Buddy Cushman Art

engaging stories of hope and joy


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Who Are Your Friends?

Sitting in the recliner early this morning, with coffee and a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic”, I got to thinking about the people in my life, and more specifically, the color of the pimageseople in my life. It’s a current topic for thought, what with the incredibly sad events of this last week, and further back in time. Where there has been much discussion and suggestion and confrontation regarding the idea of walking a mile in my shoes.  Regarding that just maybe you, whoever you are, haven’t got a clue what it’s like to live and shop and sell and drive and gather and sing and worship, for that matter, in my shoes.

So I got to thinking about my life, and the people in it, mostly the people currently in it, but back all along the way too. And I thought that I would try to get a little analytical about it, though me and analysis are usually like the Hatfields and McCoys. Anyway, what better place to begin my search for the reality of my people milieu than in that friendliest of friend places of all — Facebook.

As of this morning I have 408 “Friends” on my Facebook page. I italicize the word because, I’m imagining like most people on FB, some of my friends are more like friends I haven’t met yet, in my case other artists and writers, the occasional friend of a friend, people from various locations along the way, etc, etc. I came down into the basement, here, to the computer, found a blank sheet of scrap paper, and began tallying up the exact specifics of just who make up my friends today.

Of my 408 Facebook friends, 20 are black. That works out to just under 5%. If I add in friends of Hispanic heritage, and the artists I’ve befriended along the internet way from Iraq, India, Portugal, and Japan, the total of my so-called non-white friends, I find that a little less than 9% are non-Caucasian — not Honkeys, if that resonates more.

Within the current population of the United States, the number of African-Americans totals 13.2% So I’m nowhere near representative of who my neighbors in the Country are. And speaking of neighbors, if I were to take a walk out my front door the chances are that I am not going to come along and wish a good morning hello to anyone with any color other than white for a face. Or when I sit in my favorite coffee shop.  Or at the local Trader Joe’s. In fact, I’d have to drive way up to NE Portland and North Portland to have a good chance of meeting a person of another race. Specifically, black people make up 6.3% of the Portland, OR population. And most live together.

There’s more. The black population percentage in the entire state of Oregon is 2% — TWO. In my home state of Massachusetts, black people make up 8.1% of the Commonwealth’s population, and in my adopted, wannabe home state of California, the number is 6.2%. By the way, it just might be so low in my current home state of Oregon because Oregon, in its statehood inception, not once but twice passed laws barring any people of a darker color from even moving into the state.

Then I went through my high school yearbook this morning. There were 119 of us in it graduating as the class of 1967 at Wareham High School, and of those 119, 20 — that’s 17% — were children of color. Better — and that’s the right word, the expansive, illuminating word — than any place I’ve noted above. That was us, the Class of ’67, WHS, all God’s children. And I am ever grateful that’s where I grew up, or at least started getting older.

I lived in Oakland, CA for a while, and visited there a couple of months ago. Black lives make up 28% of the current population of Oakland, and all I had to do was walk out my friend Gavin’s front apartment building door to begin my immersion into a world of color, on the sidewalks, at the Whole Foods, around Lake Merritt. Everywhere. And the fact of the matter is I felt energized and stimulated and bigger, even. And grateful.

The title of this blog post, and I wasn’t really writing it about me, is “Who Are Your Friends?” So I’ll ask my white Facebook friends to, right now, take a couple of minutes and tally up your percentages. My guess is that most of you won’t even come up with my sorry percent of 5% of black friends. I’d like to be wrong, but I bet I’m not. I don’t say that as a Yay for me or a Boo for you. I say it because it’s something to think about the next time we, any of us, think we know how it is for someone else, someone who looks different from us, and that you can at least consider that, well, maybe you don’t. Because how much practice are you getting?

Driving while black? – there’s a new phrase appearing in my world. I don’t know what that’s like. Maybe some of my friends can help me understand it a little better. Maybe some of your friends can help you.

If we bother to just talk with each other some more. And listen.

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I’ve Become An Android

Here’s a word for the day definition.  Dystopian — an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives. That according to the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary. They add — an imaginary place where people are unhappy and usually afraid because they are not treated fairly.

George Orwell’s novel “1984” depicts one such future place, imaginary place that is. Another example might be the film “Blade Runner” and the Philip K. Dick book that inspired it, “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?”. Orwell’s novel was published in 1949, right about the time I was making my entrance on this green and blue planet, so it was always part of the backdrop of my growing up. Always there during my evolution from small town Protestant boy, son of card-carrying Republican parents to hippie/wannabe yippie draft resisting protest marching and sitting and non-complying leftie. And in full disclosure we can’t forget to mention prolonged alcoholic/drug dependent non-reality testing burnout.

But always there was 1984, whatever the party affiliation or beer du j0ur, and its always ominous warning — Big Brother Is Watching!!  And over time, growing up, of course it was true. Big Brother is watching. And it’s never stopped being true. Just check with Edward Snowden. Or maybe Julie Nixon, who, by the way, was born just six months before me, born a few months before George Orwell started scaring us. So, she’s kind of a soul mate of mine.

Which is all neither here nor there, the ongoing ramblings of my often dysfunctional mind and not what I want to talk about in the next seven hundred words or so. Because here’s the really outrageous, almost beyond belief, I can hardly believe I’m about to write this down and put it out in public question: and it’s this — Is Big Brother watching enough?

I know, I know. I’ll have to turn in my official yippee card, unlearn the secret handshake, and remove the pictures of Joan Baez and Chrissie Hynde off my wall. Two women I wrote in for President in different elections during the 80s. Heck, I wrote in Joan twice. But those days have come to a screeching halt, it seems, because I’ve morphed into one of those dystopian characters, with my unhappy and usually afraid and fearful life. And I can’t turn on the TV or the computer without falling further in.

Because I’ve found myself wondering lately whether or not Big Brother is watching enough. I mean, really. That’s what I’m wondering. Here’s an example. Last Tuesday, January 7th, I had an idea and I made a decision to post a wonderful oldie song, something from my childhood and 20-something years, on my Facebook page everyday. For a long time. Just to put something fun there, something that would cheer people up. I decided to start doing it the next day. But the next day when I turned on the computer there was murder and terror in Paris, and the next day, and the next day, and my heart went out of the song thing. (I am happy to say that the desire to try and spread cheer and happiness eventually pushed through the Blade Runner rain and misery and I started those musical posts yesterday) But I watched a lot of TV and looked at a lot of news on line and thought about it all a lot.

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I’m the Eggman, You’re the Walrus

I got to thinking the other morning, after reading some of Natalie Goldberg’s “Wild Mind”, about how 20140817_090403different we all are. And I got to thinking, actually it was more wondering, how that happens. How we get that way. That’s what I was wondering.

“I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” Ring a bell? The sentiment expressed that there is some real degree of sameness among us. Within us. But really? Is that really the case? “We are all together” is the case. Can’t help it, we’re all stuck on the same planet. But beyond that?

Nature versus nurture. The age old question, is one more important than the other in determining who you are, who you become, why you become who you become, who I am, who I became, how I got to be – well – me? Nature, I guess genes and chromosomes and all that. Nurture, my parents sent me to bed with no dinner, my parents spanked me – or didn’t spank me – I grew up in a small town, near the ocean, racially mixed, filled with tourists. I grew up in a housing project in a large Midwestern city, racially mixed. I grew up in a housing project in South Boston, absolutely no racial mixing, or in a town north of Boston that had maybe three “black families” and all I knew about black people is what my parents and my friends told me, taught me. I had grandparents who loved me, always told me I was a gift, a bundle of joy, my grandparents were dead when I was born. I had a single mother who worked 14 hours a day, who always told me I was a blessing, a bundle of life, I had two parents living in an estate north of New York City who didn’t really tell me anything, excepting that money changes everything.

How did I get to be me? How did you get to be you? How is it that people I consider very close friends, some from all the way back to grade school, some I met in college, some I got sober with and got my life back with and shared secrets with – how is it that we can watch a news cast and have 180 degree differences on what that means for us, how it speaks to us, why it confirms yet again that things are the way they are, that things don’t change, that we get it. And after we watch the news we run over to the corner of the living room and grab our sign that says “always say hooray for our side” and rush out the front door and out into the streets, saying “See. Told ya.”

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To You Five In Massachusetts

From my Morning Pages

I realized, sitting in the recliner just recently, that today is Thursday and 20140817_090403I have a blog post due. This in addition to my commitment to write and complete a first draft for my college final – which, it turns out, will earn me no grade but a sense of satisfaction, adventure accomplished – due early next week. And I have no post ready for publication.

Not that I have a vast readership, in fact perhaps not a readership greater than five. But I vowed – to myself – that I would post a new blog every Thursday, and I have so far with the occasional Wednesday and Friday necessity-driven publication, and as keeping goal-related promises and vows to myself has not exactly been a strength over all these years, it feels important now. Really important.

All of which means I need to come up with something to say, and as it is just past seven am, and say within the next five or six hours. (You have to figure who, in fact, are your potential five readers and in what time zone do they live and when people are more likely to be looking at Facebook – where I announce my new blog post – and so for me and my goal for maximum exposure, that is somewhere around 2 – 2:30 pm. Pacific Standard Time.) – (I could live out here in Portland, in the West, on the west coast for the next 25 years and still have most of my faithful connections and friends and devoted readers be from three hours ago, back over there in the East, and mostly in Massachusetts.)

So, geography and time zones and personal living history notwithstanding, I need to get busy and try to come up with a post that is at once witty and engaging and unique. In fact the potential range of subjects is endless primarily because anything I write and post, even if it lacks any wit or any degree of engagement with my likely Massachusetts reader, will be unique. No one else could have written it but me.

I could write that it’s pouring outside now, and romantic as rainfall may be described, I’m sick of it, sick of the Portland rain. Or write how I attended my last Portland State University class yesterday and felt sad and proud and wildly stimulated even knowing I will, as an “adult learner”, receive no grade. But I remain committed to writing my final, a new short story with at least two drafts included, to be turned in by next Wednesday, and as I have planned all week to do that today and then re-write on Saturday, and as I have only recently realized I have a blog post due today, in a few hours, and do not have the strength or intelligence to write engagingly about the ongoing racial sickness and sadness in our Country – I’ll just use this

 


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I’m Not There

Writing at a small table in my local coffee shop the other day I looked over the shoulder of one of the regulars. He was sitting in one of the big, soft, comfortable chairs set up in a square in the middle of the room. He was reading the local newspaper – the Portland ‘Oregonian’ – and when I looked closely I saw he was reading the obituary page. One with full color photos.

This moment sent me back in time. In the early to mid 1980s I worked for a youth counseling place called The Drug and Alcohol Resource Program. This was in Stoneham, MA, about eight miles north of Boston. I was just getting sober then, in fact worked for that program a couple of months before I came to the conclusion that I was, indeed, one of the people the program was designed to serve, and made the decision to put away alcohol and drugs. Anyway, I was hired before the program officially opened, and with the other few staff worked to transform a small old machine shop building into a warm, inviting, counseling and resource center, with newly walled small offices and new paint and donated furniture. We also attempted to recruit volunteers to assist in the program’s efforts, and managed to find one. His name was Frank. He lived about a half mile up the main road heading over to Melrose and had an easy walk down to our office every day. Frank was a recovering alcoholic himself, and had been out of work for quite some time when we made his acquaitance.

Frank was an all around good guy. He quickly became a devoted father-like figure to our boss Maggie, and a good friend and sometime advisor to me. Frank was willing to do anything Maggie needed done and asked him to do, but as we neared our official opening thKingsburyMemorialobit1ere became fewer and fewer of those needs. So, and this went on for the next three years, mostly what Frank would do was come to the office every day, make and drink coffee, hang around and shoot the breeze with whomever was available, and read the paper. Now if you live in the greater Boston area, well actually Massachusetts, come to think of it New England, anyway, you are a Red Sox fan. It’s genetic. So you would often find Frank doing what Red Sox fans do, reading stories about the Red Sox and offering opinions how to fix everything. The other place you would find Frank when it came to the newspaper – both The Boston Globe and the local weekly Stoneham paper – was at the obituary pages. That’s where he went. Every day. All the time. And when asked why he was forever looking at those pages, Frank had this reply.

“To see if I’m in there.”

Frank has been in those pages a very long time now, but I have never forgotten him or his reply. So I thought of Frank when I looked over that guy’s shoulders and saw him reading the obits. And I wondered if he was looking to see if he was in there. And then I had this thought. “I hope I never get caught looking at the obituaries in the paper.” Not not getting caught because I am so sneaky, but because I never want to find myself there. Doing that. I would much prefer to be found reading something like the menu for the lunches at the junior high school next week. That’d be more my speed, more my place in the world, more with my peeps. (FYI – For all you youngsters, local newspapers always printed the school lunches for the following week. It was a community service. I hope some still do.)

I’ll have plenty of time to think about the Obits once I’m a member of that club. But not now. Now I want to be running with the junior high kids. Heading down to Jay’s drugstore after school, or the lunch counter at Sonny’s Pharmacy, to order a ring ding and a coke, and check out the girls. I want to head over to Royal Davis’s house and play touch or even tackle football on the front lawn, right next to Route 6 – the Route 6 that runs all the way from Provincetown, MA to Long Beach, CA . And if I’m too old and achy and slow to play football there, I want to be like the old guy I used to see walking around my hometown smoking a big cigar. Every day. Mr. Baker I think was his name. Out of the house, our from the TV, walking, walking, walking, seeing everything there is to see in my neighborhood, on my streets, in the downtown of my city. I want to be pushing paint around on a canvas,even if when it’s done I laugh and think it wouldn’t make the cut in a sixth grade art show. I want to run to my keyboard and write a story about the people who own the Astoria trout farm really being fish, fish that use humans for bait, and how an 18 year old college freshman girl becames a detective of the strange. I want to go to Pepino’s with my wife and spend $3.75 on the “El Cheapo” burrito for dinner, not just because I’m broke, but because I love that burrito and I love that place and I can look out their windows and see all the homeless folks and feel my heart bursting with gratefulness that I’m not one of them, and feel my heart breaking that they are there at all, and wonder what the hell am I going to do about it. I want to think those thoughts and have those feelings and paint my goofy paintings and write my bursting-with-life-and-aliens stories, and walk my streets and kiss my wife and call my sons and wonder how I can ever afford Christmas presents and then have all the joy of going out to buy whatever presents I can because the joy is in the buying – just like it was when I was 12 years old and went down to the 5 & 10 on the Main Street of my hometown and would pick out 25 cent glasses and cups for my mother for Christmas. Maybe out of my paper route money.

So, I do not plan on reading the obituary page ever, thank you very much. Maybe when I get there. For now I want to live and laugh and try new stuff and write stories that make people laugh and cry and want to get up and fix things, and I gotta keep running ahead of any reaper who would rather have me just sit down and wait.

Excuse me – I gotta head down the street to Royal’s, because there might be a game going on. And I don’t want to miss it. Aches and all.


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It Was Twisted and Sharp

The following is a 15 minute writing exercise I wrote at a Meet-up writing group in Portland a couple of years ago. We met every Saturday morning at an area coffee shop. The woman who organized the meet-up would offer a prompt – a word or group of words – to begin every new exercise, generally 15 or 20 minutes. The prompt offered here:

It was twisted and sharp”.

Desiree House

Halloween came early this year. It still fell, of course, on October 31. But it felt early. It had never been cold yet, all through the fall, and here in the northeast corner of Massachusetts we usually had a couple of frosts by Halloween. And it got here quicker, like school just started a couple of weeks ago and now it’s Halloween.

Ya, early.

That’s what Desiree Jones – Dez to her friends – was thinking under her vampire mask, her black cape tailing out behind her. She had already gone up one side of Sycamore Ave and down the other, and her bag had taken on a pleasing weight as it hung over her left shoulder.

“Does it feel like Halloween came early this year?” she asked Randy, her trick or treat partner and probably her best friend in the world. Randy actually called her “your Dez-ness”.

“How do you mean?” he asked back.

“Well, time seems to be racing on, like we just had a Labor Day barbeque and now we are trick or treating, a vampire and a werewolf walking down the street. And it is still kind of light out, and that’s weird, having this much candy and it is still light.”

Randy, though, had stopped listening around “Labor Day” because he had spied a fairy princess turning down Elm Street, and he was sure it was Bonnie Howlett, only the best looking and hottest sixth grader at Knock Middle.

“Hey, I’m running over there,” said Randy. “I’ll catch up to you in a little.”

“Boys,” thought Desiree, as she turned off Sycamore onto Larkin Lane, where the houses and street lights were spaced farther apart. She went to the first house on the left, there were no lights on, and no one answered her knock. The same thing happened at the second house, and again at the third. But as she turned to go down the stairs the door opened and a woman about 25, cat whiskers painted on her face, said, “Oh, you cute little vampire, please come in and I’ll get you five bars of candy. We have had so few trick or treaters tonight.”

Dez, against her better judgment and a thousand mother warnings, followed the woman back into the house, and as she did the woman turned left into a room off the hall and was gone. At the same time the door swung shut behind Desiree. She felt a rush of fear, turned and ran back to the door. But when she grabbed the handle it was twisted and sharp, and would not turn. She felt the skin on her palm tear as she struggled to open the door.

“Why won’t it turn,” she thought. “What’s wrong? Where’s Randy? Who will help me?”

And that is when she heard, ever so softly, the sound behind her, approaching.

“Meow.”

All Hallow’s Eve – early this year.


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One For The Road — Part One

Back inBlack label my hometown there was this guy – an old black man – who seemingly materialized up from behind the railroad tracks. He wasn’t there, and then he was. I came to know him as a guy who would buy beer and sometimes Tango or Southern Comfort for me. He wasn’t there every time I was looking to drink, but more often he was. And for a price, usually fifty cents, he would go into the package store just over from the A & P and come out a minute later with a six pack of Black Label bottles in a bag for me, and something for himself. I never knew that man’s name.

Let me say here I have a hard time with stories that jump around. It’s the present, next it’s the past, here one character speaks, now someone else is speaking. I have a hard time following. Maybe it’s the injury and my brain being scrambled, maybe it’s all the Black Label and now there is less of a brain, scrambled or not. Maybe my mind, from day one, was only designed to function on the keep it simple level. Whatever the case, this story is being told pretty much in a straight line, from where it began in Wellingham, Massachusetts, hard by the body of water known as Buzzards Bay, to where I sit now, back at my usual corner table in the Last Chance Saloon, two blocks off the beach in Santa Monica, California. My name is Kelly Silva. I am the star of the show, so to speak. There is another major player, a girl named Shalene Dunn. I guess it’s about her nearly as much as me. I’m just the one telling it.

I drank my way through my junior year in high school. I had been elected the class vice-president, the tainted result of an unwanted nomination and rigged election. The only vice-presidential action I ever took was to one time lead the Pledge of Allegiance at a class assembly, on a day Jennie Rivers, the president, was home with the flu. The truth is that throughout that school year I alienated a lot of people with my drinking and my antics, and by June I could not have been elected class clown. Nobody thought I was funny. Nobody, that is, except Roland Demeter III, Rolo, my best and likely only friend. He still thought I was funny.

That summer, between my junior and senior years, I worked for AT&T, thanks to a connection my Dad had. My job was to collect LIDS – left in disconnected telephones – from summer homes in Falmouth and Bourne on Cape Cod. I would get a company van early in the morning at the Wellingham garage and drive over the Bourne Bridge and out to East Falmouth, stopping at cottages and small homes that served as summer rentals for people from up around Boston and the western parts of Massachusetts. I was provided with a long list of addresses every morning and would start at the ones furthest away and work my way back toward the canal, and home. Most summer rentals back then were for two weeks and people would often have a phone installed so they could stay in touch with family and friends back home, or with a dad still working in the city and only coming down, along with about 300,000 other people, to the Cape on a Friday night. When the two weeks were over, and they went fast in the summer, the renters would head home to Roslindale and Marlborough and West Springfield, and the phone – generally on a wall – would be left behind. The phone would have been turned off when the renters left, hence “left in disconnected”. AT&T wanted their phones back and that was my job, take away travel and lunch, about six hours a day, five days a week. I managed to actually find a new renter or a landlord or rarely an open door on a somewhat whimsical basis, so if I had been given a list with 25 addresses on it that morning a successful day’s work would find me turning in 16 or 17 phones to the garage just before 5 p.m. I did that job for two summers and went to some addresses probably five or six times during that time. I go to know Falmouth and Bourne on the Cape side of the canal a little better, made a little money and saved less, and generally managed to stay out of trouble summer days.

Summer nights were different. Wellingham was made up of small beach communities as well as a number of cranberry bogs and a cover of woods over a fair part of the town. So it wasn’t hard to find a party going on somewhere, pretty much every night. I’d pick up Rolo or he’d pick me up, we’d find a buyer, often the mystery man from beyond the railroad tracks, and drink a six pack or two and in the course of the try to convince some girl, maybe some girl from somewhere else now on a two-week respite in Wellingham, about what good company we would make. I would say our success rate successfully arguing our case with young women was a little less than my rate of success coming back with LIDS at work. All in all, not bad.

It was on one of these find a buyer, head to the beach, convince a girl nights that “the injury” came into my life, and changed everything. I had just come back to the main party from a steamy make-out session with a girl named Roberta when Rolo said he’d run out of beer. He was going to go get some and I needed to keep him company. Bad timing Rolo. But friends are friends, and I had exactly one, so I promised Roberta we would be right back and hopped in his VW bug. About 15 minutes later we were getting out of the car in the A & P parking lot when some guys driving by in a dark green ’57 Chevy yelled out for us to go fuck ourselves. Rolo had the good sense to let that slide and began scouring the lot for a potential buyer. I, on the other hand, felt the need to reply to the Chevy crew, and threw them the finger.

 

To Be Continued