He headed for the cashier’s counter,
hoping that the curtain rods he was carrying were the ones she wanted,
when he saw the painting for the first time.
He’d been in this store dozens of times but he’d never noticed those pictures before.
He wasn’t an art critic, but he knew he’d never seen anything like that train picture.
The surface of the picture was textured to look like a genuine oil painting,
and somehow that scene looked more real than life!
The silver steam from the old engine glowing in the sunset,
billowing against the yellow-blue-orange-pink sky,
the brightly colored, but weather worn railroad cars,
and the red caboose, so real you could almost step right into it.
Each piece of gravel along the track,
each clump of vegetation on the prairie was clearly defined,
and cast a long late afternoon shadow.
The mountains were a blue haze against the distant horizon.
It was a painting you could stare at for a long time,
finding details previously overlooked.
A bell rang. The store was closing.
On impulse he hurried to the customer service desk and put the picture on layaway
with five dollars that should have gone to overdue bills.
He didn’t know when he’d be able to manage the eleven-ninety-five balance.
He paid for the curtain rods and went home, feeling a little guilty.
* * *
She stood back and looked critically at the curtains she’d hung.
He told her that they made a big difference in the little apartment.
She smiled and said that the curtains looked better than the trash cans in the alley.
He held her and said he wished he could provide her with a better home,
and she said that they weren’t doing too badly for newlyweds,
and that she believed in him.
He didn’t mention the money he’d foolishly spent on a picture of a train.
Payday again, and another losing battle with arithmetic.
If only a tree or a patch of grass could be seen from their window,
it might raise their spirits. It would interrupt the drabness.
He felt sorry for her, being stuck there all day.
At least taking the bus to the factory everyday gave him a change of scene.
These were his thoughts as he paid the cashier
and waited for the large picture to be wrapped.
He centered it carefully on the wall over the chair with the broken spring,
and called her to come in from the kitchenette and take a look at the surprise.
Wiping her hands on her apron, she glanced around the room
until her eyes stopped at the explosion of color. She almost cried!
It was like having a window to a valley locked in sunset.
They held hands and stared at the painting until dinner almost burned.
Years struggled by,
and the broken spring chair was replaced by a new living room suite,
complete with payment book.
They moved several times in the course of their lives,
first to a couple of larger apartments,
then to a house in a suburban development,
and finally back to another cheap apartment,
where they were to spend their final years.
The infirmities of old age often require a tightening of purse strings,
but they weren’t complaining. They’d been through rough times before.
Through the years they’d managed to hang on to two treasures:
the Sunset Train painting and their love for each other.
Maybe they weren’t so poor after all.
It hit him hard when she passed away.
Somehow, he’d always imagined he’d be the first to go.
He wasn’t prepared for the emptiness. Nobody ever is.
He took the habit of talking to her, even though she was gone.
He’d stare at the painting and go over old times.
Sometimes he’d sit for hours in front of the television,
but his eyes would wander back to the Sunset Train.
He’d imagine that they were together in that valley, or riding on the train.
The neighbors often dropped in to check on him.
Conversations always gravitated to the painting.
Several days passed before they noticed the mail and newspapers outside his door.
Fearing the old man had died,
and after getting no answer to their knocking and calling,
the neighbors set their shoulders to the door and the old wood gave way.
Finding no one in the apartment, clothes intact in the closets, and the TV left on,
the neighbors notified the police of his disappearance.
While the premises were being inspected, an officer commented to a neighbor,
“Unusual painting in there! Realistic, I mean!”
“Yeah,” replied the other, “everybody remarks about that train picture.”
“No,” said the policeman, “I’m talkin’ about that picture of the valley and the sunset.
There’s a track runnin’ through it, but no train.”
And he was right. The train was gone.
© 2009, 2018.
It was the day before Christmas: We were road tired, and traveling westward through Illinois or Iowa…on our way to another show somewhere. We tried to cheer each other up, and said we’d celebrate our Christmas at a later date.
The countryside looked like a Christmas card through the windshield of our motor home.Fine dusty snow was starting to whirl around and the Interstate Highway was just about deserted.
It began snowing harder.We needed a place to pull in for the night, but we hadn’t seen anything open for miles.
We started to get worried.
It was getting dark, and the wind was blowing the snow into drifts. We pulled off at the next exit,but there was no sign of life except an old barn. The barn had a sign over the door, and Christmas lights were on inside.
It turned out to be a little store with a few groceries, and some antiques for sale in the back.
The owner took us to a little room where they kept boots and snow shovels. That’s where we plugged in our electric line.
Misty made a good deal…One night, two dollars.
We dragged our small artificial Christmas tree out of the trunk and into the bus. She had it trimmed and lit in about ten minutes.
We’d been on a long hard tour and we didn’t have any presents for each other, so we looked around at the antiques and things in the store.
We picked out a few gifts, but we didn’t have any way to gift wrap ’em.
Two or three at a time some people from the town came into the store, stomping the snow off their shoes and saying “Merry Christmas” to each other. They were smiling and friendly and offered to take our gifts back to their homes and wrap ’em for us.
When they came back a while later, our presents looked beautiful.
They brought along some cookies and eggnog, and we had a little party with these unusual strangers. We wanted to cancel all our future bookings and live here.
In the morning we woke up to snow covered cornfields and a sparkling forest of winter trees. An old rusty plow and a wagon were half buried in the snow outside our window.. It was a perfect Christmas.
We don’t even know the name of the town, or which state it’s in. And we haven’t been able to find it on any map.
We just think of it as our Christmas Town. Maybe it’s in the twilight zone.
Merry Christmas all you Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, rich, poor,
and let’s not leave out the fringe weirdos.
Merry Christmas I say, to all humans, dogs, cats,
and miscellaneous living items.
Warning: I am armed and extremely jolly.
Christmas has been my favorite holiday my whole life,
and I want to share it with you.
You don’t have to buy me anything but it wouldn’t hurt my feelings..
Join me in toasting old Saint Nicholas if he will fit in our toaster.
(Haha. I do get jolly at Christmas.)
Cry with me at the ending of “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
Let’s boo and hiss together at Old Mr. Potter.
We’ll get sentimental listening to the Christmas carols at Walmart.
And let’s all pray for snow even if we’re in Florida.
What time is Charlie Brown on?
Enjoy new times with old friends.
If we don’t have any friends, let’s make some.
Find somebody who looks down in the dumps,
give them a big smile, and toss them a “Merry Christmas”.
If they just look at you funny and walk away, so what?
There are other people waiting to be annoyed with our Christmas glee.
Think about your home town and try to recall the good times.
I think about Buffalo this time of year
because that’s where I got all my Christmas spirit to begin with…
shopping downtown, and trimming the scotch pine
with people we loved more than we knew at the time.
I laugh and cry a lot as Christmas approaches.
I even cry at commercials.
I laugh easily at funny remarks, especially mine.
It’s embarrassing but I don’t care.
Ten minutes after a joke has slipped into the past,
I think about it and start laughing again.
Everybody tries not to notice, but the more I try to stifle it, the more I laugh,
and tears come out of my eyes.
Christmas makes me weak.
So, whatever your religion or non-religion is, Merry Dang Christmas!
You don’t have to go to church if you don’t want to.
I probably won’t, but I might watch Midnight Mass on television,
and I’m not even Catholic.
It’s all part of the pageantry that is my holiday,
and I plan to eat too much, mellow out, and enjoy the feeling.
Call me on your holiday and I’ll join you, but listen…
What I’m saying to you right now is this:
“Merry Christmas to all good people.”
© 2009, 2018.
When you’re hitch-hiking cross country
you usually wind up taking circuitous routes,
getting stranded in places you never knew existed,
and meeting people who are surprised that you exist.
We were once detained as suspected chain gang escapees,
which is where this story will eventually arrive.
You may be trying to go north,
but find yourself heading east or west,
and happy to get a ride,
to get off the side of a long and often creepy road.
When hitching you see the roads differently.
You notice the gum wrappers, cracks, puddles,
weeds and insects on the shoulders.
You get to know them well, sometimes being there for many hours.
A bend in the highway that cars disappear around in seconds,
is a mystery to you.
Maybe there’s a town up there,
or an old gas station where you might get water, or a lucky ride,
or more endless miles of nothing,
Hitch-hiking to a place a thousand miles from where you start
can easily cover almost double the AAA route,
moving laterally as often as forward.
And you can plan on a number of extra days
in the burning sun or cold rain.
This isn’t all bad.
Looking back on it It’s an adventure.
At the time it seemed like punishment.
Bob Egan and I were trying to get back to Buffalo from Florida,
and got dropped off at nightfall in a tiny southern town
by a bakery truck driver going in for the night.
The two-lane county road traffic amounted to a vehicle an hour,
it was dark and getting chilly,
we hadn’t eaten, and were practically broke.
We were in Ashford, Alabama,
at the intersection of US84 (now called Old US 84),
and the road going northward was the narrow County Road 55.
There was a streetlight on the corner, so we stood under it,
trying to look wholesome and non-threatening.
Kids from the town came around to watch us stand there.
We were the biggest thing going on in town.
They were just a few feet from us,
but we couldn’t understand a single word they said.
We were from another planet.
After an hour or maybe three,
a dump truck rumbled toward us from the wrong direction.
Shovels were hanging on its sides and clanging.
It stopped and large elderly man in a plaid shirt got out.
He was the sheriff or maybe the constable.
The big man was friendly, but said he had to take us in
because we fitted the description of two chain gang escapees…
two young Yankee fellas, one dark-haired and one blond.
We tried to tell him how innocent and nice we were,
but the report said that they were smooth talkers,
and not to believe anything they said.
We climbed up into the truck cab
and he drove us about two blocks to the police station,
where we sat and were given coffee and a sandwich,
while the sheriff made some phone calls.
The police station was on Main,
which in my memory was an unpaved dirt street.
After a while he said “We don’t have a regular jail here,
but we’ve got a place for you to stay until court in the morning.”
Then he drove us to a big wooden house of indeterminate color,
and introduced us to a matronly lady…
the proprietor of this rooming house.
She was as friendly as he was,
but we were surely headed for life on the chain gang,
and that took a little edge off the fun.
We did get some needed sleep and some breakfast in the morning.
The rugged old cop picked us up
and said we had been cleared of all suspicions.
He drove us to the county line.
Like an idiot I said “Good luck catching those guys.”
He waved out the truck window and headed back to town.
It only took a few decades for me to figure out what really happened.
He knew we would be stuck all night on that corner.
He could see that we were tired and probably hungry,
and he made the phone call to the boarding house lady
to put us up for the night.
There were no escaped convicts.
Just two young strangers who needed some help.
I have a warm spot in my heart for Ashford, Alabama,
and those good people.
© 2009, 2018.
Then lightning struck the steeple and it rang the chapel bell
That’s been rusted into silence many years.
Then the thunder rolled away and the organ starts to play,
And we heard a voice that filled our hearts with fear.
Then the voice called through the night so loud and clear,
“Is there anything at all you’d like to hear?
Though my bones are old and moldy I just love to pick them oldies.
Is there anything at all you’d like to hear?”
So we dug up some requests for him to try.
We shouted, “How ’bout ‘Speckled Bird’ or ‘Jambalay’?”
He said “Maybe I’ll ad lib a chorus on my ribs.”
Then the voice sang all the songs that made us cry.
Well, the three of us, we sang the whole night long.
He kept pickin’ funky organ until dawn…
Till the morning mist was rising on the lawn…
When the sun came up, we knew that he was gone.
Now the first red rays of sun begin to creep,
And the shadows of the graves are long and deep.
We smile and wonder when we’ll hear that voice again…
Then we close the lid and sing ourselves to sleep.
Then we close the lid and sing ourselves to sleep.
* * *
“If I knew you were comin’ I’d have baked a cat.”
© 2009, 2018.
We just had the Autumnal Equinox,
so it must be Fall somewhere,
just not yet here in Florida.
I still celebrate my favorite season.
Autumn is my favorite time of year,
a season of moods.
The first chill after summer has worn out its welcome,
that’s when I feel the holidays coming on.
Not that we do any big celebrating these days,
but it’s the remembering of celebrations past,
and those who were with us during good times.
The empty places at our table.
I write more songs during the remnants of the year,
when emotions are nearer to the surface,
the past is just over our shoulder,
and old voices whisper in our ear.
One winter, when it was minus 35 degrees and windy in Minnesota,
Misty and I stayed in a cement floor cabin on a lake shore.
I heard what sounded like whale sounds.
It was the frozen lake groaning as it expanded.
We had recently had such bad times that we were thankful to be there
with friends close by at Christmas.
We didn’t mind the cold.
We have had a life, so far, full of ultra-highs and ultra-lows…
from homelessness on the street
to the whirlwind of big time show business.
Now It’s quiet.
And we have enough money to last us the rest of our life,
unless we buy something.
Home is wherever Misty is.
© 2009, 2018.
© 2009, 2018.
You kids are a bunch of sissies.
Back in my day we didn’t have hurricanes.
We just had storms called “What the hell was that?!”
Our houses didn’t blow apart.
They were held together by mold, mildew, and asbestos.
And we LOVED it!
We never wore helmets when we rode our bicycles,
and our bikes were seven feet high and made out of lead.
We fell directly on our heads and were damn proud of it!
You young folks have to wear a helmet when you eat peanuts.
We didn’t have rocks.
We had to take the laundry down to the creek
and beat it against our heads.
We couldn’t afford shoes.
In the winter we wrapped our feet in barbed wire for traction.
When I was a kid we ate nothing but gluten.
Fried gluten, baked or boiled gluten.
At breakfast we all said, “Gluten morgen!”
My dad thought we were German.”
We didn’t have sex back then. We had neckin’.
If we did have sex, they’d have told me.
My Aunt Maude could jump three feet straight up,
without bending her knees.
You don’t see talent like that these days.
I just yelled “You kids get off my lawn!”
Then I noticed they were seniors on their own lawn.
They gave me the finger and I thought they were saluting the flag,
so I stood up.
So, listen all you youngsters:
eat a peanut, sniff some mold,
take off your knee pads,
and wear a lead watch.
You’ll LOVE it!
I hope I can get this childproof cap off my Viagra.
© 2009, 2018.
A couple of days ago I was in a dark mood, sitting on a bench at Publix,
waiting for Misty and watching people check out.
A little girl 5 or 6 years old said, “I’m going to sit by you.”
She sat and talked with me for about 5 minutes.
She held a small black purse with two straps,
and she didn’t deal in affectations or childish cuteness,
but looked directly into my eyes and conversed person-to-person.
She said, “Is your mommy here?”
I said “Yes.”
She said, ‘What’s her name?”
I said “Misty.”
She pointed to her mother and told me her name.
She turned and took a closer look and asked “Do you have make-up on?”
I said no and she said, “A beard.”
I said “Yep” and she said, “Why?”
I said, “Style, I guess.”
She accepted that, and pointed at my longish hair.
I said, “I’ve got to cut that hair.”,
and she said “No! Long hair is nice.”,
running her fingers through her blond hair to illustrate.
A lady shopper stopped and told her, “You’re so pretty!”
The little girl just smiled her thanks.
Misty appeared with her shopping cart.
She smiled and said, “I see you have a friend.”
The little girl said, “Go!” to me,
as if people should go when their parents are waiting.
I said I’d probably stay seated there.
(I was having a bad hip day. An old Disco injury.)
She asked, “Why?”
I told her I liked to watch the people, and she thought that over.
Then her mother came by and they walked away.
She turned and waved and called “”Bye”.
She made me happy!
I won’t forget her.
© 2009, 2018.
It was ten minutes to one AM in Nashville, by the studio clock.
The pickers were tired and ready to pack up and head out.
They were also bored cross-eyed
by the three songs they had just recorded for the new singer.
The material would have been more interesting if it had been terrible,
but it was just amazingly mediocre…
in fact it should be in the Guinness Book of Records under “Mediocre”.
Now the singer was insisting on getting in one more song,
and there was no escape.
The union says they are hired for the full three hours.
They did one quick run-through on the fourth song,
and the vocalist began to sing.
The harmonica player found it hard to play while yawning.
As they were heading into the second bridge the singer got unexpected gas,
and the rather obscene sound was picked up by the microphone,
in living stereo, with reverb,
and it bled through all 24 tracks.
It did wake the musicians up.
They all looked suspiciously at each other,
because there was no dog to blame.
The engineers tried unsuccessfully to get the noise out during the mixdown.
In their frustration and excitement, mistakes were made,
and the first three songs were accidentally erased.
The singer was ready to cry,
because he was quickly running out of money,
and his potential career depended on one single track with a fart in it.
The only course he could take was having a few hundred copies pressed
and sending them to radio stations,
hoping they would not notice that part of the record.
A couple of overworked deejays were busy and did let it slip by.
Calls started to come in.
Listeners were asking to hear it again because they couldn’t believe their ears.
Some of the more vulgar ones thought it was funny,
and others could relate to the recording artist’s embarrassment
and gave him a sympathy vote.
This, of course, is how popular records come to be.
Critics argued about it, some saying that it was artistic integrity,
and others condemning it as a bad influence on their children,
who apparently had never heard such a sound.
In some places the song was banned, which is a sure way to get a hit.
Although the real title was “You’re So Sophisticated”,
the public called it “The Fart Song”,
and that’s how it will go down in music history.
The singer had a few more chart entries until he ran out of funny sounds,
and tried to switch to straight ballads.
Nobody took him seriously.
He’s been depressed ever since,
but thanks to that unfortunate little outburst,
he can sulk while sitting on his yacht.
He’d found the hook.
© 2009, 2018.