Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Birthday Gift

Tumbleweed has done it again.

It was pouring rain Friday when the postman plopped the package down on the drawbridge. I thought about letting it sit there and get rained on, thought about how much my gut hurt and how I really wanted to stay curled up, warm, and dry.

And then I thought: "Ah, but what if it is a birthday gift?" I loves my birthday gifties!

However, my Brother-Units had both been sent strict instructions earlier in the week, on January 18. This is the email to Brother Tumbleweed, who goes by "TW":

hullo tw --

i'm in a low, low place, and waving at you from down here, hoping you're much better than "well."

sam-i-am (a cat) is helping me write this. he has become jealous of the keyboard, jealous of the other felines, just downright jealous.

here's the deal: i am still (and will be for a while) sated from your christmas gift... but i DO have a birthday coming up. that would be the 24th, next sunday.

ever following the lead of miss manners, i am writing to tell you that you had better send me a god-damned birthday card/letter. there will be consequences should you fail to do so. timeliness is not an issue, however. indeed, brother bob has been known to mail my b'day cards in july, calling them "early."

should you, however, try to gift me? big trouble, big problems, you're likely to wish you'd never been born. ha!

and so, dear one, in conclusion: always remember -- and never forget -- that a birthday card is de rigueur, oh so de rigueur.

i shall be waiting by the mailbox.

all my love, and hope --
Retired Educator, prof-de-rien

fred would say "hey," but after deftly tossing a huge bowl of popcorn into the air while performing fancy footwork in an effort not to fall and go boom (he tripped over a wire)? he was banished from the bedroom for saying, "fuck you, shut up!" when i attempted to be of assistance. his banishment will end... shortly. he'd probably say nice things -- he likes you, remember -- but you'll just have to do without until the apology-angel lights upon his shoulder, and gives him an everloving clue...

Curious to know the origin of the box sitting out in the rain, I dragged My Sorry Self down this cold, stony corridor and that gilt and glitzy ballroom, through these medieval digs and those renaissance spaces, passing the postmodern but pausing for the romantic, and retrieved the rapidly disintegrating cardboard vessel.

I discovered TW's response to my email only after I opened his gift:

birthday gal-
if my card isn't there on saturday then look for it monday instead. (the 2-3 day delivery estimate straddled sunday)
good luck trying to out-stubborn a left-handed irish taurus.
congratulations one day early and howdies to fred.

These boxes of his have come to mean the world to me.

What follows is a list of the items contained in the Birthday Gift Box 2010. They are in no particular order:

1. Ken Kesey's Sometimes A Great Notion. I've never read it. The book flops opens to page 134 which happens to contain an explanation of the many personifications of Captain Marvel.


On the title page:

Sometimes I live in the country,
Sometimes I live in the town;
Sometimes I get a great notion
To jump into the' drown.

[From the song, Good Night, Irene by Huddie Ledbetter and John Lomax]

2. Kesey's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. I am going to go out on a limb and say that Kesey was a major influence for TW, as this is the first literary repetition of the two boxes.

I can already hear the Chief, all chatty in his mind's eye: "They're out there. Black boys in white suits up before me to commit sex acts in the hall and get it mopped up before I can catch them..."

3. Okay, so this one brought tears to my eyes. It also served as the germ of the most fascinating conversation The Fredster and I have had in a good while. What is it? The Portable Medieval Reader: The Astonishing World of the Middle Ages brought to life for the modern reader through a rich variety of writings from four centuries... I tell you, that's a work of influence! I cannot remember when I was NOT familiar with it -- which makes me wonder whether TW showed it to me before he up and ran off...

Someone named Peter S. Rich used to own, and scribble in, this book. However, I know that it was a left-handed irish taurus who laughingly flagged this page: The Character and Customs of the Irish, by Giraldus Cambrensis of the Twelfth century. Shit, that shifty irish boy is probably Giraldus' reincarnation.

"I have considered it not superfluous to give a short account of the condition of this nation, both bodily and mentally; I mean their state of cultivation, both interior and exterior. This people are not tenderly nursed from their birth, as others are; for besides the rude fare they receive from their parents, which is only just sufficient for their sustenance, as to the rest, almost all is left to nature..."

Sometimes a book is like an old friend.

4. One birthday card, as politely requested above. The front of the card is from a painting by R. W. Hedge entitled "Symphony," which you, too, can enjoy: here. The cheery inner message is: Hope everything about your day is absolutely grand! Happy Birthday! And TW says, "here's to another successful trip around the sun..."

5. Paris Journal, Volume Three, 1965-1971 by Janet Flanner (Genêt), edited by William Shawn. This is part of the "Letter from Paris" series from the New Yorker. I am very much looking forward to this and cannot imagine why it wasn't included as part of the reader for that seminar I took on 1968. You remember, the seminar in which I was the only one doing the reading? It's not hard to feel like a Grad Student Rock Star in a situation like that. Eventually, J-J took to speaking only to me. Exciting times, exciting times.

A hell of a year for the human world, 1968. I see that on my birthday that year, she notes: The Seine is at flood level. She also relates the thrill of a half hour spent watching a "special weekend TV program called Un Certain Regard, aimed at careful listeners and at minds with serious curiosities... [that featured] the so-called father of structuralist anthropology -- Professor Claude Lévi-Strauss," then at the Collège de France. [pause while I undergo waves of frissons]

She begins her journaling for 1968 with a piece on M. Ingres, who "has come to fame again." There follows wonderful details about the painterly history of Le Bain Turc. [more frissons]

Ingres, long obsessed by the visual richness of the harem, was 82 when he painted Le Bain Turc.

6. One extra-large cotton teeshirt, red, with skull, crossed knife and fork, and the words: Eat the Rich.

7. The following CDs: Pavarotti in Central Park; Daniel Barenboim, Beethoven Sonaten; J. S. Bach Orchestral Suites 3 & 4, Christopher Hogwood, The Academy of Ancient Music; Vivaldi Concerti for viola d'amore, strings, and continuo; Paris Combo; Horowitz Plays Mozart; Claude Debussy, La Mer, Images, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra;

8. A guide to hiking the Inner Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park. I can tell from just the feel of it... He loved it. I am going to use it as I travel through TW's photographs over at American Idyll.

9. [And I laugh with relief, as I had almost given this as a gift to him last year!] The Lost Explorer: Finding Mallory on Mount Everest by Conrad Anker and David Roberts. Okay, so I may have to work to find my interest in mountaineering literature...

10. The Portable Dorothy Parker! Beware oncoming wit.

11. CHESS BLUES -- Chicago and Memphis recordings by Leonard and Philip Chez (americanized to Chess) -- singers and artists who performed first, probably, at The Macomba, then made their way to Leonard's Aristocrat Records. This is an incredible collection: John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Etta James, Hound Dog Taylor (to whom it is all dedicated).

12. Fred is going to snag this as soon as he sees it -- Sinatra: Vegas. Recordings from The Sands, Caesar's Palace, and The Golden Nugget.

Let me restate that: Fred saw it, Fred grabbed it, Fred has found religion.

13. The Complete In A Silent Way Sessions: Miles Davis

14. Canyons of the Colorado by Joseph Holmes, with text excerpted from The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons by John Wesley Powell. A book of photography and reflection.

15. The Clifton Chenier Anthology, Zydeco Dynamite

Clifton Chenier was the undisputed King of Zydeco music. By mixing Cajun and French two-steps and waltzes with blues, R&B and rock and roll, he created the infectious sound of modern zydeco. Chenier was famous for his flashy onstage gear of cape and crown (and natty gold tooth), but it was his creation of joyful, exuberant and highly danceable zydeco music that made him a legend.

16. 4 live cassette recordings of The Grateful Dead

It isn't often I feel complete, my gaps become openings and not wounds. Thank you, Tumbleweed.

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