Posted in A Day In the Life

Looking for Kinky Friedman

top of wood table and party light of bokeh in bar at night backgroundMy decision was really a whim. I didn’t think it through — I just knew that I wanted it. “I’m on a quest,” I told my husband and my friends, “to meet Kinky Friedman.”

It seemed like a good goal, given that we were moving to Austin, Texas. This was the place where Kinky had once made his stand. As I started to put things into boxes, Kinky bumped against something in my brain and I became obsessed with him. This was more than just a quest, it was an invitation from my psyche.

When we decided to make the move, it was because of the smoke that clogged our little valley in the summer months. For the past weeks, I couldn’t see, couldn’t breath for all that smoke. I became sick and sluggish. I felt trapped and stuck, but not just physically. I felt that way about my writing. And I felt that way about the unrelenting scandal, corruption and wreckage that filled the national news. I think the whole country was experiencing idiot fatigue, the kind of weariness that comes from so many grown-up men giving away their nuts. The result was a sickening lack of courage to stand up for anything, let alone the “right thing.” The move to Austin was a yet unformed promise of liberation from all thing blocking my view. It gave me hope, and a reason to unplug from the news. I’d pack up the television and lose myself in the whimsy of finding Kinky Friedman.

People asked me over and over again, “Why Austin?” I didn’t have much of an answer. I said things like, “They have a great music scene. I like the rolling hills. Warm weather is appealing to these old bones.” But I didn’t really know why Austin. Was it because I might possibly find Kinky Friedman? Could I be drawn to Austin because of a greater rising that was beginning to happen in the Lone Star state — a new nation being birthed, while I again, was experiencing a rebirth, too?

Once, a long time ago, when I was a 20-something, I’d met Kinky. He brushed by me in the hallway at NBC studios. I worked for a television show called The Midnight Special. It was on at 11:30 on Friday nights, hosted by Wolfman Jack, who started out each show with a deep, booming declaration: “Let the midnight special shine its ever lovin’ light on you.”

Armed with a hit record, Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jew Boys were guests on The Midnight Special. They sang irreverent songs with political overtones. All messages are made more palatable through the activism of laughter. His popular anthem, They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore, was a memorable sing-along ode to anti-racism. That was long before any of us could imagine MTV, cable television or the likes of a Stephen Colbert. I’d thought that Kinky was hysterically funny. But he was also brilliant, a Mark Twain of the times, dressed up in the 1970’s. He said and sang what was on his mind, without worry about what others thought. He was genuine. And I wanted to possess that same kind of smart, funny, edge that made him so interesting. There was a time when I had it, when I felt it.

In that part of my life, I drank hard and stayed up all night listening to music. I wrote poetry and lyrics. I wrote my first short stories with a sharp wit that wasn’t afraid to make fun of things in the word that seemed hypocritical or otherwise disingenuous. There was in me a sense of wild mischief and quirk. But as the years went by, I started to care too much about what other people thought of me, how I was seen. I tried harder than anyone I’d ever met to “get my act together.” The result was that I broke off that wild and quirky piece of myself and buried along the road somewhere. I developed a sense of pride that I’d worked my ass off to become a responsible, upstanding citizen and contributing member of the community. So I forgot about Kinky, except to note he was still making music, and had also became a novelist who cranked out a lot of murder mysteries.

Life happens on more than one level at a time. Moving to Austin was now part of a search for the edgy kid of my 20’s. It was also a bold statement of my 60’s. Hubby and I saw this as a great adventure — doing a huge interstate move at a time when most people are downsizing, simplifying and slowing. I’ve taken risks before and the risks were always worth it, even when I seemingly failed. It wasn’t that I wanted to relive that earlier time, but I knew it was crucial for me to pull it forward to where I was now. Kinky Friedman became my symbol for that, a light that would help me rediscover that sense of wild again.

So where to look for this 74-year-old Texas icon? A bar in Austin? His animal preserve in San Antonio? To start, I bought his book, Armadillos and Old Lace. That might give me a clue. Then, I started to think about what I would say to him if I actually found him.

I pictured myself sitting in a bar in Austin, ordering a soda water and lime, and pretending that it was vodka on the rocks. I imagined leaning forward and asking the bartender if he knew who Kinky Friedman was. I’d tell him that I was on a quest to meet the musician, writer, and political activist. The bartender would nod toward a stage, where outlined in the smoky haze would be a guy tuning a guitar with a cigar in one hand.

I’d walk up to the stage. “Do you remember being on The Midnight Special in the 1970’s?” I’d ask. “Do you remember the young secretary on the show back then, the kind of funny one?”

He’d shake his head no and look perplexed.

“I guess it doesn’t matter if you remember her or not, I’m just looking for her, is all . . .”

“You might check somewhere down that road between happiness and despair,” he’d say, quoting one of his novels.

Then again, the bartender might just shrug at my question and say, “Everyone knows who Kinky Friedman is.” When pressed, he’d answer that he’d “never met the guy personally.” And I’d walk away remembering that I had met him personally, once when I was of a quicker wit, a faster step, and sharper edge. It was back in the days when the vodka in my glass would have been real and irreverent poetry was the prayer on my lips.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Barefoot Wild

Happy little girlTangle and wild is what birthed me. The first few years of my life were in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, where my father was the Park Naturalist. An early photograph shows me standing in a back yard of desert, cactus and sky. I am wearing a sombrero and a diaper, sucking on a bottle. It would be a familiar pose later in life too, sans the diaper. Blond hair, tanned skin, and life was good. My family swam at the river, sat in the caves and walked the surrounding area in search of prickly pear, which is a cactus blossom that my mother made into jelly.

At four my parents divorced and my father relocated to Glacier National Park, which presented a whole different pallet of nature than Carlsbad’s desert. In that park, I climbed up the steep hill next to the cabin and ran to the bottom, arms out stretched as if in flight. I gathered huckleberries for pies that my sister made and stood at the kitchen window watching a bear cub take our rug off the clothes line and carry it up a tree.

My parent’s divorce created an interesting phenomenon in my life: what with everyone’s angst and new beginnings, I became basically, unsupervised. A psychologist might call it abandonment, but it’s not like I was neglected. I was just left alone to the wild of life. As such, I delighted in a summer rain one day, warm and pounding, unleashed from the skies with a great, gray power and beauty. I got this idea that I should be outside in that rain instead of watching it from a window.

Out the back door I went, got on my tricycle, not bothering with shoes, and began riding the streets of Glacier, peddling hard through the puddles and delighting in the warm water soaking my clothes, hair and skin. I was having great fun when a woman, who also happened to be the local sitting judge, saw me, stopped her car and demanded that I get in. She put my tricycle in the trunk and drove me to her house where I was toweled off and given an over-sized shirt to wear, while my clothes were in the dryer. Then she called my father.

The judge was everything un-wild and had no appreciation for the freedom that I found so delicious. I was told to sit in the living room and she turned on the television for me. The show that was on was the Oral Roberts Healing Hour. Oral Roberts was a grainy black and white image that barked about things I didn’t know of. He talked about sickness and injury and told you to put your hand on the television screen and then he would yell, “Heal God, heal,” as though he were talking to a class of canines instead of people. I tried to think if I had a sickness or injury so that I could put my hand on the television screen, but no one would know whether I did or not and I really wanted to feel what would come through the television if I put my hand on it, so I did. And as Oral Roberts was yelling, “Heal God, heal,” with my little hand on the screen, my father walked into the room.

He had on his National Park issue uniform with a plastic thing over his hat that kept it dry. As he looked down at me he seemed to grow taller. Water dripped off his hat and he said, “Am I raising a moron?” I wanted to tell him no, but nothing came out of my mouth. He gathered me up, leaving my tricycle for another day in the hands of the un-wild judge, and we went home. I don’t remember that I was punished. I was probably off into the woods soon after, looking for berries, barefoot and wild.

I was eight or nine when my father was transferred to Washington DC and began working at the Department of the Interior as a program analyst. As in previous summers, I was packed up and shipped off to spend some time with him. And just as before, I was totally unsupervised. I found my way around to swimming pools, bus lines and walking long stretches of highway. I was fearless, and thinking back–my parents were foolish. Still I wouldn’t have traded those wild days for something more structured. Skipping stones on the Potomac River and walking to the airport were among my favorite activities. I could follow the highway all the way to what was then D.C. Airport and spend the entire day watching the planes take off and land. I had wonderful conversations with the stewardesses who were enviably stylish and were nice to me, sometimes buying me a coke and telling me all about the places that they had been. I wanted to go places too and I went home and told my father that I wanted to be a stewardess when I grew up.

First of all I got busted for walking barefoot, of course, to the airport and was told I couldn’t ever do that again. Then I was told that stewardesses were only glorified waitresses in the air, and that was the end of the conversation. I spent the rest of the summer cutting white paper and building a city out of the pieces in a corner of the living room. I was bored from waiting for weekends when I could go to the river with my father to skip rocks. Being unsupervised and being told to stay put was torture.

That was the last summer of my wild. . .for a while anyway.  As I got a little older, I became interested in being like other girls and matching shoes and belts became more important than exploring new places. Though by the time I was 17, I was ready to leave home and explore again. Seventeen is way to young to leave home, but having learned self-reliance at such an early age, it wasn’t that big a deal. I got into a lot of trouble when I left home and just like riding a tricycle in the rain, some of it was great fun.

Now in my sixties, the time of silver reflects upon the path that I followed, illuminating those wild times. It’s not so much a past as it is a state of mind. And I no longer confuse recklessness with wild. It is more an authenticity that speaks truth without worrying about what others may think. It is the rawness of heart that drinks in the world.  Wild is crying when the full moon rises and the geese fly overhead. I was born into the wild and I know it will carry me home. Something about the journey and the embracing of knotted, wild places, tangled in weeded flowers and planes taking off comforts me to my core.