Tag Archives: biography

What does it mean to follow Christ?

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That was the question posed on a website LiveandLaughwithJesus, a site I would normally avoid at all costs! I could imagine Jesus and I having a few beers and an awesome pizza (no anchovies though, Jesus doesn’t care for anchovies). But I received a comment from that blogger and she invited me to check out her blog, so…anyhow I came across that question and decided to give an answer. I surprised myself. I am a Christian, but before you start jumping to conclusions about that, you should read the comment I left.

For me, being a true Christian is an enormous challenge, and that doesn’t really begin to describe it. Jesus makes it quite clear that you must devote yourself fully to being a Christian. It is the first priority, above family, above your country. However, before that devotion is given, you must establish a genuine relationship with Christ, on the most intimate level. So Christ can literally speak to you. He asks a lot of a Christian. You must give all of yourself to whoever is in need, with no hope of anything in return. You must love without conditions, all life. You must leave the judging for God, and do not presume to be God’s spokesman. The requirements are so extreme that I doubt many people are capable of being a true Christian, but the good news is that Jesus understands that. Jesus is more concerned about your making a sincere effort with all of your faulty heart to be a true Christian. That can be tricky, you don’t get to use your imperfection as an excuse. The Christian path is a Radical path. It is not about being comfortable, or smug in your self-righteousness. It is about a genuine self-sacrifice of your false self, which is the hardest thing for a Christian to do. But once you see you are sacrificing something that did not exist to begin with, it makes it better. All of this coming from a man who shudders at the very thought of Christianity! Jesus wants me to cop to the truth, that I will not deny him. I am a Christian in the way he intended. At least, I pray that I am.

The Jesus I would like on my dashboard

I am actually embarrassed that I wrote that. I don’t want to be a Christian. I despise most Christians. But I have to admit that I have a personal relationship with Christ. I have had the feeling that he was present in my life ever since childhood. However this is so far removed from the crap I see all around me concerning Jesus, that I hesitate to write these things. For me Jesus is a very personal matter. It is based upon the feeling that he is there no matter how bad it gets. That, in the final analysis, everything is alright, even when it doesn’t feel alright, or especially when it doesn’t feel alright. He is unconditional love. No judgement. That may be adolescent fantasy, or wishful thinking, or whatever, but it is my experience. I would love to be able to say with confidence that Jesus never existed, and Christianity is horse feathers, but I would be denying my own experience. I wouldn’t be true to myself. As unpopular as it is with many people, I am a Christian. I hate writing that, I really do! I don’t like it, I’m not proud of it, or bragging about it. It pisses me off, and confuses and perplexes me. I am not comfortable with Jesus. I wish I were. A lot of the time I wish he would go away, but I am often glad he’s there. Is it a figment of my imagination? Who knows? All I know is that my experience of Christ is a fact. It’s not something I enjoy writing about. I have nothing in common with the so called Christian braggarts that have monopolized the conversation regarding Christ. I am not by any stretch of the imagination a Rick Santorum supporter. But nevertheless I am a Christian. Who would have thunk it? Not me, that’s for sure.

Sharon, My Teacher, My Muse

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1970-1971

I’ve written about this time before. It was a formative time in my life, my Senior year of High School in Warrensburg, Mo. I especially remember a crush I had on a particular teacher. Sharon was the English literature and research paper teacher. She was tall, charismatic, and beautiful. She looked like she stepped out of the tv series ‘The Avengers’. All I knew at the time was that she reminded me a little of Natalie Wood, only she wasn’t nearly as petite. She looked like she could gobble you up, chew you for a bit, and spit you out. Without missing a beat. She tolerated my constant attention, and was amused, and probably embarrassed by a drawing I made of her. Inexplicably, the Principal wanted to see the drawing I made, and asked if he could have it. I wouldn’t give it up. Maybe he thought I had crossed the line, and didn’t want to encourage student crushes. I remember when she complimented me on my jeans. They were pretty hot, very tight, and modish. It showed off my tight little butt. What a thrill that this diva of the classroom was checking out my butt. She had a handsome husband that I hated. He was an empty suit, so shallow compared to me. One time I went to a city council meeting which was considering how to respond to some expected protests. I said they had no idea how to deal with a genuine anti-war protest. I basically insulted the hell out of them, expressing my utter contempt for their small town values. I was such a punk back then. Sharon had me come in her classroom after school and scolded me for ‘making a fool of myself’. She thought I had been influenced by my evil friend. I felt embarrassed and also a little angry at being called a fool. She had such a great smile, and seemed to me at the time, to be very hip. She didn’t get along all that well with my evil friend. He took the speaker out of her classroom intercom, and got sent to the Principal for it. Sharon was there, too. According to my friend, they psychoanalysed him, to no avail. I went to school even when I was sick, just so I could be around her. She stands out vividly in my memory, dressed in red, The Scarlett Woman. She had a feisty sexuality, which, of course, wasn’t obvious but implied. The class would read out loud a play she had chosen, which had some bawdy parts. She would laugh at our embarrassment.  I think I succeeded in completely shaming myself, by dropping by after school and talking to her. I would speculate as to whether we might have known each other in a past life. She would indulge me a little. At least she didn’t say that I was probably her dog in a previous life. I don’t remember all that was said, just her face and her smile. What the hell was she doing in a little podunk town in the middle of the Midwest. She belonged on the silver screen!

Approximation of my drawing of Sharon, and the Real Thing

It’s All About Me

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Because I have written about my parents, brothers and sisters in previous posts, I decided to post a little essay I wrote to introduce myself when I was a multimedia student  in 2009. These are the randomly accessed thoughts and emotions of R.O.M.* Russell Owen Miller, student at City College of San Francisco. 

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  • Millions of years ago dinosaurs roamed the Earth. I wasn’t there, but I played with brightly colored plastic dinosaurs when I was a kid, and I’ve seen Jurassic Park so, I think I pretty much know what it was like.dino thb
  • The earliest memory I can access is filled with confusion and ecstasy. I definitely didn’t ask to be here, it seemed. It felt more like I’d taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque. I quickly decided I’d play along, because not playing along was painful, and usually led to a lot of shouting. Besides, I had no choice. I was stuck here.
  • I remember thinking girls are just like boys, but with longer hair. I recall when my nephew told me that he saw his mother taking a bath, and that girls aren’t like boys AT ALL! After he described what he had seen, I had nightmares for months. I felt sorry for girls, I mean, what I had was bad enough, especially when it started DOING THINGS, but girls….I was so glad I was a boy!
  • My parents didn’t talk to me about the birds and the bees. My father suggested I work hard, stay out of trouble, and obey my boss. My Mother insisted I pray and read the Bible, to answer all my questions.
  • It hadn’t occurred to me that I wouldn’t be spending my time at home, on the farm, playing around the pond, for the rest of my life. Everything would stay the same except I would get bigger.
  • School changed all that. I didn’t like school. I didn’t want the world to be bigger. It scared me.
  • Strange things can happen when you recall early past memories, like before you were 10. Sometimes you can’t be sure if something actually happened, or you imagined it happened. I had a very active imagination, with lots of imaginary friends (my adult mind tells me). We had a lot of tomcats on the farm. But these cats weren’t typical. These cats could actually talk, and dance. As a matter of fact, they had their own television show. I remember that I was the show’s announcer. It was a good gig.
  • It was probably then that the time travel began. Or, maybe it was interdimensional travel. I don’t know. Like I say, your memory plays tricks when you try to recall early memories.
  • I remember standing on the steps of the Parthenon on a bright sunny morning. Everybody was naked. I remember Jesus had a peculiar smell, and his skin was kind of oily. I recall a lot of time on horseback, wandering around in the dark, unbelievably cold, searching for a nice warm fire. I remember feeling like I never had enough time to do, well…anything, and death never made any sense. Birth was even more of a mystery. At least that’s how I recall it now, back then, on many occasions, it was all very, very clear, and I was happy. But one thing is for sure. Nothing Lasts.
  • I have soared over a White City, in which the light came from all directions, and all the buildings were white. But I never saw anyone on the streets. I have sailed through an endless darkness with grim determination, while tiny lights of different colors twinkle like Christmas lights, on the horizon.
  • Everybody thought I was smart. But I was bullied and teased anyhow. Maybe I was bullied and teased BECAUSE I was smart.
  • I didn’t feel smart, though. I felt trapped in a scrawny body, with a funny face. For any activity that involved more than just thinking and talking, I would inevitably screw up somehow. People thought I did it on purpose, just to make them angry.
  • Yeah. RIGHT
  • Girls were a mystery. I think they still are.
  • But I still like them.
  • As a matter of fact, I have always liked girls better than boys. Boys are cruel. They are all about doing to you, before you get the chance to do to them. Oneupmanship. What’s the point? We’re all gonna die anyhow. I figured that one out very early on. It really hurt my grades.
  • So I spent my life, living inside my imagination, having a few friends, scrawny kids much like myself. I avoided the bullies, if I could. Stood up to them if I had to, and got beat up a few times as a result. Typical childhood in early ’60’s America. I was so relieved when I graduated from high school. NO MORE BULLIES IN MY LIFE!
  • Sadly, the bullies didn’t go away, they just became much more subtle.
  • But you know what? I eat those guys for breakfast! (I think I may have become a bit of a bully myself)
  • Say it isn’t true! Indeed, I became very self-righteous in my college years. I knew better than ANYBODY. I would offer my pearls of wisdom to my parents, my siblings, and I absolutely would not GIVE IT A REST! This little change in personality, fueled by a flood of freshly squeezed male hormones, went over really well, within my family. (as you can imagine) But my friends loved it!
  • Want a hit of acid? SURE! Want a hit off this joint? WHY NOT? I was a hippie, yippie, dippy weatherman, and didn’t care about the future.
  • UNTIL IT CAME
  • But that actually took a while. As a matter of fact the future arrived fairly recently, when I had a heart attack.
  • As a young man, I lacked ambition. ON PURPOSE. I rejected many of the social mores of our society, I scorned the American Dream. I imagined myself to be ENLIGHTENED, as I read about Zen Buddhism. It allowed me to be smug, as I continued to be clueless.
  • I suppose I’m being a little hard on myself. I was sincere in my spiritual quest. My questions cut to the quick. I was deep. Girls realised this as they gazed into my eyes. I was INTENSE (they said). But they still wouldn’t be my girlfriend.
  • Getting into a relationship. This was the subject of an endless conversation with male friends (and female, come to think of it), which lasted for about thirty years, like a sitcom that goes into syndication and the episodes keep repeating themselves year after year. I am so sick of talking about getting into a relationship. The conversation was boring before it began.
  • But, of course, I still talk about it. Alas.
  • I applied myself with gusto to a wide range of endeavors, developing skills which serve me to this day. I learned how to be patient, how to apply myself to every situation. Many people congratulated me on my magnificent courage, in being willing to tackle just about any task. I wondered, however, at what point does courage become foolhardiness? I learned an awful lot, though, and it left me with a confidence in myself I certainly lacked in my younger days.
  • I had fun, too. (It should be my epitaph.) I quenched every thirst, satisfied every hunger, so long as the resources were there. And when they weren’t I made do with what I had. But it’s true I was unhappy a lot of the time. I milked it for all it was worth, and at times I found my unhappiness intoxicating. JUST HOW MUCH CAN I TAKE? Am I tough or what? I wish I could say I never complained, and was never afraid, but when my left eye’s retina detached, leaving me blind in that eye, I was scared, and I complained plenty. I thought I’d never adjust to that, but, of course, I did. Adjustment has always succeeded in dragging me, kicking and screaming, into the next phase of my life.
  • I have never blamed anyone but myself, I am proud to say. I am the author of my life. NUFF SAID.
  • I’ve done this (teaching, offset press operator, office manager, dishwasher, data entry clerk, assistant manager of bookstore). I’ve done that (many, many drugs, Scientology, est, Zen, kneeled at the altar of Elvis Presley, dabbled in ritual magic, fell in love repeatedly with the entire inertia of the Universe working against me, and almost always had a cat)
  • I am always ready for something new (well, almost always).
  • All of the most interesting stuff happened inside. Outside circumstances of my life are a necessary nuisance, intruding upon my spectacular imagination, I’ve spent most of my life there, and I would have to say that real life doesn’t even begin to compare. I have been famous many times over. I have loved some of the most beautiful women that have ever lived. I have sung, and women have wept. I have conquered continents. I am a well known writer. I worked for a while as a stand-up comic. Everybody wants to be my friend, and is impressed with everything I do. I have more girlfriends than I know what to do with. No question about it. Reality is hard, Dreaming is easy. I choose Dreams because my dreams are the best!!
  • Perhaps that will change. GOD! I SURE HOPE SO!
  • I am waiting for the REAL WORLD to suddenly appear, in crystal clear clarity! I want REALITY to give me a French kiss, I want it to KICK MY……!
  • About a year ago, Reality almost kept it’s promise, almost, that heart attack I suffered opened my eyes a bit. I stopped living like I was (of course!) going to live forever.
  • So, that brings us to now. HOW BORING.
  • So I guess the lessons learned will be relearned. On and on. I think some smartass labeled that tedious little process which seems to rule our lives, the Law of Karma.
  • Of course, I am above all that. Always have been. I am the original face of my mother before I was born. I am so far beyond all that I have written, thought, experienced. I am OUT THERE!
  • I’m curious if you are still reading this nonsense. I am so full of it!
  • But it makes me laugh, and that counts for something.

The Rebels Curse

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I was just thinking about Natalie Wood. She was my earliest childhood crush. She had a dark, mysterious allure. For me, at the tender age of ten, she represented all that I wanted a woman to be. Then I thought about James Dean, Sal Mineo, and Dennis Hopper. All of these people appeared in Rebel Without a Cause. Each of them have had a tragic history, three of them died young. It gives that film a macabre overtone. James Dean had been long dead by the time I even realized who he was. One of my earliest memories is of the horror of seeing a picture of the wreck of his Porsche Spyder. I could imagine his mangled body inside. I thought about how good he must have felt racing down the nearly deserted highway, his career was taking off, and he had his whole life ahead of him, then Wham! James Dean seemed dislocated, like he belonged in a better world, and was condemned to this one. I related more to Sal Mineo, when I finally saw Rebel. I responded to his vulnerability. I, too was bullied every day at school, except I didn’t have a James Dean to look out for me. The adults in that film were so out of touch. They reminded me of all the adults I knew. And they killed Plato. Sal Mineo had such a difficult time in the entertainment industry. He was always pegged for some stupid ethnic part, He was rebelliously bisexual long before it was the hip thing to do. After many lean years, he was just beginning to succeed in theatre. Then he was killed. Dennis Hopper only had a small role in the film, as one of the high school ‘hoods. But he developed into one of my favorite actors. I remember him doing a superb job on an episode of twilight zone, as a neo-Nazi. Of course, I loved his crazy role in Easy Rider, but his ultimate achievement had to be as Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. The role was meant for him, as he said, he was Frank Booth. It is a shame that Dennis never got the full recognition he deserved. He died sick. It was sad.

Which brings me to the person I originally intended to post about. Natalie Wood. She was so beautiful. As a kid, I adored her. I loved her early sixties movies, when she had that really cute hair style, and the puppy dog eyes. She was so cute in Sex and the Single Girl. Later, as an adult, I was very impressed with her in Love with the Proper Stranger, with Steve McQueen. She was adorable in Gypsy. I remember feeling embarrassed when she did her strip tease at the end of that movie. Even though it didn’t show anything, I felt that ‘my’ Natalie would never do such a thing! I was such a prude when I was a kid! I would daydream about kissing her, all this long before I reached puberty. I lost track of her in later years, until I saw her in her last film, Brainstorm. She haunts that film, and not just because she died before it was completed. She seems disconnected from the film. She is there, but also not there. It is hard to describe. She had a deep fear of drowning in dark water, and that was how she died. I will always think there is more to tell about that night, but we will never hear it told. And so, there you have it, the Rebels Curse. How strange that these people had a dark cloud over their heads. Their spirits serve as an inspiration to me, as to millions of others.

 

The America I Knew

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I remember when America was cool. We were the good guys. We beat the Nazis. We beat the Japs. And if the Commies weren’t careful, we’d beat them too. I was eight years old. 1961. We had a super cool President. Kennedy. Not everyone thought he was cool. My parents didn’t like his pro-civil rights position. My parents weren’t cool, at least when it came to that. And Kennedy was Catholic. I didn’t understand much about that, except that apparently, Catholics worshiped the Pope instead of God. But Kennedy won and nothing awful happened except the Bay of Pigs and his own assassination. I never heard the end of it regarding both. Of course none of this was directed towards me, I overheard it, amidst cigarette smoke, model cars, and Playboys I could never sneak a look at. Things changed with the assassination. America didn’t seem cool anymore, just dangerous.

But I can recall the thrill of the space program. I bought the models of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo spacecraft. It was fun to imagine being an astronaut. And we had to beat the Russians!! I remember vividly the ominous charts in Time magazine showing how many nukes the Russians had and how many we had. The Missile Gap. It made me nervous, because I knew even at that young age that if the missiles flew, we’d all die. It didn’t really matter about fall out shelters and all that. And even if you did manage to survive, what would there be to survive in? A contaminated landscape, all in black & white, like the twilight zone. But still there was something kinda cool about atomic weapons. It was fun to draw the mushroom clouds. Even my most innocent drawings managed to show a mushroom cloud in the distance.

I lived in my imagination a lot when I was a kid. I would go to the little grocery store way way way out on the edge of Warrensburg. Mo. They had the best comics there, often times the big annuals of Batman, Superman, Justice League. When they ran out of those, I’d settle for a Flash, Wonder Woman, or Green Lantern. I think it was the TGA grocery. I’m not sure. I would buy a whole dollar’s worth of candy, which in 1961 bought a huge amount of candy. Snickers, Almond Joy, Mounds, Hersheys almond, etc. and two or three comics. I was kind of aware of Marvel Comics too, but that meant a whole other set of characters to get familiar with, and that felt like a lot of work. So I stuck with DC Comics. Also, DC was like America, Marvel was the other guy. It all got mixed together in my head. I’d imagine Superman flying through space and intercepting Russian missiles. I liked Batman the best because he had the coolest costume, and he cast really cool shadows over everything. It did puzzle me why he never got killed. I mean, all anybody needed to do was shoot him. But it didn’t happen. I realized very early that there was no way that his utility belt could hold all that crap. But he was human, and that was cool,

I felt secure, knowing we had missile silos all over, even close to where I lived, at Whiteman AFB. That was cool. I knew my country was tough because I had read about WWII. We beat the Nazis, and the Nazis were awesome. I thought Hitler was the perfect bad guy when I was a kid. He was ugly with that little mustache, but also kind of mysterious. The swastika was a super cool evil symbol, and the Nazi soldiers had skulls on their uniforms, and lightning bolts. They were Satan’s legions. So cool. But we beat them. At that time, I had no consciousness of the Russians or the English playing a role in that victory. To a little kid, WWII seemed like a load of fun. Flying a Superfortress over Germany dropping bombs at night as the searchlights tried to catch you. Thrilling! No thought given to the deaths of innocent civilians. I never thought about civilians. When they sold plastic soldiers they should have included civilians so kids would realize…..nah! it would never have worked.

In my imagination, in those days, it got all mixed together. I loved dinosaurs too, and had some really cool multi-colored  plastic ones, which got to fight the Nazis along with the American tanks, and Batman in his batmobile. The Nazis didn’t stand a chance. Hitler jumped up and down in a rage. ‘How dare they use dinosaurs against me!’. I never questioned for a moment that America was right, always won, and was totally cool. After the death of Kennedy, it felt like something was dreadfully wrong with America. Then as I became aware of how we treated blacks, how wrong my parents were, and when things started going badly in Vietnam, I remember the shock of realizing ‘ We are going to lose this war!’. I will save my observations about what went wrong, in greater detail, in later posts.

American Cowboys Fight Martian Nazis! What could be cooler?

Lady of the Lake

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My sister Linda is perhaps the hardest sibling for me to write about. She stands on a distant shore, and my telescope isn’t quite powerful enough for me to see her face clearly. Linda has always lived in that beautiful world full of love and light. No disappointments, betrayals, lies, anger, pain, sorrow, or sickness. That is the beautiful world of Linda’s soul. Elvis’ song Memories is playing as I type this. Quite a coincidence! She is an Elvis fan, and Memories captures exactly what I’m saying. Memories is about a wonderful world of our memories, forever elusive, slipping away as we reach for them. Memories not of what actually happened but our enchanted perception of what happened. The past almost takes on a fairy tale quality. Linda loved this kind of memory, all of the stories told and retold, of the farms where we all grew up, the dogs we had, the ghost in the upstairs of the Allen house, and the snapping turtle down by the pond. (oops! that last one is my memory!). She transforms these stories and memories, into something unspeakably poignant, beautiful, and heart breaking. Her ability to enchant the funky, dirty, disappointing world around us is why I call her the Lady in the Lake. The mysterious woman who rose from a lake and handed King Arthur, the sword Excalibur. I can’t really articulate any better than I already have why I make that comparison, but my intuition tells me it perfectly describes my sister, Linda.

The “real” world hasn’t been kind to Linda. The scars were apparent in her voice when I last talked to her. Perhaps hearing from me brought back a lot of painful memories. Maybe I caught her at a bad time. But everyone tells me she is happier than at any time in her life. She has many friends. She loves the little church she attends. She is living a life of her own choosing, for a change. I am so happy for her! However I can remember Linda when she was very happy. She and I were very close when we were both kids. We had a little club all our own. Linda would confide little things that only a little brother could be trusted with. Of course, I can’t recall any of those secrets now, I’m not sure I understood them then, just that my big sister was whispering to me, her beautiful brown eyes wide. I felt so special! She is whispering to me! her little snot-nosed brother! A warm glow surrounds those memories, of summers at Keith’s, Linda and I sitting on the steps, just enjoying the sun. As I grew older, I became a huge embarrassment to Linda. I was so uncool. If Lawrence was Elvis, I was Jerry Lewis. In fact, for many years my name was ‘Stoop’, as far as Linda was concerned. (you know, short for stupid?) It just made me want to act even more like a doofus. I suspect her friends were confused. “Does she have a little brother or not? The other day, she claimed that dopey kid wasn’t her brother.”) I have no defense. It seems I have never been terribly concerned about what other people think. (as this blog proves) But Linda had an image to uphold, just in case Elvis Presley should visit Warrensburg. You gotta be prepared! Ditch the goofy little brother! Elvis never came, but a succession of other guys did. I was the thorn in the side for almost all of Linda’s suitors. I’d tease them, ask them dumb questions to throw them off guard, and Linda hated it. She always banned me from the premises, but I’d still manage to slip in. One guy, Paul, (I think that was his name), wasn’t fazed at all by my antics. He thought I was funny, I liked him, so did Lawrence and David. I guess that was all the more reason for Linda to dump him. She doesn’t want to get hooked up with someone like her brothers!! God forbid! Give me someone who doesn’t have his head in the clouds! I also remember one poor unfortunate soul, (I think his last name was Otten.) who had the habit of saying “we’ll see ya'” when leaving Linda at the end of the date. I would always say “Is there someone else out there?”. I think Linda might have asked him that, too. Poor Guy.

I might not have become such a fan of Elvis Presley had it not been for Linda. Our love of Elvis was probably our strongest bond. Otherwise, as the years went by, and I became an adult, my relationship with Linda drifted, until she ended up on that very distant shore. Much like myself, Linda has always had one foot in another universe. I have a feeling it is a universe I wouldn’t mind living in. There is something so pure and fragile about Linda. And yet I can hear her saying, “Fragile? Are you kidding me? Only a really tough broad could have endured what I have endured.” Fair enough. I recall the younger Linda, with the delicate face, and eyes that could break your heart. I remember one of the last times I saw Linda. I was visiting Lawrence and everybody, and it was a beautiful day. I felt sad that I couldn’t just live with Lawrence Debbie, and Shannon, and not return to no man’s land. I saw Linda walking up the sidewalk, her bright smile filled her face. I felt so much love! I suspect I looked the same, because I loved her so much just then. We chatted for a bit and she told me she hoped we would get a chance to go out to the ‘farm’, where we once lived. I regret to this day that we didn’t take that trip. Linda and I could have taken a stroll through Avalon, and sat by the lake from which she sprang.

Buckaroo Banzai

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If my oldest brother, Keith, was a buckaroo, my next oldest is a buckaroo banzai. For those of you that haven’t seen the movie, Buckaroo Banzai was a scientist, rock n’ roll singer, who investigated the farthest reaches of the unknown. He was probably a bunch of other things too (wasn’t he a race car driver as well?). It was a crazy, zany, over the top, comedy which was hard to categorize, there were so many different elements. That describes David as well. It is hard for me to write about David, because I have to decide which ones to focus on. David is committed to exploring the farthest reaches of his own mind. I can assure you that there is no mind quite like his. Just when you think David is engaged in a deep philosophical insight, he will inevitably throw you a curve, sending the conversation into a tailspin. Sometimes it’s comic, other times irritating, but always unexpected. His quicksilver mind cannot be contained by logic, belief systems of any kind, it has to be free to be what it is, in any given moment. This is his Art, and his Magic. And he’s my fucking brother! He was very much a role model, to the extent that I could figure out what the hell I was emulating. I guess I learned to keep moving, never allow myself to stop questioning, stop growing, right to my dying breath. While Keith could certainly generate a few storms, he seemed anchored in the ancestral soil as he raged. David is the storm itself, magnetic, compelling, dangerous, but a gift to a far too complacent world.

Ok, ok that’s all fine and good, but is this guy a human being or what? I mean all that stuff I wrote is so conceptual and philosophical that I just know I’ve lost quite a few of you out there in cyberspace. (or perhaps it is poetic? usually the excuse given for crappy writing.) So let’s get down to Earth, shall we? I love David in a way I don’t love any other person. Because I have to. You can’t love that guy in the normal way, it just doesn’t work! He is my muse, in many ways. There have many times when I have been out there. and I mean out there without landmarks or buoys to guide me to the shore. (Skip the metaphor, what are we trying to say?) Well, when I am trying to articulate thoughts about something that perhaps hasn’t been thought before, I think to myself, ‘what would David say?’ But every time I actually get the opportunity to talk to him about it, he always says something totally different. If I were a cynic, I would say that he senses where I’m going on a subject and deliberately does the unexpected, sinking my battleship every time! (I do love those metaphors, don’t I?). But this was supposed to be down to Earth. As I was growing up, I wanted so much to be a part of the midnight discussions about all things hidden, conducted by Keith and David. It was thrilling when I did get the chance to listen to them talk. At the time, it felt like such a perfect harmony, Keith and David making music together. Although I have had great talks with Keith and David both which lasted for hours, they could not compare to that team. David embraced life with joy, for most of the time I knew him, before I left for parts unknown. He had such an infectious enthusiasm for whatever he was engaged in. When he was being a cowboy, you wanted to be one as well. When he sang and played guitar, it was exciting, because he was excited. Lawrence and David were an intriguing combination of cool and hot. But I’ll tell ya, Lawrence was David’s biggest fan. I was a fan too, but also jealous. I wanted to do better. I didn’t like David stealing the limelight. I would think, “I’m just as good as him. He thinks he’s so great!” He did seem vain, at times, but that just hid a deep vulnerability. This often gave David a prickly personality, not unlike my own. So, inevitably when you get two vulnerable, insecure brothers together you get conflict. We have often been at odds with each other. There were a few actual fights. I would be my usual pain in the ass, and David would just kick my ass, or at least he tried, I left a few scars myself. It was crazy, neither of us could just let it go. One of us would shoot off his mouth and the other just had to shoot his mouth off in response. There are so many similarities between us. The extent to which we dislike ourselves, is the extent to which we disliked each other. We were like mirrors. I notice I keep saying ‘were’, I still have long conversations with David. I have reached a point where I appreciate David more than ever. I have left almost all of my legendary sensitivity behind, so he can just be himself. (and vice versa). There was a long period of time when I couldn’t even think about David without getting pissed off. David saw so much in me, left unfulfilled, and it made him mad. David was not shy about expressing his anger. I think I better understand what that was about. I just thought he didn’t like me.

David and I are also alike in that we both have dreamed big dreams, and we had to settle for reality. He wanted to be a singer and musician and recorded some songs at one point, sending them to a record company. I thought the tape was awesome, especially the guitar. But nothing came of it. I had thoughts of being a writer, actor, comedian, nothing came of any of it. I never followed through. David was a police officer and a minister, but in both cases the job was too small to contain such a vibrant personality. He is more than that, He is always more than that. It is exactly the way I view myself, and just like him, it hasn’t done me a damn bit of good. We are both brilliant and broke, or nearly broke. I shouldn’t say that, I doubt that he is nearly broke, but it’s a good sentence so I’ll let it stand. From my perspective, it is totally amazing that he and Ina managed to raise six kids, never got a divorce, managed to stick it out through some downright horrible conditions, and still end up with six wonderful kids! (it is six isn’t it? lets see mark monica mike bucky marjorie, that’s only five! if there is a sixth I can’t recall the name, my apologies.)  No. it’s five.  So, enough already about that. I just hope that in all those moves they made, when the kids were young, they didn’t leave some kid behind! Hey, it could happen! (No! dummy, it is six! I left out Shelly!! Sorry Shelly, Alzheimer’s is a sad thing!) As you can tell, I have run out of things to say about my brother David. Never boring. Almost always frustrating. But a brother like no other!

Beauty and the Beast

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In order to understand my recollections of Marjorie and Steve, I must go back to a memory that actually isn’t my memory. Others have told me, and well….here’s the story. For reasons I have never fathomed, I had to use a ceramic pot for a toilet when I was very little, just a toddler. This pot was in the back room, no locked door, anyone could cruise in, but then I was just a baby, so nobody cared about a baby’s feelings. They don’t have feelings, right? So on one occasion, as I was availing myself of the aforementioned pot, Marjorie brought home her new boyfriend, Steve. And Steve is being given a tour of our small little farmhouse. He comes to the back room and there I am! Now I suppose there is a rich tradition going back many generations of laughing at babies taking a crap in a ceramic pot. But that doesn’t make me feel any better. Steve laughed and laughed, and I think Marjorie was there as well, my Mom and Dad, Linda, probably Keith, maybe David, Lawrence. Hell, I think there were probably a few neighbors invited in to take a gander. I was mortified, enraged, and so embarrassed that I can say with confidence that I am still embarrassed to this day! This set the tone for my relationship with Steve. And Marjorie? I don’t know if she laughed, but I knew she was the person that brought this jerk into my life. Guilt by association! I say I don’t remember this, but I do have a kind of recollection, I can recall the anger and hurt and embarrassment. Never do this to your kids!! They do feel violated, and it will fuck them up. Take it from me.

But more about the jerk, later. I remember Marjorie as this beautiful woman that just happened to be my sister. She seemed like a cross between Lucille Ball and Ava Gardner. She had such a beautiful smile, and an easy laugh. She had kind of a fiesty quality about her that made her a lot of fun to be around. She carried herself like a movie star. If Mom was the Queen, Marjorie was the Princess. It was hard for me to really get to know Marjorie, but I recall some times we had when just she and I sat quietly, and she talked to me as if I were an equal, although I was ten years old, She respected my intelligence, and thought I was very funny. There weren’t enough of those times. Strange how even though I was a young kid, long before puberty I was able to see the sexiness of my sisters. And they were very sexy! I was proud to have sisters like them! (what can I say? I was a ladies’ man in the first grade, giving a girl I had a crush on, a fake diamond ring). I hope they take that as a compliment, it isn’t meant to creep them out! But I have creeped people out my whole life so why stop now? (But speaking of creeping people out….but I’ll get to Steve later.) Ok, so if you are still reading this…Marjorie had such an elegant, self-possessed manner that it was a shame that it was wasted on Windsor. I thought she would be famous, when I was little. I think I felt the same way about all of my brothers and sisters. They were all celebrities in my young eyes. I remember that Marjorie and Steve’s home felt like the waiting room in a dentist’s office. Very clean, orderly, and formal. And you could have all the bologna sandwiches you’d like while waiting. But no cooking. Plenty of magazines. Ok, I’ll stop now. I fondly remember sitting up late (quite the treat for a kid), watching the Tonight show in their bedroom. Steve and I would discuss politics (even when I was a little squirt, I was a Democrat at age nine). Steve was, as everyone in the fucking universe knows, a Republican! He let everyone know how conservative he was and how great Nixon was. Gee, do I sound annoyed? We played chess and Steve always won. Boy was that ever fun.

Ok, we’ve heard about the Beauty, time now for the Beast! It is to Steve’s credit that he took in stride all of the outrageous remarks, and deliberate tactlessness I unleashed on him when I was a kid. (when I stopped being a teenager, he stopped taking it in stride. Not such a funny story). But I would tell him he was full of shit (this was as a teenager), and he would just laugh. Once Steve asked me how long I thought I would stay ugly, and I said “well, let’s see, you’ve been ugly for how long now? About as long as you, I guess.” What was even better about that incident was that about an hour later, Steve says “I don’t think I’m ugly!” I had gotten to him! Score one for the pimply-ass kid. Steve really went out of his way to get me to like him, and he almost succeeded. But then something would happen, and he was a jerk once again. It is kind of pathetic, because I never spared his feelings, I made it clear how I felt. And he still wanted to be friends (or perhaps, more accurately, my Dad). I gotta hand it to him, he was persistent. I was Steve’s unrequited love. ok, now it’s creep out time again, speaking of which, I couldn’t hold a candle to Steve in the creep out dept. We’re talking about his hairy butt hanging out in front of the inlaws. Dude! Get a belt! Here’s Steve on the telephone: What am I doin’? Just sittin’ here scratching my balls! Great stuff! He should have had his own HBO special! I don’t think Marjorie would tune in to that one, though. Probably not Andra or Megan either. But Steve gave generously to those who needed help, he helped me get through college, he helped me out many many times. As well as other relatives. He was not a Scrooge by any means. He took an active interest in my welfare. (I thought it was too great an interest, at the time. I was fiercely independent, never took advice, I’m still like that). He bought me a console stereo for Christmas just before college, and I played that thing to death. I remember Lawrence defending Steve when I was being particularly harsh towards him, saying that Steve had helped many people anonymously. “So how come you know about it?” I replied. But that’s not fair. He was a good guy in many ways. But, I won’t deny it, he and I didn’t get along. We fought each other in fun, and then, after I was grown, we fought in earnest. I remember a time when Steve and I were screaming at each other over the phone. We got as down and dirty as two totally tactless assholes can get. Shit! I guess we were made for each other! I think Steve just smiled at that remark. God damn it! Did I love this son of a bitch? I recall the pain and sadness in his eyes when I last was talking to him, as he was giving me a ride back to the KC airport after Keith’s funeral. It was as if I was gazing into his soul. He seemed to be saying, “Please don’t hate me.” Perhaps he remembered our harsh exchange a few years earlier, perhaps not. Maybe I imagined it. I’ll never know.

Keith (my second father)

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It is really hard to keep from mythologizing Keith, my oldest brother. For me, as I was growing up, he was larger than life, my own rugged, cowboy, explorer, scientist, tough guy, hero. He was full of life, and bravado. You definitely knew when Keith was in the room. He had the bearing of a King (no surprise, since the Queen was his mother). He was my role model for what being a ‘real’ man was. You stood up for yourself, you were never ashamed of who you were, no matter how poor you might be, or how you look, or how intelligent or unintelligent you might be, Of course, from his point of view, if you were a Miller, you weren’t really poor, you looked great, and were very intelligent. Keith was the great story teller, he wove the web of the family mythology, bringing to life our ancestors, tracing our line back to Charlemagne and possibly even King Arthur. He puzzled over all of life’s mysteries, and would talk endlessly into the night (with his brother David, primarily), about every unanswered question the universe could offer. I think he relished the questions more than the answers. After all, if you arrive at a conclusion, what is there to talk about?, and the talking is the thing. Exploring all things visible and invisible, nothing escaped Keith’s gaze. He loved nature, and spent all his life immersed in it. He became a very accomplished bird watcher, and cave explorer. I can recall the map of Missouri with all the pens, showing the caves he had explored. That map was covered in pens. He lived and breathed an easy sexuality, which was a vital part of his being. He rejoiced in being a man, and all of the glorious funky, horny, smelly, rich and earthy feelings that entailed. He sprang from out of the bosom of Nature, and this was truly his God. He was vain. But then, let’s face it, he had reasons. He was a pretty awesome character. When I was a kid, he reminded me of Clark Gable. He was ruggedly handsome, and I felt a little intimidated, given I was this skinny, bespectacled kid who couldn’t even tie his shoe correctly.

Keith suffered greatly throughout his life, and I stood in silent sadness, observing many of those times. Just a kid. It made me fearful of what being a man meant. It meant loving fiercely with all of your soul, only to have that love casually crushed and tossed aside. I knew how much Keith suffered because Keith wasn’t shy about expressing his feelings. When he hurt, he enveloped the world in his dark brood. He was a lot like my mother, and everyone commented on that fact. But unlike Mom, Keith became a much more compassionate, forgiving, monarch. At least, that was my experience. I suspect others might disagree. But he became my second Dad, especially after my first Dad died. He loved me completely, without reservation, or critical comment. It was a gift, for which I am still grateful. But it wasn’t always that way. In his younger days, he was a roiling mass of emotion, filled with tenderness, tempered by a vicious temper which could explode at any moment. You had to develop a little list of all the subjects that were off limits with Keith. It was a lot like navigating a mine field. I lost a few limbs before I got it down. Of course, given that I grew into an obnoxious, mouthy teenager, Keith and I were bound to collide. I remember one time when I was obnoxiously correcting his pronuciation of words. He always prided himself on his erudition, so this was a sore point. Finally, he exploded. “You had better get away from me right now!: And I did. I would kind of peek out at him from a comfortable distance for quite some time after that, sort of like a cat that has been kicked. I learned that the best way to approach Keith was to give Keith the opportunity to claim your idea as his own. If he could appear to be in control of the conversation, he was happy. He changed greatly over the years and was not as vain and insecure as in his earlier years. He knew he had a macho heroic image to uphold and he went through some unnecessary emotional outbursts to maintain that image. Later, he was much more willing to be vulnerable, and much more open about himself. He no longer felt the need to preen his feathers. But Keith was always a very sensitive soul. Other people you could disagree with, sometimes rather violently, without hurting the other person’s feelings, but with Keith a disagreement could often be taken as a personal insult. I had some wonderful times with Keith, long talks lasting all night long. Even when I was at my lowest ebb, Keith refused to tear my self-esteem apart still further. It seems to me that he always looked for ways to build me up, rather than tear me down. We were good friends. I had the feeling that even if he had not been my brother, we would have loved each other, and had the same long talks. We just liked each other!

I can’t even begin to express how much grief I still feel over Keith’s death. My life pretty much fell apart after he died. It left me determined not to experience the funerals of any more brothers. His ghost still….(I can’t say ‘haunts’) lingers peacefully nearby. Just letting me know he’s there.  What a man!! I am proud to say he was my second father. I miss him.

Gandalf, my older brother (known as Lawrence in this world)

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Yes, indeed, Frodo, my older brother was the magnificent wizard, Gandalf. Although he hid his identity well, quietly and humbly working as a barber in his own version of Mayberry. But ah! the stories I could tell! I shall call him by his avatar’s name, Lawrence. Most people called him Larry, but for me Lawrence suited him better. Larry is so casual, and in spite of his attempts to be just an ordinary Joe, his inner dignity and majesty was unmistakable. Larry is the guy you go bowling with, Lawrence is a knight of the round table.

How shall I begin? My earliest memories of Lawrence were of a darkly handsome mystery lurking in the background. He was very difficult to get to know, but of course I was a little kid. I remember him teasing me relentlessly. He would tell me that he had killed my cat. I would believe him and get incredibly upset, which tickled him to no end. To his credit, he always apologized for upsetting me, but he would always do it again. He was a clown, very much in the style of Harpo Marx. Most of his humor was nonverbal, facial expressions, the way he walked. His favorite fake-out was pretending to be very sad, in a totally convincing way, and then suddenly smile brightly and give a little skip. This lasted a second, then he returned to the sadness. You had to see it to understand how funny it was. He was a great mimic. He would emulate various people and do it in a way that left you in stitches. He could have been a comedian. He had a sense of the absurdity of life, which I could definitely relate to. He influenced me in ways I haven’t fully realized, but can see now that I think about it. I learned how to be cool from Lawrence. That is something that is very difficult to define, and people either have it or they don’t. Lawrence definitely had it. He could just sit there, not saying a thing, and he was cool. Effortless. My brother David would be doing backward somersaults trying to be cool, while Lawrence just was. I learned from observation I suppose, and once Lawrence was telling everyone about something I said, and said that I was “just so cool”. Coming from him, that really meant something. We reached a point in which we shared the same absurdist point of view. He was a joy to be with, in that he had a comic touch to virtually everything he did. When I was a kid, he reminded me of James Dean or Elvis Presley. He wore his hair that way, and had a kind of brooding, quiet way about him. But I didn’t get the chance to get to know him until I was in college. Even then, Lawrence was difficult to know. He was very much like Dad, quiet, and only speaking when there was something worth saying. You always got the straight stuff from Dad, and that is how Lawrence became, after he gave up always being the clown. He and I spent the most time together around 1973-75, when he was married to Verna. He, Verna, Gary, and I would smoke pot, and go out on various adventures. That was when he and I both wore black suit coats with casual jeans, and all of us were total wise asses. We would try to outdo each other in sarcasm and outrageousness. We would have pot-fueled deep conversations, while listening to Dark Side of the Moon, or Blue Oyster Cult. I also remember him loving It’s a Beautiful Day, and especially the cult favorite, Last Stage for Silverworld by Kenny Young. I remember those days vividly. We all thought we were pretty hip. One time, Lawrence announced to Gary that he had decided to change his name to Fuck. Thankfully he changed his mind. This was my ‘wildman’ period, and I remember bringing Lawrence along when my ‘posse’ and I visited the lair of the Dark Lord. The Dark Lord couldn’t believe Lawrence was my brother. I was excited because two of the coolest people I knew were finally meeting, but Lawrence told me he wasn’t all that impressed with the Dark Lord. But the Dark Lord was impressed with Lawrence, I remembered he said Lawrence was ‘pretty cool’. Well duh! One other encounter I recall was when the Dark Lord visited the Scientology mission. I had told the Dark Lord about how Scientologist’s always acknowledge each other with ‘Thank you’ any time someone speaks to them. I thought it was kind of stupid. So when the Dark Lord was talking to Lawrence at the Mission, Lawrence would say ‘Thank you’ or ‘Thank you for your communication’ each time the Dark Lord spoke. Then the Dark Lord would do the same when Lawrence spoke. So, very quickly it became “thank you’ ‘no thank you! ‘thank you’ and back and forth until Lawrence finally laughed, seeing the absurdity of it. I got involved in Scientology myself until I was kicked out for having an open mind to the point of insanity. Lawrence thought that was pretty funny. It was around this time that I overheard Lawrence talking about experiencing his life as if it were a movie, and how that concerned him. I think everyone in the Miller family has worried about cracking up at one time or another. I could relate to what Lawrence felt. I have had the same feeling. I consider it a part of waking up to how artificial our lives can be. Like myself, Lawrence wanted to get to the bottom of things. He wanted his life to be real. He craved certainty. He wanted his life to mean something. He wanted to lead a genuine life. Suddenly, life wasn’t as funny as before. I think Lawrence saw how much of his life was a performance, and he gave up the performance. After that, the wise guy went away for the most part, occasionally I would see a glimpse of the Lawrence I used to know. He wasn’t a comedian any longer, he became a sincere and brutally honest, but loving individual. Much like his father. His smile became genuine, instead of having a hint of sarcasm. He really changed, he become more gentle, and spiritual. Unfortunately I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time with this Lawrence as I had the previous one. But the time I did spend, during a couple of times (at least) that I visited him, I look back upon with great fondness and sadness. We bonded in a way we hadn’t before. We used to be a couple of comedians enjoying each other’s performances, but now we had become brothers. I can vividly recall one of the last times I saw him. I got off the bus in Clinton, and he was standing there to greet me. I was shocked by how much older he looked, but there was such love radiating from him!! I will always remember that moment.

In those later years, Lawrence reminded me of George Harrison. He had a deep soulfulness in his eyes, and a quiet spirituality, as well as a dry wit. Much like his Dad, Lawrence took his time when he spoke. You would wait for what seemed like minutes before Lawrence would finally say something. It used to drive me nuts, because I shot my mouth off all the time, and rarely gave a lot of thought to what I was saying. I was an insufferable smart ass, and at times just about everyone felt taking a punch at me, except Lawrence. He would just laugh and say “Damn!” at whatever crazy thing I said. But Lawrence took his time when he talked because he wasn’t a bullshitter. He said what he meant, and so he wanted to be sure to say exactly what he wanted to say. Whereas, I was used to talking to the consummate bullshitters, Keith and David, and I took pride in my ability to bullshit with the best of them, but Lawrence had little tolerance for bullshit. If it wasn’t real and from the heart, he didn’t have a lot of interest in it. I miss that. I really do.

Lawrence loved the Lord of the Rings, and so I think he would have enjoyed my comparing him to Gandalf.