Father knows best? No. Father knows pain. His, theirs.
A sunny Sunday, surrounded by endless beauty, art, and family. Vista of the sky where mountains meet city and ocean kisses borders. Friends and lovers wander through impossible treasures, wordlessly turning to share their wonder. Father gazes toward the place where Son will arrive. He doesn’t know which one will appear, but he will accept him.
Father knows his Son and the tempest of angels and demons that rotate through him. His sense of when Son is struggling is almost spiritual. Father does not believe in God; he believes in the energy of the collective universe. Son believes in the heartache of a million screaming souls.
Father was once the Son. His angels and demons still drop in to remind him to pay attention. They offer no guidance, just awareness.
Son arrives alone, trailed by invisible murmurers. Today, they are unbalanced, with light struggling against a larger rash of darkness. Father feels the struggle as Son slowly moves towards him. And he knows, with no words, that this is the Last Father’s Day.
They try for normal. There is no normal. Son is generous, assuming the role of patron on this day. Father melts from the gesture and the halting words Son offers, thankful for Father’s love and support through the firestorms that seemed to dominate their lives. The moment is perhaps propelled by the last of the angels as demons tear at the light and summon the relentless cloud of darkness that would finally win.
The painful tension is undeniable as they say goodbye. Father holds Son for a moment, feeling the raging darkness beating against the desperate love, knowing there are no miracle words to say. There never are, except I love you, I am sorry, and I am here.
Soon enough, the last defenses fall, and whatever angels may survive have retreated. Blistering words, raging howls of hate. Shotgun blasts of denial and rejection. Darkness. This time, it feels like forever.
Are the last fusillades the demon’s victory, or a final blessing from the dying angels, turning them away so as not to share the ultimate abyss?
Father knows nothing but to remember the tortured slash of love on the Last Father’s Day.
There is joy in watching Beautiful Cambrians in action. Technology allows us all to view, read, and comment on everything local from politics to parades, clean-ups and tear-downs, wind, waves and water. Always water.
While I enjoy the immediacy our modern technology offers, I miss the nascent days of emerging cable television, and the delight that is local Community Access. Yes, that self-produced, low-quality programming that features ordinary folks with passion and particular points of view.
Party on, Wayne! Party on, Garth!
Many cable companies across the United States devote airtime and technical facilities to community members who want to share themselves with anyone with a television and basic cable. Every week you can tune in and watch in amazement colorful characters who hold some, uh, unusual philosophies. Sure, there are notorious staples like Glendora, a behatted grandma-type whose fascinating life and career have spanned decades. But the fun ones were so predictably unpredictable that they became must-see TV.
Before moving to Beautiful Cambria, I lived in Danbury, Connecticut. My cable provider at the time, Comcast, provided an in-house production studio where citizen journalists and community activists could learn how to produce their shows. In addition to local government happenings, the operation featured a dizzying amount – close to forty hours a week – of locally created and produced programming on Public Access channel Twenty-Three. These weekly broadcasts were a perfect place to blend politics and prevarications, hobbies, and peeves, all under the banner of free speech. Well, mainly free. After all, there needs to be some modicum of decency even among the fringe.
There were earnest folks interested in sharing their knowledge of everything from Dolly Madison to doily making. They often made me go, “Aww, how sweet is that!”
Channel Twenty-Three also hosted a cast of unsavory characters who were, to put it delicately, misogynist racist anti-immigrant anti-government anti-religion anti-civil discourse idiots. It was simultaneously appalling and hilarious as these knuckleheads spun their conspiracies and winked “you know what I’m talking about” plans to clean up this country. Want to know the “real” meaning of The Constitution? – Big T. was the guy, a mini Alex Jones before InfoWars. Sovereign Citizens loved John McGowan and Bones, though sadly, McGowan’s campaign for Mayor didn’t quite go as he hoped. Nor did his Sovereign Citizen defense during his trial and conviction for rape. Kevin Gallagher was Q-ish before it became a brand, sharing odd theories and interviews with odder guests, with the occasional musical performance by a local musician or group. More than once, one or the other of these shows would be disciplined and taken off the air for a few weeks while the furious host would do battle with the powers that be at the station. They too were fun to watch! The outrage! The indignation! The pinball logic! And finally, resolution. Until the next time… A quick peek at Danbury’s current broadcast lineup shows that some of these hosts are still on the air, merrily rocking and roiling along.
(Comcast’s Community Media Studios still offers these opportunities to intrepid citizens looking for an outlet. Here in Beautiful Cambria, Coast Union High School, under the guidance of Dan Hartzell, offers students even greater access to the technologies and education to take their talents far beyond the local airwaves.)
For me, there is only one personality who stands atop the Gadfly Hall of Fame. The late, great Clay Tiffany and his masterpiece of Public Access Television, “Dirge For The Charlatans.”
Clay Tiffany’s unusual appearance and voice were the epitome of a smirk, underscored by his signature catchphrase “all right?” Standing tall, his blazing red afro, permanently scowling face, and wardrobe that always looked culled from the rack labeled “1950’s muckraking reporter” at the local community theater wardrobe closet. He was awesome.
Tiffany was relentless. His diatribes were part Perry Mason and part Perry White. A pugnacious fearlessness led him into constant verbal, legal, and, sadly, violent physical confrontations with elected officials and public servants throughout the small village of Briarcliff Manor in Westchester County, New York.
Clay never let anyone intimidate him, sometimes to his detriment. Mayor, commissioner, judge, clerk, and police departments all exchanged shots with him. Even then-Westchester County District Attorney (and current FOX spectacle) Jeanine Pirro heard from him, loudly, publicly, and obnoxiously. Some of those shots were nearly deadly.
Briarcliff police officer Nick Tartaglione was often the target of Clay’s accusations of corruption, civil rights violations, violence and intimidation; pretty much anything a novelist or screenwriter might throw into the mix to create a character of “bad cop.” Nick did not like that and allegedly assaulted Tiffany several times, once beating him nearly to death. This attack triggered an FBI investigation, a major lawsuit with a significant settlement in Clay’s favor, and Tartaglione’s dismissal from the police force. (A dismissal that was later reversed, with Tartaglione being reinstated and receiving back pay.)
Tartaglione went on to bigger and worse headlines, including this one:
Clay Tiffany passed away in March of 2015. Concerned neighbors notified police when they hadn’t seen him for a few weeks. He had no known family. His vast archive of videotapes of “Dirge For The Charlatans” remains unavailable. However, an effort is underway to convert them to digital and produce a documentary on the life of the most fantastic citizen journalist/Community Gadfly few people ever saw. I hope to see it completed and shared.
“Tiffany told the truth as he saw it. Even crazy people can be right sometimes, but Tiffany’s problem was that it all got lost in the paranoid noise.”
I often think of Clay Tiffany while following the local cast of unique citizens here in Beautiful Cambria and mentally overlay his trademark smirk and incredulous “All right?” he would add for emphasis.
On a cool, windy, and sunny Thursday afternoon, my wife and I attended a Catholic funeral Mass for Father Mark Stetz, a beloved local priest who passed on, leaving a grieving flock and family to say goodbye. We went not as Catholics obeying tradition but in respect and appreciation for Father Mark’s good heart and his values-driven life of service.
The church filled beyond its three-hundred seat capacity. Sixty-eight priests and bishops and a convent of nuns occupied a good portion of the pews. A dark-suited bouncer patrolled the entrance lest an un-anointed muckety-muck try to sneak a seat inside the crowded building. Though the Gospels tell us “the least shall be first,” the VIP section and reserved seating said something different.
The sidewalks leading up to the main entrance bloomed with rows of white folding chairs filled with friends and parish faithful saying farewell to the good Father. Suits and ties mixed with jeans and work shirts. English and Spanish voices blended in song and prayer, and the church musicians, minus my favorite mandolin player, filled the spaces with joy, sorrow, and a message of hope.
As an escaped Catholic, I engaged in the service from an emotional distance. My mind drifted from the present to past Catholic funerals, some held in my old Bronx parish of Saint Nicholas of Tolentine, others across the tri-state region of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Some were for my family members, from grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles, to my beloved younger sister Anne Marie, whose death at thirty-two had a significant impact on changing my life. Her funeral, held just a few short months after my mother’s, was the toughest to accept. It was made more stressful by the Catholic Church’s refusal to allow a dedicated funeral Mass because it was Good Friday. Yet we, the family, found our way through the grief and loss and did our Catholic duty, sore asses on hard wooden pews, silently incensed as the censer swung and click-click-clicked against the long metal chains filling the air with a smoky aroma which always says death.
I remember other sadly joyful funerals for departed friends from the world of music and theater, held in churches filled with friends and family blessed with talents they shared, through tears and smiles, in song and recitation. The loss was there, but the dread was absent. There is nothing like sitting in an unassuming church filled with a few hundred actors and singers whose voices rise in a final farewell, serving the universe with their best, most meaningful, loving goodbye.
An odd sense often fills my head when listening to more traditional music played at some Catholic funerals. Maybe it’s the minor chords, the slow tempos, or the loss of clarity as the organist applies too much pipe and pedal. Perhaps it’s the subtle aggression some church pianists bring to the keyboard, or the battle for primacy between soprano and tenor during a dramatic rendering of a mournful hymn. Maybe I just cannot stay in the moment, but I often think these songs would kill in a heavy metal motif. A thudding bass, two low tuned guitars chunking out mid-scooped rhythms, a wild-haired skinny guy wailing away like the lead singer from a 1980s hair band would undoubtedly change the vibe. Or would it? I have shared this observation with a few fellow mourners, who quickly rescinded their proffered Sign of Peace. Not big metal fans, I guess – though if you look at paintings of Jesus and the Apostles, you might see a resemblance to the lineup of ’80s rock bands on one of those Rockapalooza Booze Cruises popular in some circles.
But back to Father Mark. His funeral was a celebration of his life. A long-time friend and fellow priest related the most telling story, illuminating who Mark was. At his ordination, Mark asked if there could be a washing of the feet. This request, to me, is the pure distillation of the message of Christ. Humility, service, caring, and community. Not glory, not adoration, not the fear of damnation. The expression of love for all, no matter the station.
Regardless of how we worship or what traditions we follow, good people find ways to do good deeds. Whether done loudly or quietly, it doesn’t matter. We can only go where our humanity leads us, and if that is a search for a higher power or a nobler cause, it’s all good.
An ad from a well-known music shop in New York popped onto my Facebook feed, and the image of a Fender Precision bass from the 1970s stopped my heart for a beat. Certainly not one of the highly desirable “vintage” basses for sure, but an excellent instrument.
I read the product description and felt my pulse quicken with each line.
“Here’s a really nice Fender P-Bass from 1974 in a natural finish. It has had a refret with new electronics, including a replaced DiMarzio pickup. The pickguard, bridge are replaced. Comes with a nice non-original case. A great price for any player looking for a nice vintage P-Bass with a nice neck and feel!”
So why the heart attack?
I had a 1970s P bass, just like this one. I installed a DiMarzio pickup and replaced the original bridge with a brass Badass. The original pickguard was white, and the replacement one, as noted in the description, is black. The kicker, though, was the featured picture and the description of the neck. I stared at the picture and dug out a photo of me with my P bass.
I know, just like I know my children, my family, my now aged face. Guitar players know. Violinists know. We know our special instruments as well as we know our art.
In the late 1970s I had a gig in Jupiter, Florida, home to the legendary Burt Reynolds Dinner Theater. I carelessly leaned my a beautiful cherry Gibson EB-3 against my amp and gasped in disbelief as it fell over, hit the hard tile floor, and split the headstock and part of the neck—a disaster for a musician who was dependent on his instrument for his living.
That Gibson had played a whole lot of sets in a whole lot of places, including a USO tour of Germany, Greece, and Turkey. And then it was gone.
I found a music store down the road in Stuart. I was hoping to find another EB-3 but instead landed a beautiful Fender Precision. Gibsons and Fenders are different beasts, with distinctly different sounds and feel. This Fender, though, had something special.
It had a beautifully figured natural finish body, a maple fretboard, and a tapered neck profile more like a Jazz bass than a Precision. It fit my hands like it was custom carved. It toured the country, took a horrific trip to Greenland, and later served me well when I returned to New York for the next chapter of my musical career.
A few years passed. After a long day of rehearsal and recording, I parked on 56th street near 5th Avenue for a few minutes while I ran into a local club that hosted songwriters’ workshops. When I came out, I immediately saw the smashed window. I knew my bass was gone.
It began to rain. It rained all the way home, the long drive up the Taconic Parkway made more brutal by the wind-driven water stinging my face with each gust, the plastic garbage bag taped to the broken window rendered ineffective as it tore and flapped. The loss of my instrument, made worse by the mocking weather.
Over the following days, I visited the music stores and pawn shops around midtown Manhattan, particularly the legendary strip on West 48th street. I hoped that the thief would try to sell the bass to one of these shops, and I would recover my instrument. No luck.
Life went on. I got a new bass, a beauty, from Leo Fender’s new company, G&L. I still have that instrument. It is worn, beaten up, poorly refinished, and mostly unplayed now. It is a worthy axe, but my aging hands struggle with the wider neck, and my old body struggles under its heft. I have tried to find a bass with the same magic neck of the purloined Precision over the years, with no luck. Every state and country I have been lucky enough to visit has included a stop at the local music shop: part white whale hunt, part habit.
As I sort through the impact of this sudden appearance, I realize that it is not just about the bass; it is all the memories that surround it. A bandmate who went with me to the music store became my true and forever soulmate. That story has its share of love and loss and so much music. More than any bass could produce.
I could repurchase the bass, but that seems somehow wrong. It would perhaps have me playing again, but more likely, it would have me remembering things better left behind.
My only real wish is that wherever it goes next, it will pull some joy from the hands and heart of the person playing that oh-so-perfect neck.
There are a lot of older people around here. According to my driver’s license, I am one of them. The arrival of forty-six hundred pieces of mail informing me of my Medicare eligibility confirms what I have denied to myself. Sixty-five. That magic number is here, and there ain’t nothing I can do about it.
I do old guy stuff now. My current obsession is making sure to set the coffee pot for the morning. This routine task is familiar to those with automatic coffee makers and is essential for a few reasons.
First, there is nothing better than getting out of bed and having a fresh pot of coffee ready to kick off the day.
Second, there is little more annoying than the sound of beans being ground early in the morning. It may have been Einstein who discovered the theory that the earlier the hour, the louder the grinder. Please don’t quote me on that. It could have been my wife who said that. See – more old guy stuff – making up facts and blaming the spouse.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, setting the coffee pot. A perfectly normal routine. Except now I find myself doing it in the late afternoon. Like, twelve hours ahead of time. Who does that? Old guys, or more specifically, this old guy. Who sometimes forgets to hit the timer button. Which is fine. It gives me more time to try and remember if I took my fiber and vitamins. I am not ready to add Ginko Biloba to my routine, but I’m thinking about it.
I have an old guy approach to my wardrobe now. There are “around the house” pants, “around town” pants, and “going someplace nice” pants. And shirts? Tattered collars and cuffs are fine with me, and nobody sees them, so what’s the big deal? When I am out and about town, I zip my sweatshirt up. Blue shirts aren’t cheap, so I wear them until the League of Decency intervenes. Uh oh, another old guy reference.
Those commercials about people turning into their parents? I side with the turners. I am the guy who seeks out the manager at Albertsons to tell him what a great job Angela in produce does. I have said, out loud, “I am not paying that much for a box of instant oatmeal!” Yes, I eat oatmeal, and yes, I use instant because who knows how much time I have left? I am an old guy!
I watch Blue Bloods on Friday nights at 10 PM and try to figure out what they are having for Sunday dinner. I understand all of Anthony Abademarco’s double negatives because I grew up in New York. I looked at the cops with a bit of distrust back in the old days, and now I root for Jamie and Eddie to get through a shift safely.
And who knew The Big Bang Theory was so funny? I love the cleverness of the humor, though I find Howard to be annoying. And I admire how much Penny has grown over the years. Ok, I occasionally admire her other attributes; I am old, not dead.
I watch Saturday Night Live, and, as an old guy bonus, it comes on at 8:30 PM here in California. I understand that not every sketch or musical guest will be great. When I get nostalgic, I’ll find old episodes from my younger days and wait for the magic I remembered from those years. And realize that Saturday Night Live has always been hit – or – miss, even with the legends that came before today’s cast and writers. I still get a bit of a thrill when a musical guest that I don’t know blows me away. Thanks, Halsey!
I fight back against time, mostly with music. My ears are frequently ringing after a few hours of serious headphone time. The right ear goes first, an artifact of standing next to drummers back when I could play a whole gig without Aleve and Icy Hot. The thought of strapping on a bass guitar for four hours makes me want to lie on the couch and find episodes of Blue Bloods. But I can sit and listen to rock, punk, R&B until the headphones need recharging. I don’t get upset when I hear an f-bomb in my son’s songs. I think, “great use of the word to make a point.” I expect to do this until the end, which could be anytime. Until then I’ll try not to exclaim, “What the hell happened to Joe Namath!!!” when he appears on TV to sell me something old-guy-related.