My walking stick
A Visitation predicted
by charged stained glass reflection on wall
a few days earlier:
On Thursday June 22 we were paid a visit
by old friend from Albany CA , John Guardalabene
or as SRN readers are more used to hearing him referred to,
Meeting in the early 1970s as recruits into the fleet
of Boynton Yellow Cabs, Edison St., Milwaukee, we as as incoming trainees
we came to know early that there was something about our random intersection
that would have meaning and last.
And last it has. We have stayed in regular touch with each other, though
our lives would take us far apart and in vastly different directions.
206 went on to making a PBS documentary on the Dolpos tribe
in high altitude Tibet near the China border.
He was taking a job as a cabdriver to raise money for the
project, which was successfully done.
Barley field, Dolpos, insular high mountain society
Subsequently 206 got a law degree and a master of fine arts.
He married Toni, shown below trying out a Vulcan Weathervanes
cosmic radio of long ago design and fabrication.
John and Toni were in WI this week to help resolve
some family matters and he blocked enough time
in a busy schedule to come to South Street - under intense
construction obstacles at present - and find his way to our door.
It had been many years since we laid eyes on each other.
I was honored that the Sixian took the time to seek me out,
yet somehow not surprised for our deep friendship has survived.
206 and this former cabdriver were the players in the SRN drama
of the story of Gertie, the discoverer of the folding dollar bill in the
phone coin return.
Friday, January 11, 2008
In the 70's I drove a Yellow cab. At that time, my cab number was 202, and my best friend was driving 206. He and I often met for breakfast in a small cafe on East Ogden street. There was a regular customer who frequented the restaurant named Gertie. We never found out much about her, but we thought she was from the neighborhood, maybe from a walk-up apartment above one of the stores lining the block.
Gertie was chubby, elderly, and always wore non-descript clothes; house dresses, with a cotton apron tied around her. She had a great habit of always checking the pay phone for coins. She did this every time we were in there. 206 and I would see her coming through the plate glass window and know her first move on entering the cafe would be to root around in the coin return slot, for luck. Expressionless. Perfunctory follow-through before taking a stool at the counter.
One day 206 and I had the idea of sticking a whole dollar bill in the coin slot for Gertie to find. We did it like casting a fat worm into a pond. Having lined the phone with a buck we waited for Gertie. Show she did, and went right over, per her custom, to stick a finger in the phone.
Gertie wasn't playing with a full deck, and was obviously not well-off. This dollar would be seen by her as a pot of gold bullion at the end of her rainbow, while to us well-off, tip-earning cabdrivers, it was nothing.
We sat at the counter in our usual places and watched Gertie in the mirror behind the counter as she plumbed the phone. The look on her face I'll never forget, and I know 206 won't, either, because we still reminisce about it.
We talk on the phone, he from CA and me from WI, often. 206 was driving cab to save money to go back to Nepal to make a documentary film on the Dolpo tribe, a high-altitude Himalayan society then only recently known to the western world. He'd been there scouting, once before. (The film was later shown successfully, on PBS.)
Gertie immediately struck pay-dirt with the dollar, which she received in this way: Looking furtively left and right over her hovering shoulders, hunching to protect her good fortune, Gertie tried to look regular as she quickly pocketed the dollar in her apron. She had an expression of a cat that swallowed the canary, trying so hard to appear as if nothing had happened out of the ordinary, but she didn't have the face for it.
206 and I never fessed-up to her, and after exchanging smiles went on eating our bacon and eggs. I think we laced that phone a few more times for Gertie. Those dollars were nothing to us, because we were rich.
After this tale was related in the Raccoon, 206 replied in his customary style, to wit:
Email from 206 Albany CA
re: our story of Gertie and the dollar bill
In the Prologue of his Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind Roshi Suzuki writies: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Gertie’s gleeful discovery of the dollar you or I placed in the coin return raises the question: there in that restaurant in whose mind were the possibilities the greatest?
On the road,
206 in his 6-22-17 incarnation below
said further on the subject of Gertie the following
-- Original Message ----- From: John Guardalabene
To: David Dix Sent: Thursday, January 28, 2010 11:30 AM Subject: Re: 6, meet Blei
My Dear Cup,
There’s a lesson (probably more than one) in our experience with Gertie. Most people in finding paper money rolled up in the coin return of a pay phone—if there are any such public instruments remaining—would conclude that the cash was planted and either take it or leave but walk away with a smile.
Gertie was not limited in this way. The possibilities in life were open-ended to her. While she guarded her find, there was no ironic look on her face. If something good in the form of a coin could come out of a pay phone, why not something better?
Sometimes I think that intelligence, or what passes for intelligence, is our worst enemy. This can work on both the individual and collective level. What’s the point of trying this or that if it’s inconsistent with our experience and the way we believe the world works.
We save our energy for the tried and true. Flying outside the flock can result in permanent separation. Even expressing unorthodox opinions can result in very unpleasant consequences, including the loss of one’s life. The Inquisition of the Catholic Church didn’t condemn every victim to death but certainly must have discouraged many from pursuing a life of science.
The Chinese cultural revolution didn’t prevent China from going capitalist but it ruined many families and ended many lives prematurely and violently.
My point is that craziness is simply a label and often one that we apply to others because of our own self-interests, inadequacies or shortcomings. I’m not suggesting Gertie was an ignored genius whose brilliance or contributions to society will one day be obvious.
I’m merely saying that Gertie’s ability to accept what we would view as the impossible is something worth reflecting on.
Your Brother at the wheel,
Our discussions this week included of course the downward trajectory of things American symbolized by the Trump presidency. John brought up the Indian Bhagavad Gita and how much of an accurate description of Trump is defined in the Hindu study on Evil vs Good.
In the 1980s
we took to beachcombing
at the Schlitz Audubon reserve
on Lake Michigan at Bayside
north of Milwaukee
Sometimes we saw momentary things washed up the shore,
finds that took our interest
example: a shard of tree particle
that when brought home became
a tropical bird without altering the shard
except with paint and the addition
of a swatch of sheep fur.
from the J. Guardalabene collection
Another time we captured
a rhino in the rough
that became a pot lid
now much used and washed,
acrylic paint still holding up.
On another Audubon excursion
we found a small tree trunk survival-bent
90 degrees at the edge of the bending surf.
With the sanded root ball it became the cane we now
need and use - or learn to use - in our hip break
recovery days underway.
Lake Michigan beach-comber 1987
note our red-handled folding boy scout saw next to left foot
Land of make believe