Posts by The Woodcutter

Fred, mother, Chaco, Queen of England etc.

Posted by on Apr 16, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

When Fred was with us at Lake Morena up the road from San Diego, he said that our mother was an alcoholic, which was news to me. I said No, she wasn’t, and he looked at me cockeyed, ‘Ja-ack, come on, of course she was and when you grow up with a drunk you run a good chance of becoming one.’

I said, Fre-ed, she drank, she was a party girl but she wasn’t AA material. There are people who drink everyday and still aren’t addicted.

He didn’t know if I was for real on this, it seemed so obvious to him, and for me it was the first I’d heard of this from anyone. So we stared at one another, my mind running fifty years of files on her, him running fifty years of suspecting I was retarded and now finally and forever knowing I was.

I remembered a conversation in this house where they were arguing before dinner about who was smarter. It was just like two kids, No you’re not, I am. You? Ho ho. Both loaded and me with my jaw dropped realizing for the first time that my mother and brother were very dumb people. Here I thought I was the one and they are light years ahead of me. It’d gone beyond ferocity, bulging eyes and stabbing fingers. I walked to her library to look at books as they ranted. Mother had gotten a degree in her fifties at UNM. Now she was yelping about her papers on T-shaped doorways at Chaco published in the Archeology trades, Fred about being Head Reference Librarian at the London Library after graduating from UW at Madison with honors, she about winning the Pulitzer, he the Arthur T. Anderson Award, she about being the first woman president of the US, he about being the King of England.

I’d been a pool cleaner and woodcutter. Once I read a Reader’s Digest cover to cover just to see if I could.

When I’d try to hang out with the two of them before five they were too rattled, and after 5:OO needing a faster delivery than I was capable of. I couldn’t keep their interest with my stories so they’d gang up. Marian finished my sentences, corrected my grammar, facts, place and background and Fred the legitimacy of whatever situation I was talking about. Fred interrupting, saying That’s so naive, Jack, Jesus!

Here I am telling my story that happened with neither my little brother nor mother within two thousand miles of me about meeting this woman at her apartment on Lexington and 46th in New York 2O years before. She’d called me at McGarvey’s and my apartment on the Lower East Side and invited me over, said she knew me but I didn’t know her. She had been watching me for months and now she wanted me to come meet her. ‘She opened the door and I didn’t know her. She was beautiful. (Marion says Of course, and Fred grunts.) ‘She knew me, but I’d never met her’, and Fred is saying how this is either made up, exaggerated and that there is no walkup building at 46th and Lex, and besides how could I not know her if she knew me? And what did I mean by beautiful? What the hell did she look like? And how many women call up perfect strangers and invite them over to their place? You see a movie or something? ‘That’s my point, Fred, it was like a dream, she is this ravishing, open faced woman, deadringer for the young Lauren Hutton, and I felt so at ease with her.’ He shakes his head and looks at Marion and their eyes connect, in silent agreement, Jack’s lying his ass off again!

I say, ‘Her place is beautiful, all candlelit, she even knows what I drink and makes me one without having to ask. The perfume she has on, the white blouse and long skirt, hair just right, and this voice.’ Marion says something about male sex fantasies and safety issues in New York tenements late at night and the clap, and Fred’s cutting me off at every turn trying to trap me in inconsistencies so the spontaneity of the story sputters out. It does sound made up. These people are arguing over who is smarter?! I feel like Einstein and Plato with enough smarts left over to power the Dallas Cowboys and an Emu or two. High IQ does not make smart. Heart makes smart.

Fred is saying our mother was an Alkie and it was all her fault he’s one. I’m still trying to deal with the first part, but there are some things fitting together in spite of my disbelief. How is it possible I wouldn’t’ve noticed at least when I’d grown up? You weren’t there, Jack, he says. Fred is ticking off all the evidence on his fingers and has started back on his first thumb with number 11 in the people’s case against her. I say, Okay, okay, maybe she was, what the hell, she didn’t make you do it. You lived in England for the last quarter century.

I didn’t think of it then but the reason Fred started to drink heavily was for the pain in his leg after he got hit at 7O miles an hour on a country road in Cornwall when he jumped to push his wife out of the way of the car and took the full impact on his legs. They took him to the amputation ward but the surgeons saved the leg. Splinters of bone surfaced through the skin for the rest of his life. He was walking on steel rods where femurs once hung out…

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Helping the World

Posted by on Apr 16, 2019 in Blog | 3 comments

When we get old we begin to look for ways to give back to the world some of what it has given to us, to humanity.

Recently I was wondering how I could do this. A few years ago I was part of a volunteer Habitats For Humanity crew redeeming a house in The Twin Cities, and it felt good. But I rediscovered that I’m not a crew kind of guy, just a short-coming I guess. So I’ve been wondering what I could do solo that fit in with my abilities, and this morning found a way. I’d vacuum the floors in all the world, one by one, personally. By the time I got back to my starting point they’d be needing another vac and I’d start over, probably a lot better at it than when I’d begun.

After thinking it through better I decided that repairing public drinking fountains in town parks might be better in that it’d keep me out in the sun and fresh air, and I’d see children playing and dogs romping and meet other old-timers to chat with while I made with the wrenches and pipe fittings. This thrilled me, it was something I could do very well because at heart I’m a plumber, and I enjoy fixing things so they work again.

I’m starting tomorrow. I am so happy!!

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Who’s Fooling Who?

Posted by on Apr 10, 2019 in Blog | 1 comment

Truth & She-roud of Turin  6/17

Holy as she is Marilyn doesn’t cotton to the idea that she is wrong from time to time. She has a way of reconnecting the dots of an argument to her own advantage. Well, why not? I know when it’s going on but don’t know how to keep from getting tangled up in it. It’s like I crack open an egg and dandelion seeds spill out.

There’s enough right in the general weave to pass for real and because I am not quick enough to multitask at thinking, at least under fire, she usually wins. Not by my being convinced, just by surrendering in playing verbal chess.  Or shooting verbal craps:  Snake eyes, I win! She says. I say, What? You were trying for a six, and got two. She says, Snake Eyes beats a full house! Hold on, I say, you’re mixing poker with dice, and Marilyn explains to me it depends on the game you’re playing, and I say Where’s the cards? And she says, You didn’t take them out, that’s why I win.

The Catholic Church decided once and for all to prove the Shroud of Turin was a fake. American scientists had examined it and in the end could not decide what made the image. They knew it wasn’t paint or pigment of any sort they were familiar with. They weren’t trying to prove it was the burial cloth of Jesus; they wanted to know empirically what left the negative image of the man buried in it, whoever he was. An explosion of intense light seemed to be the only possibility they could come up with after several years of study.

This team and some others kept after the Vatican to take samples of the shroud to get a Carbon 14 reading on them and suggested they be taken from different areas, from the inner older fabric as well as the rewoven outer margins damaged in fires. The church refused to take samples from anywhere near the figure on the cloth claiming it to be too threatening to the integrity of the image. At the same time they were claiming it was not Christ’s image.  They ended up taking three samples from the outer margins and sent them off to labs in different countries. All came back with a date from the fourteenth century, and the church considered the matter closed: Shroud of Turin is a fake: Over and out.

But they didn’t count on the Knowing. The Knowing is the cumulative memory bank all life has contributed to, a trans-cultural, trans-species hard drive of collective truth. Deep down we all feel the force of truth, and no man-made legerdemain can fool us. Our sense and senses you can be sure, but not the Hayseed deep within us sitting on the fence sucking on a stem of grass. His gristle is our core being. He knows.

So the church’s findings only made many hungry to know more, to have the image itself sampled in several places. If it was the fake the Church said, then what was there to protect by testing the image itself?

The Church replied that there would be no more tests, too many people were worshipping this thing, it was idolatry, no one in the Catholic church practiced idolatry; well, maybe a little, like the icons in any cathedral, but that’s traditional, this isn’t, this is too mystical and no one in the Church likes mystical. Except a few legends and stories and some history and ancient reports of weird things, but again these are grandfathered in. Christ’s burial cloth is not.

It was a solid argument. Who can argue with that? Ignore the Shroud and people will no longer worship idols. Case closed. Two Snake eyes beats a full house.

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Posted by on Apr 4, 2019 in Blog | 1 comment

‘Be Kind & Amazing Things Will Happen’

I saw this sign driving past a church on the way home. I’d been out to where we park the RV by Ham Lake to see if I could find some missing things in there, keys, computer tablet, hope, some other stuff. Didn’t find any of it but on the way back through a neighborhood near Egret this message jumped out into the corner of my eye and wormed its way quickly into my heart, a distance of maybe 9 inches, though the way it bit in you’d’ve thought it had meteored to earth from the fifth dimension.

I started laughing a block or two later, not at the message but because of some sort of resonating going on. Some pastor had fitted those black block letters into their grooves in the sign box to advertise his next sermon, dusted off his hands, closed the glass door and locked it so no one could mess around making a new message with the letters. Done this 100 times, and then some guy drives by and glimpses the message and is spiritually transformed two blocks later.

Into what?  Dunno. The domino blocks are still clickity-clickitying in my heart, but the gist of it is that if we’d just be here and have the time to really see the lads and lasses and woofers and cats and birds and trees and flowers and the mighty miracle of it all…if we’d really be here we could skip his sermon this Sunday and reinvent our own religion on the saved time. We could make our own sign to put out front of us: We are Love. Let it show.

So what amazing things would happen? Dunno, but really starting to be alive might be a good start. I’ll get back to you on how this plays out for this member of the congregation, though.

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Manchester, VT.

Posted by on Mar 21, 2019 in Blog | Comments Off on Manchester, VT.

Santa Barbara, Blue Sands, Manchester VT  

A bunch of things come to mind when I think of getting to Santa Barbara in’85. Staying at the Blue Sands Motel on East Beach is one, and the next morning going out at sunrise and seeing a pod of dolphins wrangling a young whale away from the beach to the open water. Standing on the grass next to the sand I knew I was in the right place. My vision quest was over. For the time being. I didn’t figure it out till just now that the young whale was me.

I think of walking down the dirt road from the cabin I was renting in Vermont near Manchester Center and that awful odor that dropped me to my knees. I’d been picking wild raspberries when this smell blew into me. My first reaction was that it was some nerve gas from a ruptured tanker upwind. Next thought was that I was dying. Next thing was figuring out which side my profile would look best when they found me dead. Next thing was I saw a small snake someone had run over, its guts squeezed through a tear in its side coiling in pain trying to get away from it. I welcomed having a pal for my journey. I was the snake. I didn’t know that then. We died together. But I got up and felt alright. Walked back up the hill to the cabin and lay down on the bed. Had a dream where some old gents told me about heading out, I’d been here long enough. I was to drive west. That was enough for me. i packed and left the next day, gave a call to the Russian woman who found me the rental. She was so friendly the month or so before driving to the turnoff, drove up a half mile and turned around. She was scared of me suddenly, big guy with a beard, dirt road far from the nearest town, no one to hear her screams for help. She didn’t say so but the flirtation was over for sure. We returned to Manchester in silence. I signed up for the place unseen at her office, drove back with the keys in my old green Cadillac. The one the garbage truck would shorten in Santa Barbara in a few months when I moved up the hill to a rental on Del Mar Street.

Manchester Center. People living there outside town were retired Washington. Starched, opaque, folded and laid into drawers carefully. Rich. Odd place. The Stepford Husbands. They all looked alike, spoke the same lines, played the same golf, drank the same drinks. Odd place for my vision quest to bring me. My cousin Tom Brockway was Headmaster at Bennington College south of there, I guess that’s what brought me this way, going by to see him and look at the girls. I fell into Manchester. Fell on the road with a dying snake. Was allowed to leave when I fell from the tomb. Two decades later I returned there with my new wife and had a devil of a time finding that road. The whole countryside was spooky, like out of a scary movie, that sort of setting, muted colors of greys and blacks and greens. When I found the road I began to feel like the Russian realtor and turned around more or less where she did. Something ungood was up that road. Maybe me, the one that didn’t get away. I felt so freed to turn around, telling Marilyn about the Russian and how I felt her fear and was so glad we were getting out of there. The cabin had fleas in the carpet I could see jumping backlit by the low morning sun. They attacked my bare legs, stalked me around the place.

The owner manager of the Blue Sands was a Vietnamese woman, only there a year. Iron Maiden they called her, the others in the neighborhood whose property she was trying to buy. While I was there she bought a motel on upper State Street at a bargain and set it straight. She had good rooms, charged low prices and stayed full. She was happy. But not so happy that she would smile. Still there was a calmness there. i liked staying there. i trusted her to bring me what i was ready for when it was time and then i would move somewhere else. This was the right place, the sister city of Santa Fe where I’d grown up. I came here in the 50’s when I was a ditch digger in Lompoc up the coast helping put in the Naval Missile Facility that later became Vandenburg Air Force Base. Visited my grandfather Laddie French who was retired Cavalry. He looked like a cavalry officer. He was glad to see me in the same way the Iron Maiden was. I was some proof he was alive. This time i didn’t even bother to call his widow. She was his second wife and didn’t like that he had another life and wife and child. She stared at me with glass eyes. They both may have been related to the Manchester Center people.

But the dolphins weren’t. They were having a fun time cowboying that young whale,  me laughing on the sandy grass and hearing their excited cries, the sun lighting the whole show.

(From the book Marilyn & Me, by Jack Underhill)

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