The Continental Divide
Gigs pt. 3
Ft. Collins, Colorado
For my Mother
Barbara told me to check out the Continental Divide. “David wanted to see it, after he got sick. So we did. We got there any way we could — we begged, borrowed — we got there.”
She told me the story on the phone. I was a silent for a while.
“When I see it?” I said like a teen-ager. “When I see it, I’ll stop and remember when you saw it, you and David, I’ll pause for a moment, and remember your story.”
“That’s perfect,” said Barbara, “that’s just the right thing.”
A couple of days later I was sitting in Denver, behind a floor to ceiling window view of the Rocky Mountains in the distance.
“Is that the Continental Divide?” I asked my host.
“Over that way, but that’s not it. Those are the foothills.”
“What is the Continental Divide anyway.”
“You’ll have to ask Harold,” Harold was out.
I sent an e-mail to my friend Josh, eleven years old, asking him to find out what the Continental Divide is. I had a sense that it was a matter of the highest seriousness.
I left Denver late in the afternoon for the drive up to Fort Collins and the first gig of three nights. This was to be the biggest gig of my newly launched career, three consecutive nights in front of large crowds at the big Jewish conference, a scoodle of other performers occupying the same niche that I was wiggling into, maybe some old friends from school days twenty years ago.
I was looking forward to making the joke that only I understand and is no joke: when asked “where have you been?” I can say, “I’ve been practicing.” Very funny.
Daughter D. wasn’t feeling well so I left her in Denver with her aunt and drove up the highway towards Fort Collins. I saw on the map that Fort Collins looked to be about an hour north, straight shot.
Once outside of Denver, the road straightened out, completely straight, 75 miles an hour all the way to Fort Collins on the way to Wyoming. Never been to Wyoming. On my left was the Rocky Mountains, the foothills anyway, on my right the Great Plains of the United States of America. I was sailing up the borderline.
I reached the cutoff to Fort Collins and I was expecting a single intersection, a marquis with my name on it. Fort Collins is much larger than I expected. I drove around the University a bit and realized that I had no idea where the gig was. I had no contact person, no phone number, no location; I knew nothing about where the gig was to take place. I had an abbreviation of a small theater somewhere on the campus of the University, that’s it.
I found someone who worked maintenance for the University (he was wearing a uniform) I asked him about the abbreviation and he had no idea what I was talking about. I found a map of the campus and I searched the map for something that resembled the abbreviation of the room and I found nothing.
I drove around the campus some more and contemplated the notion that I may have come all this way to drive around Fort Collins Colorado never to find the location of the gig. I was there and not there. It was a predicament that I had to share.
My mother would have gotten such a kick out of this, I thought. I imagined calling her and she laughing her deep belly laugh at how ridiculous my life had become to be driving around the campus in Fort Collins Colorado looking for the location of the biggest gig in my new career.
What a good plan I have made to follow my dream to Colorado, forgetting to take with me the location of the event. God we could laugh at this, but my mother had been gone ten years now still I heard her voice laughing with me as I went over what I would have told her in my head. How I missed her, driving around the campus in Fort Collins Colorado; I ached to talk to her and it felt so good.
I kept driving until I saw something familiar. I saw a truck, a truck with a large rear compartment, what we used to call a bread truck, sitting in a big parking lot somewhere within the campus. On the truck was written “mikveh” advertising the mitzvah of mikveh and inviting all to come into the truck and purify. Apparently the truck had been outfitted for a ritual bath; the license plates were from New York.
At least it was familiar. I knocked on the back door of the truck and a slight older man with payes and black hat, white shirt, black pants opened the door and looked at me with eyes light and soft like my own.
“I’m supposed to perform for the Jewish conference tonight but I don’t know where it is. Music in a theater I think. Can you help me?”
“To play music?” he said also like a teen-ager his voice drifting up to a higher register at the end of each sentence, “to play music you must have the proper intention,” he said eyes to eyes. “Of course I can help you, come in.”
I entered the truck and he spoke of the purifying living waters of the mikveh and invited me in. What the heck, I was ruined. I took off my clothes and dunked myself in the waters, said the holy prayers, and spent a time in silence forgetting my predicament. When I was through, he took me outside the truck and pointed to the building in front of us. He brushed my wet hair back with his hands. “In there,” he said.
I thanked him and went into the building and found the location of the gig in no time.
It would be after midnight until it was time for me to perform; they had scheduled way too many people on the show. Before me were three girls from Florida who sang songs with spiritual themes and bare midriffs. Most of the music sounded trivial and treacly sentimental to me, bubbies and zaydies, and an occasional ba ba bom. I felt out of place.
I played the oud and sang a holy song of the eastern Mediterranean. The twenty or so people left in the audience looked confused or asleep. On the way home, two AM, zooming down the borderline with the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to my right, the great plains of the United States of America to my left, I felt several degrees of ridiculousness over my new life.
I stopped at the truck stop to get a cup of coffee. “Hey,” I said to a few fellas hanging around the cash register, “where’s the continental divide?”
“Over there,” one of them said, pointing toward the Rocky Mountains.
“What is the continental divide anyway,” I asked.
“Separates west from east,” an old timer said, “on that side the water drains west, on this side the water drains east. It’s the separation between east and west.”
Yes, that’s it. The Divide. I called Barbara on my cell phone, hurtling down the borderline, looking at the Rocky Mountains in the distance:
“Barbara, I’m there. The continental divide. I’m there. It’s exactly where I live.”
Next: I perform with the Spice Girls
James Stone Goodman
United States of America
Fort Collins Day Two
Gigs pt. 4
The first gigs were disappointing. Too many people on the show; by the time they got to me, it was past midnight and everyone had left. It was two AM before I hit the road for the return ride from Fort Collins to Denver.
Loved the ride nonetheless. To the right, the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, to the left the Great Plains of the United States of America. Straight shot, seventy five miles per hour, top down on the rented convertible, cup of dark coffee from the truck stop, all the way back to Denver.
D. was sleeping when I returned. I whispered to her, “it wasn’t so good tonight D. Came a long way for a lousy show in front of twenty people. Show business. But I found the Continental Divide.” I explained to her its significance as I now knew it.
Next night, D. was not feeling well so I started for Fort Collins before the afternoon traffic rush to prepare myself for night two of disappointment. I had two shows that night.
Top down, the Rocky Mountain foothills to my left now, the Great Plains of the United States of America to my right. I am in love with America. As I drove north up the Interstate, straight shot zoom seventy five miles per hour top down, I saw a billboard for the Brighton Feed and Hat Store. The right hat, that’s exactly what I needed to redeem these gigs.
I got off the Interstate and drove about five miles toward Brighton Colorado where I found the Brighton Hat and Feed Store on the other side of the main street, downtown sleepy sleepy Brighton the great American West.
I entered and announced to the sales clerk my mission: I am a spiritual pilgrim come from far-away to the seam of the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains of America with my songs of holy waiting en route to Fort Collins Colorado where last night at one AM myself and my audience were lulled to sleep by my own and other uninspired offerings.
I need a hat, I told them. The right hat.
They went to work with earnestness. There were five, six sales clerks opening every hat box in the store and dressing me up in front of the head and shoulders mirror as if I was Waylon Jennings off the road on a coffee stop for the great northern tour.
“Yep, that’s it,” announced the hat clerk. “This is the one.”
I stood in front of the mirror with a large rolled Western straw hat on my head like I had been transformed. I looked at myself for a minute, two minutes, and I knew that this was the one. This was exactly the hat I needed.
I placed the hat on my head and everyone in the store came out in front, waving goodbye to me as I sailed off into the Colorado sun, towards the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide.
I stopped at Wendy’s for a hot coffee black and with the top still down I returned to the straight shot borderline north 75 miles per hour the Rocky Mountains to my left the Great Plains of the United States of America to my right, my big straw hat down around my ears so it wouldn’t fly off, I felt good, good in the car with my hat on the way to my two gigs, the Continental Divide, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, I am in love with America all of it.
I arrived at the gig parking lot. No mikveh. I spied Jeff, who was organizing both shows for the night. “Jeff!” I jumped in with Jeff and we went together in his car to the two rehearsals for the evening shows.
Jeff worked hard to bring these two gigs off nicely and I helped him as much as I could. Jeff recorded a tune that I had given him some years ago, an Adon Olam the story of which I have written in another piece (“the story of Akbar and Adon Olam”) and he promised me a copy of the recording. I had never heard him do it and Jeff loved the piece.
He loved it so much that he had placed it as the closing tune of the first gig. Everyone was going to sing it. We set up the first gig with enough time to sit back in the audience and wait for evening.
Consuelo showed up with brochures and CDs. Consuelo came down from New Mexico, she sang Ladino songs that she learned from a rabbi in the mountains of northern New Mexico. She was descended from Spanish conversos, Jews who hid their identities after the threat of the Spanish Inquisition, came to the New World and rediscovered their Jewish roots centuries later. “There are many like me,” Consuelo said.
Consuelo had some fabulous songs, which she claimed were from the defunct Jewish community of Cairo. I was familiar with the texts of the songs but not the tunes. The tunes were stunning. I was mesmerized by Consuelo’s tunes. They were killing me softly.
We all sat in a circle on the stage area and planned the order of our performances, one after another. There was a teen-aged girl group from south Florida, they were arguing with their parents who seemed to be their managers. They sang show tunes with spiritual themes. There were a few cantors, myself, Consuelo and a hand drummer that belonged to her community in New Mexico who played like an angel.
I ended with the Adon Olam and everybody joined in behind me. Soon I was singing without playing at all there was so much backup, I was singing the holy Adon Olam that Jeff loved so much with my hands my body and Consuelo and her drummer had jumped up and grabbed an adjacent microphone.
Consuelo howled into the microphone like a flamenco cantare gone mad, everyone entered the holy Adon Olam in their own way and I saw the room come to life. The audience was singing, some were crying, everyone got up and on their feet and when the concert was over I got to make the joke again, several times, “who are you? Where have you been?”
“I’ve been practicing. I am no one.”
A rabbi came up to me with a blank piece of paper. “My daughter wants your autograph.”
“My daughter, she wants your autograph.”
I wrote my name on the paper, not sure whether he was making a joke out of me or what, and I added in Hebrew “I love you with all my broken heart.”
The entire audience followed me across campus to the second gig. I was leading a group of strangers across the Colorado State University campus to my next gig. “I’m going with him,” they said.
The room was stacked for me so the second gig was equally wonderful. The audience howled and cheered as I sang a holy song of peace from deep within my source. If prayer and song could make peace it would have happened that night.
I stood outside in the parking lot at midnight as I was loading my instruments into my car for the ride back to Denver, my rolled straw still on my head, talking to one of my pals from school twenty years ago who had come to see me perform.
“I’ve been practicing,” I said to him, to the moon, to the stars.
I rolled down the top of the convertible, pulled the straw down around my ears for the ride home. I stopped at the Quick Stop for a hot black cup of mud and headed down the straight shot Interstate towards Denver, on my right the Rocky Mountains, the Continental Divide, to my left the Great Plains how I love the United States of America though I myself live on the borderline I live on the elusive divide between East and West I was wondering on the ride down whether it exists at all this place where I think I live. Just then I know it does, it does exist, I am living there.
On the CD player I fired up Consuelo’s CD with a very tasty oud player, I unpacked my cellular phone and called everyone I knew to describe, the best I could, one of the greatest working nights of my life. Not show business, ceremony.
I couldn’t wait to get back to Denver hoping D. was up so I could tell her the whole story.
“D.” I whispered,
“D. . .”
“I was a hit.”
James Stone Goodman
United States of America