The Guilty Party

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Ted and Jerry Christmas Story

I would love to hear any and all ideas for a title. In the meantime, I hope you like "A Ted and Jerry Christmas Story"

A Ted and Jerry Christmas Story
Alan Hutcheson

It was a busy intersection, with traffic rushing through and three of the four corners bustling with commerce. On two of the corners stood grocery stores, shoppers swarming in with lists and hustling out with ingredients for holiday dinners and parties. On the third corner was a home improvement superstore, half of its big parking lot filled with cars, the other half brimming with Christmas trees and people. Huge, fluttering banners on the fence surrounding the lot proclaimed Guaranteed Lowest Prices& Biggest Selection. Brilliant lights were strung from tall poles, and atop the poles were speakers booming dance versions of holiday tunes.

On the fourth corner was a much smaller tree lot occupying a portion of the parking lot that had served half a dozen small shops, all of them shuttered and with For Lease signs in their windows. Approaching that corner, not in a car, but on a bicycle, were two men. The man pedaling was very large,not very happy looking, and had a guitar case slung across his back. The other, not nearly so large man, was unencumbered by any package, which was good as he was sitting on the handlebars, swaying side to side, swinging his feet back and forth and singing "All I Want for Christmas" at the top of his lungs.

The large man bobbed his head from side to side, trying to find the right counter rhythm to the smaller man's swaying, which was making it difficult for him to see ahead for more than a second at a time.

As they drew alongside the little tree lot, the man on the handlebars raised his voice even louder, in gleeful competition with the speakers across the street, but he was cut short when the front wheel of the bike hit a fragment of pine tree stump on the sidewalk, stopping the bike suddenly and sending him tumbling. He landed next to a beautiful noble fir. When he looked up he saw a young boy next to the tree. The boy was not looking at him, but rather at the large man, who had barely kept himself and the bicycle upright and who was now inspecting the guitar case, which had swung around in front of him.

"Jerry, you idiot!" the man growled. "You're lucky nothing happened to her." He gently eased the guitar case back behind him. "You can walk the rest of the way.' But when he tried to push off on the bike, he found that the front wheel was bent. "Gah!"

"Are you okay?" a woman was standing next to the boy, holding his hand and looking down at Jerry.

"Yeah, sure," said Jerry. He stood and inspected his light jacket, which was ripped near the elbow on both sleeves. He followed the gaze of the little boy. "Don't worry, he's harmless."

"I think he's looking at the guitar," said the boy's mother. The boy nodded slightly, his gaze fixed on the instrument case. "His father used to play." She looked back at a man who was holding a tree out for a young couple to inspect. They shook their heads and went back to their car.

"Hey, Ted," said Jerry, "how about a tune for the kid?"

"No, thank you," said Ted. "I've got a broken bike to carry all the way home, thanks to you." He lifted the front of the bike off the sidewalk and tried to spin the wheel, which wobbled and caught against the forks.

"I can fix that," said the father, who had come over to the fence.

"I don't want to bother you," said Ted.

"It's not like I've got anything else to do," the father said. He gave his wife a rueful smile.

"See?" said Jerry. "He said he can fix it."

"I heard him." Ted lifted the bike with one hand. "You're still not getting any more rides." He carried it inside the tree lot.

The father took a look at the wheel. "Make yourself comfortable," he said, nodding at some hay bales. Then he took the bike behind a trailer sitting at the back of the lot.

Ted sat, placing the guitar case across his lap. Jerry began wandering among the rows of trees.

"Don't you love the smell?" Jerry said, practically burying his face in a Fraser fir. He sneezed loudly.

"Idiot," muttered Ted, noticing too late that the little boy had come to sit next to him. "Not you," he said to the boy. The boy just stared at the guitar case. "You like guitars?" The boy nodded. "Me too. You want to see her?"

The boy's eyes widened. He didn't nod or say anything, but it was clear that he would very much like to see the guitar. Ted opened the case. The boy looked at the instrument, its honey-golden body and dark neck, intricate inlays on the fretboard and gold plated knobs and pickups.

"Play him something," called Jerry, still checking out the trees.

"I don't know any kid's tunes," said Ted.

"He likes Christmas songs," said the mother, who had come back with two mugs of coffee. Ted accepted one of the mugs, took a sip, then put the case on the ground in front of him and took out the guitar.

Ted strummed a couple of chord, then closed his eyes, as if to shut out the world, especially the canned music coming from across the street, and began to play "Silent Night". His huge hands, which seemed to be too thick, too clumsy of construction to negotiate the six closely spaced strings, moved over the fretboard with the grace and unpredictable but purposeful delicacy of butterflies touching down on a bank of flowers, extracting the sweetness of each blossoming note, then rising and touching down again and again.

The mother sat next to her son. He climbed on her lap and she wrapped her arms around him and began to sing. Although Ted made slight changes, added little embellishments with each repeat, she followed easily, holding her son, her own eyes closed as she sang.

As they began the last verse "Silent night, holy night, Son of God, love's pure light" the boy nudged his mother and she opened her eyes to see her husband standing there, the repaired bicycle at his side. The other sounds of the intersection had seemed to fade to almost nothing, a distant hum of activity. As Ted strummed the final chord Jerry's voice came from the rows of unsold trees.

"I don't know, how much do you think it should be?"

They all looked in Jerry's direction. He was standing at the end of a row, holding a tree out for an old man to inspect.

"It doesn't matter," said the old man. "I've got no money to buy a tree. I just heard the music and thought I would come have a look. Remember better times."

He turned and went back to the parking lot. But when he got to the old sedan, he opened the trunk, took out a battered guitar case and came back to Ted. "This belonged to my best friend. We got together every Christmas and played carols for the neighbors. Just strolling down the street, Sam on his guitar and me on my fiddle. Used to drive the wives crazy sometimes." He smiled for a moment. "Sam died three years ago. Lottie, that's his widow, gave his guitar to me. I'm ashamed to say I was going to sell it. But it looks like the music shop isn't here anymore." He stood there for a moment, as if studying Ted. "I'd like you to have it. It's got a lot of music left in it and the way you play I know it'll be in good hands."

He opened the case to reveal an old acoustic guitar, the soundboard almost worn through around the pickguard. "He called her Frankie," he said. "Never told anybody why, including me."

"Sarah's the jealous kind," said Ted, his arms enveloping the golden instrument on his lap. "But if Frankie's looking for a new home, you brought her to the right place." He nodded at the father. "Jerry, hold the bike."

Jerry took the bicycle and the old man handed the guitar to the father. He held it high, close to his ear, plucked a single string with his thumb and nodded. But he handed the guitar back to the old man.

"She's beautiful," he said. "But I can't give you anything for her."

"But if he's giving it away," said the mother.

"We don't take handouts," said the father.

"You weren't just going to give it to him," said Jerry. "Were you?"

"Ahh," said the old man. "Actually I―"

"Nah," said Jerry. "He was talking a trade. One guitar for one tree."

"My Marian would like a tree," said the old man. "And Frankie sure is tired of sitting in that case all the time."

"I don't know," said the father.

"We have a lovely noble right over there," said the mother. "It needs a home too."

"Then it's a deal," said the old man.

The father took the guitar once more. Ted played an open string and the father tuned the old guitar to the honey gold Sarah. Ted began to play "Silent Night " again and the father joined in, strumming chords tentatively at first, and then with more assurance. When he looked up briefly the old man was gone. But coming from the parking lot, by where the old sedan had been, came the sound of a violin, playing "Silent Night" along with the guitars. As if drawn in by the music, came cars into the parking lot; and out of the cars came people. Families and young couples and friends. And they gathered around the music and sang and then they bought trees. All of the trees on the lot.

Except the noble fir. It was already gone.

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Kreativ Blogging Award

Hey, I've Gotten an Award!

Incredible though it may seem, Sketches by Plumboz has received the coveted Kreativ Blogger Award. This prestigious award involves a substantial amount of cash, to be paid to my descendants in irregular installments as determined by the cast of "30 Rock", dinner at the White House with Dick Cheney (date to be chosen from among "President and Family Not In Residence" dates on White House calendar), and a guest spot on a repeat episode of "Montel Williams Cooks Thai!".

Naturally, an award with such special and profitable consequences has a string or two attached. I have to expose seven things about myself that are not general knowledge, and I need to recommend seven other worthy blogs.

So, here goes.

1.  I like the music of Gary Lewis and the Playboys

2.  My shoulders are not even

3.  I played Geoffrey, the middle son of Henry II in a college production of "Lion in Winter" and I did not look too terrible in those damned itchy woolen leggings we had to wear. Just terrible enough for people to comment.

4.  I can't get my lawn to look good no matter what I do.

5.  I like cloudy days.

6.  I live in the sunniest metropolitan area in the country (Phoenix) Okay, so that's not really a little known fact, but let's face it, my life is an open book. With highlighted paragraphs and dogeared pages.

7.  I make really good waffles.

Wow, that was tough and not a little embarrassing. But it's over, so now we'll move on to Seven Blog Worth Your Time.

7.  Anthony Bourdain  I think he would especially like to be awarded the Kreativ Blogger badge of honor.

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Time for a Thank You

I am sitting here, listening to a rare Dick Haymes LP, and it strikes me as an appropriate time to express my thanks to the men in my life who made this moment possible. I have had the great good fortune to have some beautiful women in my life: my sweet, gentle, proper mother; my athletic, gregarious, outgoing sister; my amazingly focused, can-do, beautiful wife; my talented, smart and lovely beyond her own comprehension daughter. Many female friends over the years who have supplied me with ample evidence that God did indeed save the best for the last gender He created. I like women, about that let there be no doubt. But today I would like to say thanks to a few of the whiskered (and in some cases, male pattern balded) people who contributed so much to what little I can claim in the way of admirable, or at least fairly unique, character traits.

Why did the Dick Haymes LP bring this subject about? Chances are Dear Reader is waiting for me to explain just who this Haymes fellow is, or was, or is about to Google the name or submit it to Wikipedia. Here's a very brief intro, feel free to do your own research; Haymes was a pretty big name in show biz in the 1940's. He was an honest to gosh movie star in many musicals of the 40's, and a lot of songs from those films became popular hits for him, like "It Might As Well Be Spring" from State Fair. By the time I came around and grew a bit and had funds to purchase records, the name of Dick Haymes was ancient history and certainly not of interest to a Baby Boomer like me. But Dad had always had music in the house. Having grown up in the Thirties and Forties he of course gravitated towards the Great American Songbook and the jazz of the Dorseys and Benny Goodman, Harry James and Count Basie. But he also had a nice classical collection, with Dvorak, Tschaikovsky, Ferde Grofe, Howard Hansen, Jacques Ibert, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmoninoff and, of course, Gershwin on both LP's and 78's. Not to mention the weekly Boston Pops programs on PBS we watched as a family. I grew to understand and appreciate musical excellence in both popular song and concert hall styles. So when, as a young man of twenty-four I found a single copy of a newly released Dick Haymes album, I read the album notes, saw the song list and went for it. It's not my most frequently spun platter, but when I do dig it out, it's always good. And it wouldn't be there if it hadn't been for Dad.

 But I wouldn't have anything to spin it on if it wasn't for the generosity of my late friend Paul. The Dual turntable I have was given to me by Paul shortly after my Technics one gave up the ghost and I had no funds with which to replace it. Paul was in the market for something new himself, he said, and the Dual had already seen good service with him, but that was the way with him, he was careful to disguise acts of well timed generosity to minimize what he felt might be too much unnecessary gratitude on the part of the recipient. A couple of years before he passed away from multiple myeloma, he gave me his reel to reel tape deck and collection of tapes, including the recordings he and I made with our short lived band Spectrum and some often ridiculous, occassionally inspired jam sessions we conducted with our mutual friends Dane, Doug and Neal.

Paul was my friend for thirty-five years. We were in plays together in high school, reconnected when I came back home from a year in California and shared an apartment for five years until I got married. He was married shortly after. We tried to meet for coffee every week and played on opposite sides of the net in doubles tennis almost every Sunday with our mutual friends Jon and Andy for decades. He was the best man at my wedding and, along with my wife, I will always consider him to be my best friend, that rare and precious individual who understood what was going on inside me without needing any words. The guy who knew all the same cultural references, memorized all the same song lyrics, went ga-ga over the same female movie stars and singers. We shared so much, good and bad. It's good to have his turntable to play my LP's on, whether it be Dick Haymes or, more to Paul's taste, John Coltrane. When I lift the tonearm and gently place the needle in the grooves, I think of Paul.

The photo is from right before my wedding. Paul is the one of the left. He brought the fake nose and moustaches for himself, Andy and Jon. I liked my springloaded specs. The minister did not approve.

Mr. Jay Dean Jones was my theater teacher in high school. From him I learned about discipline, courtesy, fun, making choices, hard work and its payoffs, and the absolute joy of collaborative effort. He was my teacher in all of the theater classes Westwood High offered, my director in school plays as well as community theater musicals. He was patience itself, yet knew when and how to command your attention without ever having to raise his voice. He was gentle and authoritative, precise and freewheeling. He took chances but never compromised. He made me want to be a teacher, but when I went away to college I found I wasn't him and I was so disappointed that I veered from that path. I have tried to get back on it a couple of times since then but circumstances have not been in my favor. Perhaps that is for the best. I would forever be trying to be a second rate Jay Dean Jones, and the world doesn't need one of those. It has already experienced the real thing.

I hadn't become enamored of photography until near the end of the time I had working with Mr. Jones. It took some scrounging to find a contact sheet that included this shot of him directing an actress in a production of "Showboat" I was in.

There are plenty of incredibly generous, talented, patient, good hearted, intelligent people, both men and women, who have blessed me with their friendship, guidance or just a few minutes of their time. But these three men will always be at the top of my list. Heck, they all knew me when I looked like this and they still liked me.

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.

A Bit About Me

My photo
I am a writer with a longtime interest in photography. I'm a dad, husband, photographer, and not very good guitarist. My first novel, Boomerang, is available in both paperback and ebook form at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and As a matter of fact, my second novel, The Baer Boys, can be found at exactly the same places.