One Little, Two Little, Three Little Coincidences
Part V: A Coincidental Reality
(At the rear left corner table, Shot-in-the-Dark Cafe, Tucson, Wednesday June 27 2007)
On the bus here I played goggle-eyes with a baby about a year old. This happened a few minutes ago.
The little tyke stared fascinated as I raised and lowered my sunglasses and popped my eyes at him. A lady behind me quipped "He must think you're famous, the way he keeps looking and looking at you..."
A black man seated across the aisle looked up. He'd been intent on his copy of the Book of Revelation. He took his glasses off and smiled at the lady. "I thought you looked like somebody famous! I don't wanna show my age, but you look like one of the stars from that old detective show... can't remember her name... was it Cagney or Lacey?"
"The dark one or the light one?" asks the Lady.
"The light one.”
“Yeah! I think so too," I chime in, smelling a coincidence. I'd never watched it.
What was her name? A woman from behind also chimed in agreement and remembered half the actress' name, "Sharon... uh... Sharon..."
"Sharon Gless?" remembers the Lady.
"Yeah, Sharon Gless!" we all chime, me faking it. Then the Woman says to the Black Man, "I thought you looked like the detective from that show!”
"Which one," he asks enthusiastically.
"The black gentleman. The guy who played the black detective on that show! I knew him! He was in my graduating class in Minnesota!" What a surprise it was to see her old college classmate on TV, she reminisces. It was Macalester College in St. Paul and the actor's name was Carl Lumbly.
So. I'm on the bus, goggle-eyeing a cute baby. A lady remarks about being famous. Black Man reading Revelation had been thinking the Lady looks like somebody famous. Woman behind him had been thinking Black Man looks like somebody famous from the same show -- who was her college friend. A little group of strangers now agog with that dreamy feeling that accompanies coincidences.
A side-coincidence for me: the Black Man was poring over the Book of Revelation. Yesterday on this same bus and same seat another man sat down to tell me he'd finally figured that book out. It's about the End of the World, he'd decided. He'd already been in the habit of spending hours in the local libraries, researching statistics and news items that spell out imminent worldwide disaster. Some people are slow learners.
Lots of people are quietly yearning for the End of the World these days. Lots of funny-you-should-mention-that meetings to be had when about a third of the people around you are quietly worrying about the End of the World. But this Baby on Board this Bus burped up a pleasant little chain of coincidental thoughts instead; much nicer than more conversations about forebodings of doom.
I got off and stopped at the newsstand for a cigar. For the first time in eight years of patronage here I had only a fifty dollar bill, a bother. Maybe they'd break it for a three-buck cigar.
For the first time in my eight years of patronage, a young man ahead of me handed the counterman a hundred dollar bill for a packet of Bugler tobacco and some rolling papers. They hadn't enough change left for me.
A "wouldn't ya know it" coincidence... still, there's that little dreamy feeling. I used my debit card.
Five funny little coincidences in about 15 minutes. The fifth was that I'd bought a cigar to ruminate over an espresso and work on this unruly section about coincidences. Oddly enough, here I am.
Does having dreamy feelings about coincidental events, hinting at meanings, mean you're crazy? Science currently says yes, it does. You've got "apophenia." You are locked in an obsessive struggle to create meanings where there are none. You may be creative, maybe, but doomed to psychosis and forebodings of doom. There are pills for this.
On the other hand, the fun of coincidences may be an antidote for the joylessness instituted by Science – nowadays a god-like nomenclature, arisen in the Darwinian hysteria which spread like wildfire without proof 150 years ago; there was only Darwin's friendly word that All Creation was accidental and nothing for you to feel guilty about. Although there are fundamental stirrings of objection here and there, Official Science still holds that this universe, from the tiniest whizzing particles to the deepest black holes, is void of meaning beyond the zesty enthusiasms of Scientists. Shit just happens and so it goes. Avoid apophenia, as the pills probably won’t work; they might even make you suicidal.
The late pop science writer Carl Sagan typed sentences like "The great Greek works of art are all meaningless" and "The only thing 'infinite' is man's capability for self-delusion." No more messy marveling at human handiwork. It’s just genes, formed at random, and no troublesome “why” to consider. And now that infinity has been shut down -- the universe has been judged by Science to be a mere fourteen billion light years across just lately -- no inconvenient feelings of limitlessness stand in the way of productivity!
Not long before he died, Sagan confessed he was stoned on pot when he wrote those things, as well as just about everything else he wrote. No coincidence that I wasn't stoned when reading this fourteen billion light years of meaningless stuff, nor am I now.
"...and now that it's the opposite, it's Twice Upon a Time" -- Moondog
Once upon a time, people didn't think coincidences were meaningless or doomed them to crazy -- although sometimes they thought a coincidence spelled out doom. They ran whole countries which lasted for thousands of years, finding meaning in coincidental events all the way. Interpretations of those events were used in crucial decisions affecting whole nations.
Those coincidences were then called "omens." Herodotus' HISTORIES reports lots of them, all "coming true," ironically or otherwise. Ancient Egyptian stories too.
Or take Homer's ODYSSEY: the principle characters have an argument; coincidentally two eagles fly into the room and squabble between themselves, then fly away. The wise man of the group interprets the coincidence correctly. The foolish man scorns this wisdom as meaningless and so gets killed. The lesson? Keep an eye on coincidences. If you don’t, you may be doomed to psychosis and real doom.
In those wildly contrasting days, people relied on intuition of necessity. A priest who read coincidences wrong could be set on fire and dragged to his death before the whole village as a legal remedy. Omens were everywhere, not merely listed on scrolls for handy reference. Intuitions had to be accurate, as survival often depended upon it.
Nightly dreams are grouped in coincidental, that is, associatively significant, ways. Coincidental events ebb and flow throughout any ordinary day. A run-of-the-mill coincidence, as illustrated on the bus today, is an omen just big enough to surprise somebody paying attention to it. An omen is a coincidence big enough to rivet the attentions of groups of people.
Although it has long been too confused with capital “T” Truth, Christianity puts coincidence at the core of its stories. A cock crowed thrice, goes the story, when Peter denied knowing the man who'd been arrested by Roman guards. Funny thing, Jesus did say he’d do that and then a cock would crow thrice.
When the man Peter denied he knew then died on the cross, so reports went, the whole afternoon went dark and an earthquake tore the synagogue curtain in two. What are the odds of a man dying on a cross, an unexplainable gloom, and an earthquake ominously wrecking the local Temple happening all on the same day and hour?
Whether the story in fact happened or not, its coincidental nature is undeniable. That nature captured peoples’ attentions for centuries. People have been tortured to death for not believing this coincidence.
Coincidences that yanked attention away from Official Truth were eventually declared witchcraft. Even without the intrusion of thumbscrews and hot tongs, however, what science might be made from the coincidences called "omens" is too prone to literal-minded tangling anyhow. A tidy list of official coincidences by which one might determine God’s Plan might be no handier than a manual on how to herd cats. Cats and thoughts alike are organized, all right, but not always linearly. Until that's understood, we're prone to linear superstitions.
We're not out of the woods of superstition yet. I read that the last arrest in Christendom under laws against "witchcraft" was in England in 1944. A woman who'd coincidentally determined a government top secret by using a Ouija board was jailed. In the meantime, governments have for decades been experimenting with how to ferret out each other’s secrets by... witchcraft.
Note that in this friendly amble I've avoided using the term "synchronicity."
A Demonstration Here and Now
Each of my days from dawn to dusk is peppered and spiced with tangy, energy-emitting coincidences! They are jazzed with a sparkling, mysterious numinosity! Yours can be too! I'm teasing.
We have read mighty stories of ten-foot tall coincidences, such as not getting on a plane that crashed -- in fact, an old and largely forgotten rock star I toured with has one of those; he stayed behind to do his laundry instead of getting on the plane to the next gig with Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, et al. But these stories just drive us goggle-eyed without illuminating much of anything.
I've deleted a previous story about going on a music tour with that man, which itself produced a chain of impressive coincidences worthy of first prize, were humanity presently capable of keeping the contest honest. Instead, let's experiment. Let's pay attention to coincidences here and now, today.
"Today" is August 4, 2006. I've decided to count coincidences as they happen at my computer. It's 4 p.m. I've been answering e-mails for about an hour. Here’s one from a stranger this moment. I'll copy and paste part of it here:
"Tell the LORD JESUS to come into your life and tell him the areas you want him to effect a change. I have no excuse for not loving you because Christian love is not a feeling but a decision to act in the best interest of others."
I don't know the sender, but I recognize the other dozen e-mail addresses to which this anti-feeling sermon has been copied. Each of them were contributors to "The Ferrick List," an e-mail fan club for a highly gifted singer/songwriter named Melissa Ferrick. I knew and loved every one of the people whose addresses are now being returned to me. It’s been five years since I played with the members of that list. This anonymous proselytizer has only now found them for an anonymous squeeb about love without feeling and an exalted, desensitized Christ.
Coincidence one, I wrote Melissa Ferrick a private letter just yesterday for the first time in two years. I hadn't thought of her or any of those fans I loved playing with in about that long. It's like a little electronic homecoming.
Coincidence two, it so happens I've lately been reviewing the New Testament and various kinds of fundamentalist Christian literature. The anonymous sender's I-love-without-feeling message fits the topic. Before this arrived I'd already been thinking that people who force themselves to act out certain sayings of Jesus blindly are at least a little crazy. It reminded me of Simeon Toko's quip about our times, "I am crazy, you are crazy, but everyone else is even crazier!" There's a good reason Simeon Toko's quip was right at hand. Coming up:
Coincidence three: the e-mail I'd answered just before opening this one was from another stranger, writing all about Christ's Second Coming, which many thought was Simeon Toko. It was forwarded to me earlier today from an English psychic, who had read my article about Toko five years ago.
While I was playing with the Melissa Ferrick Fan Club I was also writing that article, "African Avatars and the Secret of Fatima," which was has been dribbling around worldwide ever since. I'd heard from Doctors, Psychiatrists, politicians (even the ex-PM of Congo/Brazzaville) and others about it. Many people believed that this church choir leader, Simeon Toko of Angola, was Christ returned. He protested that he wasn't. During breaks from writing that article, I played with the Melissa Ferrick e-list.
Is that four coincidences? Ferrick fans and Toko fans now seeping back into my e-mail at once after five years? Coincidence five, I’d written Melissa after so long because I’d had a dream of her; then came these e-mails.
The writer who had contacted me through my English psychic friend had decided that having written that article, I was a Light Being, an Angel. Between the lines of love and light he was looking to get in on the deal. He seemed crazy. On the other hand, the Tokoists had named me as one of the chosen, or Elect of God. That's pretty close to being a Light Being Angel too. Coincidence number six, I guess.
I replied to my psychic friend: Toko is crazy, we are crazy, but my ambitious new supplicant is even crazier. Using the same quip twice within the hour makes seven funny little coincidences, doesn't it.
Melissa Ferrick has musical cult-idol status. The cult founded by Simeon Toko is also a musical cult – it’s an organization of spiritual singers meant to spread the Christian gospels worldwide. Cults can be murderous, but these two aren’t.
So, five years ago, I was serious-writing about a musical religious cult while play-writing with members of a musical music cult. Is this eight coincidences now? Right now, I mean, this convergence of past events landing in my e-mail out of the blue.
One of the Tokoists told me, claiming it's an African saying, "a coincidence is God trying to pass by unnoticed."
God can’t seem to go anywhere without leaving coincidences like so many divine droppings. By association, one could trace any seemingly isolated string of events all the way back to Adam and Eve (about whom I've also been reading) and beyond... and the point of doing so could get lost in a fog of numinous goggle! The reader of that Never Ending Story might go a-goggling with numinosity at the vast, oceanic expanses of synchronicity in which every psyche splashes about.
"Numinous" means tinged with “the supernatural.” The “supernatural” is any report that does not leave the audience in its usual bland frame of mind and ideally evokes uneasiness in the pit of the stomach, yet isn’t necessarily about crime and sin. Reports of “synchronicity” can be said to be “numinous,” that is, tinged by the supernatural, where not rendered bland by reason. Pioneer Freudian psychologist Carl Jung coined the term. "synchronicity." The term became popular to the point that lots of people who use it don't know what it means. They mean "a coincidence," only this time it really means something maybe.
Jung cautioned against numinosity. The sensations one might incur could lead him away from proper intellectual inquiry and into the maw of crazy. In the same way, ancient Christian monks prayed not to get "caught up in the spirit" during their meditations. A supernatural presence might take them to where they would not return.
"Synchronicity," narrowed the idea of encounters with coincidence down to the possibility of telepathy, invisible radio-like communications. This created more problems than it solved; you could see too much meaning in ordinary coincidences and get you labeled apophenic and schizophrenic and doomed. It's little different from ancient renderings of acceptable omens versus the devil at work, screwing up your soul with the wrong kinds of meaningful coincidences. Were it possible.
Whoa! Coincidence Number Nine
I just now flipped to a website to brush up on Jung a little; my thumb inadvertently thumped a wrong key. I’m on a page about the Manson Family. I'm sitting here agog, looking at the name "Paul Richard," the name of my friend whose death eventually prompted this book. I haven't any idea how this site appeared. No, repeat, no idea how I got here.
"Paul Richard," I see for the first time ever, was also the name given the unborn baby murdered in the infamous Manson Family killings of 1969, the year of my best pal's first suicide attempt (see Part One). Paul introduced me to Jung's works after I’d told him about Freud.
For the last hour or so I've been writing about a musical cult whose e-mail addresses were sent me out of the blue by a religious nut; about a religious musical cult whose members believe their founder was Jesus Christ returned; and now, my thumb has slipped on the keyboard, brought up the name of the boy who triggered this book by his suicide, whose namesake here on my computer screen was murdered by yet another musical cult who thought their leader was Jesus Christ. These are eerie coincidences, all right.
Wo! And NOW, here's an e-mail from my friend Ben in Australia! He tells me I write like Jung. This also "out of the blue," I haven't heard from Ben in maybe a year. A friendly long-time-no-hear note, just in time to “synchronize” with a bunch of little coincidences about Jung I’m swatting at. Is this ten coincidences now, or eleven?
Eleven or twelve: in desultorily re-reading SETH SPEAKS this morning I opened “anywhere” to the chapter addressing Jung for the first time (Chapter 13, session 555). Jane Roberts' Great Muse, Seth, also speaks of coincidences, if sparely. He says “pay attention to coincidences.”
I think I'll quit trying to count. Numinosity has by now made it an astonishing coincidence that when I tap my fingers on this keyboard, whole sentences come out! I could go supernatural. Yow!
Alors! (don't say "alors," something French will show up) Darn! This very moment, dear reader (6:48 p.m., 8-4-06), I've checked my e-mail yet again. During the few minutes typing the above came a manuscript rebutting Jungian theories applied to Shakespeare. I hadn't been expecting it. I'd told my client who wrote it not to send it for a week or so. He instead sent it just now, while I’m lolling around with these instant coincidences about Jung.
It's 6:48 p.m. On 8/4/6! 8/4/6 is 6/4/8 backwards! Help, Jung! Don't let my anima swallow me up in ze big vagina dentata! Drizzen, drizzen, drazzen, drone! Time for zis one to go have an espresso!
Later This Evening
(9:26 p.m., August 4, 2006) I've now returned from the coffee shop; took the bus there and walked back. The name of the place is "Shot in the Dark Cafe," I'm "Tom in the Dark Cafe" according to that young wag Sledge.
I've been coming here daily since March. Today was somewhere around the 180th day in a row that the cream pitcher was empty when I got to it for my espresso. No matter when I've shown up, even twice on the same day, the cream pitcher has always just been emptied by someone else.
A pretty and witty young barista who wants to be called "Junkiepants" here refills it for me. I love her. I try to make her laugh with strange-but-true stories. She thinks I'm Hannibal Lecter from those horror movies. "Ah, Clarice! How nice to see you," I say.
(ed. note: Junkiepants is nowadays viewable on YouTube: http://bit.ly/afICk8 )
It was thanks to a conversation with Junkiepants that I've been reviewing religious things these past two weeks. After sympathizing with her about a nutty customer who'd just been buzzing her that day, I began: "A very unusual friend of mine --"
"All of your friends are unusual, Tom," Junkiepants poked. Why this love.
"...yeah I know. This one was especially unusual. He died in 1984. Before he died he said 'I'm crazy, you're crazy, but everyone else is even crazier.'"
When I went home that day, I found e-mails about Simeon Toko for the first time in months, answered them, and decided I'd better read up on religion awhile.
Tonight Junkiepants is hanging around, her shift over. A young man she wants me to name "Fuckface" is also here with his guitar. Fuckface approves the name. I love all these kids.
I'd thought of playing music with Fuckface this evening; he's in a folk-music learning phase, and I know lots of old folk songs. But I feel more like going home to work on this essay. Can't decide. The coin of coincidence flips: Fuckface's guitar strings are broken, banjo too, so no music. Writing, then? But the coin flips again: someone has money for strings. Music then. Junkiepants, Fuckface, Sledge and I take a walk around the corner to the music store. I tell Junkiepants: "Say, I'm making you famous again." I often relate her cleverisms to friends.
"Seems you're making me famous every week," she retorts.
"That's right, every couple of weeks I try to think of a way to make you famous. That's because you're adorable. This time it's a bit in this book I'm writing. It's about coincidences," I say.
"I know all about coincidences," she replies.
...and she's only seventeen.
The music store around the corner is closed. No music then. I'll write. When one doesn't know which side of the coin he wants, a good coincidence will flip it automatically.
Back to the shop. A double espresso. Cream pitcher just-emptied as usual. Fuckface, who is on duty tonight, fills it.
I sit with my espresso and someone brings in a guitar with all six strings intact. Music then? Nah. Fuckface takes it outside to play by himself. I'll walk home and write.
8/6/06 Coffee Shop, buy cigar first. There's Sledge, on his bike to the music store across the street to buy a set of strings. I cross the street with him. To our surprise, it's closed. We both buy cigars. He says he and Fuckface and Fuckface's dad each broke a string the other night. Again? Now to coffee shop.
For the first time since I started coming here, just after I’d mentioned it here, the cream pitcher is now full.
8/7 The cream pitcher is full again. Junkiepants mentions that while we were talking about coincidences the other day, Elvin and Viola were talking about a movie starring the action-hero Stephen Segal called "Under Siege." Funny thing, Junkiepants said Elvin went home that afternoon, turned on the TV, and the movie "Under Siege" had just started.
Funnier thing: I'd read a little about Stephen Segal the night before, in passing, while reading about famous religious cult murderers, sparked by my thumb thumping up the Manson story quite by coincidence.
Funniest: Junkiepants and I had been talking serial killer stories; the next day, headlines blared from the news boxes sitting outside the coffee shop about two serial killers caught in Phoenix.
8/9 Aaaaaand the cream pitcher is full again, third day in a row. This afternoon the satirical song "Hey Punk" by Frank Zappa came on the coffee shop stereo system. Sledge bounded into the room to tell me that he and Eldon, the shop owner, were talking about "Hey Punk" just the night before -- and here it is now! He adds that he'd only lately realized that this song was a satire on "Hey Joe," a pop hit 20 years before Sledge was born. Yes, I replied, doodling around with Sledge's guitar with the new string. I'd been sitting there trying to remember how "Hey Joe" went, just before "Hey Punk" came on.
So if that rascal Sledge had put the song on himself to fool me, it was too late. It had already set off a coincidence.
A Couple Weeks Later:
I've just come home from a coffee shop break after editing all this. Humpty the guitar repairman, who sat in the smoking room daily without smoking, had never exchanged more than a nodded greeting with me before. Today I sat at the table next to his and, without introducing himself, he told me this story:
Humpty used to frequent another café just under a mile down the avenue. Every single day he'd come in for coffee, and every single day the cream pitcher would be empty. It didn't matter what time of day; someone had always just used the last of it. This went on daily for about a year. It became a running joke with the staff. Then one day it stopped and never happened again. It was always full from then on. Had I ever heard of such a thing?
Maybe. It's now August 17, 2006, and the cream pitcher has been full every time I've used it since I wrote about it 2 weeks ago. You my imagined reader and I are the only ones who know about this. I haven’t even mentioned it to Humpty.
(Ed. note: by now August 2007, a year later, the pitcher has been full every time I’ve reached for it, every day, all but two or three times since then)
Okay, now it's Friday, August 18, 2006. Somebody asks what I'm writing about and I say coincidences. The coffee shop denizens strike up a conversation about coincidences. I make notes.
The other night Phyllis mentioned the number "23," regarded with a superstitious respect. The following night I picked some lottery numbers. Pick 23? Nah, that's superstitious. As it turned out, the key winning number was 23 after all. I told her that now.
Phyllis has a reaction to perfumes and cologne. She met a man she liked whom she'd met only twice; both times she had a cold and couldn't smell anything, she says. She couldn't tell he was wearing a cologne that would have caused a severe allergic reaction, nor, even worse, that he worked at the perfume counter at a local department store. Without having a stuffy-nose cold, she couldn't have come close to him... and now? Too late... the aroma of love lingers around him where Phyllis is concerned.
Junkiepants tells me she was listening to a famous punk song, "People Who Died," when the phone rang and she learned a close friend had just then committed suicide. Just as she finishes her story, Kurt walks in. Kurt's a sculptor, new in town. Junkiepants introduces us.
"You look familiar, Kurt," I say. "Do you have a brother who lives here in town?" "People tell me that, but I've never seen him."
"He takes the same bus I do. We talk pretty often. He uses a cane 'cuz he's got a bad leg."
"I almost had to use a cane myself," says Kurt pointing to his right leg. A boyhood condition nearly left him crippled. Bill, who had also been reading the book of Revelation in an earlier coincidence of this story, had the same condition, also in his right leg, also from boyhood. I learn in the course of conversation Kurt and Bill spend a good deal of time at the same library, but they've never met. Junkiepants interrupts. "Tom, have you met Elvin?" No, how ya doing? Elvin tells me he grew up in Brooklyn.
"You should meet my friend Sammy from Brooklyn. He'll be around. He's laying low from a bad back."
"I've got a bad back too," says Elvin, reaching around to pat it. Elvin continues his chat with Viola, and Kurt asks me about the book I'd left on the table. He then mentions admiring Carlos Castaneda's books.
Kurt doesn't know we're chatting just down the street from the famed bus station where Castaneda met his Native American Johnson, Don Juan. This is where Castaneda's famous if fraudulent works began.
Kurt tells me a dream of angrily encountering his best friend who'd recently killed himself -- he hadn't heard Junkiepants telling me about her friend who'd died the same way. Funny thing, I reply, that's how my book starts.
I hope you'll take a cue and write a few down yourself. Amaze your friends and maybe be the life of the coffee shop. Mostly, amaze yourself. It's as good for the mind as hiking is for the body.
It would be basic and straightforward to say that I perused my daily dream notebook for comparisons with reality and found quite a few “coincidences” between the two.
Nothing Up My Sleeve
(June 13 '07 at Shot-in-the-Dark Café, center table in the smoking room; the above tale of coincidences is now almost a year old; the cream pitcher has been full every time I’ve reached for it for nearly a year now.)
A coincidence is a little dream cast into reality a certain way. I'm writing in the cafe right now. Let's hope I can get away with one more coincidence story.
A coincidence is a little dream cast into reality a certain way. I'm writing in the cafe right now. Let's hope I can get away with one more coincidence story.
A few weeks ago I dreamed this: Linda Ronstadt has always been a great pal. In that dream, I told her that this was the second time in my life we’d met in a dream. The previous dream had been twenty five years ago. When I woke I looked that dream up and counted; it had been twenty five years here in reality too.
Yesterday I learned by coincidence that the famous pop superstar Linda Ronstadt has been living in my neighborhood, just down the street from me, for the nine years I’ve lived here. I could have walked over and introduced myself.
I swear, on a stack o’ bibles, the souls of my grandchildren and whatever other convincing bromides I might produce that I’ve never paid much attention to the famous pop superstar here in reality. She looked cute on the magazine covers. I liked some of her hit songs. I always had to play a few whenever the band had a girl singer, but otherwise never would. Any information I write about her henceforth is from the internet. It says “one of music's most versatile and commercially successful female singers in U.S. history.”
“Blue Bayou”? Linda Ronstadt did “Blue Bayou”? I hadn’t known that. I’m sure I played it several hundred times, if not a thousand. I thought it was somebody named Crystal.
My first and only other dream of Linda was one night in late November I believe, 1982. I was I was making a poor living playing with an awful country-western band. Except for the drummer, a longtime jazz player who’d played with a few musical luminaries, the band garden-variety stank. Even worse, I joked one night that if I changed my name to “Terry,” we could have a band named “Jerry, Harry, Gary and Terry.” They thought it was a great idea. I was now Terry-Tom of Jerry, Harry, Gary and Terry-Tom, country-western troubadours from the short bus.
Gary the jazz drummer and I would sneak peculiar time signatures into the oompah-doodah country songs to keep ourselves entertained. Sometimes I’d get stoned – if Gary had any pot – and concentrate on imagining I was playing my bass upside down, just for a mental exercise out of boredom. Jerry and Harry never seemed to notice, until one night I took things too far and got fired. “You just don’t fit in with the sound, man,” said Jerry, earnestly. He was right. Because he had an IQ I adjudged somewhat below average, I felt a little badly. Anyone would have trouble singing to a four-four beat when the bassist and drummer are experimenting with eleven beats to the bar.
Jerry had me, fair and square, like a plodding village cop who’s got you for speeding. He’d only been tolerant while Gary and I tried abstract accompaniments suitable for jazz great McCoy Tyner as he’d recite exceptionally long jokes to the audience in the middle of one old oompah song or another. It was kind of cute for thirty-five dollars a night.
“Lost my job, people, oh woe is me. Think I’ll stay home and watch me a little TV.” -- Alex Chilton
Having been fired fair and square, that night I dreamed of, out of 6 billion possibilities of people on this planet to dream about, pop superstar Linda Ronstadt. What friends we were.
The two of us sat at a counter in a bar typical of my workplaces of the past few years, maybe a little pricier. Like any two pals, we talked about forgettable things. We liked each other’s company so much we sat at the counter all night. It was a “real-time” dream; instead of getting into a car and driving home, however, all I needed to do was wake up.
It was not until the other day, here in 2007, did I notice that the bar where we sat in a dream two-odd decades ago was fairly identical to the bar at the Congress Hotel in Tucson, Arizona, just around the corner from this coffee shop. She must have played there when she was a kid.
Back in Anaheim 1982 now, jobless and quietly pleased about it, I had a few days off. Rather than actively look for more, I stood on a deserted basketball court down the street that evening and muttered “I need more work” to myself for five minutes.
When I returned to our apartment, Delia told me Gary had called. He’d quit “Jerry, Harry, Terry and Larry.” It was no fun playing with three bad musicians instead of just two. Eventually Gary found us work at a bar in Sylmar, California. This gig included his wife Janie, who was a fair singer. That meant playing a lot of Linda Ronstadt’s hits.
Linda had her first national hit, the hugely popular “Different Drum,” with a band called the Stone Poneys. The new bandleader, an Alabama native named Bobby Lee, used to play with the Stone Poneys.
Digging around for the Stone Poneys and Linda Ronstadt on the internet, I’ve found no mention of Bobby Lee among the band’s personnel. I’m guessing he was a hired hand with the band at some point, because he didn’t seem like a liar.
The other proof in his favor was his wife. She had at one time been very beautiful and likely full of high hopes for her promising rock’n’roll husband. Now she was neither. Underneath the frizzy bush of outdated wrap-around hair, Bobby’s wife radiated burning wormwood. She could no longer manage so much as a smile for a twenty-year long queue of scruffy, underpaid musicians.
Whatever her Bobby used to be, he was nowadays a big fat toothless has-been for whom success and fame were always hiding around the next corner. His one claim to fame in all this time was to have once been in the same band as Linda Ronstadt.
Success and fame had been hiding too long around every next corner for us too. “Any minute now” promises set up that next corner, which, it always turned out, would be yet the next one. It had been too palpable a chimera. I had begun to feel like a big fat toothless has-been myself, and my wife had begun to behave like Bobby’s embittered soul mate. Like Bobby, I was now a dead-end bar musician.
Like Jerry of the previous band of losers, Bobby had us stay after hours to rehearse unneeded and tedious details. He considered himself an expert at vocalizing, so, we rehearsed harmonies for a plethora of Linda Ronstadt songs we’d all known unto weariness for years by now.
Bobby disappeared without a trace after a couple of weeks. I brought in another bassist. We continued on a few more weeks with our potpourri of Linda Ronstadt songs and whatever.
This is the End
One night I dreamed I was playing at that god-awful bar alone. I was singing a song called “The End.” It went “This is the end, beautiful friend; this is the end, my only friend, the end.” Those were the only lyrics I’d ever paid any attention to. I awoke knowing it was a premonition.
Within a few days I got a call from my brother Duncan in the San Francisco Bay Area. He had a job for me that paid almost three times what this one did. I took it, even though it was just housepainting. That was the end of this for me.
Bobby Lee disappeared, drummer Gary’s wife left him and quit music; he committed suicide within the year. No more Linda Ronstadt songs for anybody. The end.
Out of curiosity, I’ve checked around to see what Linda Ronstadt was up to that year. It says she released an album titled “Get Closer.” “It remains her only album between 1975 and 1990 not to be officially certified Platinum.” Tough year all ‘round.
Back to the Future.
In my recent dream, I met Linda along a hiking trail in Northern California. In this dream, I strolled jubilantly up to her, arms out, exclaiming “Linda Ronstadt! It’s been 25 years!” I recounted to her that one night 25 years ago, where I dreamed that she and I sat in a bar just being usual pals. We walked over to her house and sat down in the kitchen to sit and be pals again.
On the bus here today, I sat down next to a newspaper on the seat. It was folded to a page announcing that Linda Ronstadt would be doing a concert here in Tucson tonight. I’m not going; it’s just an interesting coincidence that she’s back in town just as I’ve started to write this story.
I came here today to write that I’ve just lately learned that Linda Ronstadt has been living down the street from me for the ten years I’ve been living in Tucson, Arizona – under a mile away, on my same street. Tucson is her home town. I hadn’t known that. Then I learned that she’d just lately moved away, to Northern California, where we met in the dream. According to the internet photographs, she’s gained a great deal of weight here in reality, same as she had in my dream.
Would I care to meet now-legendary Superstar Linda Ronstadt? Oh, I guess. Sure. I have a vivid pseudo feeling, if it is indeed pseudo, that had we known one another so well here in reality I might've dropped by her place once or twice in these years I've lived here, like with any old pal, now pretty absorbed in middle-age hum, both busy getting on with our lives as they are. Just in case, though, I did walk over to her empty house, still for sale, and left a note. She can come here to meet me if she likes.
A songwriter and English professor named Brian has just now sat down at my table. He’s a newcomer to the cafe. We haven’t seen each other in a few weeks. We’ve talked about music and writing, when we have. Brian told me a nice quote by Mark Twain: “If you want thirty pages, I’ll have it for you in three days. If you want three pages, I’ll have that for you in thirty days.” I told Brian a nice quote by Blaise Paschal: “I am sorry this letter is so long, but I hadn’t time to make it shorter.”
Just this moment, out of the blue, Brian’s mentioned a chauffer's job he once had, where he drove the pop singer Linda Ronstadt to the airport. She seemed quite nice, he says.
I’ve just replied to Brian with the dream-and-coincidence story about Linda Ronstadt I’d come to sketch out. But Brian has a coincidence story to tell me. He knows I’m writing things down.
In August, 1990, Brian begins, he moved to Binghamton, New York for the first time...
Hold it right there, Brian. In August 1990 I too was in Binghamton, New York for the first time. I did a radio show there for one of my novelty songs that had gained some popularity. Okay, go ahead.
Brian continues. He was in the Master's program for English at the University there. It turned out his prof –
…hold it. Was your prof named Dr. Susan So-and-So? Yes! How did you know? Just a guess, I said. I’d known Dr. Susan So-and-So for four years by 1990. She was one of Sue Watkins’ closest friends. Go ahead.
Just before the radio show, as Brian had moved to Binghamton, I moved out of Sue Watkins’ place. It was time to follow the next leg of my “dream-map” and the impulses and coincidences it generated. That experiment eventually led me here to Tucson.
And so here I am, writing in a cafe in Tucson, Arizona, which surely feels as real as rock to its customers, although it is half-dream to me.
(And as it turns out this moment in this New Year 2008, Dear Reader, Brian and I had touched base just as I was moving out and he was settling into the same place, once again. My dream of Linda Ronstadt signaled the last I’d be sitting in Shot-in-the-Dark Cafe writing a book.)