Monday, April 16, 2007

A Conversation With Walter As He Drives Through the Desert

We talk on our (unlimited cell to cell) cell phones all the time. Sometimes it's a two-word conversation, sometimes two hours, often 10 or 20 times a day. We're apart so much of the time, but I bet we communicate more than lots of married people who live together full time. Sometimes I grab my keyboard and start writing it down.

Walter's driving to California. He waved Hi! to Desert Cat in Tucson. Then 60 miles later he had to stop and put in a bunch of power steering fluid. He'd had the power steering repaired in Ft. Lauderdale. This was great because it was done over the weekend, which saved him $10 per day for 4 days in truck parking fees at the truck stop. But now here he was, only as far as New Mexico, and it was already acting up again. Shaking the steering out of his hands in the mountains in high high winds, eeek!

Later he called again to tell me he'd been singing as he drove, and suddenly realized all these songs he sang were from the 1930's, which surprised him.

Then he started singing to me.

He has a beautiful singing voice. Just beautiful. Oddly, at the same time, he's pretty tone-deaf. Can't carry a tune sometimes. But he did well tonight.

Apparently the automatic transmission has something to do with all this.

With the singing as he drives business, I mean. He said, --My mind can go because I don't have to worry about shifting the gears at all.

--When we were kids and went out dancing there was no alcohol in the discos, we'd dance our hearts out all night then we'd hit the wine cellar somewhere. We were thirsty! And the Hungarian violinists would be there, and they'd play these old songs for us as we drank our wine. They'd play all night if you had some money for them. And the funny thing is we thought of it as folk music, but now that I think about it, every song was professionally written, very good music, for some reason it was all from the 30's...

He finished a snatch of one song in his rich sweet voice. Then he said, --Oh wait, here's another one. Wait a minute, I have to think, that was Hungarian, now this one's a tango in Slovak...and sings again.

This makes me grin, partly to contemplate a tango in Slovak, partly because to change languages he has to shift gears in his mind.

See, linguist or no, he can only do one language at a time. For the next song he needs to stop and turn his mental switch from Hungarian to Slovak. I love languages too but it's different for me, I can mentally translate the whole sense of a piece, rather than just transliterate, then translate a word or phrase as you go.

You have to truly instantly translate only when you interpret sign language. Essentially that's the only translation in the world where you're speaking two different languages simultaneously, following different grammar rules and everything: say, English out your mouth, and ASL with your hands. Hands and face and body, of course, hands and *expression* I mean.

Walter says he's coming to Yuma now. The automatic transmission is taking him up and down the mountains and just shifted from 18th to 17th gear, nice and smooth.

He says, --People think Hungarian is not romantic but they're wrong! Here, I'll translate this one for you:

I'm sending my heart to convey my love to you
I kiss my soul onto the velvet of your hand
When I can't find the words then my heart will talk to yours...

--and I wish I knew how it goes from there but I can't remember a single word more, it's like a black hole in my memory. Isn't that a romantic song?

--Oh, and I just remembered another one in Slovak! I only can sing in 3 languages - Hungarian, Slovak and Czech. No German. Oh wait!, I know one in Russian too, only one song though. Russian National Anthem-- and he sings a few lines for me again.

--Did you like that one?
--Hard not to like Russian songs!-- I tell him.
--Oh yes, I just love the Red Army Orchestra!-- he says. I remember several years ago when he played one of their CDs for a while. It was really something.

--So did you like that first song?-- he asks me --The one about the velvet hands?
--Very much.
--Oh, I think of it all the time because I think of you. And your hands. I like your hands. And I really like your skin, your skin on your hands. I think about it all the time.


Jean said...

Ya know that book of posts and e-mails you want to put together?
I think it needs to include at least one chapter on ROMANCE... written by both you and Walter!

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

Oh you romantic kids! What are we going to do with you???

M used to sing in the car--folk songs, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie....but he doesn't sing anymore.

Kirsten N. Namskau said...

Romance is always welcome. Make you feel young .. (sigh)

sue said...

What a sweetie...

Nancy said...

I am so glad he's got time and energy to think about you and be happy. Thank goodness for the automatic transmission.

Judge Well Ye Wolves said...

If Walt's in between Chicago and Milwaukee, tell him to stop and have lunch with me. I would love to learn some of his songs.

k said...

Jean, that was nice! And sue, yes. Walter is a very sweet man. At the same time, he's a loner and looks sort of fierce. Most people don't say, *Hi* to him like they do to me.

But I know better. He's a one-woman man. Almost a one-person man. And despite our ups and downs over the years, I feel like the luckiest woman in the world to call him mine.

miss assassin, isn't it just too mushy for words? heh! And why doesn't M sing in the car any more?!? That's one of the few places I do sing! Well, sometimes the house too. Especially full blast, exercising my lungs. And I don't even have the cats here for an excuse.

kirsten, doesn't it though? :) This is one reason why I say I'm *lucky:* even though I have a fair amount of bad luck, I have a lot of good luck too. This adds up to a lot of total luck. Lucky, me. ;-)

nancy, oh yes. Not only that, this way we don't have to dream up some sort of exotic chest plate for him to wear while shifting gears.

Although I hear he's still traveling with his *Heart* pillow...

JWYW, I'll let him know. However, he's hard for me or anyone else to pin down. My parents are in the Far North Suburbs of Chicago, where I lived from age 7-22 or so. When he goes through, he loves to stop and visit with them and/or my nephew and my niece. But with his driving schedule, that's surprisingly hard to do.

Now I'm curious about your interest in those songs. Is it just because of the singing part? Or do you also have some of that Chicagoland mittel europe in your background?

Judge Well Ye Wolves said...

Totally understand a hauler's life. I was a language slut in my younger days. Most- French, Russian, Japanese, the Dutch and Polish of my infanthood have faded from lack of use. Family gatherings were a polyglot of Dutch, Polish, old-school rural Lithuanian (a Latin derivative) and bad English. I seem to have only retained the bad English, though bad Spanish is coming up fast on the outside. One soaks it into one's skin in Chicago.
It is the singing, the songs AND the chance to meet a good person. I never turn that down.

k said...

Walter says: Thank you, JWYW. He is honored. But also, that it's easier said than done.

Which makes sense. We'll see how it all shakes out.

Gracious. Where'd the Japanese come from? And that rural Lithuanian bit is fascinating. I shall peruse Walter's memory banks about that. He's full of wonderful tidbits of info about the tribal derivations and such in that part of Europe.

I more or less grew up in Chicagoland, in the far north suburbs until I was 19, then in the city proper. In my early 20's I lived in the Lakeview area, including a year on Addison just east of Broadway, about two blocks in from the lake.

There was a ma and pop type drugstore on my corner, and a little Greek diner north of that. A Jewel food store just south of the intersection. Wrigly Field was about 3 blocks west of my apartment.

My neighborhood was right on the border of Uptown, which was described at the time as one of the most ethnically diverse urban settings in the world. So, of course, was mine, being right next door. In the 1/4 block walk to the diner or the grocery store, I often heard as many as 20 or more languages spoken by the people I passed by walking down the street.

It was so...musical. And we all got along startlingly well. Very much so.

Judge Well Ye Wolves said...

Darlin'- we may have crossed paths, hopefully repeatedly. I came to Chicago about 22 or so yrs ago, just out of college. I lived in Old Town for a while, then at Grace and Sheffield for 8+ yrs, moving on to Rogers Park for another 11. I habituated Brian Boru's on Broadway, the Smart Bar, the Metro, the Lakeview Bar, and ALL the bars on Lincoln Ave. I knew that Greek diner well, and was sad to see it go- oy, the portions- enormous and cheap! I wrote bad plays, drank bad wine and worked at the Great Ace (R.I.P.!) for a long time, waiting for Steppenwolf Theatre to call me and say they wanted to produce one of my plays. They must have confused my number with David Mamet's (who I met my second month there) and called him accidentally. Or so I'd like to believe. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

k said...

You know, I've been wondering the same thing for a couple weeks. We were neighbors for sure, and we may have swigged a few together. Or even danced. But...I believe I may have left, at least as a resident, before you arrived.

Early on, I lived in the city itself for three or four years around 1977-1980. Before that, though, I spent some time hanging around the North Side. And afterwards too. I returned for a year or so in 1982, lived in the Northwest suburbs, took a semester at Northeastern Illinois. Out by that great Bohemian mausoleum, with all the Decedent's Photos embedded in the granite or glued onto the urns behind glass. Gorgeous place, statues, all that.

I came back for one more year in 1987-1988 for work. By then I was somewhat partied out, and didn't go out dancing one single time. I lived on the Northwest Side then, a few blocks from the el station in the old Polish etc. community there, upstairs from a bank. Not the bank I worked at, my landlord was a community bank.

And I forget the name of the bar, nearby, where I stopped in sometimes. No dancing though, no music, not that kind of place. Just a neighborhood bar. A perfect classic Chicago bar - small, a bit gritty but friendly enough, never quite clean, great cheap beer.

There were a couple places there with the greatest sausage, one a deli, one a restaurant. A very plain Jane one, great cheap very ethnic Polish food. Potato pancakes.

You say you arrived 22 years ago, so was that 1985? Did you grow up in the sur-burbs, or some Not Chicagoland At All place?

I'm really sorry to hear that Greek diner didn't last. I already knew the corner drugstore was taken over by a White Hen Pantry or some such travesty. Too bad there, too. The guy that used to own and run the drugstore saved my sorry butt one day, he and his helper.

That little bitty short Greek lady, I think she was one of the owners? I'd stroll in for takeout Coffee Made by Someone Else - this was pre-Starbucks, of course - and she'd say, --Hey, a trrrrrrriple heavy cream a no sugah, awrright? at me, and blast forth with that big sweet grin.

David Mamet hung out a bit with a woman I took some video classes from in 1977 or so. She did a little documentary on Studs Terkel too.

Is the Steppenwolf still there? God, I remember trying to park around there!

My lord. Between you and PL, and DC a while back over at my blogmama's place - you all are taking me back to my City Slicker days.

Big time.

Judge Well Ye Wolves said...

Yes, missed you by a couple- came to town in '83 (I had to check). Steppenwolf is in a huge new building down Lincoln Ave, as of 4-ish yrs ago. Parking is even more ridiculous than you remember- esp since that whole area gentrified in the 90's.
I knew the Greek lady. I would say "Iasou" to her and she would smile at me. Woe betide any who earned her wrath. Her skill with dressing down the off-the-boat Greek help was prodigious. It's good they wore aprons; I believe that some may have actually wet their pants when she went off. I loved a Greek girl in high school- her women relatives scared the bejesus out of me. For my money, disagree though you may- toughest women on the planet.
I grew up 4 miles north of 8 Mile Road in a Detroit suburb. If Detroit was Chicago, we are talking about the equivalent of Howard Ave. and Evanston. Marshall Mathers (Eminem)was an elementary school compatriot of my brother's.
The Bohemian cemetary- still beautiful, that area is gentrifying quickly even as I type this. The beautiful bungalows go for half to 3/4 million BEFORE renovating them.
Being a City Slicker is like falling off a bike- you never forget how. To be young in a world-class city is one of the greatest life gifts of all, no matter how awful it was, or where you go later.
(you once asked me why I chose to start blogging- it's because I leave ad hoc, non-linear comments comments like this!)

k said...

Actually, we were there at the same time for 2 years: 1983, and 1987-1988. So we may indeed have crossed paths somewhere.

Real estate forms a large part of my background, so those bungalows always interested me. And most especially, the graystones on Addison and just...south, also, if I remember correctly. I thought so much of that housing supply was undervalued. The workmanship in those places was wonderful. I don't want to think about that any more! There are certainly things I do miss about Chicago, and the craftsmanship and beautiful old materials are among them.

As is, being young in that world-class city...

Because despite the hard, the negative things in my life then, I had some wonderful things too. I lived hard and fast and to the hilt, in my way, at a good time in one's life to do so. I had some truly exceptional experiences.

Good thing, too! I'm so glad I lived like that while I could.

Now in my dotage, of course, I NEVER do anything like leave long, meandering comments ANYWHERE, not ME...