Friday, August 14, 2009

Stillwater: A Memoir of Boyhood Part 5

The Beatles Come to Stillwater:

I remember a summer game of tag on a big lawn beside a house that overlooked Stillwater’s main industrial area. Below where we played, a tiered set of sun-faded,grey, wooden stairs led down to what was essentially a marshalling yard. The big old building where my Dad worked as a personnel man and timekeeper was on the left side as you looked down. Logging trucks were parked on the right by a huge airplane hangar-like corrugated-aluminum machine shop like the top half of a giant culvert. Arc-welding constantly flashed through the doors. The rest of the land was dust, bordered by tall alders. An ancient wooden dock stuck into Stillwater Bay and, from about forty feet out, it was all log booms from one side of the bay to the other. Boom boats, those stubby little cartoon ships, bumped and rocked and shoved the booms around into some sort of order. Men in caulked boots ran along them with pike poles and pickaroons. Dust roads ran off to tattered residences converted from old bunkhouses along the shoreline.

There was a sort of gravel pit along one of these roads and it was full of trimmings from the alder trees that had overgrown the logging roads. It was a massive pile of small-cut branches and leaves maybe twenty feet tall. We could climb up the shell of this sort of amphitheatre and, huffing and puffing at the effort, could stand at the top of the precipice and with a hop, skip and jump go soaring through the air to land on our bottoms twenty-five-feet below on a soft cushion of flora. Today, the very idea makes me sick to my stomach. The potential for a stick prodding through somebody was there, but no one got hurt. Despite repeated attempts. It was one of those mystical, blessed summers.

Anyway, safe on the lawn of the foreman’s white picketed yard, overlooking the dustbowl and the bay, we were in a tizzy. All week, the TV was promoting the appearance of this group that all the bigger kids were listening to on their radios. They were called The Beatles and at The Hudson’s Bay in downtown Powell River, you could buy grey Beatles sportsjackets with black velour collars and even Beatle wigs. It was rumored that one of the big kids who went to high school in Powell River was actually sighted buying one of these toupees.

And this musical combo was to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show, this night, Sunday. We were all crazy for it, especially the girls. We constantly quizzed each other on the four bandmembers’ names. Ringo was the flat-out favorite throughout North America and so he was with the girls in our crowd. He shook his hair a lot, girls screamed and gave those of us who would grow to be big-beaked a lot of hope. (Especially years later when he married the luscious Barbara Bach.)

As the appointed hour neared, we spun madly around on the lawn, even the simple rules of tag forgotten in our excitement. I would yell out the word, “Ringo!” and Mousie and Penny would scream. Then they’d regroup and tell us how they were going to do exactly that when they watched in their living rooms tonight. We -me and my buddy Kimbo- in no way thought that was excessive. With the small bit of testosterone that a nine-year-old lad has, I felt I might make a peep myself.

Eight o’clock and we were all ushered into the living room of the foreman’s big house. Stilted Ed murmured a few things about having met these “fine young men.” He’d been around the entertainment scene as the Talk of the Town columnist for eons before he unexpectedly became the biggest thing on television. He knew that long hair and loud music was to be tolerated and that, if it drew in an audience, he only stood to win.

Looking back on those performances of She Loves You and I Wanna Hold Your Hand, I can see how much appeal that band had. I can’t really listen to them anymore as I’ve heard all the songs ad nauseum. But when I was researching this piece and watching that performance on YouTube, there was definitely some great music and incredible charisma and magnetism. The New York audience screamed themselves silly, as did Mousie and Penny. I was charmed by the lads, never realizing their later songs Revolution #9 and Good Night would be the only songs of theirs I could tolerate, some forty-five years later.

A few weeks later on the Sullivan show, I saw a band that I knew would make everyone forget about The Beatles, they were just so much better: The Dave Clark Five.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Stillwater: A Memoir of Boyhood Part 4

The over-rated science-fiction author Harlan Ellison has always had some pretty good things to say. One of them was: “Mothers are meant to do three things: love you; feed you and give away your comic book collection.”
This is my tale of that.
I had ‘em all: Avengers #1, X-Men #1, Fantastic Four #4, Daredevil #1, Marvel Tales #1, The Hulk when the Hulk was grey, Tales to Astonish with Ant-Man, Journey into Mystery with that early Kirby or Ditko Thor.
And, lo, there came to be a thing called a rummage sale at Stillwater Community Hall. My mother, though I had proved to her that reading comic books gave me superheroic grades in reading in school, decided that my comic book collection was a waste of space. And, after all, you’ve read them, they’re finished. My mother, one of the great readers of all time, could not understand the joy of rereading or collecting. Not getting collecting, I sort of understand. We were always surrounded by what would now be called tchotckes -beautiful figurines of birds and courtly ladies and gents. Mom presents. I’ll never forget, one time, breaking something and my Mom just sitting down and holding her head and saying, “I’ll never have one good thing, kids keep breaking them. Everything I’ve got has been glued together.” It was a horrible moment. Certainly I didn’t break much. I remember years later when I broke something and she said, “Don’t worry about it.” And years later when she broke a Persian glass goblet, one of a pair I had given her with a bottle of Kahlua for us to toast a lonely Christmas, alone together, I remember telling her, “I didn’t give you those to cause you any pain. It’s gone, let’s just be happy we have each other and don’t have to worry about it.” A few years later she knocked over a brand-new television, but that wasn’t her fault. She had her routine for going to bed and drawing the curtains around the house and suddenly this new thing was in her way, not on a proper stand. Ah breakage, it all comes down to it doesn’t it? Breakage of spirits, of bodies, of lives. Such loss. Life, it isn’t for the faint of heart. Life, it doesn’t end well.
Mom’s favorite book was Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth. If you’ve read it that explains much.
Anyhow, the comics were donated under much duress and, likely, tears. That night, at the same hall incidentally as the unfolding of the Tale of Hot Dog Suit (see further back in this blog), my friends swarmed me. It was a wilding of sorts. “Man, get over there, there’s all these great comics and they’re all in PERFECT CONDITION. And, the lady there is selling them for A NICKEL EACH OR THREE FOR A DIME!”
My stomach and nuts descended that night to levels that I’m not sure they’ve ever recovered from.
While my Mom was compis mentis, I would recount this tale to her. She would always look guilty and say, “I didn’t know!”
“Those comics are worth $200,000 each now, Mom! I could’ve been a millionaire.”
When she had lost her mind, I still occasionally muttered it to her.
Now, I’m a semi-pro comic dealer. I’m not a millionaire. Though, Mom, I could’ve been.
And, yes, she loved me and fed me. She gave away my comic collection. She was a great Mom.