Saturday, October 24, 2015

A Friday in Late October.

It rained yesterday; pretty much all day.  Sometimes it was a drizzle, and sometimes a deluge.

I wandered around the first permanent home I ever had after my formal education was complete.  I looked upon the various empty lots that once contained the lodgings of my late youth; there was one that amused me greatly; the apartment was actually in the middle of the block, so its removal was like a surgical strike.  Intent on removing that one building.

Perhaps it was the gigantic mural of Jake and Elwood Blues I painted in the dining room area that made it un-rentable.  For lo, these 25 years.  But Jake and Elwood have left the building, along with any remnant of my living there with a bulky word processor, a stereo I couldn't afford, and Clytemnestra, my first and bestest feline friend.

There was much changed about the old town; new businesses in, old businesses out; the scars of catastrophic fires in the downtown area seem to have healed; the restaurants and bars have changed names and locations, but the one on Fifth and Lewis still thrives despite the look of collapse.  And the ferry that has been running since Lincoln was President runs no more, a victim of the economy and a decided lack of maintenance.

And the college on the Hill is still there, of course.  But that's another story.

Of my town friends, there remains just one.  The others (few, I'll admit; but rather than say that I'm not friendly, I will simply put that I have a certain discriminating taste) have all gone, either to greener pastures, or to journey in that event that comes after this stage goes dark.

But Todd remains.

The house on the corner where I spent many grand times, whether gaming or holidaying, or simply sitting and talking still remains, and as Todd found a lifemate in the years of my absence, the house that has ALSO been around since Lincoln was President has been vastly improved.

As has Todd.

He didn't know I was coming; the truth is, I didn't know I was coming, either.....but as I drove down memory lane, I noticed that there was a light over in the Frankenstein place, and I pulled up; and I saw Todd in the window, and knocked.

Let me say this about my friend:  he never seems shocked about anything.  I half expected him to simply say, "well, would you look at that?" and open the door for me to enter.

Well....actually, that's exactly what he did.  But he followed with a bear hug, so we can call that his version of shock.

I received two hugs yesterday; and I have to say that I have never been hugged so tightly in my entire life.

For the record, I'm currently crying at the memory of it.

And after that, magically......nothing happened.  We retreated to the living room, sat in two chairs, and picked up on a conversation we had begun in the kitchen of the Golden Eagle Riverboat Dinner Theatre in June of 1988.

And the 180 minutes flew by, and yet not.

I think I've mentioned this before, but I firmly believe that the elements of time travel put forth in the classic movie SOMEWHERE IN TIME are real; that you can actually will yourself into a previous time....because it happened to me.  Because, it was 1988, and then it was 1991, and then it was 1994, and every moment of reminiscence took me right back to the genesis of the anecdote; the moments on that small stage at that long-gone theatre, the faces and the names and the moments.

He told me of the passing of the artist known as Richard; a frustratingly brilliant individual who lived a full and glorious life, poured upon canvases that are seen all over this small town; in which I appear in one cartoonish form or another, several times.  We talked of his look and his voice and his laugh and the traditions we had for dateless New Year's Eves; alcohol, laughter and THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN.  And Todd told me of the last week of Rich's life.

He smoked like a chimney.  And it caught up to him like lightning.

Through the tears, I had to laugh when Todd said, "Honestly....dying was the fastest thing Rich ever did."

And he told me where to find him; and before I head back, I'll visit Rich and say thanks for all the fish.  And he'll understand the allusion.

We parted in the side porch of the house, after showing me the gardens and the landscaping that his wife had completed; and it was raining, which was good so that he could not see as I left that I was, in fact, crying again.  But before I left, and for the first time, I told him how I felt and how much he meant to me.

Because I needed to do that.

Because opportunities are not permanent.


It rained yesterday; pretty much all day.  And sometimes it was a drizzle, and sometimes a deluge.

And it wasn't just the weather.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

And in the End.....

On a rainy Friday morning, I stood before a congregation of family and strangers, and spoke from my heart to say goodbye to the Man who raised me.  The writing was easy; the verbal communication of that message required several pauses... and I didn't get through the last two lines.
I was told by several that I captured him perfectly; and, that I looked just like him.
So.  I have that going for me.
Here, in all it's glory, is my goodbye letter to my Father:
I begin with a line or two from Shakespeare; Hamlet, Act 1, scene 2:

"He was a man; take him for all in all.  I shall not look upon his like again."

Paul Clemo was born on October 25, 1932 to Keith and Grace Clemo.

He graduated from Denby Tech in 1951; Graduated from Albion College with a BA in Physics in 1955, which was a full 37 years before the legalization of that horrid science; graduated from what is NOW Wayne State University with a BS in Mechanical Engineering in 1956.

He was a loving husband to Elizabeth, who preceded him in her journey to paradise; and the patience and strength he showed through my Mother’s process was unbelievable and an example of what it means to truly love someone.

He was a Thoughtful and Loving Father to three sons, Paul, John and Larry. And Charlie the dog.

Grandfather to Paul, Pam and Jason.

He was an Elk, an Eagle and a Mason, the combination of which if it manifested itself would qualify him as some kind of Greek God, if you can imagine a white headed bird with horns and a penchant for building with brick.  The fact of the matter is, he was the most clubbable man in all of Rochester Hills.  He liked the atmosphere and the comraderie, and had many good and faithful friends in those organizations.

He was, as Mr. Holmes described Dr. Watson, “a fixed point in a changing age.”  And yet not.

This is where the general leaves off, and the specific begins.  I had a conversation with my elder brother, Paul, on Wednesday, and I think we agreed that our Father was, in fact, many men… our case, three different guys.  He altered his game to play at the level he was faced with.

I was the emotional artist.

And I suspect he thought I was mentally ill.

It started when I was a small child; when I was ill, running a high fever, my delusions could be very large and very specific.  He often told the story of sitting in a rocking chair in the living room of the old house in Royal Oak, trying to calm down a feverish and wailing child…..when all of a sudden, I got very quiet and he thought his job was finished.  And then I opened my eyes wide as I was staring over his shoulder and screamed, “It’s going to GET US!”  He told me later that Logically, he knew there was nothing behind him; but there was no power on earth that was going to make him turn around to assure himself that logic was going to win the day.

It was that kind of commitment to believability that had me nominated for several acting awards.  Even one a couple.  But do people talk about that?  No, they all remember the really embarrassing stories.  My Father remembered all of the embarrassing stories, and when one or more of us were gathered together, he trotted them out like Secretariat.

My Father, as you know, was a man of numbers.  He found logic in them; he was comfortable with them.  And he could not understand how any son of his could not be good with numbers.

It was his ‘go to’ move:  turning to my Mother and asking, “are you SURE we got the right baby out of that nursery?”

If you look at photographs, we can easily put that question to rest.

He knew the first day he walked me home from my first on-stage performance; I was in middle school, what they used to call Junior High, and I was talking a blue streak about what it was like and how it felt and how great it was…and all he was thinking was, “oooooh, craaaaap.”

He encouraged art in his kids; all three of us were musicians; Paul the clarinet, myself the trumpet, and Larry the drums….okay, two of us were musicians….. and one banged on stuff.

So, he was fine with my playing at the theatre throughout high school; and he lived with my being a theatre major in college; and he was grateful I paid my own way to get a Master’s Degree in theatre, as well….and was equally grateful when I got a job teaching theatre in a small liberal arts college in the Midwest.

But after ten years of that, I decided to back into the theatre, and this was the response I got when I told him I was leaving the college to go back to full time acting, and that I had already lined up a couple of long-term gigs:  “let me get this straight:  you’re giving up a career….for a couple of jobs?”

And then, he hung up.

His disappointment in my choses didn’t last long, of course, but it did highlight another wonderful quality of our relationship; he was disappointed, he made me aware, and he forgave.  And I did the same thing.

When I lived at home, he grounded me on a regular basis.  One time he grounded me forever.  As far as I know, I’m still under that sentence, so after this I have to go back to my room.  When I left home, he would regularly disinherit me.  I don’t think either of us remember if we were on “he’s in the will” or, “he’s out of the will.”  And when we negotiated a curfew time, he was such a tough negotiator that he often had me coming home thirty minutes before I actually left the house.

Schooling was always a nightmare when it came to report cards; great marks in band and theatre and English….and I regularly failed anything that had numbers in it. 

But I was the guy who proofread his written material; and I was the one that helped with the crossword puzzles.

Pop had a thing for language; he loved words, even though he could never actually spell them.  I give as evidence some of the things he wrote on his Facebook page:

“I am mighty tired, and tightly wired; and lightly mired.”

“Charles Dickens walks into a bar and orders a martini; the bartender asks, “Olive or Twist?”

“The person presenting the ultimate cachinnation possesses, thereby, the optimal cachinnation.”

“If you check with a chemist, you will find that alcohol really is a solution.”

He was a sports fan, but baseball was his favorite.  He would watch anybody play, certainly….I think that the game played into his physics/science/numbers thing.  His suns would travel to Florida every spring and make sure that he saw at least one game a week during spring training.  I would come up and try to take him to a game at Comerica Park in Detroit…..we both had a fondness for Tiger Stadium, but our reaction to our first trip to Comerica was….a begrudging admiration.  And he suffered fools with no patience at all.

There was a pitcher for Detroit.  Dontrell Wills or some such thing.  A good pitcher that wound up in Detroit with a bad case of the yips….could not find the plate.  And on his last appearance in Detroit, he was behind 4-0 in the fourth inning and they pulled him.  My Father and I got the best laugh of the day by simply asking, “isn’t it bad luck to pull a guy in the middle of a no-hitter?”. We received a good laugh from the people around us, and as we left the stadium later that afternoon, I heard somebody say, "did you hear the thing about the no-hitter?"

One of Dad’s great contributions to mankind would be the concept of the “The Clemo Job”.  This is a boon for unions everywhere, but alas, a really frustrating concept for himself and anybody drafted into service to assist him.  A Clemo Job is a normally simple task; the replacement of a disposal, the replacement of a piece of plumbing; an oil filter on a car.

In order to calculate the completion time of a Clemo Job, you must take the average time a normal person would be able to complete the job, and multiply by a factor of ten; twenty if it is an outdoor job in inclement weather.  Between us, we invented the phrase, “Hit it with a hammer; if it breaks, it needed to be replaced anyhow."

He believed that our educations should be well rounded.

He believed that his sons should change their own oil and tune their own cars.

He taught is to drive on a standard transmission car.

When he planted a garden, we were responsible for the clearing on all unauthorized rooted residents of the plot.

We mowed, we trimmed, and we shoveled snow.

He also taught us how to fish; how to swing a golf club; how to field a grounder; and how to scramble an egg.

He schlepped us all over the country on family vacations….Florida, California, and all the spaces in between.  At one point, he was whacking the starter with a hammer to get us through one more leg of the trip.  We saw Disney World; Key West; Universal Studios; the Rocky Mountains and the Great Sequoia forest…and even a World’s Fair.

Educational trips included a car factory; a chocolate factory; a brewery and a cereal manufacturing plant.

He gave regular classes in First Aid.  In my cases, he needed to.

In order to ensure that our vocabulary would grow and our reading skills did not diminish during the vacations, Dad forced us to read books in the summer; and would quiz us on our progress.  Yeah, you could try to pull the wool over his eyes, but it never worked, so I wound up reading Twain and Conan Doyle and it would up leading to the harder stuff, like biographies of political icons and deep detective novels by Rex Stout and JJ Marric.  He introduced me to Abbot and Costello’s “who’s on first”, Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau, Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Second City Television to me.

So, to wrap up, I think it’s appropriate to end with a reading from Twain:

Upon arrival in Heaven, do not speak to St Peter until spoken to; it is not your place to begin.  You can ask him for his autograph, there is no harm in that.  But be careful.  And don’t remark that it is one of the penalties of greatness; he has heard that before.  Don’t try to Kodak him; Hell is full of people who have made that mistake.  And leave your dog outside; Heaven goes by favor.  If it went by merit, you would stay out and the dog would go in.
Good night, Father; We'll take it from here.  And we'll see you when we get there.

Friday, July 3, 2015

So, anyway.....

It's been a few days short of a year since I picked up my cyber pen to write something.

Blogs come and go; I know this to be true, because I have a list of blogs I used to follow that have been fallow longer than my year.

I suppose it depends upon why somebody chooses to write in the first place.  Some people have a need to get the stuff in their head out of their head; some people have lived interesting lives and have a small kernel of ego, enough to want to place these stories in a venue that will, perhaps, protect them. 

And some just have a lot of pictures of sh*t that they ate.  To each his own; and as the current Pope has said, "Who am I to Judge?"

To start with, I kinda wrote on a dare.  Then, after a while, I wrote because I needed to describe some people that have left me behind on their way to Angel Avenue.  And then, people started asking my opinion, which is ridiculous, and I began to write them, which is even MORE ridiculous.

And then, I went through a phase of "I'm no better than the guy who's posting pictures of last night's dinner.

So I stopped.

I have a few more stories to tell, I think.  There has been a bit of calcium decay in the old cranium, and when the stalagmites wear away, memories return.  So, perhaps that explains the sudden appearance.

Still have a job.  And it's been my responsibility to take part in the "Great Correction" following the "Very Public Whipping" the organization has endured.  And rightly endured.  And I'm making the kind of headway you may expect; trying to force back the tide without actually being Moses.

Did a play.  Didn't enjoy it.  Decided to take a sabbatical.

Have reconciled myself to not playing Hamlet.

Applied for two teaching positions; didn't even get interviews.  Guess my resume really sucks.

Lost a friend.

And kept hearing this quote over and over in my head the past week or so:

"Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow."

Five years ago, people didn't have the ability to seek effective medical treatment because they couldn't afford it.  Ten days ago, all Americans did not have the right to wed whom they desired.

Imagine what's going to happen.....tomorrow.