Very Special Paper, Indeed

Musical InstrumentsIt is 1988.

My father lives in a hunting cabin off the highway near Missoula, Montana. It is Spartan in its décor. There is a cot. A small fridge. A bathroom. He isn’t here much. Most of his time is spent in the Rattlesnake Wilderness, where the U.S. Forest Service maintains a cabin for the rangers.

We have returned from town. His neighbor, a young man with long, wavy black hair, is outside. The man wears a black T-shirt and black jeans. My father has described his neighbor to me as being ‘crazy’. This diagnosis stems from an obsession the man seems to have with paper. My father tells me he has spoken about the ‘special paper’ he needs for his project. He can’t get it in Missoula. He must get it shipped.

We get out of the car and my father introduces me to the ‘crazy’ man. We start talking and my dad excuses himself, leaving us alone. I mention I play music. His interest is piqued. “We should jam some time,” he says. I tell him I don’t have my guitar with me.

He smiles. “Come here. I want to show you something.” The crazy neighbor takes me inside his hunting cabin. It’s the same model as the one my father occupies but this guy had a different decorator. The walls inside his cabin are covered with musical instruments – guitars, basses, a lute. There are instrument cases leaning against the walls – cellos, violas, violins. There’s a piano and an organ, and some kind of electronic keyboard.

An Atari computer displays musical notes arranged on a staff.

My father’s crazy neighbor turns out to be a composer. He plays these instruments. ALL of them. He tells me he is composing a ‘heavy metal’ symphony.

Adjacent to the computer is a tall stand that looks something like a drafting table. Sharpened pencils and a drafting brush for clearing eraser crumbs rest on an oversize sheet of paper, printed with repeating lines of musical staffs. It is the paper a composer uses for writing out all the different parts for the instruments in an orchestra.

Very special paper, indeed.

I Choose to be Lightning

It is 1986.Lightning

I am driving through torrential rains on the San Diego Freeway. Lightning strikes every five seconds. It’s the most amazing storm I can remember. And I can remember a lot of storms.

As I exit on Western Avenue, the delay between lightning and thunder diminishes. I stop at the light. A bright flash lights up the night sky but I can’t see the bolt. The thunder sounds simultaneously. My radio goes dead. I think the radio station is off the air.

My windshield wipers sluice rain from the glass. They slow, then stop. I punch buttons on my radio. KROQ. KWST. KLOS. KMET. KNAC. All gone.

I realize my engine isn’t running.

I have always been fascinated by lightning. I spent the evening at a party in college sitting on the patio watching a spectacular dry lightning storm. My beautiful date was inside getting the attention she deserved from any number of guys. I wanted the lightning.

Not long after that I renewed my driver’s license. I changed my signature so the S in my first name resembled a lightning bolt.

I was crossing a bridge in Montana as it was struck by lightning – watched the blue glow travel along the power cable connecting the street lights. I watched another storm from the giant M on the hill behind the University of Montana in Missoula. It crossed the valley towards me, a physical manifestation of my emotional state.

I’ve seen lightning in a snow storm. It was like being inside a light bulb.

I eventually reclaimed my date from the party and drove her home, only to sit with her in front of her parents’ house watching the lightning strike every few seconds.

It is 1986.

My car won’t start. I turn on the emergency lights. They blink – once. I push the car through eight inches of water in Miami-style rain. Another car pushes me to the gas station on the corner.

I leave it overnight. The next day the mechanic tells me he’s had it on the charger all night.

“I don’t know what happened to it, but it won’t hold a charge.”

I have a pretty good idea what happened to it.