Jeepers Creepers, the Crows are flying everywhere over us It seems that they are following me every place I go, as the sky is filled with my Guardian Angels of giant Black Crows. It has been another great year to be alive in this age of splendor, as the warmth of this years summer is beginning to fade and the edgy coolness of the fall weather surrounds me. The leaves are starting to change colors as they slowly float to the ground, and the swirling wind serenades each leaf, one by one into a sleepy winter lullaby. I am eager for the holiday season to begin with festive celebrations that will flow like a giant Methuselah of bubbly French Champagne Rouge that spills our lives into another New Year of al fresco splendor.
It seems kind of funny to me how you can live out your life in one area for so long and you do not notice anything unusual about the area in which you live. Nothing seems to stand out because you have seen it so many times before, but today, for no particular reason or another, your mind some how finally takes notice of something unusual that has been there under your nose the whole time. It is like turning on a light switch in your head as your mind finally absorbs what your vision has been overlooking year after year, and season after season. Another comparison would be like looking in the mirror at the same sleepy face each day and not noticing any new wrinkles that have come with age, maturity, and knowledge. And one day you look again, but a little closer this time and say, "Oh my God what happened?" And where did these Crows feet come from?
Recently this year I noticed that my vision was not up to par and seemed to be getting a bit worse year after year; it was becoming much harder to see things with any clarity, so I decided to investigate the Global Laser Vision center in San Diego's Fashion Valley district, to try to improve my options. After some vigorous research and friendly coaxing from loyal friends who had the procedure already, I decided to have the Lasik procedure performed on my eyes. There is nothing more precious than sight, and my friends who had the procedure prior to me said, it brought about a new sort of clarity and enlightenment to their lives. The procedure which amazingly took less than ten minutes has forever changed my life for many reasons. Primarily because I no longer am required to wear my "Goof Ball" looking glasses that I have hated ever since I was a young boy. Six months ago I wrote a short story entitled "Magical Mystery Tour" about the mental emotions a person goes thru when considering the Lasik eye surgery, and what it is actually like to go through with the procedure. The surgery is indeed a miracle and it is perhaps the new reason why my mind now notices things with much more clarity in the new millennium.
Growing up as a child in sunny Miami, Florida, I remember being fascinated at a very young age with the Big Black Crows of the city. Known to many as the mysterious Ravens, they have been called by many people everything from birds of death, to the Guardians of lost souls. As a young boy I remember asking my Mother about why the Black Crows always seem to be following me around. They would soar thru the air around me and would land on the nearby fences in the backyard and simply just stare at me. At times they would seem to be everywhere I was hanging out. Oh my God, is it a curse? Are they coming to eat me and peck out my eyes like they did in Alfred Hitchcock's, "The Birds"? This is where my intrigue with the Crows began. To my question about the Crows, my mother simply replied as she usually did, that maybe I was making a bit too much of it with my imaginative mind. That was how she usually replied to most of the things that my over stimulated mind had blown way out of proportion. Still, I knew that there was something more to it, and as the years have blown by, strange things continued to attract me to these wacky loveable Crows. It is hard to explain, but it feels like I am emanating an energy field that attracts the Big Black Crows, and keeps them nearby. Although my mother listened to me babble on about them with deaf ear, I think she was just humoring me, hoping I would out grow them.
It was April 1969, baseball season was in full swing and the never ending days of summer seemed to last forever. I had made the All Star team as a pitcher and sure enough just before I threw out the first pitch of the game, there he was. Staring right through me with impending Laser vision eyes was an enormous big Black Crow on top of the dugout of the opposing team. I became mesmerized with him and did not hear the coach say "play ball". With a blasting scream of Caw-Caw from the mighty Crow that rattled the opposing team's dugout, we went on to win 8 to7 in a blaze of glory. Over the years I have told many people that there is a common bond I have developed with these beautiful birds and that they have given me spiritual strength as messengers with mystic powers. But most people think, I am just kind of "kooky". As a youngster my family agreed with them and was always telling me to shut up because I would sit around for hours duplicating noises or voices that intrigued me. So low and behold I perfected the patented shrills of Caw-Caw that I would scream back at the Crows. This did not only create curiosity within the Crows, but my parents knew right then that maybe this kid has a couple of screws loose or something.
When you are a young boy, one of the most fun things in the world to do with your friends was to play Army; hunting thru the neighborhoods with toy machine guns in search of the enemy. I noticed back then that the Ravens who were always around me in the trees, or on an overhanging telephone wire would talk amongst themselves in their unusual bird gibberish, communicating what was going on. When something unusual would happen that they observed, the birds would let out a loud scream and then fly away. So with a little help from my secret soldiers, the army games were a little easier for me because the Crows would sometimes let me know of impending doom.
Over the years the families of Crows have come and gone, but they are always with me. My love for their graceful beauty and unbendable loyalty fills me with a magnetic resonance phenomenon that binds us together and foresees my future. With silent whisperings they guide my very calculated steps each and every day. Perhaps, we have so much in common because the Crows and myself are both very comfortable being loners, and simple observers of life.
The summer of 1969 turned to 1979, and High School was exactly that to me. I did not absorb much, and it was nothing but a blur of surfing, skate boarding and the ever important sowing-of-the-oats. College just didn't feel right for me either, so at the know it all age of
twenty years old, unfortunately my schooling career was finished. Consequently I started working in the restaurant business, first at Dan Gutherie's Depot Restaurant, then La Casa Grande restaurant, and finally at Even Stevens restaurant, all located in the great city of Miami. Most of my family, are workaholics, and after many years of the grind and perfecting the craft, it had become a long career off a very short bridge. I met a guy named Sam at Even Stevens. Now Sam and I got along like peas and carrots, and the very first time I moved away from Miami, it was to go to work for Sammy Baby Idas, alias "Kostos Krokotelos" in Ocean city, Maryland, at his restaurant on the world famous Boardwalk, at the energized age of 21. Sam and his brother David had rebuilt the restaurant from the ground up, because it had previously burned down. The old building was resurrected over a couple of seasons and became a very popular but seasonal steak and seafood restaurant. After several years of working together as co-owners, Sam and David unfortunately, were not seeing eye to eye on the business, so I was invited to fill in for several seasons of great fun. I read somewhere that one man's misfortune is another man's fortune gained.
I clearly remember to this day, getting ready to leave my home town of Miami just before Memorial Day, to head north to Ocean City. As I brought my last two travel bags to the car, there they were. Two Black Crows on top of my Honda Accord hatchback. They were apparently there to wish me good bye. As I drove away I noticed in the rear view mirror of my car that the Crows were flying right behind me. And with loud shrills of Cah-Cah they flew to a higher vantage point and screamed one last time good by. It seemed kind of sad in a poetic way, because I had become accustomed to their horsing around, and I think they grew accustomed to me. I don't know how many Black Crows there are in the United States, but sure enough there must be a grip of them, because everywhere I go, they seem to go. My father Carl Leroy Maness was waiting for me to arrive at his home in Robbins, North Carolina, as a stop over on my way to Ocean City, Maryland. Rattled by a long drive, I finally arrived and my wobbly road trip knees helped me out of the car. A big stretch was in order, and as I reached maximum body stretchage, I looked skyward and they were, soaring around in the sky not far away from me again. My father is a very talented man who enjoys the country life style and had built a marvelous restaurant that he wanted me to see. Time blew by like a hurricane, and the days which seemed like hours, left me with regrets of not enough quality time spent. North Carolina with her red clay soil and beautiful Pine trees is a beautiful place to live, and my many trips to that area remind me each time of why my father loves it so much. So after a stay that was far to short at his home, I was on my way up the coast again, to the restaurant job that was promised to me. As I was driving away, my father smiled at me with a sheepish grin on his face, and with my last glance at him, I realized that so much had still been left unsaid. As I pulled my car out of his dirt and gravel road driveway he said, "take care son and God's speed".
I thought about that quote my father had said to me over and over again in my head as I traveled down the road, and I wondered what it really meant. The dirt and gravel road turned to asphalt, and asphalt turned to concrete, as the next leg of my road trip to Maryland was accompanied with thoughts of God's speed. My travels took me across a lot of this great country, and eventually the Chesapeake Bay bridge tunnel, funneled me across the bay into Ocean city. It is a wild place to work, with its frantic surge of summer weekend warriors, along with overwhelmed family units, that squeeze in their summer vacations from further inland cities like Annapolis and Baltimore. It is a dizzying pace that this town survives on, and rakes in its dough in between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The town then shuts down and becomes quiet as a mouse. My good friend Sam welcomed me to his beach front restaurant after a long drive that day, and I started to down a cold chilly Milley draft beer that he offered to me, along with a char broiled Top Sirloin steak and steamed Alaskan Crab. The second floor glass front restaurant over looked the boardwalk, the beach and a bazillion vacationing strollers cavorting among the beach front shops. The Miller beer tasted better than ever before and suddenly Oh shitthere they are Big Ass Black Crows intermingling with the Sea Gulls! Is it a dream come true, or is it the curse of the guardian secret soldiers?
My subconscious was very pleased to have my secret friends around again, but it left me wondering if this were the same Crows from Miami, or were these Crows the new and improved, Washington D.C. Crows? My mind works in kind of a mysterious and bent ways, and later that summer I asked Sam, do you remember having Black Crows always around during the restaurant season? Sam looked at me in a perplexed way that most people often do when they are talking to a sort of crazed person. It was a look that you get when someone knows you are completely sane, but you ask an insane question. It was at that moment that I realized that Sam had no love lost for the mighty Ravens and he said," no I don't believe I remember seeing any Black Crows, or maybe I just wasn't looking". We strolled down the boardwalk that day as summer drew to a close; past Bo Rogerio's Dutch bar down to Ponzettis Pizza Parlor, and wolfed down a slice or two as Labor Day came to a close. So once again, my hopes of someone finally noticing that the Big Black Crows, that always seem to be hanging around me were dashed, like the end of a long summer in the magical little tinsel town, of the city by the Chesapeake Bay.
A couple of years had gone by and I was still living in the Ocean City area, which was frigid cold in the winters, when I met up with a couple of really cool cats in North Ocean City at the Pot Pourri Fondue Gallery. This is where I met the infamous and very interesting birds of a feather guys named Donnie Gentile, and the incomparable George Bontz. The three of us got along quite well because each of us had serious mental deficiencies. Now Donnie Gentile, known as the infamous Donnie G, was a very perceptive fellow. He has a tremendous talent for being able to perfect the Magicians act. In other words, he has the ability to make something out of absolutely nothing which is a rare act to follow. On the other hand if there ever was a bartender with a huge following it was George. He had a weird mix of followers from drag queens to surfers, police officers to city planning officials, but always left you in stitches with his over blown commentary of the world. Eventually, I was hired on as a kitchen hand and things were never the same. Prior to be hired by these neurotics, I used to love going to the Pot Pourri restaurant to devour the hot melted Fondue cheese they prepared, which we dipped chunks of French and Sourdough bread into, along with diced apples and fruits. The restaurant had an old world charm to it, with dim lighting and booths, along with a very comfortable ocean side feel, that murmured the sounds of the Atlantic Ocean in the rumbling background. Many a night there were loyal crowds that liked to party late into the evening, and George kept them in stitches, laughing their brains out with his unusual madness.
After a long winter season of working together, Donnie G told me he wanted to use my talents at his other Rehoboth beach restaurant called Club Potpourri. After a brief discussion we had decided it was a good idea to tag-team together on the project, and that we should rent a small house in Bethany Beach which was located half way between north Ocean City, and Rehoboth Beach. We searched around, and finally rented the little cottage-style house from a unique kind of guy that was a bit strange named Stu Dodge. For some strange reason Donnie G always called him Stufiaggi Dodge. Now that I think about it, we always gave people goofy little nick names to compensate their short comings. Sure enough, once again as summer's warmth started a new season, the house we rented in the quiet Bethany Beach area came with what else? That's right, Big Black CrowsThe summers were a fun-filled time, and I felt right at home with my secret Guardians lurking in the faded background as Donnie G who drove a stainless steel DeLorean car at that time grew even more frantic, because it was always at the gosh darn mechanics. He is one of the first people in my life to acknowledge that the Black Crows actually do hover around me. He said maybe it was possibly to protect me or warn me of impending disasters, or maybe they were there to shadow me from dieing from too much laughter. Over the next few seasons, we accomplished many great things together in the restaurant business, and we even started a Jazz Festival that still is an annual tradition some twenty years later.
The cast of characters at that restaurant was unbelievable, with Michael Monahan who was famous for saying, "what have you got for me, my stomach is shriveling up". And then there was Banjo, who would quietly stir the thickening Fondue pot incessantly, and when you would look at him he would quickly look away to avoid any eye contact. Donny G found tremendous pleasure in watching him do that little move. I remember one Friday night when Donny G was pestering me in the kitchen about making more Crepes right in the middle of a really busy rush, and I told him to get out of the kitchen. Of course he did not listen, so I politely threw an 8 inch sautée pan at him, barely missing his head. From that day on I think he got the message about bothering the chef. While Jimmy Hendrix was blasting on the kitchen radio, Andy West whipped out masterpieces as an assistant chef with great talent for such a young man. And of course, how could we not mention big Nance, everyone's favorite food server, who was the backbone of the operation. Club Potpourri went thru a facelift, and a redesigned menu when I came along that incorporated a bit of tableside cooking and a pinch of razzle-dazzle. Ellsworth Gibson amazed the bar customers with his refined baby grand piano artistry, and after a few Courvasier Cognacs, he would say to Donny G and I, "Uh, when you was a young man, did you ever think about the time, when you used to day dream"? It was fun while it lasted, and believe it or not, there were Black Crows that used to hang out in the trees, next to the kitchen side exit in the summer time. Our loyal clients and supporters kept us afloat over the years of good and bad and I would especially like to mention our biggest fan Becky West who undying devotion is still held close to our hearts as I think of her often. The Ravens would keep me company as I worked with relentlessness abandon, side by side with these new breed of young restaurateurs. As each day ended I think the Black Crows enjoyed Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze and U2'S Joshua Tree cassette as much as Chef Andy West and I did.
The years have soared bye like the crisp wind that rips thru the mighty wings of the Black Crows feathers, and an old acquaintance from that twilight zone has recently got in touch with me thru email. The seasons have come and gone, and as the years have unraveled, someone informed her about my website at WWW.GREGOART.COM . After she carefully reviewed the site, she had noticed a few of the water color paintings were of Black Crows. One painting is of a Black Crow in a Sun Flower patch, and the other painting is of a large Raven in a Corn Field. She said to me thru email, that they intrigued her and if possible she wanted a copy of them. She too, had noticed that the Black Crows are around me, and also around her once in a while, and she also felt a common bond with the birds. Have I gone nuts or could it be possible? Someone else in the world knows about the Black Crows and their attraction to me. More importantly, I'm not insane! Thanks Anita for reminding me, that I have not gone totally whacked out of my marbles yet.
The 80's have rolled into the new millennium as several decades have come and gone, and my wife will soon be finalizing her Psychology Doctorate. After 12 years together she still tolerates my quirky idiosyncrasies and warped humor. She decided to marry me even after I had told her of my weird relationship with the Crows. She is a logical person who said, "if that is all I have to worry about, then we are in really good shape". The seasons have changed and so have I, as my life continues to soar along. I dream of the Crows once in a while and how extreme it would be to fly way up in the sky with them and have their keen bird's eye view. Recently I read in the J.E. Cirlot's "Dictionary of Symbols" book that Crows of black color, depict the beginning of time with power and durable strength. He also states that a Crow with three feet in a Solar Disc, symbolizes life in its true meaning, in ancient Chinese beliefs. The great artist, "Marc Chagall", also found inspiration and knowledge from this book, that inspired his mind to create many obscure paintings. Cirlot's book also states, that the Black Crows represent the rising sun, the zenith mid-day sun and also the setting sun. The Ravens actually represent life in its most complete form, as opposed to what most people think of their creepiness.
This year, our vacation plans took us to Colorado and Utah, for a white water river raft trip. We traveled by car across the country, and our first stop was at, my wife Paula's, sister Christine Nutter's, house in Denver. Christine is married to David and they have three beautiful children that they are very fortunate to raise. Overcome by road vibrations and the humming of the CRV tires, after a short family reunion and dinner we sacked out and called it a night. The next morning we woke to a deserted house and we made plans to visit another friend for breakfast at Dennys. We met up with Aimee Meadows a couple of hours later, who was also a psychology graduate along with Paula, from San Diego State University. We talked about the good old days and swore we would all keep in touch; so with saddened eyes, we finished our breakfast of coffee and conversations, and then hugged each other for the last time. We all looked at each other and said "see you soon", even though we knew it may be years to the next reunion.
As we walked out to our Honda CRV, parked on the black-top parking lot, a calm stillness in the air caught my attention. Out of nowhere, two giant members of the Black Crow family known as Magpies, came barreling out of the sky and landed on the roof of our CRV, on the passenger side where I usually sit. The black and white colored Magpies froze me in my tracks, and proceeded to stare me down with deep black impenetrable colored eyes. I said to Paula in an excited manor, "see, I told you they follow me everywhere". Several hours later we started our vacation of rafting down the Moab River on pontoon rubber boats and had a wet and wild blast. Although we were soaked to the bone, I noticed from time to time that high above the canyon walls soared the Black Crows, a few Bald Eagles, and Red Tail Hawks. It sure was nice to end our vacation in a weird kind of way, by having these Crows follow me around, for so many miles. Even if most people are somewhat intimidated by their imposing size and voice, I find that they are still very beautiful to watch as they soar effortlessly thru the silent wind.
Just this week, I finally noticed the lines on my face are more prevalent now than they used to be. This morning my wife and I looked out the front office window of our house, while we each enjoyed a fresh brewed cup of Star Bucks coffee. Good Golly Miss Mollie, it is still true? There are three giant Black Crows in the front yard that are staring back at us from under the Maple tree, where the falling leaves have softly landed. They are screaming as loud as kids at recess time, who are amped up on Snickers Bars at the play ground. Perhaps they are inviting me to come out and play a secret game of Army today?
You know, it sure is nice to be able to notice things with more clarity as you grow older. My wife has finally acknowledged that those pesky Crows do hang around me. She says that they are like a bad penny that you can't get rid of, but I beg to differ. As I continue working on this short story, I could not be any happier than I am right now piecing it all together. I am able to write and communicate with much more clarity about the things in my life that have brought me great joy over the years. Today is a great day for me to finish the final touches of this short story that has taken me many hours to complete, and dozens of rewrite edits.
The day is starting to end and the sun is beginning to go down. My new vision has allowed me to notice many new things that are rare and true, that I never saw or imagined before, without the use of my cumbersome glasses. As I head out the front door to our landscaped front yard and look to the east towards Dictionary Hill, they are heading towards me in large numbers. Big Black Crows from the East County are swarming in, and I can't believe it is real. It is something that I have overlooked for many seasons that happens all the time in Spring Valley, if you look close enough. There must be hundreds of Black Crows flying directly overhead, like a scene out of the "Birds" movie. My head tilts back as they soar over me, and I remember my youth, one day at a time, one season at a time. They are heading just to the west of here, to a warm place in my heart where men can be boys and where the Black Crows have finally found their well deserved flight path of freedom. The thrill is exhilarating and a smile has overcome my face. I am giddy as a school boy and give thanks to God for creating the Big Black Crows in my life, and for allowing them oversee my future which some say is very bright. Just as I did years ago in my childhood days, I let out a guttural scream of Caw-Caw, as hundreds of Black Crows are flying overhead and they fill the sky with black. This is the first time I have noticed them in such numbers before, and I realize that my secret Soldiers have not abandoned me as of yet.
As one dominate large Black Crow soars directly over me, a large black feather from him comes loose and gently floats thru the currents of air and lands on the ground next to my left foot. My Army of Ravens is still around, on their way to their secret night time fields of hideout. There are too many of them to count, and the screaming shrills of the Black Crows is deafening and leaves me somewhat delirious. I tap my watch as the last Crow flies by, and I notice that it has stopped ticking at 6 pm today. It is another day in San Diego paradise and there is a faint chill to the November wind as the incessant burnt orange color sunset disappears into the vast darkness of the black night that is filled with dreamy Heavenly Stars. The fiery molten sun has now disappeared into the mighty Pacific Ocean of San Diego blue, as the city has now become shrouded in darkness. The pitch black fields are now filled with my resting Black Crow secret Soldiers, as the night time city lights come on one by one. So go to sleep my Guardian Angels, and rest well. For tomorrow will bring you another day of mischief and new adventure in America's finest City. It will offer you another day in the unbelievable field of dreams.
DEDICATED TO ALL OF MY LOYAL RESTAURANT FRIENDS, FAMILY MEMBERS, AND TO MY LOYAL FOLLOWING OF BLACK CROWS.
WRITTEN BY GREGORY MICHAEL MANESS D.B.A. GREGOART
REWRITTEN FROM THE BLACK CROWS JOURNALS OF 1998
Black Crow and Cornfield © 1999 (18 x 24) $200