the doppler effect

He died before he knew he’d become famous. Bradley Nowell, lead singer and songwriter for Sublime, a ska/punk band from Long Beach, is famous for his songs sixteen years after he died from an overdose. And we are at what should have been his concert, but now only his bass player is on stage with a drummer and a new lead singer, Rome. And so–few people have come; we are able to sit in an area to ourselves. Score! We love when this happens: going to a public event without the public present.

And down a flight, one blind man sits in the handicap landing area with a tiny, elderly woman as his aid. Otherwise the space is empty until a cowboy comes along to dance with his girlfriend. Two-stepping without his boots to ska and reggae.  He never once lets go of her hand, and you can tell by the way she dances, she never doubts him. The spins, the dips, the drops–right beside the blind guy ska-swaying in his seat.


Wallace Stegner in Angel of Repose explains the train’s whistle:

“The sound of anything coming at you — a train, say, or the future — has a higher pitch than the sound of the same thing going away. If you have perfect pitch and a head for mathematics you can compute the speed of the object by the interval between its arriving and departing sounds. I have neither perfect pitch nor a head for mathematics, and anyway who wants to compute the speed of history?”


The memory racing past me: One last good time. 2003 (?) A drive to Wyoming in our old Suburban with our son’s ska/punk rock band crammed inside. One bass, seven guitars, a smoke machine and the new lead singer finding out she doesn’t know any of the words. We follow the drummer’s van over empty country roads and listen to our son beat rhythm on his bass and the lead guitarist sing the Sublime song they’ll be performing in three hours. His tenor steadies her soprano when she tentatively sings the lyrics back. A shadow stitching time:

Annie’s twelve years old
in two more she’ll be a whore
Nobody ever told her
it’s the wrong way

The entire trip was fun. Tuning guitars in the dark, climbing  utility poles to illegally tap into the town’s power grid with our orange extension cords. Listening to my son’s bass improv to “Santeria”, another Sublime song.  And the long dark drive back to Montana afterwards. And not long after that, I surprised us all and left my children’s father. Left, as in divorce.

Once, and for a long time, there had always been a bomb ticking in him. Something was always just about to happen. That edge was rather thrilling. But then, the ticking stopped.

I didn’t know it then, but I know it now: The bomb had gone off years before. And the ticking I thought I always heard when I was with him? Turns out–that’s the sound of me.



About redmitten

author of Cracking Geodes Open, Making Good Use of August, and The Peppermint Bottle. poetry editor for IthacaLit. website:

19 responses to “the doppler effect

  1. as soon as i finished reading this, i heard myself say “wow.” so….wow. this is so beautifully written, treasures hidden everywhere in the soft warm sand. the way you touch truth, touch hearts. wow.

  2. Beautiful…a notable attempt to calculate the speed of history.

    • redmitten

      john- oh thank you! isn’t that a great quote (to calculate the speed of history)…i think it can all suck us in at times. good to see you here.

      • Rose Hunter

        I was going to comment on that bit too. I love the opening sentence of that quote. And how you’ve stitched it into this post. 🙂
        … + I too would go to more public events if it wasn’t for the public, heh…. Although I don’t mind the local public…. OK.

      • redmitten

        rose- ha (the local public). and i thought about this over the weekend, all the places i wanted to experience except that there would be people there. in montana, a crowd is a line of more than 3 people. and so we tend to stay away from so many things, or we give everyone a wide circle of space.

      • Rose Hunter

        Love the ticking too. Love that…. I’ve felt that too – I thought someone else was ticking. I think I am feeling that right now. Nope, that would be me, huh, probably.

      • redmitten

        rose- took me quite awhile to realize i needed that ticking and that i didn’t need to depend on it from someone else (but it is sweet when that happens. at least for a little bit.)

  3. If I had a mathematical mind I would try to calculate all the variables in this and their intersections in space and time. But I don’t and can’t and so, like the blind man I dance to the music you make.

    • redmitten

      laurie- the math of the universe includes colors and musical tones. (something i was reading last night and will one day show up in a post). the math that puts us right here right now- that’s what we dance to, right?

  4. I’m always surprised by the turns, the side angles, the perspective that opens wings and flies right out of the deep. You’re a very special writer. Thank you again.

    • redmitten

      andrea- oh, thank you! you know i spent so many years keeping what was in my head to myself- comments like yours make me glad i decided to start sharing what goes on in my head. thank you!

  5. “And the ticking I thought I always heard when I was with him?” O baby, O baby…sound, time, the space between. Yes. You got it. Thanks for this morning’s visit with your grace in expressing the hard thinking.

  6. So many ‘wrongs’ making a ‘right’…who said it couldn’t be done!

and then you said:

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