Monday, July 28, 2014

Chapter 48 – End of the Innocence

The upcoming turn of the millennium—the entire world in a panic over the time clock situation. Will all the computers in the world go back to the year 1900? People thought planes would crash banks would fail, and God forbid, Ebay and Amazon would be unavailable.  I made a decision of my own for the millennium:  I was never going to do anything that I wasn’t one hundred percent committed to again. That meant no more bullshit. Never again would I lie, cheat, or steal, if I could help it. I knew I would never do another sales job, never sell insurance and unless Mr. Whittemore gave me the raise he promised, I was going to have to quit my job at the golf course. I already had enough material stored away in my mind and on the mini-cassette recorder to begin my screenplay, Mulligan’s Tour, and I knew that was going to take a Herculean effort to complete.
I didn’t get the raise, so I walked off the course in the middle of June 1999. I had plenty on my plate—a new baby boy and his two older siblings to help take care of, a screenplay to write, and, thanks to the wonderful world of Ebay, I had guitars to buy and sell—an honest job in my field of expertise. I was still playing out in the local clubs trying to promote my new record, See You Around, which was doing fairly well. I was also making plans to begin a new record as soon as the bones of Mulligan’s Tour were in the books. What did I know about writing a screenplay? Not much.
I knew what I wanted to do, but I had no idea how to do it. I bought every book I could find: Robert Mckee’s Story, everything by Syd Field, Screenwriting 434, by Lew Hunter, Linda Seger’s, Making a Good Script Great, you name it, I studied it. It wasn’t until I joined a writer’s group, The Tennessee Screenwriter’s Association, did I get face to face, hands on help with my work in progress. Every Wednesday night I would drive up to Nashville and sit in a room with twenty to thirty other writers of all abilities. The first time I had to read pages from my story I was in a panic. I could get up in front of thousands of people and play a song I had just written but a screenplay? I was a babe in the woods, but I got through it relatively unscathed. A few people I gravitated towards knew a lot more than I did. John Macy was one. He had a few scripts already sold and was making plans to move back to Hollywood. I thought it was ironic that I would move from Los Angeles to Nashville to pursue songwriting and now wanted to write screenplays. I was regretting that decision (moving to Nashville). Macy had some great comments, some that I agreed with, and some that I didn’t, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt and my inexperience. I listened to it all. Even though it was painful to find out some of my story wasn’t working, I toughed it out and, after at least fifty drafts, I completed it a year later staying sober the entire time.
The millennium came and went without incident. My mom was still spending six months of the year in the guest room and the other six months in Los Angeles with my sister. Her health was deteriorating rapidly and I didn’t know how much longer she could keep up the pace of shuffling back and forth. My finances were also taking a beating since my decision of no more BS.
Mom made plans to build a guesthouse in the rear part of the three -acre yard behind a grove of trees. I was all for it. She would be five hundred yards away—not too close to get in our hair and not too far, where we couldn’t help in an emergency. She had the idea of getting a log cabin and we got all sorts of information on log homes. We decided to go with Honest Abe Log Homes and got a price of $70,000 complete for a 1500 square foot dwelling. Then the neighbors, sticking their noses in, got in an uproar. They thought I was going to rent out the property and it went before the zoning committee for a hearing. Some of my neighbors spoke up in my defense, but others adamantly opposed. The judgment: the structure had to be 750 square feet or less. Not much of a choice. The day the bulldozers were pulling up the driveway to lay the foundation she said, “You know Jimmy, when I looked into the eyes of a cow and realized it was the only thing I can relate to, I guess what I’m trying to say is I’ve changed my mind. I’m going back to L.A.”
I couldn’t believe she was serious, but she was. I made the best of the situation. I told the guy driving the backhoe to dig up that tree in the middle of the yard and move it back to the side. Oh and while you’re at it, could you dig me a bunker? Also lets grade the area in the back…make it level…add a few undulations. It was going to be my golf hole, putting green, and sand bunker. Why not? I had to pay them for their time anyway. In the summer of 2001, my mom went back to L.A. for the last time.
As I mentioned in a previous story, on September 10, 2001, I bit the proverbial bullet and got a job working in a phone room for a company representing the Red Cross. My job was to solicit donations. I hoped that it was on the level but found it very difficult to get back into that sales frame of mind. I just wasn’t there anymore. After drawing a blank, I drove home thinking I couldn’t hack it but decided to give it another try in the morning. After all, it was the Red Cross—a worthwhile organization. I wasn’t selling something people hoped they’d never have to use—like insurance.
The next morning I woke up early and Donna was already in the kitchen watching the news. That’s when I saw the burning building in New York. It was the World Trade Center and they said a plane had crashed into the north tower. I couldn’t believe it. Was it pilot error or a terrorist attack? Fifteen minutes later I saw the second plane hit the south tower and I knew, as everyone else did, it was no accident. I stood in the kitchen unable to move. Watching the twin towers collapse was the worst thing I had ever witnessed. It was worse that the JFK assassination, worse that John Lennon’s murder. I knew this country would never be the same again. I also knew that I wasn’t going to go into work selling donations for the Red Cross, especially since now people were giving hand over foot. They didn’t need my help.
When Jonathan and Daniel came down to get ready for school and saw the horrific scene on the TV, they thought it was a movie. There was no easy way to tell them it wasn’t any movie. It was real. There wasn’t going to be any school today and probably not the next day either. By the end of the week, Donna and I felt that it would be all right for the boys to get back to school and resume some semblance of normality. Like most of the country, I kept my eyes glued to CNN and listened to Wolf Blitzer’s (his real name) commentary on the gruesome events in Manhattan, Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Nothing was ever going to be normal again.
Three weeks later, on October 2, 2001, Daniel’s fifth birthday, I thought I would take the Healey to Henry Horton Golf Course and play eighteen holes. I had to be back by three to pick Daniel up at school and Morgan at day care. Upon seeing a crowded parking lot, I knew something was up. There was a tournament, and that meant I had to venture on, I decided to go to Lewisburg, out in the sticks, and try Saddle Creek. I was a stuck behind a cement truck going twenty-five mph for a few miles. I had recently painted my Healey in the storage shed— a two tone blue and white. She was running great and being stuck behind this hulking, fully loaded cement truck was trying my patience. At the stop light on Highway 50, a mile from the course, I passed the beast. I sped ahead and soon realized I’d better slow down or I would miss the golf course entrance on the left, which I did. I drove on to the next street and signaled to make a left. It was a two-lane road with no shoulder, so I crept as close to the yellow line as possible. Unfortunately, the turn signals on the Healey are small and hard to see. I guess that IMI cement truck didn’t see it at all. As I waited for the oncoming traffic to clear, I went into my turn. That when I heard a roaring from behind and before I knew it, the 77,000 lb. cement truck was plowing into the driver’s side of my precious Healey. It was a like bad dream, an altered reality where everything is moving at half speed. Speakers flying in slow motion, wires floating in the air like feathers, steel and glass buckling, radiator water and brake fluid raining down, the battery catapulted from the trunk and sailed over my head with golf clubs, balls, spiked shoes, and tees. I saw the front end of that monster strike my door not more than two inches from my legs.
That’s it I’m dead, I thought, or at best crippled for life. I was dragged forward a good three hundred yards and when I finally came to a stop I ran out of the car towards the cement truck who had pulled over in a field next to a drive-in movie theater. I was going to kill the guy for destroying my beautiful little sports car, the same car I shipped to Tennessee after fourteen years of traversing the back roads and freeways of Los Angeles. I knew the car was never going to be the same no matter how much bodywork or mechanical repair I did. With fist clenched, I raced toward the driver. Then it hit me. Wait a minute; I just survived an accident with a fully loaded cement truck. I’m alive! That’s a good thing. I let go of my anger. I asked the driver what in the world he was thinking by passing me on the right. He said, as I surmised, that he didn’t see my signal and thought I was veering back to the median or was broken down. Cops came, got the report that I was speeding from a witness in a Ford Excursion. Even though I knew I wasn’t in the wrong, I was fucked. Here I was in redneck heaven in a fancy British roadster out to play the rich man’s game of golf. I didn’t stand a chance. Still, it was a miracle. I was not only walking, but no bones were broken, no cuts or bruises, only a sore lower back. Was it karma? Payback for the day I rear-ended my precious Healey in a fit of drunken anger? I think so.
When I got back home, the tow truck unloaded the heap in my yard. I called the school to say I was late, did the same with Morgan’s day care, and then called Donna with the news. She said she would pick up the boys. I guess she was nervous, think I was in shock. One accident was enough for one day. I called my friend Bruce Bradley. His father was a lawyer. I met with him the next day and we put a case together. He said he would know more after he got hold of the police report, which I knew wasn’t going to be good. I went back to the scene of the crime with my camera and took photos of the skid marks on the road, and every angle possible.
At my next meeting with the attorney, he advised me to stay at home, see a doctor about my back, and for god sakes no golf. They are spies working for the insurance companies that would love to see you active and well. That would blow the case. When the police report came in, it was worse than I thought. It read as if I was the one at fault. I decided right there and then to drop the case. There was no way on earth I was going to act like an invalid. Besides, no golf for a year? Forget it! I sold the Healey for fifteen hundred bucks to a guy who had a body shop in North Carolina. I watched in tears as the flatbed truck carrying my Healey, my baby, turned the corner, and drove away. Gone—Karma is a bitch.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Chapter 47 –Amazon Women and the Jewish Baptism

Backtracking a little, I must tell the story of how I met The Johnsons. One night, back in late ’98 or early ’99, I had a very strange dream. In the dream I was the size of Danny DeVito, maybe four and a half feet tall,  and I was talking with two Amazon women over six feet tall that towered over me. I felt inadequate and emasculated by my diminutive size. It was one of those dreams where it seemed to be happening in real time and you remember every detail—the colors, what people were wearing and whatnot. It stayed with me as I was drinking my morning coffee organizing my appointments for the day. There was only one—a husband and wife with three small children that live in a church—The Cloverland Church of some denomination or other. I thought it was going to be a waste of time, so I brought my golf clubs thinking I would get in 18 holes if they didn’t write the check.
That afternoon I pulled up the long gravel driveway and parked my car in front of the humble church that seemed neglected, maybe even abandoned—no cars outside—nary a sound but chirping crickets and warbling birds. I knocked on the door but got no answer, so I walked in. While walking on the yellowed linoleum floor of the anteroom I saw the peeling, dingy white paint, cracked windows, and I felt like an intruder. Making my way to the assembly hall and I thought it didn’t look anything remotely resembling a church; there were no pews, no alters, not even a cross or a wooden Jesus. I turned the corner past where the raised pulpit might have been ages ago. It was there I saw a pretty lady in her late twenties or early thirties with long, red hair sitting on a metal chair breast-feeding an infant. Two other children no older than four circled around them playing tag or some child’s game. With my briefcase in hand, I meandered up to them wondering if she thought I was from the IRS or the department of health and welfare come with an eviction notice or a summons. I said, “Excuse me— I came here about a card someone filled out—about health insurance. Do you know anything about that?”
“With a puzzled look, she said in a thick New Zealand accent, “No, but my husband Howard will be home soon. Make yourself at home if ya like.”

I noticed there was a console piano in the far corner of the room so I ventured over and began to play some of my repertoire. The woman carrying the baby got up and leaned over to piano listening to every note. She had to be at least six-foot two and it reminded me of my dream…but in the dream, there were two of them. Then another woman with dark brown hair just as tall, if not taller, came out from the kitchen and stood by the gargantuan redhead.
“This is my sister Serene and I’m Vange, by the way.”
I was awestruck. I told them about the dream I had the night before. They said it was fate and Jesus had arranged the entire thing and they believed it wholeheartedly. When I told them, I was Jewish—they became even more excited.
“I knew you were one of God’s chosen people the minute you walked in the door.” Vange said. I smiled without saying a word. I didn’t think they were ready for my radical beliefs about reincarnation, past lives and mysticism. If I told them I read Tarot cards and was into astrology, they might have banished me from the holy place.
After playing ten or fifteen songs, I took a break. We talked about our lives and I asked them how they managed to live in a church. Vange, short for Evangeline, said it belonged to a friend who was giving them a place to stay in exchange for cleaning and cooking for the congregation after the Sunday services.  Soon Howard, Vange’s husband came home. He said he was an inventor and a Jack-Of-All-Trades. We soon got into a discussion about the Bible and he, being a fundamentalist, believed that the earth was only ten thousand years old.  Now I can go for many Bible stories and take them with a grain of salt, but this particular one was too hard for me to fathom. Here was this intelligent man, a scientist to boot, who thought that the earth was slightly older than Mel Brooks.
 I knew I wasn’t going to sell them a policy but I didn’t care. They were the genuine article. Most Christians I meet in Nashville I can trust about as far as I can throw them, but not the Johnson’s—they talked the talk and walked the walk. We instantly became friends.
One day I brought Donna, Jonathan, and Daniel over to the church to meet them. In the back yard was a zip-line connected to two trees over a deep ravine. I was a bit concerned about the safety of the apparatus but they convinced me it was all right. We were all in Jesus’ hands. Everybody went for a ride—even me. I don’t know whether it was because I was the last one to ride the zip-line or if I was doing it wrong, but I was much too low to the ground. I must have been going about ten or twenty mph when I crashed into a large tree root sticking up from the rocky terrain. I thought I had definitely broken my back. Vange, Howard and Donna helped me into the church and got a few bags of ice and placed it on the small of my back which had swelled up to the size on an inner tube from a monster rally truck. I was scared. The Johnson’s laid their hands on me and prayed. An hour later, the swelling went down to half of what it was before and I could walk. It looked like was going to be all right.
A few months later Vange told me they had to move out of the church but weren’t worried in the least confident that, as believers ,they would never be led astray. Howard said they were looking to buy some acreage in a remote part of Middle Tennessee. Between Vange’s parents, Colin and Nancy, Serene and her husband Sam, they had about thirty thousand dollars saved. They wanted to build three separate homes on the property.
Jonathan and Daniel were going to Thompson Station Day Care owned and operated by Tommy and Patricia Smithson. Tommy had just gotten his real estate license and mentioned to me if I knew anyone who wanted to buy thirty acres in Hickman County, about fifty miles southwest of Nashville—way out in the sticks. I said yes. I put Tommy and the Johnson clan together and they bought the place. Tommy offered a small finder’s fee but I turned it down. The day care was so reasonable and I knew he wasn’t making much money on the deal anyway.
Vange’s grandfather who was a ninety-year-old champion sheep-shearer from New Zealand was visiting. He was also a preacher and one of the most enigmatic and remarkable men I had ever met in my life. He was still sheep shearing, pulling stumps out of the ground and was in better shape than I was.
It was a beautiful day in May and The Johnson family, friends and relatives all went down to the Harpeth River where Vange’s grandfather was preparing to baptize two young believers. Not a cloud was in the sky as I stood by the banks with my family watching the peaceful lapping of the waters over the flat rocks and branches. I thought about the song Take me to the River as the large crowd of over forty believers entranced by the ceremony looked on. It was like something out of a movie the way this old, but vital man spoke scripture with fire and conviction in his voice. He would say the prayer as he leaned his congregants down gently dousing them beneath the still waters as a symbolic gesture of faith and rejuvenation. Afterwards, Vange’s grandfather asked if there was anyone else in the crowd who wanted to partake in the baptism, I saw a man raise his hand. It was my hand. I didn’t know what in the world would possess a Jewish guy like me to do such a crazy thing. Overcome by the moment, it felt spontaneous, not to mention how much I admired Vange’s grandfather.
As soon as I entered the river, clouds formed from out of nowhere. The thunder boomed and the rain pelted down. A lightning bolt struck over my head. Was it an omen? Was God trying to tell me something or was it the usual dramatics that seem to coincide with my life—a visual and audio montage of biblical proportions. When I saw a pair of water moccasins slithering not more than three feet from me I stood frozen and thought that I was making a terrible mistake. Not wanting to disappoint the multitudes watching me with anticipation, I thought the show must go on. As my head dipped below the water, I imagined my father looking down with disdain, my mother cursing me, and the scornful faces of my brother and sister turning away.
 In less than five minutes, I was pulling myself out of the river. As I stood on the grassy bank, the sun broke through the clouds as if the storm never happened at all. The blissful congregation all hugged me or patted me on the back saying things like, “Jesus is with you now and will never let you go—you are reborn in the way of the Christ and your life will never be the same.” Donna stood there with her mouth open and a blank expression I wasn’t sure was shock or amazement. My children didn’t think it was out of the ordinary for their anything but normal dad. There weren’t any fireworks exploding in my head, no choirs of angels sounding, no tears of joy or calmness—only a little guilt for forsaking my Jewish heritage. Other than that, I didn’t feel any differently—except a lot wetter. Maybe it would hit me later, maybe not. I was questioning the sincerity of my impulsive actions.
If you want to call me a Christian, that’s fine. If you want to call me a Jew, or even a Jew for Jesus, that’s fine too. You can call me a Buddhist, a Spiritualist, a Humanist, an atheist, an agnostic; call me late for dinner if you want, I don’t care. They are all labels to me and I refuse to be labeled. The only thing I know I believe in, besides a higher power, is that I’m not sure what I believe in. The jury is still out.
Vange’s grandfather died at the age of ninety-four in New Zealand and I think fondly of him from time to time, especially when I see snakes and lightning. I’m happy to say, even though I don’t see much of the Johnsons anymore we are still friends. Vange is one of the most positive people I have ever met and has inspired a few of my song lyrics from our religious debates. Howard and Vange are still building the homes on their property and have ten children now and counting.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Chapter 46 – Divine Intervention

After the incident with my Healey in the rain and lightning, I slowed my drinking down. It didn’t last. My mom was living in the guest room, which she did six months out of the year—the other six months she spent at Susan’s house in Nichols Canyon. She had a dream one night—more of a vision really. She said she saw a mound of sand on the front lawn ten, maybe twelve feet high. The police had come to see about the enormous mound, they must have thought it was against some ordinance or I was planning to build without a permit. She told the police I was downstairs in the room under the house. There was no room under the house, only an old storm cellar, the kind they had in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy tried to enter before the twister hit. I tried to explain to my mom that it was only a dream. She seemed to accept it until she asked, “What did you do with all that sand?”
Her mental state was getting me down. Her physical state was even worse—she was taking more pills than a pharmacy and had to buy a shoebox sized pill container to keep them organized. I began to drink heavily. There were times I would go to the liquor store, by a bottle of scotch, open it in the car, and keep it wedged between my knees. I couldn’t wait to get home. I saw the signs—I’d been here before. I was even hiding booze in the bushes and behind amplifiers, in places I knew nobody would ever look. I knew it meant trouble was just around the corner. It was like a scene out of The Lost Weekend with Ray Milland.

Donna, was pregnant with our third son (I didn’t know it was a boy at the time), when the obstetrician told us the baby had a high risk of being born with Down syndrome. I freaked out and said a prayer. “Please God— I’ll do anything in the world if you see to it that the baby is a normal, healthy child (I don’t know how I expected any child of mine to be normal, but I figured God knew what I meant).” Suddenly a voice like thunder on steroids echoed in my head. “STOP THE DRINKING NOW!” It was earth shattering. I knew I could have blown it off like a dream or an audio hallucination, but I didn’t.
I said, “Okay God, here’s the deal. I will quit the booze right now and I promise NEVER to touch another drop— but if he is born with any defects, any at all, I’m going right back and pick up my drinking where I left off.” I didn’t hear anything so I took the silence as a yes. That was December 8, 1998—eighteen years after John Lennon’s brutally murder at the Dakota. I liked the symbolism.
 I took every drop of alcohol I had in the house and poured it down the sink. I remember when my mom walked into the kitchen she asked, “Jimmy, are you drinking at this time in the morning?” I said, “No Mom, I’m never going to drink again if God makes good on his word.”  She was a little confused, but that was the norm.
When Donna came home from work I told her what happened. How I heard THE VOICE and all. I don’t know if she believed me but if it meant that my drinking days were over, it didn’t matter. Maybe part of the reason I made the deal was to show Donna that I had gumption, fortitude—that I could make a decision and stick to it. Knowing it was in the hands of a higher power, a power greater than I was, I had to comply. If I reneged on the deal, being the superstitious person I am, not only would I be breaking a solemn vow, but also something bad would happen to my child. It was beyond my own selfish ego. I didn’t really care what would happen to me as much as I cared for the life a loved one. It had to be that way for me to stop drinking and I knew it.
December to May passed quicker that I thought it would. Donna’s pregnancy seemed easier than the other two and I could be more help because of my sobriety. I got a gig playing steel guitar with Joey Fulco on bass, (the guy who I had margaritas with before I rammed my Healey), some twenty-something drummer and keyboardist backing up two teenage sisters, Ashley and Alexia. Joey and I, the elder statesmen of the group felt protective of the two girls, who were both very pretty in a dark exotic way—good singers too. Our first gig was in Lula, Mississippi and we played in a huge resort where one room was dedicated to country and the other blues. Unfortunately, our band was in the country room. Joey and I drove down and found the crossroads, gambled in the casino, but my favorite part was when we pulled over to the side of the road and picked cotton. Joey left the band and moved to Vegas with his wife and two kids but I stayed on for a few gigs. Their father was the manager, tour bus driver and bodyguard. He didn’t let any guys get within ten feet of his daughters.
On the way back from Columbia, South Carolina I found a yard sale and bought a stroller for the new baby to be and a strange electronic accordion for me. We were driving through East Tennessee when the girls wanted to stop by the Ocoee River, do a little rock climbing, and sun bathing. I was anxious to get home, so to pass the time I brought out my three-wood (I had taken my golf clubs with me and would play 18 holes in the morning and return to the motel before the rest of the band got up). I teed up a few balls and hit them into the river. Their father/bodyguard/manager got pissed off at me thinking I was trying to hit shots into his beloved daughters. I told him, “If I wanted to hit them they would be hit, but since I hadn’t gotten with fifty yards of them, I would say they are safe,” cocky bastard that I was. I knew I had to leave the band anyway since they were planning an extended tour and I had a pregnant wife at home who needed me. I would rather think they fired me for playing golf—looks better on the resume.
Now back in Nashville I had to find a replacement for my drinking. I became totally dedicated to GOLF.  In the early spring of ’99 I got a job as a greenskeeper at Nashville Golf and Athletic, a local golf course owned and operated by the cantankerous Mr. Charles Whittemore. It only paid seven dollars and fifty cents an hour but it allowed me to play golf for free on Mondays. An old Southern demagogue, Whittemore was a tyrant that ran the place with an iron fist and everybody at the course was in total fear of the man—everyone except me, that is.  I think he respected me for standing up to him. Now April, Donna was eight months pregnant and I knew I should quit the job and get something that paid a little better, but obsessed by Mr. Whittemore’s character, I was compelled to tough it out. He reminded me of the cruel, sadistic warden in the movie, In the Heat of the Night, the way he would stand over his crew in the hundred-degree heat rationing out water by the hour in tiny paper cups while he sat in the shade drinking lemonade. One good thing, he would come to the course after church dressed in his Sunday best and if he saw a weed on his precious green, he would get down on his hands and knees and pick it out. The guy did love his golf course—I could appreciate that.
I got an idea to write a screenplay. I would base it loosely on Damn Yankees, but in a golf setting. I had to stay on the job so I could really get a feel for his character—the Devil. That story eventually became Mulligan’s Tour. I will tell that story in a later chapter. It’s a good one, I promise.
I was getting really good at golf and had designs on trying out for the Seniors Tour (now called The Champion’s Tour) in four years time. I even bought a professional Jacobsen greens mower and planted a bentgrass putting green in my backyard. It was a nightmare because I could never leave to go on vacation afraid that if I didn’t water the damned thing it would burn up. I later switched it over to a Bermuda hybrid. I was dead serious about it.

On Monday, May 10, I was playing a round of golf—the only day of the week workers could play since the course officially closed for maintenance and whatnot. When I got to the seventh hole I got a call from Donna. She was breathing heavily and I knew something was wrong…or it was time. It was. Her water had broken and she was calling to tell me to come home and drive her to the hospital. She asked, “What hole are you on?” I said, “Seven.” She said, “Why don’t you finish nine and then come home.” That’s what I did.
I played the fastest two holes ever in my life and then rushed home. We got to the hospital around three p.m and I think we were in the same room where Daniel was born. There were no baseball playoffs or golf tournaments so she had my full attention. In the wee hours of May 11, 1999, a beautiful baby boy we called Morgan David was born. It’s strange how all three of my boys were born at two-thirty—Jonathan and Daniel in the afternoon and Morgan in the early morning hours. He was healthy and free from any defects that the doctor could determine and I was so ecstatic I felt like buying a saxophone and playing the theme song to My Three Sons. I knew my drinking days were over for good. I never went to AA, never had to. I was lucky—I had divine intervention. The deal was sealed and I would never welsh on GOD. Sixteen years later, I still haven’t touched a drop. Amen!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Chapter 45 – The Universe is Calling

“Hello, this is James Haymer from Universal Data Supply. Is this Debbie? How are you Debbie? Good.  I was just calling to let you know e have the balance of your order ready for shipment for your IBM Selectric II. You’re still using that machine aren’t you? You’re not? Well then, can you tell me what you have now? An HP Laserjet? You know we refill those baby’s. That’s right. You just keep those empties. That’s right; don’t throw ‘em out they’re as good as gold. You have? Great.  Just box em up and I’ll send a call tag. Should be there in a day, two at the latest.”
“Hi this is James Haymer calling from Universal Satellite. Is this Mr. Wells? We sent out flyers and I see you responded in showing an interest in our new and much more economical three foot dish? Right, a free demonstration. Would Tuesday morning or afternoon be better for you?”
“Good morning this is James Haymer from Universal Health and Life. Is this Mr. Wells? Did I ever sell satellite dishes? Well…it doesn’t work anymore? Have a nice day Mr. Wells.”
Good afternoon, this is James calling from THE UNIVERSE. Could you give me your name and the date of your birth? Misty Wells? August second? You are a Leo…the lion. Very strong sign. I see great things for you in the coming year.”
Then there was the 900 number I had. I gathered information from the country music Hot Sheet and recorded tips on what artist or producer was looking for what kind of song for two dollars a minute. I had read Guerilla Marketing. That was a money pit.
It was 1997 through 1998 and I had at least five different jobs besides writing and playing music. The craziest and most stressful was the phone psychic. I would log into the main phone system and then my telephone would ring. I got all kinds of strange people. Some looking for love, some money, some wanted to know if they would make it in showbiz, some just wanted to talk. Hey, at 99 cents a minute I could think of cheaper ways to have a conversation, but now that I think of it, maybe not. If you went to a bar, you would spend at least ten bucks on a couple of drinks. A hooker? That would cost much more than that. One time this woman called who wanted to know when her husband was going to be release from prison. She had ten kids and they all lived in a double wide trailer in Arkansas. She was as poor as dirt and I felt like I was taking advantage of her. I told her to hang up the phone since at a buck a minute, she couldn’t afford it. That was my last call.
Jumping ahead to September 10, 2001 for a minute. I got another phone job raising money for the Red Cross—at least I thought it was the Red Cross. Who knew? Then the tragedy of 9-11 happened and money poured in to the real Red Cross. It was a blood bonanza—a moot point. That job lasted four hours.
I had another job working for a music industry magazine selling advertising space. The one sale I made was to a CD duplication company. It was the old barter system at its best. I traded a half page ad for 300 full printed CD’s of my record which is called See You Around. You can pick it up on iTunes. At night I would go out and play at places like The Bunganut Pig, The Commodore Hotel, Douglas Corner and some other venues that don’t exist anymore selling my CD’s at ten dollars a pop. I wasn’t getting rich, but my name was getting out there and I would meet other singer/songwriters. My favorite and closest place was Ernie’s Smokehouse in Leiper’s Fork. It was a great scene with some of the best BBQ this side of the Mississippi. Later on Ernie sold out to a local entrepreneur named Aubrey Preston and he made it into a private playground called Green’s Grocery. It was the beginning of the end of the music scene in Williamson County.
 I had put away enough money to buy a Studiomaster console from Chas for fifteen hundred bucks—the one that used to belong to his brother Richard who died in 1985. I also had his skis. I then bought an Otari 8 track tape machine. No, it’s not the kind you put in your car and stuck those big old plastic cartridges in—this was a reel to reel tape recorder. I played all the instruments and sang all the vocals. A one man band. By the middle of ’98 I had thirteen songs down. It was time to release my first solo record.
My mom was staying in the guest room six months out of the year while the other six months she stayed in L.A. with my sister, Susan. Her health was starting to go downhill rapidly and her mind was getting a bit befuddled. I was drinking a lot. In fact it was getting so bad—I would hide bottles of scotch in the bushes, behind my amplifier and in the trunk of my car. Not smart. I had been here before ad could see the writing on the wall.

On the Fourth of July in 1998, the ten year anniversary of the day I met Donna, I drove up to Chas’ house in my 1958 Austin Healey 100-6. Chas wasn’t home but there was this musician friend, Joey Fulco, working construction and painting the palatial mansion. I talked him into making a pitcher margaritas. We both got wasted in the summer sun. Diving home with one eye closed so I could focus on the road the sky opened up. I had forgotten to bring my removable hardtop and was getting soaked to the bone. I pulled over on a back road and waited under a carport of a house with no cars in the driveway. As the rain started to let up, I figures I should get going before the owners of the house came home. I turned the key. It sputtered but finally started. I knew something was wrong since it was running a little rough. After turning a sharp corner, the car stalled. Then the rain started again. It was coming down in buckets as I was under the hood trying to figure out what was wrong with the Healey. Then came the thunder and lightning. I had to get out of there. I got a running jump and was able to push start the car. It went a hundred yards before it stalled out again.
I waited for a car to pass by; maybe they would stop and help. I was drenched and tried to jump start her again. This time I made it all the way to Snowbird Hollow, a small street about five miles from home that Donna would take sometimes as a shortcut to Highway 31. Of course I didn’t have a cell phone. Not many people did in those days. I was so exhausted and completely sober by the time Donna pulled up in her Jeep with Jonathan and Daniel in the car.  I was so irate and frustrated being out in the elements for hours on the Fourth of July, I shouted at Donna to get the kids out of the Jeep. I got in behind the wheel and rammed the back of my Healey sending it down the narrow country road. I immediately regretted that stupid decision. I watched helplessly as the car reached a steep grade and began picking up speed. It would have been terrible if another car came from the other direction. Someone could have been killed. I prayed. God must have answered my prayer. As soon as I unclasped my hands, The Healey veered off to the left and crashed into a barbed wire fence. The front wheels were buried in a ravine. It was scratched up pretty bad on the left fender and hood.

I got back in the Jeep and buried my face in my hands; ashamed of myself for acting out like a madman. What was I thinking? That was the problem, I wasn’t thinking—I was reacting. The kids were scared to death and Donna was giving me the silent treatment as she drove home. Who could blame her? I called AAA and they pulled the Healey out with a winch and flat-bedded it home. I don’t think Donna spoke to me for a week and the kids? Well, I tried to explain my actions but there really was no excuse for my aberrant behavior. The universe was calling. It was a warning and I knew my drinking days were numbered. I hadn’t hit bottom yet. In five months I would.