees. Soozy was singing, her head out the open window, just like Mr. Bear would later do.
There’s the Bison range. That’s the archery meadow. Kezar Stadium. Oh, my god—the Aquarium!
Soozy was raised in Raymond, and she’d seen plenty of the Pacific Ocean. But when you break out of the woods at the western exit of Golden Gate Park, past the windmill and first catch glimpse of the majestic 10’ breakers of Ocean Beach—it’s always as if you’re seeing it for the first time. This day was no different, and in fact extra powerful. Duh. But it still wasn’t what I’d come out here to show Soozy.
I turned right onto the Great Highway and started the gentle ascent to the Cliffhouse, where I found a spot and parked.
“This is what I wanted to show you, babe,” I said, turning to grin at Soozy. “Seal Rock!”
Soozy gleefully jumped out of the van and ran across the sidewalk to the rail. I remained in the driver’s seat rolling a cigarette. She returned to the van and flung open the driver’s door.
“Dude!” she beamed, her eyes wild, the ocean wind blowing her hair. “It’s so fuckin’ beautiful! And it’s just covered with seals!”
I got out of the car and made the rail, beholding the monolith. It was indeed so beautiful— just as I remembered as a child, with the afternoon light shining on it and the surf curling around its base.
But there were no seals on it.
“Sooz,” I said, lighting the smoke, “That rock is covered with seagulls.”
She looked at the rock and then back at me and we both dissolved into hysterics and stood there laughing and smoking till the sun sank into the Pacific and to wherever it goes when it’s no longer visible from here. China, or wherever. In fairness, they might have been pelicans. But I learned later that the seals split Seal Rock for Pier 39 after the World Series earthquake of 1989. That was the end of an era of sorts. But that evening, standing at the rail in Land’s End was the beginning of a different era—the era of my friendship with Soozy Bridges.
Happy Birthday, Soozy. Get well soon. I love you…
Groundhog Day. Shit, I almost forgot about that.
As if every day isn’t already so impossibly like the last. As if pasty whites in ill-fitting clothes and bad hair don’t already have too much to say. As if we need another six weeks of this nonsense, let alone four years.
Groundhog Day. That’s all we need right now…
No one really understands Groundhog Day, and I don’t see any good reason to start now. Yes, of course everyone knows that on February 2, an anointed Groundhog somewhere on the east coast emerges from his or her den and if he/she sees its shadow, then there’s six more weeks of winter. This much we all ‘know’ the same way we ‘learned’ the Gettysburg Address and the Preamble.
But—you know—what does it mean?
First of all, what even is a groundhog? I doubt most people not from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania could tell one apart from a Prarie Dog, Hedgehog or a common rat’sass Gopher. And why Punxsutawney (pronounced Punxsutawney) anyway? How did it come to pass that a stillwater no-doc ‘town’ of 6,000 in the middle of Pennsylvania (read: nowhere) got to be in-charge of the weather? After all, spring is important! There’s a lot of fucking that goes on in spring that’s of genuinely high consequence. Delaying or accelerating its arrival could mess with the natural rhythm of the season and throw us into a chaos we haven’t seen since December 2000. I’m saying now that there’ll be heck to pay come June if there’s no kittens to euthanize or if the clematis doesn’t bloom by Father’s Day. Merely sayin’.
I’ve researched it and still don’t hardly understand it. Near as I can tell, the six-week swing was a compromise between the Germans and the Scots because they favored different equinoxes– the Vernal or the Imbolc. So someone suggested they let a rodent decide. It is no less simpleheaded than a cointoss, but more civilized than a bloody Dark Ages war, when you think about it. Plus we got a good movie out of it, so at least we got that goin’ for us. Gunga la Gunga…
The calendar. The seasons. The Court. What’s any of it matter? March. Put a candle in the window at 7pm. Leave a voicemail for your legislator. The monied Christians are going to do what they’ve always done– what they want. It’s the year 2017. Does that mean the world has only been alive for 2017 years? Of course not! It just means that the Christians set the clock like they set everything else. Everyone plays by this rule, even the majority of the world that doesn’t believe in Jesus. It’s 2017– it’s not worth disputing. Can’t hardly blame folks for picking a battle.
So we’ll see what Punxsutawney Phil says tomorrow. I’m told he’s a hell of a Groundhog. Tremendous Groundhog.
July 4, 1976. Our nation’s bicentennial. On the shoulder of I5, signing a speeding ticket. This is my first memory of living in Washington State.
My stepfather was in a hurry to get to Federal Way before dark and was pressing a bit outside Centralia. This was the first moment of the 2nd stage of my life.
It was dark by the time we got to our new house, but I still knew our new neighborhood was different than the one we’d left day before yesterday. Though I could not see it, I knew it was different. It sounded different. It smelled different. It was only 800 miles geographically removed, but it felt like a different world altogether.
It was different. We were rich!
What other explanation was there? On July 2nd, we’d left the only neighborhood we’d ever known – a narrow grid of greasy streets literally on the wrong side of the BNSF tracks, sandwiched between the Bayshore Freeway and San Francisco International. The view from my 2nd floor bedroom of the 2+ bedroom 1-bath postwar bungalow I shared with my mother & sister was of the UNITED AIRLINES sign at SFO. The jets roared up and down the terminal night and day as did the trains on the tracks and the cars on the freeway. All night and day.
And then (almost) literally overnight, we were reborn. There was no fence in the new yard—only a giant hedge ( Stepfather proudly told us it was called Rhodonendron ) and a cropped green lawn stretching as far as the eye could see. Like the streets, the yards twisted in impossible angles with wide sidewalks and curbs baring such ridiculous addresses as 33519 327th Court SW. This was our address, after coming from 527 4th Avenue. How the fuck were were supposed to find our way around? There were no telephone poles…
My sister and I didn’t know what was going on. Our previous neighborhood was 70% Mexican, but everyone on our new street was white. Still, they all played soccer. No one in our old neighborhood played soccer! All the houses had garages, so there were no cars parked on the street. There were airplanes, but they seemed far up in the sky. We didn’t know where the closest store was.
We understood the bicentennial was a big deal. We’d heard about it on TV and they’d made a special 25-cent piece for it at the mint. There was a lot of flag waving at a time when flag waving wasn’t an every-day passtime, not like today. These days you have to wave a flag so people don’t think you’re a socialist. This was the mid-1970s…
I used to send my mother a Father’s Day card when I was in my 20s. I was between fathers at the time. And though the notion that Mama Tried implies that Mama failed– a greeting card seemed appropriate. It was.
Mom didn’t fail to be as good a father to me as she could. But she was pretty busy also being my mother, so it couldn’t have been easy. Single-parenting in the 1960s, can you imagine? There were no apps for that kind of thing.
What mom failed at historically was picking husbands. Some of those men were perfectly fathery figures to me, and in fact one of them was my actual father. But their primary roles should have been being mom’s husband, and in these roles they fell short of the household expectations. Huh.
My father father was not ‘cut out’ for the domestic life, something that might have been obvious to anyone other than a glamour-blind girl in her early 20s discovering the intoxicating nocturnal playground of North Beach in the late 1950s. Danny Braimes was ten years her senior, and one hell of a bartender in a golden age of pouring. They both wore white in their wedding at the Presidio, then drove to Ensenada back when you could still just do stuff like that. I was born 18 months later. By the time my sister arrived two years after that Daddy was well out of there.
To be fair, he came back one weekend a month to pick us up and take us to the zoo or museum or to the Sizzler. I don’t remember if it was every month, but mom never bitched about him being a deadbeat or anything. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t one, it’s just that mom didn’t want us to suspect as much, which is the highest possible road available to any single parent.
I didn’t know him well. I was just a kid and he was one of those strong mid-century men who probably didn’t know what to say to kids. We went fishing. And although we never went hunting, we did go shooting. Once on an overnight at Lake Berryessa I hit a couple of tin cans in a row with the Ruger Mark II, and Daddy said if hit one more I could have the gun. Like a lot of things, he probably hadn’t really thought this through, and he must have been pretty relieved when I missed the next can, because dropping me off on Sunday night with a handgun wouldn’t have set well with mom and I don’t think he’d have bothered welching on his deal with me. I can still smell the sweet underbrush & olive trees of the Napa woods, the acrid garnish of gunpowder floating on top. In the modern era, of course, the boy would have been given an open-ended series of second chances sufficient to knock the can off the stump and claim the prize. But this was the early 1970s, and instead my father just shrugged and zipped the pistol back in its holster, lighting a Marlboro.
I called him Daddy and still refer to him as such. Little kids often call their fathers Daddy, and if the relationship doesn’t mature, neither does the tag. I don’t know what his other offspring referred to him as. There were others after and maybe before me, but I believe my relationship with him was more developed than any of the others, such as it was. Just lucky I guess! I was in college when he died, sick & alone at a group home for the sick & alone outside Santa Rosa. By that time I already had a second ex-father.
Mom met Bill Murray (not that one) in 1975 and, after a year’s vetting, married him at the Mormon church on Ludeman Lane in San Bruno. I wore a green tuxedo like the rest of the males in the wedding party and I gave mom away. There was a reception in Aunt Susie’s backyard on Linden Avenue afterward with foamy champagne punch. From this vantage, Bill looked like a good fit– father and husband-wise. But springtime perspectives can be deceiving. After uprooting and migrating to someplace called Federal Way, Washington, it was learned that Bill and mom were not all that compatible after all. They divorced in 1983 after a couple of painful separations. Bill wasn’t great with money.
He was a very good “father” however. He coached my sports teams. He took me to see Maynard Ferguson. He told me he loved me. He did love me, and I loved him, too! Though there was never any talk of legal “adoption,” I did eventually begin to call him Dad. Not Daddy, just Dad. Bill was 6’4” and probably ran 230lbs in those days. He was terribly handsome with a flap of skin that drooped over the outside corner of his left eye which made him look like he was always listening to you very intently. After the divorce, I didn’t see him much, and when I did I called him Bill. I left for college.
Bill gave me my sex talk in August 1977, when I was still calling him Dad. He used the tits on my Farrah Fawcett poster to make his point(s) that to be interested in TV stars’ tits was perfectly natural. I didn’t really learn much about sex during the conversation, but did come away with a vague sense of relief that the furious masturbating I was doing in the direction of that poster was a dance every boy on the block was doing and that it was OK with Dad (Bill) and my Mom.
Bill liked big band jazz and would have a scotch & water with mom when he got home from work, but I don’t think usually more than one or a short two. He usually had a Kent between the massive fingers of his left hand, though—he was the first left-handed person I ever knew, or at least the first left-handed person I ever knew was left-handed. The last time I ever saw him was at my wedding, which was kind of weird because my next “father” was there, too.
Mom met Art Bender in the early 90s at a piano bar on Brown’s Point. He’d recently separated from his wife– the mother of his two biological and three adopted children– and was taking what seems in retrospect like a well-deserved breather. What he was doing in a piano bar in Northeast Tacoma I’ll never know. He couldn’t hear or sing a lick, even then. But there he was…
Mom introduced us not long after. By a cruel twist of scheduling fate it happened to be Father’s Day weekend, which was awkward for everyone since no one present was the father of anyone else present. I might actually have realized sooner than Art that I would soon be referring to him as my mother’s husband (not really my father). In any event, he divorced his wife soon after and married my mother on Independence Day 1992 in Aunt Susie’s backyard, this time in Reno. I sang “The Rose” at the bridal party’s request and then we went downtown to play cards and get wasted.
Unlike Mom’s first two husbands, Art liked to drink. He could drink a bathtub full of bourbon and often did. I never observed it affecting him, and I don’t think it bothered Mom at first either. Eventually, however, pretty much everything Art did bothered Mom. They drove to Arkansas after the wedding and stayed there for about five years before Art was offered a transfer back to Federal Way. He took it so they could both be nearer their grown children (ahem) and they bought the house on Steel Lake in 1996. They proceeded to wait patiently for grandchildren which arrived presently in the form of mine and my sister’s kids. Mom died in the house on the lake 15 years later, married but not what you’d call happily.
That morning Art stood crying in the hallway outside the bedroom as the undertaker and his assistant zipped my Mother’s body into a black vinyl bag. Art wasn’t much of a cryer or a revealer of much any emotion, which was one of the things that had driven my Mom crazy while she was still alive. I’d only ever seen him cry once before, on the night of his adopted daughter’s death. It was as if he saved up all his emotion in between these momentous events and all the accumulated tears sprayed out like in a cartoon.
Art is an old widower now, living quite contentedly with hundreds of channels. We see him regularly, the only grandfather my kids have ever known, though he is not my father. I call him Art, always have. My sister used to sometimes call him “Pops” but I think that was mostly for Mom’s benefit. Now she mostly just calls him Art also. He’s a very good person. He was always good to Mom and he’s always been good to me and my family. “Like a father” you might say.
My mother was like a father to me, too, for much of my life. She always tried to do what was best for everyone, not just for herself. Whether being more selfish would have worked out better for everyone is hard to say from here. She tried, though—and in the end that’s all anyone can ask.
Happy Father’s Day, Mom…