RUDIMENTS, pt. 33
I used to think timing was everything,
and then I thought, for a while, that bad
timing just meant you'd lost your nerve.
I've always suffered from bad timing, it
seemed, and the end result of that has been
that over time I did lose my nerve about doing
anything outwardly noticeable. Perhaps timing
isn't even the correct word here, because that
mostly just means 'being in the right place
at the right time.' As people think of it anyway.
Maybe a better word is just 'luck.' I don't think
so, but I place it for consideration in any case
Consider: You're a saxophone player in an
ordinary 4-piece ensemble, pumping out some
endless jazz, dinner club stuff; one night by
chance some agent guy just happens to walk
in, and his ears perk up upon hearing you on
the sax. He introduces himself, says 'I like your
stuff,' leaves a card, and says 'Call me Monday,'
on the way out. That's both good timing, and luck
as well - the thing being the timing part of it you
yourself really have had no way of knowing about.
The 'luck' part just happens. Maybe its the stars,
or fate, or karma, any of that stuff you hear of.
Intangibles and mysteries all, for sure. One time,
in the old days, maybe 1978, 79, I had taken a
ton of personal nerve and I showed up on the
roof of the Plainfield YMCA, where for some
reason, a group was holding an advertised poetry
reading open-mic night. I'd read about it somewhere,
never thinking I'd actually show up. Understand
please, this is when Plainfield was actually still
old-line white, with some semblance of order
and intellectual sustenance. The aging American
'white core' of things is what grew up with - the
traditional influx of calm reason and a steady and
traditional intellectual pursuit. Where forms of
education and creativity were still respected. I
truly and sadly do propose now that al that's gone,
that Plainfield itself is a dead, lost ship on a sinking
sea, that squalor, anti-intellectualism, and pure
naked idiocy has taken its place. A poetry-reading
there now, on the roof of the 'Y' or not, would be
a slamfest, slugfest of shouted and mangled
profanities and lewd-intentions recited as a
break-your-heart-in-two rap based slam poetry.
The sort of stuff today's intellectual hoodlums do.
It's acceptable, it's cultural, and it's not white.
And so much for it. I said my piece.
Anyhow, that night 100 maybe 120 people
showed up. My nervous jitters cascaded, rose and
plateau'd and then just went away, A few others
read before me. The usual stuff. Rah-rah. Then
it was my turn - I had brought about 15 or 20
pieces along. I got through the first 5 or 6 maybe,
and the place erupted in applause. Asking me for
more, read some more, don't stop, anything. So I
continued a little. By the end, when I stopped
myself, not to overdue it, all that positive
uproar stuff began again. During this time, as
I was gathering my papers and tuned to leave, a
gentleman caught me, tapped me - middle-aged
buy, suit and tie, impressive. He introduces
himself, ('Roger Williams'), some weird address
in New Jersey somewhere and tells me what
he'd just heard awed him. I'm a wonderment,
please contact me when you can, great things
can happen.' Blah-bah. He goes away.
I'm left with myself. What is this, my moment?
My perfect timing, to be there when we was?
Or just luck? Either way, I'm thinking, what's
in store? Is this the big weird break I'd heard
about people having - the Hollywood babe
waiting tables in some joint, discovered by the
guy who strolls in and just happens to be looking
for.... that type. That saxophone guy I previously
mentioned? For a moment that night, in the
rooftop dark, under the Plainfield stars, I'm
almost crazy with excitement, delirious with
all that big-break bullshit. I go home. A week
or two later, a few tries, I finally reach him, but
he's not there, someone takes a message, gives
me a proper business address. I send him a
note. Thus begins my famed Roger Williams
correspondence period. A big, gigantic let-down.
He keeps reiterating how wonderful my words
were, but absolutely nothing else. Next thing I
know, he's getting married to a de-frocked nun,
and he sends along a wedding invitation, which
I declined, and then a change of address, with his
new bride. Somewhere up in New York State.
From that point on, for about 12 years, it's all
reduced to a Christmas card a year. Then it
all stops, and I'm advised by mail that he
has died. End of that story.
So, what's it all anyway? My personal leverage
for these sorts of things, all through my life has
always been off. A mess. A disaster. What's a
person to do? Give up? No I never did that. I did
instead just stop caring about that end of it all.
Just let it go, I' say, and be sure to stay producing
and working hard. The personal ending is the
only goal that counts, to be ready, and be set.
Any looking past that, seeking the fame, the
notoriety, glamour and money past that, that's
all wrong. Not for me. I've always been off.