People want to know what the typical day is like for a writer. When do you write? Where do you write? And, most importantly, When do you start drinking? No less curious is the life of an innkeeper. People are amazed that innkeepers get up early and make coffee, as if that’s some kind of mean feat. They also have questions: What time do you get up? What time do you go to bed? And, most importantly, When do you start drinking? A recent November morning provided a pretty good template for how my mornings go around the Auberge.
After listening to the dog lick himself for half an hour in the dark, I got up at 5:30 a.m. and made a pot of coffee. Normally I cave into the black hole of email, but this morning I was excited to work. I’m in the process of bringing out a second edition of my short story collection, Name the Boy. In addition to working on the formatting, I was proofreading the manuscript. In the title story, a drunk at a bar tells the story of an enigmatic family that just moved into town. He describes the mother as sitting “on the front porch with a gun, drinking vodka all day, waiting for the goons to find her and try and kill her.” The phrase “drinking vodka all day” caught my attention–not because it was a goal I had in mind for later on, but because it reminded me of a song lyric.
In singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn’s song, “Peggy’s Kitchen Wall,” from the Stealing Fire album, he sings:
Blaster on the back porch/shaking up the lane
They're drinking gin and joking /laughter falling down like rain
Everybody wears a halo/never saw nothing at all
So who put that bullet hole in Peggy's kitchen wall?
Hmmm, I thought. I wondered if when I’d originally written “drinking vodka all day” I’d been thinking about that lyric: “drinking gin and joking.” Same number of beats. And while I thought of that, I wondered if maybe I should just use Cockburn’s lyric in the story. Would it make sense for the drunk in the bar in my story to describe the mother as “drinking gin and joking”?
While I mulled this, I decided to do what writers all do when faced with an extended period of mulling: I went to YouTube. First I looked for a video of Cockburn singing “Peggy’s Kitchen Wall.” I found one from November 2009, from a performance in Hamilton, Ontario. I delighted in listening to the song and watching Cockburn’s finger-picking guitar style, and I remembered the last time I saw this song performed live.
In 1984, Cockburn released Stealing Fire, following it up with a tour that included college campuses across the U.S. It was just my luck to be on one of those college campuses at the time, the University of Maine at Orono. And it was also my luck to count among my friends Andy Rouvalis, a committed Cockburn fan. The singer was scheduled to come to UMO in early 1985, right around the time of the birthday of another of our friends, Bruce Hegland, whom we affectionately referred to as “Heggy.” Andy rounded us up and we attended the concert. Readers of this post who used to be rambunctious college undergrads can probably see where this is going: The song “Peggy’s Kitchen Wall” became “Heggy’s Kitchen Wall,” and when that line was sung during the concert, an astonished Bruce Cockburn looked out into the audience and saw a group of young men standing up, shouting “Who put that bullet hole in HEGGY’S kitchen wall!”
So tickled with this memory was I that I quickly hustled over to Amazon and downloaded not only the Stealing Fire album, but Waiting for a Miracle and Anything Anytime Anywhere, two of his compilations. Then I toggled back to YouTube and scrabbled through several more of Cockburn’s live performances. Then, for fun, I bopped over to Wikipedia and read up on interesting things like album chart positions, and Cockburn’s bent for human rights. Turns out he now lives in northern Vermont part of the year, which is no big surprise.
And then it was seven o’clock. I’d drunk most of the pot of coffee, done no breakfast preparations, failed to wake my teenage son or put the dog out, and accomplished nothing with the proofreading of my manuscript.
But I did write this blog post.