Diary of Lois Elaine Jelin: Entry Six

Editorial Note:

Featured above, for your viewing pleasure, is the original theatrical trailer for the film “Halls of Montezuma” starring none other than Jack Palace and Robert Wagner.

Entry Six

Monday, January 6                                                 Weather marked as Clear.

Dear Diary,

Gave Ilene her morning feeding. Came home about 4:00 pm. Took a shower & got dressed. Hal & I went to show saw “Halls of Montazuma” [sic] was a good picture. Got home 10:50 p.m. So I went next door & baby-sat. (Bubie stayed there till I came)

Lost in The Trees, “Villain”

I speak, but say nothing. Noted for a skill I do not have but just appear to possess. A prize of false perception; a quill taken and held high. As high as those walls there in the distance, the ones just beyond the glenn. The one in which the zephyr sits so solemn in its ghostly dock, fully covered by the Spanish moss dripping, dropping in its gravity down into its death.

The fault? Oh Yes, that was mine. Wrought with good intentions, I just didn’t keep the time. I stalked the ground for seven big, brown years and found the circle comforting. No fear of losing compass, no dread from the unknown. Just the constant left-bound motion of a path so tried and true. A ticking, a tocking, an ever-present hum of deadlock finding favor in the absence of a choice.

I will go where I will go. Nonsense pulling triggers where safeties were left unlatched. A cascade of destinations just beyond those walls. A cacophony of options too numerous to understand. Easy enough to find, harder to enjoy. With that whisper of decision upon the tongue tip, trapped in execution.

A fatal pause. Another lap around.

Ane Brun, “Words”

Growing up, my room was directly adjacent to the family room in our sprawling single-story Southern California ranch home. Noises traveled through doorways and lingered in the halls of this old house, as did its people. Each night with such suburban regularity the noise of the nightly news watched by my mother in her kitchen cove floated by the feature film on which my father had paused, although he never stayed on any one image long. He reclining on the couch his hard work had purchased, feet on the Ethan Allen coffee table and arm raised high over his head as his suspended hand aimed the t.v. remote towards the cable box with nonchalant purpose.

Me, I was safe inside four walls, two windows and one door as the world revolved around itself outside, storming chaos as it paved its paths and picked its sides. But I knew nothing of this fury yet, even as I wrote nothings in a moleskin that seemed so urgent and so true. No, the things I knew then followed the floorboards of that grey-blue house set just before the foothills where my bare feet navigated each grain of wood as I summoned the courage to find my stride.  With each passing awkward year I wobbled less, noticed more. And while I know not the name of he who put those windows in those walls, I know the man who washed them clear of soot and soil to free his daughter from the task. From that clarity came words: words on paper; words that broke down letters to build stairwells; words that filled apartments with holograms and hopes; words that explained my station to those not unto myself.

Which is to say…if we are each a product of our environment, then I was packaged well. Kept safe and warm with only surface cracks sustained in shipping. So now I stop, I sit to recall the space that gave me words; to remember the rattle of its heater and the groans of its hinges, and capture this memory in characters. Using words to keep it real, architecture forming verse that reminds me of the people inside even if they roam its halls no more. Yes, here I stop…

Two Sheds, “To Be Alive”

There are things I wish I’d known, but didn’t know enough to know I’d want to know them.

That perfection should be an aim, not a goal. That the things you lose will define you more than the things you acquire.  That one day you will reach for something and it will not be there; will no longer be produced; will no longer be relevant. And that this is the essence of aging. That home is just a concept, and timbers too must fall. That apathy will paralyze you, but fixation will do the same.

But of all the things I thought I knew that I didn’t know, the unknown knowledge I wish I’d known the most was…that words are just signifiers. We are the ones who assign their physicality.

Bush, “Glycerine”

In 1996, Bush released their second full length album Razorblade Suitcase. I was 12 and, thanks to MTV and his penchant for performing shirtless, in love with Gavin Rossdale. Due to the genius technology of my Sony Walkman, that album went everywhere with me: in the car on the way to dinner; at the dining room table as I did homework; to the airport for a flight to San Francisco. You get the picture.

I had to have more.

That year, my citified uncle gave me a solo trip to San Francisco for my birthday; that’s right: no parentals. My parents nervously drove me to the airport to see me off; I confidently packed my steadfast Walkman and favorite CD. I endured the barrage of questions from my overprotective father as we waited in the terminal for my flight. What do you do if you get lost downtown? Who do you call in case of an emergency? Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Finally, it was my time to board. Being the little tyke that I was and flying alone, Southwest graciously allowed me to pre-board which meant I had to walk the gauntlet of a crowded terminal filled with eyes that all seemed to be upon me. Just as I approach the Southwest agent, I hear my Dad yell from across the room, “!!!Nic!!! If any guy tries to touch you, remember: you hit him in the throat or the balls,” as he added appropriate hand gestures for effect. Mortified, I nodded and boarded without a word. Wouldn’t you know it, not a soul sat next to me.

I arrived in San Francisco safely, and now my uncle had to organize an itinerary for a shy pre-teen tomboy who awkwardly loved nothing else besides baseball, rock n roll, and antiques. Yes, antiques. First stop was Planet Hollywood with some mild success, and from there we hit every kid friendly landmark in town, from the Exploratorium to FAO Schwartz. But even he, an accomplished guide, had trouble truly making an impact on a nervous little twerp unaccustomed to being so far from the familiarity of home. That is until he took me to the Motherland, otherwise known as the Virgin Megastore on Market. I may not have understood San Francisco, with its foreign fog and panoply of diversity, but Music? Ahhhhh, music I knew and my little face instantly began to flush with anticipation.

I looked up at my uncle, who smiled in acknowledgement, and was told he would buy me whatever albums I wanted; the hunt was on. Where to go first?! To find my way, I did what any self-respecting pre-teen would do: I looked to where the older kids (older meaning 16) were congregating. There, in the Rock section, I methodically worked my way through each listening booth. Romeo and Juliet Soundtrack, with Everclear and Radiohead? Check. No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom? Check. Then I went looking for “archival” Bush albums, or…the only other album they had then–Sixteen Stone. After some digging, it was found. Finally! Glycerine was mine to be listened to whenever I desired and I was no longer bound to the whims of KROQ DJs and MTV VJs; I now possessed the total power of recall.

I didn’t know it then, but those few hours spent in Virgin would be a pivotal moment in my short life. These albums went on to define my junior high existence and, in many ways, my world as an adult. Not just the albums themselves, but the process of selection endured to own them. Wandering the infinite aisles of a music megastore; getting lost amongst people at once intimidating and inspiring; and, most importantly, losing my conscious self in a public, shared music education.

Today, I’m a proud resident of San Francisco having shed my Southern California roots a long decade ago. Not surprisingly, in this age of relentless change, none of the commercial landmarks I visited in 1996 remain; no more planet of Hollywood gobeldigook and BLT sandwiches; no more never-ending frightening floors of stuffed mechanized toys that are three-times your size; and, sadly, no more refuge for the lovers of listening. As I sit here now, the monstrous murals that ran the entire circumference of the Virgin Megastore–murals of Hendrix, Joplin and Dylan installed as a reminder of where we’ve musically been and where we can hope to go–are being torn asunder to make way for another Forever 21; slashed to pieces so tweens may have better access to cheap sequin tops.

This, I suppose, is progress at its finest. MTV is known better for its reality television than its music videos. College radio is an endangered species, and Live Nation controls the box office. Copyright is dead, and any asshole with a computer is a self-professed music expert worthy of doling out judgements from a Lazyboy. The death of music may be near, my friends, and ascension of uninformed noise will officiate its funeral. As sad as this is, I try not to dwell. I will always treasure my days of public music exploration, when every main street had a record shop and every mall a music megastore. I will treasure the discovery and the disappointment, the endless hours of browsing without looking at a computer screen. And as days go by, I become a little older, a little less thin and much more grim. But through it all, I still own that same Walkman as I also own the very same copy of Sixteen Stone after all these years. Both things still so tangible and effervescent with what I was, where I was, and who I was with. Which is why I continue to buy vinyl and compact discs, even an occasional cassette tape at Goodwill.

Because there ain’t no goddamn cloud big enough to hold my memories.

Bon Iver, “Blood Bank”

Death creates a sense of manic urgency when it invades, when cemeteries cease to be abstractions and become home to ones you love. Every twitch of sinew is weighted with importance. Waste not, regret not for tomorrow is uncertain; It is No longer guaranteed.

This makes you a martyr fallen on the blade of memory. But only you will know and this is the cross that you will bear. To want so desperately to make your name, but stay exactly as you were when he last saw you should he be fumbling in the dark to find his way back home.

This is your darkest secret. It is the steam that holds the air and surrounds you. Because an “I” has meaning only where a “Thou” is granted; where there is no Alter an Ego cannot be.

The Black Angels, “Young Men Dead”

Teddy Roosevelt is known as many things, but he was perhaps most proud of the title “Colonel.” So enthusiastic was he to prove himself in war, he traded the comfort of a plush leather chair in the office of the Secretary of the Navy for cans of rotten beef in a tropical landscape that would follow him in recurring bouts of malaria for the rest of his life. But for all of its consequences, leading his Rough Riders to victory during the Spanish American War in 1898 was the event which most shaped the renowned former president; it was the event that made him a man.

Which is why Roosevelt had been sounding the call for American involvement in World War I for three solid years by the time the U.S. finally joined the Allied cause in 1917. Much to the chagrin of Woodrow Wilson, once America entered the fray…Teddy wanted in too. He begged the Secretary of War to allow him the honor of assembling a brigade to hurt the Huns, but was rejected; he was, after all, no friend of the administration in line for special favors. Although likely for the best, as his health was rapidly deteriorating, he was heartbroken, knowing his time was near its end and wanting to leave his corpse on the battlefields of Europe.

But the Roosevelt name found its way into headlines nonetheless. For such an avowed war hawk, his sons had no choice but to take their place in the first American wave to the front; Theodore, Jr., Kermit, Archie and Quentin all played their parts. While most of his sons were fit for war, young Quentin the Aviator was not. The youngest at 19, engaged to a Whitney heir and of a sweeter temperament than the rest, he felt compelled to go to war so as not to disappoint his illustrious father.

Disappoint him he did not. Shortly after his squadron was sent to the front, Quentin took two bullets to the head and his airplane dropped from the sky. Buried where he fell by the Germans who found him first, his grave became a fount of courage for Allied soldiers who made a shrine of his temporary resting place.

While he was certainly proud of his heroic progeny, Roosevelt carried the burden of Quentin’s death until his own a short few months later. Which leads one to ponder the musings of Nathaniel Hawthorne from an article titled “Chiefly About War Matters,” which ran in the Atlantic during the Civil War:

“It is a pity that old men grow unfit for war, not only by their incapacity for new ideas, but by the peaceful and unadventurous tendencies that gradually posses themselves of the once turbulent disposition, which used to snuff the battle-smoke of its congenial atmosphere. It is a pity; because it would be such an economy of human existence, if time-stricken people…could snatch from their juniors the exclusive privilege of carrying on war. In cause of death upon the battle-field, how unequal would be the comparative sacrifice! On one part, a few unenjoyable years, the little remnant of a life grown torpid; on the other, the many fervent summers of manhood in its spring and prime, with all that they include of possible benefit to mankind. Then, too, a bullet offers such a brief and easy way, such a pretty little orifice, through which the weary spirit might seize the opportunity to be exhaled!”

In a word, just what Roosevelt wanted.

J. Tillman, “Firstborn”

She realized would never touch the ivory on her mother’s piano again. It, as with all she had known, was fracturing to other places. It had left its place beside the hearth. Far from her reach, Foreign to her sight. Washed clean free of provenance to dwell in a home with no mind for such things.  No longer a gift from her father, who now laid snugly in the ground. No longer there to gather the family ’round.  Another memory gone.

Now just another piece of furniture on which to place a drink.