Ticket To Ride, Chapter 21: Life is happening to everyone…

1963 Meet The BeatlesTherapy Session Four

“What about your father Morgan?” asked Dr. Nolan

“You know I think I’m ok with him… I’ve been thinking of things he and I did when I was a kid and things he did…”

“Like?” she asked.

“Like when I fell out of my bunkbed when I was nine and we were pretty far from the hospital.”

“And?”

“And well… the heat of the small cab of the truck mixed with the smell of old socks and souring buttermilk made me want to throw up. My father sensed my unease and opened the wing window. The churning lessened, but as it did, the pain in my head came back tenfold; the same way the buttermilk at first eased Uncle Rex’s scotch-induced ulcer, then turned on him.

I was a little more than nine and the night before, my cousin, four years my senior, had let me have the top position in our bunk beds. It was one of those early triumphs, an epiphany, the sort of thing that would only be eclipsed later in my life by events like getting my driver’s license, falling in love, getting laid and turning twenty-one and having my first legal drink.”

Dr. Nolan smiled.

“I’d climbed the ladder slowly, savoring my ascent to glory, like one of my childhood heroes who’d summitted the Citadel; then the sweet sleep of the conqueror. But by 3:00 in the morning, restless in the sleep of the victor and a dreaming celebration, I‘d managed to roll off the edge. Those three feet or so of sleepy weightlessness must have been blissful to my subconscious. Wham! A formica desk broke my path downward. A couple of inches to the south and I would’ve cleared it and landed, much more comfortably onto some of that ‘thick pile’ shag carpeting.

Uncle Rex finished his buttermilk and threw the empty carton on the floor of the truck. His stomach cooled a bit temporarily but then went into overdrive. His face said it burned and he said ‘Damn stomach!’ and I was startled and couldn’t help but shit in my pants. And this movement on the far end of my digestive tract prompted a surge from my stomach.

I remember saying ‘I’m gonna throw up.’

Uncle Rex pulled over in time for my father to carry me clear of the truck. I bent over and puked in the tall, dry Northern California grass then felt a sudden sense of well-being.”

“On vacation in California?” Dr. Nolan asked.

“Yeah… middle of nowhere.

Then my father asked if I was all right?

I told him I felt better.

Rex threw out an old towel which from there to the hospital served as a makeshift pair of pants, an outfit I wouldn’t have to duplicate until years later when, on a late night surf trip to Seaside Park, a few wiseasses thought it would be cute to separate my friends and I from our pants while we were out surfing.

I saw a deer and asked my dad if he saw it too. I remember he said ‘Yes,’ sounding relieved, he didn’t think I could see.” He looked over at Rex, then pulled me a little closer. He’d woken to a screaming child, his bloodied son reaching around in a dark room trying to find the door.

For the first time since the fall, he was assured I hadn’t lost my sight. And for the first time in that long hour, I felt like everything was going to be okay.

I’m his only son. And looking back I can appreciate what he must have felt. That morning, in that sour-smelling truck, on that little mountain road, in the hour from Uncle Rex’s horse ranch to Sebastapol, my father and I had nothing of greater importance in our lives than one another. And for the rest of our vacation, the bottom bunk was just fine…

… that’s the way I like to look back now.”

“You and your dad are connected despite his anger.”

“Yeah… I mean… when I was little he came in and out of being cool. But now, just the cool stuff is sticking…

… I realize now that life is happening to everyone…

and though I know the connotation here might be that we are somehow victims…

what’s important is how to take hold of it?

How many times did you try or thought you were trying only to come full circle?”

“A lot.” Dr. Nolan answered.

“Life is happening to everyone… but like the little girl who knows the right time to move into the circle of the turning rope, there seems to be a space in time wherein you can join in and jump.

When I was a little boy I had a blue Schwinn “Stingray.” It had training wheels and I had wavy, dirty-blonde hair smoothed back with Vitalis. It was spring, 1963, in Portland, Maine. I was four and, down the street, Miss Summer’s garden, which seemed to encompass the known world, was in full bloom; wildflowers and bees, pollen and posies.

That Christmas I would stumble across the hiding place for presents. And I would, for the first time, feel a certain sense of unease about the world; how what was, may not be. This bit of uncovering wouldn’t be fully realized until several years later when, on Christmas Eve and needing to pee, I caught my father stuffing Christmas stockings with candy. It seemed we both felt the loss at the same moment; he mine, I his, me mine, he his. I don’t recall either of us saying anything. Just eyes meeting, his mouth slightly open, neither of us breathing, the fantasy dimmed. The holiday became something else. Belief became dependent on faith, not holy faith, but the faith that warms the motions we go through in ritual. When the veil’s lifted you can either smile or deny. I turned away for a while.

At age seven we took the training wheels off of my bike. My father held the seat and ran behind me. I could feel how his hand steadied the bike. My hands sweated against the blue plastic handle-grips. My eyes didn’t want to look beyond the handlebars but I was aware of the old maples that lined the street and all of the houses of all of my neighbors moving by me. And my best friend, having already learned this, sat comfortably on her pink girls bike, leaning against the curb.

‘I’m gonna let go,’ my father said.

‘No,’ I replied in a voice that seemed small to me and probably even smaller to my father.

‘You’ve got it,’he said as he let go.

I could feel myself pedaling wildly now. The handlebars struggling back and forth.

Leaning. Gravity. Crash.

My father caught up with me and reached down to help me up.

‘You OK little man?’ he said.

‘I guess…’ I said

‘You did well kid. C’mon let’s try again.’ he said.”

 

“Nice story Morgan. Keep the good stuff,” said Dr. Nolan.

In Search of Beauty

muralha1

In Chapter 15 of Ticket to Ride, Morgan finds himself in the town of Lagos, Portugal; frustrated in his search for beauty and truth:

“Once, I wandered around the entire diameter of the town trying to picture it when all that existed was the part of it contained within the old walls; very insular and very much counter to modern sprawl. The new architecture outside of the center was some bastardized, watered down, low-budget version of true workmanship.”

“You just shouldn’t f___ with perfection,” I said to a couple of tourists, snapping away with their camera, she, in a flowery summer dress and a floppy hat and he, in loose trousers, a sport shirt and loafers.

They looked startled, as if I’d woken them up.

“What d’ya mean then?” the guy replied, with an English accent.

“Within the walls there was a plan. Outside it’s just sprawl… f___ing sprawl… should’ve just left it alone.”

The guy furrowed his brow, “Been to Mulligan’s Pub then?,” changing the subject.

“I know, accentuate the positive… when life hands you lemons…“

“Make lemonade,” the girl finished, sneaking a smile, “have you been to Mulligan’s?”

“… pucker and frown first, it makes your sugar-driven smile so much the sweeter…” I said to the girl.

“But about Mulligan’s,” said the guy, getting impatient.

“… and when you laugh,” I said, looking now at the guy, “try not to feel like a jackass or a mindless hyena.”

“Look mate, I just asked about Mulligan’s.”

“Place is like flypaper.”

“Right then, cheers.”

“See ya ‘round.” I said smiling.

They walked away, looked at each other incredulously, exchanged a few words, looked back at me, and quickened their pace.

I turned away and walked along the main street which lead out of town and into the orange groves. There were workmen there, tapping stones into the dirt, one by one, making a sidewalk in the old manner. The sun was hot on their backs and the care they took in placing each stone seemed to me to be somehow honorable and charming but very tedious and tiring at the same time. They were dressed in heavy canvas work clothes and were sweating heavily. The whole thing led to what would be some big resort. If the charm of the town wasn’t dead already, it would be soon. These guys would never stay there. Lucky if they could afford a drink there. [end of excerpt]

Explanation

Something of an antiquarian, Morgan sees very little in the modern world that appeals to his aesthetic sensibility. It was in this vein that I wrote the following short piece for a local newspaper a while back. And it is because I share this sentiment with Morgan that I enjoy visiting the nearby city of Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara has managed to fuse the old with the new in a manner that celebrates the old while gently incorporating the new. It has a center at State Street, and from there, continues in all directions like reflective ripples from a fountain.

A Retreat from the Desolation of Urban America

by philip scott wikel

In days of old, architecture was considered one of the fine arts. One’s home, one’s church and even one’s place of employ could be looked at with a sense of pride and appreciation of the human ability to create beauty out of lumber, stone, concrete or brick. One’s eyes would first be drawn to the foundation and then up along its facade, then still higher to it’s roof line. People would stand in awe and reverence because buildings could be seen as the tangible equivalent of poetry. And then came the utlitarianism of the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s. And now, when one drives down a street like Thompson Boulevard in mid-town Ventura, the stark, square, stuccoed ugliness repels the eye and the soul and one is inclined to push harder on the gas pedal in a retreat from the desolation of urban America.

Note: I wrote this about 7 or 8 years ago and have since seen, what I feel, is something of  a general improvement in community architectural projects. Even so, I believe there’s still a great deal of room for the improvement of our public places. Much like us, our towns and cities need a center. And out from there a homogenous whole. Homogeneity often creates harmony, and we could use a little harmony now and then.

los-lugares-abandonados-mas-bellos-del-mundo-7A Final note:

While I loved Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and the celebration of the independent spirit embodied in her protagonist Howard Roark, it might be time to try to get back to a collective vision of beauty. That, of course, is only possible if we haven’t already strayed so far from traditional beauty as to be able to agree on what form it may take. Nature and Natural Forms might be a good start. Nature doesn’t try to be beautiful, it just is. We could use something we can all agree upon nowadays.

What do you think? I’d love to hear it.

Not Holy Faith #longreads

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Intro to Not Holy Faith

Here’s another from my childhood. It’s about letting go and growing up; growing up in the best sense of the phrase (not the growing up that makes you hard and cold), but the growing up that embraces change and looks forward to the freedom found therein.

As always, your comments are welcome.

not holy faith

by philip scott wikel

Life is happening to everyone.
The connotation of this statement might be that we are somehow victims.
How to take hold of it?

How many times have you tried or thought you were trying only to come full circle. Life is happening to everyone. But like the little girl who knows the right time to move into the circle of the turning rope, there seems to be a process wherein you can join in and jump.

I was once a little boy with a blue Schwinn “Stingray.” It had training wheels and I had wavy, dirty-blonde hair smoothed back with Vitalis. It was spring 1970, Goshen, New York. I was four and, down the street, Miss Summer’s garden, which seemed to encompass the known world, was in full bloom; wildflowers and bees, pollen and posies.

That Christmas my brother would show my sister and I the hiding place for presents. And I would, for the first time, feel a certain sense of unease about the world; how what was, may not be. This bit of uncovering wouldn’t be fully realized until nearly seven years later when, on Christmas Eve and needing to pee, I caught my father stuffing Christmas stockings with candy. It seemed we both felt the loss at the same moment; he mine, I his, me mine, he his. I don’t recall either of us saying anything. Just eyes meeting, his mouth slightly open, neither of us breathing, the fantasy dimmed. The holiday became something else. Belief became dependent on faith, not holy faith, but the faith that warms the motions we go through in ritual. When the veil’s lifted you can either smile or deny. I turned away for a while.

At age seven we took the training wheels off of my bike. My father held the seat and ran behind me. I could feel how his hand steadied the bike. My hands sweated against the blue plastic handle-grips. My eyes didn’t want to look beyond the handlebars but I was aware of the old maples that lined the street and all of the houses of all of my neighbors moving by me. And my sister, having already learned this, sat comfortably on her banana seat leaning against the curb.

“I’m going to let go,” my father said.

“No,” I replied in a voice that seemed small to me and probably even smaller to my father.

“You’ve got it,” he said as he let go.

I could feel myself pedaling wildly now. The handlebars struggling back and forth.

Leaning. Gravity. Crash.

My father caught up with me and reached down to help me up.

“You OK little man?”

“I guess.”

“You did well kid. C’mon let’s try again.”

That Sonoma Autumn #longreads

sonomaIntro to That Sonoma Autumn:

This is a true story from my youth. My family and I had just moved to Northern California from New York. We lived for a few months on a horse ranch in Sonoma County, 18 miles from Cazadero, and more than an hour from the nearest hospital. Uncle Rex, the local sheriff, had just lost his best friend in a bank robbery/gun shootout and was hitting the sauce pretty hard.

I re-wrote this piece for Ticket to Ride and it is now part of Morgan Blake’s childhood. He relates this story to his therapist in the latter part of the book.

As always, your comments are welcome.

that sonoma autumn

by philip scott wikel

The heat of the small cab of the truck mixed with the smell of old socks and souring buttermilk made me want to throw up. My father sensed my unease and opened the wing window. The churning lessened, but as it did, the pain in my head came back tenfold; the same way the buttermilk at first eased Uncle Rex’s ulcer, then turned on him.

I was a little more than nine and the night before, my brother, four years my senior, had let me have the top position in our bunk beds. It was one of those early triumphs, an epiphany, the sort of thing that would only be eclipsed later in my life by events like getting my driver’s license, falling in love, and turning twenty-one and having my first legal drink.

I had climbed the ladder slowly, savoring my ascent to glory, like one of my childhood heroes who had summitted the Citadel, then slipped into the sweet sleep of the conqueror. But by 3:00 am I had managed to roll off the edge. Those three feet or so of sleepy weightlessness must have been blissful to my subconscious. Wham! A formica desk broke my path downward. A couple of inches to the north and I would have cleared it and landed, however abruptly, much more comfortably onto some of that “thick pile” shaggy seventies carpeting.

Rex finished his buttermilk and threw the empty carton on the floor of the truck. His stomach had cooled a bit but then his stomach acid went into overdrive. His stomach burned.

“Damn stomach!” he said angrily, and startled, I couldn’t help but shit in my pants. And this movement on the far end of my digestive tract prompted a surge from my stomach.

“I’m gonna throw up.”

Rex pulled over in time for my father to carry me clear of the truck. I bent over and puked in the tall, dry Northern California grass, caught a glimpse of the ocean in the distance, then felt a sudden sense of well-being.

“You all right?” my father asked.

“Better dad,” I replied.

Rex threw out an old towel which from there to the hospital served as a makeshift pair of pants, an outfit I wouldn’t have to duplicate until almost ten years later when, on a late night surf trip to Huntington Beach, a few wiseasses thought it would be cute to separate my friends and I from our pants while we were out surfing.

“Is that a deer dad,” I asked as we started back down the road.

“Sure is,” he replied, sounding relieved, ” I didn’t think you could see… thank God.” He looked over at Rex, then pulled me a little closer. He’d awoken to a screaming child, his bloodied son reaching around in a dark room trying to find the door.

For the first time since the fall, he was assured I hadn’t lost my sight. And for the first time in that long hour, I felt like everything was going to be okay.
I’m the second son and the third child. And now that I’m a father of two myself, I’ve come to understand how it might be that each successive child will get a little less of his parents undivided attention. But that morning, in that sour-smelling truck, on that little mountain road from the horse ranch to Sebastapol, my father and I had nothing of greater importance in our lives than one another.

From then on, the bottom bunk was just fine.

Dylan knows the Truth

by philip scott wikel

After church on Sunday I decided to surprise my son with a trip to some tidepools up around Carpinteria. I was a little wary of telling him where we were going because I had agreed with him the day before that we would go to Target to get a new game for his Playstation. I was worried that once he got his new game there would be nothing else in the world to him and that a trip to the beach to look at crabs and starfish would pale, profoundly, by comparison.

Continue reading “Dylan knows the Truth”