Thursday, December 14, 2017

Cousin Jim's band

In the fall of 1973, after I moved back to Idaho from Washington, my cousin Jim suggested we should team up to write songs. He was taking organ lessons and learning how to sort of string notes together. I'd been feverishly scribbling short stories for a couple years. Seemed like an obvious first step toward forming a band.
I had visions of my cousin becoming a younger Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman. Turned out the organ he was learning how to play was one of those little living-room electric organs millions of families had back in the early '70s when they were briefly a fad -- the kind that "anyone" could play, with "automatic" settings and reedy keyboard tones and percussion noises like a popcorn machine.
I quickly churned out half a dozen lyrics for Jim, waiting to see where this might lead. The high-school girl who was teaching Jim how to make noise on the keyboard thought the lyrics were OK, and said she might be interested in joining us if we were planning on forming a group. It helped that Jim had a big crush on her. That was always motivational -- one of the lyrics I wrote was about a girl classmate I had a crush on. She didn't even know my name.
All we needed for our "band" was someone who could sing, a guitarist, bassist and drummer. None of that was ever going to happen. Mostly because neither Jim or I knew any musicians our age, and neither of us were very outgoing.
Jim never got any tunes written -- I'm sure it was much harder than writing lyrics -- and the band idea died. I thought making random squawking noises on the organ was much more fun (and much easier) than actually learning to PLAY the thing. But then, I never had enough self-discipline to learn how to play an instrument.
I didn't put much weight on any of this stuff at the time. It was just another phase we went through. After all, I grew up with Jim. He was my closest friend for years, and indirectly introduced me to radio, rock and roll, and science fiction. I thought he was a normal 14-year-old, just like me.
Then I started noticing that he was maybe just a little slow. I first noted this when I was the only one of his friends who showed up for his 15th birthday party. We didn't care. We had a great time anyway, fumbling our way through making homemade pizza. We managed to not poison ourselves, and even cleaned up after ourselves, which must have been a relief for my Aunt Vera, Jim's mom.
I spent most of the summer of 1974 with Jim, riding our bikes around Cascade Reservoir in the mountains of central Idaho, getting farther into music and science fiction, spending the whole summer doing what we wanted, as if parents and chores didn't exist. When I did talk to my aunt and uncle, it was mainly to tell them how out-of-date their musical tastes were. They listened to stuff from the '40s! They liked Lawrence Welk!
After high school, Jim would occasionally show up at my front door without warning, hanging around for three hours and expecting me to entertain him somehow. But that wasn't as easy as it had been when we were 14 or 15.
At one point, I lived next door to him in the same dumpy trailer court. There Jim pretty much kept to himself, which was kind of a surprise. But after my girlfriend Tina got grabbed while throwing out the trash one night, only then did Jim reveal that a woman had been raped in the trailer court a year earlier -- as if this information wasn't that important, as if we didn't need to be careful.
Somewhere I had passed Jim by. I realized it, maybe he did too. I was hanging out with people like me, with interests in music and writing, who were maybe too fast and glib for my cousin. Sometimes they were too fast and glib for me.
Later, when I'd moved to an apartment elsewhere, Jim showed up at the front door without warning for the third night in a row, and I told him to go home and try calling first next time -- that I wasn't put here to entertain him all the time.
He went -- and the next time I talked to him a year later I was unemployed and looking for work. Jim had started driving a taxi, and thought there might be a spot for me. I was set to join the Air Force in six months, but that wouldn't feed me right then. Jim got me an interview -- then told the boss that I was leaving in six months, and the boss refused to hire me. I was furious about that one.
But Jim DID take me and my future ex-wife out for drinks a couple nights before I went off to basic training....
I went off to the military and then reporting, and lost touch with my cousin for 25 years. The next time I saw him was at my mother's funeral in 2008 -- where I barely recognized him. Suddenly he was a foot shorter than me -- how could that have happened? Just a dapper little man in a dark suit. We didn't talk.
After that he got in touch by e-mail, and said maybe we should start corresponding. But his letters were very odd -- he kept trying to sell me things. He barely spoke about himself at all. I finally pried out of him that he was living in a small town, with a crazy woman who made him do all the household chores, and who allowed him two hours a day to go to the library, where he tracked me down on the Internet. He had no job, no car, no prospects. He sounded like he was trapped in hell.
I wanted to know what he'd been doing for the past 25 years -- we had a lot to catch up on, right? He wouldn't tell me. Naturally, as an ex-reporter, I wondered what he was hiding, and I said so. He said I was "verbally nasty," and threatened to send Mormon missionaries to my door. He said what was missing in my life was God. I said God had certainly done him a lot of good.
That's about where we left it. A year or so ago, he e-mailed me and suggested we start writing again, ghod knows why. I responded that if he planned to try to sell me things or talk about the weather, he might as well not bother. If he wanted to write about something meaningful, bring it on. Naturally, he didn't bother, and awhile later I found out his e-mail address no longer worked.
Last week, while brainstorming blog ideas, I thought about the band Jim and I never had, and I looked him up on Facebook. There I learned that he'd become a Trumper, is still into God, and is apparently addicted to on-line video games. His Facebook page barely says a word about him personally. Can't tell if he's still with the same crazy woman, but he's still in the same town.
I'm sure if I "friended" him he'd respond, and would likely become that one person in my life I seem to have a sick need to Argue With. I'd prefer to avoid that. But he reinforces my belief that God and Trump are lifelines for people who Can't Figure Out What's Going On and feel deeply threatened and scared by it.
So though I may feel bad about some of the things I've said in the past, I'm not so sure that I really want to get back in touch....

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