Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Runt

Hey, friends.  I'm trying something a little different here... short stories. I'd love reader feedback (as always!), but specifically-

1- What emotions did the story make you feel?

2- Shall I keep going?  Of course, I'm continuing to write spiritual memoirs, but something about "true fiction" gives me the freedom to delve into emotional territory that memoir writing must sometimes skirt.

3- Thanks always for reading!  pax, pm

When it’s said of anyone, “they’re closer than brothers”, I tune out.  For one thing, I don’t know too many brothers that are all that close, and for another, I don’t approve of brotherly love.

When Gideon toppled out of my womb, it was with little effort on my part.  The way had been made three years earlier by his older brother Amos, who time would prove to be bigger, stronger, and smarter.

The pattern of Amos making the way clear for Gideon was one that my sons never grew out of.  When the runt needed the elder’s muscle in the playground, all he needed to do was whistle.  Gideon took great joy in prodding older or bigger boys into fights, and then ducking out as Amos dove in head first, fists flailing and curses spewing from his mouth.

The burden of being responsible for someone of no social intelligence is hard to shoulder, especially when the bond is blood.  Somehow, that responsibility left my hands and fell to Amos’ on the day that Gideon came complaining headfirst into the world.

Amos could sing beautifully from the time he started walking.  He paraded around the house, strumming my father’s old Gibson mandolin until the day that he hit on something like a chord.  From that day forward, Amos knew what he was supposed to do with his life.

Tiny Gideon, that simple boy, wasn’t cut out of the same cloth as Amos.  If Amos sounded like the child of Hank Williams, and I’ll take the credit on that, Gideon sounded like the love child of Phyllis Diller and Buddy Hackett- there was nothing glimmering in his voice, and nothing dirty or rusty.  His vocal chords held nothing of the poetry of music, only the notes.

Finding that his brother could squawk out a note, Amos taught him to play guitar, and taught him the harmonies that would befit his hollow sound.  Amos shouldered the burden of having an ordinary brother by helping him to appear talented.  As it happened, it only made Amos shine brighter.

Blessed be the ties that bind, says an old hymn.  But I say it’s a curse to be related to an idiot.  Don’t chide me for my lack of maternal niceties; I am too old to be less than honest.  Death is coming for me like a wise old hound dog, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to walk through the Pearly Gates with a lie tucked behind my lip like some old chaw.  I’m done saying that my boys were good.  They were both no good, and I may have delivered them into this world, but they delivered each other into the evil that has made them bright stars.  Some people make a deal with the Devil, but my sons, and I can hardly bear to call them mine, had each other to make a bargain with.

Amos I have loved, and Gideon I have hated, but Amos made it easier by being the nice son, the diplomat, and the hand shaker.  Gideon was fly in the ointment, a trouble maker, ne’er do well, kicking at the hornet’s nest until it would nearly explode, leaving Amos to pick it up and hurl it into oblivion before anyone else got hurt.

When they visited me in this lime lit room, I couldn’t wait for them to leave.  Neither of them meant anything nice, it occurs to me, but Amos would offer a few polite remarks, counter to Gideon’s badgering.  Gideon would repeat my every word in a mocking fashion, dumbly finding great humor in the remarks I made.  I talked of my pain, and it would bring Gideon great reason to laugh.

Before leaving, they would go to the waiting room and sing to enthused old timers. 

I don’t care if I hear a lick again.

You ask where their father is, and I’ll tell you he’s dead, too, but not before filling their heads with dreams of floodlights and adoring fans.  Fans that old rascal couldn’t begin to count.  Fans he couldn’t even dream about.  His card tricks and hatful of rabbits intrigued them when they were little, and the sexy tramp getting sawn asunder widened their eyes when they were coming of age, but an old magician with stale jokes and writing tear stained postcards from BFE couldn’t hold a candle to boys who could really sing. 

One August night, he made the mistake of unleashing them at ages 9 and 12 on an audience in Bartlesville, and those 13 people wouldn’t let the boys off stage.  Worse, the lit up Okies wouldn’t let him back on.  No trick in the book could undo the thing that he set into motion, and no soothing spirit could lead him to forgive himself for the pride that cometh before a fall. 

The boys were hooked on performing from that moment on. 

No longer did they fight me when I dragged them to the Pentecostal Church on Sundays.  The holy rollers thought it was the Spirit that prodded my boys to spontaneously start singing in the middle of the service, but I knew what was going on; I knew they had to be seen and heard, just like an addict needs to stick a needle in her vein. 

The boys would start singing, and the congregation would urge them on into glory.  “Yes, Lord”, women swooned.  “Hal Lay Lou Ya!” men shouted, and I’ll admit I basked in the glow of my stars.  “They’re touched from above, anointed!”, cried Brother Clay, tears in his eyes, pride shining from his face.  God was going to send my boys out into the world from Brother Clay’s tiny mason block tabernacle to be warriors for Christianity.

Marching as to war, they went.

When they were old enough to drive, they quit school, and took my Buick 6 on the road, playing in every Pentecostal Church in Missouri.  They would play for a “Love Offering”, at which time they would announce, “The Lord just told me someone is going to give us one hundred dollars tonight, Praise God!  Now, who is feeling that call this evening?  Who has had it laid on his or her heart?  Glory to God!  Let’s give a hand to this sweet sister over here!”

Down the highways and up the byways they traveled, sometimes singing their songs in joyous appreciation of each other, and sometimes beating the living shit out of each other.  

Despite all that made up harmonizing, those two hated each other like any right minded Siamese Twin hates the other, one being the host, the other being the parasite.

Yet, when push came to shove, loyalty sprang up like a weed and those two stuck together like glue.  They were closer to each other than they were to the women they married.  They were a team, albeit ill-fated, and they stuck together like glue.

One would never hear of any criticism of the other, no matter how constructive or innocent or even wise.  There was no talking to them.

I must have been alone in knowing that they hated each other.  I saw it from the time Gideon was crawling.  I saw it as he dutifully obeyed his brother, and screeched out the broken notes that would eventually be taken as charming and folksy.  I used to beg Amos to let Gideon to find something to do that was of his own invention, but Gideon was so pitifully stupid that I finally accepted that the Good Lord had blessed him with a watchdog and shepherd all in the person of his older brother.

After 13 years of being Gospel stars in tents all over the South, Amos pulled their station wagon to the side of the road one night, got out, said “Try life without me” to Gideon, and stepped into the path of an oncoming Greyhound.

With Amos gone, Gideon needed to find a new place for his shadow.  He moved into my house, lived on my social security, and expected me to pick up where I’d left off all those years ago. 

Nobody wants to hear a broken harmony part without the melody shoring it up, but sing to me he does every afternoon, if you can call it singing.  “I come to the garden alone” he pipes away, and that’s where I want to be- in a garden alone.

As he leaves, a nurse smiles and tells me what a wonderful boy I raised.   “He’s very talented”, I say with a smile.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


From about the time she turned 40, my mother has been scouring the obituaries.  It used to amuse me; her first glimpse of the day's news being the Bad News.  She breathes in as she announces the name of the departed.  She breathes out a heavy sigh.
The subtle wind she stirs is, in my mind, a prayer.
Now that I'm older than she was then, I get it, which is not to say that I scour the obits, but just to say that as time goes on, the likelihood of recognizing someone in the column increases.
Death can hit us in many ways, but nothing is so shattering as witnessing someone who has lost their child.  It seems so unfair when young life is cut short, and parents left grieving.
One week in Nashville, good friends lost their son Chris to cancer.  He was 40- the same age as my mother when she started paying attention to the obituaries.  Two weeks before they lost Chris, they lost their one remaining mother.  It was a plumb hard season for these two friends.
Up North, my friend John was asking friends to send their energy, prayers, and hopes out to his twenty-something son who was struggling with cancer.  John, a fellow musician, texted me "Your prayers are helping!", which of course I hoped was true.  
I prayed earnestly that their son would be healed.  If nothing else, I hoped John and his loved ones would find mercy and peace in this worst of scenarios.  
At the same time, my buddy Dave, who had been in remission from cancer for a few years, had given me notice that "it" was back.  He was in the inferno again, dreading the treatment, wary of the difficult journey that lay before him.  
He spoke with a tone that was blunt and weary, and it made me sad to think of my good pal suffering as he was. 
We finally managed to get some face time together at Fido’s a local coffee joint in Nashville. 
As is our way, we got down to it pretty quickly.  I asked him about the process, and he detailed the next few months of the ordeal he was about to enter.  Tubes and stem cells and ports, constant sterilization of this, that, and the other are evocative of a world we can't control. 
He said that it would be several months at best since we’d get the chance to visit; he was facing quarantine, and surgery, and chemo. 
I wasn’t sure I could go through with all the messing with my body, I told him, but who’s to say that a year of misery won’t beget another quarter century of good living?  Whatever one does in this situation requires extraordinary bravery.
I recall my friend Tom, whose spirit suddenly left his body in the snow on a hiking trail on a few years ago.  A few weeks before his departure, he had told someone he was ready to go, and I remember thinking, “Who thinks this way at 60 years old?”  I was 57, I think.
Well, now I’m 61.  And I don’t look forward to going forward into the Great Beyond any time soon, but neither do I want to live as long my mother has- still ticking away at 92.  Her one good eye is starting to fail and she’s slowing down, but she talks about having another decade in her. 
Dad was 84 when he checked out of this world, but I think he was 70 when his mind checked out of his healthy body, and I’d be a big, fat liar if I said that I don’t wonder about getting Alzheimer’s like he did.
I feel just fine, and if something is really wrong with me, I don’t want to know just yet.  And yes, if some almighty boot descends from on high and snuffs my light out, I’m ready, I guess, to reignite elsewhere, hopefully in the presence of Almighty Love.  I enjoy life as I know it, with all its difficulties and blessings.  Perhaps the next life will be even more exciting, but it's hard to imagine Paradise being interesting when all the drama will be back here on Planet Earth.
All of the fighters I’ve mentioned above have taken drastic steps to keep their feet planted on this earth, and I can’t blame them.  There are babies to behold, songs to unfold, hands to hold, and anniversaries to go gold.  I didn’t mean to rhyme, by the way, but there you go. 
Once, I was producing a rock’n’roller named James Clay.  He was an amazing singer, and probably still is, although I’ve completely lost track of him.  He came, as many great singers do, from a Pentecostal background.  He knew how to hoop and holler and tongue-talk, and he could sing like Mahalia Jackson and Bono all wrapped up into one longhaired, redneck package. 
I liked James a lot, and we had a great time working together, mining for the right stones on which to build his musical house.
One day I was looking at his lyrics and there was a line that said if he didn’t audibly speak his prayers, God was incapable of hearing them.  I took issue with the idea, but he was stalwart in his faith that that was how it was.  With so many voiceless people on our planet, I argued, that idea is plumb cruel... religious.
I think we are built to pray, and that we are created to commune with God to the point that our very breathing is accomplishing good things beyond what we’re conscious of.  We breathe in God by taking in the oxygen God created.
I go so far as to assume that our humming, our smiling, our tears, and everything that emanates from our emotive beings is a prayer, even when we might be expressing an excruciatingly painful denial of God’s existence.
We pray with our ears.
Every time I listen to my friend John’s music, I remember to pray for his son, and for all those who love him.  And frankly, that is quite often, because I do love John’s music.
We pray with our sorrows.
I think often of Chris’ parents, and the gaping hole in their hearts, and yet a hole so large means someone wonderful occupied their lives, and there’s something indeed profound about that.
We pray with our joys.  My meeting with Dave was littered with laughter, along with a tear or two, as we recalled how the road of our music making has bonded us.
We pray in our solitude.  
I don't pray with the idea God will do exactly as I've asked, but I do pray with the belief that God is capable of intervening in this weathered old world of ours.  I believe God Almighty is more involved than empirical evidence suggests, but it doesn't make me feel better when tragedy happens.
So, I sing out a gypsy prayer.  It changes shape, traveling along the highway of God’s veins, wandering in hopes of finding a good place to land.  It might be literal babble from an uninformed tongue, letting go and letting God.  Or it might be a succession of notes spit off my old Gibson guitar.  Often my prayer is silent but thoughtful; I’m thinking the words, but not saying them audibly.  Sometimes they are spoken as curtly and black and white as a grocery list in hopes that God is my personal delivery man.
Today, my prayer is a litany of first names, breathed in and breathed out.
Kyrie Eleison.

Sunday, May 19, 2013



This weekend found me digging holes in my Southern Born Woman’s backyard. 

She likes to garden, and has kept up with a small patch of wonderland for quite some time now.  For a while, she employed an Irishman with a green thumb (what else?) who would get down and dirty, weeding and turning the ground over so that she could plant to her heart’s content. 

But Sean, as he was called, disappeared one season, never to be heard from again. 

 So, naturally, I volunteered.  All I asked for in exchange for my shovel skills was a tomato pie.  She makes a damn fine pie.

We got to our task in the late morning, dodging a few threats of rain until our determination won out.  Our break came in the form of a trip to the Nashville Farmers Market where she picked out a few roses and some leafy things the names of which I can’t remember.  What I do know is whatever we planted was perennial.  If everything goes well, our work might pay off for years, and make her backyard world more beautiful as time passes.

Back to her garden we went, digging holes and mixing plant food until a late lunch gave us another break.  We had made plans with our friends Don and Leslie and their brand new baby, who (like the leafy things) has a name that’s momentarily lost on me.  If I were a more careful self editor, I’d come back later and deal with this bit of old agedness, alas, that’s not me.  But that little boy has the most lovely disposition, I must say.  And the bluest eyes.

New life is everywhere.

Today, our GPS barked out directions as we headed to another couple’s home on the other side of Nashville. 

Eddie and Corinna are expecting.  Actually, their C-section is this Wednesday, so the word “expecting” is slightly understated.

In what might be their last opportunity to entertain for the next 13 years or so, Eddie and Corinna prepared a beautiful brunch for a few friends.  I had never met any of the other folks, but we all united under the same umbrella, waiting for a rain of blessings into their home and life.

Our visit culminated in the nursery, all pink and cheery, with friendly owls on the walls and a mobile of butterflies hanging from the ceiling.  In that small space we were asked to speak or pray a blessing into their life in these short moments before their new daughter is born.

The expectant mother said, “I hope this world is becoming a better place; it is, isn’t it?  If nothing else, I hope that Millie arrives and makes it better”. 


New life is everywhere, even in a mother’s hope that our crazy, insane world is improving. 

As she said, all this world really has is the hope of a new life, a baby, for example.

No wonder there are those who speak of being “born again”!  New life, new chances, new reasons to hope; this is the bounty a newborn often brings with it. 

We got back to my Southern Born Woman’s garden, and sipped ice tea, surveying the handiwork of color splashing red, pink, orange in an otherwise verdant jungle.  She pulled a few springs of mint from a potted plant and put them in our tea.

I've been a parent for over two decades, but I still remember the days of expectancy, and the first seasons of a new baby.  One can't forget their wide eyes, their innocent coos, their sheer optimism, and their belief that you, the dad or the mom, are going to give them the most beautiful life.

Well, children, we try.  And we hope.  And then we pass the torch to you.  And the process repeats.

New life is everywhere.

I sipped my tea.

I thought about the little blue eyed charmer we had picnicked with yesterday, and the long expected child due this Wednesday, and at this moment they’ve fulfilled Corinna’s wish~ they’ve already made the world a better place.

New life is everywhere.

Friday, May 17, 2013


I have been sitting for the last 8 hours.  I wish I could say that my posterior has been in a first class seat on its way to London.  Or that it's been on the back of some sturdy palomino taking me on a leisurely ride in, I don't know, Zion National Park.  Or that it's been seated altruistically across from people who could benefit from a visit from me- my mother, a stranger, a friend.

But no, my bee hind has been planted in a hard chair in my home as I've stared at a screen (the one I'm staring at right now), Tweeting, Googling, and Facebooking.  These terms are quite new, but frequently employed in this screen oriented age we live in.

I forgot to mention "blogging", and that's obviously what I'm doing in this moment.  I'm also watching the clock because I've got an appointment in 40 minutes.

I've got a book coming out on June 11 called God On The Rocks; Distilling Religion, Savoring Faith from Jericho books, and a CD called "pm" coming out around the same time.  And the only way you can market anything these days is to blog, tweet, and FB about it.

But I've got something else up my sleeve.

I want to get away from the screen, and connect with human beings in non-virtual places.

I need a road trip.

If I'm going to be seated, I'm thinking it needs to be in a car. If you've been reading my blog, you know I love old Fords, particularly Falcons, particularly Falcon station wagons, and even more particularly, Falcon Country Squire wagons- you know the car- it's got fake wood sides.

I just gave my old Infiniti SUV to one of my daughters.  And I'm driving a 2001 Lexus sedan.  It's got a lot of pep, and I've even road tripped a bit with it.  But the romance isn't there.  The only Japanese car that contains any road romance to it is perhaps a Toyota FJ60, the cool mid '80s SUV.  With lousy seats.

And we can't have that, because I think this blog is about sitting.

I'm not all that patriotic, but nothing really compares to American cars, at least if you're writing a story.

So, this summer, after I get back from Norway (I know, I know... what a life), I want to hit every bookstore and listening room from Savannah to Boston, and I want to drive.  I've got books and CDs to hawk, and I've also got to start another book.

Why not write my next one on the road?  Now that God On The Rocks is about to be in print, I need to follow it up with more stories about real life, and where better to find those stories than on the highways and byways.

Are you with me?  Anyone want a lift?

I'm thinking of seeing the East Coast through the windshield of a Ford Flex.  Seems like the closest thing I'm going to find to an old Falcon wagon, where all my early road trips started.  Boxy and nostalgic looking without being really stupid looking like a PT Cruiser.  Sounds good to me.  As long as it's black.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Hey Folks!

Happy New Year!

I'm happy to tell you that I'm in full swing with my forthcoming book "God On The Rocks: Distilling Religion, Savoring Faith" and continuing to perform songs from Mercyland: Hymns For The Rest Of Us.  Upcoming Nashville dates include February 6 and 7.  More on that later.  You can follow me at Twitter and on Facebook.

Big news- I am also working on a solo CD and I know many of you will want to be a part of the process.  As always, thanks for your support!

Please visit my Kickstarter page and find out how you can be involved with my music.

Thanks, and have a great year!

Blog forthcoming!  I promise.