Thursday, January 05, 2012

“Christmas, Returned”

c. 2011 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: What follows here is an intensely personal post-holiday reflection. I offer thanks for your indulgence.

Those who follow this column regularly will remember that I first came to Geauga County in late 1983, after living in New York. As a native of Ohio, my return offered a chance to cast aside self-destructive habits and begin anew.

With a ten-dollar typewriter and little else, I took up residence on Maple Avenue, in Chardon. Before long, the passion for creative writing had me once again chasing personal dreams. I wrote stories for a motorcycle magazine in California, and archived Rock & Roll demos on a cheap cassette recorder. Neither of these pursuits yielded much gainful income. Yet I kept busy, in part, because of the inspiration provided by one iconoclastic friend from the Empire State.

His name was Paul Race.

I first met him in 1979, while serving a television apprenticeship at Channel 13 in Ithaca. The opportunity was provided through Cornell University. Even then, Paul was a human relic. A veteran of the local music scene who had risen to prominence in a Ventures-style, instrumental combo called ‘The Savoys.’

Paul grew in artistic stature as did his generation, against a backdrop of Vietnam conflict, social unrest, and economic stagnation. He spanned the divide from Beat Era poets to Hippie philosophers, and beyond.

When we connected, ‘Punk Rock’ had exploded across Europe and America. Unlike many in his age group, he accepted this rebellious uprising as another honest manifestation of pure Rock mojo. I loved him as a brother because of his unlimited artistic vision.

In December of that year, I sent Paul a Christmas card adorned with scribbled words, crude artwork, stickers, Band-Aids and a safety pin.

It was the start of a tradition that continued from those days of yore, until the modern era.

With each passing year, I tried to think of something unique for his card. Once, this meant including a cigarette butt inside my holiday greeting. On another occasion, I added price labels from Fisher’s Big Wheel. And a curled guitar string.
These Yuletide mailings continued, despite unemployment, relocation, and divorce. But a couple of weeks ago, the happy tradition ended abruptly.

In my mailbox, Paul’s last card rudely reappeared.

It was marked ‘undeliverable’ because a Post Office forwarding order had expired.
I last saw Paul in 2006. He had taken up residence at his childhood home in Riverside, New York, a suburb of Corning.

My friend owned a house outside of town. And, the dwelling where he was raised. Plus, two adjacent lots. His collection of books, records, guitars, artwork, furnishings and cultural ephemera was considerable.

Yet suddenly, I was confronted with the returned Christmas card – and an address for a trailer park west of Binghamton.

Shock made my skin tingle. Had he lost everything?

I remembered that Paul spoke about being hospitalized, with heart issues, when I visited last. He was gray, overweight, and unkempt. Boxes of vinyl albums sat on his front porch. Spiderman toys hung from an overgrown tree in the yard. An eerie portrait of President Nixon hung in his living room window.

I took a photo of him on the porch, which later found use as a dedication in my Thoughts At Large collection.

Because he had been an enduring figure for so long, I hadn’t considered that somehow, life might overwhelm his ability to survive.

But now, holding the rejected card, it seemed possible.

While neighbors, family members and friends sang holiday carols, I could think of only one thing – a question delivered with no answer. A gift, not from Santa Claus but from the Riddler, himself.

What had happened to Paul?

I contacted friends via the Internet, who remembered this unusual fellow, and his colorful ex-wife. Predictably, none of them knew anything. Their puzzlement matched my own.

A cyberspace search produced listings for his home in Riverside. And an aerial photograph that matched my recollections from five years ago.

More investigation uncovered a street view of the park listed as his current home. Yet nothing else.

I was dumbfounded. Had he been unable to reach out, as circumstances took hold? Did he go bankrupt? Have to sell all his worldly possessions? Or simply fall prey to health woes associated with nearing the age of 70?

The possibilities had me struggling to regain balance. Even from my home in Geauga County, I felt the cosmic ripples caused by his sudden absence.

After a thoughtful pause, I revised the address on my card, and mailed it a second time. Included were stream-of-consciousness ramblings about the incident. “Call me!” I wrote. “E-mail me!” I knew he didn’t have a telephone or computer. Paranoia often kept him from answering his front door. Or subscribing to accepted norms of identification. But it didn’t matter.

One way or another, I had to know what had happened.

Postscript: Paul and I both appeared numerous times on Channel 13, in Ithaca, New York. We were also together in a band called “Rod Ice and Absolute Zero” with Tommy Hilfiger’s younger brother, Andy, who now directs the ‘Andrew Charles’ line of Rock-inspired clothing.

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Blogger unigami said...

What a cliff hanger! Have you found out anything new?

7:27 PM  
Blogger Rod Ice said...

No further info yet. I corresponded with a couple of friends who knew this colorful fellow, but they were stumped. Stay tuned for a follow-up column when I uncover more clues.

12:03 AM  

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