June 1, 2012: “Almost Blue”

This is a story whose point/moral is up to you. I tell it because it intrigues me:

Tuesday (May 29th), I went on a whale watch out of Santa Barbara, California, touted to be one of the best places in the world to see humpbacks and the mighty blue whale, the largest creature on Earth. And I did. Tons (get it?) of humpbacks.  And at least one blue. Oh, my! Reckoned by the whale watch boat skipper to have been about 80 feet long. Oh, my! Watching that magnificent blue glide (and glide and glide and glide) back down to feed after briefly surfacing has to have been one of the biggest thrills of my life.

But that’s not the story.

Back on solid land (it had been a very bumpy, choppy ride out and back) and blissfully happy, I was heading towards Santa Barbara’s Maritime Museum—also along the waterfront—when a young man called out to me as I walked past: “Hey,” he wondered. “Want to buy a Chet Baker CD?”


Now you have to understand that although an upscale, lovely resort, Santa Barbara has its share of homeless people—and this guy, maybe in his early twenties, looked like he was right on the edge of being one of the hard-luck guys who sat in front of the VA center every morning. (For a shower? For a meal? For a bed?) Not there, yet.  But close.

So even though I immediately smelled “scam” or stolen goods, I am a huge Chet Baker fan. So I offered, “He was a great musician. Not so great to his family, though.” (I’d seen “Let’s Get Lost,” the documentary about the jazz trumpeter’s turbulent life.)

“I’m his grandson,” the guy said.

So, Reader, I bought a CD. And listened to how this young man, ALSO named Chet Baker (he showed me his passport), had left Oklahoma with his family because times were rough. How they’d come to Santa Barbara hoping for a better life (by sitting on a wall in front of the Maritime Museum selling CDs?). About how the record companies were ripping off his family. Etc.

Now, I don’t know if what he said was true. But I do know that times are rough. Families are forced to move. And I know that the piercing pathos of Baker’s rendition of Elvis Costello’s “Almost Blue” brings tears to my eyes. And I know that if what “Chet” told me is indeed true, that the tragedy of a gifted yet heroin-addicted musician continues unto further generations.

That not almost blue; that’s 100% sad.


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  1. I hear stories about encounters that transform people – and I know from my own life that there are a lot of encounters that have constructed me bit by bit, like building blocks. It sounds like even on land you were surfing serendipity. Who’s to say who we might meet and what might come of it?
    my love to you & yours!

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