Let’s dump out these puzzle pieces on the table here…
1. Part of my face with a Macintosh “sweeping clockwise” circle on it.
2. Casket lining.
3. Three and 3/4 squares of what may be a checkered flag.
4. Halifax harbor.
5. Box turtle mulch.
6. Accordion bellows reflected in a wine bottle.
7. A knob marked LFO.
8. A clipping from a bush that attracts whatever bees haven’t been killed yet by bee mites.
9. An auctioneer’s business card.
10. One hundred decorative moose heads.
11. A plastic soccer figure made to look brass.
12. A C+ written in my hand-writing.
13. Selena Gomez’s hair.
14. A ceiling light fixture and small section of Barbara Cloyd the Songwriting Teacher’s face, showing mild frustration.
15. A bucket of Michigan blueberries.
16. Part of an iPhone text from my wife with the word “declined” showing.
17. A small photo taken with a wide-angle lens; it appears to be a convention hall interior showing a fake potato the size of a house trailer, sitting on the back of a flatbed semi trailer.
18. A ketchup bottle with duct tape around its middle.
19. The letters “ype,” which might be the Skype logo.
I can explain what the pieces mean…
I am waiting to Skype with Nashville friends. Songwriters.
Because my mom has left my dad, I am accompanying him to his childhood friend Bob’s funeral. I’m not sure he’ll go if I don’t go with him, which would be a shame, because Dad loves to talk to other old people.
Bob lived in the town of Speedway. On my way to meet Dad for the funeral, I am driving past the 500 track, something I rarely do. I’m not into racing, but living in Indianapolis we feel obliged to open the Star on Memorial Day so each family member can make an ill-informed choice of which possibly-soon-to-be-dead-from-a-crash driver to root for. I chose Franchitti this year, and he won. He’s married to Ashley Judd, sister and daughter of Nashville Royalty (subsection: fading). If you ever want to be randomly jealous of someone, Franchitti isn’t a bad choice.
My co-workers and I are talking to an LA director currently on location in Halifax, where he’s shooting a beer commercial. Then he’ll come here to shoot a not-beer commercial for us. It’s important he do a good job with our not-beer.
I go out the morning of the Nashville Skype appointment to get errands out of the way: a prescription, coffee, box turtle mulch, cat litter, and special dog food made of little dead lambs so the dog won’t barf. I come home and fold laundry. My wife and the boys are at a soccer tournament in dying rustbelt poster city Elkhart three-hours north. My daughter and I eat a simple lunch since she doesn’t eat foods that have flavor, and I’m making sure she has something to occupy her so she doesn’t interrupt my Skype appointment. I keep mentioning the Skype to her. I probably seem worried, though I’m not. I just want to be, y’know, ready.
On the way back from the pet food store I stop at the liquor store for a bottle of wine to give the neighbor tonight. He’s turning 40, which now doesn’t sound that old. I choose a bottle of wine named “Troublemaker” and feel kind of dopey because I know the coy, obnoxious, rich owner of the vineyard calculated precisely that I would buy that wine for Mike because it’s supposed to be delicious yet doubles as a funny gift: I hate falling for it. Tonight is a surprise party. I will hand the funny wine to Mike’s wife and it will disappear into their household. Then I’ll unpack and hide my accordion because one of the gifts I give people is the horror of a birthday accordion serenade, which always has the same effect: the victims get the exact look they will have just before they die. Nothing in a normal day sounds like an accordion, so there’s always a moment of high alarm, as if the victim is being hit by a bus in a place he didn’t know a bus could go; he may pee a bit. Then he or she droops his or her shoulders in an “oh, I get it, you got me” gesture during the second "birthday to youuuuu” part, smiling grimly until we’re done singing. I’ve learned to put the accordion away immediately after and-many-mooorrrrre, or someone will say “play something else” and I can’t be entertaining on an accordion. Only shocking.
I am rehearsing in the basement of a wholesale florist with The Rental Cars, a band that plays Cars covers. I got asked to join because I own a vintage monophonic synth that might be the same model Greg Hawkes used. I have no idea what LFO stands for, but I twist the LFO knob all the way clockwise for Candy-O.
I thought I had time to trim bushes before the Nashville Skype, but got sweaty: since Skype is visual, that matters. I practice positioning the camera to display a nice, simple background.
There is no money for Mom to get an apartment, so she’ll be indefinitely visiting my elderly widower uncle’s doublewide in South Carolina. Dad is reluctant to sell his farm or rental properties for cash flow—it’s “low dollar” right now—but today he’s invited an auctioneer to survey his stuff. I’m there to provide a second set of ears.
One of Dad’s renters is in jail for allegedly drunkenly harassing a woman who turned out to be an FBI agent. Or something. This particular Saturday (I try to see Dad every couple weeks) we’re looking through the jailed renter’s place for a garage key. Lots of Coors empties. For decoration, a moose on every surface: every shelf, cabinet top, open bit of wall, stitchable cloth item—hundreds of moose. Is there a song here? Hm. Moose loose juice. Abuse.
Hey, my son’s soccer team won their tournament. Any time I tell Dad I can’t come see him because I have to go to soccer games, he says I should be doing something “productive” with my time. Moose deuce obtuse recluse. Truce.
I have agreed to teach a “promotional writing” course one night a week for Butler University. Undergraduates’ grammar sucks, they use commas splices all the time.
My youngest, who understands that our household is maybe atypical, is trying to learn American civilization and behavioral cues from the Disney channel. At first I was irritated by the broad characters and obvious punch lines, but slowly I find I’m drawn into their false little worlds. Uh-oh.
The Skype isn’t working. Barbara Cloyd looks down into her computer waiting for my face to show up, but apparently it doesn’t. She and my friend Liz say, “Charlie? Are you there?” and I say that I am, but until they see me they won’t believe it. I feel like a ghost.
When I was driving Mom to South Carolina to put a mountain range between her and Dad, I played a compilation CD I’d made last year. My wife gently mocks how much I love to make compilation CDs. This one is a bunch of angry/melodic songs, with one particularly beautiful segue—from “House of Cards” by Butch Walker to Tom Petty’s cover of “Feel A Whole Lot Better” (it’s a great transition). Mom and I both noticed how well the lyrics of each song coincidentally describe Dad: “This house of cards you built has finally fallen down” and “After what you did I can’t stay on” and so forth. Next comes Sara Bareilles’ “King of Anything” and oh, God, it’s like it was written for Mom. Every word. Almost painful how perfectly the words describe Mom’s situation, though it’s full of obscure poetry which Nashville songwriting instructors would insist Sara rewrite. My mom is a big Eagles fan, but doesn’t love Nashville songs (though along about Asheville I did play her George Strait’s “Give It Away,” a great song that describes pretty well my mom’s attitude toward her personal items back at Dad’s house right now). Sara Bareilles, however, does tie to Nashville tangentially since she opened for Sugarland the night that horrible stage collapse killed people at the Indiana State Fairgrounds last summer, a few miles from our house. Our friend Ernie, a country music DJ, took some of the awful photos the news services published all over the world. That was the same night my wife, kids and I arrived home from picking blueberries in Michigan, having survived a terrifying lightning storm that parked itself directly above our waterlogged tent as we camped; our little story, of course, juxtaposed with the State Fair tragedy, was untellable: I did not Facebook the blueberries.
I wish it were realistic to think I’m going to sell a song. Barbara has warned me—both as part of her usual instructions to the whole songwriting class, and one-on-one—not to write songs for the money. Moose, chartreuse, caboose. No use. Excuse.
Recently I went to the National Restaurant Association trade show in Chicago. Nothing will crush your soul like a trade show.
At a neat little shrimp shack—called “The Shrimp Shack”—on Lady Island near Beaufort, South Carolina, during the trip where I was dropping Mom off, my son ate his first shrimp at the exact same minute Mom got a cell phone call: my brother-in-law was calling to warn my mom that the next phone call he, my brother-in-law, was going to make would be to Dad. My brother-in-law planned to read from a prepared, typed-out script to make sure he said exactly what he meant, which was that Dad isn’t welcome at their house after yelling at my sister on the phone; that Dad was not going to be part of the grandchildren’s lives; that Dad was not to call; and if Dad wanted to speak to them Dad was to call my brother-in-law’s cell phone and leave a “brief message” (Dad’s notoriously longwinded). This was clearly going to sadden and enrage Dad. The world was shifting in that moment, as my sister changed her relationship to my Dad and my son ate a shrimp, which he liked. He didn’t love the cocktail sauce, though. The Shrimp Shack puts duct tape around the ketchup squeeze bottles that have cocktail sauce in them so you can tell them apart from regular ketchup. No unpleasant surprises that way. At The Shrimp Shack.
There were maybe four minutes of “Hello? Hello?” and “I can see you guys. Hi, I see you, Barbara.” “Are you there, Charlie?” “Yes, I have no idea what’s—hi, Liz. Weird. I tested this before the call, it should work… yes, I tested it. So you can’t see me?” “Hello? Charlie? Is that you? We can hear you but… here, maybe if I… no, still nothing.” Finally they got bored with failing to see me. “Charlie? We can’t see you. We’re going to hang up. Miss you. Sorry you couldn’t be here. Take care. Bye, Charlie! Bye.” “Bye.” Skype let me know when they disconnected, but I already knew.
So there. Assemble that puzzle. Of course there’s way more pieces than just these, but they all fit together somehow or other. No hurry. Jigsaw puzzles are no fun if you hurry. Although, hold on, here’s a piece that shows how gray my temples are getting.
Maybe yes hurry.