Sunday, October 11, 2020

My end of the story

West Janssen and a frosty Dr. Pepper outside Williams, AZ,

I don’t know where to start. The Deaf Drummer’s last week was a whipsaw of events. First, I learned that West Janssen was embarking on a farewell tour. His plan was to walk to Chicago from Arizona and play his drums for donations in towns across America’s heartland. I encouraged him to wait till spring and avoid the frigid upper Midwest winter. Then I found out he had already started, was robbed of everything including his prized drum kit in Des Moines, was helped out by a church and locals who put him up in a hotel and bought him a bus ticket to Denver where he may be now. That’s one hell of a week. Presumably, the thieving driver picked him up by the side of Highway 64 above Williams, AZ, drove him as far as Des Moines, took all his worldly possessions and left him stranded. That’s one step shy of tragic. But he’s safe for now as far as I know, and I assume he’ll continue is some fashion to Chicago. I have no idea really.

I learned from comments made to West’s Facebook Messenger report of the stolen drum kit that it’s not the first time his he’s drums have been purloined. The country musician who bought the latest kit for him offered her condolences.

Both of us have had visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads. We each harbored the dream of telling West’s incredible life story. Maybe West saw me as a typist. He’s not fond of keyboards. I have zero interest in being a typist or stenographer for somebody else’s words. That, it seems to me, leaves us at cross-purposes and seemingly at the end of our nascent writing partnership. When West suggested that I pay him for the rights to his story the T’s were crossed, the I’s dotted and that’s the end of it.

“Well now is a good time about you wanting to buy my story or something like that? Could use the money.” he wrote.  Or earlier, “I’m sorry I don’t understand your offer. Can you explain how this work? Buy a piece of my story. etc. I have no clue what you’re saying…..” 

I don’t have a clue either West. Just feeling my way through uncharted waters like you.

West and I had different ideas about our possible collaboration. At some point he told me that he wanted somebody to help tell his story. I took that to mean that I’d interview him, edit his words, and weave a cohesive biography. I was excited to do so.

Sunday, I told West, “I’m not prepared to pay you for your story. Even if I wanted to tell your story it would be in my voice, it would be subject to my interpretation and possibly not true to your recollections or dreams. I am, as I told you after my first Deaf Drummer post, not a slave to factual accuracy. I’ll let the story lead me. I’ll slice and dice that sucker till it pleases an audience of one. I hope I haven’t misled you. I never considered paying for your story. I lose money on my writing and photography. My audience is small. I do it because it’s what I do. When you have a mailing address, I will send you some money to help out.       

So, I’m withdrawing my offer to tell or interpret your story. I may do a post about your fateful week but that will be the end of it. If I write a lengthier story and I get it published I will share the proceeds with you. But don’t expect it. Usually I don’t follow through.”

Rudy Mauldin at his ranch near Cline's Corner, NM.

Luis Ocejo in Llano San Juan, NM.

For 650 straight weeks I have told a story in my blog. The blog is a collection of stories. Some of the best were prompted by a chance meeting like mine with West. These are the stories I like best, the ones where I synthesize what I hear, what I see and what I feel in a few minutes. Sometimes the result is a robust picture of the subject. It’s been my experience that folks tell you what’s most important to them in their first few sentences. It happened with West who told me how he sat down at a drum kit in church when he was a child and knew how to play from the get-go. Or a year ago when cowboy and rancher Rudy Mauldin told me about being bullied in high school on the Pojoaque Pueblo and his years as a BLM detective bringing looters of Native American artifacts to justice. And Luis Ocejo standing in front of the church in Llano San Juan after Sunday services and telling me, “There’s nothing tougher than a Viet Nam combat veteran.” He wore that pride on his sleeve. It oozed from the man. It was clearly the most important thing in his life.

My byline in Shadow and Light magazine is called Telling Stories. It’s apt since that’s what I want to do. Nothing exhilarates me more than meeting a stranger, listening to what they say about themselves and forming an understanding of who they are. West is a riddle that I didn’t solve. His story in his words seems part real and part mystical. The episodes he recounts are fantastical yet believable. I hope he’s able to share his story with a larger audience.

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