Here is the long-awaited (dreaded?) second installment of “What Do My Hands Remember.”
Thanks again to writer friend Luis for the inspiring writing prompt!
Sliding the T-control of My Craig® Cassette Player
My hands have one more memory of technology, one which is now unknown to many. My first cassette player. Also bought with my allowance. Also bought at the Navy Exchange. Also mono. It was a Craig player, the kind with that T-control (down for ‘play,’ left for ‘rewind,’ right for ‘fast forward.’ Click, click, click. Oh, my hands remember that. It also came with an earphone (singular). And my first cassette tape was the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, where they all… we all used to live.
And the band began to play…
Spinning a Master Lock on My Locker
About the same time in my life, my hands spent a lot of time spinning the dial of Master locks. Gym locker before gym, after gym, after shower… hall locker how many times a day. Spinning it round, back, and around again. Hearing, no feeling the subtle clicks, imagining myself to be icy cool Ilya Kurakin or the suave Alexander Mundy in It Takes A Thief. On through high school and even in P.E. at Mesa College, spinning those Master locks. My hands remember trying to take a Master lock apart once. Hours in the garage with my dad’s huge vise and tools ranging from sledge hammers to pry bars. Everything but a jack hammer, which is what I really needed. Wham! Bam! And the occasional @#%@&@!!!, my mouth showing solidarity with my hands when I’d miss and hit them with some steel weapon of digital destruction. It was okay, since my mom was far away, in the house. But alas. I never managed to get that sucker apart. Better built than even a Tonka truck. I was impressed. My hands were disappointed.
Sliding on Piano Keys, Slowly, Learning Blues
After nearly 8 years of playing Beethoven, Hayden and Fanny Crosby, my hands remember the summer of 69 (why is it always summers in these memory and movie titles?) My friend Rick Bundschuh explained to me the chord progressions of 12-Bar Blues, the foundation of most rock ‘n roll. “C, F and G, man. That’s it.” I was awestruck. Was it that simple? Yes, it was. Was it just that easy to just start jamming on it? Nope. My hands remember explaining to my heart that it would take them a while. A thing called practice was required. So instead of “C, F and G,” it was more like “C….. uh….. Fff….. hmmm… uh… G…..” I had done mostly sight reading of notated music. I knew some chords and my hands could play the arpeggios, but blues riffs, that was another story. My hands remember slowly working up and down the keyboard, hitting C then sliding off E flat onto E to get that bluesy mode. Over and over. Slowly at first. Then a little faster. Of course, I was lazy and worked mostly on the key of C, but I mastered it. A little more clumsy in other keys, but in C, my hands could shred. Still can. They remember, but in this case, they still love to play. Ask them sometime.
My hands just reminded me to tell you about the time Greg Gobrecht and I went to Mr. G’s Pizza in Pacific Beach after church. They remember holding the warm, greasy slices of cheap pepperoni pizza, but that’s not the story. On the way home, we saw a Model T (or model some letter… it was a really, really old car, okay?) Then another one, then another. Soon we realized that dozens of them were parking by this one house and everyone was going in. So we followed the crowd. Everyone thought we were someone else’s teenaged sons, I think. The home owner had just bought a new antique car (that sounds like an oxymoron) and we all looked at it. Oooh, my hands itched to touch that car, but I said no. But we hung out for a while. Greg and I even kicked the tires and bantered with some friendly folks. Then we went inside and ate the food that was spread out for the antique car club. Yeah, sure, we’d just had pizza, but we were 15. No such thing as being full at that age. That was, like, twenty minutes ago, man! Then I sat down and jammed on the piano. My hands remember that. Showing off. Enjoying the feel of the keys, as they always do. About the time some people were seeming to be whispering about us, wondering who the heck we might be, Greg and I moseyed off. We had to get back for evening church, you know.
Stick Shift on My Mom’s Mazda…
Every teenage boy’s hands remember cars. Gripping the steering wheel. Roaring down the road with that sense of power and independence. I learned to drive in our 1964 silver blue Chevy Impala. It was a huge car with a V-8. Boy, could that car accelerate. My mom taught me to drive, since my dad died when I was 15. That Chevy was big, but it was easy to drive. It was an automatic. Then, just before I was due to take my test at the DMV, my mom sold the Chevy and bought a new car. I was so bummed. The new car was a stick shift, so I had to delay taking my test until I mastered that. My hands remember so well grasping the cool round knob of the shifter. Race car driver fantasies began to play in my mind. After learning to shift smoothly, I got my license. I could drive. Like a maniac. 115 mph sideways, steering crossed up as we slid around the 805 North-52 West interchange. Oooh, my hands remember gripping the wheel and making the fine adjustments in steering that kept us all in this world, postponing our death. My ears remember the screams of the two girls in the car who felt they were too young to die. They didn’t trust my hands. Hmmph. My hands still remember being offended.
Backtracking, my hands remember the first night “with the keys.” Driving without Mom. I had the car, baby. I picked up some friends and we drove around. Back in Clairemont, some junior high punk was holding this bit of fireworks. It was spitting and spewing red-hot embers in all directions, some going into the window of the car. My first night with the Mazda and I’m gonna take it home with burn marks inside? My mind blanked out as I raged with fury. My hands remember grabbing that kid’s shirt and slamming him to the ground. They would have the memory of pounding his face, but Vic and Jimbo stopped me. My anger passed in a moment. Just a brief, mindless, solar flare. I was not normally a violent guy. But my hands remember that night.
Pulling Back My Pony Tail and Tying It
In those mid teenage years, my hands remember the feel of hair. Long, thick, wavy hair. Gimme down to there (hair!) Shoulder length or longer. Oh yeah. Halfway down my back, actually. My hands remember pulling it back and securing the pony tail with those color-coated elastic hair ties. Then tying it again. And again. Even though it was long, my hair was as rebellious as I was in those days. It was so thick that one single hair tie at the base of my skull would leave a fuzzed-out unruly ball of frizz below it. So I had to bind it every few inches. A Barbie ponytail, my wife-to-be later called it. My hands remember that hair and miss it. I do, too.
Setting a Tone Arm Down on a Record Album
If your hands remember this, you must be old. Or very very retro. Holding the cool plastic of the tone arm on a record player and setting it every-so-gently down into a particular groove on the vinyl LP. Your whole being waiting for that hiss and pop, followed by raw analog music. Once again, the hands leading the way into another world.
Petting Butch’s Ears, Alone and Pensive
My dad died when I was 15. He was only 54. No one seemed to notice, but this destroyed my life. Soon afterward, my married sister scored a German Shepherd puppy for me. I named him Butch. He was beautiful and intelligent and is worth his own whole book. My hands remember petting him, mostly rubbing his velvety ears between my fingers like a baby fondles the satin edge of a blanket for comfort. I’d sit on the back porch for hours every day, petting those ears, my mind either blank or full of swirling, soundless images of rain clouds and dust storms. Petting those ears. Holding onto that dog so I wouldn’t get washed out to sea and drown.
Feel of Rolling Papers and Other Vices
Hands remember. And they lead the way, for good or bad. “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy.” And my hand remember with shame how they cooperated with him and helped to push me toward destruction. The rough feel of parchment-like paper might be the fingertip memory of a scholar, some guy with a PhD in Semitic languages, allowed to sift through the Dead Sea Scrolls to let the world know the very words of God. My hands, however, remember rolling papers. Zig-Zags. The closest thing to academic papyrus my hands ever knew. After a while, Butch’s ears weren’t enough, I guess. My dad had died and I slipped in a dark jungle of despair and misdirected mourning for two years. So my hands remember rolling joint after joint by hand and in rolling machines. Slipping my fingers down into a one-ounce lid of pot to fluff up the chopped leaves, stems and buds, feeling so close to nature. They remember the gelatinous surface of barbiturate capsules as they stuck to each other. Red, blue, yellow and every combination. Anything so colorful and cheerful can’t be bad, right? The cold glass of countless Bud bottles with condensation, or 16-ounce tall cans. Pull tops. Square pints of Jack Daniel’s Old Number 7. The thick, almost cardboardy feel of windowpane acid as my hands cut it up to sell. Clutching the limp, greasy dollars bills I received in return. The searing, almost-gotta-drop-it heat of a joint as I took that last resin-rich puff on a night when no one had remembered to bring a roach clip. No one should have to remember those things. But those are what my hands remember, now matter how much I tell them to forget. Thankfully, God pulled me out of that past when I was right at the brink. It’s pleasantly ironic (and I’m so blessed) that now I spend my days translating those words of God. My hands now also love to hold his word and flip the pages. Never have touched papyrus, though.
Holding the Marksman® BB pistol
I went to Campus Life’s Haunted House dressed as a gangster (not gangstah, folks). We were the protestant mafia. Blue felt fedora hat, suit coat, and, as my hands remember so well, the cold steel of a Marksman BB pistol which looked exactly like a 45 caliber automatic. Amazingly realistic. Frighteningly so to the ticket girl. My suave, calm, and extremely foolish hands pulled out the gun and pointed it at the girl. “Dis is moy ticket!” I proudly exclaimed. She shook and turned white and looked faint. When I realized how scared she was, my hands put the gun away, but only after waving it around while I said, “It’s just a BB gun. Part of my costume.” She nodded. She breathed rapidly. She forced a smile. She took my real ticket. Then she notified security the moment I passed by. “FREEZE!!” My hands remember the feel of the pickup truck roof as I was slammed against it by the California Highway Patrol a few minutes later, real guns clicking behind me while my pockets were emptied. “It’s just a #%@*%&!! BB gun, Sarge.” But still a possible assault with a deadly weapon charge, I was told. My hands remember shaking as the cool gangster’s fate was decided by several very angry CHPs. They remember driving home in the Mazda. But the never got to hold that Marksman again. I bet the cop’s kid got it.
That Last Cigarette Leaving My Hand as I Tossed It, Free at Last
After several years of substance abuse and other slowly suicidal nonsense, my life got turned around. By God’s grace. My hands remember tossing that last burning cigarette into the neighbor’s ice plant as I walked home, each step more rapid than the last. A few strides later, they remember tossing the final “after-dinner-I-quit” Winston Super King into the gutter when I decided, “Why wait? Why one more?” For a year or two after quitting, my fingers remember rubbing pencils between my index and middle fingers. Those nerves couldn’t stand not feeling something there. It took a while, but thankfully, my hands forgot that need.
My Suede Bible Cover, Listening to Pastor Von
My hands remember the smooth, slightly fuzzy suede of my Bible cover as I sat listening to Pastor Von. They remember making that cover and dozens of others, which I sold to friends. Bible covers. Cutting, folding, punching, sewing stitched or laced borders on some. (No, not girly lace and frills… rawhide. Tough, manly lace.) And suede Bible pouches you put on your belt. They had Neil Young fringe, baby. Buffalo Springfield for Jesus Freaks. My fingers also remember braiding heavy latigo leather belts with two large brass rings instead of buckles. I worked with my friend Vic Harris during our free hours at Hume Lake camp, then selling them to campers. Better quality than the ones unskilled campers made on their own during craft time… and we undersold the camp. Christian Gangsters. The Protestant Mafia is taking over d’market, see?
The Dry Grit of Mexican Hillside Orphanages
Dry, fine, gritty, reddish-brown dust. The soil from which the life of Tijuana springs. In your clothes (whack ‘em and see the clouds), in your hair (shower water runs off, repelled like rain on duck feathers), and of course, on your hands (just try to brush it off.) Not digging in the dirt? No matter. Everything you touch is dusty and will gladly share some dust with you. It’s in your food. It’s in the air. And yes, now it’s in your lungs. Wash your hands in the sparse water of the hillside Rose Park orphanage. Go ahead. Your hands will be dusty again in moments. My hands remember that feeling. Dusty. Unless it’s mud season. And well, they remember that, too.
Holding Street Tacos in Tijuana
The warm, soft, pliable feel of a Tijuana street taco. Of several tacos. Eight tacos, ten… as many as a sixteen year-old boy can eat. Mmmm, tacos. Fresh, mini corn tortillas wrapped around lean meat of indeterminate speciation, onions, cilantro and salsa known to cause spontaneous combustion. My hands remember those tacos and miss them. Like loved ones lost to another time and place, but which live on in the heart, and in the memories of hungry hands.
Holding Donna’s Hand in the Movie
First date, first touch, first love. Oh, my hands remember. Sitting in the old Grossmont Theater watching Airport 75 in November 1974. First date with Donna. First date period. My hands wanting to hold hers, even a touch. But the person to which my hands were attached didn’t have the nerve. A week or so later, on our third date (and my hands remember watching Billy Jack’s lightning-fast hands on the screen), my hands remember so well slipping one of mine over one of Donna’s in the darkness of that Mission Valley theater. I’ve since learned that she put her hand in position to make it easier. (“Come on, Bill, make your move!”) It worked. Of course, you can’t hold hands 24/7, so my hand has let go of hers from time to time since that night, but my heart never has, and our lives remain as happily entwined as our fingers on that movie armrest.
Piano for Donna After Our Fourth Date
My hands and the piano. Nothing new. But playing for the girl I was falling for after dinner on our fourth date, now that was special. My hands remember playing Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique (remember I started classical… rock and blues was an add-on). During the second movement, she thought, “If I marry this guy, that will be our wedding march.” And she did, and it was.
Donna’s Cat Sam, the First Cat I Ever Touched
My hands remember a lot of firsts, and so many different textures. Cat fur. So warm and soft. I had to wait until I was 19 to feel it. Our family didn’t have cats and I was a cat-bigot. Hated them. I was a dog man (if you call a 19 year-old a man). But this girl I was falling in love with was a cat person. Her elegant, black, part-siamese cat was a well-bred lady of style named Samantha Ann (or Sam, for short). Donna’s cat since 6th grade. First of all, I realized that it was “love the cat or lose the girl,” and I was willing. But Sam, being a cat, knew that I hated cats and so spent all her time jumping on my lap, lying on my jacket, looking in my eyes and asking my hands for pets and affection. She knew. She dared me to refuse to touch her, to refuse to fall for her, to refuse and risk everything. So my hands petted a cat at last. Wasn’t so bad. Like most biases, my cat hatred wasn’t based on facts. Now I love kitties. I’m cat-crazy. Just ask my kids. Kids? Yeah, but wait, that’s getting ahead of the story…
Playing Piano at My Own Wedding
I was the guy Donna married and the second movement of Sonata Pathetique was indeed our wedding march. Well, all but the one fast part that sounds like the groom is being chased round and round the church in a shotgun wedding. And my hands remember that wedding march because I played it myself. No one else we know could do it. Even our organist couldn’t. So I did. For a moment it looked like she was going to marry Gregg Wilson, my best man. But a moment later, as my hands recall, I walked over from the piano and took her hands in mine and this 34-year adventure began.
Taking Donna’s Hand to Walk Back Down the Aisle
Weddings are such a cornucopia of memories. My ears remember being full of nervous sweat. My eyes remember seeing Gregg quickly toss the ring pillow into the choir loft after the sleepy young ring bearer abandoned his post and went to doze on his mommy’s lap. But what my hands remember is slipping that ring on Donna’s finger and her slipping one on mine and then grabbing her hand, the hand of my wife of 30 seconds and walking back down the aisle as Mr. and Mrs. Our hands have been hanging out together every since.