After Fredfest

I used to be good at blogging. Or, good in the sense that I think I can write well for the form, but I never really made any effort to be visible to anyone except for by accident or love for me irl that compelled a person to my blog. Anyway, I told myself I'd do this and today is as good as any to start.

C and I got home last night from a long weekend in Denton, TX celebrating the life of my suddenly-deceased-at-too-young (62) father, Fred, in his beloved college town. We stayed in a big weird/beautiful house on a horse farm on the outskirts and made our festival home base in front of the UNT showcase stage at the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival. I sobbed when I felt his energy jumping out from the student director of the 6 o'clock lab band, and again when a 19 yr old girl in gym shorts and a tube top singing for the 4 o'clock fucking nailed a rendition of Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring" eerily similar to the one my father penned for Kathy Smith, formerly Stellmaker, when I was a kid. There are a couple records worth of big band charts that the AFRES Band recorded in the late 80s that are seared into my body, and that song is one of them. 

When we were cleaning out my dad's house we found a whole cabinet full of small containers he had saved, empty Dromedary pimento jars and Coleman's dry mustard tins. His parents both collected these sorts of things to organize their house with; they were both so meticulous. Fred was meticulous, too, in a chaotic way, a way I can relate to, deeply. Sorting through his house was a total trip. Drawers compartmentalized by my Gramma decades ago still mostly intact up against my father's various piles of outdated electronics, stacks of cardboard beer case inserts and jagged-edged tin can lids, saved for some purpose forever locked away in Fred's dead brain. An entire crawlspace full of plastic bags he would never re-use.

The day we picked up his ashes we drove to the gulf coast, Dickinson, south of Houston, to have oysters and beers with the heavy box. On the drive we mused about what to do with the cremains. My sister, Meg, told a story of her friend, his sister, and their stepdad planning an excursion to spread his mother's ashes years ago. They rented a convertible and tossed her out of the roof as they drove along the seawall in Galveston. Of course his mother's ashes just rained down onto them and the interior of the rented car. We laughed morbidly. Dad would have loved to have sprinkled our heads with himself.

Mom said "What if we distributed him into those little containers we found? Gave them away to his friends at the memorial and let them do whatever they want with them?"

On Sunday we gathered a random sampling of Fredites at a burger joint downtown with a big open air rooftop patio that Fred would have loved. I'll make a distinction between Fred's family and the Fredites, the latter being his weird-ass friends, each with their own little quirks, so Fred-like in each a totally different way. It was perfect. Even got it on Facebook livestream, fully appropriate as that's where he spent most of his time over the last five years or so. Interesting how easy it was for me to get off the platform as soon as he died. I do keep wanting to communicate things to people beyond those I see or interact with via screens day-to-day, so here I am.

Meg and I had spent about half an hour on Sunday morning funneling Fred's ashes into our curated selection of containers, all of them the aforementioned pimento jars and mustard tins, their designs so evocative of our Gramma's kitchen. It was a dusty endeavor, there were specs of Fred in the corners of our eyes by the end. I'm not sure what I'll do with my yellow tin of Fred. For now it is on my desk.

That's a lie, it's still at the bottom of my carryon inside a little ziploc bag, but I think I'll put it on the desk until I decide where to sprinkle him. His friends were delighted to receive their jars, and he was surely delighted to be received. I don't believe in God or heaven but I do believe he's still paying attention and relishing the attention of this past weekend.

Before we left town we took a couple jars o' Fred to Bruce Hall on the UNT campus, the music school dorm that was the center of the universe until my parents and their friends moved off campus and created a new center. Of course they wouldn't allow a group of random adults into a college dorm building, but my persistent mother told the person at the desk a moving story and they relented. Meg and I boldly sprinkled him in as many places as we could, the front mat, the courtyard, the corners of the window seats, inside the piano, at the threshold of the concert hall, on the pool table. 

Is that gross?

I don't care. 

My father was one of the most frustrating people on the planet. He was also brilliant.

Here's a poem one of his lovers from college wrote and shared with my mom, sister, and me. Comforting to know we aren't the only ones who found him to be...


The explanation of this silence
Lies in the fact that I'm a word gambler.
I took a risk on you.
I squandered my store of superlatives,
Emptied my pockets of dramatic exclamations,
Placed my last adjective on the hope of your understanding.

I spent my words to make more words.
You ate them all instead.
Left  me not a bright term of affection
To toss in the air as I walk.

I can't complain;
I've spent all my curses on you.
Guess I wouldn't if I could;
You don't control the odds, after all.
I've never made love to Luck.

Don't interpret silence as reform.
This is just a slight reversal,
A temporary lack of capital due to a bad bet.
The next passing stranger to toss off a compliment
Will have fueled this damnable fever.
You'll find me at the nearest table,
Pen to paper,
Spending and spending and spending.

Comfort comes from my arms
Leading your head to my breast,
Wordless sounds and stroking.
Desire is dependency.

Hot reproach and harsh tears
Bury my face in the nearest
Depth of you. Your arm-circle.
Your silence. Too real.

Now you roll over,
Shift your weight.
The pillow swallows your face.
Blood resumes its flow to my arm.
Fingers flex.
I move this shortest distance,
Shape myself around you,
Wedge the other arm beneath you.

Try to sleep.