that thing

Few things are more important in our identity and sense of self than skill and talent. We are defined by what we can and can’t do. Growing up is about recognizing those positives and negatives. So here’s your topic. Examine that dynamic. What was your thing? What was clearly NOT your thing? 

5.1: That’s not my thing. Write for a while about other people who were good at something. They had a talent or skill that stood out and seemed to define them. . 

Cordell Bloomer was good at working on cars. He had a ‘57 Chevy and seemed to know the engine of that car inside and out. “Yeah, I’m pulling the engine this weekend,” he said once.  And I thought: “Pulling the engine out of a car?” The task seemed unthinkable, like removing a body organ. “Yeah, I’m pulling a lung out of my brother this weekend.” Cordell lived a couple miles out of town. I remember riding by his house and seeing an engine hanging by a chain from a tree and the rest of the car, the hood open but otherwise intact, not far from the tree.  Why would some take the engine out of their car? To fix it. To soup it up. Guys would talk about an engine that was “bored out,” which meant, I think, increasing its cylinder and piston size. How did they know how to do that? And put everything back together and have it work.  It was beyond my comprehension. 

II. So you’ve written a little bit about what wasn’t your thing. What was your thing? What were good at? What activity, hobby, endeavor began to define who you were/are? How did your skill develop and change over time? What stuff and material, what people and places were important in this skill? As you think and write, recall vignettes and stories related to this skill or activity.

I played the guitar. What got me there was the Midland Daily News.

I delivered papers for the News for a couple years. The paper was printed six days a week. Monday through Saturday a truck dropped off a bail of newspapers tied in twine, which I folded into thirds and tucked into a canvas bag I hung over my shoulder. The smell of printer’s ink rose from the papers while I folded them. It stained the palm of my hand black. The Midland Daily News was an afternoon paper, except on Saturday, which meant the papers were waiting for me when I got home from school. I made deliveries on my bike. The image in the popular imagination at that time was a boy riding by a house and flinging a well-aimed, tightly folded newspaper to the porch. I suppose I flung a few, but flinging and throwing were not my strong suit. The idea of was to deliver a paper that was in good condition, close to the front door. Wednesday was always the fattest paper, hard to fold, impossible to fling. I hated Wednesdays.

III. How it felt. There’s obviously a sense of satisfaction that comes with being good at something. It sets you apart from other people. It also means you identify with others who are good at what you do. Talk about your developing recognition that you were good at something, that it was going to be part of you in a new and important way. As you write, situations will come back to–in specific places, with specific people. Tell about some of those situations. Don’t hesitate to get some proper names in your writing–names of people and places, of products, details that made up your world at this time.

I came home from school one day. My mother was sitting at the kitchen table with pencil and paper.  

What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m helping you think of a name for your band.”  

Well that’s nice.  That’s what I said.  What I thought was: Is there a band anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world, that was named by the mother of one of the guys in the band? Bands were popping up everywhere. On TV at night we watched Shindig! and Hullaballoo. The British invasion was beginning. After school was a program called “Where The Action Is.”  The theme song was called, oddly, “Where the action is.” Freddie “Boom Boom” Cannon sang: “Oh baby come on…”  All I remember is the chorus. It was a song that needed only a chorus.  A song written from that half-hour show, filmed in California, not far from the beach. The same acts cycled into the programming a couple times a week. Steve Alaimo. Who was he? Tommy Roe. Ditto? The Knickerbockers. Bobby Goldsboro. An every band in creation started popping up. The Lovin’ Spoonful, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, The Ventures, Freddy and the Dreamers. My favorite was Paul Revere and the Raiders. They dressed in 18th century costumes, like before writing and recording their songs they had helped draft the US Constitution. “Kicks just keep getting harder to find.” They had long hair. 

IV. Take your thinking about the importance of this activity a little further. What you’re good at sets you apart from other people. Talk about other people. Talk about the social context of what you were good at, mentioning places, events and activities. Remember to draw upon proper names of places and people. Describe specific moments, scenes and settings, events in which you were aware of you skill, how limited it was, how it was improving, expanding, and why.

When I hit junior high and high school, guys my age went out for the football team. That’s where glory was to be found. There was an eighth grade team. No one paid attention to them. And a JV team that played on Thursday nights, and, the main event, the varsity team that played on Friday nights. JV and varsity, under the lights. Roger Bill played, of course. Dan Donoghue. Eddie Maurer, Tommy Siegreen. Danny Satchel, whose older brother had been a quarterback. Their freshman year they joined older upper classmen on the field. Freeland was a farm town. On the field, along with town kids, were farm kids like Eddie Wagner and Bob Meyer, Del Durfee, Mark Ames, Bob and Pat George, Roger’s older, bigger, tougher brothers. The farm kids espeure’cially yo were like blocks of cement on legs. During none of years I was in high school did we have a winning team. It didn’t matter. The stands would be full.  Football in the fall, then basketball in the winter were the premier events.

V. What happened? How did that thing you do change over time? Did you stay with it? Is it still part of your life, part of your identity? Talk about your thing then and now.

“But why don’t you play anymore?”

I get asked that question. Why did I quit the guitar? I was good at it. Wouldn’t I like to play along, sing, have that kind of fun?  Yes, I would. But I don’t.

After the Sons of Sound more bands came, players shifted in and out of the band, we got bigger, we got smaller. We definitely got louder. The Sons of Sound became the Freeland Bean and Coal Company. When we were in high school horn sections were popping up in popular music. Blood Sweat and Tears, The Electric Flag, Chicago. We added a trumpet, a sax. But we couldn’t be that kind of band all the time. Two or three songs with horns was about all we could manage, which meant those guys just sort of stood around waiting. After Freeland Bean, a three-piece group we called Phred. We played one gig at the school.