Tuesday, April 22, 2014
I was inspired to post this today by a great little video of a kid playing imaginary games and the video maker (I am assuming that it was his father) using video magic to enhance the results of his game.
The story came, in part, from a line in my song, "Michael," and from a wonderful story I stumbled upon years later by Roald Dahl, called "The Wish." Another story with a similar premise (it was once the second part of this story) is entitled "Crack-up." Both are from my collection of short stories, So It's All Done With Mirrors, That's No Reflection on You!
A Short Story by Tim McMullen
“YAH-YAH-YAH-YAH-YAH!” The shrill whoop pierced the afternoon haze; like deer put to flight, six Indians shot from the scrub brush and circled the fortress, their banshee cries echoing across the dying summer grass.
Within the beleaguered outpost an uneasy silence reigned. The courageous, but weary, faces looked anxiously around, trying to conceive of some idea, some plan, that might halt the onrushing doom.
“Well, Joe, we may be done for,” whispered the captain, “but we're gonna' take a few of them with us.” He motioned for them to step closer. “Look, here's the plan.”
“You, too, Runt! Listen up!” Joe spat the words out cruelly at their diminutive companion. Then all three knelt down and huddled together; one whispered orders; the others nodded assent.
After a sinister quiet of several minutes, it came.
Over the ankle deep grass they ran, raising their dreadful yowling to the waning day as they descended upon the enemy fort.
“YAH-YAH-YAH!” came the harrowing howl, “YI-YI-YI-YI-YI-EEE!"
The captain motioned silence to his companions, bade them wait for the right moment, and then prepared himself. He crouched down and made as if to check his ammunition. Reassured, he held himself ready and waited. The little fellow saw Joe grimace disdainfully in his direction; it was Joe's way of visually reaffirming his often-repeated conviction that the Runt was a worthless liability.
When the Indians were within ten feet of the outer wall, the Captain gave his men the sign. All three sprang as one. Lifting his part of the roof aside, "the Runt" raised his hand and bellowed.
"P—KEW! P—KEW! P—KEW!" the sound rang out.
A wave of pride and relief swept through the young soldier as a surprised Indian clasped his hands to his chest and begrudgingly fell dead before him. As he ducked beneath the safety of his covering, he realized that he had seen two more Indians fall, one each for Joe and the Captain. The sun, he knew, was on their side now; the Indians would probably not try another attack before sundown.
Suddenly, with God-like intervention, it was over.
"JOHN—NY! RA—ALPH!" rang the cry.
"AW...!" cursed one of the dead Indians. "Okay!" he shouted as he rose and headed toward the porch of the yard four doors down. Ralph, or "Joe," as he was known to his cavalry buddies, emerged from the lawn chair and tree branch fort and shot a frustrated frown in the direction that his younger brother had taken.
The Indian braves and the clever cavalrymen began to drag reluctantly off to their respective homes. Quickly then, the plains and hills of the Indian badlands succumbed to the curbs, lawns and driveways of a suburban afternoon.
Steven, "the Runt," began to fold up his father's lemon-colored lawn chairs. His flaxen hair floated about his four-year-old face in wispy curls. Heaving a work-laden sigh, he pushed his hair back with an exaggerated sweep of his arm like a longshoreman wiping a sweaty brow. The delicate pallor of his broad forehead made his skin seem almost transparent while the acute angle of his chin completed his elfin triangle a face.
He jerked hard on a branch that was tangled in one of the folding chairs; the knobby bark jabbed sharply into his palm, and he let go with a yelp. The force of his tug and his unexpected release sent him sprawling backward toward the curb. A yip like an injured and terrified puppy escaped his lips, and he plopped ignominiously in the grass.
He had often watched proudly as his brother Anthony, "The Captain," led the other kids in Cowboys 'n' Indians or Follow-the-leader. Because he was the youngest, and small for his age, little Stevie would bring up the rear. He chased and trailed after them as they trampled through an obstacle course of fences, bushes, planters, sprinklers, and other outdoor paraphernalia. But invariably, when the pack came to dance at the curb's edge, Steven suddenly ceased the chase.
It was only when he got close to the curb, and even then, it was only occasionally, that he felt the change. Inexplicably and without warning, the asphalt and concrete of the little cul-de-sac would surge and stretch and swirl until the cliff and the sea appeared. The houses were gone, the cars were gone, and the laughter and the shrieks of the others were submerged and drowned by the growling roar of the crashing waves against the cliff face.
Whenever the change happened, he would hurl himself back and cling to the ground. If any of the children noticed his reaction, especially Ralph, who perpetually tormented him when Anthony wasn't around, they would sing out, "Scaredy Cat! Scaredy cat! Runty is a Scaredy Cat!" This chant broke the spell of the ocean, and he listened shamefacedly to their jeers and laughter.
Now, as he lay sprawled on his back, he heard someone shout, "The cliff! Watch out for the cliff! Don't fall in the ocean!"
He tensed, but he breathed a sigh of relief when he realized that they were teasing. There was nothing but curb and gutter and cars and houses as he looked toward the street.
"AW, he's a 'fraidy cat! He won't come to the cliff and look down…he's afraid!" taunted Ralph, still angry at being called in.
"No, he's not!" Steven heard Anthony say. "He's my brother, and he's not afraid. He'll do it. I'll betcha'!"
"Yeah, how much?" said Ralph.
"Five puries and a cat's eye, okay?"
"C'mon, Stevie!" said Anthony coaxingly. "Tightrope walk the curb."
Steven looked at his older brother who stood in the driveway motioning for him to cross. He had never discussed the cliff with anyone, not even Anthony.
"C'mo-o-on, Ste-e-v-e-e," goaded Ralph, wiggling his finger in an exaggerated "come-on" sign.
Stevie looked around. All the other kids had gone in except for Ralph and Anthony. He looked back at his brother and then down at the curb. Reassured, he said, “Sure!” He wasn't about to lose Anthony's marbles if he could help it.
He came to the curb slowly. Hesitantly, he placed his right foot near the curb and looked down. He saw some foil from a gum wrapper and some dry grass clippings in the gutter. There was a trickle of water left over from their running through the sprinklers earlier in the day. With his eyes forward, he confidently walked the distance of the curb from driveway to driveway.
Having completed his ordeal, he beamed proudly, not only because he had shown Ralph that he wasn't chicken, but also because he had added six great marbles to his brother's collection.
"Good boy!" said Anthony patting him on the head. "Told you, Ralph!"
Anthony laughed, put the marbles in his pocket, and ran toward the house. Ralph shrugged his shoulders and turned to follow. Reaching back, he gave Stevie, the cause of his defeat, a little shove.
The shove, coming so unexpectedly, startled Stevie and sent him hurling toward the curb. In that instant, the old fear raged through him. He tried to stop his momentum by throwing his arms out and grabbing at the air. Below him, the churning ocean crashed, and the sea spray spattered his face and arms.
Hovering on the edge of the cliff, he tried to scream but could only gasp. His fingers clawed madly. Ever so slowly, ever so desperately, he felt himself going over. With one final effort, he twisted his body and grabbed for Ralph, who stood laughing at his childish terror. His frantic grab at Ralph's sleeve allowed Steven to right himself, but the tug upset Ralph's balance. In an alarmingly comical aerial ballet, Ralph somersaulted forward, flailing and shrieking in rage and despair.
When questioned later, little Steven, staring intently at the gum wrapper and the grass clippings in the gutter, admitted truthfully that he really had no idea where Ralph was. Then he shrugged his shoulders and smiled.
©1985 Tim McMullen
All Rights Reserved
Monday, April 7, 2014
Such exuberant joy, such tender innocence, such melancholy longing, such wit and whimsy, such deep philosophical and spiritual wisdom all served up in a two to three minute song with the most delightful and moving melodies and powerful performances.
Whenever we go on a road trip, we make sure to have at least one or two Jesse Winchester cd's in the mix. I once collected his first seven albums into five CD's rearranging his songs into a two-CD collection—"The World According to Jesse"—which contained 46 of his philosophical and spiritual musings; and three single sets: "Mock and Roll" (his humorous songs, his rock songs, and his songs about music), "Pop and Cover" (his own "pop-style" songs and his renditions of other people's songs), and "Love and Loss"
(the contents of which are obvious). I have never done anything quite like this with any other artist. This, I must point out, was before the days of digital playlists and mp3 players.
Jesse Winchester is also my primary example of why a live, solo performance of a truly great songwriter is better than the best recordings. Jesse's albums are pure joy, but his live performances shared an immediacy, intimacy, and intense interpretation that was nearly impossible to capture in the studio.
I love the work of many great songwriters and performers, but if I were doomed to choose only one performer whose catalogue I could listen to, I don't hesitate to say that it would be Jesse Winchester's.
"When I do fall, I will be glad to go," Jesse sang, and I hope that it was true for him. There are many of us who are not glad that he had to go so soon. But as Jesse Winchester sang,
"I wave bye bye
I pray God speed
I wish lovely weather
And all the luck that you need"