Monday, September 15, 2014

The Book Of Cletis

I miss the blog called "The Book of Cletis," ostensibly written by one Cletis L. Stump.  Clete was a nice guy, a good writer, and I always enjoyed the blog.  It went private somehow.  It's a blog but when you run it up the flagpole these days you get a page that says:

"This blog is for invited readers only.  Contact the blogger."

Or something to that effect.

The change happened around the Spring of 2012.  I still miss Cletis, we were getting along swimmingly.  There's a certain amount of logrolling here in the Blogosphere, bloggers plugging one another.  Maybe some of it is insincere, like the ridiculous praise that mediocre novelists heap on one another these days, I wouldn't know.  I can tell you that if I suggested a post on The Book of Cletis it was because I thought that it was great.  Cletis would occasionally re-post one of my things on his blog, and on other occasions he'd comment hereon.  He seemed sincere about it too.  Then he pulled the plug and I wasn't invited to the new party. 

So, a couple of questions:

I would have appreciated an invitation to read the new, or merely closed off blog; and

Did something go wrong while I wasn't looking?  Was it something that I said? 

Maybe we start these Internet relationships without really understanding the rules for such things.  They are new constructs, that's for sure.  This is a new world.  Maybe I committed some faux pas.  If I did, I'd apologize for it unreservedly. 

I wonder.

But whatever.  Cletis, wherever you are, I love you brother, and I hope that you and yours are well and happy.  Live long and prosper!  And thanks for all of the good will, back then. 

Three Deaths, Part Three

Norman Petri, 1990

It is a well-worn cliché to refer to any human being as “unique.”  For one thing, it is almost never true.  Considering these three deaths, you might say that Hilliary was an unusual boy in some ways, but really there are many surly, slightly anti-social boys, and many of them are quite sarcastic and entertaining, and many of those have strong interests in building motors and going fast.  Unique?  No. The type is personified by James Dean.  And Ray, certainly he had unusual powers of social interaction, he was charismatic, and he had considerable musical talent.  Unique?  No.  Paul McCartney is the model.  But Norman?  Norman was unique.  I seriously doubt that the world had seen his precise likeness before, or that it will ever see it again. 

I met Norman around the turn of the year 1976, shortly after my relocation to Los Angeles.  Norman was a transplant too, from Cleveland.  We were in our mid-Twenties.  We hit it off immediately, for reasons that would not be immediately apparent to anyone. 

We worked in the warehouse distribution center for a chain of record and tape stores.  Norman lived with a friend in a rented house surrounded by factories that had only day shifts.  They thought that it was perfect, because there were no neighbors to complain about noise.  Live music and loud record playing were involved.  In the living room there were three armadillos.  One taxidermy stand-alone armadillo; one taxidermy armadillo fighting a taxidermy rattle snake; and one armadillo handbag.  Every Thursday they would buy the Recycler and look for new armadillo items.  The entire house was furnished with gaudy, overstuffed second-hand furniture.  There was a blow-torch on the coffee table.  The rooms were hung with posters from Fifties science-fiction movies, of which both of them had extensive collections.  I say extensive, the roommate’s collection was complete.  For all of the important movies he had the poster, both one-sheets, and all of the lobby cards.  His want list included only better examples of things of which he already had a less-than-perfect example.  Norman’s collection included many foreign posters.  Like the Italian poster for “This Island Earth,” or the French one-sheets for “Forbidden Planet.” 

Between them they had four or five thousand record albums, mostly punk and trance but with a rich vein of movie soundtracks.  Henry Mancini and Enio Moriconni were big favorites.  Oh, etc, etc . . . is this to be all about Norman’s life? 

Maybe a little more information.  After a couple of years, Norman moved back to Cleveland, because Los Angeles was just too square for him.  Cleveland had a great rock scene in the 1970’s.  It is also important to know that Norman was a devotee of old style amusement parks and wooden roller coasters.  In Cleveland, he worked two jobs for nine months out of the year so that he could take off during “coaster season,” traveling around to visit all of the happening wooden coasters.  He and I were both letter writers.  He was the most conscientious letter writer that I’ve ever known, he actually had a checklist of people that he wanted to write to every month.  Usually I received not just a letter, but a brown envelope with brochures from amusement parks, plastic bags from hip record stores, napkins from weird diners, a bit of everything.   

And I should mention that Norman was a Fat Fancier.  He himself stood over six feet tall and weighed a bit less than 130 pounds, he looked like you could fold him up and fit him into an attaché case.  He was bone white, with longish black hair, and with a demeanor that the medical professionals call “low affect.”  His long term girlfriend weighed in at over 500 pounds.  Oh, and Norman was a smoker, that will become important in a moment.  He smoked one or two packs of Marlboros every day and at least an ounce of reefer every week.  He had kept up this pace since his teens. 

Is it possible to die suddenly from lung cancer?  Norman managed it.  He was a very shy man, and always less than comfortable in the real world.  With friends, listening to records, getting loaded, he was very personable and almost cheerful.  But let the social situation become at all new or uncertain and he went into full retreat.  So it’s not unexpected that he hated to go to the doctor, preferring to ride out all of life’s maladies on his own.  This may or may not have been his downfall. 

I got the opportunity to visit him in 1990, after a two year close friendship followed by a twelve year intense correspondence.  My family and I were to fly to Toronto and make three visits within two weeks; to friends in Guelph, Ontario; to my aunt in Buffalo, New York; and to Norman, who lived at the time in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Our correspondence was still strong, and he had never mentioned health problems, but when I called him to tell him of the trip he blurted out that he was too sick to take visitors.  He said that he had terrible sciatica, that he had had it once before, but that this time it was really laying him up, he couldn’t do anything.  I said, no sweat, we’ll sit around, get some take out, we just want to see you.  He allowed that something like that could work.  It was the last time that we spoke.

Two days before we left for the trip, Norman’s girlfriend called me.  “Norman’s dead!” she screamed into the phone without warning, with the full power of her tremendous bulk.  She explained, in between huge sobs, that Norman had finally gone to the doctor, had been diagnosed with lung cancer, had been admitted to the hospital immediately, and had thereupon died.  He was thirty-seven-years-old. 

I’ve had other friends and relatives die on me, but these unanticipated deaths really do hit a little harder, don’t they?  It comes as a shock, and with the finality of the grave.  They stand out in memory, probably because they remind us that any day could be our last, or thereabouts. 

So fare thee well, Hilliary, Ray and Norman.  I miss you all, if not exactly every day, certainly on a very regular basis.  Thank you for your friendship.  May your souls, and the souls of all of the faithful departed, rest in peace, amen.  

Little Willie John - All Around The World

Another man of small stature blessed with a huge singing voice.

1955! Willie John only lasted a few years after this.  Went to prison; got killed.  Man, some of these life stories are enough to drive one to drink.  

My Many Interests

I spent most of my life waiting to be seized by a passion for something.  Seized momentarily, as though it were just around the corner, waiting for me.  It never happened, and eventually the sense of expectation left me.  It was replaced by the vague, melancholy feeling that I would have to settle for a real interest in many things, without any deep interests at all.  I will admit that I was somewhat disappointed. 

Now I will admit that there are benefits to this generality of interest, and that maybe I was lucky.

Sometimes I wonder if I should wish that I were more scholarly.  But really, what would that accomplish?  Probably I am better off with my essentially lazy nature and my fondness for periods of inactivity.  I find naps more pleasant than the study of German verbs.  Is that so terrible?  No, actually, naps are quite nice. 

Not that I don’t love German verbs.  “Sie dienen nur genug Geld, um weiter arbeiten zu koennen.”  How great is that?  It’s from a short story by Heinrich Boell.  “They earn only enough money to enable them to continue working.”  As I said, I have real interests in many things.  A ridiculously broad spectrum of things, you might say.  And that’s a good thing.

I can tell you with a straight face that I have never been bored.  Never.  Technically I know what the word means, but I’m not certain what it would feel like. 

So being the jack of all trades, but master of none, has its silver linings.  Recall that in those “once upon a time” European folk tales it was very often a character named “Simpleton” who got the prize at the end of the story.  The prince that came out ahead was the one that had no particular skills and wasted all of his time fooling around while his princely brothers were out mastering hunting or soldiering.  The friendly, non-threatening nonentity won the king’s favor in the end. 

Perhaps that’s me.  

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Cornelius - Count five or six

What's Cornelius up to these days?  I should check. 

The gig name "Cornelius" is part of a cautionary tale that I've gone into before on this blog.  It is now of critical importance to work under a searchable name, a name that when googled will lead searchers to you, and not a thousand superfluous, unrelated things.  Never name your band "Dinosaur," or "Broad Band." 

"Cornelius" is slightly better than those two examples, but it still yields a lot of stuff that is not the great man himself.  And he is great, I say that with confidence.  If he does something that I don't adequately understand, and he does, I hurry to take full blame for what is obviously my own failure.  Cornelius, as I have said, is the Hieronymous Bosch of rock. 

Thank You,, I Think

If I am reading my stats right, is driving a lot of traffic to my blog.  They occupy the number one position for both URL's and sites as sources of traffic.  Maybe I should thank them.

I say "maybe," because Xolodremont seems to be a Russian site that acts as a clearing house for authorized repair services for small appliances.  Like coffee makers, washing machines, things like that.  Most of the site is only in Russian, but there are clues.  There is no word search feature; you chose a service by clicking on the icon of a manufacturer.  I was sure that it was some kind of Russian Yahoo but no. 

So this is very strange, and if anyone could help me out here I'd really appreciate it. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Three Deaths, Part Two

Flippy, 1971

Raymond Boestfleisch was a twin.  He and his brother Ronald were as different as night and day.  Ronnie was a sober, studious young man, an educational high-achiever who earned advanced degrees in science.  Ronnie was also very shy.  He was a nice guy, and a fine chess player, I was his victim on several occasions, but he was very quiet and shy.  Ray and Ronnie were both nice guys, but Ray was none of those other things.  Not even close.  Ray was the opposite of those things.   

Ray “Flippy” Boestfleisch was one of the most sociable fellows that I’ve ever known.  He was a social genius.  He knew everyone, and everyone knew him.  He always seemed to be happy.  He was always glad to see you, whoever you were.   He never had a bad word to say about anyone, almost never.  On the rare occasions when he would let go a negative comment about someone he winced like he couldn’t believe a person could behave in such a manner.  Didn’t people know that life was better if you were happy all the time and loved everybody?  Maybe Ray was a proto-hippie. 

I think Ray had been given the name Flippy by a teacher in grammar school or junior high school.  That might have happened.  Somehow it was school related.  Maybe a teacher kept telling him to stop being flippant, and the kids took up the chant, “Flippy!  Flippy!”  Something like that.  He didn’t get the idea on his own.  

I had known Ray, or Flippy as he was universally called, or Flip, since we were twelve, but I didn’t get to know him well until we were sixteen.   We lived in College Point, a smallish, working class town on the East River just past La Guardia Airport on the North Shore of Queens.  There were a lot of dances during the Sixties, thrown by various churches and schools.  There being a demand, some of the guys put bands together, cover bands, and Ray was the bass player in a good one.  At one particular dance, during a break, Ray took the mike and announced that he and some of his “Rolling Stone friends” were going to play a few Rolling Stone songs.  The rest of the band let the "friends" use their instruments.  The drummer among the friends had been an early friend of mine, I’d met him when we were four years old (we’re still friends now, at sixty-six).  Well I was completely under the spell of the ‘Stones at the time, so I was interested.  They ran through a few tunes from the first couple of Rolling Stones albums, and they did a pretty good job too.  We all got to talking and over the next few years we all became close friends.  I’m still in touch with all of them, all except Flip that is.  Events overtook Flip before too long. 

Did I say that Flippy was sociable?  Here’s one of those stories that you could not write into a fictional narrative because it would be too unbelievable.  In 1967 I was at Navy Boot Camp, marching my ass off and learning knots and whatnot.  They showed us a movie one night, we were sitting in an enormous enclosed space of some kind, over a thousand of us probably.  I overheard a guy a few rows back bragging that he knew the coolest kid in New York City, and he was doing it in my own working class New York accent.  He talked about the cool friend, how great he was, and it all started to sound familiar.  I yelled a greeting back to him and asked him if he went to Flushing High School.  “Yeah!” he said, “you too?”  “No,” I said, “but I know Flippy.” 

I got out of the Navy in early 1968, and I can tell you, that was a year the likes of which we’ll never see again.  It was one nightmare after another, out in the real world.  Flippy and I were unemployed for most of the year, and we did a lot of hanging out.  His parents both worked, and we’d sit around their house, drinking, smoking if we had it, listening to records.  In the bunker, you know, waiting for the evening when the other guys got home from work.  I had a girlfriend, she was busy at school.  I was, perhaps, escaping from reality, but Flip, I think that he had just chosen not to engage with reality in the first place.  There was quite a bit of that going around at the time.  The only thing that Ray was serious about was music. 

Getting high was a favorite pastime in College Point.  Some guys preferred the head stuff, weed, acid, a couple of beers, maybe some speed.  Some guys preferred the body stuff, barbiturates, pain killers, cough medicine, scotch by the water glass, heroin.  Some guys loved everything.  Guess which category Flip fell into? 

When Flippy started smoking weed, he smoked it all day, everyday, and into the night.  It gave him the munchies and he put on a lot of weight.  When he discovered amphetamines, he took them every day.  He had weight to lose, and over the course of a year he lost about sixty pounds.  When he discovered barbiturates, he took them every day instead.  Those downs are some very bad drugs.  They create immediate tolerance, which rapidly builds to huge tolerance, and it’s a very demanding physical addiction.   Before long the devotee needs to take a one or two dozen pills a day just to get straight.  For a while there he was still in bands and hanging out with the rest of us, but he was mostly passed out and we had to check his breathing every now and then.   He became unreliable for band work, and he started to hang out only with other unconscious young men.  This went on for a year or two, and we didn’t see much of him during that time.  

I got married, got an apartment, had a son, got a job carrying the mail, life went on.  In 1971 we got wind that Flip had returned to the land of the living.  He and I were twenty-two at the time.  Word was that he’d cleaned himself up and gotten a new girlfriend and a job.  A couple of the guys ran into him around town, and it seemed to them that he was back to his old self.  He was a little sheepish about his addiction, but he was enthusiastic about the girlfriend and the job.  There was talk about getting back together, so to speak, hanging out, maybe get a jam going.  We were all still getting loaded, just not on an industrial scale.  I heard Ozzie Osborne say one time, about rehab, I thought they were going to teach me to get loaded responsibly.  Many of us knew how to do that.  

One night I had a nightmare about a fire, and when the alarm woke me up I could smell smoke.  This was about four a.m., you know those post office jobs.   At about 4:30 I was walking to the bus.  As soon as I cleared the first corner I could see the rotating red lights of fire trucks bouncing around a factory building.  When I got to the trucks, I could see that the burned up building was the one where Flippy lived.  I approached the firemen, and they were friendly about my inquires.  Me in my mailman’s uniform, just a bunch of civil servants after all.  “Was anybody hurt?” I asked.  “Just one guy.”  “How bad,” I was pretty tense by now.  The fireman shrugged his shoulders.  “He died,” he told me.

I don’t remember if I even asked the name, I know they can’t give that out.  I went along to work and set up the mail for a route.  Before I left the office to deliver it I called my wife.   Yes, she could tell me by then, the dead guy was Flippy.  Somebody had called his family to find out, and word had gotten around.

The day, already strange, starting with the fire-dream, soon took a borderline-horrible, Steven King kind of turn.

I went out to deliver the route.  I was a floater, a “sub,” so I did a different route every day.  This one was in the Richmond Hill neighborhood of Queens, and it was a long one, with big stoops, this was no bunny (our term for an easy route).  At the top of one tall stoop, twenty steps or something, what the fuck were they thinking,  I turned around after filling the mail box and I froze in mid-movement at who I saw walking down the street.  It was “the Lady in Black.”

This was a famous character that had lived in College Point for many years, and still lived there. That was eight or nine miles away.  She was famous for walking around town dressed in fancy, black mourning clothes, lacy dress, veil, nice shoes.  We all called her simply, “the Lady in Black.”  She always had a little smile on her face, and she never, ever spoke to anyone.  She just walked.  We were already a bit frightened by the intensity of her presentation, but seeing her in Richmond Hill, on this day, game me the scare of my life.  I had no idea at all that she sometimes took her walks elsewhere.  I really doubted if I was seeing it, seeing her at all.  I was stunned.  I did not move a muscle until she had walked the half a block past where I was standing and turned the corner.  She never looked at me. 

I didn’t get any details about the fire until the funeral.  Another closed casket funeral.  Flip had lived above a diner in what had been built as a two family house.  I had assumed that he succumbed to the smoke and fumes before the flames reached him, as is usually the case.  That’s a comforting thought to those left behind.  But no.  At the funeral I was told that he had actually gotten out of the building safely along with his roommate.  The roommate informed us that at that point Flip said, “the Vee!” and charged back up the stairs.  He had been working on a switch to guitar, and he had gotten himself a nice Gibson Flying Vee guitar just like the one that Albert King played at the time.  Those are expensive.  He died as he opened the door at the top of the stairs to exit the building for the second time.  The stairwell had, in the meantime, become engulfed in flames.  It was one of those flash/bang moments, he died standing up. 

Upon hearing this story I lost it for a good long while.  It’s the only time in my long life that I’ve broken down at a funeral.  Nobody deserves that. 

I suppose that nobody deserves any of it, but we all get it, don’t we?  In one form or another.  May yours be a peaceful end, gentle reader.