Sade Sundays

"I almost thought of cracking a book open but then stopped myself." This was the latest from Michael as his boycott continues. Up north entertainment was limited to a 4-inch b+w television set with no rabbit ears. Often we resorted to reading for a lack of anything better to do as my parents refused to take us to the roller rink every
single day.

We would often take a trip to the library before heading north as there was no such public institution in Chetek, WI. I’d typically check out 20 books more than I would have time to read and found comfort in the options of my portable biblioteca.

On the off chance I would finish all my reading materials, there were back issues of Road & Track from the 70’s and MAD magazines from the 60’s stacked in firewood receptacles beneath both endtables. We didn’t use them for kindling although maybe we should have. They all smelled old and I preferred this and still do.

My parents would encourage our literary interpretations by saying things like “read or you brain is going to turn into goo!” and we believed them. I feel like getting Michael on the horn right now and barking the same advice.

On days my dad wanted to fish and I did not, he would stand at the door with a tackle box in his left hand, canteen in his right, net hung from his waist belt, and rods propped over one shoulder. I’d usually be sprawled out on one of the large ovular knit rugs reading or drawing pictures of comic book characters. “C’mon, let’s go fishing -
I can see them jumping from here” he’d say, looking out onto the lake.

It would usually be raining.

Rolling over onto my back like a dead bug with my legs and arms in the air and groaning, my puerile articulations lacking, I yawned a bored and selfish ”I don’t want to”. I’ll never forget the look he gave me. He turned and walked out leaving me to wonder what he was thinking even though I already knew. 

Michael says he’s “given up on the written word”, and hell, “maybe music is next.” I’m not sure where this alternate reality will start and stop, so for now it’s only me
and my shadow baiting hooks and casting lines into the water with no one to share
the contents of my canteen.

Our family cottage sat opposite the Northland Resort separated by a local boat launch. I would often run down our slope to theirs, gaining speed in the narrow valley between and rising back up into the small vacation village. I’d skirt the perimeter innocently, but was careful not to get too close to the visitor cabins as they were on their trip and I was on mine.

My curiosities wanted badly to look around inside one of the resort cabins and see how other’s accommodations differed from ours. Did they have old issues of MAD magazine that smelled of grass and acidic vanilla and board games and American Indian trinkets cluttered along the fireplace mantle? I had to know.

When I suggested this idea to my parents they gave me a long speech about how we had our own cottage and they could see no reason in renting one right next door. Parents always seem to miss their children’s points and plights. I retreated to my bunk to mull things over and felt the sand in my sheets against my toes and mapped the interiors of the resort cabins in my head.  

My mother almost died in a horrible car crash on Robinson Road in Harbor Springs once during my childhood. It was winter, Trina Hayes and her were on some sort of errand while the father’s and children were skiing at Nub’s Nob. My father was talking to my mother on the phone in the pub while we were getting lunch and warming ourselves.
Later that night my mother told my her life flashed before her eyes. I had never heard of a flashback before. It is now one of my favorite devices.

My mother almost died in a horrible car crash on Robinson Road in Harbor Springs once during my childhood. It was winter, Trina Hayes and her were on some sort of errand while the father’s and children were skiing at Nub’s Nob. My father was talking to my mother on the phone in the pub while we were getting lunch and warming ourselves.

Later that night my mother told my her life flashed before her eyes. I had never heard of a flashback before. It is now one of my favorite devices.

Canoes are easy to tip over. I know because I’ve tipped plenty. 

In younger days we were taught to swamp our canoes in order to simulate what
it would be like if we tipped ours by accident. Basically you stand up and rock the narrow vessel starboard to port side until you flip the thing over and fall into the water. Best done on a hot summer day when the lake has had a few months to thaw, the canoe never actually sinks - rather it floats just above the surface filled with water - and the idea is to somehow empty the water and right the watercraft so you can paddle home.

This typically works in theory, but lately I’ve misplaced my bailing mechanism and whose got hold of the milk jug scoop? Summer has yet to arrive and this hasn’t felt like home for a while now and my fingers and toes are getting a little pruned floating
here solo.

New memories are being made by my old family in the lower part of Michigan these days. Lower middle, not even on the great lago from which my memory was spawn. I had a dream last night that Beaver Island could be spit upon during low tide and even the eloquently wise Trina Hayes couldn’t answer my question about how quickly the tide rolls in.

How quickly does the tide roll in?

After driving four hours north in the family minivan I was quite ready to stretch my legs upon our arrival. Jumping from the sliding side-door before we stopped moving would typically give way to my father’s empty threats of death. Feeling the smooth pebbles and patches of mossgrass on the bottoms of my bare feet, I would run ahead and unlatch the old white gates that enclosed the two-track driveway leading up to the cottage.

My dad would then back the boat trailer down the driveway using all three mirrors and myself as a visual guide. He usually nailed it in one go. When I was 13 years old he felt it was high time I learned to back the trailer down the driveway myself;
I think he was getting tired of doing it and felt I could glean a thing or two from the experience.

I soon discovered it was a game of steadfast precision and concentration - a lesson laced with utter frustration that resulted in many hand-slams on the steering wheel and rage honks of the horn. The van and trailer would wedge into a V-shape and I’d have to pull forward and do it all over again if I overestimated my turns or lost sight of a fence post while threading the needle between those old white gates.

Although I couldn’t have known it at the time, the metaphors involved in learning to back that boat trailer down the driveway now allow me to chew with a certain calm what my adolescent mind couldn’t or wouldn’t grasp then. It certainly helps to have a few reflective devices and a steady voice to guide you, but it’s really about which angles to play off of and a perpetual adjustment of soft focus. I believe I might just be able to see through walls at this point.

Dean Martin, Walter Brennan and Ricky Nelson from Rio Bravo (1959)

What’s amazing about this scene from Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo is the switched on rockabilly reverb when the Ricky Nelson tune begins. It’s a little harder to tell in this video then on DVD where it is drastic and magical. Rockabilly was after all the original dubstep.

As a young boy on the verge, a quiet place to disappear was paramount.

The first lake cottage we frequented had a dirt floored cellar that smelled a bit like hash, only I didn’t know it then. Specifically, a musky ambience the combination of gray silt and old dew produce in tandem.

Inside the walk-out cellar were a couple canoes, a rowboat, old outboard motors
- both running and broken down - and a sunfish sailboat. I would crawl into any
one of these stowed watercraft with a book and flashlight for a temporary reprieve
of my family, but was careful to leave the wooden entrance doors slightly ajar - 
just in case someone missed me.

Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t.

Satyajit Ray is a name that looms, unavailable in any reasonably easy to obtain format to us here in the States, his films have still managed to influence that which influences.

I will find these Bengali classics, Days and Nights in the Forest, The Apu Trilogy, The Music Room and I will report - one can only hope it crystalizes as the vision of the lake above the hills. Until then I know nothing more.

For now a compilation of soundtrack music has been found - I will sample, I will dabble, I have already dreamed these movies so must I still watch? Must I?

Michael and I have settled into this idea of creating music with the shared experiences of northern Michigan and Wisconsin in mind. As I sat cross-legged
in the shadowed hallway of his quite possibly haunted house recording a harmonium,
I began thinking of the time I went for a night sail and witnessed an event I’ll never forget.

It was the last breath of summer when the wind died and a light rain began to fall as we came out of a western bay on Walloon lake. While waiting for the breeze to pick up, we maintained an idle chatter between the 3 of us. Few lights dotted the thickly wooded shoreline in this part of the lake as many were in bed asleep - the time was well past 2am.

We noticed two voices starting to rise from one of the secluded cabins in what sounded like a heated argument, male and female. We could only make out the muffled vocal tensions as we glanced back and forth between one another. Then came the screams.
I looked at my friends and saw my terror reflected in their faces. A screen door slammed and the sound of a car ignition going were the last we heard before being once again enveloped in watery silence.

Neither of my friends wanted to admit it was anything more than a lover’s quarrel or at the very worst, some kind of sick joke. I stared at them in utter disbelief. At that moment the wind came in from the northwest and started blowing us home across the dark water. None of us spoke as we sailed back under a night sky that couldn’t help but cloud the moon.

Coast to Coast AM

—Jim Sullivan

Growing up, Jim Sullivan was the old Hemingway-esque man who rented my family the green log cabin and ran the general store in Good Hart, Michigan. It would make sense if my Jim Sullivan and this Jim Sullivan were the same.

My favorite radio show, Coast to Coast AM, delves into the mystery of UFO and the disappearance of this other Jim Sullivan. Mob hit, alien abduction, bar fight????

Listen to discussion here»