She was nibbling on some sort of frou frou potato puff pastry (okay—I was, too), and we were discussing the Guild’s treatment of her book. I knew that she was raised in Tennessee, so I mentioned that I also had grown up in Nashville. She seemed pleased to hear a familiar Southern accent and her eyes lit up as she took my hand. “We might be kin!” she laughed.

“You may be right,” I said, “After in New York, everyone thinks that all Southerners are related...that cousins-marrying-cousins business. I don’t think they quite understand us...we may as well be from Mars as from Tennessee.”

She laughed again and asked, “What brought you up here to New York?”

“Cascading accountabilities,” I said without thinking, trying to appear at least semi-Cosmopolitan and yet, at the same time, giving myself a moment to come up with something more intelligent-sounding. Actually, Doubleday had just put me through a painful week of sessions called “Cascading Accountabilities,” the gist of which was the importance of making all my deadlines. At the end of the week the only things I came away with were the fact that the sessions had put me a week behind making my magazine deadlines, and a keen respect for the word “ironic.” As for my conversation with Dinah, she smiled, but she clearly looked puzzled. Mercifully, an editor swooped in and squired her away before I could somehow explain myself, or, for that matter, dig myself a deeper hole.

Over the years, however, as I reflected on the various blocks of my life, I finally figured out what I was trying to say to Dinah Shore; it’s just that at the moment of that Doubleday cocktail party, I was simply outrunning my headlights. Actually, that was pretty typical of my slab of reality at the time. I knew that there was something that was cascading, but it took me a little more time to realize that it was realities as opposed to accountabilities. We are, I suppose, accountable to our various realities; maybe accountability and reality are first cousins, at least here in the South.

At any rate, it took me decades of collecting stories and experiences to develop and hone my homemade theory of cascading realities, but when it’s all said and done, it’s really a pretty simplistic observation. I’ve come to understand that one’s past is made up of different virtual tectonic plates, each one merging—or, cascading, if you will—into the next one, and together they make up the patchwork quilt of your life. I believe that most of the time, the reality block in which you’re currently living (some would call it the present) merges slowly into the next one, effortlessly, with the greatest of ease. However, it’s also possible that your next reality won’t be a gentle fade at all; it could be a drastic, possibly explosive, converging reality (see “Darwin Awards”).

Back during the time of the Doubleday cocktail party, my virtual tectonic reality plates were cascading every four or five years. For example, four years before my tenure at Doubleday, the idea of me sipping white wine, chewing on potato puffs and exchanging pithy comments with renowned authors and former TV stars was inconceivable. I didn’t even own a suit; my formal attire was torn jeans, scuffed-up sneakers and a rock ‘n’ roll t-shirt. Then again, I was art directing and drawing cartoons for Record World magazine. Inspired by Al Hirschfeld’s clever knack of hiding his daughter Nina’s name in his cartoons, I started hiding potatoes in mine for absolutely no reason at all. For example, when the band, Kansas had a hot album on the charts, I did a cartoon of Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” having her guitar taken away by a roadie, with the band looking on. She was saying, “Well, Toto, I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore.” (The band, Toto was also charting at the time.) And, Dorothy had potatoes on her dress. In another cartoon, an Elvis impersonator had a potato hidden on his belt buckle. In yet another one, an elephant in a phone booth had a potato hidden in the folds of his knee. He was trying to remember the name of Fleetwood Mac’s latest single from their album, “Tusk.”

Around this time (it was the early ‘80s), I got a call from Randy California from the band, Spirit, and he invited me to see the band perform at the Bottom Line, a quintessential small-concert venue down in NY’s Greenwich Village. I was excited...he had written one of my all-time favorite songs from the sixties, “I Got a Line On You.” When I showed up at the club’s ticket window, they waved me on through, telling me, “Randy wants to see you backstage.”

Wow, I thought, I could ask him how he came up with that swell progression that thousands of garage bands had imitated for the past dozen years. When I found the dressing room door, Randy ushered me in, telling me they had to be onstage in about a minute. “So,” he said to me as he pulled the curtain back to lead the band onstage, “What about those potatoes?” I’m pretty sure it was a rhetorical question, but it did give me pause (no animal puns, was strictly a tuber question) to consider my reality that night. All I could think about is when I took a train through Idaho’s stovepipe on my zig-zaggy way to California (the state, not the rocker) in the mid-‘70s. Maybe I should have paid more attention when I visited the potato state, I thought. But, that was a totally different time, place, and virtual tectonic plate, and I had not yet developed my incredible cascading realities theory.

As for the train ride through Idaho, it had been merely a means to an end, the end being hitching down the west coast from Portland to L.A. My companion on the train was my old guitar; I spent most of the time in the “skycar” watching the mountains and playing everything from “Someone’s in the Kitchen With Dinah/I’ve Been Working (playing, actually) on the Railroad” to “I Got a Line On You,” and occasionally, “Uneasy Rider.” My traveling set list depending on the fellow passengers in attendance at the time. But, as hip as I thought I was at the time, my vintage smoking jacket, elephant bell-bottomed Levi’s and thrift store Stetson would have gotten me laughed out of the Bottom Line’s backstage area a mere five years later. It was, after all, a totally different reality.

In fact, that hitching part of my life consisted of sliding realities; out of necessity, I became a reality chameleon, forced to adapt to the person or persons plucking me off the side of the road. When the cowboy in the blue ’64 Cadillac who had picked me up just south of Portland started singing along with the Moe Bandy country song, I was the kid from Nashville who knew Doodle Owens, the writer of the song (his son, Lee Owens eventually became my songwriting partner). That got me an extra 50 miles on down the road. When the eclectic filmmaker picked me up just outside San Francisco (with lights, cameras and microphones in the bed of his pickup), I was the former “aesthetics of the film” student, discussing the epic vs. the evil of Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation.” That discussion got me all the way into L.A.

However, my chameleon skills were stretched to the limit when the five rednecks in a stationwagon (remember those?) picked me up on the outskirts of a little town. Judging by their outfits, I figured they were on some sort of hunting or fishing trip, but when I started talking about fishing on the Tennessee River, they started becoming belligerent. “Hey, hippie-boy, once we get a-rolling real good,” they menaced, “We’re gonna push you out to see how far and fast you roll! What you think of that?”

“I think you’ll never get to hear me speak Martian,” I replied, trying desperately not to panic.

“What you mean ‘speak Martian’?” they asked, confused.

“#$%ç*#@^&¥¨%*åß#$%ç*#@^&¥¨%*!!! (," I said. For a second their mouths hung open like baby birds; then they started guffawing, slowly at first, but then building to a hillbilly crescendo. The driver had tears in his eyes and had to pull over at the light. I was out the door and down the next block before they stopped laughing...and I didn’t slow down until I reached the bus station.

These days, my block of reality is quite a bit tamer. I live in the suburbs and go to high school football games and cub scout meetings, and I coach my son’s church league basketball team. However, every once in awhile, a blip on my life’s radar screen reminds me of virtual blocks of realities from days gone by.

For example, few years ago, my sister, Jann, her husband, Lance and I were all guests of the Grand Ole Opry, and we were invited to sit up onstage (the back of the stage, actually) during the various segments. Jann and I had recorded a jingle for King Syrup called “Shoo Fly Pie,” and it was airing for a number of weeks. King Syrup is the major ingredient in Shoo Fly Pie, so we thought it only made sense to write something about one of the happy by-products of the syrup. I knew that Dinah Shore had a hit with a song called “Shoo Fly Pie” back in the ‘50s, but it didn’t mention King Syrup, so, like baking a pie, I wanted to start from scratch. Our contact at the Opry had told us, prior to our trip up to Nashville, that the Charlie Daniels Band would be one of the acts performing the night of our visit. I printed off a couple of my Record World cartoons that featured Charlie (even though only one of them had potatoes hidden in it) and gave them to him backstage. He seemed pleased. “I remember Record World,” he said.

After the jingle played, the Opry announcer commented on it. “Shoo Fly Pie,” he said, “Dinah Shore had a big hit with another ‘Shoo Fly Pie’ and I saw some of you in the audience singing along with this one. What is Shoo Fly Pie anyway? Some kind of hidden meaning, I guess. Speaking of hidden...where’s that Tater?”

It was just his way of introducing Little Jimmy Dickens, who walked out onstage to the opening chords of “Take a Cold 'Tater and Wait,” but I was pleased to sit back from my vantage point of the back of the Opry stage and watch the realities cascade. At one point during the song, Jimmy turned and winked at us. The only thing that would have made the evening more perfect would have been if he just would have sung the last verse in Martian. However, from what I know about that alien species, and from what my sources tell me, no self-respecting Martian would lower himself to wait on a potato, nor with a potato...much less a cold one.

©Copyright 2009 Bridgital/SouthernReader. All rights reserved.