The Back Room … September 22, 2012

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It was small.

Even in my childhood memories, the space was cramped and overpopulated with furnishings and just stuff. It was a back area in my mom and dad‘s loan company which had been partitioned off with accordion doors allowing for privacy, because they had those smoky windows in them that looked like broken glass or glued-together pieces of rock candy.

There was a refrigerator, although my memory serves that not much food ever stocked the shelves, a desk, where my dad would sit and do income tax returns for local farmers to make extra money during that particular season.

That desk was also the location of one of my first adventures into mischievous boyhood–peering into the future of manhood–because my dad kept a stack of detective magazines in there, which I would slip away and read occasionally, giving me my first glimpse into the carnal interactions between men and women. I can still feel the tingles.

My dad also tried to hide his cashews in that drawer next to the magazines, and I also partook of those delicacies, I’m sure much to his disapproval. In the far-left hand corner of this back room was a water closet. It’s amazing–after all these years I can still remember that little toilet, which grew smaller and smaller as I grew bigger and bigger–and a tiny sink, which offered only cold water to the passing traveler.

There was a large green cabinet in this tiny room, taking up a tremendous amount of space. In it was the residue of many of my dad’s dreams which never actually survived sleepiness. One of the things inside that green cabinet was a miniature printing press my dad bought, hoping he could make a little extra money by providing business cards and wedding invitations to the area consumers. He even printed some business cards for my high school music group. It took six weeks to accomplish, and to my memory, was the only thing that printing press ever achieved before being placed into the green cabinet of oblivion.

There was also a couch right underneath an air conditioner, which never worked. I mean the air conditioner. The couch was quite functional, and became one of my favorite spots in my teen years, especially when there was a chore to do at home, like mowing the lawn. My parents would find me asleep on that couch and abruptly awaken me with a rebuke about my laziness. It’s probably why still, to this day, I find it difficult to sleep in front of other people.

Completing the furnishing of this miniscule arena was an old piano. I know that sounds ridiculous. Why would you have an old piano in the back of a loan company? Well, because it was a loan company, my mom and dad would obviously provide finance to people in our community, who often promised to pay back the sum and ended up falling short of that lofty goal. One delinquent client offered the piano to my mom and dad in replacement for the payoff on his loan. They reluctantly agreed and stuck it in the back of the loan company with aspirations of selling it and retrieving some of their revenue, but never finding the time to write an advertisement.

So I played that piano. Sometimes I got yelled at because I was playing it when customers arrived, and my father seemed to think it was ill-advised to have a financial institution doubling as a lounge. But it was on that piano that I wrote my first two songs, when I was eighteen years of age. I don’t know why I didn’t think of composing before that particular juncture in my life, but on that day I wrote one song, and without stopping, turned around and wrote another one. Within a year’s time, both of those tunes ended up on a 45-RPM record, which I believe sold twelve copies (I assume, one to each of the disciples).

Back to that couch…it was also where my second son was birthed. It wasn’t planned that way. We were not gypsies or raised in barns. It’s just that Dollie, my wife, was in labor and wasn’t quite certain of her symptoms, so she waddled on down to the loan company to see my mother, and before help could arrive, our son did. Oh, it was big doings in the town. There was such a crowd out in front of the loan company to see the new baby that I barely had space to get through the door to visit my new kid. I hadn’t seen that many people lined up in Sunbury, Ohio, since Farmer Johnson quietly advertised that he had some hard cider available.

That back room holds so many memories for me. Matter of fact, during one financially lean time, Dollie and I slipped in there with our little boy, Jon Russell, to sleep on the hard floor at night because we had no other place to go. My father had passed on my then. My mother certainly would not have approved, so I acquired a key from her, made a copy, and we snuck in at eleven at night and were gone by seven in the morning. We just spread a blanket on the wood floor, lay down and were grateful for shelter.

About twenty years ago I went back to my little community to take a look at that back room. I know it’s corny–but I had to see it.  It was gone. The building that once held my mom and dad’s loan company had been transformed into a hardware store, removing walls to create space. So I ambled my way back through the dry goods and ended up in the area, as far as I could tell, that had been the back room. It was now filled with shelving, nails, screws, hammers and saw blades.

But I took that private moment to reflect on the back room and how much it provided for me. It gave me my first festering of manhood. I deeply enjoyed my snatched cashews. There was the occasional uninterrupted nap on the couch, which later ended up being the birthing bed for my son, Joshua. There was the green cabinet with the quiet printing press, and the loud piano, which proclaimed boldly that I had the ability to do something other than be a small-town flunky. There was even the floor, which provided me a place of rest.

While people insist that too much in the realm of commerce, religion and politics is done in the “back room,” my version patiently nursed me through an evolution of foolish youth, preparing me to walk out ready to meet people in the real world.

The back room. Like Joshua, it was kind of my birthing chamber. It was there that for the first time in my life, I took what was available to me and tried my darndest to use it the best I could.

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Iffers … July 10, 2012

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What if Mary and Russell Cring hadn’t had an argument sixty-one years ago about his numerous trips to Canada, which transferred itself into make-up sex, and culminated in a pregnancy?

What if I had decided to stay on the football team instead of pursuing the arts? Would I have ended up tackling running backs rather than blocking scenes for screenplays?

If I hadn’t asked Elizabeth Ristine out on a date, would all of my circumstances be uniquely changed–or even reversed?

If I hadn’t flown to Arizona to steal her away from college, against the wishes of her parents, would there be anything in my life that remotely resembles what it is today?

If I hadn’t boldly taken those first two songs I wrote when I was nineteen years old and gone to the recording studio in Columbus, Ohio, to press them on a 45 RPM record, would I ever have gotten the courage to do it later in my life?

If I hadn’t received the confirmation of winning the Midwest Regional Talent Exposition, would I have had the gumption to go to Nashville and think I was worthy to be heard?

What if I had skipped that Rambos concert, where I plugged one of my songs?

What if I had failed to go on the Teddy Bart Show in Nashville and never received that phone call that hooked me up with my producer, Marijohn Wilkin?

If I had skipped that brief excursion into Mobile, Alabama, would my son, Joshua, still be alive?

If a twist of fate and blind luck hadn’t produced the pregnancy of my last son, would I have been able to endure the death of Joshua and push on?

If I hadn’t moved to Sacramento, would my son, Jerrod, have ever met his wife, Angy?

If I hadn’t made the trek up to Tacoma, Washington, would my friend, Kathy, be free of her abusive relationship and my friend Richard, have followed me back to Nashville, where he ended up dying with friends–instead of alone, with strangers?

If I hadn’t decided to leave the road in 1991 in order to give my children back their own lives instead of lives entwined with mine, would they have the opportunities they enjoy today?

If I had listened to the nun at the convent in Birmingham, Alabama, who told me I had no right to pen a novel on the life of Jesus, would I be sitting here holding I’M … the legend of the son of man?

If I hadn’t done 1,123 five-minute radio broadcasts in Nashville, Tennessee, during the 1990’s, might the spark of my zeal for art and God have gradually slipped away?

If my friend, Janet, hadn’t been running away from a husband who abused her, would I ever have had the opportunity to be a friend to her ingenious sons?

And if Janet hadn’t come into my life, would there ever have been the Sumner County Symphony–with all of its delicacies, intricacies and beautiful twists and turns?

And if the housing crisis of 2008 hadn’t come along, would I have gone on the road, traveling to thousands of people to share my message, living out of a suitcase, enthralled with every moment?

And if I hadn’t come back to Nashville to take care of the house and close up shop, would Deahna have ever come into our lives and joined our family and brought me to today, where I now sit, waiting for the birth of my new grandson, Johann?

If I hadn’t awakened this morning with the idea to write this jonathots about “iffers,” would some person in South America or Germany have missed an insight on his own life that propelled him them in a fresh direction?

God gave me a life. I gave back to God my choices.

God stayed with me. I stayed with God.

The end result?

We both worked with my choices, God adding His grace–to collaborate for a wonderful life.

   

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

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