New York Elusive: Birdland

     Birdland is a place that bleeds jazz.  Cassady bopped here.  Miles blew here.  Miles was silent here.  The atmosphere was full of musical expectation when I arrived, alone, for the 9 PM show.  I was there an hour early after dropping off the girls at the New Amsterdam Theater to see the Broadway production of Mary Poppins.  Highly anticipated by them, the show did not disappoint as I found out later.  As for me, the three hour getaway was an opportunity for observation and experience.  I had no plans beyond walking them to the show, and after one more rejection of my wife's invitation to experience Mary Poppins with them; I was walking the streets of Times Square.

     All of humanity seemed represented.  Everyone with a destination.  Seemingly not me. I was content to see, to hear, and to taste the heart of Manhattan.  After wandering fully engaged and alive, I took a back street and spotted Birdland.  The familiar place was noticed by accident but immediately remembered from the book I was currently reading-Desolation Angels by Kerouac.  The $30 cover only caused a brief pause and was partly overcome by the footnote of the hostess, "That also includes a free drink ticket," she proudly informed me.

     "Here you go."  I quickly handed over the cash not wanting to give the impression that $30 was a big deal.  Earlier in the month, $30 would have been a huge amount as we continued our paycheck to paycheck, suburban, family of four existence.  Thankfully, our current month's paycheck had been deposited a couple of days prior and were a loaded gun.  My father’s generosity and ashes to ashes perspective provided additional traveling funds.  God had continued to provide and we continued to worry.  Hopefully, middle age will bring more trust as we find ourselves on the downhill path of life.  Maybe we can coast a bit more.  Reflect on what we've become, on what we've created, and the miracles we've seen.  We've been trusted.  No worries or anxieties engulfed me that night as I sat at Birdland's bar, my girls tucked safely in their Broadway seats six blocks away.

     Perhaps the finest bartender in New York greeted me with a warm smile and an eager look as he quickly locked into my needs.  "What can I get you my friend?" he asked while leaning over the bar, looking me right in the eyes, and glowing.  I captured his full attention.  This struck me as unique due to my earlier New York service industry experiences.
     "How 'bout a Stella?” I inquired with my normal slow paced, Texas drawl.

     "Coming right up my friend." he said and thirty seconds later I had an ice cold Stella Artois, a frosted glass, and an unordered ice water.

     I surveyed the place from my barstool perch.  The stage was the first thing I noticed.  No question about the main attraction at Birdland.  Anyone who took the stage would enjoy a focused, and quiet, audience.  The tables were arranged in a semi circle on three levels.  Shadowy waiters and waitresses were efficiently serving delicious looking and smelling courses.  Half full bottles of wine littered the room.  But this was a musician's place.  Everything took a backseat and we were reminded at five till 9 by the emcee introducing the night's performance that any noise during the hour-long set was reserved for those on the stage.  What a place!  The host continued with the introduction, "Tonight we are once again honored to have Regina Carter and the Peacemakers at the historic Birdland."  The band entered from behind the stage with an array of instruments and coolly took their places.  Then Regina walked out with a violin and unmistakable style.  The next hour was pure listening silk as the tight group traded solos and made music as if playing as one.  Clearly, they were talented and familiar with each other.  Regina, for her part, was excellent at taking the spotlight, giving it up, regaining it, and in the end, not needing it.  The music was the thing and didn't need light.  I closed my eyes through most of the performance.  A scotch finale, purchased with my drink ticket, had me exiting Birdland loose and satisfied.

     Unfortunately, my final impression was forged by the gift booth on the way out.  The sad sight of t-shirts, snow globes, coffee mugs, and key chains gave me a brief pause.  Snow globes?  Was this the Birdland of old or a cash cow trading on the legendary reputation of prior years?  Regina and her band mates delivered a tremendous show, but an authentic experience seemed elusive.  My youngest daughter collects snow globes.



Hearing You

i hear you through the wind under the door
shouting my name over and over
"can you hear me?" you plead while preparing
preparing for sleep and eternal rest
listen, listen to the voice of this night
it clearly tells you to be quiet
silence will help you understand the wise words
telling, teaching, begging, laughing, moaning
how long will you sleep tonight?
how many dreams will you forget?
when you awake open your heart to the new
always new
always promise
always hope
always faith
sleep my baby
i hear you




last night i went to hoboken
to see a hobo i knew
he was lost in the fog and dancing
asked me if i had a brew

took him to a pub called o'gormans
and drank til one or two
the bartender called the police
when i beat a man with my shoe

he had called me a stinking bum
when i bumped into his girl
took a swing at my friend, the hobo
and both my fists became curled

"i might stink like a rat", i had said
"and i know i'm full of rum.
but no one's gonna hit my buddy,
no one's gonna call me a bum."

that was my first mistake
being so thin skinned
the man was just protecting his lady
and we were butting in

but i was full of booze
and that man, he was too
two simple minded drunks
fighting with our shoes

the police pulled me off the man
his woman spit in my face
they cuffed me and read me my rights
then took me out of that place

sitting in the jailhouse now
bottom front tooth broken
wondering if my hobo friend
made it back to hoboken



Two Wooden Oars Part III

trading off on each side of the boat, deville, stubborn and burning still, continued at a lesser pace. hawkeye's neck was as red as a robin. we got through the medium waters then a final wind burst and we struggled to the shore. only two hundred yards from where deville had two hours earlier called us to attention. each of us made a dry landing, dover commenting again on the wonder of it all. each of us exited the craft leisurely and carefully. but land was welcome and more appreciated than before. by me for sure. i looked back and saw from where we came. the cove we were in protected us from the fierce wind out on the open water. where we started. where we cursed. where we gave up. where we kept going. where we found it. we could do anything now. a weight was lifted. the world seemed lighter then, easier. it was too good of a feeling not to be temporary. so we enjoyed it while it lasted.

the half mile hike to deville's fishing cabin seemed inadequate. the by sea drama would cleary not play out in the by land part of our day's challenge. when we arrived we could still not enter the heavily thought of cabin. the keys had to be retireived from the parked truck. dover and deville did the final walk and we eventually gained entry into the well build and tidy structure. entry was welcomed with a rush to the cold beer and a recounting of the story. hawkeye played some heavy metal, catfish pleaded for a change to some cajun blues. we decided it was a story of water and land. catfish baited. catfish caught. catfish still alive.

the spark plug needed was found on a 70's era moter deville had in his shed. after some modifications to make it "fit right", it started the moter when we returned. as the sun gave its last light of the day i was, strangely, not worried that we would break down again. duncan and dover had demanded my partnership with deville to retrieve the stranded boat and return the injured craft to its trailer home. i jumped at the chance. i had to see how this story would end.

we drifted slowly by the shoreline and when deville was confident we were good to go, he hit it hard and we roared to the open water toward the slip. he backed the truck, lowered the trailer, hooked up the boat, secured it expertly, and gave one last curse. we drove back to the cabin with expectations of rest and food to come. the final ray of light was squeezed out of the days sun as we pulled up. thank you day.

deville, not to be unprepared, had already slow-cooked a deer shoulder roast while we were out. no doubt he had hit it with an arrow just months previously. heart shot. potatoes, carrots, gravy, hot bread, coffee and apple pie completed the enourmous feast. the night ended quickly. time seemed unimportant. we were alive. that was important. why did we not turn into a Spur Gazette headline? we would have likely made the dallas morning news. living is more fun. it should be. it can be.

as i drifted off that night, i was so happy to be sleeping. about to dream. as we remembered who did what, before lights out, i glanced up above the often used fireplace. there, situated at right angles framing the hour fast clock, two wooden oars.

Two Wooden Oars Part II

broken spark plug. deville had never heard of such a thing. "this just doesn't happen. spark plugs don't break." he assured. "i can't believe i don't have an extra spark plug." he wondered aloud. He had diagnosed the problem after furiously pulling the cover off the engine and digging through the often dug in mass of metal and wires. at that moment i allowed a quick, but unsuccessful, promise to learn more about basic engine care and maintanence. what if i was caught-up alone in the desert or somthing? i irrationally wondered. although a solo west coast trip to see the great pacific waters had long been anticipated, it was likely years off. deville cursed along. hawkeye serving diligently as right hand man to the captain. deville knew he was thrust into the position of savior and he tried everything to get that thing going.

catfish was despondent and unbelieving.  "you mean this engine is broke again?" he had been on the same lake with deville four months prior. he'll never forget the late night breakdown that preceeded a three hour row across the entire lake with a kids plastic paddle and a piece of partical board. same engine. bad battery. same predicament. this was too much for catfish to absorb.

i, unknowingly, added to his burden with the obvious reminder, "man the fish are primed to be caught, the bait is taking its hold. come on deville, your reputation as the west texas super hero is on the line." catfish moaned and cursed in his soul. i felt i was living some dream. some test to justify faith in others. as if it could be justified. deville called out for a bottle cap. i handed him the steel modelo top and saw fear in his eyes as he grabed it from my hand. he claimed that this was going to work. and it did. breifly and almost tragically.

deville's repeated attempts at a solution yielded passing hope as he used the bottle cap with his right limb and hit the starter with his left, stretched over the entire length of the boat. we all kept out of the way as he deperately performed this spectacle. like kids. suddenly and without warning, deville got the engine cranked. incredible i thought. he steered away from the tree stump we had drifted to, saved hawkeye's life with his now free right hand and had us out into open water, heading for the boat slip and a final resolution to the spark plug debacle. we'll be back to our fish hunt in no time. he was very relieved. a hero from the land of dust. catfish was estatic, remembering the ordeal of the summer. no one knew how deep the seed of gratefulness was planted in dover's heart. he had stared down either death or disfigurement at the hands of that tree stump. the maneuver had been swift and upon recounting, a truly ugly scene was avoided due to the actions of deville. he was looking at the driver like an angel, sent to save him at this moment. which of course he was. "you guys don't realize how close i was to falling out onto that tree. you could be searching the bottom for me right now. knocked out. drowned." he still felt the adreneline in his veins.

"dover, i'd a tried for about fifeteen minutes," joked catfish, "but i have a family to protect. i couldn't put myself at risk like that." we could make light now. even hawkeye laughed loudly. i piled on the innocent insults. true, the baited west side would go unfished, but we would avoid a second White River Lake situation. Then the engine died, not to be resurrected again without finding land. land was way off. the wind was way high. white caps punished the small boat.

it was very predicatable, looking back, as deville told us to "grab that oar and hand me the board."

duncan was beside himself. "fix it deville!" he screamed. "i can't belive this. twice! on the same boat in the same lake! damn! damn!" on and on. "you didn't put two new oars in the boat after last time?"

"nope", replied deville, caring nothing about catfish's misery. pointing across the white caps, against the direction of the wind, he said, "we need to head over to that beach. we have to." it was way off and inconcievable that the desired beach could be reached. we were being blown violently the other way. quickly drifting out to the dreaded middle. right then fellings of dispair, despondency, soberness, and dread engulfed the boat.

you read about lake drownings all the time. ONLY THREE OF FOUR MEN MISSING. ONE CONFIRMED DEAD AS HE WASHED UP ON THE NORH MARSH, i could envision the headlines. however, for all, a feeling of excitment rose up. adventure. "we have to", deville had said. this is the statement we responded to. trying will not work unless it works. it was a singular mission and we had to. go across the lake, against a significant wind, to the pointed at spot. dover paddled with incredible vigor. some new strength had been found. he was exausted by the end. catfish, having been through this before, knew the needed effort. my fitness club membership was paying off as i took my turn and smoothly powerd the boat, finding a rythym and sticking to it until well after a burn screamed. deville wouldn't give up the particle board until it was evident we were going to make it. only then did he let anyone take a turn. the pure awkwarness and extreme uncomfort of trying to use the board in the back of the boat was ridiculous and i stopped shortly after my completely ineffective turn started. same for duncan and dover. we went back to trading the kid's plastic paddle in the front. through the roughest part and becoming assured of success, our efforts were going to be rewarded.

by this time, completely exhausted, catfish was over the disappointment of the lost fish, "we could have died out there. great work guys. deville, how the hell did you use that board for an hour straight. you didn't stop."

"just paddling." said deville to know one in particular. he was moving something to somewhere. staying busy on the crowded boat. That is when our hope truley came back. when it was clear. when it was evident. i think of hope as the best thing in the world. would faith be attainable without hope? and vice versa? God's gift to us. another gift to us. we worked harder after hope. worked together after hope. we got to hope through faith. faith in another and others.

"i can't belive no one's fell off this boat.", hawkeye said softly.