At Twilight

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Location: Midwest, United States

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Moon Song

Followed your road till the sky ran out
Followed your love till love was in doubt
Followed your love till it never really was at all
Feeling stupid and hollow
Now the moon's gonna follow me home
Waited for you till the snow fell down
Over my skin like a thin nightgown
Waited for you but you never came around at all
Waited for you till they pulled the plug
Bartender emptied out his big tip jug
They swept all the floors
Vacuumed the rugs and went home
Drank all I could swallow
Now the moon's gonna follow me home

Time go easy on me tonight
I'm one of the lost sheep alright
Take what you must, take what you must
Of what I've lost as I have roamed

Let the moon follow me home

Followed your tears with a washing pail
Followed your story, I followed your tail
I followed you straight through the
Doors of your jail cell, too
Followed your voice in the darkness soft
A wind came through and carried it off
I followed your love till it never really was at all
Drank all I could swallow
Now the moon's gonna follow me home
Drank all I could swallow
Now the moon's gonna follow me home
Drank all I could swallow
Now the moon's gonna follow me home

Patty Griffin

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Monday, April 13, 2009

From the Ghetto

I come from a ghetto. No...No...Where I came from is nothing like Cabrini-Green in Chicago, Harlem, East LA, or Warsaw (circa 1940-1943). No, I’ve been spared true suffering. I am most grateful for that.

Still, I am a child of a ghetto...and all ghettoes are much the same.

I grew into my adolescence in the Lithuanian ghetto on Chicago’s south side. Like all ghettoes, the Lithuanian enclave had defined boundaries. Within that hotly defended perimeter, Lithuanian families tried to make sense of their suffering, their losses and exile. They tried to replicate the life they once knew. But a ghetto is not/cannot be benign. The community these refugees established reflected the sorrowful truths of the residents’ existence. They were mortally wounded, exiled from their motherland, stripped of their dignity and reduced to beggary. Prosperous doctors became histologists. Actors became janitors (or house-painters). The formerly wealthy were penniless.

The main thoroughfare through the heart of the ghetto was lined with taverns. Each night, the barstools would prop up the broken, the shattered, the despondent and the crazed. The patrons would bequeath their paltry paychecks to the barkeep before stumbling home to beat on a spouse or a child. I know what that means and
I've seen what that does. Perhaps that’s why all of my closest friends came from the ghetto, too. We all know (and understand) the stories.

Many years later, as a man with silvered temples, too far along in life to change course, I realized something fundamental about life in a ghetto: There are no dreams.

There are no dreams.

Oh, make no mistake, there were dreams...once. Many of the ghetto-dwellers once clutched their dreams within their grasp. But dreams don’t stand a chance against brutality, destruction and death. And so these shattered dreamers came to seek comfort within a community of sufferers in a land so very far from their very own. They no longer spoke of dreams. Simply survival. Nor did they speak of dreams to their children.

And the children never came to understand the beauty and the power of dreams.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Dental Record

Well, it’s happened again. Another molar cracked...then shattered. Verily, I am disintegrating.

Of that, there can be no doubt.

Sometime in the coming days I will be fitted with yet another crown. Another glint of gold when I smile. That’s neither a horrible fate nor a tragic handicap. It’s just a golden smile and I can deal with that (as long as I don’t encounter some crazed Midas in a dark back alley in remote Romania brandishing a sturdy set of vise-grips).

Once again, a dentist will set up shop within the confines of my gums. I guess you could say that I am quite conversant in the ways of “modern dentistry”. My education began quite early. My teeth fascinate me (in ways only teeth can). My upper incisors are identical to my father’s. My lower incisors mirror my mother’s. Unfortunately, my mother seemingly passed along a “cavity” gene. You see, her teeth disintegrated did mine. A credible argument may be made that her condition (ergo, mine) reflected a half-decade of malnourishment (prior/during/after my conception). That’s quite possible. Even my “baby teeth” crumbled to dust before they could be ejected. Oh, yes. I met my first dentist early.

Lucky me.

I’ve ALWAYS benefitted from advances in dentistry. Granted, my first recollection of a dentist’s drill is of a Rube Goldberg contraption consisting of pulleys and frayed, braided cords that whirled, twisted and screeched valiantly to spin the satanic device we call a “drill bit” sans benefit of a cooling water spray or the blessed relief of a nerve block to mask the pain. Modern dentistry in the 1950’s left a bit to be desired. Still, it was better than hand-augers, pliers and awls, no?
I was told I have a “high tolerance for pain".

Lucky me.

Things got better in the 60’s. Oh, my teeth were rotting as fast as ever...faster... encouraged (in no small part) by poor eating, sleeping and dental hygiene habits. My wisdom teeth had to go...and fast!
I’m tearfully grateful for the anesthetics and the pain-killers. Truly, tearfully grateful.

The 70’s were more my style. I had a dentist who piously subscribed to the “no pain” school of dentistry. He would slap a nitrous oxide mask on me before I even settled into the chair. He’d administer a topical anesthetic before he injected the “juice”. He had me in stitches before the third injection could even take effect. He was THE FUNNIEST human being I have EVER met. I laughed my way through cleanings and fillings, even easing up on brushing and flossing so that I’d have an excuse to pay the man another visit.

Change comes, as change must. I found gainful employment in another suburb far, far away. It was then that I stumbled into the office of a kindred spirit. A dentist my age, who loved music first and dentistry second. I felt right at home. He was a “conservative” man, less apt to toss around drugs like party favors. OK. He wasn’t perfect. But he was diligent, meticulous and conscientious. He played a five-string banjo in a band. He wore a silver bracelet (as do I). We’d talk about music and playing in bar bands and we’d laugh at all the shared memories, as we filled, capped and crowned our way to friendship.

Fast forward to the present. My musician/dentist/friend retired.
I moved far, far away. My dental hygienist found a new home in a “modern” dental practice consisting of a quartet of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young dentists. I remain loyal to my hygienist who’s scraped and vaporized and buffed her way into my affections over the course of a decade. She knows my story. I know hers. She’s seen me with short hair and long. As a powerful professional and as a lost soul.
I drive two hours to see her every four months. After she is finished purtifying my smile, she hands me to her young dentists and they go to work with their modern methods and modern tools. I feel no pain.

I feel no connection.

I had my teeth cleaned just a week or two ago. Had a coupla fillings replaced, too. I didn’t know that silver/mercury amalgam fillings have given way to chemical resins and UV hardening! Cool. My amalgam fillings are about ten years past their “past due” date, anyway. I’m going epoxy!

Well, long story short, I’ll get to see my hygienist and my “wet-behind-the-ears” dentist, again, this week. I’m sure I’ll walk away non-plussed. Life has gotten easy (within the confines of my mandibles, anyway).

Just one more thing...I mentioned to my young, bright-eyed dentist that I kinda missed the nitrous oxide.

Well, you know...” intoned my highly-trained professional, “no matter how good the mask, the nitrous oxide still escapes...and dentists ended up inhaling that stuff all day long.”


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