Sidekick


THOU hearest the Nightingale begin the Song of Spring:
The Lark, sitting upon his earthy bed, just as the morn
Appears, listens silent; then, springing from the waving corn-field, loud
He leads the Choir of Day—trill! trill! trill! trill!
Mounting upon the wings of light into the great Expanse,
Re-echoing against the lovely blue and shining heavenly Shell;
His little throat labours with inspiration; every feather
On throat and breast and wings vibrates with the effluence Divine’
All Nature listens silent to him, and the awful Sun
Stands still upon the mountain looking on this little Bird
With eyes of soft humility and wonder, love and awe.
Then loud from their green covert all the Birds begin their song:
The Thrush, the Linnet and the Goldfinch, Robin and the Wren
Awake the Sun from his sweet revery upon the mountain:
The Nightingale again assays his song, and thro’ the day
And thro’ the night warbles luxuriant; every Bird of song
Attending his loud harmony with admiration and love.
William Blake, Milton, Book the Second

There is a story by the late, great arts-writer, essayist, and storyteller, John Berger, published in The New Yorker as “Passeur” and then later republished in a story collection as “Krakow“.
The story takes place in flashes of memory, imagination, and fantasy. John Berger, or the man who represents him within the story, is in an urban city square in Krakow, Poland in what seems to be the 1970’s or so.

In the square, John observes. He mostly watches the older women who sell produce, and at a particular moment, sights a familiar man at a table. He approaches and sits down. He knows him. They speak as though he’d been expected; as though they had come to the square together.
The story then jumps into a reverie of another reality, a remembered past on the streets and in the houses of an English town, about accompanying a childhood father figure and teacher on his exploits and adventures.

Ken, the teacher, came to England from New Zealand and spent the years of the Second World War there, meeting John when he was a child of 11. Ken became a family friend, and a life-mentor for the youthful John.

Ken brought the boy along with him to old town bars in the north of England where they resided. 

John Berger, who later explained that the story was based on recreations of memory, writes this of one of these outings:

I accompanied Ken to bars, and, although I was under age, nobody ever objected. Not on account of my size or looks, but on account of my certainty. Don’t look back, he told me, don’t doubt for a moment, just be surer of yourself than they are.

Once, another drinker started swearing at me — telling me to get my bloody mouth out of his sight — and I suddenly broke down. Ken put his arm round me and took me straight out into the street. There were no lights. This was in wartime London. We walked a long way in silence. If you have to cry, he said, and sometimes you can’t help it, if you have to cry, cry afterwards, never during! Remember this. Unless you’re with those who love you, only those who love you, and in that case you’re already lucky for there are never many who love you — if you’re with them, you can cry during. Otherwise you cry afterwards.”

We were friends, me and this old man.

I started out in Texas, and came to New York at the age of 28, uncertain of my own experience. Encountering Berger’s story just now echoed with another semi-fictional, semi-autobiographical place I’d imagined to be out among the older Anglo-Texans not far from where I grew up. I lived removed from all that legend; but I later learned that elsewhere there was a preservation struggle that could only end the way it did.
Far from it now, I imagine that amidst its wildness and ruin, it was a world of men and women who walk with their boys and their girls and show them care and tenderness.

Rui is no longer a small boy. He is 14 years-old today. For all we have lost, I remember the night you emerged into the world, delicate and tender as life. If I could roll time back and recover our losses, I would willingly do so. We would walk together.

Guy Clark

I’d play ‘The Red River Valley’
And he’d sit in the kitchen and cry
And run his fingers through seventy years of living
And wonder “Has every well I’ve drilled run dry?”

We were friends, me and this old man
Like desperadoes waiting for a train
Like desperadoes waiting for a train

He’s a drifter and a driller of oil wells
And an old school man of the world
He let me drive his car
When he’s too drunk to

And he’d wink and give me money for the girls
And our lives were like some old western movie
Like desperados waiting for a train
Like desperados waiting for a train

From the time that I could walk he’d take me with him
To a bar called the Green Frog Cafe
There were old men with beer guts and dominoes
Lying about their lives while they’d played

And I was just a kid
They all called me Sidekick
Like desperadoes waiting’ for a train
Like desperadoes waiting’ for a train

One day I looked up and he’s pushing’ eighty
There was brown tobacco stains all down his chin
To me he’s one of the heroes of this country
So why’s he all dressed up like them old men?

Drinking beer and playing Moon and Forty-two
Like desperados waiting for a train
Like desperados waiting for a train

A day before he died, I went to see him
I was grown and he was almost gone
We just closed our eyes and dreamed us up a kitchen
And sang another verse to that old song
“Oh come on, Jack, that son of a bitch is coming’ “

Central Park 2007
Machiko’s mother Midori, her sister Ai, and a photograph of her step-father (Ai’s father), who has died. Despite this loss of intimate family members they ostensibly love, and the pain it may bring them, they continue to keep Rui in a shell of darkness and unknowing about the identity of his father, who loves him and was beside him until his abduction and cruel deprivation of family contact, at 4 1/2 years of age. The unheard of cruelty and narcissistic self-regard of the Japanese state-family, in nutshell.

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