Category Archives: book

Wallow in the writer’s high

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The title of my book has been changed to “Supermax Prison: controlling the most dangerous criminals,” which is due to be released in mid-June. I decided to share some of my thoughts before writing this book.
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Writing is a journey of twists and turns laced with uncertainty. Gone are the predictable warm summer nights in southern Illinois, or the haunting call of a whip-poor-will.  Perhaps I have a general idea of where the story might lead, but I never know how it will end.  That would not be investigative journalism.  No, that’s back-ass storytelling.

I have logged in countless hours of psycho-therapy and written about troubled minds with difficult pasts.  Things are not as they appear. Perceived reality is a combination of our genetic makeup and life experiences, and opens the door for misguided decisions.  An individual’s perception of right and wrong oftentimes differs from mine.  False judgements and bias are not permitted.  Knowing this, allows me to experience empathy, understanding, and a host of emotions.  Only then, can I find the “sweet part” of the story where creativity is unleashed.

It has been said that artists perform their best work when under the influence of drugs.  One could argue that a gentle high might unleash a degree of creativity, but when you are trashed, the work has a manic flow.  I admit to the occasional glass of wine to prime the pump, but I’ve found a better way.  Look to the free spirit of childhood and envision the swish and sway, the pirouette and tour en l’air of a child dancing to the beat and lyrics of a simple song; the free flow of unrestrictive creativity; an emotional rush that trumps the steady pull from your favorite weed or a glass of wine.

While emotion and creativity are the staples of powerful writing, it must be harnessed with a loose bridle, allowing a degree of freedom. Writing requires the use of the right and left side of the brain at the same time.  If I can harness my creativity, writing skills, a nonjudgemental mind, the strength of a lion sprinkled with a dose of love, I can wallow in the writer’s high.

The writer crawls from his cocoon.

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My last blog was written on October 30, 2015 when I had recovered from two back surgeries and swallowed my last oxycodone.  The pain was gone, my swagger was back, and the creative juices were flowing.  It was time to take that glorious trip I had taken on three prior occasions.  It was time to write a book, and leave the seclusion of my cocoon.

Nineteen months later, I have a signed contract with History Publishing Company
for my latest book, “Maxed Out: The birth and death of the Tamms supermax.” The projected release date is mid-June, 2017.  It seems appropriate to include the Prologue in this blog.  After all, this has been a major part of my life for the past nineteen months.

Prologue

Few residents can tell you that Illinois was granted statehood on December 3, 1818, or that the state animal is the white-tailed deer. Fewer still know that the bluegill is the state fish, or that the monarch butterfly, painted turtle, and pumpkin pie gained similar state recognition. But most people know about the place called Tamms.

In the mid 1990’s, Governor James Edgar and the Illinois legislature signed off on the construction of the Tamms supermax prison, built just a stone’s throw from the village of the same name. Small towns were sprinkled across the countryside with room for seasonal crops and native wildflowers that graced the picturesque bottomland of southern Illinois. Herds of cattle steadied themselves as they stood on the hilly terrain, and black vultures, sometimes called “shabby undertakers,” patrolled the two-lane highway just east of the prison gate, swooping down to devour the latest road-kill.

The Tamms’ supermax was the ultimate result of prison violence during the 1980s and early 1990s, when prison gangs mirrored the organizational structure and control of a big-city Mafia. Most inmates who entered the Illinois maximum-security prisons had to make a choice between joining a gang that offered protection, friendships, financial rewards, access to drugs and other contraband, or surviving as a lone inmate in a dangerous, even lethal world. Some of the more violent inmates eventually sent to Tamms included Henry Brisbon, the I-57 killer; William Cabrera, sentenced for the killing of correctional officer Lawrence Kush; Ike Easley who stabbed superintendent Robert Taylor to death; and Corey Fox, an inmate who strangled his cellmate. The Tamms supermax seemed to be the best way to reduce violence, protect the safety of staff and inmates, and improve the functioning of the four antiquated maximum-security prisons in Illinois.

The Illinois Department of Corrections, together with architects, construction workers, and outside advisors were determined to create a state-of-the-art facility that would provide safety for inmates and staff, with a special emphasis on the mental health needs of a unique population. In 1998, Tamms opened with the certainty of success, and the assurance of jobs in a county that labored under the weight of eighteen percent unemployment.

But time eroded public confidence in a facility that imposed long-term solitary confinement years beyond acceptable practice. What began as a high-tech facility became known as a hellhole of misery, a place where the sane became insane, the sickest turned crazier than before. News outlets, inmate lawsuits, scholarly exposes, and human rights groups contributed to the demise of Tamms some fifteen years later. Any counter arguments were like whispers in the crowded arena where gladiators ruled the day.

The strangulation of a seventy-three million dollar structure is a story that needs to be told. Rakesh Chandra and Larry L Franklin met at the Long Branch coffee shop in Carbondale, Illinois, to discuss the possibility of a book about the Tamms supermax. Chandra had been the Tamms’ psychiatrist over a seven-year period. Franklin had written two books on women sentenced to life in prison for murder, and had experience as an investigative journalist. Together they began a journey of twists and turns that eventually expanded beyond their preconceived expectations.

Human rights groups were passionate in their criticism of the supermax; politicians were unwilling to provide adequate funding; scholars sometimes picked their favorite statistic to prove a point; inmates told unimaginable stories sprinkled with a measure of truth; and families shared stories passed on by boys who became broken men. But the quieter voices spoke of inmates who improved while at Tamms; mental health workers who were able to practice their craft; correctional officers who lived beyond their life expectancy; the orderly function of lesser restricted facilities; local residents who spent a chunk of their life to bring the supermax to their area; and southern Illinois residents who brought home a paycheck every two weeks.

While there are stories of unimaginable violence, sadness, and injustice, there are hues of happiness and hope. An abundance of literature addresses the perceived evils of Tamms. But any piece of investigative journalism moves past the obvious and seeks the information hidden within the unfamiliar. I discuss in some depth the treatment of mental illness in and out of a prison setting, the difficulty of providing correct diagnosis within a unique population, and society’s moral responsibility in caring for the mentally ill. It is the author’s desire to present the good and bad, the certain and unimaginable. The reader can choose sides on the issue, or embrace the broader story of Maxed Out: The birth and death of the Tamms supermax.

Perhaps I’m Pregnant

laughing-horses_1507421iPerhaps I’m pregnant seems a bit strange coming from a 72 year old man.  But you know, writers continually search for the next metaphor.  It’s like getting up in the morning and wondering whether you will have toast, bagel and cream cheese, or maybe a breakfast bar and a strong cup of coffee.

When a writer comes upon a good story, something that might turn into a large manuscript and even a book, you are a bit gun-shy in sharing your thoughts.  Perhaps it will be like a pregnancy that doesn’t make it to full term; perhaps you have to abort; or maybe the writing turns out to be a piece of shit.  Whatever the reason, the pregnancy is concealed until you begin to show or you’re convinced that your project deserves to be seen.

Several weeks ago someone contacted me and asked if I would be interested in writing a book.  We would co-author the book was his suggestion.  Well, I’m still listening.  He has the expertise in the area, and I would be the writer.  Since the subject matter is in my “wheel-house,” I began testing the water.  At this point, I’m excited about the subject and the two of us are still speaking.  I’ve written some good stuff and the floor is covered with scrapes of paper.  But that’s how writing goes.

At the moment, I’m buried in the research and writing, and having a great time.  And oh yes, my back has recovered from two back surgeries and I’m flying high.  Now you know why I have not been active with my blog.  Lots of stuff to do.

In a few months I should know whether this baby is worth bringing to full term.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

Donald Trump, the Carnival Barker turned presidential candidate.

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Each weekday I watch “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, hoping to catch a glimpse of intelligent conversation, and to jumpstart my brain.  The debates oftentimes turn into verbal poop, but that’s okay, that’s to be expected.  But I can’t take it anymore.  It’s driving me crazy. Trump, Trump, Trump that’s all they talk about.  I switch to CNN and it’s more of the same.  Maybe they don’t understand, or perhaps they do, that their continuous coverage promotes Donald Trump, the Carnival Barker turned presidential candidate.

Trump labels illegal immigrants from Mexico as criminals, rapists, and general bad asses.  Oh, I forgot.  Trump said there are “probably” a few good ones.  He hurls disgusting remarks directed  towards Megyn Kelly, a Fox network newsperson, who according to Trump, has blood running from her mouth and from “you know where.”  Let’s give Donald a little credit, he loves the Mexican people and they love him, so he says.  My initial reaction is to call the circus absolute and complete bullshit.  But it’s working for him and I know why.

America is upset at congress which is sporting an eleven percent approval rating.  How can you not be upset with a congress unwilling to accomplish any meaningful legislation?   Hey people, in case you don’t know, President Obama holds a positive approval rating of 58 percent; not bad from a pissed-off America.  Oh, and how about the House of Representatives who have voted over fifty times to repeal Obamacare.  If they want to make improvements, work with the president to improve a law that currently helps a lot of people.  Screaming does not help.  It just makes people scream more.

Donald Trump is a master at pushing the hot buttons on a downcast, long-faced society.  I can tell you how he does it.  Meet someone at your favorite coffee shop and drop some words or phrases that you know will light a fire in his/her ass.  To be successful, it helps to know the person’s political slant.  Try this one on the extreme, rightwing leaning individual — Hey, buddy, I’m damn tired of those illegal Mexicans coming into our country, taking our jobs, and raping our women.  I guarantee a strong reaction.  Now lets try lighting the fire of the leftwing leaning individual — Hey, buddy, I’m damn tired of this garbage coming out of the cesspool called Donald Trump’s mouth.  Again, I guarantee a strong reaction.  It’s all about pressing someone’s “hot buttons.” Ready yourself for an immediate, knee-jerk reaction.  And by the way, they will love you for saying it.

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I’m reminded of the Music Man, a long running musical about a salesman, possibly a Carnival Barker, who comes to River City, a small-town community, to sell all of the children a musical instrument.  Of course, the Music Man has no intention of delivering the instruments.  His plan is to collect the money and skip town.  He goes about selling the idea that the local pool hall will destroy the moral compass of their children.  A pool cue in each child’s hand is the first step towards juvenile delinquency, imprisonment, and possibly hell.  I can hear the woeful sounds of the townspeople now.

Compare the rantings of the Music Man to those of the Carnival Barker who became a presidential candidate.
People:
We’ve surely got trouble!
Right here in River City!
Remember the Main, Plymouth Rock and the Golden Rule!
Oh, we’ve got trouble.
We’re in terrible, terrible trouble.
That game with the fifteen numbered balls is a devil’s tool!
Oh yes we got trouble, trouble, trouble!
With a “T”!  Gotta rhyme it with “P”!
And that stands for Pool!!!!

Get the idea?   You’re most likely a Trump supporter if he activates your deep frustrations and beliefs.  But if you count to ten after he bellows out his song, you might realize that the carnival barker has no solutions.  Building the tallest of all walls on the border separating Mexico from the United States, paid for by Mexico; sending back eleven million illegal immigrants to Mexico; and ignoring the constitution’s fourteenth amendment is not going to happen.  History is filled with stories of statesman-like congressional members  and senators who have worked together for the betterment of our society.  Oh where oh where have they gone?

I wrote two books on prison inmates who are currently serving time for murder; and a memoir about a young boy who was physically and sexually abused by his brother and others; by the way that was me.  I’m familiar with people who operate on a “hair trigger.”  My first book was about an inmate who was held “accountable” for the murder of a gay man.  You might say that her emotions were activated by the touch of a “hair trigger.”  The slightest provocation could put an end to our three-hour meetings — the allotted time in the prison’s visit room.  Each interview required a gentle stride as I walked through an imaginary bed of hot coals.  Any misstep could burn my ass. I suppose that it was inevitable.  On one visit she stood, turned, and quick-stepped her way to another room where she was strip searched before rejoining the general prison population.  Six months passed before she spoke to me again. So much for me to learn.  Life changed in so many ways; my horse blinders were removed, a broader, crystal clear vision came forth.

In her world, many of the people — good and bad — have a “hair trigger” of their own, ready to fight at the slightest provocation.  We are the product of our genetic makeup and our life experiences.  This much I know.  Change is difficult, but possible.  Of course there are individuals who have been so emotionally damaged that they are beyond repair.  That is the unfairness of it all.  Most of us have heard the expression count to ten before answering what you perceive as a provocation, if needed count to one hundred.  This simple rule can be found in Thomas Jefferson’s writings, “The Canons of Conduct.”  For Jefferson it was common sense, but for many of us it is a lesson unlearned.  Hair trigger, count to ten, knee-jerk reaction share the same message — think before you accept the Carnival Barker’s message.  Today it seems more difficult than years past.  There is a segment of the population that is aware of America’s short fuse, and use it to their advantage.  They’re called politicians.

Politics is a cesspool possibly found around the dinning room table when certain relatives come to visit, the local coffee shop, and any place where two or more people engage in conversation.  The cesspool is formed, in part, by the daily shit dumped on the national airwaves.  Lies and half-truths are peddled as absolute truth and designed to activate the hair trigger, knee-jerk reaction, the inability to count to ten, and in general terms, reach people unable to think with a clear mind.

We, as individuals, need to base our actions on truth rather than an emotional reaction to some word or phrase that ignites our prejudice, racism, and downright ignorance.  Be gone, the Carnival Barker, the Music Man, the Medicine Man who peddles the merits of his latest elixir, and the politician who preys upon your emotions for a rise in the latest polls.

 

Hornet dude, show me your stinger.

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It was a typical mid-August day in southern Illinois:  95 degrees, a heat index of 104, and an apple pie was in the oven.  Two of our granddaughters, ages seven and nine, were
staying over on a summer day.  My wife, two granddaughters, and my dog — a mostly white golden-doodle with golden ears — alternated our play between outside and inside.  Sweat covered bodies and my dog’s rapid-fire panting dictated our activities.  

My seven-year-old granddaughter asked my wife what was in one of our trees. There, hanging within reach, was a hornet’s nest as big as a basketball with hundreds of hornets flying in and out, doing whatever hornets do.  (I later learned that a mature hornets nest in late summer can have as many as seven hundred hornets.)  We quickly retreated to the inside of our house where I instructed the girls to stay away from the tree, and what could happen if the hornets came after them — multiple butt stings that would penetrate their skin like nails in a pine board.  My granddaughters, with their saucer-sized eyes, took in everything that I said.  They would stay away for now, and most likely would need psychotherapy in later years.

Being a seventy-two-year-old man, I had been taught that it was the man’s responsibility to protect his family.  It wouldn’t have been right for me to insist that my wife take care of the hornet’s nest.  So, I did what all old, educated men do.  I went to my office, turned on the computer, and began to google — how to destroy a hornet’s nest before they destroy you.  Okay, what kind of hornet are we dealing with, I thought.   Ah, there it is:  a vespa crabro,  a european hornet originally introduced into the United States, one of twenty hornet species found in the US.  My backyard hornets, as I call them, are one to one-and-a-half inches long strapped with two pairs of wings, six legs, and boast a reddish brown color.

The hornet’s lightweight nest, an engineering feat by any definition, is constructed by a mixture of the hornet’s salvia and pieces of wood fiber.  Granted my backyard hornets are quite impressive, but their stings are something to behold.  Unlike the ordinary bee that is limited to a single sting, this baby can sting you multiple times, leaving a nasty venom behind.  The symptoms  can leave the victim with a fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, convulsions, and possibly death if you have an allergic reaction.  Holy shit, that’s what I thought.  There was a mixture of testosterone and fear racing through my brain.  Oh, and forgive me.  There was a sentence or two about the hornet’s attributes to humanity — they eat insects that can become pests to your habitat, contributing to a healthy ecosystem.  And I’m suppose to worry about these flying varmints that might drill holes into my exterior?

If I am to destroy the nest, which most articles advise against, I should follow a recommended procedure:  approach the nest in darkness while the worker hornets sleep; use a flashlight with a red lens; wear quite shoes, boots would be best; thick rubber gloves; long sleeves and long pants made with thick material; and above all, don’t wake up the hornets.  Oh, by the way, each year forty people in Illinois die from hornet stings.  But that most likely happens to allergic people or old people like myself.

There is a time when a man has to check his bravery, or admit he is a “chicken shit.”  I knew this was my moment.  Still, I decided that I should approach this from a more intellectual standpoint.  Facts:  I’m seventy-two-year-old, two back surgeries within the past eighteen months, three face cancers surgically removed two weeks ago.  Okay, candy-ass Franklin, go hire someone.  But then, almost miraculously, the next morning changed everything. There, lying under the tree was the nest, possibly knocked down by one sick or dead raccoon.  I shared the news with my wife, making us feel content in the fact that the hornet problem was gone.

Later in the day my wife told me that half of the hornet’s nest was still hanging from the tree.  I ran outside and took a look.  Dammit, I whispered.  I didn’t want to disturb the hundreds of hornets working on the nest.  Something came over me, like a wave of bravery or possibility a big bunch of stupidity.  Whatever, I was pissed.  “Go into the house,” I told my wife.  “I’m going to take care of this fucking nest.  “Be careful,” she said, as she ran into the house to see if my life insurance policy was still in effect.

deerfly-pd-wcI went into the garage and grabbed two cans of wasp/hornet spray guaranteed to shoot twenty-seven feet into the air.  I disregarded all of the advice that I had obtained from my google search.  Here I was dressed in shorts and a tee-shirt, possibly confronting one of life’s biggest challenges.   I approached the nest with determination and a good deal of bravery.  The hornets were buzzing in and around the nest.  I didn’t flench as I held a can of spray in each hand.  I pointed the cans, stood in a crouched position, pulled the triggers as a heavy fog filled the nest which began raining hornets.  Bunches of them fell to the ground taking their last gulp of air as they died.  A few strays headed for my face.  I bopped and weaved to the left and then to the right.  The fog continued to fill the sky as they dropped dead before landing a single sting.  They were dead.  They were all dead.  My wife opened the front door and began clapping as I ran circles in the front yard spiking the cans to the ground like a Green Bay Packer wide receiver after hauling in a thirty yard pass.  Even my golden-doodle joined in the fun.  The two of them were mighty proud of me — the old fart turned hero.  Once again, man prevailed over the insect world.  Damn, life is good.

 

Thanks for the memories — Colbert and Stewart

laughing-horses_1507421iA few months ago I lost one, and now I’m about to lose another; an empty feeling, but not like losing a family member, one of my closest friends, or God forbid, my dog.  I’ve never shook their hand, exchanged hugs, or offered to be their facebook friend.  I suppose I consider them my imaginary television friends:  Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart.  I’m quite fond of Jon and Stephen, and if given the chance I would love to have a cup of coffee with them, maybe a couple glasses of wine, discuss some serious topics, and then just laugh our ass off.  Now I’m left to watch recorded copies of their shows, and savior the memories of days gone by.

I either watched the Daily Show and Colbert Nation in real time, or on one of my many recordings; four days a week, year after year.  I loved watching the two of them discuss the day to day political happenings.  Although they were loaded with satire, they were damn dead serious.  If you can’t laugh about the political ongoings, how can you get through the day?

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert:  ridicule, sarcasm, truth, comedic satire, and many laugh like hell moments are reflections of my buddies, Stephen and Jon.  Oh how I loved the Colbert Nation when Stephen came flying through the air like a superhero all wrapped in an American flag with an eagle by his side.  I have to admit that my initial reaction was one of disbelief and a feeling that this guy was in love with himself; not the type of person that I generally like.  But it soon became obvious that Stephen was a made-up character who crossed his fingers while he worshiped Bill O’Reilly, Fox news, and every right-wing politician who unloads verbal poop.  A story teller, a songster who could sing in tune, an intellect, and a brain that popped and crackled like a pan of popcorn on a red-hot stove.  A real thinker, that’s what I call him, able to explain complex issues in a humorous way.  Even when he was in character, you knew there was both a madness and seriousness living together like a hand in a glove; a feat very few performers can obtain.  Yes, I know, Stephen Colbert is taking over the David Lettermen show.  But what will happen to the character I loved on Colbert Nation.  What will Stephen have in store for his new audience?  Hopefully he will give us a moment with the character that I love so much.  Thanks for everything, Stephen.

And then there’s my other imaginary friend, Jon Stewart.  Sixteen years, that’s how long Jon has hosted the Daily Show.  So many memories of days gone by.  Not unlike Stephen, Jon holds many of the same qualities:  ridicule, sarcasm, truth, comedic satire, and many laugh like hell moments.  But Jon brought his own outwardly intellectual side to his show.  There was no doubt when Jon was disappointed, upset, or downright pissed off with the day to day politics.  When congress has a 19% positive rating, there’s reason to be mad.  And then Jon would add a humorous bend to his presentation, showing the stupidity of the situation.   After all, if we can’t laugh we’re left to cry.  Thanks for everything, Jon.

Stephen and Jon are both young men and have lots more to offer.  But please don’t wait too long.  There’s a void in my psyche.

Kudos to the Fitness Forum — Anna, Illinois

physical-fitness-clip-art-587563 (1)I’m the man with a crack in his back who takes oxycodone each day, and just happens to like green eggs and ham.  But that was yesterday.  Today, I’m quite different.  Take a peek into my recent history:  January 2014 — Laminectomy to relieve bone pressure on the nerves in my lower back.  August 2014 — Spinal Fusion to stabilize disks in my lower back.  Hence, Spinal Stenosis/Arthritis and a general pain in the ass.  Eight months later I withdrew from the oxycodone and now take one over-the-counter Advil, sometimes two times daily, to relieve a mild discomfort in my lower back. It has taken a year for the damaged nerves in my back to heal.

Thanks to my surgeon, Jeffrey Jones, and most recently, Rebecca Cerney, who with her mother Jane, own the Fitness Forum in Anna, Illinois.  Maybe it was fate, or possibly I was just lucky when I met with Rebecca.  Being 72 years old and a recipient of Medicare, I qualified for a program called “Silver Sneakers,” a hokey name but a damn good program if you want free admission to a qualified fitness club.  My wife and I met with Rebecca who structured a fitness program for the two of us.  Rebecca, a fitness and nutrition advisor, just happens to have an impressive “six pack.”  But I must confess that my “six pack” is a mixture of muscle and a jello-like matter, but hey, Rome was not built in a day.  I must say that I am enjoying the experience that is literally changing my life.  I’m gaining strength, endurance, flexibility, and having a good time.  It’s a bonding experience for my wife and I as we strive for better health.

If you live anywhere close to the Fitness Forum in Anna, Illinois, I recommend you check it out.  A small town business where the owners treat you right and appreciate your business; that’s the Fitness Forum.  Rebecca, thanks a lot.  You are the best.

A get your attention book

The Newest Book from Larry L. Franklin
Mnemosyne: A Love Affair with Memory

Mnemosyne:  A Love Affair with Memory is a beautifully written, powerful book about two men from different centuries who are struggling with memory.  One is struggling with his own memories; the other is working to define and codify what memory is.  These two stories, however, are more about the soul journey of each man.  Larry’s journey is one through the painful memories of childhood sexual abuse — a journey through the darkness of the soul into the light.  Richard’s story is a journey of a man who goes from the height of his career to being shunned for his research into memory and the decisions he made in his life.  The powerful scene at the end of Richard’s story is a image that will stay with you.  Larry’s story, however, is one that inspires and uplifts.  It is a testament that life can be a joyful experience, even if one has endured horrifying abuse as a child  As a therapist, I have worked with many clients who struggle with a painful past.  As such, I honor the courage Larry has shown in creating a work that will be an inspiration to any person who is struggling with life’s painful issues.
Review by Olivia  

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Mnemosyne:   A Love Affair with Memory, written by Larry L Franklin, is a work of creative nonfiction, and can be purchased as an ebook, paperback or hardback at Amazon and most bookstores.  Please checkout the links to the Introduction and Chapter One.

https://llfranklin12.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/introduction.pdf

https://llfranklin12.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/chapter-1.pdf

 

 

 

 

Ode to Billy Joe and the faceless manikins

Tallahatchie_bridge-Hwy_7_MississippiIt was the other day, June 3, 2015 to be precise, when Paul Morris, a fellow MFA Goucher graduate, reminded me of Bobby Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe.”  Forty-eight years ago, on June 3, 1967, Gentry penned her masterpiece.  How could I allow decades to pass before revisiting the rhythmic, haunting lyrics depicting the day when Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the 220px-OdetobillyjoeTallahatchie Bridge?  Gentry and I had a reunion of sorts.  I began listening to a YouTube performance of her “Ode to Billy Joe;” over and over, perhaps twenty to thirty times.  It was as addictive as my Oxycodone pain-poppin’ pills that kept my back from breaking apart in the hills of southern Illinois, some five-hundred miles north of the Tallahatchie Bridge.  Maybe the passage of time has blessed me with a deeper understanding of Gentry’s lyrical gem.  Or perhaps years of therapy has graced my psychic with insights never experienced before.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_T4qsvFAkFM
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Ode to Billy Joe
by Bobby Gentry

It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day
I was out choppin’ cotton, and my brother was balin’ hay
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat
And mama hollered out the back door, “y’all, remember to wipe your feet!”
And then she said, “I got some news this mornin’ from Choctaw Ridge
Today, Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

And papa said to mama, as he passed around the blackeyed peas
“Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense; pass the biscuits, please
There’s five more acres in the lower forty I’ve got to plow”
And mama said it was shame about Billy Joe, anyhow
Seems like nothin’ ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge
And now Billy Joe MacAllister’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

And brother said he recollected when he, and Tom, and Billie Joe
Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show
And wasn’t I talkin’ to him after church last Sunday night?
“I’ll have another piece-a apple pie; you know, it don’t seem right
I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge
And now ya tell me Billie Joe’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

And mama said to me, “Child, what’s happened to your appetite?
I’ve been cookin’ all morning, and you haven’t touched a single bite
That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today
Said he’d be pleased to have dinner on Sunday, oh, by the way
He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge
And she and Billy Joe was throwing somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

A year has come and gone since we heard the news ’bout Billy Joe
And brother married Becky Thompson; they bought a store in Tupelo
There was a virus going ’round; papa caught it, and he died last spring
And now mama doesn’t seem to want to do much of anything
And me – I spend a lot of time pickin’ flowers up on Choctaw Ridge
And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge

***

How can a song spur my imagination with so many unanswered questions:  What did that girl and Billy Joe MacAllister throw over the Tallahatchie Bridge?  Perhaps a baby?  Were they lovers?  Maybe Billy Joe had sex with a gay man in 1967.  Could that be why Billy Joe took his life?  And then there was Papa who said, “Billy Joe never had a lick of sense; pass the biscuits please.”  Was Billy Joe’s reasoning, or lack of it, that simple.  So many questions, and many more.  Ms. Gentry, tell me why Billy Joe jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge, and oh, by the way, pass me the blackeyed peas.

People have asked Bobby Gentry to explain the true meaning of her song.  And to their surprise Gentry said there is no hidden meaning in “Ode to Billy Joe.”  If anything, she once said, it’s about a family of manikins sitting around their dinner table talking about Billy Joe’s suicide.  The narrator obviously knew Billy Joe quite well, so much so that she couldn’t eat a bite.  When Mama told the family about Billy Joe jumping off the Tallashatchie Bridge, they ignored the narrator’s feelings and asked someone to “pass the biscuits please,” followed by Papa telling Mama to “pass the blackeyed peas.”

Foreshadowing is a literary technique of indicating or hinting what might come forth in the next sentence or so; perhaps sooner than later, or maybe not at all. This is how a great storyteller adds mystery and suspense that turns a mundane story into a page burner.  I’ve watched some great movies and questioned the director’s intent.  Oftentimes I was left to fill in the blanks, wanting more.

Of course I love the pulsating rhythms, the poetic prose, and the mystery of Gentry’s song.  But that’s not what moved me so, grabbing my soul and giving it an attention-getting twist.  It’s the faceless manikins sitting around the dinner table that day in Carroll County Mississippi.  Hell yes, those people drive me fucking crazy.  I’m a victim of childhood physical and sexual abuse.  And I’m not alone. Most of my fellow abuse victims share similar feelings: Manikins don’t care if we’re left to wallow in our misery; hey, maybe the rapes were our fault; don’t air our dirty laundry; perhaps they feel uncomfortable talking about such things, and possibly lack the emotional depth.  And worse yet, what if they don’t believe my story?  Now that drives me so fucking crazy that I want to join Billy Joe MacAllister and jump off the Tallashatchie Bridge.

From hairy legs to nose hairs.

The Newest Book from Larry L. Franklin
Mnemosyne: A Love Affair with Memory

I’m sitting in my office listening to Eric Clapton belt out some cool sounds.  Steady rain outside.  Springtime trying to make its way into summer; that’s what is happening in southern Illinois.  I’m drinking some wine, looking at my legs while I sport a pair of summer shorts, and evaluating my body’s transition into old age.  I’m 72 years old and find myself wondering what happen to all of the hair on my legs.  Damn depressing, I might add.  I remember my early years when I first saw tiny strains of hair on my legs and some peach fuzz on my face.  That was pretty cool.  I was becoming a man and would soon enjoy the company of wild girls, a beer belly that would rival the older guys in the Louisville Pool Hall.  Party time, that’s where I was headed.  Well, I did have some exciting years, but not quite what I had expected.

Now back to my leg hair.  No, it didn’t disappear.  The hair has moved to different parts of my body.  I now have an abundance of belly hair, a nose filled with bushy hair that needs daily trimming, and strains of long hairs growing out of my ears and dangling downward from my earlobes.  And my eyebrows.  If I didn’t trim them I would have “handle-bar eyebrows.”  I assume that if I checked out the DNA of my leg hairs, they would match the hair growing out of my nose.  Yes, I’m certain that it’s the same hair.

Now I’m not one to question God, but come on.  What’s the point of my hair moving from one part of my body to another?  I’m okay with my gray hair as long as it doesn’t turn blue.  And the wrinkles come in handy.  Being a writer, I believe that every wrinkle tells a story.  Apparently I have lots of stories to tell.

Despite the moving hair, things are looking up.  I had two back surgeries over the past year; lots of pain and depression.  Now I have minor pain at times but nothing that I can’t handle.  I’ve begun working out at a local fitness center, and with a little imagination, I can see the beginnings of a six pack.  Never had one of those before.  Since some of the hair on my legs has moved to my stomach, I would have a hairy six pack.  Pretty cool.  Maybe….

The wine bottle is empty and I need to take my dog for a walk.