By Scott Sullivan
My imaginary polar trip, paired with Ron and Maggie Coghlin’s real one, was past desperate. They’d passed through a Buenos Aires flower cooler down wood steps to 100-foot basement bar for cocktails. Maggie’s absinthe was served with one perfect cube of ice.
I’d been on a 10-foot raft lost between Tierra del Fuego (“Land of Fire”) and Antarctica ringed by icebergs with seals and polar bears sunning on them when the Beatles hijacked me onboard a Yellow Submarine. Some salvation.
From my vantage, Ron and Maggie were locked in an underground an air aquarium, pleading for and imbibing in release. Freed, they prepped for the next night’s meat fest in Argentina’s capitol and tango’s birthplace. She gave thumbs up up to veal sweetbread organs butterflied, slapped on a grill and served sizzling swiftly. Her pork tenderloin kebabs swapped bell peppers for an onion/fig paste. Next morning they were Ushuaia-bound.
I too was hungry. “Onion fig paste!” I shouted at George beneath sea of blue waves. “Plate and palate tyranny!”
“Just a figment,” John said and sang “Glass Onion” from the White Album, submerged ice visible through the starboard porthole. “Don’t blister your fingers, wipe them on this Wet-Nap, then down a Red Bull. Feel the rush? He’s a man-bull Minotaur we picked up in Crete. Good thing we’re near the Cape.”
“Cape Horn?” I asked. “Dare I risk impalement if my cape’s not red on this dilemma’s twin horns? When I popped up the periscope last installment, I thought I’d seen Antarctica through a kaleidoscope.”
“If you dreamed it,” he said.
“That’s not Antarctica,” I griped. “That’s wasteland outside Ushuaia. Where are Ron and Maggie?”
Fed up, the Fab 4 marked a “S” on my chest and dumped me there. No worries. With a scarlet letter and Cape in back, I was Superman in the frozen nowhere. My Fortress of Solitude must be near. King of the Delta Blues Robert Johnson was banging on a battered string box, having learned to play devil’s music in the late 1920s at the crossroads. His ‘36-’37 recordings, more easily found now in reproduced versions, inspired Bob Dylan, Keith Richard, Eric Clapton and (Good God) Cleveland’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, which called him “The First Ever Rock Star.”
“You’re Black and sing blues,” I said. “What does this mean?”
“Could be the other way,” said Johnson. “Combined color waves span frequencies. I could be the son of John, son of man … I see by your ‘S’ you think this is your fortress. Know who invented Superman?”
“For comics, Joel Siegel in 1938,” I said, “just after you died at 27 as your recordings were being released. But fictionally, way earlier. Nietzsche wrote about der Übermensch as a goal for humanity to set in “Also Spake Zarathustra.” He’d been influenced by composer Richard Wagner’s 1850s Ring Cycle operas drawing on Norse mythology.
“Dublin-born George Bernard Shaw,” I babbled on, in 1905 wrote his 4-act play “Man and Superman” playing on and off that theme. Adolf Hitler misplayed starting 15 years later, rallying pride among Germans still beset with post Great War Treaty of Versailles concessions, with Nordic supremacy myths and we know where that went …
“Use the Quantum Force. Grab your instrument,” Johnson said.
I assessed my box, which had appeared there: steel strings, calibrated, tone-tensioned and adjustable; marked, measured increments on a eucalyptus-topped fretboard backed by a hard maple neck, save-the-elephants faux-ivory insets, joined to a spruce-topped and Indian rosewood-backed hollow dreadnaught reverb chamber with center hole.
“How’s that sound?” asked the Devil’s ghost. “Let me play it and sing. I’ve had time to make up new numbers …”
He’d had women in all the juke joints barnstorming up and down Southern rivers; pin-striped, snazzy brimmed hat, cigarette dangling in carelessly-studied fashion from flashing teeth, impossibly long fingers spanning frets to create new chords only he had heard. What was before became live again.
“Why are we in solitude?” I asked.
“It’s a prison break,” Johnson said.
In nearby Ushuia, Maggie broke out on a yarn-hoarding mission to Ron’s bemusement. The more local threads woven, the more your story ball grows to earth size till it gathers the playful eye of Tierra del Fuego tigers. Braving the terror, they ascended an Andes remnant, Ron more assertedly, Maggie huffing and puffing, to this sign at the summit: Yarn Shop Closed.
They consoled themselves at the town’s French restaurant ordering wines, water, salads. Maggie wanted to try the goulash, but they’d eaten big the last two nights in Buenos Aires and had to keep fit for the rigors ahead, this trip. Jailbreak came at 16-foot-long multi-decked dessert display at the end of the restaurant, with them splitting a crème brûlée.
Calories, calibrations. “How do you stretch your fingers like that?” I marveled at the resurrected devil music king.
“Intuition, practice … and I can turn into rubber,” sang Johnson. “Vocal chords too. What’s your power, Red “S”?
“Surrender, submission, strength. Calibration with calculation. Who’s on the beach over there?”
“Albert Einstein with Phillip Glass,” he said.
To be continued