O, say! Does that woman’s lamp still burn beside the golden door in 2017?

October 28, 2017

Liberty gazing out at about 265 feet above the water of New York Harbor. Image by Statue of Liberty Tickets

Liberty gazing out at about 265 feet above the water of New York Harbor. Image by Statue of Liberty Tickets

Liberty was dedicated to the people of the United States on October 28, 1886. She’s 131 years old today.

Liberty stands gazing out at about 265 feet* above the water of New York Harbor, a fixture there since construction in the 1880s.

The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World was a gift of friendship from the people of France to the people of the United States and is a universal symbol of freedom and democracy. The Statue of Liberty was dedicated on October 28, 1886, designated as a National Monument in 1924 and restored for her centennial on July 4, 1986.

The Statue of Liberty has been a fixture in the U.S. and American psyche, too.  Excuse me, or join me, in wondering whether we have not lost something of our former dedication to the Statue of Liberty, and the reasons France and Americans joined to build it.

Poem-a-Day sent Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus” out this morning (Poem-a-Day is a wonderful service of the American Academy of Poets — you may subscribe and I recommend it).  There it was, waiting for me in e-mail.   My students generally have not heard nor read the poem, I discover year after year —  some sort of Texas-wide failure in enculturation prompted by too-specific requirements of federal law and state law, combining to make a slatwork of culture taught in our classrooms with too many cracks into which culture actually falls, out of sight, out of mind; out of memory.  I fear it may be a nationwide failure as well.

Have you read the poem lately?  It once encouraged American school children to send pennies to build a home for the statue.  Today it wouldn’t get a majority of U.S. Congressmen to sign on to consponsor a reading of it.  Glenn Beck would contest its history, Rush Limbaugh would discount the politics of the “giveaways” in the poem, John Boehner would scoriate the victims in the poem for having missed his meeting of lobbyists (‘they just missed the right boat’), and Sarah Palin would complain about “an air-bridge to nowhere,” or complain that masses who huddle are probably up to no good (they might touch, you know).

Have you read it lately?

The New Colossus

by Emma Lazarus

Liberty Enlightening the World; French: La Liberté éclairant le monde - Wikimedia Commons image

Liberty Enlightening the World; French: La Liberté éclairant le monde – Wikimedia Commons image

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

AAP makes poems available for iPhones, too, and you can see how it appears, phrase by phrase.  “The New Colossus” takes on more of its power and majesty delivered that way.

Is the Academy of American Poets playing politics here?  In much of America, there is an active movement to nail shut the “golden door,” to turn out a sign that would say “No tired, no poor nor huddled masses yearning to breathe free; especially no wretched refuse, no homeless, and let the tempest-tost stay in Guatemala and Pakistan.”

Would Americans bother to contribute to build a Statue of Liberty today?  Or would they protest against it?

Does that lamp still shine beside the golden door?

Stereoscopic image of the arm and torch of Liberty, at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia

Stereoscopic image of the arm and torch of Liberty, at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia; Robert N. Dennis Collection, New York Public Library.  The arm was displayed to encourage contributions to the fund to build a pedestal for the statue, from private donations.

_____________

*  I’m calculating Liberty’s gaze at about 40 feet below the tip of the torch, which is just over 305 feet above the base of the statue on the ground.  The base is probably 20 feet higher than the water, but this isn’t exact science we’re talking about here.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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O, say! Does that woman’s lamp still burn beside the golden door?

September 12, 2010

Liberty stands gazing out at about 265 feet* above the water of New York Harbor, a fixture there since construction in the 1880s.

The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World was a gift of friendship from the people of France to the people of the United States and is a universal symbol of freedom and democracy. The Statue of Liberty was dedicated on October 28, 1886, designated as a National Monument in 1924 and restored for her centennial on July 4, 1986.

The Statue of Liberty has been a fixture in the U.S. and American psyche, too.  Excuse me, or join me, in wondering whether we have not lost something of our former dedication to the Statue of Liberty, and the reasons France and Americans joined to build it.

Poem-a-Day sent Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus” out this morning (Poem-a-Day is a wonderful service of the American Academy of Poets — you may subscribe and I recommend it).  There it was, waiting for me in e-mail.   My students generally have not heard nor read the poem, I discover year after year —  some sort of Texas-wide failure in enculturation prompted by too-specific requirements of federal law and state law, combining to make a slatwork of culture taught in our classrooms with too many cracks into which culture actually falls, out of sight, out of mind; out of memory.  I fear it may be a nationwide failure as well.

Have you read the poem lately?  It once encouraged American school children to send pennies to build a home for the statue.  Today it wouldn’t get a majority of U.S. Congressmen to sign on to consponsor a reading of it.  Glenn Beck would contest its history, Rush Limbaugh would discount the politics of the “giveaways” in the poem, John Boehner would scoriate the victims in the poem for having missed his meeting of lobbyists (‘they just missed the right boat’), and Sarah Palin would complain about “an air-bridge to nowhere,” or complain that masses who huddle are probably up to no good (they might touch, you know).

Have you read it lately?

The New Colossus

by Emma Lazarus

Liberty Enlightening the World; French: La Liberté éclairant le monde - Wikimedia Commons image

Liberty Enlightening the World; French: La Liberté éclairant le monde - Wikimedia Commons image

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

AAP makes poems available for iPhones, too, and you can see how it appears, phrase by phrase.  “The New Colossus” takes on more of its power and majesty delivered that way.

Is the Academy of American Poets playing politics here?  It’s September 12.  Yesterday many Americans took part in ceremonies and service projects in remembrance of the victims of the attack on the U.S. on September 11, 2001.  In much of the rest of America, there is an active movement to nail shut the “golden door,” to turn out a sign that would say “No tired, no poor nor huddled masses yearning to breathe free; especially no wretched refuse, no homeless, and let the tempest-tost stay in Guatemala and Pakistan.”

Would Americans bother to contribute to build a Statue of Liberty today?  Or would they protest against it?

Does that lamp still shine beside the golden door?

Stereoscopic image of the arm and torch of Liberty, at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia

Stereoscopic image of the arm and torch of Liberty, at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia; Robert N. Dennis Collection, New York Public Library. The arm was displayed to encourage contributions to the fund to build a pedestal for the statue, from private donations.

_____________

*  I’m calculating Liberty’s gaze at about 40 feet below the tip of the torch, which is just over 305 feet above the base of the statue on the ground.  The base is probably 20 feet higher than the water, but this isn’t exact science we’re talking about here.


Dan Valentine: Perfect Day

June 2, 2010

By Dan Valentine

I had a “Perfect Day” while in Nashville.

When you’re penniless even a fairly good day is near-impossible to imagine. Even with lots of money in your pocket, you’re lucky to have five or six “perfect days” in a lifetime.

It happened just a few days after having a perfect-storm of a night in and around Vanderbilt Hospital.

It began at the Music City Hostel with a freshly-brewed cup of coffee and a stack of free waffles, spread with Nutella.

Tracee, the owner’s wife, came in shortly afterward, with her French bull-terrier in arm: Google! Jumping up and down on me, tail wagging, paws forcefully tumbling me to the floor onto my back, licking my eyes and nose and ears, in a non-stop frenzy, as if they were covered with Nutella. Pure ecstasy! But, then: I love dogs!

Start of a Perfect Day.

I helped Tracee with some daily chores, folding bedsheets and pillow cases, etc., and was free to go enjoy myself, which for me (and for most everyone else at that hostel) is to write and finish a song. Most in Nashville work it out sitting, strumming chords on a guitar.

I walk, and work it out in my head.

This particular morning, I strolled down the street to Loews Vanderbilt Hotel. Picked up a free Wall Street Journal at the desk. Put it under arm. I love a newspaper! Better than a newspaper is a free newspaper. Better than a free newspaper are two or three free newspapers. And a cup of coffee. And a cigarette!

I strolled over to the Embassy Suites Hotel. Picked up a USA Today, poured myself a complimentary cup of coffee.

I strolled up to the Marriott. Picked up a New York Times left by a guest. Sat down on a lush couch in the lobby and flipped through the pages, in between finger-dipping between the cushions for change. Found 36 cents (two nickles, a quarter, and a penny.)

A Perfect Morning!

Now, for a cigarette. A cigarette would be nice!

I walked outside just as a beautiful woman lit up. Her cab came before she could have one puff. She placed the cigarette gently on the outside-entrance ashtray, still lit but now with an oh-so slight smear of lipstick on the filter. I picked it up. She got in her cab. I inhaled. She drove off. I exhaled. All as if it had been choreographed by Bob Fosse.

Perfect Morning. One cigarette, one sweet kiss.

In my head, I was working on a song called “Three Friends.” It was printed here on this site a couple of days ago.

I still had some minutes on my Net 10 throwaway phone. I called my dear friend in Houston. She was doing well, so were the dogs. Perfect Morning. I read what I had so far of the lyric:

“Three fam’lies together,
Fathers, mothers, daughters, sons and friends and wives …
Three fam’lies together,
Hearts in a near-crazed frenzy till their dear one arrives …”

She said, “It’s sexist! Mothers, daughters, wives. Why do they have to have a sex at all?”

Good point. Perfect Morning.

I strolled up the street to Borders bookstore (mumbling to myself, alphabetically, “dives, hives, knives, lives–LIVES!), and on the way, spotted a quarter and a penny on the curb by a parking meter. Total (so far): 82 cents!

By the time, I got to Borders I had rewritten the lyric to:

“Three fam’lies together,
Bonded by a war and intertwining lives …”

Perfect Morning.

Inside, I browsed the bookshelves, picking up a book here and there, thumbing through the pages, putting it back on the shelf. I was just about to go when I happened upon Walter Kirn’s novel, “Up in the Air.” I flipped through the pages, reading a sentence or two, and then: “That’s it!” A phrase on the page caught my eye: “deplaning now.”

In the the lyric in my head, I had: “Three friends disembarking.” Disembarking! It fit the meter, though I knew, deep down in, disembarking ship term. Not a plane.

Hence,

“Three friends now deplaning”!

Perfect Morning. Now, for lunch.

I walked across the bridge to downtown Nashville and the Renaissance Nashville Hotel. Took the escalator up to the second floor, on my way to the Bistro on the third floor. Many homeless people go to their local library for internet use. I prefer to use the complimentary internet stations in deluxe hotels.

But I never got to my destination.

There was a business luncheon in the meeting room directly at the top of the first escalator. I walked over to take a peek in the open doors and a fellow came over, hand extended, and welcomed me.

Looking around, as if searching for my associates, I said, “Dan Valentine. Imperial Corps.”

He introduced himself. We shook hands, and he said, “Come join us.” He didn’t say “Howdy,” but he must have been from Texas. No one is this friendly unless they’re from Texas. He led me to his table, introduced me to his fellow execs (“Dan Valentne. Imperial Corps.,” and, well …

A Perfect Afternoon.

My brother, Jimmy, had a similar experience when he was homeless. In Amsterdam. With nowhere to sleep, he went to the Marriott there, to the second floor, and slept underneath a banquet table, covered with a large tablecloth. He awoke the next morning to the clatter of dishes and the chatter of people talking business. He crawled out from underneath and found a full breakfast buffet awaiting him atop the tab.

A perfect morning.

After lunch, I strolled across the bridge, finding a nickel in a parking lot here, a dime by Coke machine here.

On my way back to the hostel, I stopped by the Hampton Inn. Filled an inside coat pocket with a bagel or two, filled my outer coat pockets with little packets of cream-cheese spread. Just in case of a midnight-snack attack.

But, anyway, by now I’m just about strolled out.

I’m a block and so away from the hostel, standing on the street corner, waiting for the light to change across the way from a mom-and-pop shop, owned-and-run by a Pakistani family.

I see a straggly-haired, gray-bearded man in a wheelchair come wheeling furiously out of the store with a bottle of wine on his lap. The proprietor of the store comes chasing out after him. (The old man had grabbed it off the shelf and simply raced out with it.) I could see a third man standing in the dark just a few steps from the stops’ entrance, with a 2×4 held firmly in his hand, ready to club the proprietor over the head, if need be.

I shouted, “Hey!” One word.

The proprietor stopped in his tracks and looked behind him, as the old man disappeared down the street. The man, on his blindside, dropped his weapon and ran off.

The proprietor shook his head, without a thank you, and walked back inside his store.

The light changed. I continued my stroll back to the hostel.

The end of Perfect Day. With a movie ending.

I helped an old man getaway with his much needed bottle of wine; saved another man, perhaps, from being arrested for assault or murder; saved a man’s life, maybe.

What more can you ask for on a stroll through a city?

I followed him inside for my pack of cigarettes.


Dan Valentine – Parsley and Melody

May 21, 2010

By Dan Valentine

Spent last night working on a funny song about homelessness. Tentative title/hook: “Parsley Is For Eating.” My dad once said, “Humor is looking at the world upside down.” When you’re homeless, you’ve got a ringside seat.

My dad found himself homeless as a kid. During the depression, in Columbus, Ohio, he came home from school one day to find the family’s belongings on the front walk. His dad couldn’t come up with the rent.

My brother was homeless for a time. In Amsterdam. He hid what little he had behind some bushes in a park. Some nights later he went to a homeless shelter for a meal and stood behind a fellow in line wearing his clothes.

I’ve been homeless before. Years ago. For three days. In D.C. When I first joined Hatch’s staff. I had all but forgotten. You’ve time to reminisce when you’re broke.

I was staying at a very nice deluxe motel in Virginia. Pool, sauna, tennis courts, etc., till I found an apartment.

I don’t drive, never have. So, I would take a bus each morning to the nearest Metro stop, then on to the Russell Senate Building in D.C., where Hatch’s offices were.

(Lots of people have never driven. Tony Bennett has never driven, Barbara Walters has never learned to drive. Abraham Lincoln never drove. Bonnie and Clyde drove and look what happened to them. In my youth, when I asked a woman out, my line was, “You bring the wheels. I’ll furnish the entertain. But don’t honk when you pick me up. You’ll disturb the neighbors!”)

After work one night I met a young woman. Can’t remember where. Probably at a bar on the Hill. Her father was a brigadier general, head of supplies for something or other. After a short time, she invited me to move in with her. Split the rent. She had a studio apartment. Sounded good to me.

Her folks invited us to dinner. Her dad wanted to meet me. They lived in Virginia somewhere. Her car just happened to have been towed away that day at an expired meter so we rented one.

We drove to Virginia, had dinner, cocktails. A nice time. Afterward, he followed us outside to the rented car. She got behind the wheel. And he waved us goodbye.

The next day, after work, she told me her dad thought I was gay.

Gay?! “How come?”

“You don’t drive.” Funny. Strange.

A couple of nights later, in her apartment, we’re awakened by fierce pounding on the front door. Bang, bang, bang. “Melody! Melody!” That was her name. “Let me in. I know you’re in there with someone.” Bang, bang, bang.

She whispered, “Don’t say a word. It’s my ex.”

“Come on, Melody, open up.” Bang, bang, bang.

“He said he’d kill any man who even looked at me.”

That’s nice to know.

He banged and banged! Finally, after a long time, he stopped.

I went to work the next day, came home afterward, put the key in the lock, opened the door, and there he was–his name was Rodney–in bed with Melody! I backed out the door, went outside, walked down the block, smoked half a pack of cigarettes. For such times, cigarettes were created.

When I returned, Rodney was gone. And Melody said, “Rodney wants you outta here. Pronto.” She may not have said pronto.

I said, “Fine with me,” and went to pack my things. And she said, “Oh, no! Not until you pay your half the rent.” Huh? No way. I went to pack my things–I had a couple of suitcases in the closet–and she grabbed a large butcher knife from the kitchen and blocked my path, waving the blade.

I said, “Okay, calm down. You’ve got my things. You’ve got my things!” For the time being. And I went on my way. Homeless.

I walked up to the Russell Senate Office Building and slept on a couch in the conference room. Three nights I slept there. One morning, early, Hatch opened the door, saw me half asleep on the couch, and softly closed the door. He must have thought I’d been up all night working on an upcoming speech.

Finally, after three days, in the same suit, I told Paul Smith, my good friend to this day and Hatch’s press secretary at the time, my plight. He called Tom Perry, can’t remember his title. But Hatch’s second or third man. I recently heard he had died. He was young. The best die young, as as they.

I told him my story and he said. “We can get her arrested for attempted assault with a deadly weapon. Her father’s a brigadier general? We can put pressure on her dad. Have you any papers of the Senator’s in your bag?”

“Maybe a notebook, with an idea or two for a speech.”

He said, “We’ll send federal marshals to get your things.”

I told him, “Let me try on my own one more time.”

I called Melody and told her about the federal marshals, and she said, “Come pick up your things. They’ll be in the hallway.”

Paul gave me a ride. We picked up my stuff, and he took me in for a week or so till I got my own place. A studio apartment in D.C.

Funny/sad, I ran into Melody a few weeks or months later in a bar. On M Street. I just happened to sit down on a bar stool a couple of seats down from where she was sitting, alone, having a drink.

We didn’t speak. I had one drink, knocked it back, and paid my tab with a newly acquired Gold American Express Card.

As I was leaving, she said, “My new boyfriend has a Platinum Card.”

Melody. Nice name.


Dan Valentine – Back to Nashville

May 20, 2010

By Dan Valentine

Back to Nashville and my first night homeless. I’ve got four hours to kill until the doors of Operation Stand Down open.

Lots of time on my hands. What to do? I pace up and down. I stomp my feet. It’s cold. I mean, COLD! My clothes are sopping wet from the sleet and the cop-escorted stroll. The wind is blowing. I watch an empty beer can chase a skittering Big Mac wrapper across the empty parking lot. A lone bird flies by in the night. The cop car cruises by, oh, so slowly ever so often. Just checking. I pace up and down. I stomp my feet. I curse under my breath. Sheeeesch! Fcccccccck! Criss’almighty! I’m chilled to the bone.

I think about my beloved bestest friend in the entire universe.

She’d been homeless!! In New York. Rode the subway nights. When I met her, in D.C., she was staying with a friend from Florida. They’d attended the University of Florida together. She had no hair! Shaved bald as a billiard ball, as they say. Punk as they get. Tough cookie! But beautiful!

In New York, she got by working “shit jobs”. Her words. One was dressing up as a clown and handing out brochures for some coming attraction. A soon-to-be circus in town. Can’t remember.

At one job, at closing, the manager, a male, said he’d give her a ride home. He drove to an isolated, abandoned strip mall, ill-lit, parked the car. Scary stuff. She took out a knife and started slashing the interior. Overhead, seats, door paneling. He fumbled his way out of the car and ran for his life. Very lucky guy! She’s a tough cookie. A patrol car finally came along and the officer gave her a ride home.

We hit it off from the beginning. I made her laugh. She made me smile.

She moved in with me. I had just bought a condominium in Alexandria, VA. One bedroom. I was working for Hatch. Over time, her hair grew. My dad would have loved her. She resembled Marilyn Monroe. Everyone thought so. Friends called her Norma Jean. In D.C., there’s a tall brick building with a huge mural of Marilyn painted on. We caught a cab once. The driver passed by it and pointed it out to her. “Look. Look. That’s you. That’s you.”

My mom met her a few years later at a Thai Restaurant. My friend ordered for us. My mom and I didn’t touch a bite. We had never had Thai food before. Now, I can’t live without it.

After meeting her, I asked my mom what she thought of her. She said, “She’s perfect!”

I said, “She’s the most beautiful woman in D.C.” And she was.

My mom agreed. “I studied her every feature,” but added, “She’s more than beautiful. She’s nice.”

And that she is. She gave me my moral compass. I didn’t have one before I met her. She opened my eyes. She gave me my love for dogs. I’m a vegetarian now (when I’m not desperately hungry). She gave me my present political and religious views. She believes if this is it–life, that is (and that could very well be!)–we have to help each other get through it.

She spends much of her time saving bugs from drowning in our pool.

We’ve seen much of the world together. After D.C., we moved to Tribeca in lower Manhattan. (The Twin Towers were only a stone’s throw away.) We’ve traveled together to Amsterdam (many times), Paris, Nice (where she sunbathed topless), Cologne, Monte Carlo.

Here in the U.S.: New Orleans, Minneapolis, Des Moines, the list goes on and on.

Once, we drove from Iowa City to Oxford, Ms., to New Orleans to Biloxi to Mobile to Tampa. In between, in the middle of the night, semi-lost and famished, we stopped at a little backwoods market, at the end of a dark swamp road in northern Florida. The place was run by two very old women. Scary-looking, a tooth or two missing. The walls were plastered with photos, magazine covers, newspaper clippings, and movie posters of Johnny Depp. We picked up a couple of sodas and sandwiches, something for the dogs (we had three then), and went to the register and one or the other said, very slowly: “Do. You. Like. Johnny. Depp?”

Both of us looked at each and we were both thinking the same thought: Gawd, are we in trouble! Wrong answer and we could end up at the bottom of the swamp. What to reply? We were thinking of the dogs. We didn’t want them to end up sandwich meat.

We told the truth. “We love Johnny Depp.” She smiled, pleased, and we went on our way.

We’ve separated from time to time, to do what one or the other has to do. She went back to school in Florida. Got her masters in philosophy. Got accepted to a top-ten university in the mid-west. Got her Ph.d. (Her thesis was picked up by a publisher and has since been translated into German.) She speaks Latin. She’s a member of Mensa. She wants to swim the English Channel. She swims daily four hours day, without stopping.

I could go on and on.

Looking back, the only truly good thing I did when I had lots of money was help her to get her degree, and then only a tiny bit.

Standing at the entrance way of Operation Stand Down, freezing, lonely as hell, scared half to death, shaking, I thought of my friend. And I wrote. Words to a tune in my head. A song.

Most or all lyrics by themselves without music read flat. But here goes anyway:

WARM ALONE
(c) 2009 by Daniel Valentine

When clouds, amassing, grumble and groan
And drench, in passing, the cobblestone–
Dripping head to toe,
And with blocks to go,
Thoughts of you as buckets fall
Warm body, heart, mind, soul, and all
With what I call
A WARM ALONE.

When winds, mos’ bitter, whistle and moan
And leaves and litter are tossed and blown–
Looking up to see
Birds on wire flee,
Thoughts of you as gales brawl
Warm body, heart, mind, soul, and all
With what I call
A WARM ALONE.

Whenever the weather is stormy,
Thoughts of you seem to warm me.

Tho’ it has been a while or so
Since I saw you last,
Thoughts of you bring a smile, a glow;
And the spell you cast–
Call it whatever you will–
Warms me as if it is still July
And you are here close nearby.

When lines are down, both power and phone,
With folk and town both chilled to the bone–
Huddled by a door
Of a vacant store,
Thoughts of you–snow, sleet, or squall–
Warm body, heart, mind, soul, and all
With what I call
A WARM ALONE.

A little before seven in the morning, veterans began appearing. An older gent in a wheelchair. Another with a limp. Young, old, and in between. All in great need of help. A counselor with a key opened the door. We all walked inside. Coffee!

Editor’s note:  I’m running behind in getting Dan’s stuff moved from comments to posts.  I’ll catch up soon.  Read ’em where you find ’em.


Dan Valentine – Salt Lake City

May 16, 2010

By Dan Valentine

No tale of trial and tribulation today.

These past many years, I’ve been writing lyrics, a trunk full, concentrating on what they call “money” songs–holiday songs, city songs. One hit Christmas song and you can retire for life, or so they say; same goes for a hit New York or San Francisco song.

There are only a handful of Salt Lake songs. John Lange, the father of Hope Lange, the actress, wrote one: “I Lost My Sugar in Salt Lake City.” Johnny Mercer recorded it and made it a hit for a time. The Beach Boys had a hit with “Salt Lake City.”  And that’s about it.

They say write what you know about. So, here goes. I wrote it pacing up and down Jamaica Beach, TX. I had the series “Big Love” in mind.

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH!
(c) 2010 by Daniel Valentine

Salt Lake City! SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH!
As nice a town as any ever you saw …
Lovers zig-zag down the slopes and embrace.
I put my bag down and said, “This is the place!”

Salt lake City! SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH!
I found the sweetest angel ever you saw.
When I walked by ‘er, she smiled and I swear
Hymns from a choir singin’ filled the town square.

Lost my last buck
Shootin’ craps in Las Vegas.
Thought I’d run plumb outta luck,
But I rolled a seven
When I hitched a ride
To a suburb of heaven.

Salt Lake City! SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH!
Of all the happy fellas ever you saw,
Sisters and brothers, I’m lovin’ my life,
Tho’ unlike others I’ve got only one wife.

Lost my last buck
Shootin’ craps in Las Vegas.
Thought I’d run plump outta luck,
But I rolled a seven
When I hitched a ride
To a suburb of heaven.

Salt Lake City! SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH!


Dan Valentine – The Law

May 16, 2010

By Dan Valentine

Where was I? Oh yes, the law!

I came to Nashville with a trunk full of songs–just like in the movies–plus a screenplay, a short story or two, and some summer clothes. And my resume.

I was staying at the Music City Hostel. Free waffles and coffee. $600 a month! Not bad! Embassy Suites is some $150 a night, if you’re lucky. I know. I stayed there my first night in Austin. Free breakfast, free cocktails at night, well, y’know …

Back to Nashville.

A few days before running out of money, I read a story in the local paper about an organization called Operation Stand Down, a group that looks out for honorably discharged veterans in need–in particular, those homeless or about to be.

I looked up the address and walked to their headquarters, several miles away, and was greeted with open arms, as is every vet in need.

Earlier in the day, I had asked the owner of the hostel if he could store my suitcase for me for a time. He said sure, but only for three months. That was nine months ago. I’m afraid to inquire about it.

Back to Operation Stand Down.

I told a counselor my story: onetime daily humor columnist, former special assistant to a US Senator, onetime member of the BMI Musical Theatre workship in New York, etc.

We hit it off and he offered me a bed in his home until his wife returned. She was out of town visiting relatives or friends. I stayed three nights. In a bed in a room of my own! It had been awhile. (At the hostel I was sleeping in a bunk bed–the top berth is murder to get into when you’re over 60–in a room with several others.) Then his wife called, said she was returning early. She was just a few hundred miles away, in fact.

He let me off in the parking lot of Operation Stand Down, giving me some survival pointers, one being: “Don’t go to the Mission.” (A refuge for homeless to sleep the night and get a meal.) “You’re not ready.”

I walked down to Vanderbilt University, spent the day in a bookstore reading a hefty Stephen King novel. I had the time.

That night, now homeless and penniless, I stayed up all night in the cafeteria of Vanderbilt Hospital, writing.

Second day, back to Stephen King.

Second night I returned to Vanderbilt Hospital and the cafeteria, writing, where a cop asked me why I was there. I told him my wife’s grandfather was in surgery.

Third day. The book store and Stephen King. Then back Vanderbilt Hospital. I hadn’t slept now going-on three days. I was exhausted. I went outside and found a fairly hidden place in the bushes, took my sport coat off, laid it on the ground, and tried to sleep. Impossible. The spot I had picked was right where the medical helos were landing and taking off. What a nightmare–soundtrack straight from a Vietnam flick.

I donned my coat and returned to Vanderbilt Hospital, roamed the halls, found the cancer ward. There were chairs and couches with some thirty people sleeping and waiting for the outcome of a loved one’s operation or something.

I found an empty chair, took my sport coat off for a blanket, and went fast to sleep.

Cut to close-up of boot nudging me awake. I opened my eyes to find three cops staring down at me, one in riot gear–helmet, billy club, gun in holster, etc. (in case of a terrorist attack, I guess.)

I sat up and said, “I’m-a-Vietnam-vet-I-have-two cents-to-my-name-I-haven’t-slept-in-two-days-I-haven’t-eaten-in-three.” (That last was a lie. I’d had more than my share of complimentary oranges at the downtown Marriott.)

What gave me away? I had forgotten to brush the leaves off the back of my coat, I was that tired, and someone doing his/her civic duty must have called the cops.

I was led downstairs and interrogated. One of them was the guy I had lied to the night before. A nice guy, he didn’t take offense. Finally, after an hour or so, they said they’d drive me to the Mission. I said, “I’m not going to the Mission. I was told not to go the Mission.”

It was three in the morning now. To make matters worse, it had started snowing. Cold as hell outside.

I mentioned Operation Stand Down and said I’d go there, and off I went into the night, in the freezing cold, snow coming down. A cop car followed closely behind, making sure I went to where I said I was going.

I stood in front of the entrance of Operation Stand Down for some four hours, in the freezing sleet and cold. I can’t remember being so cold. Every once in awhile the cop car would drive by, checking on me.

Welcome to Nashville. Welcome to the real world, as they say!


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