November 18, 2010 by David Gillaspie
Messages come in all shapes and forms, from smoke signals and mirrors, to wireless text on a cell phone. Ken Kesey left the author of Acid Christ a message on a page ripped from the book.
In block letters he wrote,
Monday night Mark Christensen repeated his reading from Saturday at the library. Monday night was the Powell’s Books reading on the top floor.
I heard the Saturday reading and looked for the Kesey guys.
On Monday they came out.
Halfway through the second performance in three days, George Walker stood up for Kesey. He and Nick Storie came inside for a polite protest of Acid Christ. They said their piece and left the room, though they didn’t say it all.
The two men waited in the stairway until the reading finished and the audience headed down past them.
I stopped and listened to them talk with others, but I couldn’t hear their words. Instead, I kept hearing a Kesey echo in the stairwell.
“Listen, wait, and be patient. Every shaman knows you have to deal with the fire that’s in your audience’s eye.”
Was there fire in the audience’s eye Monday night? Walt Curtis might have had something in his eye when he came to the front of the room to read a poem in his man-voice. Others of Portland-lit fame might have had something in their eye that night, but they didn’t speak up.
Mark Christensen said the old Portland poets used to read their poetry in bars and clubs and get into fights over them.
Did George Walker have something in his eye, or in his craw? Click here and scroll down to find out.
“When Shakespeare was writing, he wasn’t writing for stuff to lie on the page; it was supposed to get up and move around.”
When Kesey gets on the bus, we all ride along. We trust his driver and the maps he’s using.
When he gets into the MMAuthor octagon, we trust him to do the right thing.
Trust is easy when a man lives by his own code and follows his own compass settings. There’s something extraordinary happening when a writer looks at the sort of life Kesey’s work laid out for him and he chooses something else. When something else turns into rural life in Oregon raising kids with a wrestling mat in the front room, you have to trust.
“The truth doesn’t have to do with cruelty, the truth has to do with mercy.”
Once you’ve stepped out onto a wrestling mat against an over-matched opponent, two things happen: You either take that opportunity to crush them in ways they’ve never been crushed before; hurt them in ways they’ve never been hurt. Or, you hit the basics and get it over with cleanly.
The truth you learn about yourself on the mat depends on which tactic you use.
Kesey spent enough time on the mat to know the difference. He taught others on the mat in his living room.
Observers of Ken Kesey might forget he was a wrestler before he was a famous author, and a magician before that. Take a look at the man’s picture in his youth and imagine the expression on that face while he figures out how to deal with you on the mat. If Kesey was a visionary, imagine the feeling of despair when he seems three steps ahead of what you try to do.
“You can’t really be strong until you see a funny side to things.”
It was funny to stand in the stairway in Powell’s Books with George Walker and Nick Storie while the crowd passed by. Walt Curtis flashed the peace sign on the way out.
“George,” he said.
Mr. Storie was a wrestler. His kids were wrestlers. Ken Kesey was a wrestler. His kids were wrestlers. Does wrestling play a part in Monday night’s reading?
George Walker had to wrestle with the idea of doing anything, and he won. He scored points on respect, faith, and friendship. That he had the courage to stand up and be heard in a room listening to the same song in a different key carried the night.
His difference was being present when the song started in the beginning.
Thank you, Mr. Walker. Thank you for proving the spirit of Ken Kesey still gets around.
Thank you Mr. Storie for sharing in the Wrestling Family. You were right when you said, “You can never know what a man is capable of.”
I wasn’t looking at you the first time you said it. Instead, I wanted a game of ‘Guess The Freak’ with the people passing by, where you give someone’s past, present, and future in five seconds based on their appearance. It’s a game to play during a layover in an airport, or when you’re stuck in a bus station.
“You can never know what a man is capable of.”
I looked at you the second time, and got it. When friends stand up in public for one who has passed on, the capabilities are endless.
We should be so lucky to have such friends. If you do, hang onto them.