Friday, June 17, 2011

Postcards from the Attic

It's time for a new approach to these dispatches. I've felt that since last November, having looped a year in smallish increments of, and about, time, and since then haven't been sure how or even whether to proceed. Longer essays? More personal memoirish stuff?  The news? Peevish, curmudgeonly diatribes against the improper use of so? Back to the threnody of crickets? Sure. Maybe. All five. I dunno. Communication just really needs its own entry in the big book. A nest among the talking drums, smoke signals, semaphores, and sky writers. So: blog. A blog can be a private mumble in a windowless writer's booth or a rooftop soliloquy to an audience of chimney swifts and chimney sweeps and chimney pots (I'm thinking of that steeple in Rye, England, with a vast view of Victorian brick houses and the river winding its way to the sea the way I once imagined Puddleby-on-the-Marsh in the Doctor Dolittle books).
I will settle for postcards from the attic. I write in a small room on the top floor of a three-story house in Arlington, Massachusetts. It is, I understand, a finished attic, with three rooms, a bathroom, and a corridor. You can see what it used to look like in the storage room where a hodgepodge of luggage, New Yorkers, old computers, creative incunabula, a stuffed llama, an introspective telescope, and other keepsakes for their own sake discourage entry.  In these holus-bolus surroundings, I will henceforth allow myself loftish indulgences on any subject, or at least the self-selected ones that appear in the Pez dispenser of my brain, beginning with a robin in the rain.

It's outside the window, a house or two up Allen Street. No, it just moved. I think I can still hear it, a bold shorthand of looping chirrups along a line like spring's stenographer. And it's not raining now, but it was. It's somber and windy and the maple is tossing and waving its green leaves like jazz hands. Now the robin is gone, and the gap has been filled by passing planes, a persistent house sparrow, and the radio, echoey hammering, and expostulations of the construction crew working on the house next door. And the whistling wind.


Yesterday I was thinking a lot about Vancouver, where I lived in the 70s and 80s. Being now in Boston, I had two teams in the Stanley Cup finals. And though I didn't mind that the Bruins had prevailed over the Canucks, I spent anxious hours yesterday glued to the Vancouver Sun website, following the latest updates about the rioting that had befallen my old city like a destructive man-made tornado. What feeds the need to destroy? What is that hunger for mayhem that events with large crowds make enticingly available? I  got no further than the question. But I felt better when for some reason I thought of Al Simmons. What's Al Simmons up to? I wondered.

I first encountered Al Simmons at the Vancouver International Children's Festival, maybe in 1977 or so. He was and still is a children's entertainer, tall, lanky, bespectacled--kind of goofy-looking in a very genial, likeable way. What I most remember was his eye test. Wearing a long lab coat onstage, he pointed to an easel printed with rows of letters and numbers. And promptly began to lead us in a sing-along: I M 4 U, S I M, S I M, I N 10 2 B 4 U 4 F R... (say it to yourself and you'll hear the rebus) It was so spontaneous, so unexpected,  so cheering, that it remains an enduring spike of happiness, 34 years later.

I must have been a volunteer at that festival, because I remember going up to Al Simmons (who was carrying around an infant at the time) in some room where refreshments were being served, and telling him how much I loved that song. He thanked me and told me it had been Jack Paar's theme song on his old TV talk show, which I didn't know.

Al lives in Winnipeg, I think. Maybe he did then and still does. There are a lot of reassuring videos of Al Simmons, young and old, on YouTube, including a great one of Al doing the foxtrot in a Dancing with the Celebrities show. And you can even hear I M 4 U on his CD, Celery Stalks at Midnight. Good on ya, Al, as Peter Gzowski used to say.

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