Friday, July 22, 2011

A Summer in Memphis

In troubadour fashion, my husband has taken to serenading us on these summer evenings when he is home early enough. In summer his work load tends to decrease as many of the children he works with depart for the States on vacation or move along to new duty stations. For now, we can enjoy him strumming the guitar while wandering about the house goading his own children from bath to story time to bed whilst singing songs from Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Jerry Garcia's songbook. Our children may one day revolt at our mutual love of folk rock, but for now they know most of the lyrics since they hear the songs frequently, whether it is their dada on guitar or their mama on iPod. The Moose is getting pretty good at Dylan's Hurricane. This is how he sings his favorite line, "had no idea what kinda of ship was about to go down," for now.

I contemplated summer thoughts today after yet another long homework session this morning. I definitely detest summer homework as much as the Moose does. My friend said, "Just thirty minutes a day is all you need." She has all summer. I have this week. The slave driving will continue at Casa Kamakura.

A particular summer spent in Memphis, Tennessee, where my dad had a temporary assignment stands out for the little that we had to do there. He drove off with the car for work while my mom and I were left with where we could walk. A library was nearby and it had air conditioning- Memphis is hot in the summer. This was the library where I first fathomed the idea of non-fiction in response to my dad's comment, "All you read are stories. You should read about something real." I followed his suggestion and found a biography on Beethoven- who went deaf and used his teeth on the piano to feel the vibrations. Real stuff remains as interesting to me as stories. I read over eighty books while we were there- mostly from the children's section. We also walked to a ceramic studio once a week. We made a lot of Christmas presents that year- soap dishes, jewelry boxes, and even a bust of Darth Vader. We even drove out to Graceland to pay our respects to Elvis. There is a picture of me in front of the gates of Graceland from then some where. I think it was 1978. We hung our clothes on a line- they dried fast and would feel crunchy. While checking to see if the clothes were dry, I stepped on a bee. That night I slept with a tube of Ben-Gay and awoke smelling of it and feeling tingly all over. Standing barefoot in the kitchen, I watched baloney curl up as it fried while my mom read in the other room, my daily lunch ritual. Ah, to live on baloney and wear crunchy clothes again.

Normal life is never that slow. It helps to have lived slow so you can recognize when you are living too fast. That summer also marked me as a reader. There was no place to go but my imagination. There is something about a hot day and sitting quietly with a book in hand. I like hearing the breeze and watching bees bumble. It is in these quiet moment that I feel peaceful. I rarely have music on during the day. I prefer to work in quiet. The world is full of noise. Life is full of activity. I like to save the music for the evening when my husband is home; there is always music when he is around.

I don't think we're in for a slow summer with international travel and buying a house on the horizon, but as Charlotte says to Wilbur, "never hurry, never worry." Here are the lyrics to Hurricane, I bolded the Moose's favorite line:

Pistols shots ring out in the barroom night
Enter Patty Valentine from the upper hall
She sees the bartender in a pool of blood
Cries out "My God they killed them all"
Here comes the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For something that he never done
Put him in a prison cell but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world.

Three bodies lying there does Patty see
And another man named Bello moving around mysteriously
"I didn't do it" he says and he throws up his hands
"I was only robbing the register I hope you understand
I saw them leaving" he says and he stops
"One of us had better call up the cops"
And so Patty calls the cops
And they arrive on the scene with their red lights flashing
In the hot New Jersey night.

Meanwhile far away in another part of town
Rubin Carter and a couple of friends are driving around
Number one contender for the middleweight crown
Had no idea what kinda shit was about to go down
When a cop pulled him over to the side of the road
Just like the time before and the time before that
In Patterson that's just the way things go
If you're black you might as well not shown up on the street
'Less you wanna draw the heat.

Alfred Bello had a partner and he had a rap for the corps
Him and Arthur Dexter Bradley were just out prowling around
He said "I saw two men running out they looked like middleweights
They jumped into a white car with out-of-state plates"
And Miss Patty Valentine just nodded her head
Cop said "Wait a minute boys this one's not dead"
So they took him to the infirmary
And though this man could hardly see
They told him that he could identify the guilty men.

Four in the morning and they haul Rubin in
Take him to the hospital and they bring him upstairs
The wounded man looks up through his one dying eye
Says "Wha'd you bring him in here for ? He ain't the guy !"
Yes here comes the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For something that he never done
Put in a prison cell but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world.

Four months later the ghettos are in flame
Rubin's in South America fighting for his name
While Arthur Dexter Bradley's still in the robbery game
And the cops are putting the screws to him looking for somebody to blame
"Remember that murder that happened in a bar ?"
"Remember you said you saw the getaway car?"
"You think you'd like to play ball with the law ?"
"Think it might-a been that fighter you saw running that night ?"
"Don't forget that you are white".

Arthur Dexter Bradley said "I'm really not sure"
Cops said "A boy like you could use a break
We got you for the motel job and we're talking to your friend Bello
Now you don't wanta have to go back to jail be a nice fellow
You'll be doing society a favor
That sonofabitch is brave and getting braver
We want to put his ass in stir
We want to pin this triple murder on him
He ain't no Gentleman Jim".

Rubin could take a man out with just one punch
But he never did like to talk about it all that much
It's my work he'd say and I do it for pay
And when it's over I'd just as soon go on my way
Up to some paradise
Where the trout streams flow and the air is nice
And ride a horse along a trail
But then they took him to the jailhouse
Where they try to turn a man into a mouse.

All of Rubin's cards were marked in advance
The trial was a pig-circus he never had a chance
The judge made Rubin's witnesses drunkards from the slums
To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum
And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger
No one doubted that he pulled the trigger
And though they could not produce the gun
The DA said he was the one who did the deed
And the all-white jury agreed.

Rubin Carter was falsely tried
The crime was murder 'one' guess who testified
Bello and Bradley and they both baldly lied
And the newspapers they all went along for the ride
How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool's hand ?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn't help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
Where justice is a game.

Now all the criminals in their coats and their ties
Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise
While Rubin sits like Buddha in a ten-foot cell
An innocent man in a living hell
That's the story of the Hurricane
But it won't be over till they clear his name
And give him back the time he's done
Put him in a prison cell but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world.