Travel Tales: Beale Street Boogie

Rachel and I traveled to Memphis for Thanksgiving weekend to meet up with my son, Dan and his fiancé, Susie. Susie was originally from Memphis, and their wedding was going to be held there in eleven months. It was a chance for us to meet some of Susie’s family for the first time, and to help with a little of the wedding planning.

We arranged to eat Thanksgiving dinner at the beautiful Peabody Hotel. The Peabody is famous for its resident ducks, who spend their days swimming in a fountain in the lobby, and then every evening, waddle across the lobby to an elevator, to be transported upstairs to their lodging for the night. I kid you not. We also visited the Stax Museum of American Soul and learned a lot about the important role Memphis played in the evolution of “soul” music. We recognized many of the names of the original musicians, including Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. and the MG’s, and Wilson Pickett. Being movie buffs, we recognized many of the songs from movies like The Blues Brothers and The Commitments.

One of the surprises of our visit to Memphis was walking down Beale Street on a quiet Thanksgiving afternoon. This street, in the heart of downtown, is usually bustling with people. Tourists come to shop, eat, drink, and listen to live music. We were staying at a hotel just a few blocks away, and on Thanksgiving day, Beale Street was unusually quiet. Most businesses were closed, even the restaurants and bars. As we strolled up and down the sidewalks on a pleasant afternoon, we passed a few other couples and singles. Some were dressed to the nines, and looked like they were going out somewhere fancy. Almost everyone was African American. Everyone smiled, greeted us and wished us a Happy Thanksgiving. Rachel and I had commented on the friendliness of Memphis people during previous visits.

As we passed a small park, sandwiched between two buildings, two older gentlemen were setting up an amplifier and microphone on a small cement stage. The man with the microphone pointed at us, smiled, and waved us over. Rachel observed that the small audience, seated on a few park benches, all looked like homeless people. It was a nice afternoon and we had time to kill. We decided to join them. We took a seat on a bench at the rear of the seating area. The group of men and women in front of us all had white grocery bags that looked like they contained leftovers from a Thanksgiving dinner. They also each had a large can of beer. When I was in college, my friends called the large sixteen ounce cans, pounders.

After a few minutes of waiting, the duo was ready to play. They placed a Kentucky Fried Chicken box in front of the stage for tips. The older gentleman at the microphone welcomed us and wished us a happy Thanksgiving. The other fellow, carrying an old electric bass guitar, approached the mic and just said, “gobble, gobble.” Then they began to play. They were great! They played a wide variety of soul songs. We recognized most of them. I especially enjoyed their rendition of Sitting on the Dock of the Bay. They played a raucus version of Mustang Sally and succeeded in getting the growing audience to sing the chorus with them. Rachel and I did our best to add our voices to the homeless choir. The singer tried to get Rachel to join him onstage to show her dance moves on a song called, Walk the Dog. Rachel politely declined.

About forty-five minutes into the set, a homeless women set down her can of beer, got up from her bench, approached the stage, and began dancing. Many people in the crowd clapped and the singer was encouraging. She was Caucasian, middle-aged and dressed in jeans and a large grey hoodie. Her dirty hair and the lines around her face gave the impression that life had probably been somewhat hard for her. But she was an uninhibited dancer, and she was fun to watch. The musicians got quite a few tips during that song.

A bit later, Rachel and I dropped a few dollars in the Kentucky Fried Chicken box, waved to the musicians, and continued on our way. It was time to get ready for dinner at the Peabody. When we got back to our room that night after dinner, I powered up my laptop and glanced at the news headlines on my homepage. One caught my eye. It read, “Naked woman arrested on Beale Street”. I clicked on the article and the first thing I saw was a mug shot of the woman we had watched dancing a few hours earlier. Her photo had already made the national news wire. The accompanying article said that she had been arrested for disorderly conduct for dancing naked. At first we laughed a little, and then we felt more sad. We were sure that the fun of the afternoon had taken a downward turn.

There was a place for people to write comments about the news article. The first person who responded posed the question of what constituted disorderly conduct and what her real crime had been. He suggested that if she had been dancing with clothes on that she likely would not have been arrested. Her real crime was nudity. Was nudity really the same as disorderly conduct? Was being naked a crime? His comments made me think of Time Square in New York City. There had been many articles in the news about women posing in just body paint, on the streets around Time Square. Some were painted as super heroes and some as American flags. For ten or fifteen dollars you could have your picture taken with them. While creating some controversy, the nudity was legal in the city and the naked photo business was “taking off”.

Rachel and I talked about her several times during the weekend. Our experience with the Beale Street dancer added both a wacky and somewhat melancholy vibe to our otherwise, great trip to Memphis.

 

There’s something about a real book in an actual bookstore…

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Left Bank Books, St. Louis

On Saturday the 21st, Rachel and I stopped by and found a number of treasures and a few holiday gifts at Left Bank Books. A portion of our purchase price was donated to an elementary school located in the city. That’s the kind of thing that local shops like to do.

While we were there, Rachel and I walked downstairs and found the Travel Section. For the first time we saw There and Back Again: A Decade of Travel Tales on a bookstore shelf. I happened to have a camera in my pocket. Who would’ve thought! I’m sure other shoppers thought we were a bit odd, snapping pictures of the bookshelves.

There is something special about a physical book in a cool bookstore.  Our Kindle has over 150 books downloaded, but our library has many more.

Please support local bookstores like Left Bank Books in your community!

I had a dream last night…

Found Stories can come from a wide variety of sources. All of us have had the experience of waking up after a vivid dream, and wondering where the images or actions came from. Sometimes we think that we should write down a description of the dream, before we forget it. Here is one such dream that I had several months ago. I was so moved by the feelings I experienced that I took the time to write down the parts that I could remember. Enjoy this Found Story.

The first thing I remembered in the dream was walking around Bethesda West, a nursing home in West St. Louis County where I consulted in the 1990’s. The name of the facility was changed a few years ago. In the dream, I did not work there, but as I wandered around, some of the staff recognized me. As I was trying to leave the property, I found myself confused. I wandered around the property, and was unable to find the correct parking lot and my car. I knew that my thinking was off and I was anxious. What was wrong with me?

In the next scene I was in my car and was driving. The road was terrible, with dangerous giant ruts, ice, and treacherous sections. At times I lost control of the steering. I swerved into the parking lot of some kind of motorcycle repair shop. The people standing outside of the shop were sort of rough-looking. I was still having trouble steering my car and I drove into a motorcycle and knocked it down. The rough-looking guys looked angry and were walking toward me as I tried to speed away.

I wake up lying on a bed. My eyes are closed and both of my legs are elevated in front of me. I smell plastic and feel something covering my nose and mouth. It feels like some sort of oxygen mask. I try to open my eyes, but only the right eye opens. I look at myself. I’m in a hospital gown. Both legs are in traction and are being slowly raised and lowered by a machine. The machine does the same thing with my feet and toes, gently moving them around. I noticed lots of abrasions, stiches and bruising on my legs and feet. Some toes were bent in an awkward way.

My thoughts and my pulse were racing. Where was I? What had happened? Was I badly hurt? Was I paralyzed? Did I have a traumatic brain injury? Had I been in a coma? How long had I been here? I had worked in the field of brain injury rehabilitation for more than 30 years. Was this what it felt like to be a patient who had been in a bad accident?

Looking around, I saw that I was in a large hospital room. It looked like a small ward, with six other patients, all in beds like mine. It reminded me of the ICU at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, where I had worked as a therapist in the 1980’s. All of the patients looked like they were badly injured, but most were awake. I had not spent a night in a hospital since I had my tonsils removed when I was four years old. I turned my head and could look out of a window. The building that I could see looked like DePaul Hospital. I had been there for doctor’s appointments many times in the past ten years. I thought for a minute. I must be at the Rehabilitation Hospital on the DePaul campus. Yikes! I am a TBI patient. I was terrified!

It was time to see how bad my injuries were. I tried to move my arms. They both moved a little. I could feel the tubes attached to both arms and something pinching my right index finger. I tried to move my legs and wiggle my toes. The machine made that difficult, but I sensed some movement was under my control. I lay still. My skin felt irritated in many locations, but I was not in severe pain. I hadn’t tried to talk yet. I tried and succeeded in vocalizing a little. Yes! At least I could make some sounds. So far, so good. Now the hard part. What was my mind like? I sat quietly and just “thought”. I didn’t notice anything unusual. Maybe I’d lucked out.

I looked around the room again. I could see staff tending to other patients. Had anyone noticed that I had woken up? Is this like in the movies when the coma patient wakes up and amazes everyone with their normal speech and cognition? Where is Rachel? She should be here at my bedside. Is she okay? Was she in the accident? Was she injured? I decided to try to get someone’s attention. I vocalized again and a nurse or nurses aide approached me. She didn’t look particularly surprised that I was awake. She looked down at me and smiled. She told me that I’m really lucky and that I was pretty banged up. I began asking my questions, out loud, this time. How long had I been there? Was I unconscious for long? Where was I hurt? What happened to me? Where was Rachel? The nurse just smiled, shook her head and told me that we would talk about all of that later. She patted my forehead and walked away. I wanted to scream!

I looked down at my legs and feet. The machine continued to gently move them. My legs were moving up and down. The joints of my feet and toes were being gently stretched. Without warning, my toes curled and my feet tried to break the motion dictated by the machine. They seemed to have a mind of their own. I couldn’t feel them. I was not controlling them. They were moving without my conscious effort. Something was wrong. My brain must be damaged. I screamed.

The dream fades to black. I awoke with my pulse racing. I was drenched with sweat.

I thought, so that’s what it’s like.

 

 

There and Back Again available at Left Bank Books!

I received a message today that Left Bank Books, the most awesome indie bookstore in St. Louis, has accepted There and Back Again:  A Decade of Travel Tales to be sold at their store and on their website (www.left-bank.com).  This will be for the paperback version of the book. Supporting a local independent bookseller feels great and I hope that many of you in and around St. Louis will visit the Central West End and check out this great bookstore.

The address is:  Left Bank Books,  399 N. Euclid Ave.,  St. Louis, MO 63110

Link to my sales page:  http://www.left-bank.com/book/9780996307116

Thanks to the folks at Left Bank Books!

So why did you decide to write about…

In the last few days I have gotten some interesting questions about Painted Wings, through Facebook and Goodreads. I have heard similar comments and questions from family and friends, comfortable enough to ask. The questions usually sound something like, “Tim, where did the idea for the book come from and why did you decide to write about lesbians?” There are lots of possible responses. Let me try out a few of them.

Around two years ago, when I decided that I wanted to devote some serious energy to writing, I took a class at the community college called, “So you want to be a writer”. The instructor was a young man who had recently completed his Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts at a Missouri university. In other words, he was at least 22 years old. I remember two of his foundation messages. First, you will never make any money as a writer, so don’t even try. And second, do not under any circumstances, write a novel about sex, from the point of view of a middle-aged man. After the release of Fifty Shades of Grey, every middle-aged guy was writing an erotic novel with a virile, middle-aged protagonist. I decided that if my first novel was going to have sex scenes, they would have to be different from my personal experiences. I’m sure that my family and friends appreciate that, too!

Those of you who read my book of short stories, There and Back Again:  A Decade of Travel Tales, are familiar with the actual creative spark for Annie’s story. Rachel and I were staying at a country inn in New Hampshire, where I read an entry in a guest journal in our room. A woman who had stayed in the room several weeks earlier wrote about the beginning of her summer of adventure. She had gone through a painful divorce and was starting over. Rachel and I talked about her that night over dinner. We had a million questions about her divorce and her summer road trip. I asked Rachel whether she thought that the woman might have met a handsome stranger at the inn, who looked like George Clooney or Richard Gere. Rachel was watching our attractive, tattooed bartender, and without skipping a beat said, “No, I think she meets a woman.” The seed was planted.

I spent many hours communicating with Stephanie, my editor, about plot, characters, grammar, and a million other things. During one conversation toward the end of the writing and editing process, I posed the question whether she thought that a guy could be taken seriously, writing a story about lesbian characters. Stephanie thought for a minute and replied that the story was really Annie’s story, and Annie was not a lesbian. Annie was heterosexual and during the course of her summer was experiencing some new feelings and attractions. I thought that was an insightful answer. I had heard a program on National Public Radio around that time that talked about the concept of “sexual fluidity”. The idea was that there is a range of feelings that people experience that may change over time, related to sexual attractions to either sex. These were common feelings, especially for women. The discussion on NPR was consistent with Annie’s journey.

So far Painted Wings has received a handful of reviews on amazon.com and three reviews from a literary website called Readers’ Favorite. None of the reviewers have mentioned anything about sexual orientation or lesbian erotica. They describe the novel as being about dealing with loss, starting over, exploring diversity and challenges relating to our prejudices. They also talk about the positive way that the story reminds us of the wonderful things that are there for us all, if we open ourselves to new experiences. I told Rachel, “They get it!”.

Last year I created a publishing company, Cedar Lake Publishing. Self-published authors are encouraged to do that. The tag-line that is printed under the company name says, “Celebrating diversity, one book at a time”. That is what Painted Wings is intended to be, a celebration of diversity. I haven’t decided on the story for my next book yet, but I bet it will explore another aspect of the beauty that can be found in our differences! I’ll keep you posted.

The First Reviews Are In!

Thanks to Audrey, Bill and Sue for submitting the first reviews of Painted Wings on the amazon.com site.  There were over 60 readers who took advantage of the two day, free offer to order e-books!  There were even readers from England and Australia.  I hope many of you take a minute to write a brief review.  I received the first two of three official reviews from a website called Readers’ Favorite.  I was pleased that the reviews were positive and impressed that the reviewers appreciated the social messages of the novel.  You can read the reviews on the review page of this website.  Thanks to all who have supported the book!