Buddy Cushman Art

engaging stories of hope and joy


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Love Is An Ocean I Can’t Forget

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I am going to the ocean tomorrow. To this place.

I came from the ocean. I know, supposedly we all did, if you’re a Darwin kind of gal or guy. But, specifically, for me, I came from the ocean side. Born in New Bedford – the Whaling City – raised in Wareham, a town filled with beach communities and bays and water all about. I graduated from Cape Cod Community College, a half mile from the Atlantic on those Main Street days, and later Salem State College, a stone’s throw from Salem Harbor/the Atlantic. I lived in Salem for many years, then off to Rockport and its peninsula self into the Atlantic for a winter, eventually to Plum Island and Newburyport, where the mighty Merrimack River flows into the cold ocean there.

When I first left Massachusetts, at age 27, I flew to Los Angeles and lived for a short while in both Venice Beach and Santa Monica. Later crashing in graduate housing at UC Irvine, hard by the Pacific, and working for a spell in San Clemente, able to take an occasional dip there or in Laguna Beach. A few years later it was New Smyrna Beach in Florida,ariel-view then Vero Beach. Back up to Mass and a year-long stint running an HIV/Aids housing program in Provincetown, a block from Cape Cod Bay. I squeezed a year and a half in Oakland, CA somewhere in there, crossing the bridge or taking BART under the San Francisco Bay, while running a kid program in the Lower Haight. Where, with the right eyes, you could see salt water from the tops of the highest hills. And certainly from Berkeley out from Blondies Pizza.

Yet somehow, within the reality of this always-by-an-ocean Bedouin life, I ended up in Portland, Oregon. Nearly 100 miles, as the raven flies, to the ocean. The Pacific. The one in the photos above. Some two hours away. Let me paraphrase “Remember the Titans”: How far? Too far? How far? Too far.

You can take the boy out of the ocean – if you must – but I don’t believe you can take the ocean out of the boy. Certainly not this boy…..Ocean si, Portland no.

I married an amazing woman

moonlight+beach+encinitasand her parents live in San Diego, and I have traveled there with her many times and everyone of those times been lucky enough to spend time in the Ocean Beach part of town. And swim there. A lot. We’ve day-tripped up to Encinitas a couple of times and swam at the gorgeous Moonlight Beach as well.

 

But most of the time, for these last eight and a half years of beach-withdrawal life in Portland, I have ached for the ocean. Deep down. I’m a beach boy. Look at my writing: “Ring Around The Rosy” and it’s ocean-side wander from Marion to Rockport; “Astoria Strange” where the Pacific sparkles and shines from the top of the Astoria Column. My current work, “When I Settle For Less“, book one of a novel set in southern California’s imaginary DeLoreal Beach.

You can’t take the boy out.

I’ve been blessed with the fact that my step-daughter Marie’s dad, my wife’s ex, owns with others a cottage three hundred yards from the Pacific Ocean in the Pacific Beach community of Tierra Del Mar. We rent it cheap for the promise of an amazing cleaning by me (and it’s always cleaner after than before), and I’ve been able to go and be there many times these last six years. The last two Marie and I – both writers – have commited to a “Writing Retreat” of five days/four nights, and I am thrilled to say our third such venture begins tomorrow. If the creek don’t rise and there ain’t no meltdown I’ll be right there, where I took those photos at the top, in a little less than 24 hours.

Get to refresh the genetic shadows deep within, of life by the water.

Get to rejoice.

"Gorgeous sunset from UC Berkeley!"

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Bread Crumbs

The guy behind the counter was playing jazz when I took my coffee to a chair in the Just Bob Coffee Shop on Alberta in Northe20160916_142455_hdrast Portland last Friday. It was just after two in the afternoon, and while there was the occasional customer lining up at the take-out counter, most of the seats in the shop were empty. Mostly I didn’t hear the jazz music playing, and when it would intrude into my consciousness every once in a while, I’d ignore it. Jazz is not my thing. It’s funny, my non-appreciation of that purely American music form, because it was a favorite of The Beat writers, including Jack Kerouac, one of the writers I most revere, and try to borrow from as a writer. He wrote like jazz, these long, often connectedly discombobulated riff of words, sometimes making up new words to suit the flavor of the riff. Like jazz.keruoac

Which isn’t really the point, other than saying I love Kerouac and don’t like jazz.

There was a woman sitting in one of the three stuffed chairs in the shop — I was in another, facing her — and she was reading a paperback book, a softcover to be exact, and squinting my eyes I could see the title of the book was “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together In the Cafeteria?” She herself was a black woman, young, maybe mid 30s, and was taking notes in a bound notebook like the one I carried in. Mine was for recording any ideas I could brainstorm for the 11th and final story in my collection of Astoria, Oregon tales. (None happened to arrive while I was there.) So, I shifted tasks, and asked The Universe for ideas for future Blog posts — like this one — and the thought came to me to play detective — Buddy Cushman, Coffee Shop Sleuth — and follow the woman’s book wherever it would lead me.

When I got home, it took quite a while from NE way down to SE where I live, with Friday afternoon city traffic, but it was sunny and hot and I was playing, very loudly, one Tower of Power song after another, so the trip was not only tolerable but, in fact, a wicked blast, rolling, singing, howling, party on wheels (think The 52s “Love Shack” www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SOryJvTAGs ) Anyway, at the computer dr-tatumI googled the book from Just Bob’s and learned it is a highly valued thought piece on race and race identity and relations in the Country, collective experiences and perspectives written by Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, the President of Spelman College in Georgia. Here is a ten and a half minute review, very thorough and interesting, of the book and its author. It’s worth a look and listen:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_l5bO9KZrY&list=PLlFqqfHxQmjOGUX3oN6On3kJW253lUGRx     I now have the book on order from The Multnomah County Library system.

What can be more important than how we live with, and value, each other?

The woman with the book left before me, and I sat there looking at the sun stream through the multiple front windows of the shop. At some point the barista behind the counter changed the music and I instantly recognized the opening descending bass and violins of The Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee”. Hard to imagine anyone doesn’t know the song, and certainly anyone who grew up in the 60s. I mean, the empty sidewalks on my block are not the same.

I was struck, wleft-bankehen “Pretty Ballerina” came on a couple of songs later, about the so-often-highlighted black and whiteness of the world — of the day. The woman and her book, it’s black title, and now a thoroughly ‘white’ sounding pop group from 1965 New York City. After another song I walked up to the counter and asked the guy what exactly he was playing. Turns out it was a “best of” collection by The Left Banke called ‘There’s Gonna Be a Storm: the Complete Recordings 1966 – 1969’. A
couple of songs , white poppy little things, stood out to me — I’d never heard them, shame on me, especially working in a record store most of those years and holding The Banke’s debut album in my hands many times. So here they are, for your listening enjoyment, and maybe they are long-time favorites. “She May Call You Up Tonight”:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZSlF2AkrS4   and “Let Go Of You Girl”:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=POdiO1xOg-E

Way cool. And maybe all this matters not a wit to anyone but me, Buddy Cushman – Coffee Shop Sleuth. Oh well. And by the way, as Oakland’s Tower of Power — a strong example of what glory we can get when you combine black and white — since they helped me along my way home, I’ll end with one from them. Thanks for showing up.

“So Very Hard To Go”:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9BRqGpppJw

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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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Hunter and Me

 

There are Hunter 2eight million artist stories in the city. This is mine. This is called “Hunter and Me”.

This is a story involving my old friend Dr. Doug Martin. It also involves Bob Zimmerman, my other old friend. I wrote about them in a previous blog – “67blondies”. They’re back.

I was living in a third floor apartment in Somerville, Massachusetts in 1984. You had to climb up wooden stairs outside the back of the house to get to my place. I wrote about this apartment, and my phone on the wall, in another blog – “One Friday Night”. I was working as an outreach counselor with teenagers for the Drug and Alcohol Resource Program in Stoneham, about seven miles north, and I had stayed away from any alcohol or drugs for about a year and a half. I wasn’t married, I didn’t have a girlfriend, I had an old used car, I had started collecting some actual possessions, certainly more than the two trash bags of items in my friend Bob Hallett’s cellar a town over that I could claim the day I said “if I booze, I lose, so I’m done”. Overall I was pretty happy. This is a fairly complete summation of my life back at the beginning of October in 1984 when the phone rang.

Doug was calling from Los Angeles. “Bud, Hunter Thompson is speaking at Berkeley. We must attend, the universe demands it. Saying no is not an option.” I explained in a previous blog that Doug lived much of his life in a wheelchair, the result of polio contracted when he was six years old, a year before the vaccine was discovered. I had met Doug out in LA on the first of a number of east/west journeys and adventures, and had morphed into his attendant at times, carrying him in and out of cabs and airplanes, putting him in his electrified wheelchair, setting up and turning on his breathing equipment at bedtime. Doug was well respected in disability services circles in California and I had traveled with him a few times around the state when he was attending commission meetings. And once to Washington DC. Now Doug was telling me that he had a State Disability Commission meeting in Oakland at the end of October and he was going to get the State of California to pay for a plane ticket for me roundtrip from Boston to LA so I could then fly with him to Oakland and serve as his attendant during the conference, and after, when we would stay the weekend and see Dr. Hunter Thompson speak at Berkeley. Doug was right. Saying “no” wasn’t an option.

So I put in for vacation, flew out to LA the last week in October – Doug and an attendant picking me up at LAX, then Doug’s parents bringing us back to LAX the next day for the flight to Oakland, where we stayed at the Sheraton out near the airport where the conference was being held, and then transferred over to the Durant Hotel in Berkeley, literally a stone’s throw from the campus. It was another memorable adventure with Doug, and Bob, who came over from San Francisco to hang out with us. Halloween was a Wednesday that year, and we ended up at a costumed Halloween party in Berkeley with about 20 people, Bob and I the only ones not in wheelchairs. Then on the Saturday night three days later the three of us rolled and strolled over to Cal Berkeley and watched and listened to the Hunter Thompson show. It was great. The next day Doug had planned for someone else to fly with him back to LA, and after goodbyes all around they dropped me at the San Francisco airport and I boarded my plane for the flight back to Boston.

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Gone Missing At the Community Center

My name is Michael DeWitt. Micky, my friends call me. Lots of mouse jokes growing up, not so much anymore. Jokes or no jokes, it’s all the same to me. My job, one I have held for nearly four years now, is being the greeter at the Northside Community Center in Oakland, California. Our building is on the east side of Telegraph Ave in the area they call Upper Telegraph, just before Ashby Ave and the Berkeley city line. This is the northern end of Oakland, hence “Northside”.

Actually my official title at Northside is Receptionist One. Since I’m the only receptionist it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but whatever. I guess on my vacation days – too few – or my sick days – almost none – when someone else sits in my chair at the desk just inside the front door, they could be called Receptionist Other. The community center is an absolutely wonderful place, people in and out all the time, all kinds of really important classes and support groups and activities going on all the time, from the 7 a.m. day care til the women’s group that meets two nights a week until 9 p.m. I am so lucky to work there because I feel like I’m part of something special, a place that really serves and helps the community, heck, helps the planet. Oakland is a tough town. If you just watch the news you think Oakland is a violent, frightening, unlivable town. The people who live here, who grew up here – and I’m one of them – know better. Yeah, there is violence, too much of it at times, and yes there are parts of town you don’t really want to be visiting late at night. But unlivable? No way. I spent three years in college just outside Boston, and two years up in Portland, OR finishing school and doing an internship, and compared to those places Oakland is just so alive, so filled up with loving, happy, loud, colorful people, I mean walking around the lake, hiking in the hills, sitting at the Mountain View Cemetery and looking over at San Francisco when the sun is going down, the Vietnamese vegetable shops, Jack London Square. And the people, mostly the people. I say you can’t beat it.

So my job at the center is to greet people as they come in, point them in the right direction if they don’t know where they are going, answer the phone and transfer calls or take messages, and – between you and me – do all kinds of things not listed in my written job description, making me, not only in my mind but in the minds of lots of other people who have told me, maybe the most important person in the building. My pay is decent $38,500 a year, I have great Kaiser health benefits, two weeks vacation and a little comp time here and there, and for the most part, I work with fabulous, caring people. So, how lucky am I?

One of the unwritten duties I own as the receptionist/maybe most important person in the building is to be in charge of the lost and found for the center. At Northside the lost and found consists of a big maroon plastic bin, like something you would store towels in up on some shelf. Here the bin is under a counter that runs the length of the wall in back of me. At any given time the counter is covered with books, backpacks, papers that need copying or already copied copies, five or six plants in painted ceramic pots – one of the after-school classes work –  and some art work. Under the counter is storage space, right out in plain sight, and this is where the lost and found bin is kept. I would say that two or three times a week someone, usually one of the staff people, will bring me some piece of clothing, or school books, sometimes even jewelry that they found somewhere in the building, and I will make a note on a list I keep on a clipboard, then put whatever it is in the bin. For small pieces of jewelry I first put them in a padded envelope. Usually whoever left something is in the next day, or even later the same day, to get it.

Now here is what I really want to tell you. Two days ago, Tuesday, one of the art teachers, Susan Evans, came up to the front desk just after 8 a.m. and handed me a scarf. She said she had found it in her room, which is used Monday nights for the women’s group, when she got there. The scarf was amazing. Mostly it was a gold color, not shiny, kind of a warm earthy color, like some of the sunsets you see in the fall from up in the cemetery. There was stitching through the cloth, violet and dark green threads, in a kind of pattern I can’t really describe. Not perfect, not like a perfect design. Just really interesting. But the most amazing thing of all is that the cloth felt almost alive to me, almost like it had this tiny buzzing feeling to it. I just held it and stared at it. “Cool, huh?”, said Susan snapping me out of my little trance state. “It sure is,” I said. “It’s so beautiful, I’ll be surprised if someone isn’t in to get it back before nine.”

But I was wrong. After I placed it very carefully in the purple bin I went back to work and forgot about it until I was getting ready to leave around quarter past five. Then I remembered the scarf and for a reason I will never understand, took it out of the bin, put it very carefully in a legal size envelope, put it in my backpack, and took it home, to my apartment down by the lake. And you know what, sometime between when I left and when the night janitor locked up, someone went behind the desk and cleaned out the lost and found bin. Stole the few things that were in there. We hardly ever have anything happen like that at the center, they probably have more thefts at the fancy tennis club up in the Berkeley Hills. But Tuesday night we did.

Wednesday I kept the scarf in the envelope in my desk drawer, and around 4:30 two women walked in the front door and up to the desk. One older, one a lot younger. They turned out to be a mother and daughter – the daughter was the woman who had been in the women’s group Monday night and left the scarf. The older woman asked if someone had turned in a scarf and she described it perfectly. I opened my drawer and took it out of the envelope and gave it to her. “I had heard there was a robbery here Tuesday night,” she said. “Strange this was left behind.” She gave me a long, serious look. All I could think to say was, “Go figure. Lucky I guess.”  The woman nodded her head a little and smiled. She opened her purse and took out a business card. She handed me the card and said, “The first visit will be free.” Then both women turned around and went back out through the door.

As they were leaving I looked at the card. “By the Bay Fortune Telling, 5726 Shattuck Ave. Open seven days a week.” The card was printed on gold paper. With green and violet weaving.

I think I’ll head over Saturday and check it out.