Saturday, February 6, 2016

An Act of Betrayal

There’s something sad about discarding old clothes.  Sad and just a little heartbreaking.

You buy a new shirt, for example.  You see it on the rack in the store or in the display case and it catches your eye.  The colour is nice.  It’s the right size.  You weigh the price against its attractiveness and decide, perhaps on a whim, to take it home.  Maybe.  First you try it on.  It fits perfectly.  It feels good.  It looks good on you.  It’s as though fate brought you to that store, at that moment, before anyone else could see it first and snatch it from your grasp.  At the register you hand the clerk your credit card and in seconds ownership has passed from the retailer to you.  There’s still the formality of washing it, to get the starchy stiffness out, but there’s no mistaking the shirt is yours.  It hangs in your closet, waiting for the moment you first wear it in public (not counting the minute or two in which you sized it up while looking at yourself in the three sided mirror just outside the dressing room).

You wear the shirt for special occasions.  Maybe to a wedding.  Or a date on which you want to impress a woman (or man) and so pick this, your newest possession, to highlight not only your desirability but also your taste.  Over time, the specialness decreases and it becomes a work shirt.  Something that will look nice but is mainly functional.  Before long it becomes an everyday piece of clothing, put on for no reason other than you need to be covered.

And then you find yourself in a store.  It could be the very same store.  In any case you’re perusing the shirts and there, just there, you see a shirt.  It’s attractive.  A different colour but that’s to be expected.  Tastes change.  Fashion changes.  It’s your size.  You try it on.  It fits perfectly.  The price is right.  A new shirt would be good.  The cashier takes your card and in a matter of seconds ownership passes to you.  A quick wash.  An empty hanger is no longer empty.  Just as you’re putting your newest possession in its rightful place you see the old shirt.  The one you bought … how long ago?  Seems like forever.  Hanging next to the new one it looks tired.  Limp.  Frayed.  A quick mental calculation and you decide you’ll probably never wear it again.

It’s just a shirt.  It has no mental capacity.  It’s incapable of emotion of any kind and yet when you take it off the hanger you gently fold it so as not to hurt the feelings it doesn’t have.  In one final act you place it in the pile to be taken to Goodwill where, you tell yourself, someone else will be able to make good use of it.  But is that what you’re really thinking or is there something else?  Aren’t you just a little nagged by a sense of betrayal?  Betrayal of something that didn’t ask for any loyalty but earned it anyway?  Unconsciously, on your part, there was a sense of fealty.  There was a pact.  One sided, perhaps, but still.  You took it home.  You cared for it.  You made sure it looked as good as possible and hung it with care in a place of honour.  And it?  All it did was make sure you were covered when you needed to be and in the most comfortable and attractive way possible.  But where is it now?  After holding up it’s unasked for end of the bargain but doing so without complaint where has it ended up?  In a heap with other discarded clothes and objects all once purchased with the same sense of joy and appreciation until …

Relegated to an anonymous pile to be taken to an anonymous place several rungs of style below where you found it, to be picked at by strange hands and sold for a pittance to do service for who knows who.  Maybe not even to perform its intended function.  It might become a lowly rag to wipe spills from a garage floor.  It might become part of a costume in a school play.  Maybe, just maybe, it will be used as a prop.  Not even a shirt but an object to be torn, shredded, destroyed in a playful game between lovers and then, finally, left in a rubbish bin to be ultimately destroyed.

Is betrayal too strong a word?  Consider this.  There’s a new shirt in your closet.  You think it looks good on you.  You think it makes you look attractive.  But one day you’ll be in a store and you’ll see a shirt on a rack or in a display case.  It will catch your eye.  You’ll like the way it fits.  It will have a good price.  When you take it home something, most likely, will have to be discarded to make room for it in your closet.  Will it be the shirt you just bought that itself displaced the one now lying helplessly in the bin you’ve yet to take away?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Musical Memories

You know how certain smells can trigger specific memories?  That doesn’t happen to me much but certain songs will conjure memories of specific people, every time, all of whom hold special places in my mind, a select few in my heart.  Following is a list of those songs and why.  If you’re not familiar with the music, or just want to hear it while reading, click on the title:

For the general public this evokes feelings of peace, idealism and brotherhood.  Or, for a select segment, the unrealistic and selfish ideology of aging hippies that’s new bearing fruit in a frayed culture from which society hangs over the abyss of perdition.  For me, it brings to mind my first crush.  She didn’t like me much and was probably right to feel so but she was the epitome of beauty and femininity.  Also, she looked EXACLY like Agent 99 (the TV show, not the movie).  If I’d had my way we’d have celebrated our fortieth anniversary two years ago.  .  Fortunately for both of us I didn’t get my way.  Still, she occupied a good deal of my thoughts from about fourth grade to well into high school.  And she left town – not that far out of town but enough to send her to another school – in the middle of eighth grade.  I used that fascination as part of the relationship between Bob and Sydney in my Rick Kimberly stories so she obviously maintains a vestigial influence.  Why does this song remind me of her?  Because she gave me the album as a Christmas gift.  I still have that vinyl.

My first girlfriend.  Not technically my first.  My first actual girlfriend was really only my girlfriend because she had a thing for my brother and used me to be close to him.  A fact I learned years later and is puzzling because her brother and mine were pretty close friends and you’d have thought … anyway, this isn’t about her.  And, for the record, she doesn’t have a song.  So, my first real girlfriend was a year behind me in school.  I didn’t meet her until the last couple of weeks of my career there.  We never formally decided to be boyfriend and girlfriend.  It just kind of happened.  A consequence of spending nearly every moment together.  We were together, off and on, for about nine years, during which time we endured a commuter relationship (particularly difficult because neither of us had a car), lived together, broke up (in a manner of speaking), adopted a stray cat (that subsequently became mine) and moved, separately and at different times, to Santa Rosa and San Francisco.  As one might expect of a couple that had no ‘official’ coupling we had no ‘official’ uncoupling.  Some things just happen but she’s my oldest friend.  She went to UCLA for a time and lived in a dorm (Rieber Hall).  One night we learned Doctor Demento was going to be appearing at a dance at another dorm (Sproul Hall, I think).  We went over to dance and listen.  I asked if he’d play a request, which he would but didn’t have my song, so I went back to her room and got my Steve Miller Band Anthology double album.  True to his word, the Doc played this.

I should probably save this one for later since it’s the most momentous but as I’m going in chronological order it rightly belongs here.  In fact there are two songs that could fit with this woman, the other being Hard Headed Woman, but while both remind me of her this song is the one that once created such a strong feeling I swear I could feel her next to me.  My heart warms just thinking about THAT moment.  Anyway, she was a nurse (as a result I have a special place in my heart for nurses, as well), we worked together in the ER at Harbor General Hospital and was the most beautiful (yes, you’ve read that before) and desirable woman I’d ever seen or, indeed, imagined.  More so, even, than Ingrid Bergman which, if you know me at all, is saying something.  But, I was a mere child of eighteen when we met and only just twenty when I quit that job, losing touch with her for the next couple of years.  But before that I’d cultivated a nice friendship that saw me hanging out with her doing things mundane like shopping, going to a home goods expo and getting ice cream at Baskin-Robins (something else that reminds me of her).  We were together so often, and she knew my feelings for her, she once threatened to sleep with me as a Christmas gift.  When I was about twenty-two I wrote a letter to her, hoping she’d remember me and wondering if there was a chance we might get together.  We did and it was love at second sight.  For her.  I have the letter to prove it.  We spent close to another two years engaged in an intense but clandestine relationship (she was engaged to be married).  I eventually got that gift she’d promised.  Something I cherish to this day.  She was the first woman to treat me as a man and the first to love me back.

She was my sign language teacher.  She was pregnant.  I bought her unborn child a stuffed animal.  That child would be somewhere around thirty today.  As a class project I signed the lyrics to this song.  I wish I knew sign language.  However, I remember the sign I used to represent the ‘dragon’.  Essentially it was a fire breathing snake.

Actually, just about any Neil Diamond song would do well here.  She was, and remains, a fan of his.  We met at college, both of us restarting our lives as we approached thirty, me coming off my non-break-up break-up, her just realizing her marriage was over.  We took a TV production class together and two of my lasting memories of that time, other than strategically placing myself in position to watch her walk in and out of the classroom, are:

1 - I was kicking a ball of tape or wadded paper or maybe an empty soda bottle around with some fellow classmates and our ‘ball’ happened to stop at her feet.  When we encouraged her to kick it back to us she picked it up and handed it to one of us.  I made a joke (from an old commercial line of the time) that she should ‘score if you’re gonna play’.  With a sweetly sarcastic smile she said (and this is a quote): I always do, when I play.

2 – The class was broken up into groups for the purpose of making various videos.  One of those projects was a commercial.  Each group wrote one that another group was to make.  She’d written the script for ours.  One day she poked her head into the room where we were meeting (the room had a large window through which I had a really nice view to watch her walk) and announced she wouldn’t be there for the next class and if we had any questions we should ask them now, after which she gave us about three seconds, during which no one spoke, she said ‘good’ and left.  Several of my groupmates called her a bitch.  I agreed but am pretty sure I meant it with a lot more admiration than they did.  We’ll be celebrating our twenty-ninth next month.

Narrowing down to one song for my best friend – wives don’t count as best friends in my opinion – is practically impossible but if I have to choose just one (even though it’s a self-imposed limit) it would be this.  She’s introduced me to a plethora of music either by sending me mix CDs or opening my mind to musical genres other than the jazz I listened to almost exclusively prior to her entering my life.  Because of her I’ve discovered a lot of music I wouldn’t have otherwise experienced such as Moby, Anoushka Shankar, Jesse Cook and dozens more.  The first CD came during the time of my first back surgery and arrived, from Germany where she lived, along with a couple of candy bars (German candy is really good, by the way) and a card.  More have come as birthday or Christmas gifts, although lately they’ve been replaced by videos of her very cute daughter, who was born on a date that previously came with an element of dread but is now something to look forward to and plan for.  Whenever we get together, which isn’t nearly often enough for me, we usually find some museum to visit or a park to relax in, or both.  She also happens to be one of the best writers I know, and an even better photographer.

I listen to a lot of music and, as noted, there are other songs that remind me of these women.  There are songs that remind me of other people, but these few bring on the strongest feelings and the strongest memories.

Friday, January 1, 2016

2016 Resolutions

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Monday, December 14, 2015

Rick Kimberly's Guide to the English Countryside [Excerpt]

Imagine you’re with a woman who makes you happier than you’ve ever been.  Imagine you’ve taken her on a trip to a place with a long and illustrious history.  Cambridge, for example.  Now imagine you run into another woman you met, many years before.  A woman who holds a place so special in your heart you haven’t even told your best friend about her.  Bob Pendleton doesn’t have to imagine.

From Rick Kimberly’s Guide to the English Countryside, a Rebel Ink Press release:

Janet Woodlark stepped out of the lift as I was paying for the bookmark, calendar and jute bag with museum logo my companion couldn’t live without.  I saw the tall blonde woman and her gorgeous blue eyes, eyes I’d memorized so thoroughly I’m sure I can still tell the difference between left and right based on the pale flecks of brown in the irises, about three seconds before she saw me.  Long enough to realize that of all the people I could have run into on this trip she was both the one I would have hoped for and the one I’d dread most.  The incidents with Julia and Clare, uncomfortable as they’d been, were inconveniences compared to the potential of the only other woman who meant anything to me.

I didn’t look forward to explaining her to Alicia even though there wasn’t that much to explain.  Only a week or so in York but a week gone too quickly.  A week that constituted one of, if not the most memorable period of my adult life, none of which had ever, or will ever, find a place in a “Rick Kimberly Guide” or any of the short stories I’d tried to write but never got more than two handwritten pages before giving up and feeding it to the shredder.  Some things defy expression.  How do you find words to describe a perfect week?  Nearly perfect, anyway.  Perfect would have been if my heart had let happen what my brain dearly wanted but I was young, insecure and conflicted by a dream I should have known would never come true.  I’m not so young anymore and the dream, reduced to a vestige, is safely packed away in my emotional attic.

“Robert!”  Janet’s delicious Yorkshire accent filled the small museum shop.  “My God, how are you?  I had no idea you were in Cambridge.  What are you doing here?”  She reached me in about three steps and had thrown her arms around me while she spoke, only letting go and taking a small step back after the last question but not without a quick kiss on my cheek.

“Hello, Precious.  Sorry.  Doctor Precious.”

She covered her mouth as she laughed.  “There’s a name I haven’t been called in a while.”

“Just doing some research on a new story with a little sightseeing thrown in.”  I returned the kiss with all the affection I could afford under the circumstances.

“Are you doing a Cambridge guide?  Brilliant!”

“No!  No, I’m doing an English Countryside slash small town slash not really sure guide.  We’ve only been here a little over a week.  Still working on details.  Haven’t gotten around to the bigger picture yet.  You know how I work.”

“Yeah, of course.  But you’re back in England.  Have you run out of the more exotic places, then?  You’ve done Sri Lanka, have you?”

“Sri Lanka.  Of course you’d bring that up.  One of my unchecked boxes but I’ll get there.  If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll get there.”  I could have mentioned, but didn’t, I’d already started work on it but since all I’d written to that point was the dedication, and even that was only in my head, decided against bringing it up.

“I should hope or all that wine will have died in vain.”

“That would be tragic.”

“You said ‘we’.”  She looked around the shop.  “Is someone with you?”

“She’s around here somewhere.”  I scanned the room looking for Alicia.

“I might’ve known.  Robert Pendleton without a pretty girl by his side?  It’s unnatural, that is.  What’s her name?”

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