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 – Moses parts the Red Sea, in Nashville

May 29, 2010

By Dan Valentine

Back to Nashville again and my one-night stand. (Never been fond of one-night stands. Who can stand that long?)

The doors of Operation Stand Down opened up. I had an MCI calling card on me with a few remaining minutes on it, in case an emergency should arise. Standing at a pay phone, I called my sister, Valerie, in France. Told her my predicament.

“Broke!!! Danny, how can you be broke?”

“I only have a few minutes on my card, Val.”

“Homeless! Danny, how did you become homeless!”

“Val, you’re using up my few remaining minutes.”

“Nashville! What are you doing in Nashville?”

(To be fair to my sister, I had said almost the very same things to my brother, Jimmy, when he was in need. If you’ve never been homeless, you don’t have a clue.)

“Money?!” she said. “I don’t have any.”

That was news to me. Last I heard she was a millionaire. Just like I once was. Well, stuff happens, as they say.

“Just $600! For the hostel here. For a month’s stay.”

Well, to make a long, minute-munching call short, she said she’d see what she could do.

Tossing my card in the nearest trash–no remaining minutes left–I made my way to the hostel where I had stayed for a month before going bust. I told Ron, the owner, my plight. Told him my sister was sending money. He offered me board and breakfast in exchange for helping out at the hostel.

That morning I had waffles with Nutella. Most enjoyable, to say the least.

I had a Net 10 cell phone, with minutes on it. Not usable for calls overseas. I phoned an old friend from my New York days. Don’t ask me why.

“Danny!!!” She was happy to hear from me. She is a composer. Very talented. She’s a graduate from the Manhattan School of Music. We were teamed together at the BMI Musical Workshop. We collaborated on what I think are some very good songs. Only one prob: She’s a multiple. Besides her wonderful, talented self, she has some six different, distinct personalities. Each with her/his own, individual name. Of course!

And only one writes music!

One personality acts as protector, one is an elderly woman, one is a little boy, one manages all the others. The last, a very important role–time-consuming!

Not to disturb anyone, I walked from the hostel, cell in hand, to the end of the block, telling her my plight of the last few nights, when suddenly a “crazy black man”, brandishing a baseball bat in his fist, came storming out of the bushes, screaming obscenities and more at me. My talking must have disturbed his sleep–what little sleep a homeless person gets. I could sympathize.

He was in attack mode. I backed away, told my former New York partner what was happening. She could hear him screaming at me. “Gotta go,” I said. “Call you right back.”

He chased me to the edge of the hostel grounds. Like a fool, I screamed, “Help, police! Someone call the police!”

A couple came out of one of the dorms. Saw me. Saw him. Stepped back inside.

Lesson learned: Never shout Police! Shout Fire!

Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the enraged man shouted one or two more remaining things on his mind and walked down the street, out of view, with his bat.

Whew! Close call! I phoned my friend back. And she (the protector, the manager, pick one from a hat) said, “I’m sorry, Danny, but I can’t take the stress!”

She can’t take the stress?!!

“I’m at a very sensitive time in my life.”

So is I!!, to coin a phrase.

“I’d prefer it if you wouldn’t call. Take care, Danny.” Don’t take any wooden nickels.

Click.

A couple of days later I’m walking down a busy street in Nashville, close by Vanderbilt University, when I hear a booming voice in back of me. “Mutherf**kers, clear the way. I’m comin’ through.”

I recognized the voice immediately. It was him! Baseball bat in hand.

He walked by, not knowing me from Adam. Just another white man in a sea of white faces. The enemy. All of us, a major threat. One call on a cell and he could be arrested. For what? Pick a charge out of a white cop’s helmet. Whites are given warnings. I was. Black men are rounded up, locked up, and the key thrown away. It happens! That little bit of knowledge alone can make you crazy.

I watched him walk down the street, head held high, shoulders back, baseball bat in hand. Proud. Bottom of the ninth. Team down four-zip. Bases loaded. Two outs.

Without hesitation, all along the boulevard, couples window-shopping; coeds on their way to class (on their cells, tweeting, of course); businessmen and women scurrying to luncheons; camera-toting tourists, with sites to pose in front; they all cleared a wide, wide path for him.

Moses, baseball bat in hand, parting the Red Sea.

And I like to think: It gave him great joy!


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 – 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!


Dan Valentine, just rambling

May 14, 2010

Ever so often my dad would write a column tagged “JUST RAMBLING”, bits and pieces of off-beat facts and observations and tidbits, a little this, a little that …

Hence, today, “JUST RAMBLING:

To save money, when I had a little, I had a routine in Nashville. I would walk downtown to the Marriott, pour myself a free cup of hospitality coffee, and put a free hospitality orange or two in my pocket.

One morning I’m standing on a corner by the Marriott, peeling an orange, in my own little world (my friend calls me The Man Who Isn’t There; inside my head I’m always writing), when it dons on me that the street is jam-packed with bystanders gathered around watching a bench being hosed down.

I asked a cop what was up, and he told me somebody had put a couple of bullets into the body of a homeless man sleeping there.

Whaaaat?!!

A few days later a homeless man sleeping in a dumpster was found burned alive. Someone or three had poured kerosene on him and lite a match.

I googled “homeless” “murders” a couple of months ago and found a website–can’t remember what it’s called–listing murder after murder, day after day, of homeless people all over the country. With pics! It doesn’t make the nightly news. Cable is all commentary now, little news. They don’t want to upset the viewing public, I guess …

When I was in Austin, there was a story in the local paper about the many people who would back up their pick-ups and dump their trash into Lake Lady Bird.

I don’t get it.

I stayed a month in Jamaica Beach, down the road from Galveston, by a canal. I’d be sitting on the porch and every so often someone in a pick-up would back up and–you guessed it–dump his/her trash into the canal.

I don’t get it.

In Nashville, this past September, when classes first started at Vanderbilt, I’m walking down the street and a young college kid with a beer in his hand, chugs the contents and tosses the empty on the sidewalk before walking into a bar. He was two feet from the door. He could have just as easily put it in the trash inside.

I don’t get it.

But bless their kind!

The first day I was homeless, I’m walking down the street in front of Embassy Suites when I happened to look down and see a discarded room key-card on the ground.

Thank you, thank you. Bless you, bless you.

From that moment on, I ate very well. Eggs and ham and bacon, hash browns, coffee and cream, orange and tomato juice, fresh fruit …

At night I would go to the free cocktail hour for a couple of V.O.’s-and-water. The first few days the bartender on duty would ask me if I was a guest and I’d show my key-card. But, after a week or two, the bartenders simply poured me drinks.

Funny. It’s a cognitive thing. The more they saw me, the more important and successful th thought I was. Only a big music exec with a large expense account could afford to stay at Embassy Suites that long.

I was dressed well. A blue sport coat, pressed shirt and slacks, polished shoes, neatly-trimmed hair.

Then reality sets in. The shoes start to show their wear and tear. Your shirt and pants begin to wrinkle. Your hair grows and starts to look unkept, and, well …

To be continued.

Tomorrow, the night I was awakened by the police, hands on holsters …


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