Thomas Wictor

Watch for patterns

Watch for patterns

In Ghosts and Ballyhoo, one of the Lessons Learned is “Watch for Patterns,” pages 273-274.

Watch for the patterns. They might help you perceive your destiny, make the right decisions, dodge a lot of grief, and endure that which you thought you couldn’t.

A month ago, my cardiologist told me that I’d lost all the gains I’d made in 2012. The suicides of my parents and being scammed of my life’s savings by Mike Albee and Lura Dold of the fake agency Sandpiper Publicity had destroyed me. My doctor told me that if I didn’t make an improvement within a month, he’d have to recommend that I be institutionalized for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Today, when I went in for my checkup, we discovered that I’ve lost fourteen pounds, and my blood pressure is back to low-normal. I have a long way to go, but at least I don’t have to be hospitalized.

What I did was reduce my diet to cereal and fruit twice a day, with a dinner of veggies, two slices of wheat bread, and chicken or turkey. I eat blueberries, strawberries, olive oil, spinach, and tomatoes every day, and I do twenty minutes of cardio based on martial arts. My crisis appears to be over.

Many times in my life, I seem to have been shown that I’ve made the right decisions. I don’t consider this supernatural. To me, it’s part of the patterns visible to all of us if we’re open to seeing them. My own opinion is that a benign force I call the Planner helps us through difficult periods by giving us strength. I don’t think the Planner directly intercedes, because that would rob us of our free will.

Today I received what I think is a sign that I’m on the right course. It’s happened before; you can read about it on pages 228-229 of Ghosts and Ballyhoo. This is a photo of German flamethrower pioneers of World War I about to go off to battle on the Dead Man in Verdun, December 28, 1916.

Note the man marked with the red arrow. I bought this card on eBay, and then when I identified the unit, I chuckled about how another con artist would be shocked that I’d found a photo of his father’s platoon, taken on the very day that the flamethrower operator was wounded so severely that he was declared unfit for further duty. Then when I looked at the faces with a jeweler’s loupe, I immediately recognized the father from photos that the con artist had sent me. That’s the father of a man who thoroughly trashed my reputation in military circles.

What are the odds? Can anybody calculate them?

Another “coincidence.”

One of my favorite bands is Gentle Giant, a British prog-rock outfit. Bassist Ray Shulman is the musician I credit with inspiring me to never be satisfied with my ability on the instrument. I wanted more than anything to play like him. There’s an old, sexist joke that men tell.

“If I had breasts, I’d just sit at home playing with them all day.”

Well, if I had Ray Shulman’s talent, I’d just sit at home playing the bass all day. I almost made it, but then osteoarthritis robbed me of my ability to even hold a bass guitar. It took me ten years to admit that another great love was gone. Every now and then, I’d pick up the bass and try to play, but the pain was unendurable. In 2012 I finally came to terms with that particular loss.

Gentle Giant broke up in 1980 due to commercial failure and internecine tensions. Though a brilliant, utterly unique talent, Ray Shulman stopped playing the bass. When I interviewed him in 1997, I thought that was a terrible waste. Now that I’m no longer able to play, I can see how Shulman found other things that fulfilled him.

Besides, it’s his life. He gets to do with it what he wishes. And his great bass playing will exist forever on recordings. It’s impossible to choose a favorite Gentle Giant song, but a bass line I especially love is on “Working All Day.”

When I was young
I used to have illusions
Dreams ain’t enough.
Father was rough
He didn’t care for learning
Hell, life is tough.
Easy to say that
Everybody’s equal
Then look around
See it ain’t true

Gentle Giant’s last album was Civilian. The record label had pushed and pushed and pushed the band to make their songs more radio friendly, which meant shorter and more conventional.

Nobody liked Civilian. The band hated it, the critics hated it, the hard-core fans hated it, and the average radio listener hated it. Gentle Giant called it quits, and Ray Shulman became a producer, among other pursuits.

The cover of Civilian is a photo taken in 1954.

An abrupt segue: My father was a complete mystery to me, which is how he wanted it. He graduated from the South Dakota School of Mines in 1955 and went to Venezuela. That’s all I know about this period of his life. Before Dad died on February 23, 2013, he began to open up. He told me that one of his dreams had been to play golf on every major course in the world.

I had no idea that he played golf. Tim says that there was a bag of clubs in Venezuela, but I don’t remember it. I know that Dad played tennis, an astonishing concept since he smoked five packs of filterless cigarettes a day. But I held the rackets in my hands and bounced the stringed part off my forehead—doyng doyng doyng doyng doyng—so Dad at least owned the accouterments of tennis. There are no photos of him playing any sports whatsoever.

In 1983 I saw an unretouched copy of the photo that had been used on the cover of Civilian. Then life intervened. I went to Japan, met the Cardinal Ghost, failed at everything, and lost everything else. I could never remember where I saw that damn photo or where it had been taken. For thirty years I wracked my brains.

A week ago I accidentally came across this image, which identified the locale: Park Forest, Illinois. I did a Google image search and came up with several low-res images of the unretouched photo.

As small as they were, they gave me clues. I went through every possible book in all three of our houses but came up empty. Taking a wild guess, I ordered a book five days ago. It arrived today.

After I opened the package, I went to the doctor and discovered that I don’t have to enter a mental institution. I appear to be conquering my past once again.

The book that came in the mail today contains a large-format version of the photo that I first saw in college. Here’s a higher-resolution scan of it. Click to enlarge.

What are the odds that my favorite band would use this photo on the cover of their last album, I’d come across an unretouched copy of the photo in college and recognize what it meant, I’d forget where I saw it and where it was taken, I’d find it again after looking for thirty years, and the photo would arrive on the very day I learn that I’m back on the road to recovery?

I ask because this is my father.

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