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This is from February of '05. It's from that first year of sobriety. Kind of nice. I found it clearing out email and thought you'd like it.

I see this is about February 2005, but I wonder when it was written and who this note is for? (Editor, 12/15/17)

YESTERDAY evening I wanted to drink, just so bad. After work I was going to a union meeting, their regular second Thursday, and on the way up Barbur Boulevard I kept mentally counting the money in my pocket and figuring how far it would go in a bar. I imagined myself sitting down in O’Connor’s, or was it Renner’s? and how I would say, “Give me a beer and a shot,” and then think to myself, ‘No, that’s not it, you say, “Give me a beer and a blast.”’ Then Mark the bartender at O’Connor’s brings them quickly; the yellow beer with the foam on top, and the clear brown whisky in a little glass. Then you just drink those down, and another set just like it. You read all the paper you want, and watch the cigaret smoke curl off the end of your cig, and order another set, and drink them. And then you’re drunk.

Well, I just earned my six-month coin, and it would be a nine-month coin if I hadn’t fallen off my horse back in July. I mean, time is starting to work for me a little, as they say in the meetings, and I’m getting through my days and most weeks pretty well. So I just prayed really hard, and managed not to turn off anywhere, and I got to the union meeting. I never went to those 2nd Thursdays before. I had told Suzy, “I don’t know what’s got into me. I should probably go and meet the new area rep.” But I was thinking too, “Maybe I’ll have a drink.”

At the meeting I was just quiet and listened mostly. They weren’t real organized but they were real supportive. There were three union staffers and twice that many of us shop stewards, sitting around a table at the local with decafs and cokes. I can’t believe how fragile our people look, sometimes, but this is what is keeping my family in medical benefits. You know, working class people? T-shirts and bad teeth and camo caps, and repeating stuff they heard on television? So anyway, we cheerfully trudged through our agenda, with about a bazillion side trips to tell jokes, and say rude things about management, and gossip, and occasionally ask a question of substance. Some people were under fire at their stores. One woman kept quiet, like me, the whole meeting, then started asking Becky (Downs, the rep on duty), a whole bunch of questions about her file, and how she’d been trying to get it from her store director, and how she’d been written up twice in the last week. She looked pretty smart, and tough too, but as she talked, her feelings got tangled up. Becky kept murmuring supportively.

When the meeting was breaking up I got a few minutes with the new area rep, Todd.

He looks like a kid, but he’s probably not. They’re all ex-working class themselves, and they all look like they get a lot to eat and take care of their teeth, and wear nice new jeans, and plenty of hair-care products and stuff. They dress nice for these meetings to show respect to us, I’m sure, or they’d be in t-shirts too. So anyway, we talked a little bit. He seemed anxious to have our encounter there in the hall go well, asked me a few questions about the store, what did I think about this, what did I think about that. He pulls me into his office and we look up a couple of grocery checkers off a list. I said, “Look, I like you fine, but we’ve already got issues.” His eyes were wary. “We do?” he said. “Yes,” I said, “My issue is that I’m sure you’re very professional and competent, and I like you, and I want to be sure I see you at my store at least for the next couple of years. I’ve had six area reps in the last three years. We can’t build trust and solidarity if we don’t know our rep. The time is gonna come when that’s gonna be important. You need to go back and tell Gene that this is bad for the union. I want you to stay for the next three years.” He kind of twisted his head around at all this and looked at his shoe. “Well, not three years,” he said, “But at least for the next two.” Alright, so that was fine, and we got out of there. He practically followed me out to my car.

Man, I got in the car and started home, and I immediately started dandling this notion of drinking again. One of the things I used to do, would have been to pick up a pint and go to the church and drink and play guitar. I know that sounds bad, but it was at night of course, nobody there. It was a real safe place for me.

It’s like my imagination was working fine, in color, with theme music. I could see it. I’d turn in, right here at the ol’ state liquor store, at the Capitol Hwy – Barbur intersection. When Kitzhaber was governor I used to call it ‘Dr. John’s Medicine Stand,’ or whatever. I knew that place. It’s right on the corner of a lot of beaten paths for me. I used to live just up Capitol a couple of blocks. It’s a key intersection to get to my church. I used to shop at Barbur Foods, who share the parking. Anyway, I turned into the parking lot at the liquor store and looked through their windows. There was the red open sign. Cars were parked in front. I drove through, exited onto Capitol, turned left on Taylor’s Ferry, and drove down to the church.

I unlocked, went into the office and turned on the heat. It was 8:30 or so, and I had about an hour to play the electric if I wanted to. I thought about how long it would take for the church to get warmed up, and I thought about lugging all the music gear around and

setting it up, and then I just did it. At least I know how it goes; and I can get the acoustic set up with its amp and the electric set up with its amp, and get the house sound the way I want it for my vocals. I always practice ‘hot’ anymore. One of my problems when I was getting started was having good mic presence. I’d get excited in performance and move around and slide off the mic. Anyway I worked for about, oh, two hours. It turned into the best kind of practice session in that I kind of forgot about being dutiful and just started really enjoying the workout. The electric frustrated me a little at first, but that’s not unusual, and I am getting better. The acoustic felt fine, and my voice felt fine. We’ve got a show in about two weeks and it’s just important that I get a couple of hours in at least every other day, so I have the finger strength and the chops and the voice to do our set.

After practice I didn’t want to drink anymore. I thanked God for bailing me out on that and drove home. Suzy was already asleep. I can’t remember if I read or had a bowl of cereal or anything; I probably went right to bed, it had been a long day. I slept well through the night, like I do these days, and the last thing before waking up that next morning I had a God dream.

In the dream it’s like it was a kind of really big, late afternoon, early evening garden party at some kind of wealthy country estate. I knew too that it was somewhere in the Lewiston country, Idaho where I was a kid, but it was like somebody had poured all this money and water over it, cause that country was dry and kind of poor, and this setting was irrigated and landscaped. There were lots of dressed up glossy looking people wandering around and socializing. Men in tuxes, ladies in cocktail dresses. It was like there had been some kind of horse event, too, because several people were leading – or slowly riding – nice looking horses, some even in Eastern riding gear, (which I never saw when I was a kid). It was calm and peaceful and pleasant. I don’t recall seeing a big house or any servants, but I know they were there.

Then this little boy and girl sort of detached themselves from a group of people and came over to me. They were all dressed up for the party and looked great: the little girl with this old-fashioned dress-up outfit, starched petticoat, gingham jumper, white bonnet. She came trotting over to me, holding hands with a little boy, and he was all dressed up in a really nice Western dress up outfit, with a new black Stetson, white cowboy shirt with pearl snap-buttons, new jeans, boots, rodeo belt buckle. Little boy. They were really young, both of them, about six or seven or so. The little boy was carrying a big plastic tumbler filled with ice and some green liquid. He reached it up to me and said, “Your Father wanted you to have this.” So I accepted the glass and took a drink. It was Koolaid or something, and refreshing. It was a little sweeter than I like.

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This was one of those times for me. If this is your first occasion to be my guest, I hope you enjoy the piece, and stick around to sample some of the goodies.

Road To The World #2 (from February 12, 2009)

I would have liked more comfortable clothes, and would have gratefully lost the tie and brown wingtips, but I was only on my lunch-hour. There was no place to sit, either, just a long dry banked bar of rock and gravel beside that reach of the Molalla river. I didn’t need to sit. It was enough to be able to get here, five minutes from my office at the cable company, cross the bridge, park, eat a sandwich, and walk a few minutes. A half a dozen tall poplars up the bank a ways were steadily shedding big yellow leaves into the river. In the gusts they shook into the water by the bushel basket. That breeze lifted the hair from my forehead, and grabbed my cigaret smoke. It was warm, and the wind and the overcast, the falling leaves, the precious minutes of privacy all connected with something inside of me. It made me happy to be there, and I wasn’t a very happy man in those days. I was working hard and making money for people who didn’t much like me, in those days, wearing business-lite drag and commuting a half hour twice a day on 1-5. Coming home to a woman who wasn’t very happy either, and two little boys doing their best to find a way in between. It all made the river bank an attractive place. I would have stayed there longer if I could, but I meant to be dutiful even if I wasn’t always. As I walked and smoked I looked at the Molalla and the tolerated wildness of its banks with hunger, like I could ingest it by looking, like I could keep part of it. The river was swift there, lightly rippled, and spread out wide for its size on the shallow cobble and gravel bed. Water over stones makes me think deep thoughts. Or think I’m thinking deep thoughts, which may not be the same. I saw the leaves fall, and it started me thinking about how each of those leaves would make that dramatic little end of life trip exactly once: flutter, flip, flop, into the river and down you go. Like me, of course. But then I really looked into the water, and was surprised, (and then surprised by that). Because first I saw leaves on top of the river, nice big fat yellow poplar leaves boating along, pushed by the breeze and pulled by the current, and some maple from further up, and some alder in there too, but then like a reflection or something funny in a mirror I finally saw what I had missed: the millions and millions camouflaged brown like the rocks of the river bed, leaves floating just beneath the surface, moving quickly at the rivers speed, the river's body thick with them. So. The yellow leaves falling. The leaves floating high and fresh on the surface. The brown and wet uncounted below. It’s a wonder I got any of my job done that afternoon. I did though. I did something. Christ have mercy: “… no hungry generations tread thee down. The voice I hear this passing night was heard in ancient day by emperor and clown; the selfsame song that made a path through the sad heart of Ruth as she stood in tears amid the alien corn.” Keats of course, from the Nightingale. Now some fourteen or fifteen years later, (2009) and another Oregon winter, not fall, but late winter, and I sit here writing with another very bad cold. A bad cold I’m watching close for the pneumonia that got me the last two winters. Do I count my blessings? I try to. Do I hear that voice? Often. Do I believe there is that much difference between me and a poplar leaf? I try. I try to have faith that each of us leaves – poplar or vine maple or alder, rushing along brown and silent under the swift river – have our names written on us in clear block capitals that do not fade or rub off, names finally read and spoken aloud with love. Amen.

_______________ ______________ ___________

Amen, indeedy, and here it is 2021 already. Turns out quitting smoking really helps with upper respiratory stuff - I've got six precious years clean from tobacco as of December 2020, and all kinds of little health things got better. I still think about death...

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Hi... welcome back! The freebie for the next week or so is Jesus and the Boys, from See My Freedom Come (2004). It's embedded upper right, on the banner, and I know it's Maryellen's favorite because she asked for it by name, in '09, when she gave hospitality to me on pilgrimage. I played it for her with joy then and I offer it to you with joy now...

The big news here will be Mark V: The Opera, the new graphic novel in development, and I look forward to sharing my excitement with you all as it grows and takes shape. I'm thinking it will be so cool to release this new project - as good as I've ever been - to release it serially, right here on this site. I also think how cool it would be to have that regular serial release be coming instead from Barclay Press; I know they're interested. Stay tuned!

Occasionally and from time to time I expect to use this space right here - the blog - to self publish lots of pieces of writing, little and big, finished and otherwise. The thing about the saddle; the meditations on painting the cross on the roof; the columns from the archives about Africa, and the West Bank, and Oklahoma, and Quebec. Occasionally and from time to time, I'll feel led to rant about politics, or the church, but it's just that I'm a high school social studies/english teacher, and verbal, God help me.

Go check out the site. It's probably going to change, but this is a good place to start. Please leave me a note over on the front page.

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