Hula-Hootenanny-2 (Part 1 of 2 parts)

This is a second picture of Jessica—I love the sweet, completely un-self-conscious demeanor as she twirls her hoop in joyous celebration of the moment—she seems to love everyone around her but at the same time is indifferent to their reaction to her beautiful performance.

After photographing Jessica and her talented violinist partner I “photo-wandered” a few blocks to an Indian Tea Room on the downtown mall where I usually go for lunch.

The stereo in the tea room was playing a long, intricate raga and as I waited for my curried lentils and rice, I remembered a sitar that belonged to an old friend—someone I knew during my grad school years when I was living in Boone, North Carolina a very, very long time ago. His name was MacArthur—everybody called him “Big Mac,” I’m not sure why—he wasn’t any taller than me and I’m only 5’8”—maybe it had something to do with his being very popular with the ladies.

The sitar was given to Mac by George Harrison back in the 60s when, as a kid, he used to hang out and do odd jobs at Abbey Road Studios in London. The sitar was his most prized possession—I remember countless nights him sitting in the dark in the next room playing it—running through the chords and bits of melody George had taught him—especially “Norwegian Wood” (“This bird has flown”) playing it like a guitar as Harrison had—not like an Indian musician like Ravi Shankar. I could tell in the various and endless themes and variations Mac was searching in the gentle, promising night for that “perfect somehow” that seems to underlie the whole business of humankind’s self-awareness.

I’d lay there in my room—in my own darkness—listening to and being led by the dissonant but oddly comforting tones that, in their searching and compelling foreignness, spoke to me about all the incredible, mysterious understandings and knowings out there—drifting silently, patiently, on the currents and eddies of time and human experience, past and future, that I would explore and find out and incorporate into my evolving intellect and spiritual inclusion.

The massive instrument was signed by Harrison on the back and George had added the admonition “Be here now Mac, just—be—herenow.” Mac once told me George Harrison was “the smartest man [he] ever knew,” and had an extraordinary intuitive grasp of the human condition matched only by his wry and whimsical sense of irony. From the first time I had a serious conversation with Mac I had much the same thought about him and that has never changed. Whatever was going on in our lives he always seemed 3 or 4 years ahead of me.

Mac was in a Particle Physics PhD program. His thesis was on autogenic, reciprocal resonance of event horizon compression radiation with Buckhurst twilight matter (per the Weston (the elder) Escher-Paradox Paradigm via the Weston (the younger) Conception Model).

The day after he turned in his thesis he piled his tuff in a rented truck, hooked his car with a tow-bar to the back and moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. A few weeks before he left I asked him why South Dakota? He said the very earliest ancestors of his family came from that area—that was as far back as he could trace his family’s metaphorical DNA.

He had visited the area once as a child and thought it was a place where he could be “a little closer to the beginning of time,”—his own, the species and the universe. Then he added “…in my beginning is my end and in my end is my beginning…” Mac loved T. S. Eliot.

The day Mac and I separated we made light of our going our separate ways into the rest of our lives—the proverbial end of a chapter and all that. As people always do we made the usual plans to get together frequently—and you know how that goes. As Mac climbed up into the cab of the truck I said something like “So—it all comes to this—all the work, good times, not so good times..” I had to stop myself from blathering into a lot of maudlin and melodramatic garbage. Mac was always ahead of me—he slammed the truck door, leaned out of the open window and as he put the truck in gear, pronounced in mock-serious tones, “..and men will say, this—was their finest hour.”

Once he arrived in the Sioux Falls area he set up a workshop in an old house 10 or 12 miles out of town where he made sand-candles—one batch at a time—by hand—something he found meditative and “enlightening” he once said with a thinly disguised smirk.

He was also a musical ghost-writer. He would clean up sloppy arrangements and develop themes and various instrumental figures for some fairly successful artists. Back in the ‘80s some of his chord progressions were used by Proto-punk, retro Pink Floyd-Meth-head groups like Echo-burger, Redemption Recall and Remembrance of Flatus Passed.

That was a few decades ago but even today you’ll occasionally hear samplings of his

figures in Icelandic-Somali Fusion Rap Artists like Arturo Beggar-Breath and Uncle Bugger’s Traveling Meat Show.

Note to reader–you can continue and finish up the story or come back tomorrow for the second half.

End Part one.

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Begin part two.

Mac sold his candles at art & craft shows and had a mail order business (that was back in pre-internet days)—calling his candle business “Enlightenment Candles.” When he wasn’t making/selling candles or writing music he was working on his General Field Theory. Mac was convinced Einstein had some sort of undiagnosed and as yet, not clinically described, mathematical dyslexia. He was certain if he could unravel the pattern of reversals and transpositions he could grasp the cosmic machinations—the warp and woof of space-time—that eluded Einstein until the day he died—and give the world the Theory of Everything. When we were kids he often told me that was what he was in the world for—to help humankind better know itself and its place in the universe—“something to keep me busy and out of mischief,” he used to add.

We lived out lives a couple of decades apart—the letters back and forth tricked down to Christmas cards. I was here on the east coast—making a lot of false starts, wandering down numerous dead-end streets—finally settling into a career. Mac was out there in the empty heart of North America doing battle with the fathomless enigmas lying beyond the darkness of not knowing—probing the mind of God.

I visited Mac at his South Dakota home back in the ‘90s. He still seemed to be pretty popular with the ladies but now was more discriminating. Any woman that wanted to hang out or live with him had to have done post doctoral work in Mathematics, Physics or Cosmology—in short they had to “add something to the pot—earn their keep.” The week I was there, there was no shortage of female company. I felt like I was backstage at a Mensa beauty pageant.

Mac’s house sat on a windy rise above and east of a small river on the Dakota Prairie—it looked exactly as I thought it would. Every evening Mac and I and one or two of his lady friends would sit in rockers on the front porch drinking beer watching the sun set over the stream as it flowed and shimmered gold in the sun’s last warm rays. Each evening I would reflect on the Mac I sat next to—older, bigger around the middle, much less hair—a lot less cocky—remembering who he was, who I was, who we were—all those years ago—and who we were now. Like so many old friends from long ago Mac was the same but he was different—different in a Mac sort of way of course. When you’re a kid in school—on your own for the first time—the world is nothing less than infinite potential. Your good friends are team mates and together life’s challenges will fall like check-mated kings.

Then one day—usually about the time your career and family have amounted to whatever they’re going to amount to—it occurs to you—however prodigious your intellect or inclusive your spirituality, you only get a certain number of sunsets. The last evening I was there Mac got out the sitar and played—just as he had all those years ago—still like a guitar.

We sat in the gathering darkness above the vanishing river and as he played themes, chords and progressions from the Rubber Soul album and Norwegian Wood—for a few minutes we were 24 years old again and late for class because we had been hanging out in the student union trying to hustle girls. The sense of requited yearning was mind-altering.

I asked him if he thought he was any closer to his Theory of Everything. Sitting quietly in the darkness, holding his long ago gift from the smartest man he ever knew, he said, while the search went on, he had found a “Theory of Everything.” He said it was here—right now—in this moment—with his two best friends—George Harrison and me.

That was 15 or 16 years ago—and the last time I saw Mac. The emails stopped 3 or 4 years ago. I scan the science news from time to time to see if he’s come up with something—made any sort of break through but there’s nothing. Whenever I do look for my friend in the media, I see him again sitting there in the fading daylight, sitar in hand—relentlessly peering into the cosmos—and his soul—having found, and yet still searching for, his Theory of Everything.

I’ve thought about just going back to Sioux Falls and looking in on him but I hesitate—and I know why. I can’t make up my mind if Mac is essentially a huge part of who I was when the Rubber Soul Album came out or truly a part of who I am as I sit looking at this bowl of lentils—and the lifetime that brings me to this little flutter of space-time. Both—neither? I think the truth lies not in the question or any answer—but in the hesitation—in that fleeting perfect nothingness between breaths.

He is so deeply a part of who I am—the me that stretches back to those days of infinite potential—and he is so far away having chased his dream all these many years across the empty heart of North America—while I wandered here in search of mine.

I’m pretty sure Mac has had the same thoughts—and hesitation—about me—maybe that’s why the emails stopped.

He always did seem to be 3 or 4 years ahead of me.

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