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Sunday, August 9, 2015

WENDY CALLING


philip Pearlstein
 
A surprise phone call from out of the blue Saturday afternoon. I've learned to trust things that come from out of the blue as where some of the best gifts come from. It was a voice so welcome, it was like the timing was perfect, in the subconscious, first thought: could it actually be? Yes. It was. It was my friend Wendy from the Charleston years. She's been living in NYC working with the 92nd St Y in its poetry program for several years. Last photograph I saw of her, she looked like a sixty year old version of herself. We were in our late twenties, early thirties. For one of her birthdays I bought her a special bottle of scotch called Glen something or other. We tried it. It was so good, we kept on trying it and got ourselves shit-faced in a hurry. It was like getting drunk from eating candy. We had plenty of laughs. I doubt I could tolerate a taste of it now. My taste for bonded liquor completely fell away when I tasted hillbilly homemade. Now, I don't want anything else. Wendy is special in my life. There was a time of twenty or more years that we knew nothing of each other. We made contact, found out about each other's circumstances and drifted apart again. Only drifted apart in contact. If we can't be together laughing and drinking, where's the fun?  
 
philip pearlstein
 
Something popped into my head I've never told her I did. It was one of the funniest pranks I ever pulled, funny in that it entertained me the most. I learned eventually to cut out the pranks. Mine tended to blow up in my face. This one didn't. Some of Wendy's friends from the Iowa graduate school in creative writing were visiting. She had a small gathering of them with some of her friends in Charleston, aspiring writers. I was smoking Camels at the time, mid 1970s. Before the gathering, I emptied the tobacco from a half inch at the end of one of the cigarettes and packed some reefer in it for the first puff. It was very much an anti-reefer bunch of people. We were sitting in a semi-circle on the screen porch overlooking the beach at Folly Island. At a given point in the evening when everyone was relaxed with drinks and cigarettes, I fired up my loaded Camel and exhaled the first puff. Everybody jumped to attention, Who's got it? They zoomed in on me. Who me? This is a Camel. No it isn't, let me try it. Hm. It is a Camel. He handed it back to me and I gestured, What?  Everybody was confused, nobody figured it out. And I was going crazy holding my laughter from exploding. I never told Wendy later. Not that it was a secret, it just never happened. Now, Wendy, you know.
 
philip pearlstein
 
It brings to mind another successful prank from that time, successful in that it did not backfire on me. A big open party for visiting NY artist Philip Pearlstein, who painted stylized nudes. A lot of people there I didn't know. I was with four of my friends. A time came we were bored from knowing so few people there, and tired from standing around with drink in hand talking with people we didn't know. We found a place to sit for awhile, two rows of benches that faced each other with a passageway between. We sat down. A guy came and sat among us we didn't know. He didn't talk. I lit a Camel, smoking was cool then, and handed it to Jeanette, who was sitting next to me. She took a puff and passed it to Ty sitting next to her. He puffed on it and passed it to Judy. She took a puff and passed it to Lucas, who puffed it and passed it on to the guy we didn't know. He took a puff, looked at it funny, like what the hell is this? and passed it back to me. I finished smoking the cigarette. Like, what? The next prank I pulled went off like an atom bomb in my face. The end of me and pranks.

philip Pearlstein

Wendy published a book of poems, Folly River, a good collection, moved to New York not long after I moved to the mountains. It was something like we were both in a place in our lives just before a major transition. I started playing with chance and it wasn't long before changes were happening. I'd come to a place that nothing I wanted or planned for myself ever went into motion. Age thirty-three, nobody going nowhere. I saw I don't make decisions for myself well, at all, and decided to give chance a go at it, see what chance opens up. It felt a bit like stepping off the edge of a skyscraper to see what happens. I fell into who I am very quickly, and one thing after another led, step by step, to Waterfall Road, a remote part of the Blue Ridge, once the Lost Colony. Chance led me to my hillbilly blood, something, I felt at the time, like a dandelion seed flying on the wind that touches ground to take root who-knows-where. I call it where my parachute landed me. Wendy's parachute landed her in NYC. I don't know what motivated the move as it came after I'd departed for the hills. She saw me through the greatest turning-point in my life. As a witness, it must have looked to her like I'd lost my mind. I'd finally discovered that God, indeed, is, and it turned my direction 180 degrees at the flip of a switch. She trusted my intuition. I was grateful for that in her during a time I couldn't explain articulately much of what was changing inside. I dove into the mountains with chance my guide. It was so great to talk with Wendy again, and the timing was perfect. I'd just finished a new project, had cleaned my hands of red oil paint, ready to shift gears. Ring.  

philip Pearlstein himself
 
 
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