Connected Dots…

Why are repressed memories repressed to begin with?

Well…I suppose that if we knew the answer to that, there wouldn’t be any repressed memories at all.

There will be a point to this, I promise. Not right up front, but more towards the back end. Please be patient, and allow me to set a scene for you.

The summer of ’69, as Mr. Adams would say; although mine was not nearly as intriguing, and would never stand as backdrop for a smash radio hit of the ’80’s. I was to spend the summer painting houses with my dad; housepainting was a secondary income for him.

He had decided to attempt to infuse me with something resembling an actual work ethic; my days as a lump of shiftless protoplasm were apparently numbered. ( For those among you who know me well… please insert crass and sarcastic comment here. )

So…here’s the scene. A spectacularly beautiful early summer morning in Seekonk, Massachusetts. We were painting the exterior of a very impressively large Victorian on the banks of the Seekonk Reservoir. Dad was painting the peak, having used two precariously placed ladders to get there. I was on a lower level, about ten feet off the ground, painting in and around some kitchen windows that had a very ornately carved outer housing. I was charged with the task of painting the housing without getting paint all over the windows.

That was not working out very well. Protoplasm generally does not respond to requests, even the strident ones.

But finally, after several hours…it was accomplished, and there was only one spot left to paint; the eaves underneath the housing itself. I had left that for the very last, because protoplasm will always hold out the forlorn hope that someone will come along and do the sticky bits for them at the last minute.

I had been instructed to clean out the eaves before painting; and as any blob of teenaged protoplasm would, I completely ignored that order. I thought that I would rather paint under the eaves so heavily that Dad would never notice that they had not been cleaned at all. This was a very highly advanced train of logic for protoplasm.

So…I went up the  ladder with more paint. I smugly jammed a full brushful  into the underside of the housing, gloating to myself about the lesson in work ethic that I would show him.

And was met with a furious attack from a huge brown spider, with a torso roughly the size of a ping-pong ball. ( And yes, that is an accurate scaling of the dinosaur’s torso. If I had recounted this story to you say, even ten years ago, he would have been volley-ball sized; ten years previous, basketball-sized. Allow some small credit where it is due.)

Apparently, when under duress, blobs of protoplasm have been known to emit high- pitched girlish shreiks in  the barely audible range of almost 20khz, purely as a defense mechanism. And also to levitate up and down ladders, knocking paint cans out of the way as need be.

Paint was everywhere; my spiffy bell-bottoms had been seriously compromised. ( Yes, with paint, thank you. Mostly.)

And as I got up off the ground…there was Dad. Hearing the 20khz shreiking, he had apparently utilized his far superior abilities of levitation.

Dad was not a terribly well-adjusted camper just then. There was more paint on the windows than I had actually gotten on the house all day. He was rather vocal in his observations, in that ‘ex-Navy WWII vet’  way of his. I was not aware that the lineage of my birth had ever been in question.

I pleaded my case, to no effect. The beast should just as well have been the size of a basketball.

Dad was up the ladder in a flash; against my extraordinarily high-pitched objections, he reached into the basketball’s lair.

He grabbed hold of it, bare-handed; came two rungs down the ladder, and pitched it over the stockade fence into the adjacent realm.

I will always recall the image of a paint-sodden arachnid flying into space, forever etched against the perfect June sky.

I spent several days cleaning paint from those windows. Even less fun than painting, if one can imagine.

And now…why did all this suddenly become un-repressed?

Because early this morning…as I rose for work…the background music in my head abruptly changed tracks.

As I mentioned the other day, word of  Levon Helm’s passing had caused ” Daniel and the Sacred Harp” to start playing in my head. This morning, it suddenly changed over to ” Across the Great Divide”, which in turn has led to the entire ” Band” album ( also known as the ‘brown’ album) playing non-stop in its place. This is actually quite pleasant, and not nearly as borderline scizophrenic as it sounds.

And now, the overall point, as earlier promised;

 I spent that Summer of the Arachnid with that Band album playing in my head, too. I had committed it entirely to memory, after playing it through easily  a dozen times a day.

So the entire incident occurred, as did everything else that summer, with a  backing soundtrack. The hateful beast is forever aligned with oil-based grey housepaint, deep parental resentment, gorgeous summer mornings, and the Band. A convoluted series of dots, but there it is.

When the ‘brown’ album runs its course, I hope it switches over to ‘ Stage Fright‘ next. There’s some great stuff on that one. Highly recommended, but be careful; these songs all have a tendency to stick.

Oh, and along the way… I did manage to aquire a respectable work ethic. Thanks, Dad…but I still couldn’t manage the spider-throwing trick.




Levon Helm passed away yesterday from throat cancer.

He had been wrestling with it for some time, but as often happens, it doubled back around and got him anyway.

Levon had a storybook career in music. He was the original singing drummer in rock; a founding member of  The Band, an extraordinarily eclectic project from the ’60’s. He was proficient on several instruments.

About ten years ago, he wrote a book called ” This Wheel’s On Fire” which documented the early years of his career through the Band period, and well beyond. Should you ever happen to read it, you will find any concurrent viewings of ” The Last Waltz” ( the Scorcese- directed documentary of their farewell tour) in an entirely unanticipated light.

But you’d have to be a dinosaur, and a pretty old one at that, to even care.

The Band was a completely eclectic mix of early American roots music, with a seasoning of blues, ragtime, sacred harp, gospel….everything under the sun. All written and performed with an undeniable early- American authenticity.

Especially since they were Canadian.

Except for Levon. He was from Arkansas.

And all this happened in the ’60’s, a time when music consisted generally of over- indulgent guitar players who would likely ramble on endlessly in a guitar solo until someone shot them.

The Band was my first experience of  musicians who wrote and performed songs purely for the song’s sake. That was quite a revelation to a fledgeling over-indulger like me.

Unfortunately, Robbie Robertson always tried to position himself as a hot guitar player ( hence much of the footage in “The Last Waltz”). He was not, and is not. The posturing was unnecessary and harmful, and had much to do with The Band’s demise.

But in spite of a few negatives, The Band had a spectacularly successful run, and were widely influential. As with all superlative songwriters, a Band song only needed to be heard once or twice to be eternally cemented into your brainstem. Since hearing this news, ” Daniel and the Sacred Harp” has been running in my head non-stop; that’s fine with me, it’s one of my favorites.

Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson.

Absolute timeless magic.

Richard and Rick have already passed on, now joined by Levon.

Rest in peace, brothers.

We who remain behind are much diminished.

db(2)+ 1.5 ml He = db(2) – 1.5 ml Co2 (a dead balloon is a dead balloon)

There are two things in this world that kids certainly don’t know a damned thing about; Shakespearian allegory, and the physical properties of most common gases. Any and every K12 teacher will attest to this.

They are also blissfully unaware of the poignantly poetic connection between the two. And just as well; such sobering and irrefutable philosophic evidence should well be kept from them, easily until the seventh grade, if not even beyond that. Let ’em be kids for as long as they can, I say; a rose will still be a rose, regardless of when we each get around to actually contemplating them, whatever they’re being called by.

And as to helium and carbon monoxide, I keep a particularly fond childhood memory; kept in my file for ” particularly fond childhood memories”, located just behind my left ear, near the hairline ( or what was once known as such. ) It’s either that, or a hopefully benign nodule. I just know that if I poke at it long enough, it will release a flood of pleasant early recollections. There is also a corresponding file behind my right ear which I have long since learned to avoid at all cost. And, there’s one forming right smack in the middle of my forehead, indicating a possible new career as a Hindu mystic; in which case I will certainly need a set of proper lily-white pajamas. The old green plaid ones will not do, I suppose…but apparently I digress.

Right. Back to the childhood memory file.

This wonderful warm-and-fuzzy collection includes early TV shows ( Bonanza, Rawhide, the Addams Family ( I still count Mrs. Addams as being the very first Goth female ); seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show, at which point life as I had known it took a sudden left turn; sandlot baseball, and the smell of the six gallons of saddle soap that my glove was marinated in; the brown woolen snowsuit that Mom would stuff me into, and then throw me into a snowbank to await the Spring thaw; sledding, until it was too dark to be able to see the tree you were about to crash into; wars of attrition, otherwise known as snowball fights; catching fireflies in jars on hot summer nights; Joyce Stamp ( my first actual taking notice of a female ) in the third grade ( alas, we could not marry; I was Catholic, and she was Protestant ( neither had any idea what that actually meant ); the inexplicably satisfying sound of baseball cards that have been clothes-pinned onto bicycle spokes; the wonderful rubber-ish ‘ thwock’ sound you make when you flick a balloon back into the air ( because it must remain airborne at all costs ).

This last one needs further explanation; because many balloons are in fact airborne, and need tethering, lest they escape our grasp altogether. And yet many do not. This posits quite the physics problem for children the world over, wherever a balloon is to be had.

To the child, it may seem a simple enough solution. The store-bought balloon always manages its escape into the atmosphere; therefore, get your own balloons, blow them up with your own air, and …voila.

Nothing. Just the opposite, in fact. But…air is air…a rose is a rose… balloons are balloons. Why isn’t this working?

It is precisely then  that the balloon-thwocking starts. At the risk of life, limb, the pursuit of happiness…liberty will certainly be compromised. After all, your little sister went careening out a second-story window, and was only saved by landing in your mother’s prize rosebushes; you will consequently be grounded until the ripe old age of eight. Potted geraniums ended up in aquarium tanks; chairs broken, drapes pulled down, dogs and cats trod upon. All because it is entirely possible to blow up the entire package of balloons, and keep them all airborne at the same time…at all costs. This feat requires much, much thwocking, several children…and a mother who is slightly and temporarily preoccupied.

She may be preparing dinner…or seeing to an outside chore…or on the phone…again.

The phone calls seem to go on forever. It feels like you were five when she started, and now you’re…well..still five, but it seems like seven. And a lot can happen in even a relative two years time, when there are balloons afoot. When you’re not getting the attention you want/need; when there are no snacks within reach; when there’ s no feedback.

And finally…the balloons have begun to lose pressure. The thwocking becomes tiresome…and still…in exasperation, you bring her an expiring, wheezing, thoroughly thwocked- out balloon, and ask her for help. To make them better, to bring them back…that’s what she does. Her Prime Directive…to fix stuff.

But she is still on the phone.

So, as your last resort, you try the old standby method; whining piteously. It works a good percentage of the time. But this time, her response is stoic, and unmoving in its harsh implication. Apparently… air is not always just air, but a rose is always a rose; sisters don’t always land in beds of roses…but a dead balloon is always, always a dead balloon.

And in spite of the lesson supposedly learned, the next balloon- based project didn’t fare much better; fashion a parachute from a large bath towel and pieces of clothesline ( yes, you must chop up your mother’s clothesline first, and poke holes into monogrammed bath towels ); blow up 12 new balloons, attach string to each; climb the old apple tree to the highest reachable limb; and use the wonders of science to float safely to the ground. Or maybe, if you can catch the wind just right, to sail over the chain link fence into uncharted territory.

Or not.