"There are no small roles…"

Bon Air 3
Bon Air Hotel
View On White

Out of nowhere, H.o.p. said, “There are no small roles, only small actors, right?”

I don’t know what he had been thinking about that led up to this question/announcement this afternoon. But he was checking with me to make sure this philosophy was right, which one could tell from his voice he was certain was right but he was wanting to hear what I’d to say anyway.

It’s like wading through mud around here these days. Has been for a while. Speaking only for myself.

This is a kind of disgruntled posting.

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Columbia River 1991, at Richland

This is a view of the Columbia River from the riverside park at Richland, March 1991. And that’s me. It was bright blue skies and sun shining only a few minutes beforehand. A dust storm was riding in. Weather can change very quickly there.

This is an “I’m standing in front of the Columbia River which I haven’t seen since I was a kid, quick, let’s get back in the car because it’s suddenly freezing” shot.

Old postcard of Columbia River

Old postcard of the Columbia River. Reads, Columbia river separating Oregon and Washington. Scene shows vista house at Crown Point with express highway and Mighty Columbia River. No date.

Extremely faded. Didn’t toy with it much, just bringing out a few colors. Didn’t see any point laboring over major color adjustments.

For comparison, here are pics of Crown Point and Vista House today, with a couple from approximately same direction.

Climbing trees

One of H.o.p.’s cousins has a tree house, as does PBS’ Arthur, and H.o.p. has decided he wants one. He has just done a sketch of a tree house, “It has an art gallery, there, and a play room.” At first I thought it was only intended to be an imaginary tree house but no, he then went on talking about how he was going to do the designs for it and our landlord could build it.

There are a couple of trees out back of the apartment building but the out back of the apartment building is inhospitable. I’m not telling H.o.p. there’s no chance of a tree house though. I get the feeling that this is one of those things to let him keep as a fantasy possible.

He has not liked the idea of climbing trees.

“Are you saying you’d like to try to climb a tree?”

“Never ever!”

“But you wouldn’t mind climbing a ladder to a tree house.”


He nods as he continues experimenting with making spit bubbles, seeing how big he can make them before they pop.

Now, I loved climbing trees when I was young. I was small and agile and had no fear of it.

We were ten. There was one other girl, also small for age, who said no she was the best at climbing trees and her friends said the same. So we went with our friends to the highest tree we knew to climb. Parked our bikes at the base and she and I started climbing, the rest of our friends standing below.

I could tell after a point she started becoming afraid. Then she was not just afraid but upset. She couldn’t go higher. I’d had a branch break out from under me once and had the breath knocked out of me hard, but a couple summers before, when we hadn’t known each other, she had fallen while climbing and broken an arm. When we first met she was still in a cast and had been introduced to me as the best tree climber there was. I’d thought, “Yeah, well, maybe for the neighborhood.”

She went back down. She stood at the base while I continued climbing, going as high as I could go, and they called, “Don’t! Come down! Come down! You’ve proved you can go higher, you’ve proved it!” Which surprised me. Surprised me when one of the girls started crying and got on her bike and rode away, afraid of what was going to happen. They were upset but I was proving something to myself. And I didn’t understand why they were afraid and kept calling for me to come down, not to go higher, when I knew what branches would support and which wouldn’t. I saw no reason to stop until it was impossible for me to go higher. And when it was impossible for me to go higher, I stopped and went back down. All but two had already left, gone home on their bikes, afraid, they didn’t want to be there if I fell. I couldn’t understand why they were all furious with me. After the other girl had gone back down then it had become a competition with the tree–and in a way had been only for me a competition with the tree. There was a sense of triumph of self, I’d done it, gone higher than I ever had before. But that was all and would have to be all. It was the last tree I climbed as a child. I didn’t climb any more with my friends as they said they would never climb trees with me again and because of it I didn’t feel like climbing for a while. Then at summer’s end we moved to a place where there weren’t any good climbing trees. Because there was nothing better than climbing a tree and then sitting in it, this felt like a cutting away of a part of me. But that was that.

Of course, probably just a few blocks over, unknown to us, was someone else who could have climbed as high or higher. In another tree. Not that one. The branches wouldn’t have sustained weight higher up.

The others had every right to be furious at me. We were children and they were frightened. Had something gone wrong, the memory of it would have stayed with them for the remainder of their lives. I’d broken a childhood trust, trespassed a kind of taboo. I didn’t know I had, because I’d felt so confident. When I touched ground again, one of the older girls who’d remained ripped into me good, yelling at me, enraged. And I realized what trust had been broken. It is something like gymnastics where you don’t do certain stunts if you don’t have someone there to spot you.

I’ve told H.o.p. I was good at climbing trees. I had thought it might encourage him, that his mom could climb trees, so he might climb and enjoy sitting with his cousin in the tree that his cousin likes to climb. But the only impression it made was that his mom could climb trees as a child. It didn’t make him want to climb trees. “My mom used to be able to climb trees. She was great at it,” I heard him tell one of his cousins. No inspiration for H.o.p. to even try it, he’s not a joiner in that way. If you can do something well then good for you but that doesn’t mean he has to do it. Which I figure is how it should be. If H.o.p. doesn’t want to climb trees there’s no reason for H.o.p. to climb trees. But if he will climb the ladder then good for him and great that he wants a treehouse with an art gallery.

H.o.p. is drawing a friendly cartoon monster, using this time some instruction rather than drawing by eye.

“Look, this is a hard one!” he says.

“I remember your doing this one before,” I tell him.

“Yes, it was hard at first but I got used to it,” he says.

Lotsa Poppa

I noted yesterday that Marty played for years with singer Lotsa Poppa. Mostly at Blind Willie’s but also at such clubs as the venerated Royal Peacock, and the Libra Ballroom, on the same bill as people lilke Bobby “Blue” Bland. I used to have the greatest rainbow-colored posters of those dates but one day had taken them down off the wall and a cat of ours sprayed them. Ah, you don’t know how it pained me to lose all those posters.

Lotsa Poppa has been quite ill the past couple of years. But he was a great singer and in 2001 the Georgia General Assembly passed a resolution honoring him.

A couple of pics of Lotsa Poppa are here and a link to an article Creative Loafing did on him a few years ago.

The below resolution gives the impression that the name of the Down to Earth Blues Band backing Poppa was dissolved completely when he moved back to Atlanta from Philadelphia but, in fact, that name was retained for years with a group of musicians he’d pulled together here, which included Marty. There were occasional shifts in who was playing as most everyone at some time or another was on the road with other bands, sometimes at length, and sometimes players just move on.

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Stupid lost skills department

I’m wondering tonight about idiosyncratic skills people pick up naturally and what might belong or have belonged to some individuals reading.

The second place Marty and I lived after we were married was a second floor in a house that had a screened porch. We had no air conditioning of course, the house was ancient in the downtown residential area that was at that point dead. The screened porch looked over the old broad street split with a median and during the warm months I wrote and we ate on the front porch. And a strange thing happened. Somehow, without giving any thought to it at all, within a couple of months I suddenly realized I was able to identify almost any car by its headlights and tail lights, but in particular its tail lights. I’ve no idea how it happened. Later, when we were on the road, I’d entertain the band with this skill which even to me was a trifle bizarre, that I didn’t know anything about cars but I could tell from a distance, by the lights, what one was. This was in the late 70s and by the early 80s all the cars on the road were Japanese and my talent was lost. But it was an entertaining skill while I had it, and was amusing way to pass time on the road. People would at first bet I could only identify a few and then would stop betting because I somehow knew what every car was. There may be a number of other people who could do this with American cars but we happened not to know any and others were always amused. But then one is easily amused on the road.

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King Coal

Many years ago a guy showed up in our lives, a musician, had the art side of it all down cold, played in an Athens-Atlanta band but wasn’t really too much a part of the music scene, who hired my husband to engineer and produce some of his redos of Johnny Cash songs. He had concept and Marty implemented and filled it out.

Not-His-Real-Name was difficult to figure out. He was nice, polite and in some respects fairly reclusive, elusive and vague. Not that he didn’t spread himself around while he was around but it was in measured, small, well-manicured, contained doses. His intent was to give the read of a musician artist but he wasn’t working. Many musician artists are financed by family and usually in school. Not-His-Real-Name (hereafter given as NN) wasn’t in school and nothing was ever said about family. Not that musicians or musician artists living mainly on family funds go around talking about how their family is helping them. Slumming is popular. But there is a big difference between a working musician living on slim club earnings and a musician artist with family help slumming it. Posture slumming has the ability to be selective in its choices, is thus artsy slumming, and tends to be shocked and repulsed when it comes in contact with those who really do live on bean soup. Those who are posture slumming tend to be able to travel a lot. Like to Europe. They tend to be able to skip years of working on the road, living out of a van with bandmates. And if their clothes are Salvation Army vintage, their shoes and accouterments are likely to be selective, well-heeled gear. And they have the newest in little techno devices and toys. It is easy to tell a posture slummer, usually. And NN was a posture slummer who really, really wanted people to think he was anything but.

He drove a ratted out, rusting American car like an Olds.

“When he was pretending to be a person…”

We vaguely made friends with NN. Rather, NN. vaguely made friends with us. Which is how we became aware that he was importing and selling high end art, the kind of high end ar that is obscure and on a one-to-one basis. He would go to Europe and buy things. We became aware of this when we visited his supposed slumming apartment and saw the high end art packaged and crated, sitting around. Not the kind of thing NN would talk about. Indeed, he obviously didn’t want to talk about it. Push it off to the side as best as he could.

His apartment was the best posture slumming apartment I’d ever seen. A magnificent marble entry in the building with a long, semi-circular marble staircase. The place wasn’t pristine, but the parts that really mattered were. No black mold there. The floors in most of the rooms I saw nicely finished and the walls in most of the rooms nicely painted. Remarkable low clutter level. No clutter at all. No furniture at all. Not like a place where you live and happen to have no furniture because you can’t afford it. It was like a slumming show place. There was a new pink couch in the main room. That’s all. His girlfriend, more animated than he, was quite excited about the pink couch. You could tell it cost a nice slice of money. At least what I would have counted as a nice slice of money. A very scenic apartment. A perfectly theater apartment, which was appropriate.

His girlfriend thought they were real serious and he didn’t negate it. She was preparing to nest.

His girlfriend was interested in film. I had a hefty collection of Black Cat screenplays I’d collected. I loaned her my collection.

Then I didn’t hear back from the girlfriend.

I worried about my Black Cat collection of out-of-print screenplays. I called a couple of times but didn’t hear back. I’m not one to pester. I figure if I don’t hear back from you the second time then I never will and I cut my losses.

She called, eventually. NN had abruptly split up with her, which was why she’d been out of touch. She promised to get the books to me. She never did. Next thing I knew she was in Martha’s Vineyard doing something and I imagine my books went with her or ended up in some trash pile.

We hadn’t heard from NN in months and had pretty much forgotten about him. Then one day we got a mysterious call from NN. He was back in town. China had only recently opened for the tourist trade and he had been out touring China and other points unknown for several months. He wanted to meet with us and tell us something. Plus he had with him a woman he’d recently met, to whom he was engaged and planned to marry and wanted us to meet her.

We were living in a fairly respectable apartment building in Little Five Points. A librarian lived there and an actor and a computer guy and some Grateful Dead freaks who followed the band all over the nation all year long and a former keyboardist for Mother’s Finest lived across the hall from us at one point, and there was too the occasional crazy mother on bad drugs who would move in and rob apartments and terrorize everyone. They were small apartments, one bedrooms and studios. I’d painted ours in gorgeous colors and loved that aspect of it. Crammed into the living room was my desk and Target-type bookcases loaded with books and all of Marty’s music gear and in the corner was room for a small loveseat made of sponge and cardboard and covered with cloth. I was in painting mode and being a painter I will paint anything. That day I was painting the couch and it wasn’t working out. It wasn’t drying. I was painting the couch because it was long since ready for the trash pile and I was hoping for an extra couple of months of sitting on it. But it wasn’t to be and soon all we had for sitting were two canvas reclining lawn chairs that I’d painted, which were actually comfortable and looked great.

NN showed up with his girlfriend.

NN was driving a Porsche Targa.

His girlfriend was a blond Atlanta model he’d met in Milan. She was leaving the modeling profession for NN and was going to write a memoir for their prospective children. She was around 21 years of age.

It was a bizarre and very uncomfortable meeting. NN was basically coming clean with us because he liked us and counted us as friends. Not friends with whom you share your new-old-real phone number, not that close, but he wanted to tell us who he really was.

Which was the son of an absolutely filthy rich coal family in West Virginia. He’d basically been given time to go out and play before going back and learning the family business. And the time had come for him to leave the land of mortals and to reascend Olympus. For which reason he had been out touring Europe and China, and I guess looking for the mortal wife who was to have the lucky pleasure of ascending with him.

He talked about responsibility to the family when you’re on that level of…whatever.

NN wasn’t even his real name. He had been going by an assumed name.

He told us his real name, which I no longer remember.

He said he’d really enjoyed knowing us and wanted us to know all this because he was leaving and would not be back ever, blah blah, let’s shake hands and let’s not say anything about how I will not be giving you my phone number so please don’t be discourteous and ask for it because I will turn you down flat because I am frankly telling you that I will never have anything to do with you again as I am done with slumming and you were nice folks but good-bye, I’m now going back to West Virginia because of my responsibility to the family fortune and company, taking along with me my showcase blond who will fit better with the family than the old girlfriend who had dark hair and used to be a gnostic nun or something like that and had no chance of being my significant other but was fun while it lasted.

Well, y’know, I was kind of speechless. I was partly speechless because of the prospective wife, who was terrified of us. She looked like she’d never been out of the palace, except to be on the runway, and she eyed our little, clean, nicely painted but small cramped apartment like it was a leper’s room. She was dressed in bright white very expensive pants. Despite her eyeing everything in our place like it was from hell, she had the wisdom to start to sit down on the sofa I’d been painting. I was still holding the paint brush. I thought, well, considering how she had done nothing to conceal her horror of us, I could let her sit down and ruin a very expensive pair of pants. But I instead leaped forward and and said, oh, no, so sorry, I’m painting the sofa, wouldn’t want your pants to be ruined.

I for some reason felt like I was being very generous not letting her ruin her pants.

She went to stand by the door. It was time for them to leave, uhm, about three minutes after they’d arrived. She said that if we ever needed a car, her dad was a Rolls Royce/Jaguar dealer and he’d give us a good deal.

What the fuck kind of offer was that? I never could decide if she was that clueless, thinking anyone could afford a second hand Jaguar, or if it was her way of putting us down just a little further.

NN had bemoaned that once, during a dark art phase, he tossed his typewriter out the window, talking like he couldn’t replace it. And Marty had looked at the pseudo-slumming and the leather portfolio holding the art and the crated art and thought, “What?”

Marty had certainly not charged NN very much for his work.

NN had been one of us. Supposedly. Wanted us to believe it. Barely making it by. But not! We’d known, “But not!” Though not to what degree of “But not!” We’d figured everyone has their secrets, or at least their not so public lives. Halls with doors and some people open up a couple and some three and some keep you standing on the Welcome mat. One respects that.

I don’t know what was wrong with me at the time that I didn’t say, “What the hell’s wrong with you, you son-of-a-bitch?” But I didn’t. It just seemed to me another one of those , “Oh. Hmmm. Well, such is life,” happenings. Except in one regard. There is a cardinal if unspoken code in the musician world and it is this: You do not waste anyone’s time on projects with which you actually never intend to do anything. Now, you may not do anything with them, but you must believe that you might. And it is one of the basic gentle person’s agreements among musicians, an understood, and you simply don’t break it.

NN had.

During the latest coal mining disaster, I recollected NN, and I was wondering what had ever happened to him. I was wondering what mines his family had their hand in and if they had any connection to Sago. Perhaps not, but I was thinking of NN’s Returning To Mount Olympus speech and the relationship of the coal magnates with anyone on a lesser economic level, much less coal miners. When NN had made his speech, I had wondered if the care taken in hiding who he was had anything to do with some notion of filthy money that he might ve a little embarrassed about, what kind of agony his family might have perpetuated on the serfs and the earth. Or maybe they hadn’t. Maybe they looked upon their employees like parents considering the long-term care of dependent children, and treated them well, but I somehow doubt it. If, in order to enter the world of mortals you must take an alias, then you must live on a very small island of the privileged.

Twenty years is a long time and it’s been twenty years since we’ve seen NN I’ve wondered how he might have changed and if he looks upon his alias days with some trace embarrassment or if the level of exclusivity has been amped.

What’s really freaking peculiar is that the fairly anonymous name that NN. went by, if you do a Google search for it (he did play on the occasion with one band here and I was wondering if they were internet archive worthy) nets zero results. Imagine that. Absolutely zero results. And it was a pretty anonymous name. A Me andMr. Jones kind of anonymous.

The grandparents of the Power Puff Girls

The grandparents of the Power Puff Girls are those big-eyed waif pictures from the 60s and 70s that went so well with Tang, the space-age powdered orange drink choice of astronauts. The prototype were those painted by Margaret Keane, and despite the cutesy factor, the world looked cold for those parentless children.

When I was a kid in the suburbs (age of 10 on) there were houses that always felt cold and looked cold in a way peculiarly suburban. In the past few decades, I’ve lived in ice cold mill houses and other old houses with inadequate heat. But the 70’s suburban chilly was an aesthetic almost of petrified disinterest. Something about the architecture (whether ranch or modern) and the big plate glass windows and a certain minimalism in decoration that bespoke a lack of imagination and epidemic confusion as to what “taste” meant and whether it directed or reflected lifestyle or had anything to do with one’s life at all. And, looking back, I can’t begin to tell you much about the lifestyle as the predominate characteristic was treading time’s water. All the rooms in most all these houses were like aquariums and we the fish floating, passing time until the box top opened at about 6:30 and dinner floated out of dehydrated packets onto the table. Didn’t help that monotony was a popular color for walls, sofas, chairs and curtains. I babysat quite a bit and it was this way at almost all the homes and at the homes of friends.

As far as the literal cold, it was energy crisis time which had something to do with it, I suppose. There was an afghan over the back of every sofa and everyone was turning down the temp.

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Friday former cat blogging

Below is Woody (Woodrow).

Woodrow (Woodie), 1970s

Back in the late 1970s, a Scottish singer Marty was working with gave us a call to tell us someone they knew had a couple of 3-day-old kittens on their hands, the mom had given birth and run off promptly so they were looking for someone to take care of the runt kittens that no one would take. The Scottish woman knew we were saps and easy marks. And enthusiastic easy marks at that. We said, “Yeah, yeah, we’ll do it!” And took in Woodie and his calico sister Rosie (Roosevelt) and raised them up from three day old kittens to full-fledged ultrasweet cats. We had a white german shepherd at the time, Bran, who was kinda dumb but a very gentle dog and Bran helped us out with the cleaning end. Genet, another cat we had at the time, also helped as far as setting a superb big brotherly example…

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King Mill and the Golden Cherry

Cotton Mill and canal, Augusta, Ga. 1970s
King Mill and canal, Augusta, Ga. 1970s

Marty worked briefly at the King cotton mill after we were married but I didn’t take pics of the mill until after he’d worked there. Across the canal from it was the bulk of the cotton mill neighborhood, the worst part of which, the tenements lining the street, I think were already being torn down. But I remember going past them when I was younger and the humanity sitting out on the stoops was sad. As for the tenements, I remember a distinguishing feature being a lack of paint, such as in the cotton mill area we briefly lived in later outside of Atlanta.

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Fierce pumpkins and happy cactus

First, a distant relation in Kansas sent me this link with a Flash on How to carve a pumpkin like a pro. I knew there would be a punch line but I didn’t know what. H.o.p. came running up behind me, “What game is that?!” I told him, “How to carve a pumpkin like a pro.” He pointed out what virtual face he wanted me to carve. I picked up the virtual knife to carve it. The punch line hit. H.o.p. stood beside me, silent for a couple of seconds, me wondering what he was going to do and say as he may love ghouls and monsters but his tolerance threshold for scary things is quite low. After a couple seconds of silence, he said, authoritative (a trace of dejection in his voice),”I know a better game than that.”

He thinks the pumpkin should instead grow legs and become a huge giant pumpkin.

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Thumbs Carllile

With a nod to Dharma Bums who got me started thinking about it. Rexroth’s Daughter wrote a beautiful post on the how and why she is a collector of handshakes and her passion for it is a beautiful one unsullied by dropping-name ambitions, each handshake opening to the worlds of those others and the people with whom they’ve shaken hands, a the conviction of inter-relatedness symbolized in that brief touch, traveling on, connecting us with the journey and experiences of, eventually, everyone.

Anyway, this is something I’ve thought about putting together for H.o.p. from time to time, a brief collection of the people we’ve known and those tendrils. Because one day he may be curious. Or maybe not. And even if I don’t put it together, I for some reason have always thought I ought to write a brief piece here about Thumbs Carllile, so I will go ahead and do so. Don’t know why. He just has always come to mind in that way. A person you’ve known that ought to be remembered, and his family remarked upon.

Marty, my husband, sat in with Thumbs’ trio a few times and has played with his daughter, Kathy, in her band “Tabasco” in an off-and-on forever kind of way. She sings a shred-the-velvet-curtains blues, huge voice wringing out her diminutive frame until all that’s left is a halo of soul. Tammy, another daughter of Thumbs, and a hell of a singer as well, did the vocal for some music in a play of mine once. And I was present when Virginia, Thumbs’ wife, sang, “I’m so lonely I could cry” at his wake at The Freight Room in 1987, which is something I will never forget. Nor will I forget his funeral, which was a funeral one could respect, and that’s rare.

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