Archive | May, 2016

The Bum At The Seelbach

30 May

It was a Friday,
March 29, 2013
according to my journal.

Judie and I were hanging out
at Fourth Street Live
where the young and old
come to celebrate.

Walking by the Seelbach Hotel
Judie said can we go inside and
have a hamburger and drink?
This is where famous writers
used to hang out.

We entered the hotel
and saw “Old Seelbach Bar.”
The bar was crowded
except one table
with an old man
wearing a black suit, a black tie
loose at the neck,
with a cane beside his table.
His black shoes were sparkling
with the look of just being
professionly polished.
He had a fedora hat
sitting next to him.

He was sitting alone
drinking FIJI bottled water,
pouring it slowly into a glass, taking sips
while drawing and writing a few lines
on white bar napkins.

Judie and I thought we would
pay for his food and drinks.
Maybe he lives alone.
He may be on a limited income
and only came here to feel youthful
once more.
Maybe he could use a friend,
even if just for awhile.

We went to the old man’s table
and asked if he might want some company.
He stood up
and said he would be honored.
“Please have a seat and
let’s talk awhile.”
I introduced Judie
and said my name was Jim.

“I used to live in Louisville
went to school in this city.
Now we live in a small town in Indiana.
We came in town for an evening
to enjoy the music, food and entertainment
on Fourth Street Live.”

“What are your hobbies?” he asked.

“Judie loves to listen to music
and watch movies. I read a lot of books,
mostly poety books if I can understand the poetry.
I like music too, especially from the 1960s and 1970s.
I wanted to be a singer
but I did not have a voice for it.
I guess these aren’t really hobbies
are they?”

“Your hobbies are much like mine.
I don’t think I caught your last name.”

“My last name is Wortham.
Just call me Jim or Jimmy.”

“Your name sounds familiar.
Did you play any sports

“Never played sports.
I tried my hand at writing,
I sometimes was lucky
enough to sell my poems to magazines.”

“I hear you.
I never played sports either.
I think we might have
walked down the same paths
as they say.”

“Let me buy you dinner.
We were going to order a meal.
When we saw you sitting here,
we planned to buy you dinner.
It’s our treat.”

“Maybe a glass of cheap wine?”

“Please make it any wine you usually drink
and a steak or seafood dinner. And a fancy desert.
They have a lot of deserts to choose from.”

“Thanks, I’ll have my favorite wine
and a seafood platter.
I used to read poetry books by a poet
who, on the back covers of his books,
wrote a poem about himself.
He always put on the back cover
“Meet the Author”
I discovered his books in
a small bookshop in Canada
which carried his books.
Sometimes I visited that bookstore
just to read his books.
His poetry is easy to understand.
His name escapes me.”

The old man continues
talking about this poet.
“You somehow remind me
of how he writes.
You will know when you find his books.
On the back cover
of each of his books
he writes something about himself
If you ever see me
in a tavern or café sitting alone
just say hi
and I’ll buy you a meal.”

“That’s a poet
I would enjoy reading.
Sounds like a poet
after my own heart.
By the way, I forgot to
ask your name?

“Back home, my friends call me
lazy bum.
Others call me
old man.”

“I think “lazy bum”
sounds more youthful
than “old man.”

“Yes, I like “lazy bum”
better too.
It makes me feel younger.”

One hour passes, then two
and I get ready to pick up the tab.
The old man waves to the waiter
put his hand up
the waiter knows him
and handed him the bill.

“That’s not fair I said.
This is our treat.”

The old man payed the tab
and placed a hundred dollar tip
in the waiter’s hand.”

We were shocked.
Who is this old man?
I said, to Judie. This just doesn’t seem to be
going the way we planned.

The old man said I have a surprise for you.
He took us nearby the hotel’s concierge desk
and asked us to wait on a nearby couch.”

He asked the concierge for
several sheets of stationary
and 2 envelopes with the hotel’s address
printed on each.
We waited for him to finish his business.
He talked to the concierge
who glanced our way and smiled.

The old man returned
with two sealed envelopes.
This is my gift to you,
then he bowed
and said he must leave now.
He embraced us, turned
and walked to the front hotel door.
The bellman opened the door and he walked out.

I opened envelope #1
The old man paid for us to stay 2 nights
at the Seelbach Hotel
with all meals paid.

I opened envelope #2
and unfolded two sheets of stationary
with a handwritten message.

These 2 concert tickets are for you.
The concert will be tomorrow evening across the street
at the Palace Theater.
I came from California for this concert.
Since you were so kind tonight
I want to give this to you as my gift of love.
Since you like music from the 1960s and 1970s
you might enjoy the concert.

“The Lazy Bum”

P.S. Bring this letter to one of my stage workers
after the concert. You can tell me how you felt
about my concert, over wine and cheese and other goodies.
My treat this time.
And when you hear the songs, “Back on Boogie Street,”
“Suzanne,” “Hallelujah” and “A Thousand Kisses Deep”
remember as I am singing those songs,
I am remembering our great time together.

3 poems from college days

23 May

Poem #1
(We Stopped Sharing)

we shared
a lot of things

we were happy

then you
looked around
to see who else
was near

I don’t remember
when you started
sharing less with me
and more with others

I just know
you ran ahead of me
and we stopped

Poem #2
(Once Upon a Yesterday)

our story could have been
“we lived happily ever after”

but you wouldn’t give us
a chance
you wanted to fall in love
with everyone you met

now, late in life
your hair graying
you ask to return
to the relationship
we once had

I can’t do it
and I am
very sorry

Poem #3
(Touch Life)

you are so young
and trying to reach out
by telling everyone
about your experience
with Jesus

I see some people rejecting you
but others accept your stories
and their lives seem
to become happier

keep smiling
you are so beautiful
keep reaching out to others
and yes, you
can change your world

(Publication note:
These 3 poems are from my book,
“Be Gentle With Your Goodbye”
250 signed and numbered copies
published in hardback in 1978)

the counselor named “loser”

23 May

I lived in bowling green
a college town in kentucky
taking classes,
barely passing
and not at all happy
about taking required classes
I did not want to attend

I often walked by
a man who was
(maybe without family)
but peaceful

there was just something
about him
I felt at peace
when I walked pass

His T-shirt had the words
“Slow Down and Talk with Papa”
printed with royal purple
on an unusually white T-shirt
He wore jeans with holes at the knees
scuffed unpolished brown shoes
but it was the T-shirt that made me wonder . . .
why should I slow down
and who was papa?

after two months of
passing the old man
I stopped to stop and talk . . .
since I never saw him eat
I went to a greasy spoon café
and bought him roast beef, gravy,
dressing, corn and a tall glass
of ice tea (with sugar packets on the side)
I took him up on his T-shirt promise to
“slow down and talk with papa”

are you papa
I asked
as I handed him the sack of food and ice tea?

no, I’m not the papa you’re lookin for
my family calls me “the loser”
he replied
they do not understand me
they don’t want anything
to do with me

here is a short version of my story
if you have time to listen . . .
years ago my wife and family tried to have me
committed to a psychiatric hospital

he spoke slowly, sometimes coughing
and turning his head slightly
to hide tears
then he would continue
I used to be a well known doctor
but hated life so much I stood
on the Barren River Bridge
with plans to jump off
then this happened . . .
a man running on the bridge
stopped and said man,
whatever you are thinking about doing
slow down and talk with papa first
and see what he tells you to do
I asked the runner, papa who?
the runner said some
call him Jesus
I haven’t seen the runner
since that day and I once
knew all the people in town
never saw him before
and never saw him since
never asked where he was from
that’s sorta strange
how that happened, he said

did talking with the runner
help? I asked
I was tired of my old life
I decided then
to quit practicing medicine
I gave away my medical practice
to a young doctor who wanted his own
private practice but never was able
to afford it

my wife and family tried to have me
committed to a psychiatric hospital
(they took me to Our Lady of Peace Hospital
in Louisville)
but the psychiatrist who evaluated me
was a spiritual man
told my family to let do
what I wanted

that was about 40 years ago
I’ve been counseling ever since
I always work outside with
the birds singing overhead

I asked about his
counseling career . . .
it’s here my friend
people stop to talk with papa
thinking I am papa
you see, so many people
are hurting inside
I have this grocery sack filled with
handwritten notes on how my papa or Jesus
has helped me one day at a time
and how they can know my papa too

after an hour I stood up to leave
I asked if I could come back
he smiled, laughed
and said, anytime, I’ve been here
40 years in this college town
he reached into his grocery sack
and pulled out a folded piece of paper with
handwritten notes
he said he always give people
a note upon leaving a “counseling session”

I went to my small apartment
unfolded the sheet of paper
and read it

as I read each handwritten word
I experienced waves of peace and joy
time stood still
a peaceful presence filled the rooms
and finally
I asked papa Jesus
to talk with me

that was the day
my life

They call him Skull. He is an angel in disguise

20 May

the accident happened
in the darkness
before the sun awakened

it happened to
my best friend
from high school
we got together
and sang songs
thinking we would become famous
singers someday
I remember singing
lots of songs from the 1960’s

in those days
we loved speeding and
Mike was driving his new car

“this is the car
that will get me dates
with all the girls I want”
he said
you could say I was jealous
of his confidence
and his new car

back then
they called it a heavy foot
that’s when
you are speeding to 60,70, 80
and before long you pinned the
the meter at 120 miles per hour

it was a chevy
not a ford

one morning, still dark,
Mike wanted to see how loud
his car would screem
with his heavy foot

he told me later
after months in the hospital
he was aiming
at 120 miles per hour …
something just got hold of him
and he could not stop

a stop light turned red …
too late to break
his car was hit head on
and the car went into circles,
caught on fire

it happened in front of the
YMCA in Louisville
Mike was unconscious when the
car stopped spinning

a guy with greasy long hair
he wore a black leather jacket
with the words
“My name is SKULL
I am a proud member
of the Louisville Outlaws”
Skull stopped his motorcycle
parked it,
it leaned heavy toward the left
of the kickstand

Skull ran to the blazing car
jerked the driver’s door
until it opened
and pulled Mike
out of car,
carried Mike in his
large arms until they were
50 feet away from the car

a sound of thunder cracked
through the dead air
the gas tank exploded
the car went into flames

I have lost track of Skull
but Skull, if you read this
please reach out
to me
Mike is still my favorite friend
and we have lunch together
every week here in
Madison, Indiana

Skull, if you read this
Mike and I want you to know
we think about you
every day

searching for the perfect person

19 May

I have spent
most of my life
walking unfamiliar streets

once in awhile
a friendly wanderer
crosses my path

we celebrate finding each other
and for a brief time
I become aware
of what love can do
to my hopes
to my days
and to my life

then it ends
I never know if it’s my fault
or the other getting restless
for someone else

but I never
throw away
my walking stick

there will always
be another

Note to reader:
This is from the back cover of my book
“Be Gentle With Your Goodbye”

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