I’m playing host today to a couple billion streptococci. They’re just hunkered down around my inner organs, holding out their little hands to the warmth and singing camp songs. I don’t know if any of them have little guitars because, well, they’re microscopic—but if they do, I’m intuiting that they’re not precisely in tune. Some of them are making s’mores with my fevered white cells—that much I know. The sore throat is gone, but I have a rash all over that makes me feel like I’ve been impaled by a BLIMP (that’s “Big Long Insatiable Mosquito Proboscis”—about the size of a Concorde). So I and my legion guests are confined to the couch. My four-year-old daughter who wants a hug just waves at me vigorously. None of the streptococci wave back.
I feel the Benedryl taking effect. This may have an advurse inpakt onn my sppppeling. (Hmm… time ffor a brreak… I thhinngk…)
ANOTHER GREAT PERSONAL HISTORY TOOL: You could write “My Life According To What I Can See From My Couch When I’m All Alone Except For The Streptococci.” (Although if the streptococci weren’t here, I guess I’d still have enough life-forms frolicking about in my system that I could probably qualify as a walking M-class planet. You too.)
I don’t know if I should organize this geographically, panning clockwise around the room, or topically, or by some qualitative gradation such as, say, the sublime to the ridiculous. Aw, I’ll just write.
First of all, this 14-foot by 14-foot living room is in a log cabin. It was built about thirty years ago as a craft and gift shop. Then it was a realty. Then it was nothing, until somebody made it into a house so I could buy it.
(When I first moved in as a suddenly single guy seventeen years ago, my grown son Joe gave me a dartboard as a housewarming gift. That puzzled me. I’d never shown any particular interest in darts ((actually, this is not entirely true—when I worked in a warehouse (((three months of the ten that I’ve had conventional employment in my life))) we’d throw darts during lunch hour. One week when work slowed to a virtual halt (((except that this was way before “virtual”))) we began getting creative in our darting, winding up with us chalking a huge target on the side of the building and throwing darts at it from about forty yards off)). Joe could see that I was puzzled with his gift. He said, “No, Dad, a dartboard is perfect for this place. ‘Cause it doesn’t matter if you miss!” And with that, I was introduced to the genre of “cabin jokes.” ((This would be a “genre of one,” except that Joe’s hormonal college buddy saw the cabin and said, “Wow! What a babe trap!” This was the second (((and so far, the last))) of the great cabin jokes.)) )
So the walls are logs, the exposed beams above me are rough 4X12s, and between the beams I can see the underside of the loft floor, which is knotty pine. In maybe three respects this room is furnished like a typical log cabin. There are pegs on the wall for cowboy hats, and hanging on racks above the front door are two old-fashioned rifles and a peacemaker (Colt .45, patented in 1871). Rounding out the artillery display is a replica of an 1851 Navy Colt cap-and-ball six-shooter. But it isn’t real—it was bought as a prop for my great-great-grandfather’s character to use in “The Trail of Dreams” to scatter imaginary wolves and send inattentive audience members to the emergency room. I also used it to kill a Union soldier in “Shenandoah” several times. Always the same soldier (he took it well). It only shoots blanks, and only shoots them anymore at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. There are also two fishing poles resting on nails along one of the ceiling beams.
The rest of the décor is less predictable. There is, for example, no bearskin rug on the floor. When I was fixing to move in, the cabin-to-home adaptor asked me what kind of carpet I’d like on the bare wood floors. I asked him if they made anything that looked like dirt. He said yes, and that’s what’s on the floor instead of a bearskin rug.
From this couch the easiest direction to look is up. So what I see first is a plethora of “flying things” hanging from the ceiling. There is (clockwise) a little goggled French guy with his arms and legs out like Superman and a propeller on his back (I’ve thought of calling him “French Flies,” but haven’t told anybody besides you). My wife’s sister, Daina, sent him to us from France, where she was serving a mission.
Then there’s a little five-inch carved wooden airplane, the kind with the long single wing right above the pilot’s head. I can’t remember where it came from, but it belongs here. My wife thinks it came from an old girlfriend, who doesn’t belong here.
Then there’s a flying cow. Holstein. It really flies, ‘round and ‘round the room on a string, flapping its wings until the battery runs out. This was a gift from my daughter Eliza, who found it in a famous toy store in London, where she lived.
Next is Rocky Roads, the flying rooster from “Chicken Run.” He’s piloting something that looks like it was hatched from an egg laid by the big homemade airplane that carried the chickens to freedom.
The ceiling suddenly shoots up to about twelve feet high along the front of the room, and there hangs one of Dennis Smith’s magical airplanes that he called “Red Rover.” It’s of the same ilk as those of his that inspired the imagery in “The Planemaker,” and he let us use it as a piece of the set in mucho performances of that story.
We’re halfway around the clock now, and the next thing we come to is an ornate little ceramic hot-air balloon given to us by our Cuban friend, Roberto.
Right next to it dangles the homemade-est little wooden plane there ever was. It’s red, and was part of a suite of homemade wooden toys that we found on our porch maybe thirty Christmases ago. We’ve always reckoned it came from the Fyffes up the street. (Just now I goofed and typed “Fyffle” for their surname. Before I corrected it, I dubbed this little red plane the “Fyffle Plane.” I like it. “Fokker Triplane,” “Sopwith Camel,” “Fyffle Plane.”)
Next is a kite, a huge harlequin-colored creation that we’ve never succeeded in flying. Then another more conventional kite that flies just fine. It has lightning flashes on it.
It isn’t hanging from the ceiling, but high on the wall is a frame of many gorgeous moths that my wife’s grandfather, who died a couple of years ago just months shy of his hundredth birthday, collected while he was serving in New Guinea as an Army Air Corps doctor in World War II. He evacuated the battle of Midway with them under his arm.
Also hanging from the ceiling are a couple of wooden walking canes. They’re only up there because I installed some nice hooks for a couple of electric guitars back when I had two electric guitars too many.
One cane I bought when I had open-heart surgery eleven years ago. It’s real plain and makes a good shepherd’s crook in nativity scenes and whenever the cabin is overrun by a flock of one of the smaller breeds of sheep. The other belonged to Laurie’s air-doctor moth-clutching grampa. It’s armored with little metal badges from all over Europe. I’d have little metal badges on mine, too, except that Alpine Utah doesn’t have any little metal badges.
There are stars up there, too, handmade gifts from visiting teachers and neighbors. One is leaded glass and the other is pewter. So the flying things could have something to look at and navigate by.
Two more things. There’s a little tin horn that was a prize for acting in a production of “The Music Man.” My Marian the Librarian died young, just a couple of years after that run, and on her headstone is engraved the French horn logo that was on our poster. I’m always moved when I’m wandering in the cemetery (across the street) and see that headstone. I reckon that hanging this little souvenir is the least I can do.
And the string of Christmas tree lights that’s recklessly hanging from canes, planes, flying cows, and kites (was there a movie called that?). For the last couple of years, I’ve lopped all the branches off our used-up Christmas trees and saved the straight trunks for garden poles. This year we drilled holes in last year’s trunk and inserted twigs that we snipped from a holly-ish mistletoe-ish evergreen bush against the back of the cabin. It couldn’t hold all the strings of lights, so Laurie draped the unused lights from the ceiling. Like stars.
So far, we’ve just been looking up. I’m leaving out the Martin guitar, the Whyte Laydie banjo, and the Fender Stratocaster that are hanging on the wall right in front of me.
And the bookshelf right next to them. P. G. Wodehouse, Lord Peter Whimsey, Charles Dickens. “Les Miserables,” which, at 18,097 pages, has its own shelf. Fake First Edition Book of Mormon. The Koran (do you know the Taliban could execute me for reading it and not converting? Maybe that’s only if I read it in Arabic—I read it in English. Maybe I could get fined, though). Theatrical books (plays, scenes, anthologies, make-up, lighting). A compilation of articles, essays, and memories about guitars written by various artists. (Okay, so B. B. King’s guitar is named “Lucille.” That’s kind of cool, but does it take any of the shine off to know that he’s on his eleventh “Lucille”?) My Book of Remembrance, which also requires its own shelf (“what really wide unwieldy books were invented for”). Several books that have helped shape the development of various stage characters. Complete Works of Shakespeare. Complete Works of Winnie-the-Pooh. And, of course, all the appropriate church books—Talmage, McConkie, Joseph Fielding Smith, C. S. Lewis, Tolkein—but they’re on the inside layer of the shelves. And a teddy bear I had when I was a kid, with great patches of fur loved off.
The pictures. Brian Kershisnik, James Christensen (a poster I was given for being an early teller in what was to become Planet Earth’s Coolest Storytelling Festival), Gary Smith, collages by my daughter Eliza and son Joe. Eliza’s collage that’s really a book, but in a frame. The woodcut of a windmill that Laurie picked up on her mission in the Netherlands (imagine that! A woodcutter just happening to be standing by when Sister Koralewski hefted that windmill up onto her shoulder). The glorious scrawls and little-kid visions that line the inside of the front door. Two different wonderful prints of the old theatre space at Sundance. My dad’s photograph of the First Vision stained-glass window when it was still installed in the Adams Ward in Los Angeles, when there were a couple of wards in Los Angeles. A Nauvoo Temple sunstone. The First Presidency. The Salt Lake Temple. My missionary license signed by David O. McKay.
The sculpture. Laurie’s spirit doll from Indonesia. The Jim Avati bronze of my noggin. The Charlie Gutierrez boxers. Christ in Gethsemane. Hera, by my daughter Caitlin.
The pulpit I used as J. Golden Kimball, which was owned by Utah Valley State College, which is now Utah Valley University, which means that the pulpit must belong to me now, because who it used to belong to doesn’t exist anymore!
The Navajo rug draped over the carpeted block that was part of the set of “Charlie’s Monument.” This is the rug my oldest brother brought back from Redrock Trading Post, New Mexico, where he lived in a tiny trailer for two-and-a-half years and preached the gospel to the Navajos in a language that wasn’t even written down at the time.
The kangaroo skin that has the signatures and well-wishes of all the saints in the riverside hamlet of Mildura in Victoria, Australia, where I finished my mission preaching the gospel to a people whose language is still impossible to write down.
(And I’m still leaving so much out! Like how the front door has two working knobs, one low and one high, and what that has to do with a two-year-old girl doing a summer dance in the middle of Second North wearing nothing but pink Sesame Street snow boots. But Meridian’s bandwidth is finite, and my daughter Addie’s exploits are not.)
Now divide the total square footage of the six surfaces in this room by the number of items mentioned in this column, and then ask me why I’m visually over-stimulated. (All the other rooms are like this, but this is the room I got sick in.)
The teaching objective here is this: I reckon I’d give up both halves of my popsicle to find out what my great-great grandfather (Bane of Wolves) saw from his couch. That’s all. Your chosen, planned, accidental, or tolerated surroundings say a lot about you. People wanna know.
I’m not sure if pondering upon the place I call home is particularly edifying. What I do know is that it’s a darn sight more edifying than pondering upon what my streptococci call home.