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I’ve been posting my transcriptions of Shepherd’s kid stories for quite a while. I wonder how many realize (so long after I posted my manuscript’s introduction to this effect) that the stories are arranged in a chronology of his fictional life, including, in order, kindergarten, early grammar school, kid jobs, ham radio, high school, summer in steel mill, to come on dating (and will end with two stories of his college days). Thus, these stories are a logical sequence that will end with his understanding of the wider world beyond the Hammond of his childhood.
The Soaking Pit
The steel mill was like some giant mountain range and I was a kid and lived in a steel mill town. The steel mill surrounded the town. You could see it on the horizon. And, you know, on a night like this, in the fall especially, when the air was clear, especially up in the north, the whole sky would be lit with a glow of purple, red, orange—the steel mill.
The underbody of the clouds would just flicker all the time, so it was never really dark there. It was like the northern lights. At this time of year, above the steel mill’s dark orange glow, you could see the occasional flicker of the real northern lights. They moved and were kind of a ghost-like white, a strange bluish-purple. At first you didn’t think you were seeing it. It just moved. And particularly at two or three o’clock in the morning you could see the northern lights, and anywhere from August through the middle of November was shooting star time. So, with the glow of the steel mill, that dark orange purple glow and above it the flicker of the northern lights and then an occasional pshoooooo—there would be a shooting star. And the eternal airplanes moving over the sky on their way into O’Hare Airport. And the trains roaring past all night. They’re carrying coke, carrying pig iron—and carrying all types of pigs out of Chicago. Constantly.
That was the way it was and no other way. You didn’t think in terms of waving fields of grain, you never thought in terms of moon over the Wabash. This was Indiana, but not the Indiana they sing songs about.
The big ol’ steel mill. And nobody who’s ever been inside the steel mill was ever the same once he’d been inside of it. Almost anything you do, once you’ve actually done it, you can never think of it the way you used to think of it before you did it. Everything changes.
One day, as a kid, I got this call. I had applied at the mill for a job. Like every other kid. Best thing to do. You applied. And one day I came home from school and there was a note: “Call this number.” My mother said, “Somebody called and I think it was the steel mill.”
“The steel mill!” It was fantastic luck, so I gave them a call and the next day I was down taking an examination, one of those long, involved aptitude-type things. I took about fifty of them.
Weeks went by. And then, one historic afternoon, I was given my clock pin, a pin you put on that says, from here on in you’ve got a clock number and you sign in. I was officially hired as a laborer in the steel mill. I had proven that I could carry stuff. And I had a fantastic aptitude for scut and I showed great talent for moving large chunks of metal from one place to the other. And my lungs were made of pure leather so I could breathe in the stygian atmosphere. I got on the bus that day and I went out to the forty-inch soaking pits.
So I put it in first and I drive it forward. Uh huh. Now I’m going back and forth. Then I decide, well, you know what I think I’ll do, the back end is facing the street, so I’ll help the old man. I’ll turn the car around so when he comes out he just gets in the car and it’s facing down the driveway, so he won’t have to back out and turn around. I’ll do that for him. So I back it up, she eases around, I slip it into first and I spin the wheel with the skull-and-crossbones spinner with the eyes that are two fake emeralds that glow. I love to grab that spinner. I finally get the car turned around. I back it almost all the way into the yard and now it‘s facing the street. Just sitting there. This big, glowing, machine-monster.
I’m sitting in the front seat of the old man’s car and I can smell the gas, and that’s exciting to a male. I don’t know whether girls ever have that kind of feeling about cars, but men do. No two ways about it. After a bit, the car’s warmed up now. You can see the temperature gauge is up to normal. Gee, she is running great. So I turn it off, get out of the car, and I go into the house.
I can’t get that damned car out of my mind. The sun is shining and it’s a beautiful day and the yeast is rising deep inside my veins. I can feel it. The life, the sap flowing through.
Well, along comes Bruner, my buddy. Bruner comes wandering along and he hollers. Remember when guys used to come to your house and holler for you? “Hey, George!” I don’t know whether kids still do holler for each other like that. Holler out the back—“Hey, George!” “Hey, Shepherd!” And it’s Bruner. You don’t go out to talk to him, you holler from inside the house.
“Whata you want?”
“We’ll go down and play ball!”
“Okay, after I finish my samich!”
So he just waits out there. I’m eating this salami samich and knocking down the soup and the old man’s still asleep.
I walk out onto the back porch finally. Bruner’s sitting on the back steps and he’s got his baseball glove. So it hits me—I don’t feel like playing ball today. Because—that car! Bruner is outlined against the car. That car is drawing me on like some kind of fantastic mechanical magnet. I can’t get away from it!
Bruner picks up his glove and says, “Come on, let’s go.”
I say, “Wait a minute, Bruner, I think I left the rag in the front seat of the car.”
He says, “Oh, you’ve been drivin’ the car?”
“Yeah, you know.” I’ve driven the car back and forth three feet. I tell Bruner this because he is one year younger than I am and doesn’t have a license. “Yeah, driving the car. I’ve been driving the car all weekend, ha ha. Just come back.”
So I say, “I’m going to get the rag,” and I get in and sit in the front seat. I’m not looking for any rag, I just want to sit in the seat. Finally it hits me—I don’t want to go.
I get out and say, “Look, Bruner, I don’t want to play. I gotta work on the car.”
“What are you doin’?”
“I’ve got some work to do on the car.”
More car story to come.
Another example of Shepherd telling a story as a metaphor—especially in an era when youngsters were experimenting with drugs to a larger extent than before. He once commented on the air that life was full enough with exciting possibilities without having to resort to drugs.
I think one of the most exciting parts of anyone’s house is the medicine cabinet. It tells so many sordid stories. Subtle secrets. You go into this guy’s house. You’re visiting the head of the English Department. You’ve been invited to the faculty tea and you’re upstairs and you’re supposed to be washing your hands. You open the medicine cabinet and look. There’s a bottle that says, “IN CASE OF FIT, take three times quickly and say SHAZAM!” Signed Dr. Gumpock. And you wonder who’s having a fit! What kind of fit?
Well, there was this old house—there’s always a house that people have moved out of in your neighborhood. Kids are always drawn to them, and this one time Schwartz and me got into this place. We’re running around in this empty house. There were papers on the floor, an old apple core in the corner and a busted chair, a Sears Roebuck catalog and a pile of old newspapers, a broken comb, that sort of thing.
You know that secret sense of being in a house that isn’t yours? There must be a certain excitement, a satisfaction, of being a burglar. Break into somebody’s house, walk around in it. You open the refrigerator. They’ve found that almost all burglars open the refrigerator. That doesn’t mean that they eat anything out of it, but they open the refrigerator. It’s one of the basic things—it represents food—life, there it is.
More Pharmaceuticals to Come
“Small stone figurines, or conopas, of llamas and alpacas were the most common ritual effigies used in the highlands of Peru and Bolivia. [Usually thought of as having been made during the Inca period—before Pizarro—but some may be much more recent.] These devotional objects were often buried in the animals’ corrals to bring protection and prosperity to their owners and fertility to the herds. The cylindrical cavities in their backs were filled with offerings to the gods in the form of a mixture including animal fat, coca leaves, maize kernels, and seashells.” (Brooklyn Museum)
Canopas depict camelids—not the Eastern Hemisphere camels that vary depending on the number of humps, but the South American kind—alpacas, llamas, and also vicuna and guanacos–two forms which seem not to have been depicted in canopas).
One encounters some of the long-necked llamas, but seeming, more frequently carved, are alpacas, carved with stringy hair usually indicated from their throats and down their chest. (The “suri” variation of the actual animal, at least today, have this hair all over the body.) Many carvings are about four inches long, but can be somewhat bigger or smaller. The few reaching 5” long seem to have increased majesty about them. In the Peoples of South America Hall of New York’s museum of natural history, the Inca section has a well-done larger example.
Suri Type of Alpaca and What is Probably a Suri Canopa
I’ve been interested in canopas for decades, so I’ve encountered and printed out scores of photos of them from ebay and by googling. (With two spelling variations, one has to search both.) I have three examples– a small black alpaca, an even smaller one with stringy hair covering its body, and a rather rare, multi-colored carving that had been decapitated in what is thought to have been a ritual “killing.”
My Canopas (and, on Right, a Coiled Netsuke Rat).
Most frequently seen are alpacas in black stone. Rarities occur in ceramic or wood. Some specimens still retain pieces of the offerings in the cavity, and some have not had the 500-year-old dirt removed from crevices in the stone carving. Many variations appear in shape, details, and color. As sculpted objects, I prefer solid black with a body that is a rounded but somewhat flattened rectangular shape, and a distinctly shaped mane down the front which is nearly flat–only slightly rounded–and with well-sculpted facial features. Variations in body shape and in the treatment of the mane make a considerable difference in overall effect, as does the angle of the neck and head—more upraised gives a more stately effect. Some are two-headed!
On the subject of llamas, note the poem
by whimsical American poet Ogden Nash:
The one-l lama,
He’s a priest.
The two-l llama
He’s a beast.
And I will bet
A silk pajama
There isn’t any
* The author’s attention has been called to a type of conflagration
known as a three-alarmer. Pooh
On occasion, Shepherd implies some psychological commentary
regarding the American soul.
It’s pure coincidence that this story happened to end this way today.
• • •
Some of them had wild colors like red, and some of them were purple. They must have been big shots! And there were little kids. Whole crowds of them. Getting quite full of potato salad. It’s a little scary to think of a ghost eating potato salad.
We just sat on our bikes for about five minutes looking at the scene. Finally, Schwartz said, “Let’s get outa here!”
Flick says, “Ah, come on, come on. They don’t care.”
Schwartz said, “Come on, let’s go, we’re gonna get in trouble. I don’t like this.”
Bruner was already whimpering. He wasn’t saying nothin’.
One of these guys with a long, high cape started to look around with a flashlight. We started moving, peddling like Billy-be-damned over the gravel roads, through the long, winding forest under the great orange moon surrounded by hoards of gray, moving, misty mosquitoes, until finally we were out on the superhighway. Out on the superhighway.
What can I tell ya? What can I tell ya? Not very much. Except to say that was one picnic that I did not soon forget. I remembered those curious white shrouds that looked gray in the dark light of the moon. It seemed like a fantastic conclave of evil spirits. Which is, I guess, what they wanted to look like. And the light. How they lit the scene. They had a huge cross that was burning. A burning cross. Ever seen a burning cross? You haven’t? You’ve heard of it. Hearin’ of it ain’t the same as seein’ it. That’s like just hearing about King Kong—it ain’t the same. So, we rode back on our bikes in absolute silence. Somehow, that whole picnic scene had changed.
I had no idea what the Ku Klux Klan was. I’d heard the name, that’s all, just like most of you. Just heard it. And I came home about ten o’clock, and I felt very strange about this—it was a really scary experience.
I went up the steps into the kitchen and there’s my mother. She was hanging over the sink in her Chinese red chenille bathrobe, rump-sprung, with the petrified egg on the lapel, her hair up in curlers. I was in the kitchen and I’d had nothing to eat. I opened up the refrigerator and there was half a meatloaf there. It was a holiday meatloaf—my kid brother’s birthday. On any holiday occasion my mother put tomato paste on top of the meatloaf, with little sliced olives. That was a gala meatloaf, so I took it out and made a sandwich.
My mother was hanging over the sink, my kid brother was under the daybed whining, the old man was sitting in the front room in his underwear drinking some beer, which was what he always did when he was sitting around in his underwear in the middle of August.
I don’t know how adults always know these things, but all of a sudden my mother turned and said to me, “What’s the matter?”
I said, “Nothin’. Nothin’.“
She said, “What’s the matter? I won’t tell your father.”
I said, “Ma, what’s a Ku Klux Klan?”
Clank! She dropped the fork she was drying. “What was that?”
“What’s a Ku Klux Klan, ma?”
She said, “Where did you hear that?”
I said, “You know…I…I just heard it.”
She said, “You stay away from them. Don’t you ever have anything to do with those people.”
And I never had reason to doubt her. We’ve never mentioned it since. I don’t think I have ever told that story to anyone. In fact, I don’t even tell it to myself. There are some rocks down in that fetid garden of human souls that we do not wish to turn over. For fear of the evil grubs that we will find underneath.
We knew we were onto something good. We’d accepted the first picnic as a fluke. From that minute on, every week we would look forward to whatever company picnic came along. There were wild company picnics. At some of these picnics, twenty-five thousand people would show up. The Riesling Chemical Company and the Sinclair Oil Company because of all the steel mills around. I became an aficionado of picnics. I could tell the cheapy companies and the companies that were in trouble and the companies that were having labor troubles when the big, heavy, tough guys from trucking would show up wearing hard hats. Every picnic had its own character.
Every one. And then came the ultimate. One of the strangest things that ever happened to me in my life, and it came about in this summer of picnic crashing. We had gone to nearly every picnic. With Schwartz, Flick, and Bruner, I’d gone to what must have been fifteen picnics when this happened way at the end of summer.
It was still hot out in the Midwest—any place out in the Great Plains—and you are very very aware and conscious and attuned to the environment. Late in August, when the sun is sitting there about four-million miles across and there’s a kind of brassy quality to the air, and the steel mills off in the distance have been belching blast furnace dust into that atmosphere day and night, day and night, and it hangs low, the air has a curious kind of orange/red/gray/greenish cast and the sun hangs at a peculiar angle in August. Late in August and early September.
And at night, when the moon comes up, man, that’s something to see. Because the moon gets unbelievably enormous. It’s because of the curious invection currents and how the light is bent because of the heavy atmosphere that’s hung low in the heat. In hot, late August and early September in Indiana, I’ve seen the moon stretch almost from one end of the horizon to the other.
So Schwartz and Flick and Bruner and Shepherd and Emdee, and a few other guys and stragglers from the neighborhood, one hot summer afternoon, set out down towards the end of the street. There was a big vacant lot down there. Great, big, fantastic lot that was covered with weeds. The big weeds. Weeds just grew waist high, neck high. Stickers, thorns, thistles, swamp, snakes, bugs, frogs, grasshoppers, groats, crummies—the whole business. It was all growing out there.
So one day we decided we were going to build a ball diamond. I have a sense of involvement when I hear stories of guys building pyramids because—I don’t know whether you ever tried to build a ball diamond in a giant jungle when you were a kid. But me and Schwartz and Flick and Bruner and Emdee, for what must have been three weeks, every day from morning to night—we slaved with little hand sickles, cutting away weeds. I had a blister starting six inches out from my hand that went all the way down to the soles of my feet and about six inches into the ground. Shepherd’s one big blister. I was one big walking blob of water. If you’d have stuck me—Aaaaaagh!
You don’t stop. The blisters break, you keep going, chopping away. So we were chopping away, chopping away for two or three weeks. You could see the ground! For the first time in this area. We found all kinds of stuff. Junk that had been there for years, old Indian-head pennies, we found stuff from the seventeenth-century. The ground had never been cleared. It was a great sense of real accomplishment.
We had gotten ourselves some chicken wire, which we’d stolen somewhere. We made a backstop out of it with big sticks holding it up. We made baselines, we put sand around the home plate area. And there it was—it was a baseball diamond. And we started to play on our own baseball diamond—Schwartz and Flick and Bruner and Emdee and me and all the guys. What a great time! What a fantastic moment of success!
We would choose up every morning. And kids play ball—I mean really dedicated ball players—they start at the absolute crack of dawn. Instantly after breakfast you started playing ball and you did not stop playing ball until around eleven-thirty at night. You know, when it says that Mickey Mantle at bat went two for four, on a good day at bat I would go something like seventy-three for a hundred and twenty-eight. We would not keep score of runs. It was all done on a time/unit basis, so we would play on and on, over and over, with all kinds of complex rules. If you caught a ball on the second bounce it was an out, if you bounced one off the fire hydrant it was a double, but bounce it off the left side of the hydrant it was foul, all kinds of things.
More baseball to come.
“I’m pulling in the dough!”
Then I have another idea. I’m desperate, I’m digging all Saturday and I must have gotten only about twenty worms. I’m digging out there and Schwrtz is walking along and he sees me and he says, “What are you doin?”
“I’m digging worms! What does it look like? Don’t bother me, I’m in a hurry.“
“Digging worms? Ya goin’ fishin?”
“No. I’m not going fishin’. What do you think that sign is out there for? I’m selling worms.”
“Oh yeah, yeah. Gee, come on, we’re all going to play ball.”
“I can’t play ball, forget it. I’m digging worms.” And it hit me. “Hey, Schwartz, I’ll give you ten cents for every dozen worms you can dig.”
Schwartz rushes home, gets a shovel, and now he’s out back of his house digging worms. About an hour later Schwartz comes back with a couple of dozen worms, which I pay him for. The word gets out among the kids and within three days, I have about twenty kids working steadily digging worms. Bringing the worms home and selling them to me.
I’ve given up digging. Now I’m just a buyer, which puts me in a totally different category. So I’m sitting at a card table in the basement, and as each kid would show up I’d count his worms. I’d say, “Oh man, forget this one. Look at this—it’s a dead one. What’re you tryin’ to pull on me here, Schwartz?”
He says, “Well, it wasn’t dead when I dug him up, for cryin’ out loud.”
“I’m sorry, we can’t take no dead worms. And look at that one! Little skinny one. I don’t want no baby worms. I’ll only give you half price for the baby ones.”
So Schwartz is getting his money. I had Roper, Jack Morton—I had all the kids. They’re hitting the jackpot and I’m pulling in the dough! I’m putting the worms away in the boxes every night. Well, it is now getting to be August and the kids are becoming very scarce because the kids are running into the same problem I’m running into. That problem is this. As the summer grows longer and hotter, worms get scarce. And even a kid who’s getting ten cents a dozen worms has got enough brains to realize that after you’ve dug for two days and you get three worms, this ain’t a paying proposition.
And then I have my fourth and most cosmic idea. I’m sitting down in the basement. I’m desperate. The worms are getting low. You know how much money I’m making at this point? I’m knocking down about twenty-five to forty dollars a week. And if you don’t think that’s a lot of money for a kid who is about fourteen or fifteen, then you don’t remember what it’s like being a kid. I’m making this dough and I want to keep it coming in and the business is growing, because out there, guys tend to take their vacations in August. So I’m getting fantastic orders. Guys are come up and buying for fifteen or twenty friends. Can you imagine a guy walking in and he says, “Gimme thirty dozen worms.” And you ain’t got ‘em. And I have my fourth and most colossal idea.
I realized there was a fatal flaw in my business. Do you see what it is? My fatal flaw is that I am depending on nature. And little did I realize that at that moment I am going through the same evolution that ancient man went through. You know one of the big differences between the truly savage tribes and the tribes that are beginning to be civilized? A savage tribe’s nomadic. They rely totally on what they can find. And so they will kill all the animals in some place and eat ‘em and eat all the plants that are growing and then they move on to the next place.
What’s the difference between that and the civilized tribe? The civilized tribe grows the animals, so instead of relying on going out and shooting rabbits they say, “Why is it we don’t grow some rabbits? Why don’t we grow some of those gourds we’ve been looking for? Why don’t we get some seeds and grow some?” That’s the beginning of what we call the agrarian culture. Nobody’s giving me any advice, see. I have to go through the whole evolution myself. So, suddenly it hit me—why not grow worms? Ah huh! Grow them instead of gather them. And it was at that moment that I changed from just a kid who sold worms, to The Worm King of Cleveland Street.
There was one specific doorway that I always remember. I used to look forward to this point on my route. There was a long stairway lit by light bulbs that went right up to the second floor on the inside of the building and the downstairs door was always open. You could see the landing up there and there was a scrub pail set right in the corner. The first couple of weeks I just threw the paper up on the landing. One day, just by accident, when I threw the paper up, it hit the wall behind, and it went katunk! It bounced right off that wall like it was a backboard on a basketball court, and landed in the pail. Shepherd had canned another three pointer.
The next day I tried to do it and I just missed, but every day that was my big moment, and I got so I was really great at it. Remember, I was riding on a bike—this was not a stationary shot. I’d go swooping past this door—and zap! Oddly enough, I never saw it go into the pail because I was already past the door, but I’d hear it go bump-bump and bang. Oh! That meant it was going to be a good day!
These little things are very important to a newsboy. Another little satisfaction is to learn how to really fold papers. You can tell how good a newsboy is by how small he can fold the paper. The smaller the paper is folded the more you can get in the sack, the less bulk the sack takes up, and the better the paper throws! At first I really envied the other guys. Flick had started before I did and he was fantastic! He could fold fifty papers in about five minutes flat. Hard as a rock. I had no more papers than he did, but my sack was gigantic, like Santa’s bag, and Flick would just have this little sack hanging on him. He would take a ten-pound, end-of-the-week-and-full-of-ads Chicago Tribune and fold it to the size of an Eversharp pencil. Unbelievable! I began to work on my paper-folding technique and after about a month-and-a-half, I was one of the great paper-folders of our time. Even Flick came over to me one day and said, “By God, you can do it!” Like being told by Roger Maris, “You got a good swing, kid.”
You can handle this newspaper—it’s just a poor little piece of paper and you can learn to control it. You can ultimately learn to be a pretty good shot riding a bike and throwing a side-arm shot to the upper deck.
More to come of “Paperboy.”
Featherwork has become an important part of
our household decor because of
an Inca belt and elegant feather hats.
This piece (a belt or what?), also bought in the Cuzco fabric store, is 38” X 2.5”, with the repeated feather-motif of llamas in orange, black, and white. I showed it to the world-renowned anthropologist who specialized in pre-Columbian textiles at the museum where I worked. He turned the feather work over to view the backing cloth and immediately told me that it was authentic Inca (pre-1520).
(He was amazed that it had cost me only $15. He seemed unperturbed that I’d bought pre-Columbian material. The younger anthropologist I worked with on our permanent South American Hall much disparaged buying this material, because those who found it were in the business of digging up pre-Columbian sites, thus removing the material that belonged to that country’s heritage and destroying accurate, scientific investigation of it–I understand that view in theory, but in practice, I’ve bought minor pieces. When I discovered, in an auction catalog, a large casting of a famous pre-Columbian piece for sale (the Raimondi Stela), he wanted it for our Hall, but would not set foot in the pre-Columbian sale gallery for fear of being seen there, so I went to the auction with Museum money and won the piece for our use.)
A few years ago my wife, Allison, became interested in feather hats and has acquired over a dozen. (They were very popular from the nineteenth century until recent years when new ones were prohibited because of endangering various species of birds. One can still buy older ones in some vintage clothing stores.) They are truly beautiful and varied in their colors. We have some on the walls in our living room, dining room, and bedroom.
(Photos for “Cloth, Bone, and Feathers”
by Allison Morgan Bergmann)
Was he being sarcastic? What was he being? I’ll never tell. All I can say is I learned a lesson. I can’t figure out what the lesson is—yet. I’m running it through the lab. I’m trying a little titration on it, maybe a little litmus paper.
All I’ve got to say is, when you see that band and those half-time ceremonies marching out and striking into the wind, you are seeing a machine that few people understand. Only those who have been in the middle of one know what it’s like.
I can still feel that little tingling around my lips once in a while when I hear a band playing “Semper Fidelis.” That little chapped feeling of a guy who’s rehearsed long and hard on the second coda chorus of every known march that was ever printed.
Pumpapapumpapapum! Drump-pum-pump! Drump-pum-pump! Drump-pum-pump! Oh yeah! Come on, Pick up them knees, you guys! Come on, move out, move out!
Drump! Pump! Pump! Pump! Drump-pum-pump! Drump-pum-pump! Drump-pum-pump! Drump-pum-pum! Drump-pum-pump pump pump!
Pumpapapumpapapum! Here we go now! All together now! The torches light up, the crowd is going ape! Bababapooombapoooom!
[End of “Halftime Sousaphone” and Part 6]
CLOTH, BONE, FEATHERS
My interest in cloth as esthetic subject began when I started doing a bit of research for my trip to Peru in 1980. I’d be spending time mostly in Lima, and the Inca highland capital of Cuzco which is a center for traditional Peruvian weaving.
We got the name of a good retail shop in Cuzco where we could get quality woven cloth from highland Peru and Bolivia. These objects are traditional ponchos and other pieces made for local consumption in the early-to mid-twentieth century that had been used and then sold, so that Americano tourists could buy and transport them back to adorn walls and furniture. Eventually I’d also buy some minor pre-Columbian objects from there and from other sources. (The photo shows the kind of serious fabric store one can find in Cuzco.)
Beautiful craftsmanship again expands my idea of “art,” though weaving still doesn’t make it to the highest levels for me. Mostly I’d say, it’s “quality, attractive craft.” Yet I enjoy looking at my few pieces and contemplating them.
My wife and I have two major walls in our living room, one with
musical instruments, the other with cloth and artifacts.
A variety of pieces including a poncho, a very long piece
that might be a scarf, a highland campesino’s hat,
a cloth baby carrier from the Amazon,
an Inca feather-work piece, a small, pre-Columbian cloth doll,
End Part 1 of 3
Well, our band rehearsals were something else. We had this teacher who was the top marching band director in that area. He had been an ace band director at three universities and a top trumpet player. His name was Wilson and he would say, “I want you to work on number four in the book, ‘On the Mall,’ and I want to hear crisp section work. I don’t want to hear anyone faking it. If you come to a section you don’t know, don’t fake it, ‘cause I can hear it.” All of us knew that if you don’t know the notes you fake it—if you’re a good musician you can get by with it, but not with Wilson. He knew every note of every march that was ever published—and he could hear them all.
Old Shep, you know—I knew everything we did by heart. I knew every move, I knew every note, every fingering, and one day we were out at rehearsal—that terrible day. We’d finished musical rehearsal, which was great. I always enjoyed the musical side of it. But then Stinky Davis took over and he would line us all up way down at the south end of the field and he would start lecturing us. “I want to see a lot of knee movement. Pull in your guts, Schwartz. I don’t want to see any guts hang out!”
He was one of the few drum majors I ever heard of, who had the power to drop people from the band—if they weren’t doin’ it. He really was an officer, and that’s why we hated him. We got high school credit for being in the band and he could flunk you. I remember the time he dropped Billy Singleton and they had a fantastic fistfight right out on the field. Billy was a trumpet player and one day he came out to the field about fifteen minutes late. Stinky stopped the band and here comes Singleton walking over with his trumpet. Stinky just stood and waited. Singleton moved into his position on the line. Stinky didn’t say a word, he just moved his thumb like an umpire—out! Singleton lowered his trumpet. Stinky went—out! Billy walked up to the front and said, “Make me!” Stinky did. After Stinky got through with him, I don’t think Singleton could even play the trumpet for a couple of months. That was the end of Singleton in the band.
So there was a tension all the time when Stinky was out in front. He had an ego that started at about twenty feet above the ground and worked up. Unbelievable ego. And that’s what it took! And he was fantastically self-disciplined. Outside of school he used to rehearse twirling maybe ten hours a day. That’s all he did. Had no friends. He would just sort of materialize, like one time he showed up wearing a monocle. Can you imagine the kind of guts it took for a guy in an Indiana school to wear a monocle! That’s what Stinky did. Fantastic!
And then comes that terrible day. It is a Thursday like any other Thursday. Except that it is hotter than blazes.
ARTSY ETCETERAS INTRO
Many collectors have, hung on walls, tiny stuff displayed in an authentic type case–the kind in which typesetters stored individual lead letters made for plucking and arranging into words and paragraphs to be printed. Mine has varied nick nacks and other artsys, including spiral encounters (especially, see the unusually small chambered nautilus shell, upper left corner). Guitar rosette element with “eb” initials. Tiny caliper and level for who-knows-what. Pre-Columbian heads and a whole little standing figure.
And, nearly centered, a beautiful, pre-Columbian Mexican, reddish-brown, elegantly stylized, bird-shaped whistle with four sound holes, its well-rounded stomach with its tail feathers sticking up. It features a multi-note twitter. Only 1-3/8″ from mouth hole to tail, it has two holes (underneath, not shown) for threading a string that can be put around the neck for carrying as a necklace–which I do on occasion, making me feel a bit as though I’m at-one with the original pre-Columbian owner.
Let them stand as a simile for all of the foregoing artsys
and for the following end-of-the-line miscellany descriptions.