John and Townes… on a Sad and Sweet Thursday

Trump Crazy Train rolls through day 743…..whatever. Seems an eternity. Plenty of reason to be blue but I refuse to let this fucker ruin my love of life.

Exciting times at work. Busy at least. This particular corporation is more soul-sucking than most, but there is a very low modicum of excitement as we near the culmination of 15 months of hard work. We’ve got teams working all weekend around the globe to make things happen on time.

My favorite team of consultants is moving on. They have done a great job but are being shown the door as part of corporate re-structuring to save money. Ostensibly. I am skeptical. Not how I would have played things, but that’s the decision from the hill. Anyway, I just like hanging out with these folks. Every person on their team is interesting and smart and committed. This means a lot to me. And they always delivered. To an individual, this team has worked harder than anyone else we have. Often 15, 16 or 18 hour days, week after week. They worked weekends and most of their schedule hardships were due to circumstances outside of their control—or put less ambiguously, because we did not have our shit together. The company is Premier. Today I went down and hung out with them in the conference room where they are working for the weekend. We had a lovely chat right up until the next emergency and they had to all spring to action. But it’s a good feeling to me—to keep meeting great people and being able to connect with them.

Matthew – One of my colleagues and friends from Premier

It hasn’t always been rosy; I remember a pretty good row once. I cannot even remember what prompted it, but it likely could have been me not understanding a situation or maybe pushing for too much change too quickly. Anyway, I hate to see them go—on the other hand I am leaving too so that’s that. They often hang out at one of my favorite bars in Chicago so likely our paths will cross again—if not professionally then perhaps at  Monks Pub.

Condo was listed this morning at 10:00am. Had a full price offer by 1:00pm. Accepted the offer and process is underway. Moving always puts me in a mood of reflection. Sweet memories and favorite places mixed with the excitement of what comes next.

Listening to Townes van Zandt—and as always, when hearing him, I remember that mad summer night so many years ago when Errol and I drove across the desert to see Townes play in Challis Idaho in the middle school gym. Any concert in a school gym in a town of 500 people in the middle of a high plains desert is bound to bring an eclectic audience, and that was the case here. I saw many people I had run into over the years listening to live music in one bar or another.  And the epic ride home under the Idaho desert sky, drinking beer and telling stories and laughing while Errol pin-balled between the yellow lines in his VW bus. It’s one of my favorite memories of all time. For some reason, perhaps because Errol’s health was failing so obviously by then, it was clear to me even at that moment that the memory was destined to be a favorite. I knew somehow that was a special moment in time that I would come back to over the years. And always with a few tears for my friendship with Errol and Carla and Kelly and Beverly. Tears of joy and remembrance.

Townes died just the next year or maybe the year after.

Feeling a little reflective as I pack up for another move. Being a nomad must have been so much easier for the San People as they strolled leisurely across the Kalahari with few possessions—except for the constant foraging and hunting and walking in 100 degree heat day after day. But dammit my lifestyle has its challenges too.

Between moves, I always take the time to thin the possessions. Well, in my last move, my ex took the opportunity on my behalf. Still, I like to try to live simply. But I have a hard time divesting myself of certain things. Mostly books, but also clothes and cookware and dishes and nice glassware for drinks.I have a deeply unhealthy attraction to quality beer, wine, and cocktail glassware. I am passionate about serving drinks in exactly the right vessel.

I went through my closet this morning while doing a little packing. Work clothes consist of around 15 long sleeve dress shirts and another 6 – 8 short sleeve shirts. 6 to 7 slacks and a few pairs of jeans. 6 or 8 sport coats. 5 suits. A couple of dozen casual shirts of which I wear 3 or 4. And then I get to vests, sweaters, and of course my treasured ‘Presidential Shirt Company’ shirts and silk jacket. That shit can’t go for sure. Then 25 pairs of shoes or so. I am acutely aware of the dichotomy of a guy who professes to simple desires but who keeps a very respectable shoe collection. I have 7 suitcases and 9 computer bags. And mountains of books. It’s madness.

I find I have a quirky habit in the use of the Oxford comma. My default, when tying fast, is to leave out this comma; but then,  on review, I always put the comma back in. And always I am aware that both uses, with and without the comma, are grammatically correct. I tend to prefer the comma, but always forget it when writing my first draft. I wonder what Nancy Evans has to say about the Oxford comma. I loved Ms. Evans. Great English teacher. Of course I made her life difficult, but she always saw through my bullshit and gave it back to me in her sly way. I credit my love of writing to her encouragement when I had little else in the way of academic interest.

Working tomorrow and Sunday in Command Central on the 7am to 2pm shift. Zach will be with me and he is a star so I am really just there for moral support.

I’m a big big fan of John Steinbeck. Him and Wallace Stegner are my writing heroes.

I was re-reading some favorite Steinbeck passages, trying to digest and absorb the magic, when I came across this letter he had written to his son in ’58.

Among his correspondence is a beautiful response to his eldest son Thom’s 1958 letter, in which the teenage boy confesses to have fallen desperately in love with a girl named Susan while at boarding school. Steinbeck’s words of wisdom—tender, optimistic, timeless, infinitely sagacious—should be etched onto the heart and mind of every living, breathing human being.

New York
November 10, 1958

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First — if you are in love — that’s a good thing — that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second — There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply — of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it — and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone — there is no possible harm in saying so — only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration. Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another — but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.


Author and Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck, early 1960s. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

My god, that man can write. What a way of saying things. Perfect cadence and word selection. Even something so simple as a letter to his son. It’s how language is meant to be used.

Just as Townes van Zandt writes and sing songs they way that music is meant to be used.

As I write, Townes is singing ‘Like a Summer Thursday‘ and one of my favorite Steinbeck books is called ‘Sweet Thursday‘. What is it about Thursdays that brings reflection? Carla gave me a copy of ‘Sweet Thursday‘, perhaps 25 years ago. In the inscription she wrote “one of my favorite books by my friend John. A little bit sweet and a little bit sad“. I remember those words perfectly, because they were so perfect; although I fear I have lost control of that book somehow.

So a good night and fitting ending to a confusing week.

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