Monday, April 03, 2006

Everything Is Relative

I went yesterday to the farewell party for 4W5 Cafe, where i've been going to David Bromberg's bluegrass jam for the past few weeks. The jam is moving to a different location, but it's a blow to the community. The woman who owns the place is clearly upset.

Michele is a banjo player I've known for a few years; she comes with her 14 year old son Clay, who plays bass. She's got a great voice that keens sharply, a pure mountain voice. Her banjo playing is very aggressive, great drive.

I met Michelle when I was still playing with Jim and Jennie and the Pinetops, at the first bluegrass festival our band ever played, the Peninsula Bluegrass Festival in Houston Delaware. We were hired by a woman named Terry, a tough little woman of about 45, thin as a rail and 5'3, perpetually smoking. Terry'd seen us picking together the year before on the grounds of the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival in New Jersey and signed us up on the spot.

Jennie and Terry became pretty friendly, and Jennie learned some great stories as a result. I remember one she told me, in which Terry had hired a then up-and-coming bluegrass performer who will go unmentioned. Sometime after the show was over and the fireside pickers had all gone to bed, Terry's son ran up to the house telling her that there was trouble at the campgrounds, people fighting.

Well, Terry ran down to the campsite with some of her girlfriends, and they followed the noise to one of the campers, where they listened outside for a couple of minutes. It was the up-and-coming performer: he was drunk and beating the crap out of his wife. I know the guy personally, and have seen him drink moonshine out of soda bottles like I'd drink an RC. He's also built like a house.

Knowing they couldn't do anything immediately, Terry and her girlfriends went back to the house. But that morning at 5:00 am, Terry marched down to the camper, and began banging on the door. "Get up in there, and get the hell outta here!" she yelled as the door swung open and the singer looked out beary-eyed and hungover.

"What? Do you have any idea what time it--"

"I know exactly what time it is," Terry snapped. "It is time for YOU to start this camper and get out of here. This is a FAMILY festival, I will NOT HAVE this kind of behavior!"

The guy scowled at her and his face began to get red. "Do you have any idea who I am? Do you know who I am?"

"I know who you are and I don't care. To me you're that guy who gets drunk and beats his wife. You got five minutes to get yourself out of here or I will call the police." The guy knew he was beaten, and left.

"How is old Terry," I asked Michelle yesterday. I don't make it out to too many festivals, and I'd expected to have seen her at Delaware Valley Bluegrass.

"Well, considering everything, she's doing a lot better," Michelle. "You knew about the cancer, right?"

"No," I said, and was about to offer condolences when Michelle went on, "And she's getting fitted for a leg, on top of that."

"A LEG? What happened?"

"Oh my god," Michelle says. "Well...

"Ok, Terry's been getting treated for some kind of cancer. I don't know what kind. And, maybe this had something to do with her immune system being compromised, but she had this cut on her instep one day, and it lookd weird so she went to the doctor to get it checked out. Doc sends her home, says she probably scraped it during the night.

"Well, by the end of the day, that cut had spread all the way up her leg, and up her thigh. It was ripping open." Michelle held her hands at least three inches part. "Like that, just splitting up her thigh. They had to get an ambulance and bring her to the hospital.

"Turns out she had the flesh eating disease. She lost her whole leg, she lost... she lost a lot of stuff. Part of her hip and her ass." Michelle slid the side of her hand up her leg like a saw. "They said that bacteria is all around us, but like I said her immune system was down.

"You know, if it wasn't for her being tough like that, she'da never made it through. That's the kind of thing that would kill a weaker person."

I stood there in the shadows of Wilmington's historic district, getting mowed down by developers in pursuit of an easy buck. The sun was shining down and I was surrounded by people I like, by people I see every year and play music with.

Sometimes I feel like life is tearing me limb from limb. All things considered, maybe not so much.
It's all relative.


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